Changing a flat on Father’s Day

On Father’s Day I caught a ride from a friend to knock on doors for a friend’s campaign. Unfortunately, her car got a flat tire. What happened next has everything to do with our fathers.

We dug around in her trunk, found the winch, found the wrench, jerry-rigged a lever since the one in the kit was missing, got the car up, took off the flat, put in the spare, tightened the nuts, brought the car back down, and made it to the campaign on-time.

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Different families have different skills they require before high school graduation. My partner’s Mom made sure he knew how to bake an excellent birthday cake. Before I left home for college, my step-dad made sure I knew how to change a tire. Skills like changing a tire, making cake, those are winch skills. They are small, they don’t take up a lot of mental space, but they are the difference between having a flat tire and making it on-time, being able to celebrate a friend, and not. There is no real substitute for a winch when it comes to changing a tire, just like there is no substitute for a homemade cake.

I think we collect winch skills throughout our lives. Learning to hem, to tell a joke, to make an introduction, to write a resume. They are skills we keep in our trunks, amongst a jumble of plans and failures and wins and hopes. We forget we have them, until we’re on the side of the road and need them. If we are lucky, these skills are gifts from our families. More than ties or flowers, more than cake or a car, they are gifts from people we were dependent on, who trusted us enough to teach us to be independent.

Inspirational Quote:

“If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” ― Abigail Adams, The Letters of John and Abigail Adams

5 Nonprofit Social Media Tools I Actually Used

I find myself transmitting a near exact copy of this information about once a month so I figured putting it here might make that process simpler. Most of the time, I am having coffee with someone who just had running social media dumped in her lap. She likes being on Facebook and may have a secret tumblr, but has probably not done a deep-dive into Google Analytics anytime lately. These are tools I used regularly when I was Digital Communications Specialist for 2 years at Polaris but if you have any other suggestions, please share them in the comments.

  1. Progressive Exchange. It’s a mailing list of 8000+ professional progressive communications and technical people. Folks have to apply to get in, but it isn’t particularly stringent. People who work for progressive causes and care about using good tools to promote them get in. The archives cover everything from how to start a social media account so it stays useful to how to convince an older organization to jump in and enjoy the feedback that comes of engaging with supporters. There is also campaign-specific information, about best-practices for finding vendors, handling sign-ups, that kind of thing. It is also a great place to find people to review an RFP, if you’re able to shake money free for a campaign and get some outside help.
  2. Beth Kanter’s blog. She writes what is probably the most popular and influential blog on nonprofit technology and online communications. She has a particular point of view, but she always provides sources and is well-worth skimming through a few times a month.
  3. M+R Benchmark report. M+R is a communications consulting shop that surveys 80+ nonprofits to figure out what normal looks like for online communications. There is a section on social media benchmarks that I love. The value of benchmarks is they change the tone of meetings about social media. It is worth it to go from “This young woman has an idea about how we can do our jobs better on Twitter” to “Our organization is underperforming for our sector on social media and to catch up, we should listen to this young woman who found the benchmarks.” Changing the conversation from subjective to objective can help get organizations onboard.
  4. Hootsuite. A lot of larger accounts pre-schedule their tweets. (I have been know to pre-schedule my personal #tbts because I honestly don’t remember it’s Thursday until it’s too late otherwise.) Hootsuite is one of a few industrial-strength social media management tools. You can use it as a dashboard to track your mentions, #tags, and follower-count. It is a lot faster to use than logging into Twitter and Facebook and whatever other account in separate tabs, it also makes it easier to let volunteers in and then close out their accounts when they’re done.
  5. Edgerank: explained. This is only relevant for Facebook, but it is worth sharing. Edgerank is how Facebook determines which posts show up in your feed, or from the perspective of a Facebook Page, which posts reach their followers. Most major brands (Coke, Nike, Terry Crews) only reach 7 – 10% of their followers in every post. Most non-profits produce content people want to see more than ads, so in my experience they reach ~15% of their followers. The other 85% never see a post from that nonprofit after they like the page. There are ways to boost your page’s Edgerank potential and a given post’s score without paying money (Facebook always wants you to pay money, and while they protest they don’t, they really do).

    The most basic way to increase your reach is asking followers to do what you want–you get Edgerank points for “engagements” like clicking a link, expanding an image, playing a video, liking a post, sharing a story, and commenting. For example, if I were running social media for a nonprofit and promoting a staff-member’s blog post on Facebook, I would post about it 3 times in a week, saying something like:

    “Our team works on-the-ground in some of the toughest places in the world. Help shine a light on the true stories of these refugees by sharing this blog post: [link] [upload the photo that is in sidebar of the blog post, assuming you have permissions]”. Using a photo and making a specific ask will improve your post’s chances of being seen.

    The next post would just be a link to the post, no photo, something like: “Did you see this? One of our staff was in Jordan working to help Syrian refugees. Hear her story: a bare link conveys urgency and variety on the page and in the feed.

    The final post would be something like this: “Sara told us that her family had lived comfortably in Syria and that one of her biggest concerns used to be shielding her children from violent images on T.V. That all changed once the fighting began and she could no longer hide violence by turning the T.V. off; now it was happening all around them.” Make sure Sara knows you support her family’s struggle to find safety and freedom by Liking this post. Telling the story of a client demonstrates organizational values and can be another boost for likes.

These are my favorite tools and tactics at a high level. If you have your own, please feel free to share them.

Inspirational Quote:

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” ― Kofi Annan


This morning I walked for an hour in Capitol Hill and I saw dozens of expressions of solidarity and love. I was picking up labels for some posters I am shipping and took the chance to capture what this neighborhood looked like on the day marriage equality became the law of the land. Those expressions were bright and proud and perfect. In the windows of used-clothes shops I saw them; on banners I saw them; on the very streets themselves I saw them.

It is such a blessing to live in a time and a place where love and support for love can be expressed so publicly. We are not a generation that will have to hide our relationships. We are a generation that can hold within ourselves our complete identities and use the strength of that self-knowledge to pull others with us into greater freedom and greater love.

As I walked, I wore one of my queerest t-shirts. It has a picture of Alan Turing and says: “Alan Turing Fought Nazis with Science”:

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To me, that shirt is a reminder that generations before us lost some of their brightest minds to hate. It is a reminder that as a species we have for too long hobbled ourselves by refusing public entry to some because of who they love. It is a reminder that today took work; today took people giving their lives; today took the efforts of a generation of people who labored for a freedom they would never experience themselves but who persevered for a freer future.


Here are the expressions of love and solidarity I caught:

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Today will be a before-and-after day. Before today, millions of Americans could not marry who they loved because of their genders. After today, they will have that opportunity. This does not fix the troubles of our country. Today an African American teen will get kicked out when he comes out. Today a Latina will be denied a job for her gender identity. Today people in countries where marriage is not equal will have to hide their loves like Alan Turing did or suffer the consequences of legalized hate.

Today is worth celebrating with all of our hearts. Anyone who changed their mind on marriage equality or helped change the mind of someone else earned this day. All of the plaintiffs, the lawyers, the activists behind today’s court case, they earned this day. I am so proud of all of us. When I walk with my friends in the Pride march this weekend, I will be so proud of my neighborhood, my community, and my country. I will be proud of the work we completed and our determination to do more, to bring more people fully into freedom and society. It will be hard; everything that matters takes work. We can do it.

Inspirational Quote:

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” — William Shakespeare

The Rocks of Central and Eastern WA

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Before I left home.

Last week I had the chance to spend a few days in central and eastern Washington, first as part of our last trip in the 2015 class of the Institute for a Democratic Future, and then showing my Mom what people love about Washington state. When she got off the plane and I was thinking about what to show her, I decided to start by driving an hour out of the city. More than any other place I’ve lived, people here love Seattle for how close it is to other things–mountains and the ocean and rolling fields and deep, dark woods. The quiet love San Franciscans have for Golden Gate Park and New Yorkers have for Central Park, I have seen Seattlites demonstrate for parks and hikes an hour or more out of the city.

So I got in my bright-yellow car and drove my Mom to the nearest mountains. We took Highway 90 into the Cascades, fresh with spring growth. The first time I made that trip was over a year ago with Matthew, on a drive to Montana for a week exploring Glacier National Park. That trip was in April, so the Cascades had literal cascades of ice-melt and rainwater pouring off of their andesite cliffs. I remember miles of little waterfalls, just pouring down around us as we drove through the first of two mountain ranges we needed to cross to get to our vacation spot.

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One of the beauties hidden in the highway cuts–a lava flow, frozen in rock.

This time, we didn’t need to leave the Cascades, but explored for a few hours within them. We found an unnamed creek and collected some lovely rocks, as we do. We found a Pacific Crest Trail and some insistent signs about how my Discover Pass was no good tender for getting access to that lovely walk. We gossiped about the rocks and found a few delightful specimens.

Like my home mountains in California, these mountains are all igneous, meaning made from magma under the ground that rises high and may burst into open air or not, but eventually cools. We saw lots of these cliffs, slowly being broken-down by evergreens that march nearly to the bare crowns of their heads. We passed a few formations that might be cirques, the most dramatic evidence of Washington state’s glacial past.

Cirques are easy to identify on sight–they look like the Matterhorn, because the Matterhorn is a cirque. To understand why they look like looming crescents, it is necessary to divert briefly into an explanation of glaciers. There are two kinds of glaciers; I have lived on land shaped by both of them. The first and most dramatic are continental glaciers, the kinds that squished the Appalachian mountains around Pittsburgh under 8,000 feet of ice. Those are the kinds that heaved all of the best soil down from Canada to the U.S. midwest, ensuring decades of fruitful crops from the best topsoil in that part of the continent.

Though less dramatic in their massiveness, alpine glaciers make up with delicate impact what they lack in size. There are a few shapes that let us know when a mountain range has been shaped by alpine glaciers. Think of these mountains as peaks of ice cream and an alpine glacier as an ice cream scoop, scooping down a mountain range as it grows and then scooping back as it shrinks. Like an ice cream scoop, alpine glaciers can leave the sides of mountains with concave sides and valleys with U-shaped bottoms, as opposed to the V-shaped bottoms a river-shaped valley would present. Now think about the untouched parts of a fresh carton of ice cream that has just had its virgin scoop, think about the flat top plane. Those edges might curl down a bit, hunching over the concave part of the scooped-out ice cream. Like the edges of the scoop, mountains that have been shaped by alpine glaciers can sometimes have tops that look like droopy-crescents.

This happens for exactly the same reason the ice cream carton would have those droops. Because once that valley was full of glacial ice, it would have looked like a flat plane of ice, with a little bit of mountain sticking out of the top. As the glacier receded, it took pieces of the mountain along, but could not get that top-bit, so it was left, hooked and bare.

On the trip with my Mom we saw some maybe-could-be-cirques and we discussed them excitedly. On the trip out to Eastern Washington, I excitedly talked about the stunning formations we saw and my non-geology-nerd passengers politely slept. We are a family of rock-hounds and on the trip out to the bottom right-hand corner of the state I was the only one of that breed. But that didn’t matter, because the rocks were glorious, though I was driving and so have no real pictures.

A friend who is a political director for a local advocacy group told me I would love the rocks in Eastern Washington and she was right. There were incredible basalt formations, tall columns of quick-dried lava that formed hexagonal pillars. Like natural monoliths, they expose themselves through the sides of hills and decorate people’s gardens. They are stunning, and I have only ever seen them in one other place: Devil’s Postpile in the Eastern Sierras in California has these same formations.

It was a long weekend of driving, but like other people who live in Seattle, sometimes the best days are spent far from the sounds and smells of the city, surrounded by rocks shaped by centuries of fire and ice.

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When I got home, 2 days later.

Inspirational Quote:

“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Campaigning As Governing

I was visiting with a brilliant and thoughtful friend of mine when she made a comment that startled me. She said that she thought good elected officials should not campaign much.

I had begun, without discussing it with anyone, to think of campaigning as part of governing. Her comment reminded me how out-of-the-norm that approach is.

A political consultant I know recently summarized a good candidate as having 2 jobs: knocking on doors and calling people to ask for money. Other occupations, like planning expensive events that rarely cover their costs, fighting with people in the comments sections of articles, like editing and re-editing their online newsletters after their campaign managers finished them, are not often the best use of that candidate’s time.

I am going to focus on the first of those 2 jobs, because the issue and awkwardness of calling people to ask them for money is an entirely different post. I am also going to focus on knocking doors because I think it is one of the best ways to get to know a district and the one I know best.

First, some data. Knocking on doors is called “field” and is the part of campaigns involving talking directly to potential voters to convince them to support a particular candidate or proposition. It can be the most effective use of time and cash a candidate can make–thus, it being one of their 2 jobs. Several academics have made their careers talking about field and have found it works. Here’s a quote from 2 Berkeley PhD candidates–yes, the same ones who found the UCLA candidate was faking his data–on why they think campaigns should spend more on field:

By far the most effective way to turn out voters is with high-quality, face-to-face conversations that urge them to vote. How do we know? Nearly two decades of rigorous randomized experiments have proven it.

Alan Gerber and Don Green ran the first of these “field experiments” in 1998. The professors randomly assigned voters to receive different inducements to vote: some received postcards, some received phone calls, some received a visit from a canvasser, and some received nothing.

The experiment found that voters called on the phone or sent postcards were not noticeably more likely to vote than those sent nothing. But canvassing was different. Just one in-person conversation had a profound effect on a voter’s likelihood to go to the polls, boosting turnout by a whopping 20 percent (or around 9 percentage points).

Washington state has seen that impact close-up recently. The first city in the United States to pass a $15 minimum wage was SeaTac, not Seattle, and that victory was all about field. That is according to this awesome woman who managed that program and who is now a candidate for Seattle City Council. I have been delighted to spend the last 2 weekends knocking doors for her.

Since I arrived in  Washington, I have knocked hundreds of doors in support of progressive candidates. I getting to know the sidewalks, potholes, and excitable Chihuahuas who make-up the daily lives of most constituents. I have written more lyrically about knocking doors, but the basics are this. I get a list of names and addresses of people who might be interested in a candidate. It may be a paper-list in a thrifty, pre-primary campaign, or a list on an app like NGP’s VAN on a party-funded, post-primary campaign.

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Usually I would have my lit in my bag, but this worked too.

Door knocking (known as “doorbelling” in Washington state) goes like this. I drive to the outside of my list’s locations–called my “turf”–and I start walking and knocking. If I am lucky, 1 in 3 doors will open. For the others, I will leave a piece of literature on the welcome mat with a hand-written note.

The rhythm goes: find the next door; walk to the door; smile; knock; listen to hear if anyone is coming, other than the dog flipping out on the other side of the door; write “Sorry I missed you!” on the literature; knock again; listen again, making non-threatening eye-contact with the territorial dog; put the literature down on the mat (it’s a crime to put it in the mailbox); listen again; mark the person on the list as “Not home”; walk to sidewalk to find next door. If I am lucky and have extra time, I will go back by those the houses where no one answered and knock on the doors again. Someone who was not at home at 10am might be back by 2pm.

I have heard that to be considered viable by at least one state’s political party, a candidate for the legislature needs to knock at least 5,000 doors long before the primary. A candidate can knock about 20 doors an hour with about 3 minutes a house, so that is 2 and a half months of knocking doors three hours a day, to a total of 60 doors a day. Candidates who can reach 100 doors a day on a weekend can knock fewer during the week, but not by much. When I say 3 minutes a house, that might be 2 minutes for 2 houses that no one answers and then 5 minutes to talk to the person who answers the 3rd door. (Most people don’t want to talk to a stranger at their door for more than 5 minutes.)

Knocking doors can be tedious. It can be the cause of sunburns and twisted ankles and no small number of dog scares. A few weeks ago, I got bit all-over by some kind of mosquito and slightly concerned when I saw this:

Crime-scene themed birthday or birthday-themed crime scene? I had no way of knowing.

But imagine being a successful candidate who does that hard work, who spends 3 hours a day every day for 83 days talking to the people she wants to represent. Don’t think about whether it will help her get elected, though the research above says it will. Think instead about the stories her future constituents tell her, the gripes they share. Think about how she will personally feel about poorly-maintained sidewalks after walking to 5,000 houses. Think about the parks she takes a breather in, the school playgrounds she walks beside, the potholes that make cars squeal and bottom-out beside her as she walks.

Now think about the first image that comes to mind at the word “governing.” Harry Truman sitting behind a dark-wood desk? Newt Gingrich droning on and on and on TV or Mitch McConnell sitting in a committee listening to someone else drone on. That is not how it often works, but it is a passive, elitist image that poisons our representative democracy.

Imagine instead that same candidate who walked to 5,000 doors sitting as a first-term state Senator on the transportation committee, arguing for more revenue-sharing with cities so they can repair those gosh-darned potholes. Imagine her arguing for more funding for schools, because she saw that broken-down slide and knows the capital budget could help fix it.

I believe constituents should know their representatives, not because it’s a civic duty to do so, but because the representatives are as present in their lives as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are in all of ours–regardless of whether we want them to be. I think representatives should be accessible, not just by phone or a meeting, but on Twitter, on Facebook, by text and, yes, no matter how inconvenient, in person in district.

When I was answering phones for Representative Hunter‘s office in Olympia, the people who felt most secure making their feelings heard and their views known were those who had met him in person. I got calls and saw emails mentioning that he’d knocked on their doors last year, 5 years ago, 10 years ago. People remembered and that memory made them feel like their representatives were people who were responsible to them. Not in some kind of abstract, civic-lesson kind of way, but in the immediate way.

Campaigning can be a part of governing. It can make elected officials personally and consistently accessible to the people they represent. It can make their constituents sure in their hearts that they can influence the policies which weave around their lives. That is how democracy is supposed to work.

Inspirational Quote:

“And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country