Project Wonderful

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

5 New Years Resolutions for Professional Women

Hello Kids! Apologies for the slight lapse in blogmunication over the past couple of days. I am 3/4 the way through what I've deemed Conference-thon 2012. I started off going to a SIPA career conference in DC, followed by a Jewish learning conference in upstate New York and I am now smackdab in the middle of a Women in Leadership Conference at my home turf of Columbia Univesity. (Look forward to some posts from an upcoming conference on Mormonism in American Politics, should be interesting!)

Although the value of the sessions I've attended has varied greatly, one thing I always love is hearing advice from other women who have had paths both extremely different and similiar to my own. A sort of "if I knew then what I know now" thing. And since 'tis the season (still barely) for resolutions and one of mine is to actively promote the values I'd like to see in the campaign community, I've come up with this short summary of the most helpful advice I've received from and about professional women over the past year. As always, my comments are campaign specific, but the advice is universal. So, without further ado...

Five New Years Resolutions for Professional Women

1)You're a woman, not a girl. Communicate with confidence. I once had a Democratic Party official point out that my boss and I were referring to potential field organizer candidates as "girls" rather than "women." As soon as she pointed this out, I started noticing this phenomenon everywhere. It seems natural to refer to "the girls in HR" but odd to talk about "the boys who work in the research division" (unless of course, you're speaking in the sense of Mad Men). If we don't make the effort to give ourselves weight in a professional context, who will? This week I was horrified to receive an email from the leadership conference I'm attending containing a smiley face emoticon. Could you imagine a man writing professional conference email containing "dress business professional, lol?" It's just not done. Similarly, at a Women and Power brunch I hosted recently we identified the huge problem of our female colleagues speaking too softly or going up at the end of their sentences as if looking for approval. Why is it that even some of the best and brightest female professionals don't back their ideas up with the confidence they deserve? This year let's make an effort to stop verbally and vocally apologizing for ourselves.

2)Take Credit. This is one of the hardest pieces of advice for me to internalize since it seems anathema to the job of a campaign worker. As a manager I've often found myself saying "I don't care whose fault it is, I just care that it gets fixed." Searching for personal recognition especially from those much higher up in the chain is one of the least attractive qualities I've observed among coworkers. It's not about making yourself look good, it's about making the candidate look good. Still as my Women in Power Professor was fond of reminding us, the workforce is not a meritocracy. While most jobs are found through networking I find that within a campaign good work is eventually recognized and rewarded. However, that eventually can take years. One simple thing we can all do is say "thank you" when complimented, rather than to downplay an accomplishment. Another is to seek out opportunities to share your knowledge. If you've come up with a particularly good program or training strategy find a way to share it. That way you are making the campaign community better while highlighting your contributions to it.

3)Know Your Brand. Your brand, beyond how you want to be seen or what you do is what other people feel when they think of you. My Women and Power Professor last semester described it in a way that should hit home particularly for campaign people. Think about a can of Diet Coke. If you're like me, you can hear the pop of the tab, feel the coolness of the can and the bubbles in your mouth. You can sense the relief you feel with the first sip. That's how clear your personal brand should be. I was surprised to learn how much opposition my female classmates had to the concept of personal branding. When we talked about it last semester there seemed to be a consensus that specifically cultivating a professional brand is somehow phony or inauthentic. On the contrary, authenticity can be an integral part of one's personal brand, and I hope you will agree it is part of mine. Their resistance reminded me of Coco Chanel's famous line "Dress shabbily and they remember the dress, dress impeccably and they remember the woman." Branding is all about sending a cohesive and purposeful message to the world about who you are. A thoughtful, clear brand, will allow your skills and ideas to shine through and to reach a wider audience. Knowing your brand often requires some uncomfortable market research and facing some hard truths, but the process is well worth it. Like it or not you already have a brand, and it is time to take control of it. For more on personal branding check out this series by my good friend and branding guru, Cole Imperi.

4)Network Before You Need It. This is another place I was astonished to find pushback from my classmates. Maybe because as organizers, we are networking all the time, professional networking comes as second nature to me. My female classmates,on the other hand, seemed to find it disingenuous. They viewed networking as "using" people to get what you want. All the more reason to build your network before you have something to ask for. One of the biological gifts we have as women is a natural inclination to build and foster relationships. Networking is doing just that. It is meeting people who share your professional path or interests and fostering connections among them. One of the great joys of my professional experience has been connecting people. A former organizer wants to go to Minnesota for the recount and I happen to know the Field Director. A classmate wants to work for the Sierra Club and I attended a training with someone who works there. Not only have I helped my colleagues find jobs or staff, but I know that there are competent people working for the causes in which I believe. By building a network before you need it, you enable yourself to help shape your professional community and people are more than happy to return the favor when the time comes.

5)Don't Ask 'Why Me,' Ask 'Why NOT Me?' My branding guru friend mentioned above, who began her own marketing firm at the age of 25, once attributed her success to the follow statement, "Nobody told me I couldn't." I learned recently that one of the top three questions a woman asks when approached by a headhunter for a position is "Are you sure I'm qualified?" Can you imagine a man asking that? While most of the men I've worked with seem to feel professionally entitled (and granted, politicos are a self-selecting group) women are just the opposite. As organizers, we're taught to make a plan and we're taught to make an ask. Though we are more than willing to do this for our work, when it comes to ourselves we often fall short. My challenge to my sisters in organizing this year is to think about something you'd like to accomplish in 2012 and then go after it like a vote goal. Make a plan, work hard, and ask for what you want. You need to take control of your professional destiny, because no one else is going to do it for you.

To a successful and empowered calendar and election year!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Campaign Manager's Pet Killed

Wow. No sooner do I begin blogging about the destructive forces of violence and irrationality in our political system than a friend sends me this press release:

RUSSELLVILLE—On the heels of a weekend of positive news coverage for the campaign of Democratic Congressional candidate Ken Aden, Aden’s campaign manager returned home to find his family pet slaughtered, with the word “liberal” painted on the animal’s corpse.

The Russellville Police Department is investigating, and a report will be made to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Monday morning.

Jacob Burris, who has served as Aden’s campaign manager since late October, arrived home with his family Sunday evening, and his four children discovered the gruesome scene as they exited the family vehicle to enter their home.

The family pet, an adult, mixed-breed Siamese cat, had one side of its head bashed in to the point the cat’s eyeball was barely hanging from its socket. The perpetrators scrawled “liberal” across the cat’s body and left it on the doorstep of Burris’ house.

“To kill a child’s pet is just unconscionable,” Aden said Monday morning. “As a former combat soldier, I’ve seen the best of humanity and the worst of humanity. Whoever did this is definitely part of the worst of humanity,” he said.

“It is one thing to engage in civil political discourse, and for Republicans and Democrats to disagree with each other, which is an expected part of the political process. Taking it to this level is beyond unacceptable,” Aden said.

While the campaign between Aden and incumbent Congressman Steve Womack has heated up in recent months, Aden said they did not believe the Womack campaign to be responsible. “Although we have certainly disagreed and engaged in a great deal of civil discourse, I do not believe in any way that Congressman Womack or his campaign had anything to do with this incident,” Aden said.

He noted that, before Christmas, KRUM Radio, a station owned by Womack’s father, actually promoted a toy drive held by Aden’s campaign for children in the Third District. “We suspect this is the action of a rogue individual or group of individuals who are the type of folks that stoop to the lowest common denominator instead of engaging in civil political discourse,” Aden said. “It is unfortunate this has occurred, and we will await the results of the police and federal investigations,” Aden said.

I couldn't even come up with an appropriate graphic for this post. It does remind me of this West Wing clip, which has embedding disabled. This stuff is not about taxes and immigration. It is about bad people filled with hate. It happens on both sides...but I'm inclined to say that the people who protest abortion clinics screaming at terrified teenagers with pictures of bloody fetuses are more likely to pull this kind of thing.


Gabby Giffords Steps Down

Required viewing. What an amazing woman.

What happened to her, the extremism, the hate, the distrust and disrespect for government and the violence in the face of political dialogue encompasses so much of what is wrong with our current discourse. On the other hand, her resilience, her personal story, her bravery, her dedication and even her decision to step down when and how she did exemplifies so much of what can be right. On a personal note, a young Jewish Democratic Congresswoman persevering in the face of obstacles hits particularly close to home. It is very rare to find a modern day political role model, but I believe I have found one in Rep. Giffords.

According to the Washington Post "Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.) must set a date for a special election primary 80 to 90 days after Giffords formally steps down, and a general election will be set for 50 to 60 days after the primary. So the primary election for Giffords seat will likely be held in late April with the general election in June." That Democrat will be getting a donation from a one Ms. Nancy Leeds.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Advocate From Where You Stand: SOPA

Nobody can put it better than Rachel Maddow. Wikipedia (and others') choice to shut down in protest to SOPA and PIPA is an amazing example of the power of direct political action. Check out the graphic below of support for the bill before and after the blackout.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr Day

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

What an inspiration to anyone interested in religion, social justice, organizing or the intersection of the three. Every American owes him a huge debt. RIP.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Could Anything Sound More Disgusting...

...than wearing a Santorum sweater vest?

It sounds like the world's least appealing sex move. And yet Rick Santorum is actually selling his now (in)famous sweater vests to raise money for his ill-fated campaign for the Republican nomination.

From his website, no, the other one:
"Extended by popular demand! For a limited time, donate $100 or more using the form below, and we will send you an official Rick Santorum For President sweater vest. Perfect for demonstrating solidarity with true conservatives, this vest is a great way to show your support for Rick. It's 100% cotton, made in the USA, comes in grey, and is yours for your contribution of $100 or more. Don't let sleeves slow you down — donate today!"
Oh boy. Well, I just thought of a phrase more upsetting than "wearing a Santorum sweater vest," President Santorum.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Researchers Study: Do Yard Signs Vote?

It's no secret that the local activist and candidate obsession over yardsigns is the bane of any good organizer's existence.
How many times have you banged your head against a desk after a potential volunteer refused to make calls or knock doors but offered, as if it were a consolation prize, "I'll take a yard sign!" This phenomenon has led to the campaign adage "Yard signs don't vote."

As this article on the efficacy of yardsigns
points out, "Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign charged supporters for lawn signs, registering the income as contributions, which helped the campaign bolster its number of small donors and to gather personal information on its supporters." That's one way to do it.

Slate also reports that "Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s re-election effort decided not to print the signs at all and felt empowered to cut back on its field offices around the state after concluding that the facilities existed for little purpose but distributing the signs." Wow, just wow, Rick Perry. How did that work out for you? Saying a field office is little more than a yard sign distribution center is like calling a bank a company that provides free pens.

You can imagine my alarm when I saw this article on a facebook friend's wall along with the comment "Yard signs do vote."
What the WHAT? I had to read more. Thankfully for my abilities of cognitive dissonance, that's not quite the argument being made. The article describes three experiments done with yard signs. In the first researchers "matched 14 pairs of Manhattan voting locations with similar turnout levels in previous elections. In each pair, he randomly designated one location as a control and the other as an experimental treatment: a small group of volunteers stood...on election eve with white 2-foot -by-3-foot signs with “VOTE TOMORROW” written in blue. Once the polls had closed,... [they]...found that the ones visited by his sign-wavers had 37 percent turnout, nearly four points higher than those that didn’t." No surprise there. One of the basic tenets of field is that a simple reminder will make people markedly more likely to vote.

In the second study researches found that "the act of putting a sign in a window seems as contagious as leaving one of its panes broken: Those whose neighbors had signs were more likely to have one themselves, regardless of whether they supported the same party or different ones." Again, no surprise. We've all heard volunteers practically beg for a sign to display because "McCain signs are taking over the neighborhood!"

Finally, and my favorite, in 2006 an Auburn University cultural economist found that "Households that displayed either an American flag, football insignia, or campaign sign were 2.4 times more likely to have a resident who voted in the elections than houses which had none of the three. While campaign signs were the most strongly predictive of having cast a vote, just sporting an American flag made a household twice as likely to have a voter, and even Auburn football gear made it 1.6 times more likely." This study goes to show that concluding a causal relationship between yard signs and voting is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Rather, people who are more engaged in their community and more passionate about expressing themselves are also more likely to vote.

In conclusion, yard signs don't vote, but sometimes voters display yard signs
.*Satisfied Sigh* All is right with the world.

Advocate From Where You Stand: In Eretz Yisrael

The Israeli town of Bet Shemesh has been embroiled in controversy lately due to anti-feminist friction between "secular" and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

A female soldier, dubbed the "Israeli Rosa Parks," was harassed and called a slut because she refused to move to the back of a bus. An 8 year-old girl was repeatedly spat on and called a whore on her way to school for dressing "immodestly" (read: Modern Orthodox) and recently a group of Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) Jews staged a protest when the government removed neighborhood signs demanding that women walk on the opposite side of the street.

Israeli women will not be intimidated.
"On Friday, a group of women staged a flash mob in Bet Shemesh, dancing together in a city square to call attention to a series of escalating incidents. While an estimated 200 to 250 women participated in the Queen dance-along, a YouTube video capturing the demonstration has already attracted more than 71,000 views.

The flash mob was the result of a Facebook campaign launched by women, primarily from the Modern Orthodox community."
Check out the awesome video above! I'm always inspired when I see religious Jewish women unafraid to be feminist. I love how these women used their power to turn the issue on its head. You don't like seeing women? How about 200 of them dancing in the middle of your street! Women of Bet Shemesh, you make me proud to be a Jewish feminist!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Can't I Just Advise On Policy?

If you sign up to be Candy Striper, you don't walk in and demand that you be allowed to perform surgery, and yet as my friend Jesse put it "anyone who ever got a Congresswoman her coffee thinks they're Fareed Zakaria."

The person who made this must have been sitting in on about 60% of the interviews I conducted when working as a Regional, a Field Director and a Campaign Manager. The only difference is that some of that stuff I said in my head. I think.

Campaign Quickie 2

A little Primary Day humor from my non-campaign friend with a New Hampshire area code:

Lee: If Rick Santorum robodials me at ridiculoud o'clock again this morning, I will find a way to inseminate a married gay arab man, and then abort the fetus. Mark my words.

me: Hahahaahha. This is the kind of reaction campaign workers live for.

Huntsman Ties Romney in Dixville Notch

A return to reason?

Apart from its hilarious name, Dixville Notch, along with another precinct called Harts Location, is traditionally the first town to vote in New Hampshire, voting at midnight on primary day and the general election.

In tonight's vote, Huntsman and Romney each took two of the nine votes cast, followed by Paul and Gingrich who each took one. (The remaining three were cast in the Democratic primary for President Obama.)

Let me be clear, if by some miracle Jon Huntsman wins the nomination, I will work against him and vote for President Obama.
That doesn't keep me from offering him unbridled support, volunteer hours, and rare financial contribution in the primary. I disagree with Huntsman on taxes and healthcare. Still, Jon Huntsman is a patriot, a qualified candidate and a reasonable, intelligent man. It's not that I want Jon Huntsman to be President, it's that I want to live in an America where Republicans choose him to be the nominee.

I've already written a blog post discussing my belief in God, but perhaps my second most controversial belief is my unfailing faith in our system. Yes, we are extremely imperfect, but I still believe in American exceptionalism, in democracy and meritocracy, however flawed our paths there may be. It's no secret that we live in an era of partisanship. Imagine the debates in an Obama versus Huntsman election. Imagine choosing between the better of two candidates. Imagine losing an election and not feeling like half the country has been disenfranchised.

Sure, if Huntsman became the nominee (which he won't) I would necessarily convince myself of his evil, as I have in past Democratic primaries, and I would need to because he is by far the most likely to beat Obama. Still, Dixville Notch's returns bring me hope. At this point in my career the best thing that could happen to me is a worthy adversary. Little by little, Americans are failing at democracy better. Huntsman's showing is a good first step toward restoring our faith in our system.

Happy Primary Day!!!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Citizens United Amendment?

I realized I haven't posted about a very important Constitutional amendment being proposed by Tom Udall (NM), Michael Bennett (CO), Tom Harkin (IA), Dick Durbin (IL), Chuck Schumer (NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Jeff Merkely (OR), (all of whom were elected with the help of at least one of my amazing organizer friends, by the way) which would effectively overturn Citizens United.

The amendment as filed resolves that both Congress and individual states shall have the power to regulate both the amount of contributions made directly to candidates for elected office and “the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.”

Bernie Sanders was on the Colbert Report talking about the same thing.

Could it be? Meaningful campaign finance reform? Be still my little organizing heart.

If You're a Bigot and You Know It Clap Your Hands

There has been a lot of talk lately about (gasp) Republicans being racist. Of course not all Republicans are racist, but you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. Check out this article on "S**t Republicans Primary Candidates Say About Black People."

Also see my "favorite?" (hmm that word doesn't seem right) video above where Rick Santorum says he's surprised that a black President is pro-choice since fetuses are also 3/5 of a person. I'm paraphrasing...but not a lot.

If you are one of those Democrats or Independents who is disillusioned with President Obama, you have the right to be, but please, please don't let that stop you from working just as hard as we did in 2008. We need to re-elect the President now more than ever, lest we set our country back sixty years. As Barney Frank quipped recently "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."

Men Are So Unstable

We all know (or should) that women make up a greater percentage of the voting population than men. But did you also know that women's votes are less volatile?

"Paul Kellstedt, a political scientist at Texas A&M University, found that if women move just a little bit to the right or left, men will move many more percentage points."

Check it out here!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been

It's late October of 2010. I'm standing in a Connecticut auditorium with 10,000 other people. Barack Obama has just finished speaking. I'm wearing a staff badge and a red Organizing for America t-shirt.

My boss, my organizer and I are all crying.
All three of us are exhausted, but satisfied and grinning through our tears at the lucky ten volunteers we've selected to meet the President. My boss is crying because we've just organized and orchestrated an event with the President three days before the midterm election with precious little resources and even less time. My organizer is crying because she's never heard the President speak before. And I'm crying because...well, it's complicated.

Imagine the same scenario a little over three years earlier. I'm exhausted and crying in an auditorium full of cheering Democrats, enervated but excited by the opportunity I've been able to provide my volunteers. Barack Obama has just given a speech so similar to the one mentioned above that in my mind's eye they are one and the same. Trade my red t-shirt for a white one that says "John Edwards for President." Move the auditorium about 1200 miles Westward. I'm at the 2007 Iowa Jefferson Jackson dinner.

In 2007, I'm crying because I hate the people in the red shirts. I've uprooted my life to work under high pressure at what amounts minimum wage because John Edwards is clearly the only candidate with the substance and experience to pass a health care bill, and to my mind the most progressive on LGBT rights and on education. I just don't get what people see in Barack Obama.*

I've often compared campaigns, particularly that one, to being in love and losing to having your heart broken. It sounds dramatic but I believe it to be apt. To be in love you need to believe that your relationship is worth sacrificing for. You put up with things in the name of future happiness. When it works out, it's amazing and when it doesn't you feel like a fool. I was so convinced that John Edwards HAD to be the next President, as if it were a matter of life and death. But the amazing thing about having our hearts broken is that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable again. Because as much as it hurt, we wouldn't be the same person without it.

I love when things come full circle. There's something beautiful about the cyclical nature of campaigns. The zen of election day, the rhythm of call time. Just like love, there's something about it that you will never understand unless you experience it. It's corny, but it's who I am.

That's why I was crying in Connecticut and that's why I drove up to New Hampshire today. That's why I write this blog. That's why no matter where I am or what I become, I will always be a field organizer.

It's been an emotional day. As my broworker Renner would say, I can't Marcus Bachmann away my feelings anymore. Infinite, infinite love to him and my entire campaign family. The truth is, I would do it all again if it meant I got to know you.

Peace, Love and Walklists,

*It should be noted that after Iowa I came to accept that I am a horrible judge of character.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy Anniversary to Me!!


Hello there! I haven't seen you all year! I was working on a long and cheesy piece about what the four year anniversary of the 2008 Caucus meant to me, but I couldn't quite figure out how to finish it and I have to run because I'm going to New Hampshire!!! In the style most ironic and best fitting our inability to predict the future, I am going to do some primary GOTV for Barack Obama. Can't wait to finish my cheesiness and to tell you all about it.

What a long strange trip it's been!