Sep 29, 2009

How to win more votes? Be yourself, sense of humor and all.

In this clip, Crooked Fingers talks about how a sense of humor and, I don’t know, acting human, could do politicians more good than it would do harm. And he’s right.

Now, I’m not saying politicians should shoot for being the class clown, but it wouldn’t hurt to crack a few harmless jokes throughout their campaigns. While most of us would agree we want a President who’s cool, calm and collected, who won’t flinch during trying times and who is confident and strong enough to lead us all.

But whether it’s consciously (as it is with Crooked Fingers) or subconsciously, we all want to connect and be able to relate to who we’re voting for. Obviously, issues play a big part in the connection and being able to relate, but showing your personality can also play a huge role.

It’s important to remember, whether you’re running for public office or fighting to introduce green initiatives in your city, be yourself, crack a few jokes and make friends with people – all while remaining serious about accomplishing what it is you set out to change.

Sep 25, 2009

Report Card for Farm Sanctuary: A

Farm Sanctuary recently teamed up with Causecast to help get their message out about reducing our consumption of meat. They kept the shockingly cruel footage to a minimum and decided to focus on something else instead.

That thing? A value. No, it wasn’t mostly compassion; it was sustainability. The organization also communicates values such as compassion and equality on their website, but obviously learned what not to do from PETA since they keep the horrifying images to a minimum, always maintain an approachableness, focus more on what you can do (and not what you shouldn’t be doing) and focus more on success stories.

For stepping outside of the norm, communicating values and reaching new audiences, Farm Sanctuary gets a pretty decent grade.

Sep 23, 2009

Report card for Uruguay: A+

About a couple weeks ago, CNN reported that Uruguay just became the first Latin American country to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. And for that, they get an A+.

Senator Margarita Percovich stated that it was an easy decision. She says that it wasn’t really about the parents who were adopting the children, it was really just about the children. When asked about the bill, she stated, "It is a right for the boys and the girls, not a right for the adults. It streamlines the adoption process and does not discriminate."

Daniel Alonso, a resident of the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, says that the new bill helps LGBT members feel like they are part of society.

Last year, lawmakers in Uruguay also, “approved a measure allowing children aged 12 or older to change their names, a measure aimed at transgender or transsexual youths. Uruguay also authorized same-sex civil unions last year, setting the stage for the current adoption law.” 

Sep 21, 2009

Josie Romero, a young child, teaches us to never give up

The story of Josie Romero, who was featured on “Sex, Lies, and Gender,” on Nat Geo TV last week, teaches us the power of acceptance and perseverance against all odds. You see, Josie hadn’t been known as such for her whole life. Prior to a few years ago, this adorable little girl went by the name of Joey. Josie is an 8-year-old transgender.

Her parents, both in a military and traditional family, did struggle with accepting their son’s desire to wear dresses, be referred to as a female and play with dolls. However, after a couple years of only allowing Josie to act out on her desires at home, they realized that they were impeding on her happiness.  Her father, an Air Force Lieutenant, had the hardest time accepting the changes, but as he states, only because he felt like he had lost a son. Both parents did an incredible thing by allowing Josie to be who she truly is; allowing her to go to school on base as herself, despite the turmoil it caused with parents and students, and even having her birth certificate changed to acknowledge that her name is Josie and she is female.

While the story of her family’s acceptance is extremely powerful, Josie’s own story is something that we can really learn from. Her mother states that she was constantly harassed and verbally and physically abused by her classmates only for being who she was. Josie was deeply hurt by the way she was treated, but refused to change the way she lived her life. At 8-years-old, Josie recognized the importance of persevering and trying again and again.

When working in coalitions, it’s easy to get downtrodden due to the bullies' comments. They’re saying mean things about you and what you feel passionate about. They don’t have much respect for you. They might even try to push you down. But, Josie serves as a precedent for how we too should act. Despite the naysayers, we need to keep moving forward, being who we are, spreading our message and being happy. And if we keep doing that, we really will be able to unite and conquer.

Sep 17, 2009

Legally Blonde 2: A surprising suggestion of how politics should be

No, I don’t just mean that D.C. should all revamp their wardrobes to be more befitting of Elle Woods, but that they should all take notes from the Delta Nu Alumnae. Granted it may not be the most profound movie of our time, but Ms. Woods actually took a lot of moves out of the Unite and Conquer handbook.

When fighting for Bruiser’s Bill, she communicates values such as compassion and equality and makes friends with unlikely people. She doesn’t compromise on her values, but is willing to compromise on how she goes about achieving her goals. She also doesn’t throw her opponents under the bus or talk about them negatively.

And if you’ve read Unite and Conquer, the ending of the movie shouldn’t come as a surprise. Miss Woods left Washington accomplishing her interest and left many seeing a new way to go about creating positive change.

Sep 16, 2009

My appearance on the Daily Show

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In the clip, my office is inspected by the Daily Show's Jason Jones and there's a lot of discussion about Arizona's classy plan to fix the deficit.

If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk

As you’ve probably noticed a huge part of being able to unite and conquer centers around communicating values. With the age old saying that, “actions speak louder than words,” it’s imperative that you also pay attention to what the actions your coalition or organization are communicating to your audience.

An Horse points out that the organization promoting Earth Hour may have been speaking about values such as sustainability and the environment, but their actions were communicating quite the opposite. As the indie band, comprised of Kate Cooper and Damon Cox, points out in this video that the organization promoting Earth Hour in Australia actually used more energy to promote the event than was saved during the event.

When communicating values, make sure to walk the same way you talk.

Sep 14, 2009

Sharpton and Gingrich come together for Education Reform

Over the weekend, NPR featured a story about two very unlikely allies. In the article, as it appeared on NPR, below,  you can see that despite having many differences, Reverend Al Sharpton and Republican speaker of the House Newt Gingrich teamed up to help push for accountability, transparency and choice in our education system. In true Unite and Conquer fashion, the men even disagree on some aspects on how to go about achieving these goals, but they've recognized that they do agree on the same values and the need for reform. Sharpton even stated, "if we can deal with the common area of what works, that's the end goal."


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Two major domestic policies were on President Obama's agenda this week. Of course, he addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday trying to build support for an overhaul of the nation's health care system. A day before that, he spoke to school students across the country, emphasizing the virtues of a quality education and personal discipline.

He's getting help on that front from what might seem like an unlikely alliance: the Reverend Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich. Reverend Sharpton, who's run for president as a Democrat, and Mr. Gingrich, who was a Republican speaker of the House, met at the White House this spring on the anniversary of the Brown versus Board of Education decision to throw their support behind public education reform. The two men are about to begin a multi-city tour hosted by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

They join us now to talk about that and some of the week's major headlines. The Reverend Sharpton in New York and Newt Gingrich in Washington. Gentlemen, thanks very much for being with us.

Former Representative NEWT GINGRICH (Republican, Georgia): It's great to be with you and it's great to have a chance to be back with Reverend Sharpton talking about this very, very important topic.

Reverend AL SHARPTON: Thank you for having us on.

SIMON: Reverend Sharpton, let me begin with you - and if you could follow up, Speaker - how did the two of you, how were you brought together for this venture?

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, you know, last year, early '08, I became very concerned as head of National Action Network about the inequality in education and lack of choice. And Speaker Gingrich invited me to address his group at the Republican convention. And I'm sure he didn't know what to expect. I definitely didn't know what to expect. But I got up and spoke about how I think our country needs to come together to not only close the race gap in education, but the education gap and how everyone needs to be accountable. And we were going to Washington to deal with the anniversary of Brown versus Board of Education. I wanted him to come and speak.

And it was the president who said, you know, you guys ought to go on the road and really talk about this challenge what's going on. And that's where the tour idea started, and the 29th of September we are on the road.

SIMON: Speaker Gingrich, what do you see is important?

Rep. GINGRICH: Well, let's see, first of all, I was really attracted to working with Reverend Sharpton because he took the position that education is the number one civil right of the 21st century. Without education, you can't have a decent job, you can't be an effective citizen. You really are crippled in your ability to be an American.

I thought he was exactly right. He showed great courage in raising questions about how we reform education. So, we decided talking with President Obama, talking with Secretary Arne Duncan, that while we disagree about some things -I, for example, I favor the right to a voucher or what I would call a Pell grant for K through 12 - but we all agree that we want accountability, we want transparency, we want parents to have the right to choose.

The president has courageously come out for unlimited charter schools in every state. And that's a very big step forward to having a more competitive and more accountable education system.

SIMON: Let me follow up on that, because President Obama and Arne Duncan - who has a track record of supporting charter schools in Chicago - that drives a lot of teachers unions nuts, doesn't it, Reverend Sharpton?

Rev. SHARPTON: Yes and no. I mean, when it first happened, like, in New York, the unions were against it. Now, the union has three charter schools. If having charter schools - as I've come out and said I support, as President Obama does - helps to create the competitiveness and innovation that helps educate students, then that is the bottom line.

And I think that, though I may not agree with vouchers - and Speaker Gingrich does - if we can deal with the common area of what works, that's the end goal.

SIMON: Can we talk a little events of the week with you two gentlemen?

Rep. GINGRICH: Well, we probably can't stop you. So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: All right. Let me begin with you, Speaker Gingrich. President Obama delivered a speech laying out some of the ideas on health care overhaul this week. Do you think he advanced his case?

Rep. GINGRICH: Well, I think he's restarted the conversation to some degree, and I think it depends on how serious he is about some of his ideas. If he's serious about requiring that the new government plans only pay for legal American citizens and legal residents who have visas and work permits and are here legally, I think he'd find plenty of votes in favor of that.

It depends in part on whether Speaker Pelosi is willing to reopen the bill in the House and have an honest, open bipartisan effort, or whether it was just a nice speech leading back to the machine trying to ram through what they wrote before the August break.

SIMON: What did you think of Representative Joe Wilson shouting, you lie, at the president?

Rep. GINGRICH: Well, I thought it was inappropriate. But I also understand that, frankly, he lost his temper because he saw such a huge gap between the fact of what's in the House Democratic bill and what the president was saying. I presided for four years over joint sessions of Congress with President Clinton.

I absolutely expected, even in the most difficult periods, that the House would have decorum. Joint sessions are rare experiences, where the entire country comes together to hear the elected head of the United States - not to hear a partisan speech, not to hear a campaign speech. And we owe the country a certain level of dignity in that setting.

SIMON: We should note that Representative Wilson apologized and President Obama has accepted it. Reverend Sharpton, do you have a different reaction?

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I mean, I thought what he said was offensive to all Americans. It insulted the chamber. You know, as an old protestor, you suffer the consequences of a protest, because that's what he ended up doing no matter how much he was justified. He should have been removed, in my opinion, from the chamber.

SIMON: Speaker Gingrich, do you get the impression that the country has time to concentrate on education reform, between the economy, between health care overhaul, for that matter, debate over commitment in Afghanistan?

Rep. GINGRICH: I think that when you're talking about our children and our grandchildren, you're talking about their very future, you're talking about the essential reforms for us to be competitive in the world market. You're talking about the changes we need for national security. We have to find the time to focus on education reform. And I think there should be a sense of urgency in getting this done, and it does relate directly to the economy.

SIMON: Well, could I get you to follow-up on that, Reverend Sharpton?

Rev. SHARPTON: I think that the speaker is exactly right on that. I think that's why the drama of having people that don't agree, like Speaker Gingrich and I joining Secretary Duncan, is important so people understand the urgency of the matter. We are discussing education like it is an option. It is not an option. You can't deal with the economy without dealing with education. Even the stimulus plan put billions of dollars in education.

But if Secretary Duncan can't reform education, we're throwing good money behind bad money. This discussion must take place. It must take place now. And people that don't come together on anything else are coming together to say, we're going to do what must be done as responsible adults to deal with education in this country.

SIMON: Reverend Sharpton, is president Obama - to be serious about this issue -going to have to challenge some traditional supporters of the Democratic Party - I mean, the teachers union and teachers, educators. As much as if he's serious about tort reform, he's going to have to challenge the interest of some trial lawyers, who I believe have been the biggest single group of contributors to the Democratic Party.

Rev. SHARPTON: I think the president has already shown that he would challenge some traditional supporters. And I think that some of the Republican leadership has shown they'll have to challenge some of their traditional support. It has not worked. We cannot be loyal to things that do not work. Look at the results.

And I think when the president came out and said what he said in the areas of charter schools, in the areas of education reform and accountability of teachers and principals and others, some people did not like it. He said it when he was running. This is not about whether you get traditional allies angry. Who is your ally if they can sit by and watch, in some cities, two-thirds of your children dropping out of school?

That's not an ally, and we're going to challenge those allies as we further this discussion.

SIMON: The Reverend Al Sharpton, speaking with us from New York. Thanks very much.

Rev. SHARPTON: Thank you.

SIMON: And speaking with us from his office in Washington, former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Rep. GINGRICH: Thank you very much.

Sep 10, 2009

Emmanuel Jal teaches us that sometimes we need to lose to win

I’ve fought many up-hill battles in the legislature and side-by-side with many of the coalitions that I’ve been a part of. Many of these battles that I’ve fought for include the Genocide in Darfur, LGBT issues and for health insurance reform. When I really look at it I’ve been a part of these issues for many negative reasons, lack of peace and protection in Darfur, lack of equality for the LGBT community and mistreatment and lack of security in the health insurance industry. While the reasons are horrific and unjust, the beauty behind it is that the goal is to turn those negatives into positives.

In this video, Emmanuel Jal demonstrates that it often takes being part of a bad situation (and in his case, as a child soldier in Sudan, a horrible situation) to make you want to turn it around. His story is one to be told. Saved by a British aid worker after five years as a war child, and being a veteran of two civil wars and seeing thousands of other child soldiers die, Emmanuel was given a new lease on life. He now has been touring the world, spreading his message of a need for education and the tools to help them bring peace to their country via his music. He’s even given up two meals a day, and asking to people to pledge money while he does this, in order to build a school in Sudan in honor of the woman who rescued him.

While Emmanuel’s story of being a child soldier is incredibly disturbing and horrifying, the beauty of it is that he’s sharing the story of his country and has inspired thousands of people to help out.

So aside from the fact that we should all do our part to help cease the genocide in Darfur, there’s something really important that we can learn from this. Whether you’re marching for the right for same-sex couples to marry with your partner or you’re writing a letter to your elected official urging them to support health insurance reform because you currently can’t afford it, there’s hope. Why? Because passion never grows out of people feeling comfortable. And it’s passion that really moves people.

So when you’re fighting for an issue that you feel passionate about, remember, it might not happen today, but if you keep sharing your story, that day will come.

Sep 8, 2009

Moby must be reading Unite and Conquer because he’s noticing how President Obama just gets it

One of the chapters in my book is titled “Letting Go of the Bear and Picking Up the Buddha.” In this video, Moby sees that President Obama is the epitome of this philosophy. He’s very patient, never retaliatory and if he does utilize power in his speech, it’s always a peaceful and never negative. In other words, as Moby points out, he acts like a grown-up.

It’s critical to remain calm and pick up the Buddha when working in a Coalition or on legislation. For one, people are a lot more inclined to work with a group that’s rational and calm, as opposed to those who are defensive and abrasive. In addition, it also makes you seem more credible, rational and positive, and people will view you—and your cause or issue—in a better light.

Sep 2, 2009

Report card for Save Darfur: A+

The genocide in Darfur is a grave crisis that I am extremely passionate about. I’ve been pursuing my PhD at Arizona State University's School of Justice and Social Inquiry, focusing on armed conflict and genocide in Africa, to help me better understand how I can help make a difference in this horrific situation.

Save Darfur sets the standard for how Coalitions should be run. Visit their website and you won’t see “Save 100,000 people in Darfur by 2010!” and “Stop all genocide NOW!” While of course, I’m sure they have goals similar to these, they aren’t focusing on the outcomes. Using outcomes can negatively affect your coalition in a couple ways.

For one, as a single person who’s just looking to help out in whatever way they can, “Save 100,000 people in Darfur this year,” just on their own seems almost impossible. Whereas, promoting values, as Save Darfur does, make their actions seem more feasible. For instance, they promote peace. Someone who is looking to take small steps will feel like peace is more attainable – because for one, it’s not on a deadline, and for two, little steps can help bring peace, piece by piece.

Secondly, it’s a lot harder to get people to rally around a goal than it is to get them to rally around a value. Ask around and I’m sure you won’t find many people who are gung-ho on the specific outcome of saving 100,000 people from genocide within a year. However, ask those same people if they’re passionate about peace, protection and justice, and your group will grow exponentially.

Because they promote values over outcomes, Save Darfur is at the top of the class.

Sep 1, 2009

Report card for PETA: D+

I’m no scientist—lab coats aren’t exactly fashionable—but I do know that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, the more you advocate and protest against something, the more opposition you will create against yourself.

While their strategy has since changed since they days of throwing paint on fur coats, PETA is the perfect example of an organization that had problems making friends. In the past PETA often resorted to very negative, and often violent (although unphysical) tactics, such as the example given above. Ask anyone what their initial thoughts of PETA are and, unless they’re a member, they’ll most likely paint you a picture of a stereotypical animal rights activist from the 60’s and 70’s.

While this strategy garnered their organization a lot of attention then, it has been an uphill battle in trying to get people to take them seriously now.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a huge animal lover, and I feel awful giving an animal welfare organization a less than phenomenal grade, however, I think we all can learn from the mistakes they made in the past. As I said in my physics lesson above, if your actions are negative, you will be met with a negative force. Now, I’m sure PETA didn’t view their actions as negative, because after all, they were doing it for a good cause. However, the majority of people would say that it’s a negative way to engage with people.

A good rule of thumb, before protesting or acting in anyway to promote your cause, is to ask yourself “Would a person still be interested in being or want to be friends with me after I acted this way?” Most people probably wouldn’t want to be your friend if you ruined their clothes (even if they were made from poor, defenseless animals), but I think we all could agree that someone would still want to be your friend if you handed them a pamphlet about how inhumane fur companies are to animals. In fact, they might even want to go cruelty-free coat shopping with you…

PETA has been working hard to abolish the remnants of their old image, and this is what starts to save their grade. They’ve refocused on crafting a message that promotes values, such as compassion, justice, equality and care for animals. Instead of promoting what not to do, they often promote little steps that people can take to protect animal rights, such as becoming a vegetarian, writing a letter to Congress or switching to cruelty-free beauty products. Which is a great strategy because often enough baby steps will lead to very big steps.