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.

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

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:
https://firstfocus.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FACT-SHEET-Presidents-2020-Budget.pdf

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

97 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
https://medium.com/equality-includes-you/what-white-people-can-do-for-racial-justice-f2d18b0e0234

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.
http://www.naacp.org/volunteers/

b. Stacey Abrams Fair Fight to ensure fair elections
https://fairfight.com/join-our-fight/

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

d. Van Jones’ Dream Corps is doing across the aisle criminal justice work
https://www.thedreamcorps.org/get-involved/

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.
https://colorofchange.org/

g. Showing Up for Racial Justice
https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org

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
ƒ    

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



Comments

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.


Strategies

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.


NOTE: I SERVE PEOPLE FROM ALL CORNERS OF THE WORLD
 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

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