Accidental advocates: Speak out to find your voice

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?

Laurie Landgraf wasn’t always an advocate.

But in the summer of 2011, shortly before the former teacher was to start enjoying retirement in the small-town Wisconsin “dream cabin” she’d purchased with her husband Dave, he was killed by a distracted driver while riding his bike. Although evidence showed the driver was talking and texting at the time of the crash, no felony charges were filed and she instead received mere traffic citations.

Today, Laurie makes her voice heard by standing up for cell-free driving.

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Advocates come from many paths to care for the rights of others.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Like many advocates, Laurie received her call to service by happenstance, not through honed intention. And it hasn’t been easy to take on this new identity, especially in the face of so much anger and grief. In 2013, Laurie spoke with the storytellers at Living Proof about her journey. Here are some excerpts:

I’m feeling more comfortable calling myself an “advocate.” I’m working towards that. And it’s definitely been a process. When I spoke at [my first] event to about 50-60 people, I was not very prepared; I just spoke from the heart. But I did find my voice there, and that was the beginning of feeling like this is the direction I should go in.

It surprised me to find my voice; I had been quiet for so long. I couldn’t physically and emotionally wrap my head around the whole thing because I was just in such a grief state. But I started realizing that I’ve got this experience I could turn from a tragedy into something positive. What I’m hoping to do is to tell the truth behind the tragedy.

It isn’t easy to speak out. It will always bring me back to that day and what I experienced. So that takes courage and it also takes practice. But I do think the long-term is—and I have heard this from other advocates—that if you can make a difference in one person’s life, or make one person think before acting, that really is what it’s all about.

Read more on the Living Proof blog.

How did you find your voice as a new advocate?

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Help Tamara build bridges through music

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Tamara

Tamara Turner follows the beat of her own drum – literally and figuratively. Her passion with music began when she was five years old composing piano pieces in her hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. Tamara hasn’t skipped a beat as an adult, dabbling in everything from film scoring to music journalism, and studying a wide range of musical styles from West African drumming in Ghana to tin whistle in Ireland to Gnawa music in Morocco.

Most recently, Tamara graduated from Boston’s Tufts University with a masters degree in ethnomusicology. There, she helped organize a “Music and Islam” symposium where, by connecting with the local Moroccan community, she brought in a Moroccan band to host workshops that culminated in a big concert. For Tamara, music plays a critical role in challenging the Islamophobia she often comes across in the U.S.

“Because music has the ability to build connections artistically, creatively, and emotionally, it gives us an opportunity to lead with the heart, transcending the medium of ‘discourse’ and offering a different kind of relationship with which to understand others,” she says.

The intention

Broadly speaking, Tamara envisions an organization that utilizes music for cultural advocacy, outreach, and education, starting with but not limited to the music and cultures of North Africa. One of the first issues she would like to address through musical bridges is Islamophobia.

The idea is two-fold: Similar to the program she helped organize at Tufts, she wants to connect with local immigrant communities in the U.S. to help share their music through concerts, education, and more. Travel is also key, as she’d like to work in North Africa to help record and archive musical traditions.

Besides fostering cross-cultural understanding, and of course, celebrating the inherent joy that music brings, Tamara also hopes to counter the exotification of non-Western music cultures that can sometimes result, however well-intentioned.

“That’s part of the vision, too. Not just piecemealing and romanticizing certain elements of other cultures, but allowing ourselves to be challenged by and uncomfortable with differences as well,” she says.

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Tamara learning the guimbri with her teacher, Abdellatif El Makhzoumi, in Marrakech, Morocco. (Photo via Tamara Turner.)

Obstacles

So far, Tamara has been researching similar organizations around the world and is in the process of refining her idea.

Here are some challenges she has identified:

  1. Reaching out to immigrant communities in the U.S. seems clear cut to Tamara given her experience, but incorporating the North African component is both nebulous and daunting.
  2. She doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel, and is considering becoming involved with an existing organization or program at first.
  3. Although she’s been encouraged by the nonprofits she’s been in touch with, she always hears a version of the same story: “Contact us after you get funding.”
  4. Sustaining enthusiasm and momentum around the idea after it’s no longer fresh is a concern.

How you can help

  • Do you know of any similar organizations or programs to add to her list?
  • Besides initiating conversations, is there more she can be doing to get her foot in the door with people who are already doing similar work?
  • How can she inspire the average person to get outside their comfort zone and, for example, be open to new music from the Islamic world?
  • For music fans and non-music fans alike, what are some other effective and fun outreach strategies besides concerts?
  • Aside from major cities, are there other areas in the U.S. that could benefit from such an organization?
  • What are some potential funding avenues she should pursue?
  • How can she best balance her vision with logistics, and prevent getting so bogged down with logistics that her vision deflates?
  • If you’ve started your own nonprofit, would you be willing to share your story and the lessons learned?

Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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AmeriCorps is getting things done – but for how long?

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

As of today, it sounds like legislation that allows the U.S. federal government to fund all programs at 2010 levels will expire in a couple of weeks.

Background

In order to continue funding programs like AmeriCorps and HeadStart, Congress must come together to pass a new budget. Soon the Senate will look to pass a budget, which must be reconciled with the one that the House of Representatives passed Feb. 18th—H.R. 1—which cut $100 billion from President Obama’s proposed budget, and effectively eliminated funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) among other programs.

CNCS, one target of defunding in H.R. 1, is an independent federal agency that oversees several national service programs that allow people over 18 to serve part- or full-time in their local communities.

AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps NCCC, and Senior Corps members and Foster Grandparents roll up their sleeves every day to:

  • tutor and read with our children,
  • create healthy schools and build affordable housing in our neighborhoods,
  • take care of our forests and rivers,
  • help us access health care when we find ourselves under-insured,
  • assist recent immigrants on the path to U.S. citizenship,
  • help returning Veterans transition to new careers,
  • establish volunteer programs that recruit even more people to help out in local communities,
  • and build the capacity of our organizations that are working to end poverty.

Tens of thousands of people participate in national service programs every year, earning an education award and in some cases a very modest stipend.

The point of the stipend isn’t so much to offer service corps members a wage; national service is different from employment. The point is that in most cases, full-time corps members can support themselves on their stipend. This frees up their time to devote to their communities, and keeps them from competing against unemployed people for scarce jobs.

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Americorps Members, via the Grace Hill St. Louis Flickr feed

National service programs are a network of partnerships between the government and nonprofits, schools, and agencies which receive—and match—funds that put corps members to work.

Because of the partnership model, national service programs are cost effective; offer host organizations valuable, focused, energetic staffing power to start new projects and serve clients at an affordable cost; and create opportunities for people to serve in critical-needs areas in their communities.

Actions to save service

In an effort to rally support for and defend funding for national service, several pro-service organizations have formed a new coalition called Save Service. Last week Save Service, AmeriCorps Alums, and other groups organized thousands of people to participate in District Day visits. People across the country showed up in 441 local House and Senate offices to share stories of the impact of national service programs with 295 Representatives and 83 Senators (and/or their staff). Save Service is offering web tools to help service fans talk with their leaders about the importance of national service and social innovation to their communities. And news media is covering national service like it’s 2008.

Rumor has it that AmeriCorps Week will be moved a week later this year (to May 14-21). As it happens, that is a district work week for Representatives, so as people across the country are celebrating AmeriCorps they can reach out to their Representatives and invite them to see first-hand member impact.

To be fair

We are in debt nationally. Yesterday my colleague Put Barber wrote about the need to make painful changes in order to create a financially sustainable future. We need to make sacrifices.

But surely we can do that without abolishing a valuable, cost-effective, successful, and popular program that involves thousands of communities across the United States and tens of thousands of citizens.

What do you think? Are you speaking up on behalf of service programs?

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Personal Democracy Forum Discount for Idealist Community

From PDF 2009

From PDF 2009, via Flickr user neotint

Personal Democracy Forum is “the world’s leading conference exploring technology’s impact on politics and advocacy.” This year, the conference takes place in New York at the CUNY Graduate Center on June 3rd and 4th, and attendees will take part in the conversations that are driving real changes in technology, governance, and the non-profit world.

Non-profit and government rates are available, and the PDF organizers have offered a special discount for Idealist users. Visit http://www.personaldemocracy.com/conference to find out more and use the coupon code “idealist” to get an extra 15% off your registration.

If you go, you’ll have the chance to learn more about how to use technology and social media to mobilize support for your cause. You’ll also have the chance to hear from featured speakers Allison Fine and Beth Kanter, authors of the forthcoming book The Networked NonProfit; Deanna Zandt, author of the forthcoming book Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking, and the founders of OneWebDay, Craigslist.org, Ushahidi.org, MoveOn.org, and more.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Mapping for Advocacy and Organizing

This entry is by Scott S., our Experience Analyst.

From Flickr user Jessica Wissel

These recent updates to mapping and cartographic services struck me as incredibly powerful advocacy and organizing tools, a new approach to empowering communities, organizations and individuals to affect change at a grassroots level.

Earlier this week, the GeoCommons, a tool for visualizing geographic data, launched a tool that enables users to create maps from their own data sets. Their goal “is to push the boundaries of web mapping to provide easy to use and powerful cartographic design tools along with access to a huge amount of complex geospatial data.”

Current services like Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft are quite limited in what they’re capable of creating. GeoCommons has differentiated itself by designing an “understandable and accurate cartographic design interface,” giving users more options for referencing existing data.

GeoCommons has also included the ability to export map data in a KML file, the accepted standard in online map creation. This enables the user to create a map in GeoCommons and then export the KML file into applications like Google Earth or NASAs WorldWind.

Combining publicly available data from sources like the U.S. government, the UN, the World Bank, and other outlets will allow nonprofits, businesses, individuals, and even social networks to efficiently target and coordinate a better plan of action for addressing various issues. Referencing campaigns and activities to varying data sets will allow for better decision making, allocation of resources, and course of action.

TacticalTech.org’s Mapping for Advocacy is an approach for “[enabling] advocacy groups [to] explore and exploit the potential of maps to effectively send out their message.” Tactical Tech recognizes the potential in using maps to visually represent data for affecting change. Here’s an example: “The Darfur project undertaken by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) where mapping was used to expose a humanitarian crisis in Sudan is a prime example. Combining mapping and rich content, witness testimonies, satellite imagery, data and other information placed on a Google Earth map, the USHMM raised awareness of the reality of incidents in the Sudanese region.” This is an interesting approach to solving a very serious issue, but only one example of using mapping.

What other examples can you think of? How can Idealist use maps? How would nonprofits be bettered served by integrating mapping into their own services? What opportunities would be presented using this technology? Any ideas?

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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