Tuesday, April 22, 2014

We Need to Be Much More "Muchier"

Hard-to-Take. Bossy. Abrasive. A-bit-much. TOO-Much. Off-putting. Tedious. Single-minded.  Shrill. Relentless. Outspoken. Aggressive. Strident. Intimidating. Weird. Odd duck. Crazy.

All those are words I've heard used to describe me and other anti-poverty advocates I know. Heck, I've actually used a few of them to describe some of my fellow activists myself. Pretty negative, huh? How would you feel if someone called you those things to your face or behind your back? If you speak up only to hear those words come back at you, most women - including me - tend to take a step back, shut our mouths, and lick our wounds wondering what we did wrong.

But what if the lives of your children were at stake? And speaking up aggressively was the only to save them? How about 10 children? How about 1.7 million children (the number of kids in developing nations who will die from a preventable disease this year)? With so much at stake, isn't it worth it to risk being "a bit much"?

"You used to be much more...'muchier.' You've lost your muchness." - The Mad Hatter to Alice, Alice in Wonderland (2010)

I like that word "muchness." When I heard Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter use it, I thought it was an awesome way to describe that sense of being when you are comfortable in yourself and willing to take risks. Even if muchness isn't appreciated by everyone around you and might get your branded as weird or odd. My muchness was greatly diminished when I left my job and stayed home with my infant daughter. I was scared, vulnerable, and had somewhat lost my identity by leaving my career. Becoming an advocate and finding my voice to speak for those in poverty helped me become unapologetically bold as I strive to inspire others into action.

Myrdin Thompson,
Shot@Life Champion
My good friend, Myrdin Thompson, had her natural muchness challenged early in her adulthood. In her #140You talk - click here to see it! - she described an instance when she was stretching her wings and was crushed to have another woman describe her as "tough to take." 

What followed was years of tempering her temperament until she could go through her own personal transformation to get her groove back. I'm so glad she did. Because now she is a Shot@Life champion fighting for children around the world in need of vaccinations. She now thinks it's not such a curse to carry a such a label. She says, "Tough to take doesn't have to be a negative thing and can get you places that you wouldn't get you normally because you wouldn't take those chances."

Me. stepping up to the mike to
call all my new friends crazy.
The first time I met Myrdin was the very first Shot@Life Summit in Washington D.C. where the UN Foundation brought together about 40 champions - mostly women - handpicked for our muchness. They channeled our muchness with education and training to turn us into a team of powerful advocates for child survival. It was good to be unapologetically passionate about my poverty-fighting ways. At the end when a microphone was handed around so we could all share final thoughts, I said, "It's a relief to not be the crazy one in the room. You're all just as passionate and intense about this as I am and it's fantastic." Finding a room full of "muchy" friends united in a common cause has been highly empowering for me and helped me embrace some of the labels that go with it.

This is not to say that we have to be utterly unlikeable. After all, for certain occasions - especially fundraising - the old adage is true...you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar! But most of us can afford to fight the natural instinct to slink into the corner and train ourselves to keep up the drumbeat to invite others to join our cause and take action. The problems of this world our too big to ignore and we should not let ourselves be ignored.

So, yeah. We can own those negative words if we need to. And we can soften our edges when we want to. But here are some words that should never used to describe us advocates: Apathetic. Ineffective. Indecisive. Wishy-washy. Unengaged. Half-assed. Lazy. Spineless.

I won't accept those. Because...I'm too much.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

MLK Memorial Reflection: The Uncarved Block

Our most powerful works of art far transcend pictures taken of them. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is one of these for me. On this sunny day in DC with nothing in particular to do, I thought I'd go check it out so I would know where it was when I come back with my kids in June. I didn't have anything in particular on my mind except for a pleasant walk on the mall in the sunshine. So, maybe I wasn't really prepared for the power of this monolithic, but somehow dynamic force I'd find staring sternly down at me. Nor was I prepared for how some of the quotes rang so personally true for me. Had I heard his quotes as a student or other places and internalized them without knowing who said them? Or had I come to some similar conclusions by different paths?

I tried to reconcile the stern visage of the statue with the MLK presented in the children's book "My Uncle Martin's Big Heart" by Angela Farris Watkins, which I've read to my daughters many times. That book paints a tender and loving picture of the legendary man through the eyes of his young niece. Ultimately, I know he must have been multi-faceted like all humans and I know that both visions of the man are likely to be true. While the book celebrates his great love, this statue clearly conveys a lasting impression of his strength and immovable will.

I think my favorite thing about the memorial is the intentional unfinished nature. A stone is unmoving, but it seems like we have caught the artist unawares and in the motions of carving a continuing work. But we know this work is finished and this man has been laid to rest long ago. More is the sadness, but great is the glory of the what he had become for us in the time he had. Might that uncarved stone also be partly a metaphor for the unfinished work on injustice left to do? Maybe that's stretching it. Yet because of the inscription - "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope" - we know that we're at least meant to know that this positive, strong image was able to emerge from, in spite of, and even because of the darkness of inequalities.

Being a Christian who believes in a creator of our souls, I also fancy the imagery of G-d as the artist shaping this man from the history before his life as well as the years he lived. I walked away quiet, pensive, and wondering...

What will I look like when my maker is done carving me?

My own life-journey is taking me quite a far distance from the life I envisioned for myself when I was a high school student touring Washington D.C. for the first time and I hardly knew what to hope for in myself, long before could imagine committing myself to the "noble struggle for equal rights." I seem to be half-way there, but will I truly be able to make a career of humanity? (If I use a metaphorical interpretation of the word "career" and take it to mean I don't have to actually draw a living wage doing it, then the answer - I think - is yes)

And as I sit waiting to board my plane to head back to the welcoming kisses of my children, I wonder what broad strokes or fine chisel work the creator is using my hands for in the shaping and molding of my daughters?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mommy-Activist Inspiration: The RESULTS International Conference

There are some turning points in your life when you clearly feel the course of your life changing. And there are people who - whether they know it or not at the time - act as joyful cruise directors, ushering you down the path where you want to go. But sometimes you have to seek out those turning points and intentionally put yourself where they're likely to be. This post is about meeting an exceptional advocate named Teresa Rugg at the RESULTS International Conference and Lobby Day. She helped put me on my path, which will soon include taking both of my grade school-aged children back to the same conference to lobby with me 7 years later!
I met Teresa when I was at an emotional crossroads. A stay-at-home mom just discovering my own citizen-power, I was preparing to lobby Congress for the first time in Washington D.C. I’d met a lot of activists who – while inspiring – didn’t have a lot in common with me. They talked about evening meeting schedules and daytime lobby meetings, but my chaotic mommy-life centered around diapers and naptimes. I wanted to become an advocate for mothers and children in poverty, but I couldn't quite see myself in the role.
How, I thought, could I possibly do what these incredible activists were doing when I was sometimes still in my pajamas at noon and covered in baby food? 
Teresa Rugg speaking her mind
Then, I met Teresa - an experienced advocate who knew how to juggle life and parenting, lovingly and simultaneously. Her kids were a bit older than mine, so she had already lived through those moments of having a congressional aide on the phone while a small child kept up the chorus of "Mommymommymommy" in her other ear. She didn’t quite do everything the way everyone else said that she "should," but rather in a way that involved her children and worked for her family. I thought, “THAT is an example I can shoot for.”
In the early 1990’s, Teresa was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching health in Cameroon. When she returned home, she made good on her promise to tell her stories and spread the word about how we in the U.S. can help. Later, while still being an active mother with her kids, she founded a RESULTS chapter in Snohomish County, Washington, bringing the issues of global poverty before members of Congress. With a degree in Public Health, she has helped shape the direction of her passion-project, TB Photovoice - an organization that amplifies the voices of those directly affected by Tuberculosis - of which she is now the Project Director.  She showed me how we can have tremendous impact on an international level with our passion yet still be great spouses, mothers, and all the other things we already are.
My advocacy is always kid-friendly!
After the conference, I went home and joined my local RESULTS Chicago-area group (whom I also met at the conference...but that's an amusing story for another post). They became my mentors about how to lobby and write media, but Teresa remained a role model for advocating while living a kid-filled, messy, paint-splashed, happy mom-life.

My eldest daughter on her first DC lobbying trip
Teresa changed me forever by being a supportive friend and role model. Simply by being herself, she gave me an example of how to be the kind of mom I wanted to be. Now, we are friends, RESULTS partners, and cheerleaders for each other. As mothers, we give voice to the voiceless and make the world a better place for all our children. If YOU want to attend that same conference that gave us the tools to fulfill our passionate activism, register for the 2014 RESULTS International Conference. I guarantee there are moms there who will be an inspiration to you!