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Responses

carolyn.j's picture

This page serves as a sort of blog for my written responses to the time I spend in the office each week.  I typically go in only for a full day on Monday, and then post a response by Tuesday night.  Various weeks will have me at work at other times as well though, for tabling events, conferences, etc.  These times spent with the organization will produce their own posts when they occur.

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carolyn.j's picture

December 10, 2013 - Lobby Day

For the Lobby Day on Tuesday, November 10 I was picked up at Bryn Mawr at 6:30am by my two coworkers, and then we were off to Harrisburg.  While in the car I put informational packets into the folders I had prepared the day before.  Meanwhile, my coworker in the passenger seat was quickly calling to cancel roughly half of the appointments she had made with senators’ offices: we had gotten word minutes after I got in the car that SB75 was slated for a vote that afternoon; and as such our afternoon meetings with those offices were no longer relevant.  Instead, we informed them that we would be stopping by informally earlier in the day to drop off information.  In addition to unfortunately cancelled meetings, we were unsurprised though still disappointed to learn that we would be short many of our volunteers, as the inclement weather was preventing them from joining us at the capitol.  Much like the server failures from the day before, the snow was an unfortunate reminder of how uncontrollable things in life can severely impact well-made plans.

Ultimately we got to the Capitol Building and down to room 14E.  My supervisor was already there with the bulk of the volunteers who had been able to make it – maybe twelve to eighteen total – and was beginning to brief them on how the day would work.  As it played out, the morning was spent with us coordinating small teams of volunteers to attend meetings with senators’ offices (the morning meetings were not cancelled), where they would talk to the offices and give them the folders with our informational packets, an additional packet with PA-specific human trafficking data brought by Polaris Project, and any SB75 postcards addressed to that senator (though not all senators had any).  For co-sponsors of the bill, volunteers should thank them for their support and request that they talk to their House colleagues about supporting the bill in January (pending passage).  For anyone not a co-sponsor of the bill volunteers should encourage support, identify themselves if they were from that senator’s district, and try to engage whatever staff they were talking to with information about human trafficking.  Meetings took place all morning, and volunteers were in and out of the room as they were sent to new offices.  My part during this time was to put together the folders as they were sent out; and more simply to staff the room and help out any of our staff or the volunteers who might need it.      

After the slew of morning meetings there was a press conference in the Main Rotunda hosted by three of the bill’s main co-sponsors: Senators Greenleaf, Leach, and Dinniman, who were then followed by a Salvation Army employee and a representative from Polaris Project who was joining us for the day.  My supervisor introduced each speaker and also spoke very briefly.  During this I took pictures to be used in our organization’s social media, and at request posted to my own social media about what was happening.

Following the press conference we did drop-by’s of all remaining Senate offices.  I was sent with the woman from Polaris Project to four different senators’ offices.  At each one we introduced ourselves and why we were there that day, and gave the folder to whatever staff member we were speaking with.  One office was particularly welcoming, another was empty, and two others were very brief encounters.

After that I returned to 14E, from which we were going to be led to the Senate Chamber at 12:45 to watch the beginning of the session.  We did in fact get to see the session open; but after a series of superficial announcements the senators immediately moved into party caucuses, which we had known would happen.  However, as we learned at that point from staff members, there were enough other issues being discussed that SB75 likely wouldn’t come to a vote until later in the day than we were hoping.  So, after leaving the chamber and returning to 14E we focused on cleaning up the room and preparing to potentially visit House members after the vote.  Most of our volunteers left at that point – it was getting late enough that they needed to get back home or catch the last train out. 

Ultimately, another coworker and I also had to leave before it came down to the vote.  While driving back, though, we received word from our two remaining coworkers that SB75 had passed with no objections – moving it into the House for next year.

At the end of the day I very much believe we did something important: we demonstrated support and dedication to the cause of anti-human trafficking, represented within SB75.  And while it is difficult to gauge what – if any – difference our presence on that day made to the passage of the bill, I was encouraged to see the community aspect of having facilitated the gathering of interested, engaged community members.  Many had never done anything like this, but all were enthusiastic about the cause and what they were able to do to help – something key to feminist organizing. 

On an off-hand note, I would also like to address an uncomfortable moment during the press conference. One of the senators – all of whom were male – addressed women as key players in movements like this.  Particularly, he addressed the audience of almost entirely women, and then told them to stand and hold hands with him in a circle, in representation of their collective power.  Not only do I have problems with a man telling a group of women about their role in their own liberation and activism in general; but to have the ignorance of his privilege so clearly demonstrated in the way power dynamics allowed him to casually give a group of women commands like “stand up” was incredibly frustrating to watch. 

Anne Dalke's picture

on the uncontrollable

So I'm struck here, first, by your linking server failure w/ bad weather--the uncontrollable things that will always get in the way of political advertising: one techno-logical, one eco-logical, both interruptive of human-driven goals and expectations...

How many volunteers had you been expecting? (just wondering what percentage of the hoped-for whole your 15-18 folks represented).

Your description of feminist community organizing is very heartening....

and your question of "what difference your presence made to the outcome" is also important,
since energy will always be limits: how best to expend it?

And of course I want to talk with you about the discomfort of a senator instructing a group of female volunteers to "stand up"--let's re-play that moment, and imagine an intervention....

carolyn.j's picture

December 9, 2013 - Prep for Lobby Day

Work on Monday, November 9 was all spent in preparation for the Lobby Day that was scheduled to occur the following day.  As explained in a previous post, the idea behind a lobby day is to bring a number of constituent supporters and issue coalition members to the PA Legislature in the Capitol Building, where they do rounds of scheduled visits to theirs and others’ representatives, urging them either to support or oppose a given piece of legislation.  In the case of Tuesday, we were mobilizing people to visit Senators’ offices and encourage them to support SB75, the anti-human trafficking bill we have been involved with for the better part of a year. 

When I first got to the office, I was greeted with the news that the server was down – something that would continue to be frustratingly problematic all day as we and the rest of the office attempted to get online, access network documents, and print.  As such, while still completely cut off from the Internet, the four of us who were going to Harrisburg on Tuesday sat down to work go over the plan for the day. 

The first thing to note were the developments that had happened with the bill.  The Senate had passed the amendments to it later in the previous week; it had already received its subsequent fiscal note from the Appropriations Committee, which was now waiting to be voted on; and if that vote occurred on Monday and if it passed, the entire bill would potentially be voted on while we were in Harrisburg on Tuesday.  But the vote on the fiscal note wouldn’t be known until 3pm, and the schedule for Tuesday potentially not until that morning.  This left us with the need for contingency plans; because if the entire bill went up to vote on Tuesday, it meant that our afternoon appointments with senators’ offices were no longer useful, as they would be happening concurrently to the vote – i.e. we wouldn’t actually be reaching the senators in time. 

For transportation, we confirmed that my supervisor would be driving in early enough to get to the capitol by 8am; while the other three of us would drive together, aiming to get there around 8:45am.  Unlike the last time I went to Harrisburg we didn’t take the train; we were concerned that the forecasted inclement weather would delay the trains and prevent us from getting there on time. 

During the day we would be stationed in a conference room – 14E – from which we and all the constituent volunteers would be operating.  We would be prepping the volunteers before the start of the day; and then during the day at least one of us would be there at all times to continue coordinating volunteers and take in their post-meeting reports as they returned.  In the event that the Senate did end up voting on SB75 that day, and if it passed, we would also be sending out volunteers to do drop-by visits to key House members, to let them know that the bill was coming to their chamber and that we looked forward to their support.  At the end of the day we would clean up the room and leave.

The plan settled, I was tasked with gathering one last round of contact information from SB75 postcards, so that they could be addressed and brought to the capitol with us.  After completing the spreadsheet of contact information I addressed the postcards to the appropriate Senator (the Internet was back at this point and I was able to look up the information).  I then took those and previous stacks of postcards and sorted them by office, so they would be ready for distribution on Tuesday, when volunteers would bring them to senators’ offices when they visited.

After that I was told to keep track of SB75’s status; but the server was down again so I was unable to do so.  Instead, I began preparing the folders we would be giving to each senator’s office during the meetings.  I put on the front of each folder a sticker that read “End Human Trafficking Now!” which volunteers would also be wearing, and which had been a campaign logo related to previous PA anti-human trafficking work.  I then put my supervisor’s business card in each folder.  The packets that would go in the folders was waiting until later, when we knew what would be happening with the bill on Tuesday. 

Finally, before I left for the day, I took the list of senators for whom we didn’t have scheduled meetings – we would be doing brief, informal drob-by’s instead – and noted if they represented a county that had an existing anti-trafficking coalition.  This would help us coordinate who we sent to their office and what we would be able to mention to the staff there.

For the most part this particular Monday was very energizing.  Everyone in my department was focused on getting ready for Tuesday – albeit also stressed about it – so that between their energy and the satisfaction of seeing the work we had done for SB75 all come together, it felt very productive and positively charged.

The largest response I had from that day was from a question raised by one member of our team.  She questioned whether using organizationally branded material was a good idea, and was told yes.  But, in the case of visiting the offices of Republican representatives who were likely more hostile to our cause, that it might be beneficial to not proclaim our particular organizational ties as loudly.  I found this difficult to reconcile to because, on a personal level, I would rather provoke that potential confrontation, given my ideological convictions regarding the cause of women’s rights.  At the same time, I do understand why presenting more cooperatively to senators potentially hostile to our organizational goals is important.  And for the most part, those organizational goals are mine too; why else would I work for them?  So, as ever, it becomes a question of balance: where should individuals place their own convictions in relation to the needs of the organizations, especially when both are reaching towards similar ideals, if through different methods.  Having agreed to work for an organization there is a degree of understanding that you are simultaneously agreeing to carry out its goals via its chosen methods.  At the same time, individual actions can make up for the flexibility and radicalism that the organization as a whole may be unable to embrace. 

Anne Dalke's picture

transparency II

So, your team member's question--whether using organizationally branded material was a good idea--also resonates for me, and resonates, too, w/ my questions below about the possibility (and now: the advisability!) of transparency. mightn't it be more politic NOT to lead w/ what you know will be offensive, will turn some representatives off before you ever get to speak to them, because they "think they know" what it is you have to tell them. I see this less as a question of balancing individual convictions against organizational needs, or individual flexibility against organizational methods, than a (simple?) question of politics: how best to get the outcome you want? And transparency very well may not (?) be the way...

carolyn.j's picture

November 25, 2013 - County List, Postcards, and Transparency

On Monday, November 25, I started the day with my usual array of responsibilities: continuing to compile the spreadsheet of healthcare plans by county, and preparing more SB 75 postcards. 

In addition to these tasks that have been ongoing for the past while, later in the day I got to revisit another continuing project.  Over the summer I spent a few days going over copies of SB 75, annotating them with the proposed edits from a variety of different organizations and individuals.  These were all edits up for real consideration as amendments to the bill; but given that various amendments were objectionable to some groups, or that various amendments conflicted with each other, it was necessary to find some compromise.  First, though, we wanted clearer visuals of what each of those edits were, which made it easier to pick out what they meant and where they conflicted.

Those edited versions of SB 75 appeared regularly throughout the summer; and while the bill is now beyond that version and those edits and subsequent compromises have been incorporated, that same process is still underway.  Such it was that on Monday my supervisor asked me to look over her memo to a senator’s office regarding edits she was proposing to the bill.  Her edits were both grammatical and content-based, and she wanted me to make sure she had included all of the edits she had marked on the text of the bill in the body of the memo. 

Working again with the editing and amending process behind a piece of current legislation, I was confronted again with the lack of transparency.  I am not well-versed enough in constitutional or governmental law to be able to propose a workable solution to this; but as a citizen I absolutely have the legitimacy to propose that we examine this process, and consider how we can make it more accessible to the public.  Thinking about this, it seems to be a similar problem as that facing the balancing of feminist theory and practice (or any theory and practice, really).  On the one hand are the ideals of theory – or, in this case, the literals text of law and the ideals it embodies.  On the other are the restrictions of reality – obstacles like public interest in these processes, accessibility given specialized language and differing levels of education, and many more. 

As was proposed by Carolyn Dever in the reading I did last week, part of the solution to this problem must be the praxis and ongoing conversation of these two sides.  The ideals of republican democracy (even if I personally do not promote that as an optimal form of governance) need to be in conversation with the very real challenges that its application faces.  Which is in theory part of the democratic process, as we make laws that adjust governance to be more in line with what we as a populace need.  But in situations like this, it is that very process that needs to be considered and rectified. 

Furthermore, feminist praxis informs this situation with its emphasis on dialogue – not just dialogue between theory and praxis, but dialogue between government and people.  The problem inherent in a lack of transparency is that it cuts off opportunities and structures for government and the people to interact and engage with each other.  

 

Anne Dalke's picture

transparency

so since you're working this semester w/ a lit prof (and this question is likely to drive you back into the arms of the poli sci department!) i want to push back on the valorization of transparency, and the assumption that it is ever possible...maybe even to claim that sometimes the "slippage" is the place where possibility lies?

i take my keynote from educational theorist Elizabeth Ellsworth, who says (and whom I quote saying multiple times on Serendip) that the “self” capable of the kind of rational performance most often sought in classrooms is itself illusory: “The fact of the unconscious ‘explodes the very idea of a complete or achieved identity’—with oneself through consciousness, or with others through understanding.” Using the film studies notion of “mode of address” to talk about who the teacher and the curriculum “think students are,” Ellsworth describes the “eruptive, unruly space between a curriculum’s address and a student’s response (as) populated by the difference between conscious and unconscious knowledge, conscious and unconscious desires.” Rather than suggesting ways to bridge this gap, Ellsworth argues that it is to be preserved as the space of agency and of learning. If such a thing as a “perfect fit” were possible, it would in fact guarantee that no learning would happen. Complete, honest self-representation may well not be possible—but, Ellsworth argues, it's in that impossibility that growth may occur

and so...is any of this of relevance to political theory and practice? is an exact mapping between theory and praxis, between law and application, actually possible, do you think?

carolyn.j's picture

November 18, 2013 - Lobby Day Discussion and Tracking Amendments

On Monday, November 18 I started off my day at the office by sitting in with my supervisor and the other member of the department as they discussed plans for the lobby day that our organization will be helping to run in early December.  The lobby day will be held in the state capital, and is intended to encourage the state senators to support SB 75 – the anti-human trafficking bill that we and many other organizations, coalitions, agencies, and individuals have been working on and promoting for the past year. 

The conversation focused less on the logistics of the actual event, and mostly on how we planned to mobilize supporters to attend the lobby day.  The theme that kept arising on that note was that we were less concerned with appealing to individuals in Philadelphia, on the principle that their senators were already largely in support of SB 75 and as such we didn’t want to fatigue those communities with an event where there attendance would not really tip the scale in our favor.  Rather, our efforts should be directed two other ways.  Firstly, we should be focusing our organizational outreach on the other counties we serve, given that the senators for those regions are less homogeneously supportive of SB 75.  Even then, though, our attempts to mobilize support – both for the surrounding counties and Philadelphia – should be saved in part for the spring, when a similar event will be much more necessary to bolster the bill when it gets to the House.  Secondly, as an experienced organization we should dedicate some small amount of time to altering our materials slightly so they can be sent out to smaller organizations that operate in central PA, the senators for which are the most opposed to SB 75; generating representation from those communities at the lobby day is far more crucial to the efficacy of the event than our own.

This concern for conserving not just our own energy, but more importantly the interest and motivation of the communities we work in is a familiar conversation, but one I’ve only encountered in class, and situated in an international context.  For example, “donor fatigue” was a common phrase in my Politics of Humanitarianism class, referenced in relation to the difficulty of inspiring humanitarian action when aid is so frequently called for and need so often demonstrated and used in humanitarian campaigns.  The discussion on Monday, though, was interesting in that it spoke to a different angle: rather than fear of fatiguing donors intended to aid a subject-positioned group, we were cautious about fatiguing the very people we were advocating on behalf of by communicating to them and mobilizing them with too much frequency and energy.  In the face of reality this makes sense – I would think most people are familiar with the dismissal that accompanies frequent pleas for assistance, as well as how updates on the same issue become ignored as regularity becomes banal. 

All the same – and also acknowledging that I absolutely act the same with regard to other issues I care about but am not necessarily involved in – it is ridiculous to realize that we must hold back our advocacy for fear of tiring communities as we work with them to collectively improve a bad situation.  Granted, the involvement is on terms we have set as an organization – we decided that the action would take the form of a lobby day, etc. – but at the same time, it is an effort that many will sympathize with, but if we ask them to help one too many times we will be dismissed, and the cause will suffer.

Also curious to note was when the discussion touched on other supporters of the cause – both from elsewhere in the state, but also within our own coalition.  For one, my supervisor cautioned that we would not be using the event to grow our contact list, as many of the individual supporters coming in from central PA would be religious conservatives, and as such very much opposed to various issues that our organization pursues.  While we may stand with them on the front of anti-human trafficking, we are very much opposed on others.  This decision to not engage these groups is a difficult balance.  On the one hand (and where we have placed ourselves), we don’t want to alienate fellow supporters for this very important cause.  On the other, if we were to engage with them on the full plane of what our organization handles, there is the chance that we could expose them to other positive ideas and causes, and perhaps change their minds. 

A similar balance manifested when discussing other methods for raising awareness for anti-trafficking endeavors.  The coalition we are a part of in pursuit of this issue is financed by one particular organization.  As such, if we were to participate in awareness and fundraising on this front, we would in fact be spending organizational resources on money raising for another organization.  What’s more, this particular organization is anti-choice; so while the funds raised would be in relation to anti-trafficking efforts, it remains that we would be aiding the mission of an organization that in large part is actually contrary to what we stand for and support.  Once again, the dynamics of coalitions among advocacy and community organizations present interesting dilemmas and conflicts of interest, even as we work together.

After this discussion I drafted some basic fodder for our social media in preparation for the lobby day.  When it actually gets posted it will likely be accompanied by images and/or materials that we will create in relation to the event, but I supplied the basic text message that will be put out on Facebook and Twitter.  The various entries were mostly consistent – they referenced the date of the event, its purpose, and most mentioned something about human trafficking itself as an issue in PA.

After this I had a brief throwback to previous weeks, wherein I printed and cut out more SB 75 postcards and continued compiling the spreadsheet of what healthcare plans were offered by county across the state.

Finally, my day ended with attempting to track a bill in the PA House.  An amendment was introduced that afternoon to HB 1603 – a bill related intended to broaden medical staffs’ right to a “conscious objection,” wherein they can refuse to provide various services on the basis of a moral objection.  The amendment would have added abortion to the list of deniable services.  Clearly that is something our organization would be very much opposed to; so I was tasked with attempting to track the status of the bill and the amendment while my supervisor worked to coordinate with other advocates and get the amendment withdrawn. 

The House was in recess for the rest of my time at the office – preventing me from tracking the amendment’s process via a live stream of the floor – and I was unable to even find reference to the amendment elsewhere.  Had I not been told of its existence by my supervisor, I would not have known that such an amendment existed in relation to the bill.  As a citizen, I find this concerning.  Granted, the amendment had only been proposed that day.  Conversely, there was clearly a method by which my supervisor was alerted to it; why could some sort of information then not also be posted somewhere accessible to the average citizen?  Thankfully, the amendment was withdrawn later that night.  My struggles to find any reference to it, though, left me concerned.

Anne Dalke's picture

intriguing

(and new-to-me) thought: "rather than fear of fatiguing donors intended to aid a subject-positioned group, we were cautious about fatiguing the very people we were advocating on behalf of..."

To discuss. Of course. And perhaps to explore/research further....in relation to the professionalization of advocacy...?

carolyn.j's picture

November 15, 2013 - Fundraiser

On Friday November 15 I volunteered at my organization’s fall fundraiser.  The event was largely a silent auction that took place during a cocktail hour, followed by dinner and the closing of the auction.  The event typically raises about a quarter of our operating budget, making it rather significant.

I was there from 3:30 until midnight, and my responsibilities varied throughout the night.  With various staff members and other volunteers (brought in by another Bryn Mawr student who had interned with my organization a year or so previously), I helped set up tables with the many silent auction items.  These tended to either be gift baskets that the winner would take home, or pictures and props to illustrate the prize (for instance, the Nalgene and weights that were put out with the voucher for a personal trainer).  Set-up went on for a while; and when we were eventually finished, there was a brief break when people were able to get dressed before the event officially started.

At the start of the event the other volunteers, various staff members, and myself all stayed around the silent auction during the cocktail hour, answering questions about the process or the items, and conversing in general.  The people at the event were a mix of committee and board members, community members prominent in the organization’s work or issue areas, as well as community members with connections to or who were interested in the organization.  At 8pm the cocktail hour ended and we started encouraging people to sit down at their tables for dinner.  At the start of the meal there was a brief set of speakers – our executive director, the event honorees, and a short video – and then dinner continued with a band playing.  Dinner, dancing, and the auction all continued until 10pm, at which point my coworker and I walked around with signs that announced that the silent auction would be closing in fifteen minutes, then ten and five, and then an announcement that the silent auction had closed.  We immediately repeated this in the next fifteen minutes for the super silent auction – which was the same concept as the silent auction, but with much more expensive bid items.

Shortly after the auctions closed people were able to pick up what they had one and the event started to empty.  I stood at the exit with some of my coworkers to thank those leaving, and hand out complimentary packs of coffee with our logo on them.  We continued this until the event ended at midnight, at which point I left in order to catch a train (there was some clean-up left, but my supervisor was very sympathetic to the unfortunate timing of late-night train schedules).

My organization is certainly not alone in holding events like this, where we cater to financial backers rather than invite members of the community who we have connected with through advocacy or public education, or as recipients of grants.  And of course we do have those events – the summit I attended over the summer was one such gathering, and there are other large and small events throughout the year that serve a similar function.  Furthermore, it is not so unreasonable to welcome those community members who have contributed financially or operationally (as in the case of committee or coalition members), especially given that they are continuing to do so at that event.  It is, after all, explicitly a fundraiser; at it we acknowledge our thanks to all those in attendance, but at no point do we credit any backers as honorees of the event; with the exception of our designated individual honoree, who is chosen on the basis of more than just financial commitment. 

Even understanding all that, though, I cannot completely distance myself from the vague unease I feel at events like that.  Perhaps it is my own lack of  acculturation with such groups – having to dress formally was in itself an adventure, let alone making small talk with the people in attendance.  Acknowledging that this may simply be crediting myself with unwarranted insight, but perhaps continuing to feel uncomfortable in such situations is not a bad thing.  Undoubtedly I should endeavor to feel less uneasy about my ability to interact in those social circles, but holding on to that sense of concern about our organizational need to schmooze with those who have the social and financial capital to support us is a healthy dose of perspective.  I believe that everyone in attendance benefits from our work, but they are also clearly not the more at-risk communities that we seek to work with and help; and as such, the compulsion to put on such an upscale event that those communities would have difficulty attending feels wrongly exclusive.  By continuing to feel uneasy, hopefully I can balance the reality of our organizational needs and the not entirely unreasonable rationale for holding a swanky fundraiser, while also keeping in mind the problematic elements of such an event.  Perhaps in the future I will come upon a solution for integrating those concerns into how an event like this is run; for now, it is at least important to be constantly cognizant of them.

Anne Dalke's picture

yes,

...let's discuss your unease.
(Also: you didn't say whether the event was successful, financially.
Did you raise what you needed/wanted/hoped for?) A very striking
elision, give the goals, and also our week w/ Heidi Hartmann..

carolyn.j's picture

November 11, 2013 - Green Cards and Advocacy Worksheet

For work on Monday, November 11 I had two main tasks: preparing a stack of SB 75 postcards and reworking an advocacy education document to fit PA.  In addition, I was briefed on what my responsibilities would be on Friday, when I will be volunteering at one of our annual fundraising events.

Preparing the postcards was very simple (and somewhat cathartic, having been inputting information from them on the other end of the process for so long).  I printed the Powerpoint template onto green card stock (which requires emailing the whole office to let them know that I am temporarily coopting the printer with card stock), standing by the printer to make sure printing on card stock doesn’t upset it (which is not an infrequent occurrence), and then cutting up the cards (which print four to a page).  This particular stack of postcards was to be sent to one of my supervisor’s contacts, who had offered to distribute postcards to various groups for us.  As such, I sent her an email requesting the best address to send them to.  She didn’t respond on Monday so I wasn’t able to actually mail them, but at least they have been prepared up to that point.

Reworking the advocacy education document took up more of my time.  The document was a quiz that my supervisor had developed while working in a Vermont-based organization, which outlined the steps of the state legislative process as well as identified key actors in that process.  The first page required one to read through twelve scrambled steps summarizing the legislative process, and unscramble them.  The second page (which would be distributed after the first had been completed) listed the correct order of steps, and asked instead for one to pick from a list of actors who was involved in any given step.  Unsurprisingly, the information presented was similar to what would happen in Pennsylvania – certainly enough so that the same rubric of quiz would work – but also different enough that it was necessary to revise. 

Revising the content was certainly thoughtful, but not ultimately especially time-consuming.  What took more time was attempting to format the document: the original was not especially well-formatted such that I could change it (that is, it looked good; but the formatting steps that had been used to make it look so were not malleable).  As such, I played around with simply creating a new document in which I could work more easily.  After I had completed the new documents (the quiz was originally in a booklet, whereas the new one I created was two separate handouts), I sent them to my supervisor.  There was a brief back-and-forth about content, and once they were finalized I sent her the final versions and she printed them out.

This document was being updated that day particularly because my supervisor was leaving in the afternoon to lead an advocacy training session.  My impression was that the individuals attending were interested persons from local organizations, though I did not ask for clarification before she left.

Working with this document was an interesting reminder of the professionalization of advocacy work.  As an active member of the advocate community, it is not unusual that my supervisor has worked in a number of organizations, and that work she did at one would translate to another.  As I have discussed before, professionalization of advocacy is in many ways necessary, even as it presents some problematic questions about how and why we engage in advocacy.  Advocacy in a complex society requires a degree of specialization; but it is dangerous to lose sight of the moral draw that pulls most people to advocacy work.  Additionally, there is much to be gained from the work of those not already involved in the advocate community: they can offer insight into the system from the view of an outsider, balancing the routinization of specialization. 

Such a balance of experience and outsider contributions is key to reflect on and maintain.  Looking at my own choices, then, have I irreversibly positioned myself as an insider in that system?  Between formal academic education and experience working with advocacy organizations, I bring myself closer and closer to the risk of losing sight of the institutional pathologies that constitute the normative framework of the advocacy community.  Such a concern goes beyond praxis.  My discussion last week touched on praxis as one of the best methods for engaging with real actors while also allowing for the acknowledgment and utilization of theory; but even that begins by positioning myself as an insider.  At this point, then, I think that perhaps the only way to strive for an insider/outsider balance in advocacy – both for myself and the larger community – is to well and truly embrace the feminist practice of world traveling, as well as intentional dialogue among all nature of advocates – wherein insiders must be conscious of their privilege as such.

Finally, in addition to those tasks, I was walked through my responsibilities for this Friday’s fundraiser.  I will be arriving at 3:30 to help set up, and then will be standing behind one of the silent auction tables until it closes.  I will help manage the silent auction results when it ends, assist with check-out, and then clean up.  I will leave discussion of the event at that until after Friday, at which point I will be able to offer a much more detailed and informed discussion of how it went and my reactions to it.

Anne Dalke's picture

well,

this is very strong language: "have I irreversibly positioned myself as an insider in that system?...closer and closer to the risk of losing sight of the institutional pathologies that constitute the normative framework of the advocacy community"? Say more...

and let's talk, too, about your quick reference to "the feminist practice of world traveling"--it sounds very upper class!

carolyn.j's picture

November 4, 2013 - Contact Info, Postcards, and County Plans

My work on Monday 11/4/2013 was much the same as the previous week:

  • I input a significant amount of contact information into electronic files.  This included name, email, and phone number.  Home addresses were also recorded in the case of postcards, as was whether or not we had permission to contact them again (permission was implicit with the other information, in that it was collected via a sign-up sheet for people interested in hearing and/or volunteering with the organization.  Usually this information would be entered directly into an online contact and messaging managing program, but we are currently transitioning between two programs and as such are keeping the information temporarily stored in excel files. 
  • I addressed postcards to the appropriate PA state senator, based on the address written by the community member who had signed the card.  I only had to write in the name of the senator, as opposed to their full office address, because we will be dropping the postcards off ourselves when we visit Harrisburg for a lobby day in early December. 
  • Lastly, I continued compiling a spreadsheet of what health plans are offered in each PA county.  Having already covered the five counties covered by my organization, I was told to start expanding outward to cover as much of the state as I could.  As opposed to last week, when the plans offered were essentially identical across our five counties, I started to encounter some new plans as I looked at new counties. 

While I do not in the least begrudge the work – I know that what I’m doing is helpful for the organization, and hardly all of the work that anyone in the office is doing can be expected to be exciting all the time – it does mean that there is rather less to reflect on this week. 

Instead, I plan to read somewhat more this week.  I will be reading two sources by Heidi Hartmann, both given the applicability of her writing to the issues and concerns to my organization’s focus areas and her relevance to my larger course goals, as well as because of her impending visit to Bryn Mawr.  I am also hopeful that letting this response sit for a bit may prompt a new reaction – one I didn’t think on last week, and that has so far escaped me this week.    

carolyn.j's picture

October 28, 2013 - Messaging Materials and Postcards

For my work on Monday, 10/28/2013 I had three fairly straightforward assignments.  First I updated a coalition informational sheet about the ACA.  The document offered a guide for women when choosing a healthcare plan under the new act, and we wanted to add to it a section on the materials necessary for actually registering – things like social security numbers, tax information, etc.  Having been given both the original handout and the necessary new information, this simply meant reformatting the original document to make space for the new information and then adding that information in a consistent format. 

This kind of work, simple as it is to perform, is still very satisfying for the intentions that it represents.  By preparing and distributing this information, my organization is able to involve itself in the interests of the community in a direct and important way.  Having already reached an internal and community consensus that affordable healthcare is a legitimate pursuit for our organization with the interests of the community – a consensus formed by conferences, summits, engagement with direct service organizations, and informal discussions with the community (e.g. tabling), among other methods – getting to provide a clear guide for how individuals can utilize its benefits feels very honest and honestly helpful. 

My second task was one I have done numerous times in the past: creating a spreadsheet with contact information from postcards that community members people have signed, as well as updating an existing spreadsheet with data for how may postcards were collected from different events.  The postcards in question are cards that express support for an anti-human trafficking bill currently making its way through the PA Senate, and are addressed to the senator representing whoever has signed the card.  This then becomes the last part of this task – based on the address provided by whoever has signed the card, I look up who their senator is and write in their information so the postcards can be delivered.

The first two components of this work have clear organizational rationale – keeping track of how successful we are at getting people to sign the postcards is an indicator both of community interest and the effect of this advocacy method on the front of public education (as opposed to the effect it may have on the legislative process).  Likewise, maintaining contact information allows the organization to build up the number of people it is in communication with in the community, which is useful for feedback, accountability, public education, and advocacy.

The last component – addressing the postcards – brings the process into the dynamics of the particular efficacy of this action.  Still on the side of public education, the postcards seem in many ways to have a positive effect.  From my experiences tabling for the organization, people are often shocked to hear about the reality of human trafficking in Pennsylvania, and are then very interested in signing a card, as well as taking information and signing up to receive further updates.  On the legislative side, I don’t know what the effect is.  We send in many of these postcards, but ultimately that is just a small drop in the bucket of the amount of correspondence of this nature that a legislator receives; the difference ours makes may be negligible; I don’t know.  But simply for the impact these postcards have on community awareness and interest they are a positive action.

My last task was to go through healthcare.gov – the enrollment site for the ACA – in order to assemble a spreadsheet of what plans are offered in each of the counties served by the organization, both for individuals and individuals with children (in Pennsylvania, unlike other states, the plans offered vary by county).  Ultimately, the data I collected will be used to compare what benefits are offered by each plan, and from that compile a guide for women outlining what benefits are most crucial for women’s health and where they are offered.  While the actual work in this case got fairly repetitive – as it turns out, the counties we serve have nearly identical offerings – I was happy to contribute to the beginning of another small initiative that is ultimately very helpful to women in our communities (very similarly to the document I worked on in the beginning of the day).

Overall, my work this day brought back to mind the reactions I had to the essay on Arendt and Foucault.  In seeking to blend creativity and thinking outside institutions while also acknowledging real needs and the positive effects that existing institutions can still offer, the ACA is a good case study.  Universal, more affordable healthcare is a wonderful goal, and constitutes a major legislative and social step forward in our country – even with the massive backlash is has had and continues to experience.  The ACA is unquestionably a product of our political institutions and as such reflects both many of its flaws and more positive aspects; but in terms of the ACA’s real effect on people’s lives, it is something we should absolutely be embracing as enthusiastically as we are.  In this way, while the way we advocate and engage with the institutions responsible for affecting and implementing the ACA should perhaps be rethought in some ways, also spending time making sure that the benefits the ACA offers are taken advantage of is critical.

carolyn.j's picture

September 23, 2013 - Harrisburg Conference

*This response pre-dates the creation of this Serendip page, and is being put up now for completeness of archival purposes.*

On Monday 9/23/2013 I did not go to the office, but instead accompanied the Policy and Advocacy Department to Harrisburg for a conference hosted by a statewide organization focused on ensuring full community access to healthcare.  This group has been the lead organization for a statewide campaign that focuses on influencing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Pennsylvania such that it benefits everyone in Pennsylvania to the greatest degree possible, with a focus on demographics that have traditionally had less access to health care – women, lower-income individuals, “minority” ethnic groups, etc.

            At the conference I attended a session each in the morning and afternoon, as well as sat in on the lunchtime and closing plenary sessions.  The information presented covered a number of topics regarding the ACA, such as how to message the opening of registration (on October 1) and the processes involved, what resources these organizations and their constituencies have available to them, what the ACA currently looks like as will be implemented in PA, and what various organizations are already doing and are planning to do going forward. 

The session I personally found most engaging and prompted the greatest response was in the afternoon, and addressed how to engage with “Vulnerable Populations.”  The three presenters for the session each represented an organization that worked primarily with so-called vulnerable populations: young adults, Latino and immigrant communities, and people with disabilities.  All of the presenters were interesting and had good insights to offer from their organizations’ work; but the presenter focusing on the position of people with disabilities particularly verbalized a few key concepts.  Most crucially, she stressed the need to advocate with the community, and not for the community.  This is especially crucial when engaging with a community of which you are not a part, but I would argue that it remains important even when one can claim membership in that community. 

To this end, this is something I worry about in my work.  Because we are not a direct-service organization, the most interaction we have with the community we are (in theory) working on behalf of is through social media and community events that we attend.  As strongly as I believe in the legitimacy and necessity of addressing the issues that the organization promotes, and even as a woman myself and as such a part of that same community, I do not believe that that is enough to reconcile our particular method of advocacy as “with” the community. 

As the presentation on Latino and immigrant communities addressed, developing personal relationships with the people you are working with is key.  The organization is able to do that on a one-time basis at community events, and really no other time or in a more lasting way; at least as far as I have been exposed to thus far.  Again, that may simply be one of the consequences we have to accept as an organization that doesn’t have a service-provision component; but then does that not also call into question the very legitimacy of an organization that identifies that way?

Furthermore, if the organization were to take even more care to emphasize working with the community, I believe it would more clearly demonstrate the way in which feminist issues must necessarily be intersectional.  So though all of the organization’s staff may be female identified, we are not all members of the other communities who are disproportionately affected by various causes we engage with.  All this is not to say that we do not in many significant ways genuinely heed that instruction; in many ways I do believe we do just so – as just one example, take the method by which they distribute grants (which is also a way in which the organization does work to ensure that it is engaged in a level of more immediate engagement with the community, albeit in an indirect manner).  I just want to put forward thoughts on ways in which that may not be so.

Additionally, the presenter brought up the importance of communicating one’s cause and engaging with the community in daily life and interactions.  This seems to me incredibly important as a way in which feminist theory must necessarily be translated into action.  While ideally all individuals should be aware of the world around them and act in such a way that they do not reinforce the kyriarchal structures of oppression we live in, advocates must be even more conscious of not treating their advocacy as a simple 9-5 job.  Not only does this dismiss the work as simply a function of garnering profit; but it also demonstrates the privilege the advocate has, to be able to ignore the issues when no longer at work.  Living the messages of advocacy in everyday life is yet one more way that feminist advocates and organizers can attempt to reconcile their own relative privileges and subvert oppression in our society.

Anne Dalke's picture

with, not for

Does Snyder's stressing the need to advocate with the community, and not for the community pick up on/complexify your earlier notes, re: organizing vs. advocacy, or mine re: theory and praxis?

"the most interaction we have with the community we are (in theory) working on behalf of is through social media and community events that we attend"-- important, and astute—too removed….so hard to work “with."

carolyn.j's picture

September 16, 2013 - Extended Staff Meeting

*This response pre-dates the creation of this Serendip page, and is being put up now for completeness of archival purposes.*

The bulk of my time on Monday 9/16/2013 was spent in an extended staff meeting.  As opposed to the hour-long staff meetings held on alternating Tuesdays, this special meeting was intended to give the full staff – nine people total, plus myself – an opportunity to discuss the new strategic plan that had been formulated over the summer.  The meeting began with everyone collectively agreeing to a set of ground rules that would oversee the meeting – concerns such as keeping to one topic at a time (and putting additional topics in a “parking lot” to be addressed later), and encouragement for everyone to feel they had the right and the space to ask questions of things they didn’t understand. 

From there we moved into the first session, which was relatively short and intended to get everyone thinking about the three strategic goals of the new plan: philanthropy, social change, and capacity building.  To do this we divided into three groups which was each assigned a goal; the group then had to illustrate the goal on a piece of presentation paper (we were given copies of the strategic plan which outlined each goal), and each group then presented to everyone after about five minutes.  I appreciated this method as a way to get everyone involved and engaged, especially because it did not rely on any specialized knowledge to articulate the goal and how it fit with the organization.

Though there were intended to be more components to the meeting, we only progressed to the second, in which each department (or individual, as the case may be) described what they and each individual member did as part of the organization, as well as on a daily basis.  This discussion was especially interesting as an intern, though most staff members expressed significant interest as well, remarking that in many ways they had been unaware of the real details of what each job entailed.  Not only did this session offer substantial clarity regarding the basic bones and functioning of the organization, but it was also an excellent way to begin approaching the organization as the subject of my Praxis exploration.  Various components and remarks from each presentation left me both with more insight into the philosophy of the organization, as well as more questions as to how that is carried out. 

The presentation from the grantmaking department at one point focused on a summit we hold once annually to facilitate discussion among women’s service and advocacy organizations in the Greater Philadelphia area, and to use that discussion to gain an understanding of what issues are of most concern and interest to the women these organizations serve.  These issues then serve to inform how grants are distributed through the one of our grant funds. 

I was actually able to assist with the very end of the summit this summer, and then as now I see this initiative as a strong demonstration of the organization’s commitment to community-based work.  Rather than determining independently what issues and causes will be organizationally valued, the organization actively seeks and facilitates the input and concerns of the organizations directly involved with women in the region. 

I had a similar response to various points presented by the Policy and Advocacy Department.  To begin they clarified why the department is both “policy” and “advocacy,” as they are not always recognized for the two different (though related) concepts that they represent.  “Public policy” refers specifically to influencing rules, promoting or opposing legislation, working with legislators, etc.; whereas “advocacy” has to do with messaging, how the organization presents issues to the public, and engages with the community as both a constituency and potential volunteers/advocates themselves. 

This distinction is very apt to how I am relating to the organization in this Praxis, as it lays out what I perceive to be a potential divide in how feminist theory can exist as feminist organizing and politics.  On the one hand, the public policy work that we engage in is very much rooted in traditional methods and institutions.  It involves a significant degree of working with entrenched political institutions – the PA General Assembly, as a piece of American “democracy,” generally speaking – and doing so through very structured methods, such as lobbying.  In this way, though the organization may promote very feminist, women-oriented causes, its methods are hardly radical; at least in the way that I would hope to see feminist organizations embrace, challenging systems in both method and cause.             

This then contrasts to advocacy, which is much more involved with ties to the community.  Though the degree to which the organization engages with the community is not necessarily as high as it ideally could be (something hampered by the fact that it is not a direct-service organization – which in itself is something else to consider), advocacy does endeavor to engage with the community as agents of their own advocacy, education, and change.  Though I also find myself curious in this respect as to how the organization has selected its three areas of issue advocacy – violence against women, reproductive freedom, and economic self-sufficiency.  Though all clearly deeply important issues, I don’t believe I’ve heard how those issues originally came to be embraced.  Where various funding priorities are tied to responses and feedback from conferences, summits, and real community engagement, I would likewise hope that a similar process informs the organization’s areas of issue advocacy (which it may very well; I just don’t actually know at this point).

Anne Dalke's picture

feminist process

Interesting sort of feminist process, yes? Collective agreement re: ground rules, use of parking lot to be sure everyone has right/space to speak…? Did it seem successful, as a process? Any tweaking needed?

Reading this,  I am tracking the feminist orientation: no special knowledge needed to enter/participate in the conversation? . Ditto all the feminist processing above—not just within the organization, but in all community work as well.

Also interesting to note that the planning meeting works on another level, as your orientation…a nice model for doing orientation, I think.

I don’t see the organizing/politicking distinction you make. Is the divide instead between theory and praxis? Thinking and doing? Articulating and organizing?

There’s space, I think, both for liberal and radical feminist action: working w/in the system to get representation for the un- or under-represented, on the one hand, and working to change the system, on the other… not sure though how that lines up w/ your organizing/advocacy distinction….?

I too would be curious to learn the history about how WOMEN’S WAY has selected its three areas of issue advocacy.

carolyn.j's picture

Conference Call, Healthy Pennsylvania, and Site Visit

I did not go into the office on 10/14/2013 as that fell during my school's Fall Break, but I returned to work as per usual on Monday 10/21/2013.  After talking with my supervisor about what she had planned for me, I got started for the day by sitting in with her on a conference call regarding continued enrollment efforts for the ACA as well as Governor Corbett's recently issued memo "Healthy Pennsylvania" - the title he has given to his executive decision to pursue Medicaid Expansion (ME) in Pennsylvania.  Corbett's decision to expand Medicaid is a frought issue for advocates.  On the one hand, we and many other organizations spent most of the summer campaigning for the PA General Assembly to vote to accept the federal government's offer to finance Medicaid Expansion - a campaign that ultimately failed.  However, Corbett recently announced that, despite having earlier stated that he would leave the decision up to the General Assembly, he had decided instead to approve ME himself.  ME is a major step forward within the larger struggle to reform healthcare coverage in the US, and on that front Corbett's decision was a positive one.  On the other hand, as the conference call and the Healthy Pennsylvania memo made clear, ME under Corbett will not entail the expansion of Pennsylvania's Medicaid system as we know it - which is a shockingly progressive system given Pennsylvania's track record in similar policy areas, and actually stands at the forefront of state Medicaid systems across the country.  Instead, Corbett's Healthy Pennsylvania will entail placing stricter job and job seeking requirements on people seeking Medicaid coverage, and even more critically will remove many of the benefits that have made PA's Medicaid package so good.  Furthermore, because the decision is Corbett's on a whim, there is no timeline he must adhere to in order to pursue ME; as such, having announced his intention to pursue it, he can now ignore the issue until public pressure forces him to do otherwise.  

The call also focused on what steps the coalition could take next to address ME.  Importantly, as my supervisor had discussed with me before the call began, the coalition would ultimately take a position in support of ME.  For all that Corbett's Healthy Pennsylvania would cost in concessions, in the end it would significantly expand access to healthcare to a vast number of Pennsylvanians; and given that the coalition's mission is to extend healthcare coverage to as many in the state as possible, the trade-off is at this point a necessary one.  Individual organizations within the coalition, though, maintain the freedom to be critical of Healthy Pennsylvania while also still working with the larger coalition.  This presents an interesting contrast to my earlier conundrum with organizational integrity with regard to individual organizations unable to take a stance on abortion while working within a coalition that supported it.  In this case, though, it feels as though each organization is able to retain more of its own institutional integrity by issuing criticisms of the governor's plan and fighting against the cutbacks it demands, while also recognizing that their involvement in a larger mission to bring access to more people is also important and valid.  In this way the organizations almost avoid having to make a value choice between quality and extent of care versus breadth of access.  To this end, while not dismissing the problematic nature of making this half-choice, this situation felt far less troubling than the previous one.

Various coalition members brought up lobby days and related activities as already ongoing (as ever) and to be continued as a method of ensuring that ME was carried out.  Beyond that, though, there was little strong consensus - or even very strong discussion - about what else could be done.  I am unsure how I feel about this.  On the one hand, I absolutely believe that more than lobbying should be facilitated, given how inaccessible such practices are to the larger community - both for the community's awareness of the activities or, more importantly, its ability to get involved.  And in this vein there were various suggestions - hosting another action day for which organizations would recruit community members to come to Harrisburg to demonstrate public interest to legislators, using email blasts to get people talking to their legislators - but nothing was really decided upon, nor did there seem to be a sense of urgency.  On the other hand, though, many of the individual organization in the coalition at this point have other issues and campaigns to be focusing on.  With the promise of ME extended, many organizations are now able to devote their attentions to other issues that had been left more on the wayside during the summer healthcare battles. 

Beyond listening to the conference call, I was also assigned to read over the text of Healthy Pennsylvania and mark up the document with comments, to assist my supervisor in writing an official comment memo that a coalition we head was planning to submit in response to the document.  This proved interesting not just in that I got to read some of the material that had spurred some of the call's earlier conversation, but it also presented an interesting contrast to the various pieces of legislation I have read in my time with the organization.  Whereas I have already had the opportunity to note the density and inaccessibility of legislative language, Healthy Pennsylvania was written in very easy to follow language but with the same end result: discerning the intention and real repurcussions of the document was difficult as an outsider to that discourse.  My supervisor had told me in advance how various points we opposed would be phrased, and if it weren't for that jumping off point much of the document may very well have seemed positive.  Lacking specifics and clearly politically oriented to generate a positive opinion of the governor, I found piecing out the text's actual meaning very difficult for a document so apparently easy to read.  Between this and legislation, then, I am led to question the value, problem, and supposed necessity of bureacracy and its pathologies.  This is not a new concept for me - various courses have touched on it before, always intriguingly - but to be faced with such confounding documents yet continuing to work with those same structures and institutions that produced them has made my distrust and criticism of bureaucracy and entrenched institutionalism that much more real and personally frustrating.

Between the conference call and reading over Healthy Pennsylvania I spent time accompanying my supervisor and two other staff members on a site visit to a potential location for a conference we host annually in the spring.  There was less noteable about this in the course of my usual focus on policy, advocacy, and outreach, but certainly it was valuable as a further opportunity to experience the reality of what work is necessary to accomplish various endeavors as an organization.

Anne Dalke's picture

various

* is an executive decision really "a whim"?
* let's talk some more about "institutional/organizational integrity," "value-choices" and what you call problematic "half-choices"
* I'm confused about your finding "piecing out the text's actual meaning very difficult for a document so apparently easy to read."
* "the value, problem, and supposed necessity of bureacracy and its pathologies"??--say more??

Let's check in, too, about where you are @ mid-semester: still missing your first two postings (from 9/16 and 9/23)? short, too, on the annotated bibliography?

carolyn.j's picture

ACA, op-ed, and new campaign proposal

My day at the office on 10/7/2013 was fairly standard.  For most of the day I had two assignments: researching myths about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for the compilation of a myth versus fact sheet that our department was creating, and assisting the writing of an op-ed piece on the government shutdown by doing some background research on how it would affect women and programs in Pennsylvania specifically. Both of these assignments were quite enjoyable - they involved researching topics that were current and interesting; and because they were broadly defined, I was able to explore a variety of different sources. 

Unsurprisingly, there are a vast number of myths that have already grown up around the ACA, including a number of intentionally misleading campaigns.  Just from being news-cognizant outside of my work I am aware of the criticisms open enrollment is facing with regard to the poor advertising and publicity it has generated for itself thus far.  As such, my impression is that many of the misunderstandings have arisen for lack of information provided by the government and the advocate community.  To some degree this has been intentional: there was some fear that by talking about getting coverage too early, people would misunderstand and attempt to enroll before open enrollment, be disillusioned when healthcare.gov was not up and running, and not return during actual open enrollment.  I imagine (and hope) that a serious amount of consideration was put into this decision - and the lead-up to open enrollment in its entirety - but the consequence remains that at this point, with open enrollment finally begun, far too little is known about the ACA.   

Getting to contribute to this research, then, was also especially exciting because it was a very tangible way that the organization was going to be able to reach out and engage with the community regarding an issue that is very important to both sides.  In many ways our public education and social media material constitutes our day to day level of actual engagement with the community - as contrasted with the grantmaking that has us acting as a third party contributor to direct service provision, and policy advocacy that is helpful in the long run but less visibly so in the short run. 

Helping with the op-ed felt similarly tangible: it was a project that would be completed within a day or two, and would have an immediate visibility and impact on the community.  In addition, contributing to work on an op-ed felt traditional, but in a very encouraging way: utilizing our ability as an organization to give voice to our own opinions in such a way that also supported what we perceive to be the interests of the community we advocate on behalf of.  Such action is not radical, but it is clear and forthright, and extends our actions not just outside the internal workings of the organization, but also beyond the complicated dynamics of the legislature or issue messaging.  Very simply, important events are occurring in our country, and this provided a way for us to enter the dialogue. 

Finally, at the end of the day I did some minor work reviewing the information and format of the proposal for the new campaign proposal that my supervisor had prepared.  This was exciting, as it is a step forward in expanding the organization’s commitment to various women’s issues, as well as being truer (in my opinion) to what we put forward as our fundamental issue areas.   Some of the information review that I had to do also included dropping in work that I had done earlier over the summer, and in that respect it was satisfying to see one of the ways in which my work was being utilized.

At the same time, finishing the campaign proposal was a reminder of the pervasive nature and questionable intentions of bureaucracy.  On the one hand, I value the concept of not leaving the decision to adopt a new campaign down to just our department; such an endeavor requires substantial resources, and shouldn’t be taken on lightly.  Plus, it gives room for others to voice their thoughts and concerns regarding such an endeavor, and is especially valuable if the committee is formed from the community.  On the other hand, it is frustrating to have to seek permission to pursue an issue that is very clearly pressing in the community we serve.  And for all that the committee may have the interests of that community also at heart, they are hardly closer than we are to being able to speak for or as that community; so what then becomes the necessity of seeking their approval? 

Anne Dalke's picture

you've piqued my interest

...what do you mean: "truer to what we put forward as our fundamental issue areas"?  
I'm also totally confused by your last paragraph: who is seeking permission from whom?
who is closer than you to being able to speaking for/as the community?
what is the necessity of seeking approval?

carolyn.j's picture

Women as Ends, and Moral versus Realistic Organizational Choices

As a trade-off for having come into work on Saturday for College Day, I went in late to the office on Monday 9/30/13.  My work initially was fairly simple: unpacking the suitcase that we had used to transport our tabling materials, creating a spreadsheet of the sign-up information we had gathered, and formatting an agenda for a coalition meeting later that day.  Much more interestingly, though, I took notes on a conference call organized by the Ms. Foundation and Raising Women's Voices, in which the presenter introduced and discussed the branding campaign that the two organizations planned to utilize with regard to the Afordable Care Act (ACA), both in open enrollment and beyond. 

Given that women's reproductive health care is one of WOMEN'S WAY's three key issue areas, the ACA was a major point of focus for the organization this summer in the lead-up to open enrollment.  I took notes on conference calls like this at various points over the summer, but this was by far the most interesting that I got to listen to.  Rather than simply rehash the details of the ACA, this call engaged the advocate community present  as partners. 

Key to the presentation was the multiple audiences it sought to address.  While the people listening were only representative of the advocate community, the campaign being intoduced was intended to target both advocates and individual women.  Even more crucially, the campaign made very clear that it was addressing women as consumers themselves, rather than simply pathways to other potential consumers of healthcare - young men, families, children, etc.  Furthermore, while all women are certainly welcomed to the message, the campaign is particularly focused on communicating its message to women of color, immigrant women, and low-income women. 

Looking at this campaign as a feminist endeavor, this is encouraging.  It acknowledges that these women in particular already face some of the greatest hardships, stand to benefit significantly from enrollment, and are among the most in danger of being overlooked as enrollment is advertised; and it does all this while addressing these women as ends in themselves, and not means to others.  

Also of note was a comment from the coalition meeting, of which I attended the last twenty minutes.  In looking forward to campaigning and addressing the ACA, various organizations had to reaffirm the clarification that they were unable to say anything explicit regarding abortion.  At least three coalition members were unable to use the phrase "abortion" in any materials, despite the clear sympathy of individuals in those organizations. 

Personally, this strikes me as an awful choice.  In order to maintain the key services they provide, these organizations are barred from discussing and working with another crucially important issue for women's health.  Having never been placed in the position of making such a decision, I can more easily say that I would insist on the moral high ground and determine to take a clear stance on issues like abortion, rather than acquiesce to the demands of key founders and funders (though in this particular case I don't know the precise details of why each of these organizations were so restricted).  Recognizing that the abilty to provide services to the community is a very real need that should be pursued, it also begs the question of why one would submit to moralistic demands that to all appearances run counter to what the organization stands for.  This is especially so in this case, as these organizations are a part of Raising Women's Voices, which does explicitly advocate for access to abortion, even if not all of the individual organizations within it will use those materials that reference it.

Anne Dalke's picture

ends, not means

the most striking line to me in your report this week is your celebration of the fact that women are being addressed, in this campaign, "as ends in themselves, and not means to others."  the organizations you characterize as maintaining the key services they provide by refraining from discussing/working with the issue of abortion are also clear examples of the decision to focus on ends, rather than means.

so, theorizing...i'd nudge you to re-think this valorization of "ends." do you know about the American school of philosophy known as pragmatism? which focuses not on ideal beliefs, but on practical consequences? not on what is "true," but on what is "useful"? (in your language, on means, not ends?)

What might it "mean" to conceive all human beings not as ends, but as means to some end, yet to achieve what we should....?  What might it mean to conceive of each of us as "means" for others....?

carolyn.j's picture

Campus Philly College Day - tabling

On Saturday 9/28/13 I went to table with WOMEN'S WAY at Campus Philly's College Day, an annual event where Philadelphia museums are free to college students.  A variety of vendors and organizations set up tables in front of the Art Museum, all stocked with the standard array of swag and sign-ups.  WOMEN'S WAY was at a small table under the non-profit tent, surrounded by largely similarly-minded organizations.  Our day entailed encouraging people to stop by our table, at which point we would engage them in conversation about WOMEN'S WAY and how they could get involved.  To aid with this we had informational materials on the organization and our campaigns, a sign-up sheet to receive email updates from us, and free branded sunglasses to entice people to talk to us and sign up. 

We were largely successful in that a fair number of people stopped to talk with us, and most of them seemed interested in what we were doing.  However, very noticeably - though not necessarily surprisingly - we had very few men stop to talk with us, and none wrote down their information on our sign-up sheet (which only asked for name, email, and phone number).  One man even stopped to ask us the name of our organization, and left saying that clearly we wouldn't want him once he heard our name. 

Reactions like this are nothing new, neither to women's organizations nor to the feminist movement at large.  It is a disappointing reminder, though, of the struggle to balance the benefit of allies versus the overall importance of a women-led, women-oriented movement.  We tried to stop the man, in order to explain to him that a women-oriented organization did not necessarily mean that men are rejected from participating; rather, they must do so as allies to a movement organized by and for women.  Allies have a place to be effective and useful, and we lose that advantage when they feel excluded from the movement's goals.  At the same time, it is not the responsibility of an oppressed group to expend effort making sure the privileged group feels equally welcome. 

My response to this event is less any new thought or reaction, but rather a reminder and real encounter of a theme often encountered when considering social movements.

Anne Dalke's picture

on the instability of identity politics?

well, i'd push you a bit on this...to me it seems to be about category-making. do you know Diane Fuss's fine piece, "Inside/Out." Critical Encounters: Reference and Responsibility in Deconstructive Writing. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 233-240? it's always seemed to me a contemporary feminist/activist version of Hegel's Lordship and Bondage: how to organize around the fact that naming any "inside"/identity/category, is going inevitably to create an "outside," an other? one answer is the one you give above--that "it is not the responsibility of an oppressed group to expend effort making sure the privileged group feels equally welcome." another answer--that of the political theorist--might be to think some more about, and wrestle some more with, the problematics of identity-formation. along these lines, see (oh, just for starters!),

Lennard Davis. “The End of Identity Politics and the Beginning of Dismodernism: On Disability as an Unstable Category.” The Disability Studies Reader, ed. Lennard J. Davis. Second Edition. New York: Routledge, 2006. 231-242.

Annamarie Jagose. Chapter 6: "Limits of Identity," Chapter 7: "Queer," Chapter 9: "Afterward. Queer Theory: An Introduction. New York University, 1996.

June Jordan, “Report from the Bahamas." Politics in the Woman's Movement, ed. Barbara Ryna. New York University, 1982.

L. A. Kauffman, "The Anti-Politics of Identity," Socialist Review 20, 1 (January–March 1990), 67–80.

Linda Kauffman, "The Long Goodbye: Against Personal Testimony; or, An Infant Grifter Grows Up." 1992; rpted American Feminist Thought @ Century's End. Ed. Linda S. Kauffman. Blackwell, 1993.

Gayatri Spivak. [on "strategic essentialism".] In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. Taylor and Francis, 1987.

Iris Marion Young. "The Ideal of Community and the Politics of Difference." Feminism/Postmodernism. Ed. Linda Nicholson. New York: Routledge, 1990. 300-324.

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