Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones: Help Me Spread the Word

Hey Have Fun * Do Gooders!

I'm helping Green for All get the word out about Van Jones' new book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Two of Our Biggest Problems.

Here's what Vice President Al Gore says about The Green Collar Economy:

"This book illustrates the link between the struggle to restore the environment and the need to revive the US economy. Van Jones demonstrates conclusively that the best solutions for the survivability of our planet are also the best solutions for everyday Americans."

In order for The Green Collar Economy to have the biggest impact, the best time for folks to buy the book is now, or any time before the Tuesday, October 7th on-sale date. The best seller lists treat every book that is sold before the on-sale date as if it was sold on its release date. Green for All's goal is to sell 5,000 copies by October 8th.

Please spread the word to your peeps, and if you're planning on purchasing the book, please order it earlier than later.

Green for All and Van Jones are both based in Oakland, CA (where I live) so I've been following their work for awhile. I'm here to tell ya that Jones will go down in history as one of the visionary voices of our time. He was recently named as a TIME Magazine 2008 Hero of the Environment.

You can listen to an interview I did with Van Jones in April 2007 for the Big Vision Podcast and read a transcript of our chat on Have Fun * Do Good, or watch him on The Colbert Report in April 2008:

Thanks for spreading the word!

Full disclosure: I am a contractor for Green for All, but I would have posted about Van's book anyway (:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ask Britt: How can I combine the creative arts with social impact?

This week's Ask Britt question, sent in by a reader, is,

"How can I combine the creative arts with social impact? What are some great examples of creative work that is very effective in social impact?"

Great question! The arts are a wonderful way to make a difference in the world because they are fun, engaging, and oftentimes help you to tell stories, all key elements to attracting and keeping people involved in a cause.

Here are some examples of ways people have used the arts to create social impact:

50 Crows Social Change Photography
"Images inspire people to act. Examples of socially rousing photography permeate our history: Vietnam, Rwanda, 9-11’s Ground Zero. Unfortunately, mainstream media narratives often work to envelop public perspective on these seminal issues by presenting limited viewpoints and images. Due to the fact that the focus of these media corporations is on creating profits rather than social justice, the many answers that we demand as conscious global citizens become conditional.

FiftyCrows Foundation eschews these media politics and prioritizes social awareness by using arrestingly real, timely photographic images as a catalyst for education, cultural understanding and social action."

Aid to Artisans
"Aid to Artisans (ATA), an international nonprofit organization, is a recognized leader of economic development for the craft industry. By linking artisans to new markets and buyers to culturally meaningful and innovative products, ATA provides needed economic opportunities to artisans while preserving the beauty of global handmade crafts."

Arts and Healing Network
"Arts and Healing Network is an on-line resource celebrating the connection between art and healing. Our web site serves as an international resource for anyone interested in the healing potential of art, especially environmentalists, social activists, artists, art professionals, health care practitioners, and those challenged by illness. Our hope is that the information presented here will educate and inspire."

Art in Action Youth Leadership Training
Art in Action Youth Leadership Program uplifts and transforms the lives of young artists impacted by violence and poverty. Our annual summer camps and year-round programs create hope and opportunity through socially relevant popular education, community-building, and creative expression geared toward developing solutions. Art in Action provides a supportive, positive place for young leaders to cultivate leadership through dance, theater, music, spoken word/poetry, painting, storytelling, and media arts."

Artivist Film Festival
"'ARTIVIST' is the first international film festival and awards dedicated to addressing Human Rights, Children's Advocacy, Environmental Preservation, and Animal Rights. Our mission is to strengthen the voice of activist artists - 'Artivists' - while raising public awareness for social global causes."

"EMANCIPATE is an initiative led by women musicians who are activists in their communities with the goal of solidarity, amplification of social justice issues and collaboration towards solutions. We use song as a tool for organizing in communities around the country."

Free Range Studio
"We're a team of passionate, wildly creative people who spend our days strategizing, branding and designing so the most important social messages get through loud and clear.

Free Range is known for being the most successful cause-based viral movie makers ever. Sure, we created The Meatrix and Grocery Store Wars. But those projects are just the most public face of our portfolio that includes print, web and strategy materials for the planet's most influential non-profits, political campaigns and socially responsible businesses."

Participant Media
"Participant believes that a good story well told can truly make a difference in how one sees the world. Whether it is a feature film, documentary or other form of media, Participant exists to tell compelling, entertaining stories that also create awareness of the real issues that shape our lives."

Power to the Peaceful Festival (founded by musician, Michael Franti)
"Power to the Peaceful is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the promotion of cultural co-existence, non-violence and environmental sustainability through the arts and music.

By bringing people together through music and art it is our goal to highlight the similarities and celebrate the diversity of all of the world’s inhabitants."

Shalini Kantayya's 7th Empire Media
"The mission of 7th Empire Media is to bring a professional voice to the unheard through media. 7th Empire is a full-scale production company committed to creating original high-quality film, video, and interactive media that raise social awareness, stimulate critical dialogue, and celebrate the diverse voices of an ever-changing world."

Streetside Stories
"Through the power of storytelling, Streetside values and cultivates young people’s voices, fostering educational equity and building community, literacy and arts skills."

Photojournalist Paola Gianturco's book, Women Who Light the Dark.
"Around the world, local women are helping one another tackle the problems that darken their lives—domestic violence, sex trafficking, war, poverty, illiteracy, discrimination, inequality, malnutrition, disease.

These women may lack material resources, but they possess a wealth of an even more precious resource: imagination. And their imaginations light the dark."

Santa Fe International Folk Art Market
"The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market is the largest international folk art market in the world, and our success led to Santa Fe’s designation as a UNESCO City of Folk Art, the first U.S. city named to UNESCO’s prestigious Creative Cities Network. . . . Sales at the Market directly benefit artists and their families and help sustain communities worldwide."

I'd love to hear your examples in the comments!


You can email your question (please keep it to 50 words) about the do-good, or artistic work you are doing, or want to do, to britt@brittbravo.com. Title your email, "Ask Britt: your question topic." I won't post your name, but I will post your question with my answer, so keep that in mind as you write, if you don't want details in your question to identify you.

Full disclosure: The number of ways these examples are biased is too many to list. Just an fyi (:
Photo taken by me at March 2003 Iraq War protest in Oakland, CA

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Journey of the Spiritual Activist: An Interview with Marisa Handler

"The world of activism, can be rigidly secular. It felt to me like coming out of the closet when I began talking about spiritual practice with my activist friends"--Marisa Handler

The more I write about organizations and individuals who are creating social change, the more I realize that to create true change, we need to change our inner world and our outer world.

Activist, journalist, and singer, Marisa Handler, chronicles her activist journey, and the role spirituality played in it, in her 2007 memoir, Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist. Loyal to the Sky received a Nautilus Book Award for world changing books.

Below is an edited transcript from a September 5th phone interview with Marisa for the Big Vision Podcast. When I heard Marisa speak at the Writing for Change Conference, she talked about discovering what our role is in changing the world by being open to what "calls to us." I asked her to talk a little bit about what she meant by this.

Marisa Handler: Essentially, I mean what Joseph Campbell meant when he said, "Follow your bliss, " which is that in order to discover our destiny, to discover who we are in the deepest and truest sense, we really need to go in the direction that speaks to us. To me, that means following the direction that represents beauty, and represents heart, and truth, and all of these grandiose words that essentially mean that it is something that moves us and that gets us excited.

I believe if we go in that direction, and our intention is to be true to ourselves, and also to remember our own interconnection, and the state that the world is in right now, that it will guide us to a place where the work that we are doing is actually helping, and has an application.

I think that there are as many different ways to be an activist as there are human beings on the planet right now. Your way may be starting an organic catering company, or painting about issues that are important to you, or getting out on the streets and protesting, or maybe working with policy; there are all kinds of different work.

Essentially it means that we don't always all have to do the same thing, and actually, that if we all do the same thing, that's not going to necessarily save the world. I think that in an age where what we're facing often seems very vast and faceless - huge institutions, corporations, or undemocratic governments - I think that the real answers don't so much lie in, they can, but not always, big ticket solutions. I think the real answers lie in the small, diverse, creative solutions we come up with ourselves in our communities, by ourselves, or with our friends, or with a global group. It may be a bigger group, but the emphasis is on diversity and creativity.

That's essentially what I mean, if we follow what speaks to us, we're going to be true to ourselves. We're also going to be true to what the world wants of us.

Britt Bravo: You talk in your book about how meditation and spiritual practices are an integral part of your activism. Can you talk a little bit about what role meditation plays in your activism, and in your creative process?

MH: It's been really crucial for me. It's been a foundation to begin with, and to return to. Certainly in terms of my own activism, it has really helped open my eyes. For me, meditation is a practice of sitting down for half an hour every morning, or whatever the case is, and practicing awareness.

What that means is that sometimes I start seeing things that I wasn't aware of before in myself, like my own motivations for things. I discovered at one point that a lot of my activism was very angry, and I started to have some insight - I think this has a lot to do with my meditation practice - into my own motivations for being there in the first place, for being out on the streets protesting.

A lot of it was positive. A lot of it was coming from a place of compassion, and wanting to help. But, there was also a good deal of anger motivating it. When I started to look a little bit more deeply, I was able to see that it was there in the first place, and that it was guiding my work in a way that was not necessarily constructive.

While my objective was to make positive change, when I came at it from a place that was angry, I saw - I think this has been visible to many people who have worked in social change movements - that my anger was not growing the movement. It wasn't bringing people toward us. Our anger if anything was driving people who did not already agree with us, away from us. That is an example of what I mean when I say that my meditation practice has been quite essential to my activism.

In terms of my creative process, I think when it comes to writing and to singing it's about letting go, and as much as possible moving myself out of the way, because when you're sitting down and practicing being aware, you start to recognize what's the self, and what's ego, and what may be running a little deeper than those things. In that sense, I think it has trained me in how to get out of my own way so that something deeper can come through me.

BB: Your whole book, Loyal to the Sky, is a memoir, and it's your entire path to becoming an activist and an artist. So, for me to ask you, what is the path that brought you to your activism would be to ask you to repeat your book, but, in a shorter form, you could tell the listeners a little bit about the path that brought you to activism, in particular to a more spiritual based, non-violent activism?

MH: I think in essence, what brought me to activism is the same thing that brings anybody to a place where they want to help, whether it's in their community, or in the world, and that is compassion. I think that it's natural for us to feel the suffering of others. If we're not feeling the suffering of others, then there's something blocked inside us. When we open to suffering, and there's a lot of good reasons not to open, it is painful, although I think ultimately it backfires when we don't open. When we do open, and we let that pain through, things can start to move and shift in a way that is very healthy.

Essentially, I came to activism from compassion. In terms of my own life, as I write in Loyal to the Sky, I grew up in apartheid South Africa. I was raised in a society that was very twisted, where white people pretty much had access to all of the resources, and the black majority, 80% of the country, was treated as the servant class and shut out of many of the privileges, many of the basic human rights, really, that a society should have.

I think that was where my eyes began opening to what injustice is. What is a society that calls itself Chosen? What does it mean to be the Chosen People whether you're the white population in South Africa, or, as a Jew, I was hearing from Hebrew school that we were the Chosen People. Clashing visions of who is chosen and who is not. Why do people who are not chosen end up out in the cold? What's going on here?

It was the process of that questioning, and not necessarily finding the answers that struck me as right, and then becoming more active as I grew older. When we immigrated to the States, seeing injustice in this country, which I had thought, at least superficially in comparison with South Africa, looked like utopia, certainly it looked like a racial utopia. And then spending more time here, and getting a bit more acquainted with the lies of this society regarding race and class and all kinds of issues.

Slowly becoming more active, but constantly looking for deeper answers than what I was often given. The deepest answers started to come from a place I would call "spiritual," reading books that were spiritual, and I went to India.

As I wrote in Loyal to the Sky, I spent about five months in India and Nepal right after 9/11. I was reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle on how things were fragmenting in that region. India is next to Pakistan, which is right next to Afghanistan, and the US had just gone to war in Afghanistan. At the same time, I was on my own spiritual journey, and did my first meditation retreat.

Ironically, while I was writing about the world falling apart after 9/11, and India and Pakistan were coming close to war, I went to my first meditation retreat and came into contact with what I see as one of the deepest truths underlying the nature of reality, which is that it's all connected. We are all part of a big web. We are all essentially, one, and we're all connected. The only sensible thing to do really, if we are all connected, is to come from a place of love. This in the face of people coming from a place of a lot of hatred, as I said, things fragmenting, coming into a place in myself where I saw the underlying unity.

From that place, I was really struggling to come to grips with the many questions that it brought up. Why are we destroying the planet and each other if underneath it all there is one unity? How do we go about getting to that place?

That is what I chronicle in Loyal to the Sky, my own stumblings and glidings through different landscapes, both geographic and internal landscapes, trying to come to grips with these questions, and the answers I came up with along the way, or that others came up with along the way.

Britt: During the talk that I heard you give last month, you said, and I'm paraphrasing, "If we have clear intention and faith, and keep listening to what is going on in ourselves and the world, we'll get there (to social change or to making the world a better place), but it might look different than we expect."

I was wondering if you could give an example of when you felt like you were listening to your calling, and to what you thought you should do, and it turned out differently than you expected?

Marisa: I really do believe that if our deep intention is there, if your intention is to act from a place of loving, if your intention is to help people in need, whatever our intention is, I think if we are coming from a place of strong intention, and we move forward and stay in touch with that, and have faith, and really pay attention in the process (blind faith is unhelpful), that we will get where we're meant to be.

Sometimes it surprises us where we end up. I think I can speak to that right now, because I'm speaking to you from Iowa City. I just moved from the Bay Area. I moved here a couple of weeks ago, and I'm in a program at the Iowa Writer's Workshop in fiction, which is not where I saw myself ending up. I feel like I've done a lot of different activism, and a lot of journalism, and the motivating force for all of that was to shine a spotlight on all the places of suffering, and to try to emphasize voices that often went unheard.

There has been a lot of questioning in myself about why it is, and how is this that I'm now studying fiction when there is so much more out there that's "real" to tackle. I'm at a place at this very instant that is kind of unexpected.

For me, the process of writing Loyal to the Sky, of writing my memoir, was very much a creative process. It is a memoir; it's non-fiction, but with a project like that, you choose what you put in, and I had my whole life and the many experiences I've had on many different continents to select from.

The way it emerged was amazing to me really. It was a beautiful process. In the process, I felt like I came into contact with my own creative voice, and that voice wanted more, it wanted more room. Despite many objections, or criticisms, or judgments on a logical level around, "Why am I going to do fiction?" it just kept calling to me. It just called to me and called to me to move deeper into the realm of the imagination.

I think it is partly also about seeing the power of stories, which writing this book has shown me, just how people are so moved by stories, and how drawn I am to telling stories. Toni Morrison, and I'm not sure if she said this herself, or if she was quoting somebody, but she said the deeper you get into your own personal idiom, the more that you access the universal idiom, which underlies all of our narratives, really.

I feel like that is what I'm doing at this point, and I think that fiction has a very important role when it comes to its ability to connect us all to that universal idiom. But, if you'd asked me two years ago what I would be doing right now, the odds that I'd say I'd be in Iowa City would be very slim.

BB: What advice do you have for activists and social chang-y folks who want to integrate a spiritual practice, whether it's meditation or something else into their work?

MH: I say go for it! [laughs] When I went on the book tour, I got asked a lot about this, which was exciting to me, because it means that there are a lot of people out there who are trying to negotiate that connection, that are trying to understand how to bring the two together.

Of course it's been done before. This is what Martin Luther King was about. This is what Gandhi was about. But, we're attacking different problems today, so I do think we still need to come up with our own creative solutions.

For me, that meant being a different kind of activist than the kind I've been before, and actually organizing with different kinds of people. For example, I started organizing around Burma last year in solidarity with the profoundly nonviolent uprising in Burma. I started organizing with Bay Area Buddhists and Burmese Americans within the Bay Area community. It was really wonderful. We had a walking meditation down Market Street, and a meditation outside the Chinese Consulate to protest their support of the Burmese junta.

Things started to look different than they had looked previously, and I found myself working with different people. I guess what I would say is, it can be intimidating. I feel like often in the "spiritual" world, there is a little bitof disdain for applying inner work to outer work, which is service. Sometimes people just don't make that connection.

The world of activism, can be rigidly secular. It felt to me like coming out of the closet when I began talking about spiritual practice with my activist friends. All I can say is that if you're brave enough to go there, and keep going in that direction, you will find friends and allies; they're definitely out there. I've seen how many people are out there thinking about these questions.

You may be amazed about how things begin coming together, and who you meet in the process, and what kinds of visions you share, and the work you can do. I really firmly believe they need each other. I don't think we're going to really change the world if we're not coming from a profound place of interconnection and love; otherwise, the work that we do generally just serves to replicate the cycles we're trying to break.

In other words, if we're not coming from a profoundly nonviolent place, we're often recreating violence. I also think that we live in a time where it's not enough to just do inner work. The world really needs us; it really needs people who are coming from a place of wisdom, applying that wisdom to their work, to the world. The two need each other very desperately.

For people who are listening, who are already on that path; kudos to you, and keep it up. Be brave, and find people who are like-minded to support you in that process. In Loyal to the Sky, I'm very honest about my different pitfalls and where I've stumbled, or where I feel like I've managed to rise above things. It may help.

I feel like one thing I've also come into contact with is the idea that the "activist" is this "other person" out there. "I'm not an activist, because all I do is recycle and care about the world. I'm not necessarily 'doing' anything."

We are all activists. You'll get there in your time. It may be that the thing that you're meant to be doing isn't quite ripe yet, but it will be as you keep asking questions and listening -- listening deeply.

Related posts

Q&A: Marisa Handler explores global activist journey in memoir, Iowa Independent
Crusading For Justice & Peace: A Podcast Interview With Activist Marisa Handler, Intrepid Liberal Journal
Loyal to the Sky - Marisa Handler, Tiger Beat
The Revolution Within: A Review of “Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist”, The Indypendent
Notes on Activism and Loyalty, WireTap
Loyal to the Sky , Glued Blue Glass

Friday, September 19, 2008

What is a "Nonprofit Blog"?

This week in NTEN's Nonprofit Blogging Affinity Group, a new member asked for a list of nonprofit blogs. "Nonprofit Blogs" can actually be divided into two categories: blogs written by nonprofits, and blogs about nonprofit-related topics that are written by individuals who aren't necessarily affiliated with a specific organization. They may even be written by a consultant or business that serves nonprofits.

Because blogs written by nonprofits don't always have a specific blogging personality associated with them, they can sometimes be overshadowed in the nonprofit blogosphere by individual bloggers, so, let's shine a light on some nonprofit blogs that are written by organizations!

Below is a list of blogs that I read written by nonprofits and NGOs. I hope you'll add to the list:

Dining for Women
Ella Baker Center
Echoing Green
Genocide Intervention Network
Global Fund for Women
Global Voices' Rising Voices
People's Grocery
Save Darfur
Social Actions
Stone Circles
Streetside Stories
Sustainable Table
U.S. Fund for UNICEF
Urban Sprouts
Women for Women International

Full disclosure: I am volunteering as a nonprofit blogging and podcasting expert this fall for NTEN's Office Hours. Also, I have written, consulted for, or financially supported some of these organizations.

Flickr photo credit: Photo of question mark in flowers uploaded by Michelle.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ask Britt: How Do You Increase Blog Traffic?

Between the internet strategy teleseminar for the San Francisco Writing Conference I did on Monday, the blogging presentation I did for the Oakland branch of Ladies Who Launch on Tuesday, and the consults I had with individual bloggers on Wednesday and Thursday, I've been asked several times this week:

"How do I increase my blog traffic?"

Based on my own experience, and after reading posts about blog traffic by folks like Seth Godin, Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, and others, here is a list of tips I've compiled:

  • Post regularly.
  • Link to other bloggers in your posts.
  • Comment on other blogs.
  • Have a blogroll.
  • Make it easy to comment. It's ok to have comment moderation, but don't make people register.
  • Allow readers to email posts to other people.
  • Enable subscription to your rss feed with Feedburner.
  • Enable subscription by email with Feedblitz.
  • Include images or graphics with every post to catch the reader's eye. Blogs are a visual medium.
  • Add your blog URL to your email signature.
  • Tell Google you have a blog.
  • Tell Technorati you have a blog.
  • Write titles with phrases that people are searching for (i.e. How to Bake a Cake).
  • Write about current events.
  • Ask a question in your title.
  • Post a list (i.e. Ten Ways to Frost a Cake).
  • Provide a way for people to easily share and bookmark your posts by using something like AddThis or Add to Any.
  • Twitter.
  • Bookmark your posts in del.icio.us, and other social bookmarking services.
  • Try writing shorter posts (200-300 words). That's about how many words the average person can read in a minute.
  • Leave more space between paragraphs. Use bold subtitles. Catch the reader's eye.
  • Participate in memes, blog carnivals and challenges.
  • Tags your post with Technorati tags.
  • Let ping servers know when you have a new post.
  • Interview people who have blogs or email lists, and will post a link to the interview.
  • Have guest bloggers post on your blog
  • Include videos in your posts.
  • Install web analytics tools like SiteMeter, StatCounter and Google Analytics. Look at what kinds of posts get the most traffic. Write more of those!
  • Highlight your most popular posts in your sidebar.
  • Create a MyBlogLog community.
  • Participate in social networks like Facebook and MySpace, as well as niche social networks related to the theme of your blog.
  • Participate in online forums and communities.
  • List your blog in blog directories.
  • Run a contest.
Finally, write posts that people want to read!

What are your tips for increasing blog traffic?


You can email your question (please keep it to 50 words) about the do-good, or artistic work you are doing, or want to do, to britt@brittbravo.com. Title your email, "Ask Britt: your question topic." I won't post your name, but I will post your question with my answer, so keep that in mind as you write, if you don't want details in your question to identify you.

Flickr photo credit: Daily Traffic uploaded by Nam Nguyen.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reading & Blogging for Darfur with Maw Books Blog

In a time when the conditions in Darfur are worsening, Maw Books Blog is leveraging her more than 20,000 monthly visitors to raise awareness about Darfur.

For the month of September, blogger Natasha Maw will be Reading & Blogging for Darfur. Her campaign is a combination of reviewing books and movies about Darfur on her blog, as well as contributing money to organizations like the International Rescue Committee for the books she reads, and the posts she writes. She will also contribute money for the books you read, and the posts and comments you write. You can learn about all the ways you can get involved on Maw Books Blog.

Maw's idea seems to have resonated with her readers and other bloggers. Her first post, The Big Announcement is Here: Reading & Blogging for Darfur, has 97 comments.

In "Some Recommended Reading About Darfur," The Inside Cover says that even though she just started grad school, she will be joining the campaign and reading The Devil Came on Horseback: bearing witness to the genocide in Darfur, The Translator: A tribesman's memoir of Darfur, Not on our Watch, and Darfur: A Short History of a Long War.

In "Reading & Blogging for Darfur: Let's Raise Awareness," Sam's Book Blog writes, "I'm committing to blogging about this (as you can already see), adding the button to my sidebar (next on my to do list), and reading a book (or two or three) about Darfur. Hopefully even donating some money."

The Literate Housewife Review will donate 10 cents for each person who comments on Maw Books' announcement saying that she sent you her way.

Amber Stults writes in "Reading & Blogging for Darfur," "I thought this was a unique awareness and fund raising idea. In the future, I may need to borrow some of her ideas for a future CorgiAid fund raiser." I had the same thought (not for a CorgiAid fundraiser, but you know what I mean). It might be an interesting twist to add to NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month).

Looking through Maw's list of Darfur book and film recommendations, I would also add What is the What by Dave Eggers about a refugee from the Sudanese civil war. Although it isn't specifically about Darfur, it helps to understand the roots of it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Join 2 Free Teleclasses with Me About Blogging and Book Publishing

I'm going to be speaking at two free teleclasses, one this month, and one next month, about how book authors can use blogs before, during, and after the book publishing process.

The first will be tomorrow:

Building Your Online Platform: How to Choose the Right Internet Strategy for Your Book
Presented by the San Francisco Writers Conference
Monday, September 15th
5:30PM PT/ 8:30PM ET
50-min teleseminar
Free, but your usual telephone charges may apply
Literary agent Michael Larsen will be interviewing author and co-founder of BookTour.com, Kevin Smokler, and I during the call.

The second will be next month:

Get Blogging! The How and Why of Starting A Blog
Presented by Write the Damn Book!
Monday, October 20, 2008
Noon PT/ 3:00 PM ET
60-minute teleseminar
Free, but your usual telephone charges may apply.

Flickr photo credit: Don't leave me hangin' on the telephone uploaded by mistress_f

Friday, September 12, 2008

Senator Hillary Clinton at the Service Nation Summit!

"A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle."-- James Keller

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was one of the final speakers today at the Service Nation Summit. Clinton called America, "The" Service Nation, and said that service has never been more important than it is today. "As the world becomes more complicated and problems more intractable, we are called to serve."

In 1993, President Clinton formalized national service, like Kennedy did with the Peace Corps, and created AmeriCorps. Since its formation, AmeriCorps has served thousands of organizations and nearly 3/4 of AmeriCorps' members continue to serve after they complete their AmeriCorps service, and often go into public service.

Senator Clinton talked about the bipartisan coalition of Senators (Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Sen.Christopher Dodd (D-CT)) that she is a part of who will be pushing the Serve America Act of 2008. "We know a good thing when we see it, and we're ready to put our political capital to work to take service to the next stage."

The Act will create four Corps. The Education Corps will tackle the need for more mentors and leaders in schools, and try to stem the drop out crisis. The Poverty Corps will tackle poverty in the States and work with people who are, "ready, willing and able to help themselves, but don't have the resources to do so by themselves." The Health Corps will help Americans to stay and become healthy. The Clean Energy Service Corps will create new service opportunities to fight global warming, find new sources of clean energy, create energy independence and create green jobs. Clinton said that service is a key to creating the kind of "change" that Americans are yearning for.

Clinton is also working on a proposal with Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA) to create a United States Public Service Academy in an effort to promote an ethic of service. She said that we need more young people to consider public service as a career, but because of a history of pubic service failures, and the rising cost of college, young people either don't want to, or can't consider a career in public service. The Academy would be modeled on a military academy. 5,000 students would be federally funded for 4 years of school in exchange for 5 years of public service. She asked for help advocating for it saying that if we don't have a new generation that is trained and aware of opportunities for public service, we will see a continuing deterioration of public service in our country.

You can get involved with Service Nation by signing the Declaration of Service, and participating in the Service Nation's Day of Action on September 27, 2008. Videos and photos from the Summit are available online. You can read my other posts from the Service Nation Summit here.

More Groovy Service Acts at Service Nation Summit: Senator Chris Dodd's Semester of Service and Encore Service Act

"It is time to establish our collective responsibility," --Senator Chris Dodd.

During his speech this afternoon at the Service Nation Summit, Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) described being inspired to serve after hearing John F. Kennedy's inaugural address on January 20, 1961 when he said, "ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." Dodd served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic from 1966 to 1968, and then joined the U.S. Army Reserves for over 6 years. In 1974, he was the first former Peace Corps volunteer to be elected to the Senate. Senator Paul Tsongas, who served in Ethiopia, was the second.

In addition to the introduction of the Serve America Act, that I just posted about, Senator Dodd announced that he will be introducing the Semester of Service Act and the Encore Service Act. He is joined by Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

The Semester of Service Act would allow high school juniors and seniors to spend more than a third of a semester outside of the classroom serving their community. They would receive academic credit for participating in 70 or more hours of service-learning activities each semester.

The Encore Service Act would offer Americans 55 years old or older the opportunity to join the Encore Service Program (serving high-need communities in return for a stipend or education award), Encore Fellows Program (holding management and leadership positions in public or private nonprofit organizations), and the Silver Scholars Program (receiving an education scholarship for $1,000 in exchange for volunteering with public agencies or private nonprofits between 250-500 hours a year). The Encore Service Act would also raise the authorization levels for the Foster Grandparent, Senior Corps and RSVP programs, and modify the eligibility levels to 55 years and older.

I'm encouraged by the introduction of all of this bipartisan, service-themed legislation. As was repeated several times at the conference, talking about service is important, but if there isn't any action taken, or frameworks created to engage people, what's the point? As Richard Cizik, Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals, said in an earlier panel, if you have a vision, but no plan of action, it's just a hallucination.

You can watch a short video with Senator Dodd, and view videos with other presenters at bethechangeinc.org/servicenation/live

Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Hatch Introduce Serve America Act of 2008 at Service Nation Summit

This morning at the Service Nation Summit, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), represented by his niece, Caroline Kennedy, announced that they are introducing the Serve America Act of 2008. Barack Obama and John McCain have both agreed to co-sponsor the bill. They will be joined by Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), Senator Hilary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT).

Some of the elements of the Act are:
  • Build on the AmeriCorps and create new "Corps" focused on areas of national need. Ask 175,000 Americans to give a year of service through these Corps.
  • Improve opportunities for low income young people to be of service in their communities.
  • Establish a tax incentive for employers who allow employees to take paid leave for full-time service.
  • Enhance incentives for retirees to give a year of service through the Corps, and establish "Encore Fellowships" to help retirees who wish to transition to longer-term public service.
  • Establish a "Volunteer Generation Fund" to help nonprofit organizations recruit and manage more volunteers.
  • Establish a Commission to study and improve how the federal government, nonprofits, and the private sector work together to meet national challenges effectively.
  • Establish a network of "Community Solution Funds," venture capital funds for the nonprofit sector to support innovation in the sector.
  • Support short-term international service opportunities and strengthen the Volunteers for Prosperity program, which supports short-term international service opportunities.
Pretty cool, huh? If you think this is a good idea, let your Congressperson know.

Love Thy Neighbor: Governor David Patterson at the Presidential Forum on Service

Seeing the Presidential candidates at the Presidential Forum on Service at the Service Nation Summit was thrilling, but I think my favorite speaker last night was New York Governor David Patterson. He wasn't afraid to get spiritual and address our interconnectednes saying:
"Pope Gregory the first, known as Saint Gregory the Great, always admonished Christians to love their neighbors as they would love themselves. But he said that there are moments of epiphany where a person will find a bond with one whom they never met.

Pierre Avalar writing in the 12th century added to that by saying, 'There are moments of feelings of identic image in which individuals because of an intervening crisis start to see others as being part of them.'

And so I'm hoping that perhaps that Christian adage will take on a new meaning in the 21st century as more of us are involved in service as we come closer to that oneness of the human spirit and we, actually, re-amplify the idea of helping our neighbors as we would help ourselves, to helping our neighbors because they are ourselves."
Governor Patterson announced that he is elevating the Director of the Office for National and Community for New York State to a cabinet position. He is the second Governor to create a cabinet position devoted to service. California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger created the first when he added the position of Secretary of Service and Volunteering to his cabinet in February 2008.

September 11th Presidential Forum on Service

They are both nice men. It seems like an obvious observation, but it was the main thing I took away from the Presidential Forum on Service at the Service Nation Summit last night. Of course you have to have an ego to run for President, but I didn't feel like that was either of the candidates' core motivations, which is refreshing. It's sad though, that they both could only take the gloves off because it was September 11th, like going to church once a year at Christmas.

Both have strong histories of service: McCain in the military and Obama as a community organizer in Chicago. You can read about each of their plans for service in TIME Magazine's September 22nd second annual national service special issue.

In their discussions with Richard Stengel, Manager Editor, Time Magazine, and Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent and 2008 Political Editor of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the main difference they danced around was how large government's role should be in providing service opportunities. Both spoke of American's hunger to be of service.

When asked how he would have done things differently after September 11th, McCain said that the government needed to,
"take advantage of the unity in the United States of America. We weren't Republicans on September 11th. We weren't Democrats. We were Americans. And I think that if we had asked for a concrete plan of action, both on the part of federal, state, and local governments, as well as by the Congress of the United States, as well as, frankly, talking directly to the American people [about] the need for us all to serve this nation.

But, you know, I gotta tell you something, Rick. When I travel around this country, that spirit is still there in America."
When asked, "What does 9/11 mean to you?" Obama said it is not only a reminder of, "the terrible potential for evil in the world," but it also of,
"what America does at the toughest times, which is to come together. Now, when I think of 9/11, I think of that spirit after the tragedy had occurred, how the outpouring of patriotism, emotion, volunteerism, the desire for service was in the minds of everyone.

And that was also a moment when the petty bickering and partisanship that comes to characterize our public life was set aside. And so the question was how do we recreate that spirit not just during times of tragedy, not just during 9/11, but how do we honor those who died, those who sacrificed, the fire fighters, the police officers, how do we honor them every day? How does it reflect itself in our government? How does it reflect itself in how we conduct our own civic life?

And, you know, my sense is that the country yearns for that. It's hungry for it. And what has been missing is a President and a White House that taps into that yearning in a serious way"
Service Nation, the hosts of the Presidential Forum on Service, and the Service Nation Summit, is trying to fulfill American's yearning for service by building a national service moment. They have designated September 27, 2008 as the Service Nation Day of Action. You can join or organize an event on that day on the Service Nation site.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Being the Media at the Service Nation Summit Sept. 11 & 12

It's not often that a little do-good blogger like myself gets invited to cover a big 'ole event, but I am! I'm sitting in the press area at the Presidential Forum on Service at Columbia University in New York City. Senators John McCain and Barack Obama will discuss (individually) their ideas about citizen service with Richard Stengel, Manager Editor, Time Magazine, and Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent and 2008 Political Editor of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. You can watch the Presidential Forum on Service on CNN, or streaming live on the event host's site, Service Nation.

The event is part of the September 11-12 Service Nation Summit, a gathering of 600 leaders from a variety of sectors convening to discuss the role that citizen service and volunteering can play in solving the nation's problems. Tomorrow will include a full day of sessions with a huge array of high profile speakers from Caroline Kennedy to First Lady Laura Bush to Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan. Check out the speaker list.

I'll be blogging from both events. As you can imagine, I'm totally psyched, plus, I'm a total sucker for famous people, especially do-good celebrities. I already grinned giddily at Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty and Common Wealth, as if I was seeing a long lost friend. He was kind enough to smile and say hello.

I also sat in on a press conference with Usher, the Summit's Youth Chair, and two participants from Usher's New Look youth program. His work focuses on providing "at-risk" youth with opportunties to be of service. He called them "Generation S," and described them as, "Go-getters and builders" who, "Don't just talk about it, They do it."

I know it's dorky, but I'm totally loving the stream of "Immediate Release" press releases being dropped on our table.

Like that tomorrow Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Orrin Hatch will introduce new legislation, the "Serve America Act," to increase service opportunities for people of all ages, and to put service to work to solve specific national problems. Or that New York's Governor David Paterson is creating a cabinet position to address issues of national and community service.

Sure, I know that some of the things that will be said tonight and tomorrow are political posturing, or words that will never become reality, but I still find it heartening that there is a nationally televised Presidential Forum, and day-long summit with lot of high profile folks, about volunteering and service.

For me, the event is a glimmer of hope in the midst of an increasingly negative presidential campaign. It help me to, as Usher said, "believe in a future that is bright."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Funding Personal and Social Transformation: Paula Sammons, Seasons Fund

In a previous post, Spirituality, Religion and Activism: What's the Connection?, I mentioned the work of the Seasons Fund for Social Transformation. The Fund supports organizations that are using "inner work" to inform their activism.

One of the founding members of the Fund, Paula Sammons, who is a Program Associate of Family Income and Assets & Leadership at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was kind enough to tell me more about the Fund's work in the following e-interview.

Your mission statement says, "The Fund, a collaborative effort led by several private foundations, springs from a shared belief that cultivating a rich inner life is both a worthy end in itself and an overlooked pathway to heightening the impact, effectiveness, and sustainability of social change initiatives." What brought its founders to that conclusion?

Each of the founding members of the Seasons Fund can point to a life changing moment when we committed ourselves to working for justice and change. We have each had an experience that connected us with something larger than ourselves, and discovered that this awareness can be cultivated from within. The members of the Seasons’ Board share the understanding that our most effective work happens when we are motivated by both of these realizations.

Change must first happen in the imagination of people before it can take root in a culture. We know that when we work for change from a place of anger and despair, instead of love and trust, it impedes the imagination, leading to less effective results. The founders know from our own experiences that we must combine our passion for justice with our commitment to inner awareness if we are going to, “be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Who are the founding members?

Tara Brown, Director, Hidden Leaf Foundation
Tom Callanan, Program Officer, Fetzer Institute
Michael Edwards, Director, Governance & Civil Society, Ford Foundation
Alta Starr, Program Officer, Governance & Civil Society, Ford Foundation
Simon Greer, President/CEO, Jewish Funds for Justice
Paula Sammons, Program Associate, Family Income and Assets & Leadership, W.K. Kellogg Foundation
angel Kyodo williams, Director, Seeds of Justice Fund

What kind of projects is the Fund supporting and how are they selected?

Seasons Fund supports work that is transformative at the personal, organizational and field-wide levels. We fund personal development work that increases organizational effectiveness and encourages strong leadership.

Groups like Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice located in Oakland, California, working on the front lines of the reproductive justice movement. And Social Justice Leadership, a group that offers tools and trainings to grassroots organizers in New York City. The Seasons Fund grantees are selected for their track record of success, their innovation with personal development technologies, and their capacity to impact their own communities and the larger field of social transformation.

Here is a complete list of our first set of grantees:

Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice
Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
Gamaliel Foundation
Institute for Jewish Spirituality
Make the Road, New York
Movement Strategy Center
Native Movement Alaska
Rockwood Leadership Program
Social Justice Leadership
stone circles
Unlimited Love

Why is it important to fund projects like these at this time?

The multiple crises happening in our country today (from the economy, to immigration, to the ‘war on terror’) have spread fear, despair and isolation in our communities and in the imaginations of people. Activists are working harder than ever to improve these conditions, but are employing old models of organizing that result in burn out, ill health and disillusionment. Social change models that integrate personal and social transformation require activists to get in touch with their higher purpose and their deepest values, connecting people at the heart level. When the hearts and minds of people are engaged, their effectiveness increases, victories are won and they can not be stopped.

Can you give an example of how a person, campaign or organization's work was more effective because of the "inner" work they did before, or in conjunction with, their "outer" work?

Forest Ethics’ approach entails persuading Fortune 1000 companies to use their purchasing power and brand leverage to have a positive impact on forests for the people and wildlife that depend on them. This group has been successful at changing confrontational relationships into constructive partnerships. They are able to do this because of their commitment to an inner awareness which guides them on the personal and organizational levels. Instead of attacking their “enemies,” they seek to build alliances. In the world of organizing, it is extremely difficult to break free of the "us verses them" dynamic. Forest Ethics has had success because of their unique approach and commitment to doing it differently.

How can people get involved in the Fund's work?

Donors can get involved by giving to the Fund and becoming a part of this growing movement in philanthropy to support transformative work.

For practitioners or activists who are in need of these skills and trainings, they can get in touch with the Fund. We can direct you to some of the leaders in the field who offer a multitude of ways that change agents can begin to bring these concepts and frameworks into their communities or organizations.

Is there anything else that you'd like readers to know about the Fund's work?

These transformative organizing models are not a luxury or something extra. History has proven, and we know today, that they are a core part of effective social movements in the United States. Approaches to change that are about cultivating self-awareness and are grounded in love are the natural immune system response to an organizing culture that is riddled with apathy, despair and burn out.

In the words of the great leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” Dr. King speaks to what the essence of Seasons Fund is about.

Cross posted from BlogHer.