Category Archives: Politics, Schmolitics

Maintaining Social Responsibility In A Social Media World

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Some of you may have seen the latest viral video making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. It targets Ugandan rebel leader, Joseph Kony, and aims to use social media as a means to capture and try him as a war criminal in the International Criminal Court.

Invisible Children caters to our national instinct to form impressions based on an emotional response. Whether you agree with the discourse on the subject matter, there is little controversy over the effectiveness of the video as a marketing tool, as evidenced by the fact that the video has garnered millions of views in the span of days.

I think the real question is how this will change nonprofit’s tools in the social media realm. As the hashtag, #Kony2012 continues to trend and bring awareness to an issue many Americans have never heard about, how will this change our dialogue?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of nonprofit and governmental agencies of all sizes and scope focusing their time and resources on Africa, and in particular, Uganda. These agencies provide services ranging from housing, food security, education, to entrepreneurship. Their missions vary but their common goal is to provide resources that will help Ugandans become independent, as well as, economically and socially sustainable.

IC’s Kony2012 video simplifies a complex issue and creates a straightforward call to action for the organization’s youthful constituency to make an impact the best way they know how; through small donations and purchases of bumper stickers and bracelets. My question is, what can other nonprofits learn from this social media success? (Regardless of your opinion of IC and Kony, 70 million YouTube hits and a public dialogue on the subject is a success in my book.)

It’s evident a social media revolution has arrived; its beginnings were embedded in the Arab Spring and slowly took root in the Occupy movement. Now is the time for nonprofits to enter this revolution and carve out a voice and implement a call to action within their own constituencies. 

In my work with nonprofits we have had numerous and ongoing conversations since the Kony2012 viral sensation opened up a new dialogue and started to ask the tough questions of how they will use this opportunity to carve their own niche in a rapidly changing and media driven society.

I anticipate that this will be the kickstart that nonprofits need to create a new era of community and donor engagement. However, only time will tell.

Who’s Up For A Book Burning? I’ll Bring The S’mores!

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Yesterday wrapped up a week of annual events bringing to light the issues surrounding banned books such as censorship, first amendment rights, and freedom of information.

Image Credit: American Library Association

However, as responsible adults, it’s our job to protect children from danger.  Honestly, I’m not sure which is more dangerous, a run-in with Ernest Hemingway or a good old-fashioned book burning.  On one hand, Ernest Hemingway advocates sex and could give you a nasty paper cut, on the other hand, fire is singe-y and could kill you. It’s a tough call. Fortunately, there are numerous approved reading sources that nix the socialism and sex but still share the wonders of misogyny and homophobia.

You know what else makes book burnings ok? The approval of the government.  If the people in charge say it’s ok then it’s time to pull out the matches and grab some sticks. I’m pretty sure that’s how the Nazis convinced everyone to throw a book on the bonfire.  Well, that, and Hitler promised to bring s’mores to the bonfire.  S’mores make everything more festive.

I checked out the Banned and Challenged Book Lists and realized that I’ve read a fair number of books on the list so I guess I’m doomed.

Some of my favorite books are regularly banned or challenged, including:

  • Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
  • Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
  • J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye.”
  • Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.”
  • Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
  • Augusten Burroughs’ “Running with Scissors.”
  • Lois Lowry’s “The Giver.”
  • Mark Mathabane’s “Kaffir Boy.”
  • Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.”
  • Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass.”

As you can tell I’ve clearly turned out poorly and will be accursed for life so it’s advisable to keep your children away from these books altogether.  In fact, the best way to keep them from sneaking around with a copy of “Of Mice and Men” is to forbid them from ever learning to read.  Illiteracy is the answer and abstinence from books is the only solution.

Start an Internet Revolution

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Recently, I have been rewatching “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” tv series and despite my inherent love for all things Joss Whedon the show is clearly dated.  In the late 90’s the internet was in its early stages, cell phones were the size of a small dog, and card catalogs were the search engine of choice.  Technology has changed our way of life in the past 10-15 years and an anonymous online community came into existence that can be both a positive, sharing environment or a negative, trolling opportunity.

I normally avoid internet trolls by not posting on websites that draw negativity; unfortunately that leaves me out of the conversation on worthwhile topics but it does maintain my sanity so it’s a trade-off.  I knew it was only a matter of time before I was trolled because of my “crazy”, liberal beliefs and lo and behold it happened.  I was attacked on a blog I frequent for a comment I made discussing victim-blaming.  Essentially the troll took the opportunity to claim that I was uninformed and that victim-blaming was acceptable if the victim deserved it.

The accepted opinion is that by acknowledging trolls we feed their negativity but I believe the reason trolls exist on the internet is because they can cloak themselves in relative anonymity and spread hate without the repercussions that a face to face discussion would incur.  There are few consequences for internet trolls, which is why cyber-bullying is the outlet of choice for school age bullies.

I have to wonder if this is what we want for ourselves and our society? A construct that allows unfiltered animosity to soak into our collective unconscious and influence future generations.  When I was a kid I was able to leave the mean girls and bullies at school and they didn’t follow me home via text messages, skype, or facebook.  These days there is no escape from bullies who employ technology to fight their battle for them.  As an adult, I can take on internet trolls without a blow to my self-esteem or belief system but trolls can be devastating for someone whose self-worth is built on what others think of them.

I wonder how a Buffy  would handle high school in the new millennium with the interwebs posing a greater threat than the creepy crawlies of the night?  I like to think that she would kick-ass in cyberspace with a witty retort (e.g. “You need to show this bully that you’re not gonna take any more of his sh— guuuff. Uh, any guff.”) and a visit from Mr. Pointy.  Which is why I suggest we start a revolution, Buffy-style.  One that says we will fight back and draw back the veil on cyber-bullying and hate speech in order to maintain a healthy online experience and community.  That is not to suggest that constructive debate or oppositional beliefs are prohibited but that hate speech is rejected and we will stand up to those who employ it.  So join me, stand up, and fight back against internet bullies, Buffy-style.

Image Credit: Nicole Kaufman

Clothing Optional Morality

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Title: Traditional Attire of the Himba and Herero

Location: Near Brandberg Mountain in Damaraland, Namibia (taken in March 2011)

History: The Himba (shown left), descendants of the Otjiherero, maintained their nomadic lifestyle and traditional garb throughout the centuries.  The Herero (shown right), on the other hand, splintered from the Himba approximately 150 years ago and moved Southward while the Himba remained in Northern Namibia, near the border of Angola.

Traditionally, Himba men and women go topless, cover their bodies in ochre to protect their skin from the Namibian sun, and wear a loincloth of animal skins.  During the 19th century, the Herero, influenced by German missionaries who considered their traditional attire (similar to the Himba’s attire) immoral, adopted a distinctive style of dress.  The dress, reminiscent of the Victorian style, falls to the ankles and is comprised of long sleeves and a bodice that buttons at the neck.  Under the dress, women wear six to eight petticoats to add fullness to the skirts and often accessorize the outfit with a shawl.  The headpiece is fashioned to resemble cattle horns as the Herero tribes are well known for cattle ranching.

Background: I decided to share this photo to illustrate how Western beliefs influence African culture.  German missionaries are an inextricable link in the Herero tribe’s cultural shift from their historical traditional attire to clothing, which is designed to cover their breasts and body in order to alleviate immorality, sin, lust, and desire.

Unfortunately, women’s bodies and attire (or lack thereof) remains linked to morality and is viewed as a corrupting force throughout Western society.  In fact, a New Jersey court recently ruled that topless sunbathing is “inherently indecent and immoral.”  While a man can walk around shirtless (in a variety of public arenas), women cannot expect the same constitutional right to equality because they are a threat to “the public’s moral sensibilities.”

Although I am not personally inclined to walk around topless, I am an ardent believer in providing equal rights to women.  Women’s breasts are inextricably linked to our sexuality and have thus become a topic of “morality” and a form of repression.  As many conservative Americans are fighting “the threat of Sharia law” (Islamic religious law) one might think that our courts would not be so quick to make rulings based on moral decisions rather than the American Constitution.

Where Were You When… The Twin Towers Fell

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Join me for the Where Were You When? Series and share your story about how major world events impacted your life.  

Image Credit: Where Were You? Events That Changed The World 26-episode series graphic
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A decade ago I was a new college graduate, renting a room from a family friend, and embarking on a new career path.  I was fortunate; when the hijacked planes hit the Pentagon and the Towers, I was surrounded by great friends who helped shoulder the grief, shock, and distress with good old-fashioned escapism.  A lot of people have exceptional stories about how the Twin Tower attacks greatly impacted their lives and while my life didn’t change drastically that day, the events opened my eyes to the perceptions that people around the globe hold of Americans.

In the days that followed, the aftermath of the attacks didn’t alter my life largely; things slowly returned to normal, and television returned to regularly scheduled programming.  However, America’s role as a world player became more explicit and how we were represented as a government, nation, and people became increasingly clear.  I realized that the actions of a few individuals could skew the perceptions of many, thus, it did not take long to make the conscious decision that I wanted to be a part of changing that perception.

I chose to make a difference through service; I volunteered with refugee agencies, increased my knowledge on human rights issues, and 2 1/2 years ago I became a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia.  I used the opportunity to promote a better understanding of Americans to Africans and share my experiences of African cultures and people with Americans.  While the tragedy of the terror attacks still weighs heavy on the nation’s collective mind, I hope that one thing that we can take away from this event is that personal interactions, open-mindedness, and embracing different religions is vital to win the “war on terror”.

For another perspective on this day and a new entry into the “Where Were You When?” series visit Kenya’s Expat Extraordinaire blog Yet Another 9/11 Tribute at So Long And Thanks For All The Fish.  If you’d like to be a part of this series please drop me a comment so I can share your blog here as well.

Women’s Rights: 1, Rick Perry: 0

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Women’s rights activists won a battle today in Texas when U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks (notably appointed by George H.W. Bush) declared that Rick Perry’s law fining doctors who did not show sonograms to women seeking abortion is unconstitutional.  The plaintiffs, a group of doctors as well as the Center for Reproductive Rights, brought eight claims against the law that was to go into effect tomorrow.

(1) The Act is unconstitutionally vague
(2) The Act compels physicians to engage in government-mandated speech violating the 1st and 14th Amendments
(3) The Act violates the 1st and 14th Amendments by requiring patients submit to such speech regardless of its medical necessity or want
(4) The Act unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of sex, thus violating the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment

are we seeing a pattern yet?

(5) The Act unconstitutionally discriminates between abortion providers and other medical facilities in violation of the Equal Protection Clause
(6) The Act unconstitutionally discriminates between women who live within 100 miles of an abortion provider and those who live 100 miles away or more from an abortion provider, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause
(7) The Act violates women’s 14th Amendment right to bodily integrity by requiring them to medically unnecessary ultrasound procedures
(8) The Act violates the 4th and 14th Amendments by subjecting abortion facilities to random, unannounced, and warrantless searches.

The Act’s onerous requirements will surely dissuade or prevent many competent doctors from performing abortions, making it significantly more difficult for pregnant women to obtain abortions. Forcing pregnant women to receive medical treatment from less-skilled providers certainly seems to be at odds with ‘protecting the physical and psychological health and well-being of pregnant women. – U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks

Image Credit: Chronicle/Kurt Rogers

Thanks to Sparks, individual rights won today rather than the moral majority who would rather focus on religious grounds than the Constitution.  While the state attorney general will certainly appeal and Governor Rick Perry will continue to wage a war against women’s rights, this battle goes to the women.

Read more: Abortion Information 101, Jezebel, Hay Ladies, The Texas Tribune

Where Were You When… Osama bin Laden Shuffled Off This Mortal Coil

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Join me for the Where Were You When? Series and share your story about how major world events impacted your life.  

Image Credit: Where Were You? Events That Changed The World 26-episode series graphic
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Osama bin Laden; the name has haunted the American public for more than a decade and taken on mythical status.  On May 2nd of this year, President Obama accomplished what two presidents before him could not, the assassination of Al-Quaeda’s founder and international fugitive.  While I don’t believe assassinations should be utilized as a wartime tactic I do believe that the President took the only option that he felt he had available to him at the time.  I was in Nairobi, Kenya when President Obama announced Bin Laden’s death and his announcement sent shockwaves through the country and immediately put ex-pats on high alert for possible retaliation from Al-Shabaab.

I watched the announcement and updates on BBC News  as well as read local Kenyan news sources.  News articles reported mixed feelings about the Al-Quaeda leader’s death; while some welcomed his death as justice for his role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing others railed against the West for it’s interference in international affairs.

What struck me the most was the juxtaposition of Americans celebrating the death of a “terrorist” while the world watched, when 10 years earlier, Americans watched in anger as people on the other side of the world glorified the events of September 11th.  I realize rejoicing the death of one man, a fugitive and “terrorist”, is not the same as relishing the deaths of hundreds of innocent Americans.  However, it struck me, as I watched the reactions of people half way across the world respond to Bin Laden’s assassination that if we took some time to understand our cultural differences that we could come to coexist peacefully.  Unfortunately, the world does not work this way and wars will continue as long as the West continues in its quest for global “Manifest Destiny” and the rest of the world continues to fight the yolk of democracy.

What are your thoughts on the assassination? Do you agree or disagree with the President’s decision to kill bin Laden? Do you think this is helping to bring the “War on Terror” to an end?  What could we have done differently; now, under the Bush administration, or under Clinton’s administration?