I found something I wrote back in February 2016 the other day that began “I’m not a political person, but…”
I AM a political person. Always have been. We ALL are.
But I knew why I said that.
Never mind that everything after “but…” negated that statement. Claiming I “wasn’t a political person” was me basically opting out of any sort of conversation.
I was afraid of not having all the answers. I was afraid of being called out, or called in (oh the irony). I was afraid of social media backlash. And I was afraid of not being seen as understanding or empathetic.
The change started to happen sometime around summer 2016 (moving to NYC definitely played a part in this) and was really cemented on election night. I’d spent the day so giddily optimistic, walking around (in my white blazer and “H” shirt) with my friend Negin(in her Frida Kahlo as Rosie The Riveter shirt) marveling at the historic day we got to experience together. It felt like the celebration we’d waited our whole lives for.
Around 2am that following morning I began to realize how naive and empty my optimismhad been. It was the realization that only “being political” when it felt convenient or safe to do so served literally no one – not even myself. That by not “being political” when it actually counted, I was in direct conflict with everything I SAID I believed and everything I SAID I was working toward. That “being political” only when I was surrounded by others who were “being political” wasn’t anything more than a feel-good moment for me myself & I.
I look back on that version of myself and I’m embarrassed. But I write all this to say that while it might be easy to look back on how you “once were” and overindulge your embarrassment:
THERE IS NO TIME TO GET CAUGHT UP IN EMBARRASSMENT.
I call my 2016 self in and hold her accountable for all she’s learned. I know she knows when and where she didn’t do enough and where she fucked up. And I know she knows that integrity isn’t just about morals and values – it’s about constantly assessing whether your intentions and impact are in alignment.
She knows that intent is not much if the impact doesn’t align. She knows that “but I meant this to be…” isn’t a valid argument. She knows that if you want something to have a certain effect and it doesn’t, and you’re not willing to change the action to get the intended impact, then it wasn’t ever really about the intention at all.
I now know I’ll never have all the answers – there’s no way I can – and that in no way means I am exempt from speaking up and speaking out where my voice is useful. I now know we’re ALL political whether we “enjoy” talking about politics or not (bc politics isn’t a hobby, it’s a system that affects us all). I now know getting called IN/OUT is an opportunity to learn, grow, and change. I now know empathy needs a backbone and doesn’t excuse one damn thing or give anyone a free pass to be dangerous and destructive.
To be political is a freedom worth fighting for.
I am a political person. I no longer shy away from that.
We all are.
And no matter what happens from here on out: we are not done.
natalia speaking on our "how to activate your inner activist" panel in 2017
I think we can all agree: it’s been quite the year so far (*LOL to the understatement of the decade). Every single person I talk to says some combo of the same things: I’m fired up. I want to make a change. I’m ready to fight. I’m exhausted. I don’t know what to do. I feel called to action.
Overwhelming, right? I know how you feel.
Over the last few months, I’ve had politically and culturally charged conversations with people I would have never expected to talk about these things with so candidly. A common concern I started to hear from most people was that they were worried they weren’t overtly “activisty” enough to be an activist – which, really, was a worry rooted less in their desire to help and moreso their fear of being shamed or judged. Oof.
As I talked to more and more people, I realized I wanted to help. I wanted to meet them where they were at and help them go outside their comfort zones *gradually,* so that eventually the uncomfortable would become comfortable. I realized that while I was on board with all forms of activism, I was most interested in exploring the seemingly small but huge things people could do NOW to make an impact, not exhaust themselves, stay in this for the long haul…and do it all in a way that would feel aligned with who they are.
Last Sunday, I had the honor of making my dream panel come to life: an intimate yet powerful conversation with five activist-minded WANT Women and Men (Lauren Bille of The Big Quiet and Cycles + Sex, actor and playwright Patrick Burns, Christen Brandt of She’s The First, Jahan Mantin of Project Inkblot, historian Natalia Petrzela of Past Present) about how to make a difference in a way that’s in alignment with who you are. This dynamic discussion, held at the gorgeous HUBseventeen space below Lululemon’s Flatiron flagship, was for anyone who was new to activism, struggling to figure out ways to make a difference in their OWN way, or just curious as to what “activism” can look like beyond marches and protests.
I wish I could adequately express the energy in the room. It was...electric. Comforting. Eye-opening. On-the-edge-of-your-seat. A big long exhale and ‘I thought I was the only one!’
Here are some of the best takeaways from the day:
1) Use social media wisely. Instead of using social media as a venting ground, use it to share events happening this week (awesome suggestion by Lauren). Without pushing your viewpoints on someone else, share everything from rallies to donation-based yoga classes happening nearby. Social media can be a great way to help people find options that might work for them, whether YOU are able to attend or not. You never know who’s reading that has been looking for a way to take action.
2) …Speaking of which, focus on the common ground instead of the shakey ground. Natalia stressed the importance of educating yourself and learning about the “whys” behind the “whats.” Not just for your own personal benefit – but so you can have more nuanced, productive interactions with the world around you. People who, say, voted the opposite way you did – they have hopes and dreams for this big world, too. Instead of grilling or shaming someone about their choices, ask why and actually listen. Maybe they’re worried about affording healthcare. Maybe they’re passionate about education. Whether it’s on social media with acquaintances or around the dinner table with family, find the things you agree on. You’ll probably realize you have a lot more in common than you thought – and maybe, just maybe, each of you will be able to learn about a new perspective.
3) Be proactive, not reactive. One of the biggest themes of the afternoon was the importance of listening – and then doing something with that information. It’s really easy to let our emotions go crazy when things get under our skin, but now more than ever is the time to press the pause button. Just like negative self-talk, it’s easier to bond over what we loathe instead of fighting for what we love. Instead of fuming about the latest headline with your friends, probe as to why each of you feel the way you do – and then ask, non-rhetorically (as Christen said), So what are we doing to do about this? In order for progress to be made, the days of venting ad nauseum need to come to a close. As Patrick said, “Conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.”
4) Privilege is complicated, but it’s not something to feel guilty about. Privilege is a sticky subject. Some people argue that being able to be an “activist” is a privilege in and of itself – however, many people will also say that some don’t have the privilege of turning a blind eye and NOT being an activist. One big takeaway from Sunday was to be honest with yourself about whatever your situation or life has looked like and then do something with it. Christen spoke about how powerful it is to create “safe spaces” – how it’s important to show up time and time again and know not only when it’s important to speak up but when to shut up. We take cues from each other. And she’s realized that her “privilege,” so to speak, can help model the behavior she wants to see out in the world – one that doesn’t assume what someone else’s experience is like or discriminate by class, race, gender, or who we love.
5) Small actions can lead to big impact, from the inside out. It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are, you CAN make a difference. If you’re an employee who wants to create change within their company, for example, keep throwing ideas into the mix and eventually one will stick. The first one might fall on deaf ears, but keep going. Something as small as a conversation with someone in the grocery store can shift lives. “You never know what is going to start a ripple effect,” Jahan told us. “You start with one ripple, then another, then another – and eventually, that’s how you make waves.”
6) Activism doesn’t always need to be loud to be heard. Okay, that one’s my own. What resonates with one person might fall on deaf ears with another. I think it does a disservice to the causes at hand to force one “form” of activism on everyone. It makes it seem like activism only looks one way – and can often lead to the kind of black-and-white thinking (You’re selfish if you don’t march! or How can you call yourself a feminist/activist/ally if you don’t XYZ?) that discourages newbie activists from taking that powerful first step of their own.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a powerful march. But I know that’s just ONE part of the equation. The more we can find ways to speak up in ways that are in alignment with who we are, the more comfortable we get with getting uncomfortable, the more we’ll cause a ripple effect within ourselves and others. We’ll eventually feel more comfortable with getting more and more uncomfortable. What once felt awkward and fearful will feel awakened and fearless.
Activating your inner activist doesn’t have to be complicated or obvious – it can start with one conversation and go from there. Inch by inch. Step by step. That’s how you build up a voice that resonates in the long run.
HUGE thanks to HUBseventeen for being such fierce supporters of WANT and allowing us to take over your space for the afternoon, and to Lauren, Patrick, Christen, Jahan, and Natalia for sharing so much of yourselves and making the very first WANT panel in NYC a wild success – and to YOU, the WANT peeps, for being the reason this community is as powerful as it is. Not only did you pack the room, but your questions and enthusiasm had us all on the edge of our seats.
All proceeds from this event went directly to Planned Parenthood.
I know I’m not alone when I say that the last few months – heck, the last few days! – have been a lot to process. And that’s amplified by a bazillion when I feel like I’m constantly needing to confront how much I don’t know. I’m not saying I’m not informed or “woke” or however you want to put it, but I’ve been made very aware of how much work I have to do when it comes to understanding the nuances of the American experience – specifically when it comes to people who were not born here. Coming to terms with that information gap can be overwhelming. But we can’t let it be paralyzing.
We all have a story of moving forward fearlessly on a big or small scale. Some of us are in the middle of our own right now – and I want to learn about them all. So instead of reading a crapton (I have been) and learning in just a few months what seems like more than I did in an entire year of school (also true) and then regurgitating the information to you (down to do that!), I thought I’d do what I would want to listen to right now: talk to someone who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do and has personally experienced it firsthand.
Brenda Gonzalez is co-host and co-creator ofTamarindo, a socially conscious podcast she co-hosts with Ana Sheila Victorino. Together, Ana and Brenda Sheila delve into discussions on identity, race, gender, representation, and life. Recommended by NPR’s Latino USA, they interview comedians, artist, activist, and those that want to shake things up in their community. Brenda has over 15 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, most recently with a national Latino civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza – which is the country’s largest Latino nonprofit advocacy organization. She is also the Board Chair of Los Angeles Education Partnership, an education nonprofit working in high poverty communities to foster great schools.
Bonus points – she’s my former neighbor! Brenda and her husband Jeff (and pup, Frieda, who Jeremy and I nicknamed “The Happiest Dog In The Universe”) were some of my first friends in DTLA and some of the best neighbors I’ve ever had. I was always impressed by Brenda’s immense knowledge on the topics of activist work, non-profits, civil rights, and immigration, and the way she could put a fun, engaging spin on otherwise complicated and slightly overwhelming topics. When she first talked to me about wanting to start a podcast focusing on Latino social, cultural, and political issues, I knew it would be a hit just because of her personality. What I didn’t realize is how much I, someone who is not a member of the Latinx community, would get out of it on a weekly basis.
In the episode we talk about Brenda’s experience coming into the United States from Mexico as a four year old, the complications that come with wanting to become a citizen (or even just go to school!), how she began working with non-profits, and how a dark diagnosis in her family led them to the lives they are leading today. We also talk Brenda’s experience at the Women’s March in Washington D.C, the power of simply having conversations, and what YOU can do to make a difference in your own community even if you don’t have a background in politics or civil rights.
WANT to support the WANTcast? Click over to Amazon via this link, then shop as usual. I will receive a small-but-meaningful kickback, which means we can invest in things like sound editing, new equipment, and more. No extra charge to you. Easy as that!
Like this episode? Shoot me a comment below, leave a review on iTunes, share it on Facebook, tweet it out on Twitter, or post it on Instagram. The more you share, the more Brenda’s message can be heard. Be sure to use the hashtags #WANTcast, #womenagainstnegativetalk, and/or #WANTyourself!
Today’s guest is the lovely Ashlee Piper.Ashlee Piper is a political strategist turned vegan and eco-lifestyle expert, writer, and TV personality whose work has been featured in/on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Mirror Mirror, Mind Body Green, VegNews, Vegetarian Times, AOL, NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX News, to name a few. Piper is also a brand strategist and influencer for some of the world’s most ethical and innovative companies.
One of the things I love about Ashlee is her versatility and mad smarts. I’m fascinated by Ashlee’s background as a political strategist and creative consultant, and how that has led to her building a name for herself as an “eco-lifestyle expert” over the years.
In this episode, we talk Ashlee’s winding career journey that ultimately led her to where she is today, how to pivot both personally and professionally when what you had or who you were no longer serves you, the importance of listening to your intuition and how to discern whether it’s your gut talking or if you’re being triggered, how personal and professional brand can, and maybe even should, be one and the same, and the social media frenzy to keep it hashtag-authentic vs. actually authentic.
We also talk about how to push through when you’re afraid of taking chances and asking questions, self-promotion, and how to deal with that nagging question we all get at one point or another: What Will People Think Of Me? She gets me a little more chatty than usual when we start talking about intuition, and at one point got me revealing a story about a time that I was trying to convince myself that I was following my intuition, but I really wasn’t – a story that I probably would have been more comfortable just writing about and calling a day (because, I don’t know, it’s less vulnerable than saying it out loud?), but I’m so glad that she turned the tables a little on me, because it opened us up to an even greater conversation around what it really means to be happy.
Whether you’re feeling solid in your career, romantic life, and personal life or you’re feeling like you’re on shaky ground somewhere in the mix, I can guarantee this episode will have something for you to take with you into your day and into your life, and make you even 2% more positive and proactive in being the you YOU know you’re meant to be.
Like this episode? Shoot me a comment below, leave a review oniTunes(the more reviews, the more Ashlee’s wisdom is spread), share it onFacebook, tweet it out onTwitter, or post it onInstagram. Be sure to use the hashtags #WANTcast, #womenagainstnegativetalk, and/or #WANTyourself!
Photo cred: Amy Mokris
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It’s easier to unfriend, unfollow, and tune out when we hear what we don’t want to hear. In an ideal world, we tell ourselves, everyone would share our exact viewpoint. In a perfect universe, we say, we’d all think the same way and want the same things. There would be no war, no strife, no struggle…
The thing is, when we stop listening, we stop connecting. And when we stop connecting, we stop growing.
Urban Confessionalfounder, WANT Man, andformer WANTcast guestBenjamin Mathes travels the world holding up signs that say “Free Listening,” inviting whoever longs to be heard (which is really all of us, isn’t it?) an ear and an open heart to be able to do so.
But Ben doesn’t just stand on any corner and offer free listening. Nope – *in addition to* standing in front of your normal boardwalks, parks, and busy streets, Ben and Urban Confessional actively seek out the places where anger and fear might be the emotions running the show. Last week, Benrecounted his experienceat the Republican National Convention – not to sway anyone’s political views (or even get political at all), but as a reminder that disagreement is no excuse not to love. Because sometimes, we forget that all people need is an ear to tell their story. Here’s his:
She was just staring at me.
She had something to say, and I could tell she was curious about the Free Listening sign, but she didn’t seem to have to courage to speak to me.
So, I waited. Nowhere to be, and all day to get there.
It was so hot outside.
Finally, she walked up, and like a young warrior preparing for battle, she said:
“I don’t usually do this, and I know this isn’t a hot button topic anymore… But, I think abortion is wrong. It’s not a form of birth control, and people who have them should be arrested for murder.”
Most protesters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland were yelling about Donald Trump—for or against—all part of this beautiful circus of free speech.
She was different. There was no circus here. She was serious.
I had been Free Listening at the RNC for a few hours, and most people who spoke with me told me about their families, their jobs, and the things that brought them to Cleveland.
No one had opened up about a serious, but controversial issue.
But here she was.
It was so hot outside.
Lets face it, it’s loud out there. It seems like everyone has something to say and somewhere to say it.
Our Facebook feeds are littered with articles, posts, and images from all types of people. For some of us, this is difficult to handle, so we edit out the ones we disagree with until our feed looks more like an echo board our of own thoughts.
If we’re not careful, we’ll treat people this way. Editing out the one’s we disagree with until we’re surrounded by people who are just like us.
Then we wonder why we’re so divided.
I know what you’re thinking, though: “It’s my feed, I’ll block who I want. I shouldn’t have to be offended. I don’t have time for that. Life is too short. I only want to see what I want to see.”
If we’re not careful, we’ll treat people this way.
Then wonder why we’re so divided.
If there’s one question I get asked more than any other question, it’s this: How do I listen to someone when I disagree with them?
There are many ways to answer this. It takes a lot of forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage to listen in the face of disagreement. I could write pages on each of these principles, but lets start with the one thing that makes forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage possible.
We must work to hear the person not just the opinion.
When someone has a point of view we find difficult to understand, disagreeable, or even offensive, we must look to the set of circumstances that person has experienced that resulted in that point of view.
Get their story, their biography, and you’ll open up the real possibility of an understanding that transcends disagreement.
Like the roots of a tree, our stories, which can create our beliefs, are completely unique, and also connected. It is through story that we can find common ground enough to co-exist in the face of great, often necessary, tension.
When you find yourself in disagreement, just ask one question:
“Will you tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”
As she spoke to me about her beliefs on abortion, I wanted to stop her, and tell her my story.
I’ve sat with two loved ones as they suffered through the difficult decision and consequences of ending a pregnancy. It was a brutal human experience, and gave me an insight to something I never expected to witness.
In moments like that, “choice” doesn’t seem to be the right word.
So, when she told me they should be arrested for terminating a pregnancy, the familiar burn of disagreement started to fire in me.
There were so many things I wanted to say. I wanted to change her mind, to argue, to disagree. Its a natural response.
But, if my story brought me to my beliefs, then I needed to know how her story brought her to her beliefs.
“When you listen, you may learn something new” — Dali Lama
So, I asked:
“Thank you for sharing that. Tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”
She seemed surprised by my interest.
“Why? It doesn’t matter. You’re sign said Free Listening, so I gave you something to listen to.”
“Give me more to listen to.”
“They should be locked up! It’s wrong. It’s not right to go out and sleep with who ever, then just vacuum away the result like it never happened.”
She paused…then inhaled the entire world.
“And it’s not fair. All I’ve ever wanted to be is a mom. My whole life, I knew I was meant to have children. Then, when I was 18—18!–the doctor told me I’d never have children. My ovaries were damaged, or missing…it doesn’t matter which. I kept it a secret, and when my husband found out, he left me. I’m alone, my body doesn’t work, I’m old…who will ever love me…”
I wondered if she could hear my heart breaking.
“…so, I guess I get upset when I see people who can get pregnant, who can have kids, who’s bodies work…who can be moms…and they just choose not to…”
Sometimes, there’s nothing to “disagree” with.
I didn’t need to be right.
I just needed to be there.
She wiped away a few tears, gave me a hug, and thanked me for listening.
She exhaled, and walked back into the RNC circus.
Maybe one day, she’ll hear my story. But today, it was my turn to hear hers.
I don’t talk politics, I don’t converse about foreign policy. I don’t follow as much as I probably should, and I don’t state opinions because I don’t like pretending I know what I’m talking about.
But this election is making me surprisingly emotional, and it’s getting harder and harder to stay silent.
You can tell a lot about someone’s impact by the way their followers respond. We’re part of an energetic call-and-response with each person that affects us, and the response isn’t always an echo of the call.
I’m just going to say it from the get-go: I am a Hillary supporter. I have been since she was our First Lady (okay, I was ten, but still), I have been since my grandmother worked on her campaign the first go-’round in her home state of Oregon. I’m not-now-not-ever anti-Bernie. I agree with a lot of his ideals (and so does Hillz, btw).
This isn’t about them. Hell, this isn’t even about her. This is about us.
It’s the anger that gets me.
We live in a world in which extremes are indulgent. Extreme diets, extreme workouts, extreme poses and extreme viewpoints. We watch people argue on reality tv shows for entertainment and read US Weekly for the latest judgement calls. We say we “hate” our bodies, we say we “hate” our neighbors. We say clothes that are not like ours are “weird” and that food that doesn’t fit our taste is “gross.” Extremes are easy to define and easy to get behind. There’s no gray area. It’s why some people rush into marriage before they’re ready and why comments sections so often get nasty. Extremes are addicting. They give us clear, unmuddled definitions in a world where we are searching to be defined by something.
The anger game is a smart one to play, politically speaking. We’re human. We love extremes. We love to be angry, especially for a cause.
As a woman, Hillary cannot play that game. I mean, she can – but for many, many reasons (whether they be personal or political or a mash-up of both) – but to be considered a viable option as leader of our country, there is no way in hell she can. She’s got to play the other game. She’s got to keep her hair perfectly coiffed. She’s got to wear the pantsuit (thank goodness we finally stopped with the fcking pantsuit). She’s a woman. As good of a strategy it is, anger is not a hand she can play. Others can. Including us.
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But we can do better. When it comes to change, I think we can do way more than be angry together. The world – and country – I want to live in is one that is proactive, not reactive. One whose emotion is not fighting against the problem, but fighting for the solution. The difference between the two? The former fixates on the problem. The latter FINDS A WAY FORWARD.
Like I said earlier, many of my ideals are pretty closely aligned with other Democratic nominees (and like I said earlier, so are many of Hillary’s btw). Yet I cannot help but pause at anyone who inspires anger out of their followers…instead of cool, calm, collected determination.
We can feel strongly without anger. We can push for change without violent emotions. No matter how you side politically and whether you agree with it or not, it’s fact that we’ve been there. We did it eight years ago. We can do it again.
Hope was the chant. Hope has a lightness. Hope has an energy to it that burns steady and strong, not incinerates and obliterates.
I am not a political person. But what I am is an emotional person. An emotional pro, dare I say it. And no matter what anyone says, I firmly believe that for anything to resonate in this world, it must have an intentional emotional undertone. It’s not what it looks like – it’s what it feels like that counts. Just like with food and exercise and job-hunting and relationship-getting and self talk, negativity breeds stress in the body which puts up barriers to change. It’s why doing exercise that you loathe isn’t going to get you the body you love or going out with the wrong type of person over and over isn’t going to magically manifest Mr./Ms. Right. We need to do the work to find the type of exercise we enjoy in order to see changes in our body; we need to do the work within ourselves and step out of our comfort zones in order to meet our match.
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And in politics, I have a feeling that when we do the positive emotional work, the positive political change takes place. That is the force I want representing the United States. That is the world I am fighting for. That is the country I am ready to live in.
*For people who know a lot more about politics than I do (and make them easier to understand for people like me), visitNPR, tune into your local NPR station, or listen to theNPR Politics Podcast,which is basically a jam sesh between political reporters. We all don’t have to be experts, but we do all need to be civil and respectful of each other’s viewpoints. NPR helps me do this. So thanks, Steve Inskeep, Morning Edition, and all the other segments that help me know more things about the country (and world) we live in.
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**2020 EDIT: I am, and always have been, a political person. Stating here that I was not is super cringey to read in hindsight, knowing exactly why I was saying it (a whole slew of fears around not wanting to get into arguments with people, being trolled online, etc etc etc – all self-serving reasons disguised as “boundary setting”). I AM a political person. And guess what? YOU are too. Yes, even if you don’t particularly LIKE “talking politics.” As many have said more eloquently than I’m about to, I now know that to state you’re “not a political person” just means you have the luxury of staying disengaged. And as the great Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
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