"What if you knew her and found her dead on the floor. How can you run when you know?"
The above lyrics were the outcry of my favorite band, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, responding to the Kent State massacre that brought the band to its knees in anguish on the studio floor...and from which an entire nation arose and stood up for peace and justice. Never before had a band had a #1 hit on the radio, only to be shuffled down to #2 by the unexpected release of their own hit song, Ohio. The song that they had bumped to the bottom, Teach the Children Well...has me wondering: what have we really learned?
I'm often told that I was born in the wrong era, that the tenets of the counter culture movement of the 60s and 70s are far more conducive to my modus operandi. Like any diligent rebel rouser, I beg to differ, for any true analysis of the global justice movements of modern times reveals that an overall cultural climate of acceptance of change is hardly the defining factor for what sparks and spreads a movement.
So what is the special sauce that defines and lays the foundation for a movement? In a word, love.
Ecoblips anecdote time, boys and girls: I was a college student at UCSC, an unshaven transplant from the Evergreen State College by way of yuppie Livingston, NJ. In a word: oy. By the time I graduated college, I had read every book on globalization and civil rights movements available, I was a leader in the community and a known advocate for social justice for the disabled population. I mountain biked and ended up in the backyard of the Grand Wizard of the KKK. I worked on Proposition 215 to legalize that which naturally grows out of this great Earth, helped my friends create things like the first community access guide for the disabled and assisted on the first community college wide composting solution. Yet, to this day, I don't remember knowing or caring all that much, but I do remember believing that I knew everything. I lived in a bungalow a block from the beach. My landlords lived in the front house, and though I could see the spark in Susan's eye, (name changed) I never stopped my whirlwind to find out from where that spark originated. We kept our separate spaces.
I began going to 10 day silent meditation retreats, breaking up my college semesters at Vipassana centers to practice this ancient insight meditation technique. During one of these trips, I met Scott, an elder leader in the community and Susan's business partner, as it were. Since I had just decided to leave Santa Cruz to return to New York, I found it odd that I was just then crossing paths between Susan's world and mine, right when I had to tell her that I was leaving the great place that we had shared. Sure enough, right when I was giving my notice to vacate, Susan informed me that she was selling this house, this home, that we all so truly loved. I was shocked, relieved, and welcomed for tea in Susan's garden, something I had never taken her up on during the two years that we shared a space, but maintained fully separate lives.
It turned out Susan had lived in that house for nearly 30 years, moving onto the property when she was my age (I was 21 at the time). Unlike me, she didn't land on the 3rd ave. house with stars in her eyes, but rather massive amounts of fear that the government that she trusted to protect her, had turned into her enemy. Back then, Susan was a college student at Berkeley in the late 60s, studying English, and being as carefree as you'd imagine a Berkeley college student to be. Her boyfriend and their circle of friends hung out at City Lights books, had potlucks, talked some smack, and went on with their days...until the Kent State massacre occurred, and the American psyche was forever changed.
Susan and her boyfriend, Ron (name changed) were not happy that our government gunned down a handful of college students for no good reason. They stood over their patchouli oil and steamed broccoli and bitched and moaned that this couldn't possibly be the world they lived in. And sure enough, someone in their group called upon Susan and Ron to act. Not knowing anything about anything other than the tide that had unequivocally turned when an injustice pierces straight through the heart, Susan knew that she had reached her point of no return. They asked their friends to all meet at Peoples Park to have a small 'gathering', to strategize. Susan was the only female in the initial group, she and her boyfriend, the only couple - and therefore the defacto leaders. Susan, being the female, was designated secretary, took all the notes, held the keys, so to speak.
When the day arrived to meet at Peoples Park, Susan had but 20 names jotted down on her roster. When she and Ron showed up, there were over 500 people waiting to hear them, waiting to be led, looking for a coordinated response to the coordinated killings that forever changed our nation. Susan looked over her shoulder, trying to find the qualified leader to shepherd this movement. When she stopped looking back and gazed forward, the movement lay before her, waiting for her to lead. And she did. The historical pictures you see of the birth of the counter culture movement, were not led by a group of seasoned activists trained in the art of civil disobedience. They were real people, who refused to let other real people, be slaughtered for no reason than to uphold the status quo.
By the time the streets were filled with hundreds of thousands of protesters, Susan and Ron were the recognized leaders of this movement, and Susan was receiving death threats daily. She was covertly relocated to Santa Cruz with $1200 in funds collected by the protesters as a down payment for that unassuming beach house. Thirty years later, Susan and I had tea on that house's back porch, which she had just sold to a dotcommer for a $1 million.
Susan, just like me, you and any one else, has but one qualifying factor that made her the most qualified person to lead: her heart. What came with this heart was her willingness to learn the tenets of the movement she spearheaded, and how to engage an entire community to a common end that they collectively decided upon. And at the end of the day, the last thing she wanted was credit. In fact, I've begged her to let me tell her story, and she has strongly disagreed, giving me the greatest advice possible to respond to current times: Write your own story...
I often reference a particular experience from childhood as being a turning point in shaping my life: the season when my mother led a community wide campaign to build our neighborhood and school a playground. In today's world of cause related marketing campaigns, I am surprised how many times I reflect back on this community project and the relevance it still has today. On this special day of Mother's day, I think it is time I shared the story of my mother, @NonprofitDiva, the batsh*t crazy shaniqua shwartz of the upper upper east who inadvertently planted the seeds of social justice that now grow like a wild weed in me. But hey, today's not about me :) ...
A long time ago in a Jersey suburb not so far away, a young @ecoblips (that's me!) had not yet entered grade school. I couldn't sit still and was such a bratty terror I couldn't keep a baby sitter around for more than a few months, if that. Made worse, though our neighborhood was on the posher side of town, the elementary school's playground was so old that it had been deemed unfit for use. Where was lil' ecoblips to go and raise a ruckus and why weren't the other parents in the neighborhood concerned about this 'injustice'?, or so I could hear my mother think outloud as we complained about the state of affairs. And for a brief second, the fire in my mother's eyes pulled my attention away from cartoons and super mario brothers and...well, everything.
From that second on, what was important for me, had forever changed. My mother and her best friend, then co-presidents of the Parent Teacher Association, assembled our neighborhood and community and pleaded with the school board for funding. Too middle class to gain funds, my mom decided to lead the campaign to do it ourselves, all from the tiny confines of our home. The living room became the strategy session room where community members came over to discuss resources and development costs, permits and legalities. The basement video game system had been moved so we could print t-shirts for our new cause, the Mt. Pleasant Playground. The weekends had turned into intrepid travels where my mom drove us to scour New Jersey's parks, looking for 'a few good playgrounds'.
The campaign's tenets and execution were not that different then, to how things get done today. My mom found the key 'connectors' in the community: the family that owned the pizza shop on Mt. Pleasant Ave, and the bagel place on Northfield. The commissioner of the Little League at Sunday soccer games and the owner of the leading video store: these town spots that received the most traffic also received 5 gallon water jugs to raise money for our cause. She took the fire in her eyes and made the cause all of our causes. And wouldn't you know, engaging the entire community in the campaign most relevant to our own backyards actually made a difference back in 1985, just as much as it does today.
That season of my life, I watched my mom lead our community in building the coolest tire playground I had ever seen. I got to print my own t-shirt with our brand, nibble on pizza donated through our hard work, and hit a hammer on a nail that went into the tire that went into the playground that we could all call our own. A week after our entire neighborhood came together and physically built that playground with our collective sweat and toil, I stood next to my mom and watched tears roll down her face as the playground went up in flames. Some teenagers left a stray cigarette burning...the whole thing burned to the ground and the rest was history.
That history includes watching my mom not give up, but rather spend the next twenty five years fighting for what she believed in, in local political campaigns, my own freedom to show up as I am, for the children of ALYN Hospital that are so fortunate to have her, and for my brother and I, who may blame our mother for absolutely everything under the sun, but who also know that it is from this phenomenal root that we so gratefully derive.
Thank you...Add a comment
When Doing Good has Nothing to do with it
A recent debate has been sparked in the development community in response to the #1millionshirts campaign to donate 1 million t-shirts to Africa. As a lifelong activist turned social entrepreneur in the tech space, the issue of making recipient recognition and participation the main issue, is paramount to my understanding of healthy, effective and sustainable development projects. As someone who has been schooled by the very organizer of the chat, @katrinskaya, I was compelled to follow up with her by email regarding these concerns...and to open them up to the public for a grand 'ol hashing, uh, I mean healthy discourse.
My 'deep penetrating thoughts' after participating in the "first-ever global press conf/mea culpa / paradigm shifting dev convo from 5 continents originated on twitter":
1) Why is it not a relevant and huge issue to address that the project founder's intentions may not be noble. That they may not be good. He is a marketer, he insists. The 'problem' lays layers beneath him, in that the biggest corporations' bottom lines are now dependent on doing good and not looking like they are spilling metaphoric oil all over the world. I see this as the real root of the issue - that it is all about $, the aid complex, even this founder's 'good intentions' (which quickly shifted during the convo into an 'I'm a marketer' mantra).
2) This conversation reminds me of when the light went off for me on this issue, planning the first Twestival in NYC. When the biggest companies were begging to sponsor the event, not 1 of the 10 planners (myself included) had any ethic or guideline for the process as it related to the charitable recipient. My voice was silenced, and I honestly didn't know how to raise it effectively because the power of the 'herd' of the social media nyc digerati was so strong, as was the raw and authentic excitement among these PR professionals and entrepreneurs to be a part of 'doing good'. Many from that core ten planners blogged that doing Twestival was the most powerful experience in their life, something somewhat unfathomable to anyone who has taken up a hardship development post, well, anywhere.
3) Ways forward post convo: My personal approach as co-founder of Travelcology, was to approach NGOs before even starting our business, and to build this concept on a transparency model and modus operandi that includes webinars like this from the onset of our launch. My question to this community is: why should any entrepreneur or 'do gooder' now receive communique from various world leaders, who will now serve on his board and work with him, when he didn't do the homework of finding out that these people exist prior to launching a project? Why, I ask, should the lot of us devote an hour of 'free consulting time' to his cause, when the reality is that this circumstance arose out of a business whose founder realized he could market his product better if he gave some away. Arguably not noble or purely intended, nor having much to do with Africa at all! (Sorry Africa, I love ya!) In hearing Jason specifically speak, it reminded me of when folks get called out on being racist, after which they claim their best friends are black and usually a person of color has to step in to teach the uneducated person the harmful impact of their ignorance. My dream outcome of this conference call would not be that Jason get schooled (any single marketer or entrepreneur is inconsequential to the underlying issue). My hope would be that this community cocreates a go-to spot online for best practices in #ict4dev for these issues, as opposed to any social entrepreneur getting to make a buck out of our group thought, outrage, or otherwise.
4) It never occurred to Jason to contact local t-shirt dealers NOT because he is ignorant or doesn't think to partner with local organizations, but because this doesn't make him any money. A similar example would be the nyc organizer of Twestival, who took his new-found social media for social good fame and launched a cause related marketing campaign to crowdsource the inventing of a recyclable coffee cup (every digital strategist must have a cause-celebre). He scored sponsor contacts gained from Twestival and got Starbucks to give $20K to crowdsource the silver bullet cure all. What's interesting is the community response, as shown in this Fast Company article Link, where in the comments section, an entrepreneur asks why this venture didn't just partner up with the existing recycled coffee cup company that has 10 years of successful independent operational success under their belt. The answer given in the comments section is, well, because they are marketers.
I give thanks to every mentor I've ever had from childhood on who has taught me to question my privilege, know my history, and use both as a means for further education and the saving of one self before anything else. I hope this personal response, and the greater global chatter leads to us all getting better at what we do.
Though hard it is for me or anyone to swallow, we act out of ego. and when we get called out on it, it sucks. When we convince ourselves we are doing good, or saving others, it sucks even more.
Growing up a stone's throw from New York City, my path to knowledge and understanding of greatness was very much shaped by what lay on the other side of our infamous bridges and tunnels. The rawness of the city was its own education and the taste of the most experienced and bestest and brightest of everything within a four mile strip was nothing short of its own living breathing university. At the ripe ol' age of 21, I was in university getting my doctorate at NYU in Community Psychology, a step on 'an assembly line towards life success' that had been ingrained in me from my Jewish Jersey suburban roots. I had everything I had always been told I needed in order to be happy, on paper. The reality was quite different and I left this great city in the summer of 2001 with a feeling of emptiness as if I had given up on all of humanity, save perhaps my ego-centered self!
I left to travel the world, participating in an array of sustainable development, backpacking, humanitarian and just plain fun jaunts everywhere from Israel to India, from the westernmost tip of the Arabian sea in Bhuj to the top of the northernmost peaks of the Himalayan region of Ladakh. It was there that I trekked through unchartered regions of the Indo-Tibetan border with Fritjof Capra's Web of Life in tote, where I swam bare in the holy lake of Tsomoriri and it was in these mountains that we ran out of food and somehow made it work. And it was on the long and arduous two day bus ride through the mountains and back to 'civilization' that I was informed of the terrible attacks on the World Trade Center.
That night, all the bus's passengers camped out in tents at the river's edge, still an entire day away from phones, newspapers and any contact with my poor Jewish parents! Our group that night was indicative of what our world today has become: 1 Israeli couple fresh out of the army. 1 elderly Hindu couple, 1 German couple. 1 Dutch women. 1 Swiss guy, 1 gay American woman and me. Collectively, we had one short wave radio, a few blankets and the profound shock shared by all as we gripped to voices of every world leader and spokesperson offering their statement. One person rightfully stated that 'we were now at war, and that it would never end'. Though in hindsight, she was right, I had the exact opposite, raw response to the threat of war and how that night to remember would forever change our world.
We were and are all in this together.
If anyone told me that night that our global condition would have gotten to its current state, I wouldn't have believed them. Had I been foretold that the seed that was planted from that evening would grow into my current business venture, I would have splashed a drink in their face and schooled them on the evil ills of capitalism. Yet today, the intricacies of how governments, people, mobile phones, granny smith apples, foreign policy, business practice and even diaper choice - all make a difference and all connect as part of the greater whole. Rethinking this inconvenient truth and how divided we have been leads me to want to choose to take part in the revitalization of both each other and my own backyards, as it is the heart of the vitality of us all. Moreover, this "us' can and will foster the very change I saw and felt that night when a dozen random strangers huddled in a yurt and collectively prayed for a better world.
And so it is perhaps both the greatest shock and no coincidence that this September 11th, 2009, I have some very special and fitting news. Open Venture Society's two signature events, Green Breakfast Club and Green Supper Club, are proud to announce that they have found venues to call home and will both be held in LEED certified buildings in the World Trade Center neighborhood. Our first Green Breakfast Club event will be held on November 2nd at Mercy Corps' Action Center to end world hunger, a LEED platinum certified building that was built right on the remains of ground zero. Everything that crumbles creates the bed of soil for everything that grows out of it. In 2001, I said Kaddish (mourners prayer) at a chabad in Rishikesh for all that perished on that night to remember. This morning I will never forget and so I say both Kaddish and L'chaim (to life), for now that we all share the common thread that we are all in this together, the healing can truly begin.
But still, like dust, I'll rise. ~ Maya AngelouAdd a comment