Which World Leaders Care about their People In the COVID Crisis?

These four women lead people-centered governments

Do you share this dream?

When you dream of the world that you want to live in, do you dream of a world in which everyone thrives; and in which everyone has a say in matters that affect their daily lives? Do you yearn for what my Ugandan colleagues wistfully sigh about Rwanda, “Oh, they have a people-centered government.” They have a government that cares about them.

Is it really asking too much to not have barrel bombs dropped on you or to be able to feed your children?

I have spent years looking for examples of governments that actually care about their people.

During this coronavirus crisis it is crystal clear which leaders truly care and which don’t. Are we surprised that women are emerging as the most important leaders in the world in this crisis?

What distinguishes an extraordinary leader?

1. They can solve seemingly impossible or intractable problems.
2. They care. Compassion and a common sense of humanity shine through in what they do.
3. Thus they inspire and give hope.
4. They listen.
5. They show courage in their convictions.

Why is this so earthshakingly important?

We are in for a roller coaster ride. I believe that humanity will face more intense and more frequent challenges. The typhoons, floods and droughts will be more dramatic; as will be the protests, refugee flows and the clash as tyrants try to silence the rising voice of the people. We will need real leaders; and we will need a shift in attitude – not expecting leaders to solve the problems but each of us stepping up to be a change-maker – injecting new life into democracy. When the people lead, the leaders will follow.

Chart made by Ann McLaughlin from data from John Hopkins University Mortality Analysis

The numbers speak for themselves. The countries with the low COVID deaths are women led.

These women light the path.

1. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

Jacinda Ardern was born in 1980 and was raised in a Mormon family. She eventually left the Mormon Church because she could not reconcile the church’s position on gayness. Ardern is one of the world’s youngest leaders but quickly rising stars.

She gained world attention in March 2019 after fifty-one people were shot and forty injured at two mosques in Christchurch. The photo of Ardern in hijab embracing a grieving Muslim woman went viral.

credit: Mamamia.com.au

Within ten days, Ardern took decisive action. New Zealand banned all semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. People around the world took note of both her compassion – her sense of shared humanity – and her no-nonsense firmness.

Ardern has been just as effective with the COVID crisis. She is adored and hailed as a communicator for getting on Facebook Live, apologizing for her informal attire saying she had been running after her toddler, to explain to New Zealanders why she was instituting a full lockdown early on in the crisis and what they must do. Her message was clear: “I care; by doing this we can save lives”.

New Zealand, a country of five million, has had 1,528 infected with COVID, only 22 deaths and 1,484 have recovered. They have been able to lift their lockdown and re-open businesses with social distancing but have not opened their borders.

This is what I call “a people centered government”: a government which can solve the crucial problems; a leader who truly cares, listens and inspires.

2. Angela Merkel, Germany

Angela Merkel, born in 1954, has her doctorate in quantum chemistry. People point to her background in science to explain how logically she tackles problems, how she leads with a steady hand, whether it is the EU bailing out Greece or looking at the science essential in solving the coronavirus crisis.

Merkel shifted her career from scientist to politics after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She has been the Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and has served as the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 2000 to 2018. She is widely seen as the de facto leader of the European Union and the “Free World”.

Is this what it looks like to be the Leader of the Free World?
credit: Jesco Denzel/German Federal Government via AP

Is this what it means to be leader of the “free world”?

Like Jacinda Ardern, Merkel has courage: on August 31, 2015, Merkel declared “wir schaffen das” (we can do this) – we can take in Syrian refugees when other European countries were lining their borders with rolls of barbed wire. In 2015 and 2016, Germany welcomed almost a million Syrian refugees.

Like Ardern, compassion was at the center of her decision. “It was an extraordinary situation and I made my decision based on what I thought was right from a political and humanitarian standpoint,” she told the Welt am Sonntag. “I’d make all the important decisions of 2015 the same way again.”

Her steady hand and scientific thinking have served her well in the COVID (SARS-CoV-2) crisis. Her deliberate probing of information and her cautious consultation with experts are central to how Merkel operates. No grand standing; no nonsense. Over three decades of steady leadership Merkel has earned the trust of the German people. In the COVID crisis, they trust her to tell them the truth about what they face and what they must do. She has inspired her people and has led them through the crisis.

3. Tsai Ing-wen, President of the Republic of China – Taiwan

Tsai Ing-wen is Taiwan’s first female president; with a law degree from both National Taiwan University and Cornell University and a doctorate degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Born in 1956, Tsai Ing-wen is the youngest of eleven children.

Her first term in office, 2016 to 2020, she took some courageous positions: green energy (she was then accused of causing an electricity shortage) and Taiwan was the first Asian government to support gay marriage.

Her most courageous positon, though, won her a landslide re-election in 2020: when China was tightening down on pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong and Taiwan wondered if China would crush Taiwan’s democracy, Tsai Ing-wen declared, “I stand with democracy…and I stand with freedom.” Like Merkel, Tsai Ing-wen stood up to authoritarian leaders’ bullying.

Like Ardern and Merkel, Tsai Ing-wen has ushered her country through the COVID crisis. Tsai Ing-wen excels at the problem solving aspect of leadership. To fight the virus, Tsai Ing-wen launched the Central Epidemic Command Center to handle prevention measures. She is a conscientious, list-making leader like Hillary Clinton who loved drafting policy proposals or Elizabeth Warren who has a plan for everything. Tsai Ing-wen introduced 124 (!) measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. She listened to her vice-president who is an epidemiologist.

Taiwan, so close to China, the center of the pandemic, closed its borders. Taiwan was able to keep its economy open because they were so disciplined about taking temperatures and providing hand sanitizer at the door of business establishments. Having learned from the 2003 SARS outbreak, they instituted contact tracing and mobile SIM-tracking to identify and ensure those in quarantine were actually abiding by the rules. Their diligence has paid off: only 443 cases; and 7 deaths. Explains Tsai Ing-wen, “This success is no coincidence. A combination of efforts by medical professionals, government, private sector and society at large have armored our country’s defenses.”

credit: Voice of America

4. Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland

To be briefer here: Iceland, led by 44 year old Katrín Jakobsdóttir, has also earned attention for its extremely low COVID infection and death rates. Iceland’s secret to success is testing, tracing and quarantine. Jacobsdottir attributes their near elimination of the virus to their preparation – “In January, we knew the virus was coming” – and the close collaboration of public health officials and Icelandic biotech firm, deCODE Genetics. They test people who do not have symptoms.

Iceland never imposed a lockdown. Hardly anyone wears a mask. This is not to say that we should not be doing these things. What Iceland demonstrates is that the way you prevent an epidemic is pre-emptive action; you catch it before it spreads. It is again a woman, who has cared enough about her people, to beat the coronavirus.


When I saw that photo of Jacinda Ardern’s heartfelt embrace of the grieving Muslim woman, it touched a longing. I want such a leader! Once I put my finger on that longing, I knew it is something that I must help create. I now knew where to aim my arrow.

When democracy itself is under attack, it is heartening to see the emergence of “people centered governments” where people matter, where their voices are heard and their needs heeded.

When I am asking God, “How will we ever get through this extremely challenging time?” I am grateful that there are women who are showing us what a people centered leader is: one who can solve the problem; who cares, inspires, listens, has courage and collaborates. I have this dream that we build a world in which everyone thrives. These remarkable and effective women share this vision so my confidence is renewed that we will realize this dream.


Fascinating to see John Hopkins University data on all countries of the world:

Belgium has extremely high COVID death rates and Belgium is women led. So does this shoot down my comments that women led countries often are more people-centered? This controversy about Belgium has been written about widely. Belgian officials say they are counting in a way that no other country in the world is currently doing: counting deaths in hospitals and care homes, but including deaths in care homes that are suspected, not confirmed, as Covid-19 cases.

This article was written in late June/ early July 2020 by Ann McLaughlin.

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Stepping Out of My “Silo”: An Important Book on Poverty and Despair in Rural America

I read books that help me be less ignorant and see outside my “silo,” the way we are surrounded by like-minded people and ideas.  It makes it a great adventure to continually be learning about things, cultures, places or groups that I don’t know about or don’t understand.  And some time ago, I realized that I do not understand parts of my own country.

I just finished reading Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Tightrope: American’s Reaching for Hope. This husband-wife team is known for their coverage of China, such as China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, and the book about women’s empowerment all over the world, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women.

Kristof and WuDunn acknowledge this was the most wrenching book for them to write as they returned to Nick’s home town, Yamhill, Oregon to chronicle what directions Nick’s former classmates have gone.

Casualties of economic shifts

Sadly, many of Nick’s former classmates are casualties of the shift away from manufacturing or logging that employed most people in this small town in rural Oregon. Thus some have fallen into alcoholism, opioids, homelessness, meth, suicide, and obesity and have died of “deaths of despair.”

This was an important read for me as I have been looking to understand the part of America that is saying, “You don’t understand… you aren’t listening. …you don’t seem to care that some Americans have been left behind.”

2008: 10,000,000 Americans lost their homes to foreclosure

People were left behind. In 2008, Wall Street got bailed out so the economy would not collapse, but no one helped the 10 million people who lost their homes due to foreclosures. Equally devastating, middle class wages have not kept up with the economy, they have stagnated. If wages had kept up with the economy, an average blue collar worker would be making $90,000/ year rather than $43,000. This may seem axiomatic… like a big “Well duh!” – But the effects of this income decline are profound. New York Times writer, David Brooks, asserts that decent wages and jobs would solve poverty in America. Kristof and WuDunn point out that it is not just market forces that determine prosperity or poverty. Government policies and programs have enormous impact. After World War !!, the GI Bill was a ticket out of poverty for many as it paid for a college education and helped finance a home loan.

What can be done?

Like Hillbilly Elegy, this book gave me a glimpse. But more importantly, Kristof and WuDunn make some solid proposals about what can be done:

~ They cite Ron Haskin’s and Isabel Sawhill’s three traditional rules for preventing poverty: graduate from high school; get and keep a full time job; and get married before you have kids. Only 2% who follow these “rules” or this “success sequence” live in poverty while 79% who ignore all of these “rules” live in poverty.

~ Thus Kristof and WuDunn admonish us to create policies and programs that encourage success. They lambast the United States for spending far more on prisons than education and social programs.

The Marshall Project states that our prison and jails costs American taxpayers $80 billion a year. The U.S. Department of Education found in July, 2016 that over the last three decades state and local spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of funding for public education for preschool through grade P-12 education.

~ We need to spend more money on job training programs than prisons.  We need to match job training to available jobs.

~ Likewise we need to do a better job helping everyone graduate from high school. WuDunn and Kristoff propose better apprenticeship and vocational programs in high school for those not on the college track that result in a job upon graduation.

~ Early childhood education helps at-risk kids and helps proactively. Early childhood education is much cheaper than prison. There was a good reason Head Start was at the heart of LBJ’s War on Poverty. I wondered if Head Start is present in rural America, and apparently Head Start has centers in 86 percent of America’s 1,760 rural counties.

~ Reduce unwanted pregnancies: WuDunn and Kristof advocate working with teenagers to make wise choices and have birth control available. The goal is to help more teenage young women stay on track, stay in school and thus be able to get good jobs.

~ Restore decent wages and decent jobs. How you do this is the source of an ideological battle.

~ Mentoring. And what can each of us do? The Tightrope authors encourage people to find a local program where you can mentor youth and help them harness their dreams rather than derailing; guide them through turmoil going on at home and make wise choices; and help them learn the necessary skills and develop their talents. Poverty is at the root of much of the despair and shouting in America. I was happy to find a book that helped me understand better, though I acknowledge I still have a long way to go. Can we bridge what so deeply divides America? Learning more about people outside my “silo” was a first step.

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Guest blog: How Technology Is Helping People With Disabilities Advance Their Careers

The evolution of technology is helping people find ways to accomplish many different tasks. The development of the tech world is also creating new assistive technologies for people living with disabilities. Whether it’s applications on a phone or upgraded versions of older technologies, people with disabilities are contributing to the workforce more than ever.

Technology for Visually Impaired Employees

Screen readers such as JAWS, Non-Visual Desktop Access, COBRA, Cake Talking, and BRLTTY are making it possible for people with vision loss to absorb information from computers. These programs read the output on computer screens and also provide Braille output. Thanks to these programs, people with visual disabilities can take online classes and improve their skills and also hunt for jobs on the internet.

Other software such as Zoom and Magic support magnification of text and images for more comfortable viewing. Orcam has also produced one of the most advanced AI technologies for people with visual disabilities. The device features a set of glasses with a small camera that can read text, identify people, identify products, and connect to Bluetooth devices. There is also a bevy of color identification apps available online for both Android and iOS devices for color-blind individuals.

Technology for People with Hearing Impairments

Employees with hearing impairments also benefit from assistive technologies. For example, Ava is a software that converts audio into text for people with hearing impairments. The software picks words through the phone’s microphone and then turns them into text available on the listener’s phone or tablet. With this technology, you can share a live conversation even without sign language. A simple upgrade to the latest smartphones, you can enjoy access to conversations in real time. As people speak, you can also respond through text that can be projected through speakers for everyone to hear.

Video relay services (VRS) in workplaces are also on the rise. With VRS, people with hearing disabilities can communicate with sign language with hearing individuals through video equipment rather than text. This type of communication is faster than text-based communication and is especially ideal for conference calls, interviews, and online classes.

Thanks to improved cameras on mobile phones such as the iPhone 11, using sign language during calls is now more accessible than ever before. This phone features a triple-camera system and has a fast operating system to handle video.

Technology for Employees With Motor Skills Impairment

Assistive technologies for people with temporary or permanent motor skills impairment are also necessary. For example, Dragon Naturally Speaking is software that translates voice commands into actions. If you cannot type on a keyboard or use a mouse, this software listens to your voice commands and can do anything, including developing spreadsheets and reports. In cases where a person has no control over their hand movements, adaptive keyboards come in handy. These keyboards have raised areas between keys to allow users to slide their hand to the correct keys. There are also keyboard overlays on the market to adapt conventional keyboards.

Expanding Your Knowledge Base

It’s worth noting that while these are all great methods for helping people with disabilities succeed, all the technology in the world isn’t going to help if you feel stalled in your career. If your ultimate goal is a management position or a higher-paying job, it’s important to help yourself stand out from the competition. Put that technology you’ve harnessed to work for you by boosting your skill set or knowledge to make yourself a more attractive candidate. You can achieve this through additional certifications, returning to school for a master’s program or even training courses on leadership. Having those extra credentials on your resume will go a long way when it comes to moving up.

The creation of technologies to assist people with disabilities will provide an equal chance for employment and contribution to the workforce. There are numerous technologies for different disabilities. By finding the right fit and improving your credentials when necessary, any person with a disability can land the job of their dreams.

Thanks for Patrick Young @ https://ableusa.info/

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You want to help Syrian refugees? 3 important ways to help in the MENA region

As Director at NGOabroad: International Careers and Volunteering, daily I have many conversations with people who would like to volunteer in our Syrian refugee programs in Lebanon or Jordan.

I am heartened by the multitude of people who would like to help…by the Europeans especially who have welcomed Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis into their communities; the Germans who share dinners; the Danes, the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Swedes,, the Finns, the Brits…the many Europeans who have opened their hearts and have helped refugees in their community. I am heartened by the Pennsylvania high schooler who I talked to who scurries around gathering houseware and bedding for incoming refugees.

I am grateful that as a world, we are beginning to learn about Islam and the Muslim world. There is a giant uptick in students studying the Middle East and Arabic.  But from my bird’s eye perch, there are some important targets most people are totally missing regarding the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.

1. Disempowering autocrats like Bashir Assad
Five million Syrians fleeing Bashir Assad’s barrel bombs indeed was a crisis. But I believe where our focus needs to be is making sure there are no more Bashir Assads. It was a Kenyan human rights colleague who taught me this: “Yes, all the Kenyan human rights activists were jailed and tortured under Moi. In prison, we planned: “When we get out, we must push for a new constitution that devolves power from Nairobi so there is not so much power in one person’s hands.”

If we do not prevent authoritarian leaders all over the world, we are consigned to play whack-a-mole. We need to build a world where people power disempowers autocrats. We need more political science majors and activists. But do NOT go to dangerous countries!  I recommend reading Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports. Learn about Giulio Regeni. In countries where critics and the opposition are jailed or killed this is a delicate line to walk.  We must be cautious.

2. What were the people fighting for in Arab Spring?

85% of the people coming to me to volunteer with Syrian refugees do not know what the Arab Spring was.  The Arab Spring birthed the Syrian revolution which Assad brutally suppressed.  The Arab Spring was both political – a fight against corruption and human rights abuses e.g. Egypt is a police state – and a fight for economic justice.

The Arab Spring was ignited in Tunisia when Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in protest against government harassment for selling fruit to feed his mom, uncle and six siblings on US$140 per month. (His dad had died when Mohamed was three so he was the bread-winner.) Mohamed had a university degree but unemployment in his town was 30% thus selling fruit on the street was his best option. Protests spread to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain to overthrow oppressive rulers who did nothing to improve the standard of living or economy.  

In 2011 when the Arab Spring spread, Egypt had an unemployment rate of 11.85%. When I talked to Karim the other day, he totally got it.  His family, as Coptic Christians, fled Egypt in 1995. “Yeah, my cousin in Egypt feels so hopeless. He has a university degree in Computer Sciencebut there are no jobs. He is an Uber driver.”

If we could take the passion directed towards Syrian refugees and direct it toward generating jobs, the entire MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region would cheer, as would the entire world. We need more people to mentor grassroots, scrappy entrepreneurship not glitzy, corporate entrepreneurship aimed at working in technology or Silicon Valley.  We need jobs generators….everywhere in the world.

“It’s the economy stupid” is the slogan that makes or breaks elections in the US… and everywhere because feeding your family is THE most important issue all over the world.

3. Don’t take someone’s job

Studying the Middle East and Arabic? Where are you thinking of getting a job after college -the MENA region? Given the high unemployment rates, please leave those jobs for the people there. At NGOabroad, I also do international career counseling. Let’s talk about where your skills are needed.

4. Conclusion: so what to do?

I thank the many people who have helped refugees, either in the Middle East or in your home country.  I just want us to take this to the next step:  more than studying Arabic or the Middle East.

a. I propose that people study entrepreneurship or economics so they can help generate jobs or mentor people in the MENA region on small business skills.

b. I propose that people study political science and activism – but do not even think of doing such organizing in-country – but at a distance due to safety concerns.

Let’s build a world where there are not leaders dropping barrel bombs and where everyone is prospering.  Then people will not be fleeing their homes. Let’s move to prevent refugees.

Continue Reading You want to help Syrian refugees? 3 important ways to help in the MENA region

Want to volunteer in Lebanon helping Syrian refugees? What do you know about Lebanon?

As Director at NGOabroad: International Careers and Volunteering, daily I have many conversations with people who would like to volunteer in our Syrian refugee programs in Lebanon or Jordan.

97% of the people who I talk to who want to volunteer in Lebanon do not know essential background. Does this offend the Lebanese?

This is a beginners’ guide because I find this is what most people need.  It is difficult to tell the complex, convoluted history of this region in a simple way.  Hopefully this will inspire further reading.

1.  Protests of autumn 2019 and 2020

When I talked to people who wanted to go in the autumn of 2019, most people did not know of the fireworks which were going on at that time and thus did not know why I was so concerned about safety.

In autumn of 2019, protests erupted in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran over much the same issues that prompted the Arab Spring – corruption, high unemployment and a government that does not care about the people’s needs.  Lebanon ousted their Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Iraq was firing live bullets to suppress their uprising. 420 were killed and 17,000 injured. Donald Trump and Iran were rattling sabers after Trump ordered an air strike in Baghdad which killed Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander. My colleagues in Jordan and I wondered if Iraq protests and the American-Iranian tension would escalate and the entire region was going to meltdown.

2. Does ignorance about Lebanon offend the Lebanese?

97% of the people who I talk to who want to volunteer with Syrian refugees in Lebanon know only one thing about Lebanon: “One out of four people in Lebanon are Syrian refugees.” They do not know anything about Lebanon itself. Here are some key things to know:

~ Lebanon had a brutal, bloody civil war from 1975 to 1990.

~ One million fled which was 1/3 to ½ of the country.

~ There are more Lebanese outside Lebanon, the diaspora, than inside.

~ Lebanon and Syria have had a strained relationship. Syria occupied Lebanon from 1976 until 2006 when Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri was assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut.

~ Bashir Assad learned his dirty tricks from his father Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for almost 30 years and is said to have ordered Harari’s murder.

~ So when you set foot into Lebanon to help Syrian refugees, be aware of all that has gone on.

We don’t know what way Lebanon will head:

~ Read about Lebanon’s power sharing between Maronite Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Shia Muslims

~ Read about Hezbollah.

~ Read about how Lebanon may default on their IMF loan. When a country defaults the subsequent “austerity measures” can be brutal. How will those impact people who are already financially strained and furious about the WhatsApp tax which triggered the street protests?

3.  Does our ignorance about Jordan offend them?

If it does, they are too polite and gracious to tell you it directly. But the Jordanian medical director who works with Syrian refugees said: “Ann, Jordan is an educated country. We have many nurses and .doctors.” (The director of the Syrian organization which we work with in Lebanon is a neuro-surgeon.)

To me, the most important thing to understand about Jordan is that it is a monarchy. There is a very fond relationship between the people and Queen Rania and King Abdullah. The Queen and King are involved in community life and from what I have witnessed and been told, truly care about the people.

But where do many Westerners miss the mark? As a monarchy, Jordan is not rebellious or critical of the government. Change happens from the top down, not the bottom up.

4. Does our colonialism and foreign policy offend the region?

~ The region, I think, is sick of being considered the oil spigot for the West.

Read The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World They Shaped by Anthony Sampson about how the seven oil companies each claimed dominion of certain parts of Middle East.

~ Donald Trump pulled US troops out of northern Syria thus no longer protecting the Kurds who had died fighting as our allies against ISIS. They did our dirty work, 11,000 Kurds died fighting ISIS for the US. But then, Trump transferred those troops to protect the oil fields. Yikes, I thought, this is just the attitude –“We don’t care about the people, we only care about the oil” – that has created problems.

5. Does Westernization offend the region?

Important Islamic thinkers and writers have decried Western influence: we don’t want it imposed upon us. Jalāl Āl-e-Ahmad called it “Westoxification”.  And I believe it was Hassan al-Banna of Egypt who coined the term “Western syphilization”. I found John Esposito’s books helpful.  I think it was The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World which exposed me to many of the Islamic thinkers.

6. So what to do?

~ In these COVID times countries’ borders are closed so you cannot volunteer in Lebanon or Jordan.

~ Now is a great time to read more. I hope the above outline has inspired you to learn more.

~ After speaking to him about his career path, I proposed to Omar, whose family fled Iraq that he write and speak about Iraq. Educate the world.

~ In a consult with a Parisian couple, I suggested that they see if it is possible to volunteer in the slums of Paris – banlieue – where many Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian immigrants live.  There they could hear the stories of the despair about what is going on in the MENA region and why they left.


I thank the many people who have helped and want to help refugees in the Middle East or their home country.  I think we can do better though. We can learn current events, history, philosophy, and tenets of Islam so that we can more graciously enter into a culture that is different than our own.

Continue Reading Want to volunteer in Lebanon helping Syrian refugees? What do you know about Lebanon?

To Dismantle Racism, We Must Sustain the Activism

Because racism is a pandemic, then so too must be our sustained response. The solution must be proportionate to the problem.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is protest-signs-racism-is-a-pandemic-360x225-2.jpg

The first step needed is an attitude shift which is covered in the companion article, “Dismantling Racism: first step is changing white attitudes”. The second step is action. People may shy away from the hard work that action requires; or it may sound too radical to them. To get to any goal, I urge that we “bite the goals into bite size bits.” As I say in the attitudes article, there is a continuum of where people stand. Some people do not identify with activism; they will help in their own way. The goal is to get people to the next step. Protests were the first step in waking up this country; now the next step is sustained action.

From protest to power

People turning out in hundreds of towns and cities in America have been a spark or wake-up call; now we must make sustained change. Many protest movements – whether it was the Vietnam anti-war movement or Lebanon’s WhatsApp Revolution – articulate what they are against, and not what they promote or advocate.

Empowerment is taking responsibility to create our lives and our world as we wish it to be.

A movement really gains traction when people can envision a better future or policies, and break those into tangible action steps to tick off. This is a way of measuring: how far have we come? What have we achieved? What else do we need to tackle?

Barack Obama urged in his essay, “How to make this moment the turning point for change: basic lessons to draw from the past” in The Medium on June 2, 2020, that we must develop ways to make sustained change.

Writes Obama: “So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”

This is the map of where protests occurred in the US in June 2020 (courtesy of al Jazeera)

Looks like the measles? Yes, let’s make a contagion of sustained activism.

So what to do to shift from protest to power?

1. Vote!

Urge others to do likewise. Work on campaigns. Register voters.  Make phone calls to swing states… it is an interesting conversation. It is especially the local elections that influence racial justice issues and gerrymandering which impacts voter suppression.

Continues Obama: “It is mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. …. Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people—which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.”

2.  Education and health programs which impact many Americans may be gutted. Don’t let this happen!

This, I believe, is where the most vigilance and action is needed. Long debates and battles have been fought over how to make the American Dream a reality for everyone. Don’t let DACA, Pell grants and Head Start be eliminated.  Likewise, years of work have gone into creating quality of life for everyone in this country, to ensure that families can stay healthy and children are fed. Don’t let SNAP, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and school lunch programs be decimated.  Stay on top of things and tell your legislators what matters to you.  Do not let years of civil rights work and activism be in vain.

I found this resource helpful to stay on top of this:

3. Corinne Shutack compiled the most comprehensive list of action steps I have seen:

97 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

4. Join or follow organizations doing important work

We do not need to re-create the wheel. Join well respected organizations to guide your action steps:

a. NAACP – America’s oldest – started in 1909 to fight Jim Crow – and largest civil rights organization.

b. Stacey Abrams Fair Fight to ensure fair elections

c. Urban League – working on economic empowerment through education and job training, housing and community development, workforce development, entrepreneurship, health, and quality of life.

d. Van Jones’ Dream Corps is doing across the aisle criminal justice work

e.  Some predict a backlash to the protests. Thus The Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU will be as important today and in the near future as they have always been.
https://www.splcenter.org/; https://www.aclu.org/

f. Color of Change designs campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back, and champion solutions that move us all forward.

g. Showing Up for Racial Justice

I thought: there must be to racial justice what PFLAG – Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – has been to the LGBTQ movement.  I do not know SURJ well, but I think it may be the closest that currently exists.  “SURJ works to bring more majority white communities into movements for racial justice. You’ll be connected to a community of people taking collective action for racial justice. We offer opportunities for you to stay connected to those on the frontlines and make meaningful action to dismantle white supremacy.”

As Corinne Shutack who compiled “97 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice” comments, “Our work to fix what we broke and left broken isn’t done until Black folks tell us it’s done.”

These protests are just the beginning

Dorian Wilson, President of Community Change, an organization whose mission is to build the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change the policies and institutions that impact their lives, notes,  “In some ways we’re seeing the vibrant renewal of civic engagement in our democracy.”

I believe these protests are just the beginning; that there will be a tidal wave of change as different groups and different countries say. “Enough!”  For real change to happen, it will require us to envision what we really want in a proactive, positive way; and to nurture, water, weed and push for the rooting of the changes these protests have seeded.

Continue Reading To Dismantle Racism, We Must Sustain the Activism

Dismantling Racism: first step is changing white attitudes

If the killings of Ahmaud Arbery , Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and so many others and the protests which have rocked America do not wake us up, what will? America is at a tipping point.

It is clear: we must do something. 

Shift in Attitude?

Big news: 76 percent of Americans now say racial discrimination in the US is a real problem, up from 51 percent in 2015. And public support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased almost as much in the past month as it did in the previous two years, according to the New York Times.

I see a sea change in how America is thinking when Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Republican governor of California, posted a video on the 4th of July which said “We must fight every day to make sure that the American dream is as true for a Black child born in Minneapolis as it was for an immigrant white bodybuilder born in Austria.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUHxqcPS010

America is looking to understand racism and do something about it. While I see that Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility is now being widely read, I find Peggy McIntosh’s  “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies”  more helpful.

“It isn’t my problem”

An attitude of “It isn’t my problem” is what Peggy McIntosh saw at the core of male privilege and white privilege.  In 1989 when she wrote the piece, men would dismiss women’s concerns implying domestic violence, rape, the glass ceiling, wage discrimination, no child care at work, and the piles of laundry and dishes were women’s problems. (The good news is this has changed some.)

“Racism is a white person’s problem to solve”

Ernst Owens in his article in Philadelphia Magazine, “White People, Please Stop Declaring Yourself Allies,” says much the same thing: “Racism is a white person’s problem to solve….While racism harms Black and brown people directly, it is caused solely by white people’s actions and cultural influence. These routine abuses, which have been instituted and normalized by white people over hundreds of years, have produced slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, redlining, voter suppression, police brutality, gaps in education and wealth, and numerous other human rights violations.”

“White silence is violence”

Owens continues, “The option to care or not is the very definition of white privilege.”
How do we end that silence? My definition of an ally is someone who speaks up and speaks out.

So HOW do we change the attitude of many Americans?

The Stages of Change model: a helpful framework.

Image courtesy of David O’Donnell and James Golding

Carlo C. DiClemente and J.O. Prochaska developed this model in the 1980’s based on their observation of HOW people change behavior – whether it is drinking, smoking, safe sex, overeating or whatever. I think it is equally applicable to changing attitudes and behavior about race.

The stages of change:  

1. Pre-contemplation – Not yet able to acknowledge that there is a problem that needs to be changed ƒ
    Task: raise awareness    

2. Contemplation -Acknowledge that there is a problem but not yet ready or sure you want to make a change
     Task: reducing ambivalence – helping choose to change

3. Preparation/Determination – Getting ready to change ƒ
    Task: helping to choose change strategies   

4. Action/Willpower – Change behavior or system    
     Task: help implement change – and learn to eliminate relapse

5. Maintenance -Maintain the behavior or community change ƒ
    Task: develop skills to maintain recovery

6. Relapse – Return to old ways and abandon new change and then must strategize how to recover
    Task: cope with the consequences and figure out what to do next


1. Personal experiences change the most hearts.

2.  The goal is to get someone to the next step; people rarely jump past step in a stage of change.

3. How you choose to contribute to social change and racial justice is very personal, often based on your style, what you have on your plate, how many kids you have clamoring for your attention or your circumstances. I will never forget the woman in Arizona who told me, “I would love to make calls but my fingers are so arthritic I can’t touch the numbers on the phone so I just bake cookies for the cause.”

4.  Misunderstanding and shouting in America occurs because we do not grasp where others are coming from…. their stage of change which shapes both their perspective and terminology.


1.  Pedagogy of the Oppressor

Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator and philosopher, wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed which  advocated conscious raising – conscientização – centered on discussing “what is wrong with this picture?” for the oppressed to understand their role and position…how the world works.  I propose that we shift to Pedagogy of the Oppressor.

2.  Intimate connections, intimate conversations

LivingRoomConversations.org  and Van Jones in Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together provide helpful models about how we can talk across divides.  When we get to know people more intimately and get out of our “silos” and partisan grouping, change occurs.

This is different from the intimate discussions in many anti-racism study groups which are more likely to be at similar stages of change and speaking a similar language.  Many alumni of this kind of consciousness-raising are further along the change spectrum and ready for action. The next step for them may be to ramp up their activism. (See the second article in this series, “To Dismantle Racism, We Must Sustain the Activism”)

3. Reaching out into the community

Speaking engagements. In the early years of the domestic violence movement, as community awareness rose about DV, so did the requests for speakers.  I gladly volunteered. Those forays into the community, plus talking to the police and prosecuting attorneys helped me understand how people were thinking.  Speaking up and speaking out is at the heart of movement building.

Music to raise awareness. In the LGBT movement outreach into the larger community and touching hearts was also essential. Dennis Coleman, director of Seattle Men’s Chorus for 35 years, very strategically planned concerts which would attract different sectors of Seattle, e.g. my parents went to their Swing Era concert. Coleman acknowledged the chorus was ambassadors.  They had a “Drop and Go” team of singers who could drop everything and go sing where needed, e.g. in eastern Washington when a gay youth committed suicide. These are the slow but sure steps to change consciousness.

4. Don’t just sing to the choir, expand the chorus

Help facilitate this conversation. Speak, do concerts or comedy acts pertinent to race at grange halls, community colleges, Rotary Clubs, colleges, churches, mosques, synagogues, Buddhist sanghas, your kid’s school, union halls, garden clubs, before concerts or at the local library. Could you set something up at the Sturgis motorcycle rally or the Indie 500? Don’t just sing to the choir; find ways to expand the chorus.  Invite your friends to join you in this effort so you multiply the impact.

5.  Make these conversations not lectures How does your audience think and feel?  It is crucial to assess what stage of change they are at and help move them to the next step. The goal is to see an “I get it!” light can go on in their eyes and heart.
And one step better, laughter and comedy sneak in past barriers and change hearts and minds.

People are busy. They need to know what to do and how to help

Changing attitudes is the first step, but we can’t stop there. For those further along the Stages of Change, in the next article in this series, I will propose tangible action steps.

Can we solve the challenges of our time? Yes, we can!

Continue Reading Dismantling Racism: first step is changing white attitudes

AnnMcL, Solution Builder and Catalyst

My focus is on BUILDING solutions.

Much of my 20 years as a psychotherapist were helping people untangle human problems, envision solutions and dreams and get to goals.

For the last 15 years, I have directed NGOabroad: International Careers and Volunteering to harness people’s skills to humanity’s challenges; and to help people enter or advance in international development work. See https://ngoabroad.com.

I spent years to grasp what ARE the challenges and in each country? I could see the breadth and depth of the challenges…and had an revelation that to solve the problems, we must harness MANY people’s commitment and skills…thus NGOabroad. 

I wanted to have a multiplier effect.

It is now America that is my focus. Again, I see my role as being a multiplier and mbolizer for social change and to make a difference. I want to leverage my skills a a change maker for change makers – to transform how you think of yourself and your capabilities. 

My focus always has been and always will be on creating solutions.

My writing aims to give an over-arching view of how we target the heart of issues…and then the tangible steps to make change happen. 

Can we solve the challenges of our time? Yes we can! I am here to help you do it.

 America is my focus now because we are up to our ears in challenges. I think much of the world is looking at us and wondering: “What IS your problem?!” But for the last 15 years, I have worked with people from all corners of the world and will continue to do so. So whether you want to be make a difference internationally or in your home community or country, the services of AnnMcL.com are designed to both inspire you and help you move forward.

Continue Reading AnnMcL, Solution Builder and Catalyst

Ann McL on a soapbox with a megaphone

…If you would have asked me a year ago about blogging, I would have shrugged my shoulders with a “meh” – don’t read blogs and don’t have time to write ’em.

Now I realize, I have lots to say. I have forged skills and perspective over years which I think may be helpful to people and movements who advocate social justice, racial justice… who would like to world to be very, very different.

I realize that I became a psychotherapist because I wanted to be a “Catcher in the Rye”. Have you read that book by JD Salinger? A catcher in the rye stands at the top of this cracy cliff and makes sure that kids playing tag do not go careening over the cliff. (recollection rather than exact quote)  Once again I see humanity as a whole at risk of careening over a crazy cliff.  

I want America and humanity as a whole move away from the cliff by solving our problems and building solutions. This is at the heart of what I do as a Transformation and Empowerment Coach.

Empowerment is taking responsibility to create our lives and our world as we wish them to be.

Thus, now I am motivated to write. Now you can’t shut me up. I realize that to change the direction that the world is heading, I want to promote certain perspectives and help people build their skills. Thus, I am now standing on a soapbox with a megaphone.

White People Please Stop Declaring Yourself Allies

…”You don’t get a badge of honor for dismantling the racist system you are complicit in…” by Ernst Owens

Reason for hope amid America’s racial unrest
Same as I see it, personal and social transformation is happening at the grassroots and local level.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault interviews David Brooks.

Continue Reading Ann McL on a soapbox with a megaphone

AnnMcL to white America: racial justice and racism is OURS to solve

The protests that have rocked America after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery , Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks have prompted some of white America to do some soul searching and ask “What can I do?”

Shift in Attitude

Big news: 76 percent of Americans now say racial discrimination in the US is a big problem, up from 51 percent in 2015. And public support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased almost as much in the past two weeks as it did in the previous two years, according to the New York Times.

White America is looking to understand racism. While I see that Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility is now being widely read, I have found Peggy McIntosh’s thoughts more helpful.

In 1989, McIntosh wrote “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.”  I find McIntosh’s juxtaposition between male privilege and white privilege sheds a great deal of light on the privilege, the power and the dominance that whites have in interactions; our sense of entitlement; how oblivious we can be.

“It isn’t my problem”

Obliviousness, an attitude of “It isn’t my problem” is what Peggy McIntosh saw at the core of male privilege and at the core of white privilege. I believe this attitude of “it isn’t my problem” is what lies at the heart of what we, the privileged, must take ownership of and take responsibility to see that things change.

Seeing our role in the world

How do we change the attitudes and actions that impact others? First step is an attitude shift or consciousness-raising – conscientização as Paulo Freire called it: recognizing our role in the world around us, and then changing things both little and large.

Ernst Owens in his article in Philadelphia Magazine, “White People, Please Stop Declaring Yourself Allies,” clearly nailed whites’ role: “Racism is a white person’s problem to solve….While racism harms Black and brown people directly, it is caused solely by white people’s actions and cultural influence. These routine abuses, which have been instituted and normalized by white people over hundreds of years, have produced slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, redlining, voter suppression, police brutality, gaps in education and wealth, and numerous other human rights violations.”

“White silence is violence”

Owens continues, “If we are to seriously combat racism, we need to be brutally honest about how white people should conduct themselves in this fight. For starters, we need to do away with the expected pats on the back, fancy labels and symbolic gestures. Too many Black lives have been lost by the silence and complicity of “well-meaning white people” who …are guilty of looking the other way. You don’t get credit for showing up 400 years late and now suddenly giving a damn because you’re finally fed up. The option to care or not is the very definition of white privilege.”

Ernst Owens is making the same point as Peggy McIntosh but even more strongly: that privilege is this dismissive attitude of “It isn’t my problem”.
So first step is a shift in attitude. Watch for blogs and articles outlining action steps.

Continue Reading AnnMcL to white America: racial justice and racism is OURS to solve

Democracy building: having a voice in matters which affect your life

Autumn of 2019 saw an unprecedented number of protests: Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Hong Kong. Lebanon and Iraqi protesters said they were tired of corruption and the billionaires running the country. Chile protesters said that the neoliberal policies put in place by Augosto Pinochet do not serve the people. 

Continue Reading Democracy building: having a voice in matters which affect your life