Stories from the March: Impressions from the Front Row

I had a front row seat for a miracle Sunday night. I went to the Trinity Methodist Church and heard from two dozen women of all ages, colors and backgrounds who marched in DC and Savannah the day after the inauguration. It was inspiring. I cried several times, laughed twice as many times, and came away feeling recharged and exhausted at the same time.

The stories weren’t all focused on the march – they were as much about why these women marched, which ran the gamut and some of the stories are too sacred and personal to even attempt to restate here. If you can carve three hours out of your day, I highly recommend watching the video. I hope it captures some of the spirit of the event and what we felt in the room.

It felt like the beginning of something much larger than a trip to a protest. And to explain why, I think I need to take a step back and explain Savannah, at least my understanding of Savannah, a little bit. Savannah is a city of silos that have been built up over almost 300 years. They’re well guarded and imposing, but invisible to the casual observer. They keep us separated by race, class and industry without most of us even knowing they exist.

But, in and around those silos exist a lot of energetic, creative, passionate people doing good important work in the community… and until the march, I think a lot of them were unaware of each others’ presence or their common cause. The march brought them together and introduced a lot of them to each other for the first time, and then the energy grew.

Sunday night, all those powerful nasty women came together again to show us the power of those new connections and share that energy with all of us. I wish you could have been there. It was electric. It was positive and full of love. Even when an unplanned speaker said very unplanned things, the audience was respectful and quiet (and uncomfortable). And when it was clear she was unwell and something needed to be done, a woman near the rear of the chapel stood up and started singing Amazing Grace. We all joined in. She was gently led away from the podium and off the pulpit and then wrapped in loving embrace by some of the very people she’d just insulted.

It was something I’ll never forget, that energy of being around committed women of conviction and energy, surrounded by art and the sacred (and just enough of the profane to make it interesting).

But.

Sunday wasn’t the end of something. Sunday felt like the beginning of something larger than a single march. I sat next to a woman I’ve known for years, but had no idea she’s involved in an organization that works to get women elected to local and state office (and, fingers crossed, national). I sat in front of the first African American woman to be elected mayor of Savannah, and got to listen to her affirm what the speakers said with a simple “Alright” or “That’s right.” This is a woman who’s seen some things, who’s been through more than most of us will ever understand. The way she said it was so loving, so full of understanding. I’ve never heard anyone utter single word and have it feel more solid or understood.

Where do we, where do I, go from here? For a long time, I’ve felt what I can only call a calling to run for public office. After Sunday, I came to a realization – in order to make our representative democracy actually representative of all of its citizens, it needs to look more like America. White men make up 30% of the US, but make up over 60% of Congress. It doesn’t need another white guy, not even one as handsome as me. It needs more powerful women and people of color. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work with organizations like Georgia’s WIN List to get more women elected. I’m going to continue the work of breaking down, or at least infiltrating, Savannah’s silos and cause as much #goodtrouble as I can.

There’s good work being done. We don’t need to start something brand new, but join efforts led by women and people of color already in progress and lend a hand. We need to change our perceptions of leadership. Men, white men especially, don’t need to lead everything. There are more, and more effective, ways to lead an organization than the way we’ve done it in the past, and the way we’re watching our new President do it in the White House.

Last topic, and it feels unrelated, but it’s not. I talked to a wise friend yesterday about Sunday night and tried to make sense of my feelings and what to do next. He mentioned to me that the pastor of the church that hosted us put himself on the line. He asked if I’d be willing to join, and do more than just show up on Sunday, because those churches can’t survive to do good work if no one’s in the pews on Sunday or filling the collection plate.

I left my church in 2008 over California’s Prop 8 because they asked me to do something I felt went against the core tenets of our faith. I think a lot of people my age and younger have drifted away from religion as their churches became less about loving our neighbors and more about what our neighbors do behind closed doors. I never imagined I’d consider going back, but what if there’s a place for progressive worship? What does that look like?

My friend asked me to think about it, and I am. If the church can feel like it felt on Sunday night – a place of love, inclusion and action, then I could see actually putting on a tie and showing up.

Religion has done a lot of harm, and I don’t want to minimize the pain its caused, but it can also be a place of refuge. Throughout history, churches have sheltered the weak, weary and afraid from the angry mob. They’ve also been places communities have rallied around to change the world for the better.

I can’t think of a combination more needed today than that.

Savannah’s own First African Baptist was a stop on the Underground Railroad and a place where civil rights leaders and their allies could meet and plan: one of the first truly desegregated places in Savannah.

Parishioners like Bob and Philippa Paddison and many others at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation were pivotal in the early days of Savannah’s civil rights movement.

First Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue has harbored and hosted refugees for decades. Their story is one of quiet steady persistence. The Catholic and Jewish communities of Savannah each have stories of welcoming people forced from their homelands by prejudice and injustice.

That effort isn’t free, and can only be undertaken with the consent and financial support of the congregation. It was risky dangerous work, undertaken with the full understanding of the potential consequences.

There are pastors willing to take those kinds of risks for justice today – but if their congregations aren’t on board, they can’t.

I’m not sure where my heart is right now on this, but it’s worth thinking about. If we can build a worship that’s more Beatitudes than brimstone, and more Samaritan than Pharisee? Is that worth giving up all my anger and joining? What can we accomplish working within the body of the church that we can’t working outside of it, or against it?

I know that’s a lot of questions. I don’t have the answers – but it feels like finding them is vital to making progress.

To wrap up, here’s a list of ideas of things to do to get some energy and make some progress. It’s not comprehensive. It’s just a start, but it’s better than nothing.

  • Get involved with organizations that are working to elect women and people of color to local, state and national office. The League of Women Voters is a great place to start. For me, I’m going to ship an email to the local head of Georgia’s WIN List as soon as I finish up here.
  • Pick one or two things you really care about and find an organization that works on those things. Join the fight. If we all pick one or two things and put in the work, we can collective work on all of the things. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the undertaking, but if we can all collectively make progress by each picking those one or two things, we make progress on everything.
  • Go be around passionate people. I’m an introvert, and even I felt completely energized by the event on Sunday.
  • Be kind to yourself. No one can do this alone, and no one expects you to. Bring a friend. Bring lots of friends.

I’ll leave the last word for Annie Dillard, who is more eloquent than I’ll ever be:

Make connections; let rip; and dance where you can.

Love and Reading

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

James Baldwin

It’s also my favorite thing about the internet – all of the people who thought they were alone and had no way to describe how they felt suddenly found they weren’t alone in the world.

The web’s not perfect, but for all of the bad stuff, there’s this. No matter what we’re going through, there’s someone out there who’s not only lived it, but written it down and shared it with the world, and we can go find it, and maybe a small bit of peace.

Of Safety Pins and Paperclips

I’m conflicted about the whole safety pin thing. It’s an easy gesture and I’m afraid that it will provide comfort only to the people who wear it, not to those actually in need of comfort. I’m afraid that the people who wear it will think their work is done because they put on their safety pin, when it should be just the beginning. I’m skeptical because we’ve made these gestures before and not followed through, not finished the work, and we’ve abandoned those in need because our attention spans are short, and there’s always a shiny new cause to support that makes us feel better about ourselves.

I wanted to find out more about its origins and found an article about the Norwegian version – the paperclip.

Like a safety pin, the paperclip works as a symbol because it binds things together. Like the safety pin in the Netherlands, wearing a paperclip became a crime; there was real risk in wearing one.

The thing that struck me from the story was in the “bonus facts” below. The paperclip was just the beginning. Ordered to teach Naziism in school, 12,000 Norwegian teachers went on strike. Many were sent to prison camps. The Nazis realized having kids out of school hurt more than the teachers not promoting their cause, so they relented.

The clergy was ordered to teach obedience to the “leader and the state”. When every bishop and 90% of the clergy in the country resigned, the Nazis again relented.

More than 1,000 Jews were smuggled into Sweden by the resistance.

The Dutch were no slouches either. They carried out repeated demonstrations and non-violent strikes against the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands. No other country had as may strikes and protests as the Dutch – and they faced harsh reprisals from the Nazis each time.

The Dutch had a massive underground press with over 1,100 different titles, some of which are still around and are major papers in the country. They set up underground financing and had a massive social services network that provided financial, medical and other support to the Dutch people.

All of that is to say, they didn’t just wear safety pins and paperclips. They got to work and did what they could, under terrible conditions and at great personal risk.

I like the idea of the safety pin, because it’s meant to be temporary until you actually repair the damage.

I think donating, and setting up a recurring donation, to national non-profits is a great thing to do. The ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Campaign and others will be kept really busy for the next four years, as we can expect the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department to be gutted like it was during the Bush years or worse (probably worse). But, while you’re donating, please look for a local non-profit to donate money and time to.

I’ll elaborate… This election came as a shock to a lot of us who thought we were farther along as a country than we really are. It was easy to call ourselves progressive and cheer on those doing the work from the sidelines, post to social media about the issue of the day, and feel like we’d done something of value. It turns out, no one was listening, and we didn’t change any minds.

Before anyone still reading this post and starts tutting… I accept the results of the election:

  • Two very unpopular people were the two major parties’ nominees for president.
  • One of them got over two million more votes and lost to a man who (this is a partial list) called immigrants racists, criminals and terrorists, called for the banning of an entire religion from the country, denied knowing anything about David Duke or the KKK, openly mocked a disabled reporter, called for protestors to be beaten, has said (and probably done) terrible things about women, and that almost seventy percent of the country feel is unfit to be President.
  • A lot of people stayed home because they couldn’t decide between two people they didn’t trust.

That result is real, and it’s not going to change. Me being sad about it will not change it. Me being angry will not change it. Me trying to decide who’s to blame for the result will not change it. All I can do is decide what I do about it after accepting that I can’t change it.

For me, this is a wake up call. If I sit on the sidelines now, and assume someone else will do the work, I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror or call myself a progressive.

I could shake my tiny fist at the sky and lament what’s happening in Washington, but that won’t change anything. So, I’ll be watching them, but I’m going to act locally. My neighbors will be affected by the policies enacted in the next four years. Many of them are afraid and a lot of them are already being targeted by hate.

I wasn’t doing nothing before, but that no longer feels like enough.

There are already great non-profits in Savannah working on things I care about: poverty, education, technology literacy. There are probably great non-profits working in your community too. I’m trying to resist the urge to start something new – because that’s alway my first instinct. Starting things is exciting because I can design it from scratch, and I don’t have to understand an existing dynamic – but it’s a waste of time. Starting things is expensive, both in time and resources, and we don’t have enough of either. So, I’ll pick something (or a few things) with the biggest overlap in the Venn diagram of things I care about, things I can help with, and what will have the biggest impact.

Because we won’t make this country a better place by having another comment duel on Facebook, favoriting a tweet, posting a pithy meme, or by standing on the sidelines of democracy or of our communities and watching people do the work. The world has enough cheerleaders and more than enough pundits. The world needs more people to roll up their sleeves and serve; there’s a lot to do.

I don’t think I’ll wear a safety pin on my collar… I’m going to learn how to sew.

For Further Learning… Web Development Style

I sent this list out to yesterday’s RailsBridge students as next steps if the introductory class lit a fire and they want to learn more. And then I realized it’s a pretty good list, so I’ll share it here too!

Local Savannah Things

For Further Learning

Yesterday’s class was great. Lots of teachers in the room and lots of people who had no idea that web development was accessible to “normal” people. It was tons of fun and a great way to shake off a pretty terrible week.

Interest and Concern

I’m still processing what happened last night and how I got it so very very wrong (it’s really no consolation that almost everyone else also got it wrong). I was looking for something to cheer me up this morning, and I found this quote from FDR (emphasis mine).

But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens – a substantial part of its whole population – who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life… I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. But, it is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope – because the nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, propose to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. Franklin Delanor Roosevelt

I don’t know how to fix any of this or how to help, but I think it starts with conversations: in person and across divides. If we can at least show “interest and concern” for each other in our communities, we can make some progress.

Running Unopposed

Looking at my sample ballot for November, and I’m depressed at how many people are running unopposed. Out of 14 races, 8 incumbents are running without competition. They don’t have to debate. They don’t have to defend their records. That’s now how democracy is supposed to work.

We need to figure out how to get more people involved at the local and state level so people can get the experience to effectively serve at the national level. I’ve done some research and it’s economically impossible for most people to run for local or state office, or serve in even “part time” elected positions because of the time requirements and lack of pay. That means that only those who can afford to serve get the opportunity, which then means our government doesn’t represent all of us.

This is how we get ineffective, unrepresentative, unstatesmanlike, and uncompromising behavior from our elected officials – we don’t hold them to account. We don’t run against them. We don’t do anything but complain on social media or claim a “rigged” system, when we don’t even involve ourselves in it beyond cheering on our favorite team.

How do we “fix” this? We all need to look at how we’re participating in government at all levels, and pay more attention. We need to encourage qualified people to run. We need to make sure that our elected officials know we’re paying attention. We need to respectfully (and with actual facts) call them to account when they’re wrong. We need to state our cases for the issues using persuasive language, and not threats of violence or intimidation.

We get the system we let develop. If you don’t pay attention, it will be built and run by the people that are. Want something else? You gotta work for it. You have to do more than complain. You have to build a coalition of people who agree with you and provide actual solutions.

Voting is literally the least we can do to change things. It’s time we all took a long hard look at how we got here, how we’ve behaved this election, and what we’re going to do about it.

Never Give In* (Conditions Apply)

“…never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. I love that Winston gave himself a way out. When you’re confronted with superior good sense, then it’s fine to give in. Please, when I’m wrong, let me remember to give in with honor.

That whole speech is worth reading, because it feels like it could be given today, and it rings as true as it did then: “You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about giving up, not from temptation, but in definition. Giving up doesn’t mean not taking care of yourself. It doesn’t mean taking a break to recharge. It doesn’t mean sacrificing yourself on the altar of the cause – because you’re not much use to anyone if you’re dead or burned out.

I’ve realized that in order to be more useful, I need to be healthier, which means maybe not doing as much in the short term and spending more time on me, which feels selfish.

But it’s not. If I’m healthier, I’ll have more energy for the fight. I’ll be able to do more, not less.

So, I might miss some meetings, but it’s because I’m doing these stupid exercises and not eating brownies.

Never give in. Never, never, never, never.

Stop Spreading Hate

When you share ignorant myths about trans people, minorities, share racist, sexist, xenophobic memes, support politicians who advocate (and sometimes pass) legislation to push already-marginalized people out of public life, you’re encouraging people with just slightly less self control than you to hurt other people.

When you support bullies, strongmen, and bigots, you’re continuing the cycle that ends up in people getting hurt and killed.

Stop and think about the people affected by this stuff. They’re actual real human beings with families and friends who will miss them if they’re gone.

I’m tired of losing friends and having friends afraid to go out in public as themselves because some asshole might kill them just for being who they are.

These people are fighting for their rights to be seen as full members of society. You’re fighting for your right to continue to keep them in the closet (which isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, one that we should all be willing to give up so others can enjoy the same rights we do), and to not have your precious beliefs challenged. There is a huge difference.

History is not on your side, nor will it be kind.

Silly Games With Movie Titles

There’s a game going around Facebook where you remove a letter from a movie title to make a new movie and then you have to come up with the plot. I love these games.

Here are my entries (so far). Feel free to add your own:

  • Star Was: the story of a dying star and the planets that mourn its passing
  • I, Root: The first self-aware potato seeks its place in the world
  • Finding Emo: Emo Phillips has gone missing and it’s up to Bobcat Goldthwait and his ragtag gang of 80’s comics to find him and bring him home.
  • An Inconvenient Ruth: You know what you did, Ruth.
  • What About OB?: A hospital planned by men forgets one VERY important department. Shenanigans ensue.
  • The Rave Little Toaster: EDM, ecstasy, and a small kitchen appliance out way past his bedtime.
  • Rainspotting: And you thought looking at trains was boring!
  • Monsters NC: The story of North Carolina’s horrible, no good, very bad governor and all his friends in the state legislature.

Switching Your Primary Google Apps Domain In Not Too Many Steps

My face when we decided we needed to change our primary Google Apps domain.

It happens. You rebrand (like we did at Planted last year) and need to change your email addresses. You use Google Apps because you need video conferencing that kind of works, document sharing and email and… whatever else they do. You figure, hey, it’s Google, how hard can this be? And then you google for how to do it and it turns out it’s a poorly documented nightmare, which you’d think it wouldn’t be because it’s Google and they’re supposed to make hard things easy.

You probably took the easy way out last time and just created an alias domain. Eventually, though, you get tired of people asking about the old domain on calendar invites and dealing with aliases in all your email clients, and you just decide it’s time. Actually, having an alias already set up makes the whole process a lot easier. If you haven’t done that, that’s alright, it just means you can skip the “remove the existing domain alias” step!

It turns out that it’s not actually that bad as long as you do things in the right order. I’m going to share that order with you so I don’t have to remember it later.

Before you make the switch, I’d make sure all of your users who use 2 factor auth have added their phones as a backup because they’ll need to delete and re-add their accounts to the authenticator app, which took me by surprise and don’t remember from Google’s documentation!

I went through several iterations of this list and this is the one I came up with that resulted in the least amount of time where email addresses didn’t exist and the fewest number of steps! Without anymore prevaricating from me, here are the steps:

  1. Remove your existing domain alias. This is when email will stop going to you@newdomain.com
  2. Add your new domain as a “real” domain in Google Apps. Go through and DNS setup or verification needed, but if you already had it as an alias, you should already have all of that setup.
  3. Rename all of your users on the old domain to the new domain. This is where you@newdomain.com starts working again. The benefit of doing it this way instead of just switching primary domains is that it automatically creates aliases for all your users on the old domain, which saves you as many steps as you have users. You should rename yourself last as it will kick you out and make you log back in, which was scary when it happened to me, but not the end of the world.
  4. Rename all of your groups (aliases, y’all) on the old domain to the new domain.
  5. This is the stupid part. In order to change your primary domain, you have to use the API. I went through a bunch of the official clients and had no luck, but then I found the API Test Page and that worked fine.
  6. On the API Test Page:
    • Toggle the “Authorize requests using OAuth 2.0” thing, which will then pop up a window. Make sure you log in with your work domain.
    • For “customerKey”, put in my_customer
    • In “Request Body”, the field name is customerDomain and the value is your new domain!
    • Now click outside the request body box, and then click Execute.
    • You should get a 200 response.

And now you’re done!

Everything seems to be fine. The only thing that’s still a little weird is gChat, but all of our old Hangout URLs still work and we haven’t noticed any issues with Docs or anything else.

Good luck in your domain switching!

Further Reading:

Update: I don’t know anything else than what I’ve written. If it doesn’t work, I probably can’t help you. If you have a business account, Google’s support is actually really good. Call them. Really.