Project Wonderful

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Isn't That Special (Elections taking place beyond Georgia)

In case you have been living under a rock, or just have a very different social media cadre than I do there is a special election coming up in Georgia. Actually, one just happened and now there is a runoff. (Even though it was not the runaway we were hoping for BIG congratulations to everyone on the ground for Jon Ossoff! I am hopeful for June 20!) That same evening Jackie Smith won the race for Prince William County, Virginia's Clerk of Court and it got me wondering what other state and local special elections are taking place that are worth our notice. With the help of my amazing Facebook friends and wider social media network here is a by-no-means-exhaustive list of special elections taking place across the country! Please feel free to message me to add your own!


Alabama- Alabama's new Governor, Kay Ivey has set the date for a special election to replace a one Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions (now US Attorney General, God help us) in the US Senate. The seat is currently being held by Republican Luther Strange. The primary will be August 15th and the general December 12th. Alabama is R+14.

Georgia- See above. The district is R+8.

Montana- To replace former Congressman Ryan Zinke for Montana's At-Large congressional seat. Zinke is now Secretary of the Interior. Rob Quist is the Democratic nominee. The special election is on May 25th. The district is R+11.

South Carolina- To replace Congressman Mick Mulvaney, now the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. The primary is May 2nd and the special election June 20th. The district is R+9.

State and Local

Florida- Special election to replace Frank Artiles, SD 41. You can read about why he resigned this week here. The resignation is so recent that a date has yet to be set, but here is a list of potential candidates.

New Hampshire- After the death of an incumbent State Senator a primary will be held for New Hampshire State Senate District 16 on June 6th followed by a general election on July 25.

New York- There will be a May 23rd special election for New York State Assembly District 9, which is on Long Island. Democrat Christine Pellegrino has an uphill battle.

Rhode Island- Special election to replace resigning Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed of the 13th district. There will be a July 18th primary and an August 22nd general election.

Tennessee- Special election to replace Mark Lovell, HD 95. A primary will take place this Thursday, April 27th and the general election will be on June 15th.

Trump's pick for Army Secretary Mark Green, who says stuff like this about transgender people and represents SD 22 is expected to resign this week which would will trigger an "August-ish" special election.

Washington State- Democrat Manka Dhingra is running in the Senate District 45 special election, being held to replace a legislator who died last year. This race is especially important because it is likely to determine the balance of power in the Washington State Senate. The election will take place in November.

Please note these are not all the special elections going on in the US, just those you thought were noteworthy. You tell me, who else should we be talking about? You can find an addition list, although still not a complete one, of state legislative special elections here.

Shout outs of course to Lincoln and Omaha Nebraska (both in May!), New York City, Atlanta, LA, New Jersey and Virginia all of which have elections this year, although not "specials."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Resources for Resistance

Since the inauguration a lot of friends and family have reached out to me with questions about how to stay involved. So many organizations are doing great work to keep the resistance strong, I wanted to share these resources with you so that you can take advantage or share them with others. In no particular order they are...

Indivisible Guide
- Practical advice for effectively communicating with and influencing your Members of Congress. Indivisible chapters are popping up all over the US (at least two per Congressional district!) so make sure to look yours up! Required reading.
Call the Halls- In depth practical advice on calling your Members of Congress
Call Them In Their homepage puts it best, "Timely email reminders with tailored call scripts at your fingertips, so you can oppose Donald Trump's agenda and back progressive legislation in a meaningful way."
Mobilize App- This is actually an app developed by a friend of a friend that differs from some of the other tools in that you proactively login when you feel the need to take action and it gives you a variety of targeted call scripts from which to choose.
Daily Action- Texts you with a suggestion of one phone call to make every day to resist extremism.
Movement Vote- Helps you find local groups participating in the resistance to join or donate to.
Call My Congress-Gives you contact info for your representatives based on address
5 Calls-Another calling tool that lets you narrow scripts by issue
Resistance Calendar- A semi-comprehensive calendar of resistance events across the United States
Resist Bot-Turns your texts into letters to Congress. A good option if you are unable to make phone calls or participate in person.

And of course there are amazing organizations like NARAL, Color of Change, and United We Dream to name just a very few who contact their members with opportunities to get involved all the time!

You tell me! What should I add to the list? Email me at!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How To Lobby Like a BAMF: Ten Lobbying Commandments

(Editor's Note: This a guest post and part of a three part series from the amazing Carly Pildis, an OFA alumna who will explain her current position in her post below. It is part of my continued effort to share tools and information to help our community feel empowered in the Trump era. Thank you so much to Carly for sharing your wisdom!)

I present to you the Ten Lobbying Commandments. Please sing to yourself to the tune of the Notorious B.I.G.’s ten crack commandments, or Hamilton’s ten duel commandments, whatever is your pleasure. This is your guide to acing that meeting you scheduled and turning action into change!

1. Treat MOCs and their aides well.
I know you want to speak truth to power. I know a lot of you are really angry. Use those desires in a constructive way. Aides shift through a lot of virulent anger that translates into very actionable requests on legislation. Knowledgeable, passionate constituents get listened to, furious diatribes do not. Most people go into government because they really believe they can make the world a better place. They work inordinately long hours and could have superior lifestyles if they left government.Treat them with respect.

2.Never ever lie.
You are not Kellyanne Conway. If they ask you a question and you do not know the answer that is okay. Just say,"I am not sure. I can find out for you, and I will follow up." This gives you a great excuse to check in and see if what they are thinking later!

3.Do not come in without a clear yes or no ask.
A friend who worked as an aide for a prominent Southern Senator told me she would get calls everyday asking her to protect the 2nd amendment. Two years into the job she still had no idea what these people actually wanted her Member to vote for and against, or if there was even a relevant bill. Don’t be those people. People work in government because they want to do good and make change - don’t bring them a sad story that they can’t do anything about. It wastes their time and makes them want to reach for the emergency bourbon under their desk. Your meeting must end with a YES or NO question that translates to action their part.

4.Show them who you are.
Who are you in the community? Are you a teacher, a doctor, a small business owner? Are you a person from a demographic that is important to this Member? Think about all of the ways that you are a community leader, someone whose opinion they should care about, and then make sure you communicate that to them. Do you have other members of that block of voters who would come with you or would write letters to deliver to the Member? You’d be surprised how big a difference ten or twenty letters make.

5.Speak their language and sell your ask.
I could talk all day about how the transatlantic slave trade and colonization decimated African countries and how foreign aid is a moral obligation. This is not compelling language to most Americans. Instead, I talk about how fighting epidemics worldwide makes a safer, healthier world for everyone. I talk about the linkages between lack of access to free primary school and violent extremism. I talk about how investing in child nutrition grows economies and builds trading partners. I look at what Members of Congress care about and value and create links. When talking to Members about abstinence only earmarks on AIDS funding, I talked about how it was an enormous waste of money that didn’t yield any results. I called it pork. That helped contextualize why it mattered to people. Look at their websites, look at what they care about and then package your ask and your issues to fit those values whenever possible.

6.Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Let’s be clear, lobbying should involve a yes or no question and if you get a yes you win. Yahtzee! Bingo! Tag! But there is always going to be a next ask, a next thing you want. So don’t burn bridges. I had one staffer I met with tell me about a lobbyist who convinced her member to vote as lobbyist wanted, but was so unprofessional she never took a meeting with her again. She meant it. They could have advocated more respectfully and built, not burned a relationship.

7.DO snatch victory from the jaws of "No."
You didn’t win. They won’t do what you want. That’s okay! You had a great meeting, started building a relationship and educated your Member or their aide about the issue. Hopefully you moved the needle a little by showing that their constituents care. These relationships are gold - and this is a good beginning. Sometimes it can take a while to get what you want, but this was still an important step. Sometimes winning is your MOC abstaining from a vote. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of budget appropriations to win support. But building that relationship is ALWAYS worth your time.

8.Share your personal story.
Members of Congress care about how policy affects their constituents. Tell them why you care, how it affects you, and what you want them to do. A good personal story has some key hallmarks. It’s short (about 3 minutes). It draws a straight line between people who vote and a policy ask. It has one memorable visual image. It is honest. I have seen aides cry at constituent stories. I have seen stories from constituents change Members forever. Speak your truth and tell them why this matters. This is your moment to shine.

9.Structure your time.
If you are 5 minutes late you may miss the meeting. This is not an exaggeration. Lobby meetings are 5 to 15 minutes max. Structure your time to share your story, make a few key points with statistics, and make a hard ask. Leave a few minutes for small talk. Be prepared to talk longer in case you get lucky, but it’s rare. So make sure you have a plan in place and use your time wisely.

10.Don’t show up empty handed.
You wouldn’t go to a party without a bottle of wine, don’t go to a lobby meeting without a leave behind packet. This is a great place to put reports on the issue, additional relevant information, and hard facts to back you up. Also come with letters. This is really important. Bring ten or twenty handwritten letters (NOT a petition) from constituents saying that they care and why. These letters get MOCs attention and can make a huge difference. The more letters the better.

Carly Pildis serves as Senior Associate, Advocacy and Organizing for RESULTS. She manages the REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellowship to Fight Poverty. She also managed candidate engagement around the 2016 POTUS primary, and works closely with both the legislative team and grassroots team on RESULTS campaigns. Prior to her time at RESULTS, she served as Operation Vote Director for the DC office of Obama for America, working to organize people of color and other constituency groups in support of the 2012 reelection campaign. Additionally she has served as a Fellow for Jubilee USA Network, and as a Advocacy Consultant/Field Organizer for American Jewish World Services on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Want to join her in the fight to protect foreign aid and stop budget cuts that would threaten the futures of millions of people living in poverty? Email her or follow her on twitter @carlypildis

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Design the NYC I Voted Sticker!

Two things I love more than almost anything else in this world: New York City and Voting. If I had one iota of artistic ability I would be all over this contest like cream cheese on a bagel. Since I don't I am sharing it with you! Please enter and share widely!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How to Lobby like a BAMF: Get that Meeting.

(Editor's Note: This a guest post and part of a three part series from the amazing Carly Pildis, an OFA alumna who will explain her current position in her post below. It is part of my continued effort to share tools and information to help our community feel empowered in the Trump era. Thank you so much to Carly for sharing your wisdom!)

Many people have this idea that Members of Congress are too important spend time talking to ordinary people. I have found many Members ENJOY talking to well informed, passionate constituents and building relationships in the communities they serve. Meetings have been shown over and over to be the most effective way to create relationships and make change, but how do you get one?

1.You don’t have to go to Washington!
Members of Congress come home regularly. Many are home several times a month and most are home for at least part of recess periods. It’s a misnomer that Members are on vacation when they are out of session, they are actually often home with you!

2.Start in Writing.
First submit a written request via email to your Member’s scheduler. You can look them up here and use the standard house or senate email format to write to them. A simple polite letter letting them know that you would like a meeting during the next recess, who you and others coming to the meeting are, and what you’d like to discuss is all you need. Send it off to the scheduler and buy yourself a cup of coffee to say good job!

3.Pick up the Phone
Every other day, give that scheduler a call until you get a meeting! Do it on your lunch break, or while you are on the bus. If after two weeks they haven’t responded try a few emails. Keep it up! Don’t take it personally - Members and their schedulers can be super busy, but they will eventually get back to you! If it takes more than 2 weeks, try calling the local in district office and tell them you are having a hard time. Worse comes to worse a (FRIENDLY! NICE) Tweet can come in handy.

4.Legislative Aides Are Awesome!
Members care what you think, but there are a lot of you! With votes, budget negotiations, the constant grind of campaign fundraising, etc. schedules fill up fast! Members hire smart young people to help them figure out what to prioritize and what to support. It is incredibly useful to make friends with people in your local office. If you are offered a meeting with them TAKE IT! They are like you, passionate, idealistic and driven. If you make a good impression they can have a lot of influence and can push your cause hard. Ask local staff to conference in relevant policy staff from DC and you can get to know the whole clique!

Now you know how to get a meeting go out and get it! Make your voice heard! Next installment will cover what to do in the meeting!

Carly Pildis serves as Senior Associate, Advocacy and Organizing for RESULTS. She manages the REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellowship to Fight Poverty. She also managed candidate engagement around the 2016 POTUS primary, and works closely with both the legislative team and grassroots team on RESULTS campaigns. Prior to her time at RESULTS, she served as Operation Vote Director for the DC office of Obama for America, working to organize people of color and other constituency groups in support of the 2012 reelection campaign. Additionally she has served as a Fellow for Jubilee USA Network, and as a Advocacy Consultant/Field Organizer for American Jewish World Services on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Want to join her in the fight to protect foreign aid and stop budget cuts that would threaten the futures of millions of people living in poverty? Email her or follow her on twitter @carlypildis

Monday, March 20, 2017

How to Lobby like a BAMF Part One: What is Lobbying?

(Editor's Note: This a guest post and part of a three part series from the amazing Carly Pildis, an OFA alumna whose bio is below. It is part of my continued effort to share tools and information to help our community feel empowered in the Trump era. Thank you so much to Carly for sharing your wisdom!)

Since Election night, my phone has been exploding with questions. I am being asked everyday how to be heard, and the voices asking are filled with fear. What makes me qualified to answer? I serve as Senior Associate, Advocacy and Organizing for RESULTS, a movement of passionate grassroots who have been fighting for an end of poverty at home and around the world for over 35 years. I spend most of my time with RESULTS training grassroots on how to make change, particularly geared towards influencing Congress. I run the REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellowship to Fight Poverty, with Fellows having approximately 300 lobby meetings a year. Since so many people are interested in lobbying these days, I am doing a three part series on Lobbying. I am so excited to be writing for Campaignsick!

While I write this I am watching my 3 month old daughter sleep. Like many of you I am concerned about the country she is going to grow up in. Will it be a place where my values of inclusivity, empowerment, and shared prosperity reign? Or will it become a place I don’t recognize?. Lobbying is a great way to affect the issues you care about in a real tangible way.

Members of Congress and their staff WANT to meet with constituents. You are the people who hire and fire. You are the people who volunteer and donate to campaigns. You matter INFINITELY more than a paid lobbyist. A recent study from the Congressional Management Foundation confirms what we’ve known for decades: Members care first and foremost what you think!

Like organizing, lobbying requires you to build muscle memory of best practices that you use religiously, and pair those best practices with dogged persistence. Future blogs will cover step by step instructions, but first let’s define what lobbying is and isn’t

Lobbying is:
-A chance to influence policy and public funding.
-A chance to educate your MOC about an issue they may not know much about.
-Most important of all, a lobby meeting is a chance to build relationships with people who have the power to affect policy and funding. Even if you don’t get what you want now, building that relationship is critical to influencing members and their aides on issues you care about in the future. Show them that you are an engaged member of the community whose opinion they should court and you’ll be shocked how much influence you can garner.

Lobbying is not:
-A venting session. Save that for Happy Hour. Friends on the Hill tell me of constituents who call everyday to SCREAM at them. These people get ignored. Wouldn’t you ignore them?
-A place to protest. This a time for persuasion and dialogue. You're already in the room - protesting is for when you are struggling to get inside it.
-A place for long academic debate or philosophy lecture. It would be awesome to give your MOC a 20 slide presentation on the history of systemic racism. Unfortunately, this will not happen for you. Your meeting will last 10 minutes, 15 max. I have had ones as short as 5 minutes. Expect to introduce the issue, talk about your personal connection to it, a make one or two key points backed up by statistics and then make a hard ask. Have some small talk at the beginning to keep it friendly.

Now that you have a clear understanding of lobbying as a tool and a strategy, you're ready to get started! Thanks for reading and for raising your voice!

Carly Pildis serves as Senior Associate, Advocacy and Organizing for RESULTS. She manages the REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellowship to Fight Poverty. She also managed candidate engagement around the 2016 POTUS primary, and works closely with both the legislative team and grassroots team on RESULTS campaigns. Prior to her time at RESULTS, she served as Operation Vote Director for the DC office of Obama for America, working to organize people of color and other constituency groups in support of the 2012 reelection campaign. Additionally she has served as a Fellow for Jubilee USA Network, and as a Advocacy Consultant/Field Organizer for American Jewish World Services on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Want to join her in the fight to protect foreign aid and stop budget cuts that would threaten the futures of millions of people living in poverty? Email her or follow her on twitter @carlypildis

Saturday, February 4, 2017

But What About The Children?: Second Graders, And Their Teacher, Sound Off On Trump.

(Stock photo, not Lauren's kids)

Some of you may remember that I had the privilege of speaking to my friend Lauren's second grade class about elections last September. My favorite part of that experience was hearing what was filtering down from media to parents to kids.

A couple of examples:
Little Girl: Hillary will be the best President even though she was in jail.
Me: I don't think she was in jail...
Little Girl: Yahuh! I saw it on the news!

Little Boy: Donald Trump is bad because he only likes white people and he had TWO fake schools!
Of course, had I known how things would go I would have prepared these kids with a somewhat different conversation. Not to get all soapbox-y but at a time when both facts and compassion seem optional for adults in our country, public school teachers have never been more important. And thank God for them. After spending 2 hours with elementary schoolers, I left genuinely confused as to why we don't pay elementary school teachers six figure salaries. So when I saw Lauren's Facebook post below my heart melted, not just for the kids but also for her.
2nd graders' takes on the state of our nation...
Student 1: "We are now governed by a potato!"
Student 2: "Trump sees women as objects."
Student 3: "I'm scared and sad...
How do you teach fairness and kindness in a world that is so obviously unfair and unkind? How do you explain what happened to seven year olds when most adults can't make sense of it? I decided to ask the source. Thank you Lauren for answering my questions as well as helping raise an informed and compassionate next generation.

1) Who are you? (Your professional background etc)

I'm a 2nd grade teacher at a public school in Manhattan. I am a general educator in an ICT classroom, meaning that we have some students with special needs and my co-teacher is a special educator. This is my 5th year at this school, where we serve mostly middle and upper middle class families. While we are not particularly racially or socioeconomically diverse, we have quite a bit of ethnic and linguistic diversity and a number of immigrants in our student body. Our school's emphasis is on social action.

2) How did you prepare your students for the election?

We added an election unit to our curriculum this year. We focused mostly on election vocabulary and how elections work. We also read a brief biography of both Clinton and Trump, and held a pretend election in which the students voted for who they predicted would win. In addition, we welcomed Nancy into our class as a guest speaker to discuss how campaigns and elections work! I was pleasantly surprised by how interested the students were in the election and how much they were discussing at home. Indirectly related to the election, we teach a unit every fall called "Fighting for a Cause" (from the Core Knowledge curriculum). Though we didn't plan it this way at the time, I've noticed since the election that the ideas (such as peaceful protests) and the activists (such as Martin Luther King, Jr.) that we studied during this unit have given my students a basis for discussing current events surrounding the election and new administration.

3) What was it like in school the day after the election?

The day after the election was emotional. Being around so many progressive teachers and families, there was definitely sadness and anger in the air at school. Some of my students came to school upset. We tried to remain somewhat unbiased (though I've felt conflicted about how unbiased we should be), but also gave the students space to talk about how they felt. We've been trying to let them lead the conversation as much as possible, starting that day. We've also been trying to help them feel safe. The day after the election, many students were talking about Trump building the wall. At this age, kids tend to focus on the concrete, and the wall was something they could understand. One girl was absent that day, and her family is Hispanic, so some of her friends were worried that she had been deported. Our main goal that day was to reassure them that they were safe with us.

4) What have the kids been saying about Trump since the inauguration?

My students haven't said too much about Trump himself, but when his name is mentioned, the anger on their faces says it all. Some memorable comments include one student repeatedly saying that Trump is a potato, and another student saying that Trump sees women as objects.

5) Has anything about their reaction surprised you? (How concerned about it do they seem to be? Do they know more/less than you expected etc?)

I've been surprised by how aware some of my students are and how much their families seem to discuss politics at home. They don't understand a lot of the specifics about policies, but they do sense the fear and outrage around them. However, I do think that kids are extremely resilient and able to compartmentalize more than adults, so while they are aware and concerned, they are able to, at least outwardly, show less concern than many adults. My students, for the most part, are fortunate in that they come from places of privilege, but they are still more knowledgeable than I would have expected. I have also been pleasantly surprised by the connections they make between the activism happening now and the historic activists we've studied. In addition, we wrote thank you letters to Obama on Inauguration Day and they impressed me with what they knew about his presidency, mentioning specifics such as Obamacare.

6) What challenges has a Trump presidency posed for you as a teacher?

The biggest challenge I have experienced has been trying to remain (at least somewhat) unbiased. I've been trying to let the students lead the conversation as much as possible, but that is not always easy. It can also be difficult to find language to use that is honest but still accessible for 2nd graders. Another challenge has been dealing with my own feelings surrounding Betsy DeVos, since I know those decisions will affect me and the rest of my school community. Teachers and parents at my school held a protest, which helped us feel like we were actively doing something and leading our students by example.

7) What, if anything, have you been talking to your kids about regarding a Trump presidency? Are there ways to make this teachable?

As I said, we've been trying to let the students lead the conversation as much as possible, answering their questions, trying to alleviate their fears, and highlighting examples of activism. There are definitely ways to make this teachable! In addition to teaching the ins and outs of how government works, I think the most important way to make this teachable is leading by example and focusing on what we can do as citizens to fight for what we believe is right. I think it's easy for both children and adults to feel overwhelmed and helpless, so actively searching for ways to fight can only help.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

#Resistance is making a difference

I usually hate the "copy and paste" viral Facebook stuff but after a rough week and bunch of protesting this was nice to read so I wanted to share this with you. Feel free to paste and share on your own social media.

Hey activist friends: despite the headlines, you are making a difference. In the words of Banksy: "If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit."
For everyone who DID something, small or big, your efforts have been successful. Because of you:
1. Federal hiring freeze is reversed for VA (Veteran Affairs).
2. Court ordered partial stay of the immigration ban for those with valid visas.
3. Green card holders can get back in country.
4. Uber pledges $3M and immigration lawyers for its drivers after #DeleteUber trends on Twitter.
5. Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) enrollment ads are still going to air.
6. The ACLU raised 24M over the weekend (normally 3-4Mil/year).
7. HHS, EPA, USDA gag order lifted.
8. EPA climate data no longer scrubbed from website.
9. More people of different career/religious/economic/race backgrounds are considering running for political office than ever before.
10.CEO of Uber left Trump's business advisory council
11. MOST importantly, since we live in a participatory democracy, the people are engaged.

While more is needed, sometimes you have to celebrate your wins. Stay vigilant, but also take self care seriously. Activist burnout is a thing, as is protest fatigue. Marathon, don't sprint. #RESIST
(Feel free to copy and paste to share. (*Copy/pasted from a friend*)

Byron LaMasters Calls Trump

A colleague posted the following on Facebook and in my on-going quest to post anything that makes me feel better as well as opportunities for activism I thought I'd share.

Today I tried an experiment. In light of the White House switchboard (202) 456-1111 closing their comment line and with some inspiration from I decided to try a dozen or so Trump Organization phone numbers and politely request to leave a message for Mr. Trump. Here's what I got:

Trump International Hotel - Washington D.C. (202) 695-1100 - rang about 25 times then disconnected.

Trump Park Avenue (212) 223-3775 - The person said that I should call the main Trump Organization office at (212) 832-2000. I hadn't called them yet, so I tried them next.

Trump Organization (212) 832-2000 - First three attempts did not get through. Fourth attempt got through to someone that connected me to a voice mail where I expressed my opposition to a 20% tariff with Mexico.

Trump International Realty (212) 247-7100 - Rang four times and disconnected.

Trump International Hotel & Tower (212) 362-4715 - Person transferred me to the voice mail of a hotel manager where I left a message about opposing the executive order relating to the Mexico City policy.

Trump Place 200 Riverside Blvd (212) 362-4715 - Rang 20-ish times and disconnected.

Trump Events (212) 715-7290 - Was actually the restaurant. They connected me to the front desk, which connected me to another voice mail where I expressed my opposition to torture.

Trump Soho (212) 842-5500 - Started talking and was interrupted "Sir, sir, I apologize, we don't deal with Mr. Trump" and they hung up.

Trump National Doral Miami (305) 592-2000 - By far the nicest person I spoke with. After introducing myself the woman that picked up said she'd take my message. I expressed my opposition to Trump's refugee policy and that we needed to be doing more for Syrian refugees, and asked that my position be conveyed to Mr. Trump and she said "Absolutely, sir. Have a nice day".

Trump Winery Tasting Room (434) 977-4001 - Person connected me to a voice mail line where I expressed my concern that Trump was violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Mar-a-lago (561) 832-2600 - Person said that the new comment line was (501) 374-4242 and said that I should call that number. I googled it, and that's the Clinton Presidential Library number, and did not call. Tried calling Mar-a-lago back and it hung up / disconnected.

Trump Hotel Las Vegas (702) 982-0000 - Interrupted, "you have the wrong number" and hung up.

FYI: Byron LaMasters is a Democratic political consultant at InFocus Campaigns. He is a Texan living in DC whose interests include politics, travel, books, and baseball.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Executive Order – the implications of the refugee and immigration ban

Like me, I am sure you are all sickened by the first week of the Trump administration. While I don't usually delve into too much policy on the blog I was so infuriated by the recent Executive Order on immigration that I didn't want to let the moment pass without saying something. Earlier today I participated in a protest at the White House, but I wanted to do as much as possible with my small platform to share information about why the ban is dangerous and discriminatory. Thank you to James Blake, who is way more expert at this than I am, for obliging and for my grad school classmate who connected me with him. His bio and analysis are below. By the way, if you are interested in joining a protest against the so-called Muslim Ban, click here to find out what is happening in your city. There are still plenty of activities going on.

On Friday, January 27, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a wide-ranging Executive Order that ended the refugee resettlement program temporarily for four months, in addition to banning entry of people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya. The order cuts in half the number of refugees planned to be taken in during 2017. Priority will also be given to certain religions.

Controversy has ensued. The Executive Order has drawn significant criticism from a wide range of groups. At the diplomatic level, several policy makers have questioned whether it goes against the Geneva Convention, while many other argue that it undermines U.S. world leadership. Because of the rushed nature of the Executive Order, confusion and anger has spread. Some politicians, academics, medical professionals, former interpreters to the U.S. government and athletes are caught up in the blanket-nature of the Executive Order, and are uncertain whether they can travel back to the U.S. Yesterday, amid media reports of chaos at airports, a federal judge ruled that the authorities had to stop deporting refugees and others who were stuck at the U.S. airports.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, in the U.S., the reaction has been deeply polarized. The U.S. president tied the Executive Order’s rationale to improving national security, citing 9/11 on several occasions, and stating he wanted to clamp down on security vulnerabilities from the visa system. This will likely be the start of further policies in this area. CNN wrote an article that President Trump’s next step could be to check digital records of those immigrants seeking to enter the country. Some on the political right have praised the Executive Order as a first step in securing borders and protecting the U.S. against terrorism. The political left and center, however, is by and large furious, with the more hardline comments criticizing the president for demagoguery, inciting fear, hatred of marginalized groups and, in fact, undermining national security. Some have equated the president’s ulterior motivation in the Executive Order to be a blanket Muslim ban.

Protests against the Executive Order have been held – and are being planned – in cities across the country. Notably, on Saturday, a spontaneous demonstration was held outside JFK international airport after immigrants attempting to re-enter the U.S. were detained.

In the bigger picture, there are particularly troubling aspects to the Executive Order. The U.S. shapes global thinking through its leadership. For many years, its welcoming position to refugees has been widely recognized, and has set the tone and direction for other countries to welcome, particularly the most vulnerable of refugees from war-torn countries. Among experts, the U.S. refugee program itself is a success story. Those refugees who have been resettled have boosted their communities through innovation, diversity and cultural enrichment. The program itself has a long-tradition: the U.S. is after all at its core a nation of immigrants.

Perhaps even more troubling, the world is facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Neighbors to Syria, particularly Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon are overwhelmed by refugees, who have fled from years of conflict in Syria. Meanwhile, refugees have flooded Europe in recent years, as they desperately seek opportunities to rebuild their lives. The pressing nature of the world refugee crisis is calling for U.S. leadership and solutions, but with the Executive Order, it has seemingly shunned responsibility and instead, shockingly, turned inwards.

In terms of security, while the Executive Order has been couched in matters of national security, it is not apparent what improvements it was trying to make. Refugees were already subject to lengthy and significant investigations by Homeland Security, with cases taking an average 12-18 months of vetting, biometrics and interviews. It is harder to get to the US as a refugee than it is by any other immigration route. The risk of letting in potentially dangerous individuals as refugees was already small.

Indeed, there is a likelihood that the Executive Order will drive increasing security risks over the longer-term, as it plays into the broader narrative of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda of a clash of civilizations with the West. The Executive Order risks aiding the radicalization of marginalized elements from the country to look for reasons to carry out attacks in the U.S. It is also a boon for the recruitment to groups such as the Islamic State.

Given the reaction and implication of the Executive Order, the only real solution seems to be to repeal it, and instead work with the system that was left in place by the Obama administration. In some key positions, such as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, the Trump administration has a wealth of experience to draw upon, and beneath these individuals are many talented security experts. The Trump administration should seek counsel from these experts and consider the Executive Order in more depth.

The US has a proud history of welcoming refugees, and fostering a community of diversity. The Executive Order has caused great confusion, hurt and embarrassment to the U.S., and, sadly has global ramifications.

James Blake is an expert in political and security risk analysis. He started his career at a leading political and security risk consultancy firm in London. He subsequently worked in-house at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC, where he advised on international security matters across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Most recently, he was the sole political analyst at the International Rescue Committee. He was in Turkey conducting an assessment on refugees as the European Refugee Crisis escalated, to help with the IRC's programming in Europe. He also helped IRC teams access conflict zones and mitigate their risks as they sought to respond to the world's worst crises. James wrote geopolitical analysis for the Soufan Group for several years, and is a contributor to Jane's Intelligence Magazine.

Friday, January 27, 2017

All The World's A Stage: My rules for engaging in a new era of performative politics

I've become a big fan of the word "performative" because it so accurately captures so much of the window dressing that surrounds the progressive movement. It drives me crazy when people treat the very important and serious work of electing progressive leaders and advancing progressive policy like a hobby. You know the people who make a big deal out of the fact that they don't shave their armpits? The people who feel the need to point out that they are an ally in their Twitter profile? The activists who go to every Democratic committee meeting but are indignant when a field organizer calls their home? These are the people who believe that if a tree votes in the forest it doesn't make a sound. They are the bane of my existence.

So I totally got it when I read the somewhat-viral Medium piece "I've Already Marched" by college student and former Hillary organizer, Danielle Templeton. I did not attend the women's march and many of my reasons were included or at least alluded to in this piece. It's not fucking fun or funny. It's not enough to participate in performative feel-goodery and be convinced that you did your part. And I knew it would make me sad to see all that energy and all that anger and think of what could have been if it had been properly directed BEFORE we got into this mess.

Having said that...I totally disagree with the premise of this piece. If it's self-righteous and performative to snapchat yourself with a #DumpTrump sign having never knocked doors, so too is it to criticize those who are currently taking action while you abstain because you have "done your part." I get it, you're exhausted. I'm exhausted. We are 7 days into a Trump-presidency and I am already overwhelmed and demoralized by my own outrage. I am bitterly disappointed by the election results and in some moments just plain bitter. I didn't march because I didn't think it would have meaning for me in proportion to the emotional toll it would take, but I also know that as we move forward I must find ways to remain engaged that do feel effective and meaningful.

I've been meditating a lot on a Rabbi Tarfon quote which I feel will be the key to me to remaining politically active while maintaining my sanity over the next few months, "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it."

When the stakes are so high no one has truly "done their part" even if we need to take a moment to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off again. It's tempting, but unproductive, to be dismissive of those who didn't or couldn't engage in the ways that we have just as its frustrating as a long-time organizer to resist among a sea of people who are just now discovering that elections have consequences. So where do we go from here?

1) Be welcoming. Recognize that everyone has to start somewhere. Believe it or not, there was a time before you were politically active. Would you have remained engaged if people chastised you for not starting sooner? When you became an organizer in college I didn't dismiss you because I had already been doing this work for 10 years (and girl, I don't mean to pick on you. I get it.) We need new people to become active in the progressive movement because guess what? We lost. If you can't do it because it's the emotionally generous thing to do, do it because its necessary. The corollary to that is...

2) You didn't invent this shit. This means you, yes you. At every phase during my relatively brief political career there has been a generation of organizers/activists who insist that they have revolutionized the progressive movement (OFA, Bernie Bros). While you might have something to add, recognize that you stand on the shoulders of giants. You and I are able to do this kind of work because of what others have done before us. You are not a special snowflake. The fight for a more just society didn't begin when you or I showed up. As Billy Joel would say it's been always burning since the world's been turning. Have some humility. Listen. Learn. Give credit where credit is due.

3) Don't tell other people what to care about. Remember when Mike Pence got booed at Hamilton and everybody lost their shit about it? "This is a distraction! The real issue is________." Look, I don't doubt that the new administration is engaging in a fair amount of (pardon the pun) political theater to distract us from the serious issues on which they are wreaking havoc, but that doesn't mean I can't be angry about both. Like the ocean, I contain multitudes.

Recently I responded to Bernie Sanders' 23 Questions for America with concern that he and his supporters were dismissing the importance of so-called "social issues" as identity politics in favor of an agenda that focused solely on economic equality. No sooner had I posted about this on Facebook (the most effective organizing medium of all!) than a Democratic activist, who I only know because she and I are in a Facebook support group for the same rare disease, started railing at me that I shouldn't be talking about this because I should be focused on the confirmation hearings for noted bigot Jeff Sessions. (This is the same lady who inspired this post, by the way.) Of course I was outraged by Sessions' nomination as well, but I was (and remain) also concerned about the future of the Democratic party. This lady would not spit the hook and kept insisting that my issue was frivolous and that I focus on that which was of immediate concern to her. When I suggested that she might be better served organizing around Sessions' nomination rather than harassing me she responded, "I SIT ON MY DEMOCRATIC TOWN COMMITTEE DO YOU?"

The reality is that this new administration is such an outrageous dumpster fire that it will be impossible to engage on every issue, and every comment that upsets you. We will have to pick and choose, just as we will have to pick and choose the ways in which we get involved. I didn't go to the march because it wasn't what I chose. I was frankly pretty offended when friends who have not been as politically engaged as I have tried to shame me about that. But neither did I feel like it was my place to judge them or tell them their choice to engage in that way wasn't meaningful. In fact, I felt more comforted and inspired by how uplifting the march seemed to be for my less political friends than I believe I would have felt from participating myself.

4) This is not about your ego. Though I understand the temptation, I am not here for people who just showed up to a movement and are already trying to lead it. Right now the progressive movement needs more soldiers, not more generals. As I said above, so many different facets of our lives are being attacked which means so many worthy and experienced progressive groups are competing for attention and resources; this is not the time to start your own. One way to tell if you are being a performative progressive is if you are only interested in participating in an action provided that you can be a leader, regardless of whether you are the most qualified to do so. Ask yourself...would you still be doing this if for some reason you were prohibited from sharing evidence on social media? If not, then it might be time to reevaluate your motivation.

5) We need doctors. I don't show up to an arthritis walk-a-thon and expect rheumatologists to come out of the woodwork and harangue me for not having done my part before. Not everyone has the talent, the personality or even the privilege to work in progressive politics full-time. What would even be the point of living in such a society? We all contribute to the things we care about in different ways and while everybody should be engaged it is unrealistic to expect everybody to be involved to the same extent as those of us who make a living out of this kind of work.

6) It has to be fun and it can't all be fun. On the surface, is there anything more performative than taking a selfie in a pink pussy hat? You don't get to get dressed up all cute, walk around outside chanting with your friends and act like we're equally engaged. On the other hand, if doing that and being part of a march like the one post-inauguration inspires you, empowers you, and puts a fire in your belly to do something more, you wear that pussy hat! You wear two or ten or twelve pussy hats and you wear them with pride!

This is going to be a long haul. For it to be sustainable it has to be enjoyable. A friend who attended the Women's march described the atmosphere as "slightly angry political mardi gras" (which, sidenote, is now the theme of my wedding) and that more than anything made me sad I'd missed it. There is nothing wrong with taking the work, but not ourselves, seriously. Indeed sometimes its the only way to stay sane. The caveat being that the fun should be a reprieve and sometimes a benefit but not the purpose or end game of the hard, important work.

7) Respect the circle of grief. As a final note, I feel like I've been fair and generous in recognizing the value of people who have just shown up to the political progressive table, so indulge me for a moment as I change tones and vent about something. Stop fucking texting me about everything that Trump does. Stop telling me that you are depressed and looking to me to comfort you, or worse yet to assuage your guilt about not having done something about this sooner. I have news for you, I'm depressed too. My soul hurts. As I wrote in my first post-election blog post, everything I've believed in and stood for and worked for my entire adult life has been turned upside down, so maybe I'm not the best person to turn to to make you feel better right now.

I understand that you feel frustrated and impotent and afraid and I appreciate that you consider me an expert and want to turn to me for advice. Obviously, I love to give it and I am glad you've asked, but I am asking you have a modicum of self-awareness. Don't treat me like your personal political sounding board and certainly don't come looking to me for a cookie. Just as it would be unfair for me to expect you to do this work full-time, sometimes I need to turn the world off too. If you are enraged and need to share that rage with another person, consider venting to someone who still lacks the proper motivation to participate politically.

Campaign Love and Mine,