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Building a Better Tomorrow #6 — Advice Tour Week 2 & 3 Meetings

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I am so grateful to everyone who met with me, and I have a much clearer understanding of how to proceed than I would have without their generosity. I’ve left a couple people anonymous because I didn’t get permission to write about them.

The fight for peace and justice continues

The fight for peace and justice continues

Nada Khader

Nada Khader, the executive director of Wespac, and intern Tommy Severin were kind enough to sit down with me on one of the first sunny days in Spring. Wespac has been fighting for peace and justice in Westchester County for 40 years and has 1,500 members. (Catch up with Nada here and with Wespac here) She gave me advice I’d actually been expecting sooner, along the lines of, there’s so many things, you’d be better off concentrating on just one thing at a time. She described herself as a practical person and I believe her. She was concerned that I might be trying to recreate things already in existence, and that what I’m trying to do is “so broad.” She advised that I follow my heart and intuition, doing one thing and doing it well. Write plays if that’s my passion. When I asked her the best way to engage new people, she suggested good old-fashioned leafleting. “There are 3,000 non-profits in Westchester,” she told me. “Don’t be part of the non-profit-industrial complex.” I’m grateful for Nada’s advice, and I hope that we’ll find a way to work together one of these days.

Melissa Boyer
Melissa Boyer, Pastor at Katonah United Methodist, is one of my favorite people. Maybe she’ll be one of yours, too: visit her on the world wide web here. She’s been very supportive of whatever I’ve tried to do since we first met five years ago. We worked on a community conversation about fracking quite some time ago, and she helped me with my climate change theatrical afternoon on 10/10/10. At our meeting she reminded me of the Frederick Buechner quotation, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Which is as good a description of what I’m trying to do as any I’m likely to come across. She characterized the NW4BT project as “a great example of looking squarely at something that’s enormous and horrendous and staying focused on ‘what can we actually do?’” And that was good to hear. She had two pieces of advice which are sticking with me. The first is to make the immediate priorities This Day in Civil Rights and the community-building events, like Eating Together for a Better Tomorrow. The second is that I should be sure to provide opportunities for [world betterers? transformation workers?] to be renewed, because it’s such emotionally challenging work. Bottom line: “Keep going. You’re on the right track.”

Melissa Boyer, out in the community

Melissa Boyer, out in the community

Keep it local

Keep it local

Sol Skolnick

Sol has been a champion for local living economies around these parts for a long time. You can visit him on Facebook here. He can take justified pride in his years as Executive Director of the Pleasantville Music Festival (check that out here). Sol is also Editor-in-Chief of the Pleasantville HamletHub (visit them on Facebook here) as well as Past President of Pleasantville’s Board of Education and Past president of the Board of Trustees of the Mount Pleasant Public Library. He invited me to a seminar before our meeting on incentive programs Con Ed offers to commercial real estate interests to manage peak demand. The seminar was an excellent reminder that changing the world is local and personal, but that it also includes big changes involving big amounts of money and inertia. My intention to help increase the effectiveness and efficiency of people working for change resonated with him. He gave me very practical and intelligent advice on increasing the public profile of my work, and I’ll be implementing just about all of it. And he knows people and programs worth getting in touch with, and I’ve got a list. Thanks, Sol.

Ajax Greene

Ajax is an influential advocate of B Corps (Find out about B Corps here). He provides “expertise to emerging social entrepreneurs” through his company, On Belay Business Advisors, Inc., a founding B Corp and New York State Benefit Corp. He is also a co-founder of Re>Think Local (learn more here) and was one of the two organizers of Social Venture Institute / Hudson Valley. I attended the first annual SVI/HV weekend retreat last summer and it was very important in crystallizing my plan and emboldening my approach to NW4BT. If you’re interested in combining responsible money making with the creation of social good, you really should attend this year’s weekend. You can visit the Institute on the web here — and if you do, you will see a picture of top three-quarters of my head.) Ajax established the theme of his advice to me early on in our meeting, “My mantra is: extreme clarity.” The more clarity you have, the more focus you’ll have, the more effective your efforts, and the easier it will be to communicate about them. Even if you’re dealing with multiple issues, answer the question, “What is the common denominator?” Valuable advice begins with truth telling, and Ajax doesn’t mince words. “In your brochure, the clarity is not there. You express a lot, but it has the,” he paused, looking for the right phrase, “it has the opposite of clarity.” Which to me became an instant classic. I think I’m being clear and succinct, and I discover later that I’m not. The advice from Ajax will help me find lack of clarity before I send stuff out. Another valuable note from our conversation involved business: you need to figure out your revenue model right up front. He talked to me about a lot of ways to help insure my enterprise will work in the real world. “You’re entering into the rough and tumble world. You might think your idealism will carry the day, but it won’t. Your values are important, vital, but they’re not why you’ll make it or not.”

Hard work that makes sense

Hard work that makes sense

Grassroots Environmental Education

Grassroots Environmental Education

Ellen Weininger

Ellen Weininger and I met for coffee early. (You can visit her on Facebook here) We met at Moonbeans, the less-Starbucky alternative for comfortable coffee in Briarcliff. Ellen is the Director of Education Outreach for Grassroots Environmental Education, a science-based environmental health nonprofit (on the web here.) She’s spent years educating our communities, local and state governments, school systems, other organizations and individuals nationwide, and has experienced a familiar frustration: “It can be challenging to activate certain people and get them to make change.” She’s interested in the psychology of environmental action and human responsibility. I asked a question I’ve come to in these meetings, “if there was a person with my capabilities and intentions ready to work at least full-time and you got to assign me, what would you have me do?” Her answer: write and share your work as widely as possible through social media and other outlets. “You can get to the heart of the issues and spark conversation.” And, “You could play a role in activating other writers.” Northern Westchester Writer for Social Responsibility? For a Better Tomorrow? She said, “Utilize art and music as an integral part of whatever you do to engage people.” And don’t stop. “It’s going to take all hands on deck to make change happen and to ensure the political will that is needed to make a world that is a healthy and safe place for our children and future generations.”

Ellen asked me to pass this along to my readers: People assume that there is some sort of thorough vetting process that happens and that somehow our government wouldn’t permit something dangerous into the market place. We’ve learned the hard way with costly lessons from asbestos, tobacco, PCBs and lead exposures. It took a long time for policy change to happen well after the emergence of the peer-reviewed science linking these exposures to serious health impacts.” And of course, “look at what is happening now with the recent approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of the Spectra Algonquin pipeline expansion project that permits the siting of a new three and a half foot wide, high pressure gas pipeline within 105 feet of sensitive infrastructure at the Indian Point nuclear power plant and close to its 40 years of highly radioactive spent fuel in a significant seismic zone and densely populated region. According to pipeline and nuclear power engineers and safety experts, a pipeline failure or rupture, (which is not uncommon), could potentially trigger catastrophic explosions and release of Indian Point’s radioactive spent fuel.” (Giant Gas Pipeline to Flank NY Nuke Plant.)

Susan Van Dolsen

The common denominator among everyone who met with me? They all work really hard, and are passionate about what they’re trying to do in the world. That being said, Susan Van Dolsen (on Facebook here) works really hard. She co-founded both Westchester for Change and Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion and seems nearly tireless. She will have participated in a huge press conference in Albany by the time you read this. She met Ellen and I after our first couple hours at Moonbeans. Susan had some incisive insights on how I should connect my capabilities with Northern Westchester’s activism needs. “You can connect the dots for people.” My idea to create a clearinghouse that presents a collection of information about issues and groups and events, already weakening, gave up the ghost during my meeting with Susan. I think it’s a useful thing, but I’d prefer to persuade other people to build it. She sees a better role for me as engaging in an active process of connecting people. She said, “Pull people off the sidelines,” and “you might not sift out all the details right away,” and “there’s not gonna be a magic bullet,” “you need a panel of trusted advisors,” and “you can create an advocacy CSA,” “very experienced people can help in different ways,” and “work with small groups on particular issues, and develop advocacy tools.” Susan told me I might have attributed some of Ellen’s remarks to her. And I don’t know who I was talking to this about, but it’s a good idea: We invented a series of somethings, pamphlets, comics, along the lines of I’m going into [medicine, law, art, science]. How can I behave like an intact human being who values virtue? James Hansen is a scientist who did. There are tons who didn’t.

Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion

Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion

Some Councilpersons are crusaders for what is good and right

Some city councilpersons are crusaders for what is good and right

An anonymous Councilperson

I met with a progressive Councilperson who is working hard for a better tomorrow for the people who elected him or her. We’ve met a few times in the last couple years, especially in connection with efforts to stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion. We sat down together not too long ago. Given personal experience in retail politics I wanted to know something about what I don’t know yet. Start with small groups of people. Have a dinner with an educational topic. Don’t hit them up for money the first time you meet them. It’s like dating, you have to let things develop naturally. We also talked about the possibilities in drafting sample legislation and trying to get it enacted in the communities up and down the Hudson River. There was affirmation of my sense that trying to make things happen in the local political arena is a far better investment of time and energy than sending more petitions to federal officials about natural gas infrastructure or drones or income inequality. I’ll be asking this anonymous Councilperson for political advice for some time to come.

An Old Friend

I’ve known him for years, ever since our children were alternatively educated together. He and his wife and family are dedicated to local education and enrichment initiatives in their community. We hadn’t made a formal Advice Tour arrangement. He happened to notice me at The Peekskill Coffee House (a hotbed of community connectivity, definitely) and we got to talking about what I’m trying to do. He agrees it’s a challenge to get large numbers of people engaged. “It’s too hard for people to really confront these enormous life and death issues. Most people are going to be apathetic, self-medicated, or without hope they can be involved in making a meaningful difference. Or all three.” His way of looking at how the future might unfold is decidedly not grief-stricken nor hysterical nor frantic. If the current system will inevitably collapse because it is inherently flawed, then the responsibility becomes to take care as well as possible of the people who are going to fall through the ever-widening cracks. And to work for the system that will rise up in its place, which will hopefully be more inclusive, more humane, more viable, and less psychotic. And the great thing is that he’s at peace and has a great sense of humor. I hope we’ll be working together somehow or other before all is said and done.

After that sir, it is cracks all the way down.

After that sir, it is cracks all the way down.

All our grievances are connected

All our grievances are connected

Susan Rubin

The Advice Tour meeting that was the most fun was definitely with Dr. Susan Rubin. She’s pretty easy to spot around the activist world in Westchester. She gave some boffo free trainings in non-violent direct action. She made the film about evacuating from Indian Point called The Plan(?). She danced around in a toad head costume at a bank in New York City. The first thing she talked about was the part in my brochure that talks about finding things for people to do that are fun. “Fun is sustainable,” she said. Her advice was to try to connect with people, and to do a lot of little things that are fun and easy and will get people’s attention while also telling the truth. We had tons of brilliant ideas, and we’re going to make some of them happen in the real world. She also advised turning to Charles Eisenstein for assistance in dealing with the emotional challenges of dealing with this material. And that was very good advice. Part of the reason we had such a good time is we acknowledged and had hilarity about the enormous problems we’re facing, and the impossible-seeming difficulty in getting people to pay attention, and then to actually do something sensible. Stay tuned.

Thomas Bregman

Tom Bregman (on Facebook here) is the current Director of Energize NY and was previously a participant in street theater through Billionaires for Bush. And he’s got quite a chunk of resume between the two. His advice was to focus on two aspects of my plan. The first was to try to set myself up as something like a utility for the causes I believe in, providing them what they need to make them more effective. The second was to concentrate on the local aspect of NW4BT, since “any real change in our everyday lives is gonna come from local.” Tom’s had a great deal of pretty interesting experience in politics at the national level and is hoping my work can be a force for increasing the chances of progressive victory, as “progressives are, generally, neither sufficiently strategic nor sufficiently patient.”

Strategy. Patience. Data.

Strategy. Patience. Data.

Better call the pro from Dover

Better call the pro from Dover

Alex Luyando

Alex Luyando is the only person I’ve kept in touch with from my many years as an independent database system developer. He’s unusually intentional and hardworking, and has navigated a lot of software projects through surprisingly tricky waters. (Before you, or someone you care about, begins a database project or hires a project manager you should get in touch with Alex at his company, J.C.N. Associates) I brought the big clipboard because I thought we were going to talk tech strategy. Especially since he’s made a major investment in becoming a certified Project Management Professional. As it turns out, we didn’t talk one bit of tech. But he gave me some great advice. One was to double-check my thinking about how to deploy my efforts. He’s willing to pose the question, how do you weigh the chances of success against other ways you can apply force to the world’s situation. The money in politics situation is bad. I can’t not try to change it, however slim my chance of success, is fine in isolation, but in the context of other things to try to change it might be merely ill-advised. In a world of things that feel too difficult to confront, that’s got to be near the top of the list. But you’ve got to. He liked the idea of trying to find professionals who would contribute to the good fight, and characteristically had a practical insight. Find hard-charging type-A people who are just beginning to actively plan for retirement and design an offer for them. Maybe they never got to approach their work the way they thought best. Maybe they’d love the chance to work for good instead of evil. And maybe they can’t stand to drift into golf and sitting on porch, so they might want to sign up for a lot more time and effort than a couple hours a month. He advised me to figure out how to find them and sign them up.

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