Promoting Intergenerational Leadership With Natalie Miller (Part 2 of 2)

November 13, 2020

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Natalie Miller, a systems engineer with Booz Allen Hamilton, active member of the ShapingEDU community, and a University of Maryland graduate student. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Switching gears, has broadband access been an issue for you and your colleagues in online learning environments?

In a work and personal setting, yes.

In a personal context I have mainly just had connection issues on different days that prevented me from getting work or school done online. It is amazing how much we rely on these connections and how much stops when they disappear.

The hardest situations I have heard today are the power outages in Los Angeles county. The power companies in the area keep shutting off power because of the risk of downed polls and fires, but every time there is a power outage, it sets students and teachers a day behind, keeps individuals from working, and takes away connections for everyone in those areas. At the end of the school year, students are going to be in classes much less than other areas because of this situation, meaning they may be behind other students and may not be meeting the mark as often as other districts.

Seeing how broadband can affect an individual so dramatically shows how essential it is for everyone to have equal opportunity to resources, and how stressful not having these resources could be. I actually took the train up the coast this past weekend, and I know I was stressed when my call was cut out for five minutes! With public locations including libraries and Starbucks being closed for a period of time, it was even more difficult. 

During the pandemic, having outdoor Internet cafes, or opportunities to receive more reliable, battery operated/remote access equipment are two ideas that could be helpful.

One last switch to hit a topic that clearly is of interest to you: I know you have a long-standing passion for and impressive involvement in advocating for open education resources. Care to add anything more to what you’ve already said about how you were drawn to that topic under the tutelage of your dean, and some of the work you’re doing or have done?

Open Education is the future of education, and it can teach everyone so much. In times like the pandemic, creating open materials could help to foster the communities everyone misses, and help individuals to gain development or show progress from opportunities they may have lost. Today’s emotional climate has been so unstable; by working on open publishing or assisting on making materials for students, individuals can provide the assistance and compassion that these students need in times where funds and emotions are tight.

Natalie Miller

From my experience, groups like College of the Canyons Open Educational Resources and ShapingEDU have been some of the most positive and supportive communities I have been a part of, which is why I continue to come back and be a part of them. The synchronized mindset of wanting the best for others, and for the community is what drives them, and that is honestly the type of communities America and the education system need right now. Education will always be the future, and supporting the students in the system is how to support the future.

What have I not asked that you hoped to cover regarding learning, leadership, broadband access, or open education resources?

“How would you advise someone to become a leader in education?” 

One of the most unique things about education is how many different individuals are involved. In the educational community, there are almost no limits to the number of backgrounds, races, specialties, ages, genders, or any other identifiers that exist, but with all this diversity I want to remind everyone that you can be a leader, especially in education. 

“How?”

Find what you are passionate about. Surround yourself with individuals that will support you. Make a plan. Think about what you see that needs to be improved. 

When I just started school, I made the mistake of thinking I was just there for the degree and all I needed to do was show up to classes. When I started doing more than that, I became more than that. When you become passionate about something, like education, you should learn about it enough that you have no doubt in your mind that you are an advocate, and then people will listen. 

Being a leader is also listening. Once we all start listening to each other, we can all lead each other to better systems and processes that will drive us toward equality, equity, and opportunity for all. 

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Promoting Intergenerational Leadership With Natalie Miller (Part 1 of 2)

November 13, 2020

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Natalie Miller, a systems engineer with Booz Allen Hamilton, active member of the ShapingEDU community, and a University of Maryland graduate student. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Let’s start with an easy one: what initially drew you into ShapingEDU?

When I was doing my undergrad at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (I was a transfer student), the CSU Chief of Innovation, Michael Berman, had suggested me for this event because of my work in Open Education. Being so involved in Open Education, and just passionate about my own journey, as well as other students’ journeys, I wanted in. I wanted to make a difference in the education community, and the fact that there were others who would be willing to listen to an undergrad student is amazing. The act of listening to students alone is what brought me on board and gives me hope for an education system that listens and caters to their students more. 

You have, since that introduction, actually jumped right into a leadership position in the community as one of two “co-mayors,” with Trevor Ellis, for the “Bolster Intergenerational Leadership for Learning Futures” neighborhood. Can you describe what you and Trevor are doing there?

In the “Bolster Intergenerational Leadership for Learning Futures” neighborhood, Trevor and I are working toward creating proposals, solutions, and ideas to help integrate different levels of learning and leadership in an educational path. 

There are two ways to look at “Bolster Intergenerational Leadership for Learning Futures:

*Having different levels (i.e., elementary, high school, college) come together to support each other and learn. This could be extremely effective because less-developed-level students could learn from more developed students, and more developed students could prove their knowledge by sharing it with less-developed students. The leadership would also promote confidence.

*The second way one could look at it is simply giving more leadership to students in classrooms, which is closely related to the concept of Open Pedagogy, a close cousin of Open Education. Open Pedagogy is the idea that students should be able to create their own classroom: e.g., make their own tests, help create their materials, and even teach lessons to each other. The professors are still very much involved, but it is more [that] they are encouraging, correcting, and cultivating students minds than lecturing. Students should have more of a say in what their education path is, and by doing Open Pedagogy, they would have more control over what assignments and things they want to learn. 

Detail from ShapingEDU 10 Actions document
Illustration by Karina Branson/ConverSketch

Trevor and I are specifically looking into what communities we could cultivate to meet goals like the ones above, as well as what materials would be helpful in guiding individuals to understand how to encourage leadership at different levels. In the end, I think a toolkit will be helpful in doing so.

Your description of Open Pedagogy very much parallels what I experienced in connectivist MOOCS [massive open online courses], where “faculty” and “learners” were co-conspirators in the learning process. What experiences have you had with that experience of being a co-conspirator in learning?

In my education path, I have had more opportunities to be a co-inspirer than most students, but I hope to not be the exception one day. 

One of the best classroom settings I was in, a professor split us into groups of three to four students to teach different lessons throughout the quarter. This was great because it made sure that the group presenting knew the material front and back, and it also gave the class a slightly different style of learning each period that would keep it interesting. The professor would look at our lesson plan ahead of time, advise us, and bring up anything that we missed, but it allowed students to control what was talked about a little more, and make it in a language that was relevant to their peers. 

Outside of classrooms, I have been so fortunate because I was pulled into Open Education by the Dean of the Library and Distance Learning at College of the Canyons in Valencia, California, James Glapa-Grossklag. When I was nineteen, James pulled me into a position where I had no idea what Open Education was, and told me to run with it. I ended up creating a full program: a workflow, marketing materials, and a website [Zero Textbook Cost] that grew so fast that five individuals had to replace me when I left the program. Seeing a previous teacher—and current Dean—give me that opportunity and responsibility so young in my educational career allowed us to be inspired by each other and opened up other opportunities like public speaking, faculty assistance, and heading grants. This allowed me to believe there is no limit to what a student can do. [Note: the website has changed, but still all work is done by other students.]

Returning to the theme of leadership: would you mind telling a story of how a leader in education or elsewhere has fostered your own interest in promoting leadership for learning futures?

Open Education Consortium logo

Honestly, the Dean at College of the Canyons, James Glapa-Grossklag, is the individual that inspired me to want to promote leadership for learning futures. After working with him at College of the Canyons, he continued to promote me: helped me to receive the Open Education Consortium’s first global student award in 2018 for my work at College of the Canyons, continued to introduce me to individuals in education who helped me on my journey, allowed me to give advice to one of his sons and mentor him, and advocated for me to be a keynote at multiple conferences. He had so much confidence in me and spent a large amount of time mentoring me even after I left College of the Canyons, I knew I wanted to help empower and encourage others. It was all for the wellbeing of others and my peers, and he just made it look so easy. He also mentored many individuals after me which was amazing to see as well. 

At Cal Poly I also got involved in Entrepreneurship. Seeing my peers inspired me to promote leadership for learning futures because I could see how ready and eager they were to learn, and they were creating startups while in college, which is very ambitious. Seeing how my peers hadn’t had the same opportunities of having a voice in their education as I did, I knew I wanted to take on the role of raising awareness and empowering these incredible students who were already capable of so much.

This all sounds closely related to the ShapingEDU “Connecting Student Voices” initiative that ShapingEDU Innovator in Residence Anita Roselle is beginning to develop. Do you have any connections to that initiative?

I don’t think I have any direct connections to that initiative yet, but I can easily see how it would connect. What I love about ShapingEDU is how closely everything is connected because it has the intention to improve education for students. 

[The] “Connecting Student Voices” initiative sounds inspiring because a consistent gap in student’s education is often that there is a limited span of two to four years to accomplish things in school. If there was an opportunity to help students come together and unite their educational thoughts, their education would be improved even more!

“Coming together” has always been an issue for students, and it has become even more challenging given our current pandemic/shelter-in-place situation. How is that affecting you and your colleagues in school? 

The pandemic has been a hard time for everyone, and it I have seen individuals from my undergraduate degree, workplace, and graduate degree suffering because of the lack of social interaction. I actually signed up for online classes knowing I would be starting my graduate degree in the pandemic, and although they are not in person, I have been able to chat on the phone with many individuals, chat online, attend online classes, and still make a few friends. 

The difference between pre-pandemic classrooms and post-pandemic classrooms for me is that I was able to meet strangers just by asking for the homework, or greeting them, where now it seems more direct. I am still learning a lot, but losing the lessons of social interaction are rough because in undergrad, the social interactions are often where one learns the most. At my workplace, I have been fortunate because in all of my undergrad I was able to practice communication in person, over email, in stressful situations, and public speaking in front of others, but so much of that connection between individuals is disintegrating and it is hard to gain if one does not already have it. 

Education is so strongly based on personal connections, convincing and critically thinking together, and pushing the limits together, and online education has not pivoted to meet that fast enough. Seeing students suffering because they are limited to individual paper projects is isolating and lacks the human nature education needs. Education needs to make sure it continues to shift to bring individuals together and keep it collaborative and approachable to everyone involved. {done}

What steps would you recommend to anyone (instructor or learner) who is struggling to succeed in our current learning environment?

Disclaimer: I have become more of an extrovert over the years. 

Individuals who are currently struggling in this isolated learning environment should start with the basics of forming or assigning groups. Throughout my whole education, having individuals to talk to and ask for support on missing assignments, or not understanding topics, has been essential. Most individuals were not made to function alone, and everyone needs a support system. Plus, everyone’s learning style is different, and the kinetic and auditory learners (because they often like to have conversations and visuals to think through things) are the ones suffering the most. Being away from a traditional learning environment is most likely limiting everyone’s learning abilities. With groups, each individual could get the attention they need, collaborate, ask questions in a more private setting, and socialize virtually. Be sure to also organize meetings just for socialization because it is just as essential! 

Besides groups, I think it is essential to understand how to step away from screens. Lately, I have been finding myself on a screen for 10+ hours a day, and when things don’t make sense, it is essential to stand up, stretch, and get some fresh air. One thing many individuals who are not on computers as often may not realize is how positioning to the computer can cause pain, and to remember that humans were not built to live on a screen. Getting up from a screen and doing a little exercise is a great mental reset.

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Dianne Connery (Part 2 of 2)

October 7, 2020

This is the concluding segment of a two-part interview conducted with Dianne Connery, director of the Pottsboro Area Library (in Texas) and a ShapingEDU colleague who has been a long-time proponent of universal broadband access, particularly for those in the community she serves. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Let’s pivot a bit to focus on how successful partnerships that benefit everyone involved are developed. During a recent webinar you did for WebJunction, you talked about a variety of innovative approaches you and your colleagues in Pottsboro have taken in an effort to provide broadband access. Would you mind describing the partnership you created with a local conference center there in Pottsboro?

We work to support local businesses. Being in a tourist destination (Pottsboro is on a large recreational lake—Lake Texoma), our businesses were especially hard hit by the pandemic. Outside of city limits, access is more difficult. We talked to the manager of a resort hotel/conference center about the possibility of using their parking lot as a Wi-Fi hotspot for students. As part of that partnership, we shared our goal of getting media attention about the project. In fact, it has received national attention. When I took photos of the Wi-Fi hotspot, I made sure to take the picture from an angle that showed the resort in the background. This trailer was provided by by ITDRC [Information Technology Disaster Resource Center]. There was no cost to the resort or to the library. It was the library acting as the connector between organizations who could meet the need and the community.

Any stories from Pottsboro residents showing the positive impact that the placement of a Wi-Fi hotspot in town had?

A grandmother who is raising her three grandchildren in nearby apartments used that Wi-Fi for the kids to do their schoolwork. Not only did she not have Internet at home, but she doesn’t have a car. When the schools shut down, being able to walk to that hotspot was the only way the kids could finish out the school year. College students who came back home when their schools shut down used it for accounting homework and test taking. Fortunately, we have a board member who also lives in the nearby apartments who was able to capture some photos and get photo releases. That is part of being strategic with finding funding—being able to put a human face on the issues.

You have, in other conversations we have had, talked about the difference between what standard maps show in terms of broadband coverage and what coverage actually exists. Would you describe what you’ve seen and talk about what we can do to address the disparity between the maps and the actual situation impacting people who need broadband Internet access for work and learning?

One of the difficult national issues is no one has a clear picture of what the real extent of the infrastructure problem is. In short, the FCC maps are created by self-reporting from Internet providers. A provider considers an area covered if one home in a census block could potentially receive service. Self-reporting from providers results in tremendous over-reporting. Some organizations are working towards more accurate maps, but it is very labor intensive. Connected Nation is creating new maps. Their process is sending field engineers to drive every road in the county with equipment that looks for signals. (I’ve spent the morning riding around with two field engineers who were sent here to map coverage in Grayson County through funding provided through Texas Rural Funders.) The engineers take pictures of a variety of towers, power lines, etc. to figure out where actual coverage is. This is an area [where] I would like to see rural libraries take the lead. One of the first steps is to figure out if access is available. After that, we need to know if it is affordable. After that, we need to make sure devices are available. After that, the users have to have the digital literacy to use it. It is a complex problem with no quick fixes.

Drawing upon your extensive experience, what would you suggest individuals can do to support broadband access locally, regionally, and nationally?

Connect people who have an interest in the issue to work together. Who has an interest? Schools, businesses, libraries, realtors, health care providers, non-profits, internetproviders, people who work from home, and families. Sometimes even people in this small town don’t agree on whether or not there is a problem. If they have robust service in their home, they don’t understand that a house down the block might not be able to get a connection. I think gathering all the stakeholders to discuss what the current status is would be a great start.  

What have I not asked that you hoped to cover?

The only thing that comes to mind is that speaking to you has brought into focus the importance of storytelling. This is such a dry subject that it is easy for people to glaze over. By telling the stories, I think we have more of a chance of motivating people to work towards solutions. We are developing a coverage map with interactive markers that will tell the story of the person who lives in that location. All of this talk about spectrum, bandwidth, and infrastructure is about real people living their lives and trying to do the best they can.

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Promoting Universal Broadband Access With Dianne Connery (Part 1 of 2)

October 6, 2020

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Dianne Connery, director of the Pottsboro Area Library (in Texas) and a ShapingEDU colleague who has been a long-time proponent of universal broadband access, particularly for those in the community she serves. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Let’s dive right into the substance of what you’re doing. What first drew you to the challenge of providing broadband Internet access for work and learning?

Dianne Connery

Working in a rural library, I talk to people every day who struggle with not having access to broadband. Their stories inspired me to work to improve conditions. In particular, I saw how young people do not have the same experiences and opportunities as kids in the suburbs and urban environments. I raised my kids in cities, and they were exposed to up-to-date technology. Many of the families do not have broadband in their homes, and parents are not tech savvy. The school system is struggling to provide up-to-date technology and training as well. It is not uncommon for teachers to lack access to broadband in their homes. I want young people to be on a level playing field when they graduate from high school.

Much of what I read and hear from colleagues focuses on the learners and on employees. You’ve raised an interesting part of the problem by mentioning the teachers and their own lack of access. Is the library doing anything to help instructors?

We were able to provide hot spots to some of the teachers although that is not a viable solution for some areas. The library recently received a $25,000 TSLAC [Texas State Library and Archives Commission] grant to provide internet in 40 homes. Teachers will be included, and the remainder are low-income families. A pending $232,000 IMLS [Institute of Museum and Library Services] grant will provide home internet for an additional 85 homes. This is an EBS spectrum dedicated to education. I am working closely with a local fixed wireless internet provider (TekWav) to find funding to build infrastructure that will eventually cover every student and teacher in the county.  On the digital literacy side of the issue, the library has provided access and training to the teachers/students to use our databases. This week I started a learning circle that is a group learning experience for Google Drive Essentials. I’m hoping to support some of the teachers to work more efficiently with available technology.

You’re opening a very interesting door here for readers who are interested in how to take a step-by-step approach to addressing even the smallest pieces of the broadband-access challenge, including the question of funding. Based on your experience pursuing and obtaining grants, what simple steps would you recommend for those who don’t know how to identify funders and create successful funding requests?

Much of our success is a result of building relationships with people/organizations who share the same goals. Especially since COVID-19, I’ve been actively participating in weekly calls where I am connecting with others who are working towards universal broadband. One helpful call is Gigabit Libraries Network. Through being on that call, I was invited to be a sub-awardee on a large global grant proposal that used different approaches in different locations as pilot projects. Ultimately, we did not receive that award, but through the relationship building, Gigabit Libraries Network emailed me and asked if I would like funding to deploy neighborhood access stations. They provided funding for three neighborhood access stations which are in the process of being constructed now. Additionally, they connected me with the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center [ITDRC]. ITDRC deployed a mobile Wi-Fi trailer to a parking lot outside of town in an area with limited connectivity. A few weeks ago, ITDRC installed a hot spot at a bait and tackle shop outside of town in an area with a lot of school kids who don’t have Internet at home. So, all of that happened as a result of just talking with other stakeholders. Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition is also helping me understand the whole issue from a legislative/advocacy perspective. Hopefully, the work we are doing there will result in federal funding to make things happen. So, just talk to people, and one connection leads to another. If you connect to the right person, the funding follows.

 Among the gems in the answer you just provided is this one: “..we did not receive that award, but through the relationship building…” Any thoughts to prospective fundraisers about how to react to the word “no” in response to a request for funding?

I give myself one day to be disappointed, and then [move] on to the next thing. Usually we have several grants in the pipeline at any one time, so we are already focused on the next horizon. Personally, I have also had the good fortune of being a grant reader for two organizations and have learned a lot from being on that side of the equation. Sometimes there is something particular the funder was looking for that, through no fault of your own, doesn’t match. It has helped me be a better grant writer. Also, I have learned to write case statements so that I am able to use content in future grant applications so the work was not wasted. 

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: “And I Am…”

September 13, 2020

Our most challenging times are generally the times when I am most drawn to the arts for comfort, solace, and inspiration. It is, therefore, no surprise to me that as I continue adapting to and working within shelter-in-place guidelines implemented in response to a coronavirus pandemic, I am spending inordinate amounts of time lately returning to and exploring, more deeply than ever before, authors I admire and adore—people like Scott Russell Sanders, who over a long period of time, has consistently produced lyrical, thoughtful essays and much more, including his newly-released collection, The Way of Imagination. I was drawn back to Sander’ A Private History of Awe a few weeks ago when intense, hours-long lightning and thunder storms reminded me of the stunning opening of that book, in which Sanders recalls being four years old, standing with his father, and watching lightning shatter a magnificent, stately old oak tree.

My re-immersion into the arts has also brought me into contact with the work of wonderful singer-songwriter-satirists like Roy Zimmerman, who in the most dazzling yet down-to-earth ways mixes humor, biting social satire, and a sense of humanity that runs deeper than any river upon which I have ever rafted. Watching videos that capture his work spanning nearly a couple of decades has given me a strong appreciation for what he does and offers. Seeing some of his latest videos—including new, powerfully poignant collaborations along the lines of what he does in “Driving While Black” with Clovice Lewis, Jr. and the two versions he has recorded of “The Liar Tweets Tonight”—suggests to me that no matter how much recognition he receives for his work, he will always deserve even more. And catching a few of his free online “Live from the Left Coast” concerts over the past few weeks on Facebook and YouTube makes me wonder what rock I have been sleeping under while he has been out there entertainingly, provocatively, and lovingly shining light so effectively where it needs to be shone, how I could have missed, for so long, wonderful songs like “I Approve This Message,” which is as funny, poignant, and moving a song as any “protest” song I have ever heard, with its litany of “I ams” beginning with “I am the doughnut lady, I am the civil engineer, I am the tractor salesman who is a stand-up comic at his own daughter’s wedding…” and becoming more engaging as the song continues.

What has been most rewarding and transformative, however, is spotting the artistry in places where I usually do not seek it, as in letters from friends and colleagues. Those letters, like the one I received via email a couple of days ago from someone who is married to a firefighter in a rural part of Northern California devastated by wildfires, absolutely floor me through their combination of honesty, poignancy, and razer-sharp focus. They remind me of the inner artist each of us carriers and so often fails to take the time to nurture. And they further awaken the storyteller in me who wants to highlight other people’s stories as much as, if not more than, I tend to highlight my own.

With that in mind, I contacted the friend for permission to reprint a lightly-edited version of her story here—edited not because it needed any sort of rewriting, but because she and her husband are incredibly private people who do not, in any way, want to call attention to themselves at a time when so many others need our attention and support. The edits, therefore, remove references by specific name to the people she is describing and to the area in which they are living. But even with those omissions, the piece stands out to me as an example of the “…and I am…” approach Zimmerman adopts in singing about those people we mistakenly think of as “average Americans” when, in reality, they are so much more than the word “average” can ever begin to convey:

“It’s been an absolute life-changing devastation for almost everyone in our lives. And it’s so layered it’s hard to stay focused these days. My husband’s parents lost absolutely everything. He and I and his sister had a lot of belongings there too because we all still had our two “bedrooms” to stay in while visiting and store stuff. Not to mention all their childhood stuff. All the pictures and mementos. Not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of items and equipment and vehicles. They had been in that house for over 30 years. When the house got surrounded and his parents had left, my husband got there right after and tried to turn the sprinklers on, but the power was out, so the water pump wouldn’t work. My heart aches for him having to watch it all go up. And then he had to watch his aunt and uncle’s house go up. His dad’s sister and husband’s. And then watch all of our friends lose all of their homes. He was working with four of our close friends who are also firefighters, and they all lost their homes too. I believe two lives (an older gentleman who wouldn’t leave his home, and a lady who got trapped) and 150+ houses were lost so far.

“So much has been lost. There are so many displaced families and people. So many people with just the shirts on their backs. And, sadly, many people down there couldn’t afford fire insurance, so that adds a whole other problem to the list of problems. Almost everyone we know with family and friends is completely homeless. So many animals lost, too, which is absolutely heartbreaking. Many died and many are just missing. Thankfully, people from local agencies have gone down, collected, and are housing a lot of displaced animals until they can reunite.

“It’s an absolute chaotic nightmare. But there’s some things to be thankful for as well. My mother and her husband have not lost anything so far. And I’m so happy everyone we know and love is safe and alive. Stuff is just stuff. Lives matter more and cannot be replaced. If that had happened in the middle of the night on that one way in-one way out creek road, in the dark, people confused from sleep, in a fire going 50+ mph, it could have been even worse. When we lose one or two people in town it’s horrific. But to think we could have 20-30+ people missing or dead right now would make it so much worse. And to see everyone help one another and pull together brings hope. We can always rebuild.

“There’s so much hurt right now, I’m trying to just stay focused on my husband. Because he’s my priority, and I know how much family and friends mean to him, and he’s the biggest softie sweetie in the world. He’s being exceptionally hard on himself, feeling like as a firefighter he should have been able to save everything or anything. Feels like he’s failed his whole family and all our friends. But he’s so exhausted he hasn’t had a moment to process or grieve in any way. And everyone grieves differently, so I just have to give him time. He worked for over 40 hours straight before finally getting four hours of sleep. Hopefully, he will get a little more tonight.”

I devour Sanders’ work. I sink into Zimmerman’s music. And I immerse myself into my friend’s powerful description of how the current wildfires are affecting her and the people around her. And because they all are so compelling in their ability to capture essential truths and inspire empathy, Zimmerman’s refrain “…and I am…” makes me more of whom I am than I otherwise would be.

–N.B.: This is the twentieth in a series of reflections inspired by coronavirus/ shelter-in-place experiences.


Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Raucous Laughter, Anguished Sobs, and Outrage

June 27, 2020

Effectively transformative humor, at its best, evokes a strong mixture of raucous laughter, anguished sobs of grief, and overwhelming outrage—something that has been on abundant display as we continue adapting to shelter-in-place guidelines implemented in response to the current coronavirus pandemic and as we attempt, once again, to collaboratively address some of our most divisively tragic challenges. Humor can bring us much-needed relief when it inspires the (currently muted) sense of optimism some of my most cherished colleagues display during our “face to face” online conversations via Zoom and Google Meet and through their social media posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. It can also inspire us to positive action when the brutal, over-the-top dark nature of that humor inspires action through outrage in response to overwhelming challenges including systemic racism and police brutality directed at Americans, as we see through the work of satirists like Roy Zimmerman, Shirley Serban, and Don Caron.

At a personal level, I’m deeply moved and at the same time frustrated by posts along the lines of what I have been seeing from one particularly cherished friend and colleague. He’s a bright, intelligent, very funny, very upbeat, very compassionate friend. His posts, focusing on what he refers to as “good news” during a time of pandemic, are wonderfully inspirational, provide much-needed humor, and remind me why I have considered him a cherished friend and associate over a very long period of time—a combination of relationships I very much look forward to continuing for as many more years as we have left to us.

My own mood, in contrast, has fluctuated wildly during this entire period of sheltering in place while maintaining strong social interactions and attempting to foster positive responses to all that we are facing. I try to maintain and inspire a sense of optimism and a commitment to fostering positive action in very small and very large ways in tragically discouraging and divisive times.

Humor as a catalyst to positive change is often at the heart of what my friend/colleague, many other friends and colleagues, and I attempt to promote at a time when I am relearning that humor comes in all sorts of sizes and shapes. There is the wonderfully optimistic spin my friend consistently manages to give to what he sees and hears. There is also the deeply poignant, sometimes bittersweet, and sometimes just kick-them-in-the-gut humor/satire that inspires that raucous laughter, those anguished sobs, and that sense of outreach I mentioned earlier—which is why I decided to write a version of this article to my friend earlier today and then expand it into this invitation to join the conversation and seek ways to reshape our world in a way that makes it more compassionate and more responsive to the pain, suffering, and inequality that many members of our communities continue to feel.

I wrote—and am writing—very much in the moment, with his two most recent posts in mind. But. With. The. Sense. That. This. Captures. Much. Of. The. Wonderful. Work. I. Have. Seen. From. Him. Over. The. Past. Couple. Of. Months. I’m seeing celebrations of what may be coming down the pike—mostly celebrations of what others are doing (e.g., working on vaccines) while we wait around (without doing something as simple as wearing a mask) and hope for the best. I’m also seeing some important much-needed call-outs against those who seem to want only to focus on bad news without acknowledging what very much is worth celebrating. What I’m not seeing—perhaps because I’m not paying close enough attention and perhaps because it’s not yet there—is a celebration of positive actions taken by the unsung heroes. Those who understand that wearing a mask and engaging in social distancing are ways of protecting others as much, if not more than, they are ways of protecting themselves/ourselves. Those who from positions of leadership encourage positive, collaborative, sometimes unpopular actions to attempt to address the challenges we face rather than placing individual liberty and rights above the equally strong needs of the community and holding (thankfully underattended) political rallies that encourage people to celebrate their unwillingness to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

He accurately and justifiably points out that there are places in the U.S. where the spread of COVID-19 is not devastating communities. “It’s not, by the way, what the media would have you believe that it is,” he says in his latest post. “The cases are rising in a few states and that is painting a distorted picture of what’s happening nationally…Despite the fear-mongering that you’re hearing right now about the cases exploding…what we’re seeing is the death rate continuing to decline…the actual fatalities continue to decline…”

Looking at COVIDLY as a reliable tracking site for COVID-19 cases and deaths, on the other hand, reminds us that Australia had no reported deaths in the past 24 hours (midday, June 26-27, 2020)—a period of time when the United States had 834 deaths reported as directly related to COVID-19. Looking at the latest reports from The New York Times on June 27, 2020, furthermore, shows us that more than half the states in our country reported increases in cases and that, overall, ‘[m]ore than 2,509,400 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 125,300 have died.”

This hit home for me again late this week as I was in face-to-face-online meetings via Zoom with colleagues in Australia—where preventative actions have led them to halt the spread of the coronavirus much more effectively than we have so they can already be working on building a new and better normal. We might have been in a position to be doing this now if we had more aggressively taken the sort of individual actions they took rather than waiting for someone else to develop a vaccine—which, of course, doesn’t have to be an either-or choice! We can hope for development of effective treatments and vaccines while, at the same time, actively promoting and taking individual and collective action to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 now. We can, while celebrating the numerous calls to action in response to the displays of racism and the almost daily documented reports of police brutality directed at Americans, also be doing things small and large in our own lives to build the foundations for a new and better normal in our country.

This is one of our challenges: to find whatever common ground we share. To produce and benefit from humor/satire that produces laughter, grief, and outrage. And to work toward creating a time when our laughter celebrates our small-scale foibles with far less need for evoking grief and outrage.

–N.B.: This is the thirteenth in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences, and to our continuing interactions online.


Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Marching Virtually With the Poor People’s Campaign

June 20, 2020

There is something timeless about a virtual march/assembly designed to foster social change—something obvious to anyone watching/participating in the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and March on Washington today. The timelessness was felt in numerous moments, during the first livestream broadcast of that 3.5-hour event that drew more than 1.2 million of us to it through the Campaign’s event website and MSNBC’s live broadcast, that we came face to face with people—our fellow citizens—who are living in poverty. People struggling to survive. People who have been ignored for far too long. People whose faces we need to see. People whose voices we need to hear. And the timelessness is equally obvious when we return to a recording available online to live or relive part or all of that unifying call to positive action centered on a set of interrelated fundamental principles and demands.

It’s another powerful example of how much our world is changing around us as we continue adapting to shelter-in-place guidelines implemented in response to the current coronavirus pandemic. Many of us are learning, for the first time, how to work effectively from home. Or to learn online. Or to meet or celebrate significant moments (e.g., birthdays) or even engage in conversations over meals “face-to-face” via Zoom and other online platforms.

It was only a matter of time, therefore, that the need to continue pushing for social change through large-scale gatherings—even, if not especially—during times of incredible upheaval and tragedy at a personal, regional, national, and global level would force us all to become a bit more creative in our approaches. And its obvious that the organizers of the Poor People Assembly and March not only figured out how to do it online (after their original plans for an onsite assembly and March on Washington were derailed by the onset of social distancing), but how to do it effectively and engagingly online.

The stunningly beautiful result is that it worked. The ability to participate online undoubtedly made the event accessible to far more people than would have been able to join it if they had to be onsite. The adaptations required by the move from onsite to online interactions created unique opportunities for the faces to be seen and the voices to be heard through first-rate editing of recordings from well-known religious, political, social, and arts-and-entertainment leaders as well as those more important: those directly affected by poverty and numerous interrelated challenges. And even though it was, in essence, a “live” recorded production, there was a very real level of interaction made possible through the use of #PoorPeoplesCampaign on Twitter to capture and react to moments that struck many of us at a personal level. (When the event was at its peak, the hashtag was near the top of a list of terms drawing the highest levels of engagement on Twitter.)

Furthermore, the fact that the live/recorded event was scheduled for three livestreams over this particular weekend provided an interesting opportunity to participate in an extended synchronous/asynchronous way. Having to leave the initial broadcast and the dynamic, almost overwhelmingly flow of tweets during the initial event this morning, I was sorry I would not be able to stay for the final hour of the event. Doing a bit of post-event catch-up later in the day with a friend who was involved as an event volunteer, I realized I was free at the moment where the rebroadcast would be recreating the moment when I had originally had to leave. So, I rejoined it (several hours after the initial broadcast ended) right at the moment of my departure. And discovered, to my surprise, that it felt as if those intervening hours had not at all existed. Because a new group of participants was equally engaged. Equally active on Twitter. And helping to create the sense of continuity and engagement that accompanies participation in any well-designed event designed to draw us in; help us understand that we are part of a vital, vibrant action-oriented community; and inspire us to take the positive actions we know we need to take if we want to create a new and better normal to replace the far-from-perfect normal we had before COVID-19 and additional tragic deaths of our fellow Americans drove us to this moment of need for decisive action.

Because of my own tenuous connection to the Campaign (through the friend who has been actively volunteering for it for a considerable period of time) before today’s march and assembly, I had been watching for signs of traction during the weeks and days before the event. I was disappointed—but not at all surprised—to see that mainstream media coverage in anticipation of the event was, to be charitable, minimal; doing an online search for pre-event coverage via Google showed far more attention being given to the latest (onsite) rally (in a time of social distancing) scheduled by our president than was given to the Poor People’s Campaign event. Mainstream media representatives clearly remain woefully and pathetically unprepared for and unable to detect the significance and draw of events that are taking place online rather than onsite. But that doesn’t tell the full story, for the event was gaining plenty of attention in online environments and platforms, including on Facebook and on the event website, where people were being invited to and committing to attending not only by completing online RSVPs, but also putting a very real face to their participation by posting selfies and adding brief descriptions as to why they were committed to participating in the event and supporting the Poor People’s Campaign.

And now that the march/assembly has actually “taken place,” the relative lack of mainstream media attention seems to be dissipating a bit. A story posted earlier today by The New York Times is drawing more attention to the gathering and what it was designed to promote, and more coverage by others is bound to follow soon.

What all of this suggests for those of us tracking and writing about how social media and other online platforms are changing the face of social change is that our landscape is continuing to evolve quickly. There are possibilities that are tremendously under-explored. And we are still in the fairly early days of experimenting with and understanding the massive changes that our technology is capable of producing.   

The march/assembly, as I write this, appears to be over. But it really isn’t. It continues anytime any of us takes the time to watch part of all of the event in any archived version. Opens his/her/their heart to what is being proposed/requested/demanded. And then takes whatever steps are possible to address and resolve any of the numerous challenges we are facing. Because we are all in this together.

–N.B.: This is the twelfth in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online, and the twenty-third in a series of excerpts from and interviews for Paul’s book Change the World Using Social Media, scheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020.


Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: The Caffè Is Open, the Learning Continues

May 1, 2020

I engaged in what I’m going to call a “not-so-guilty pleasure” this morning: I joined approximately 30 colleagues for coffee and conversation in an intimate, wonderfully welcoming caffè while attempting to follow shelter-in-place guidelines which remain in effect for many of us in response to the coronavirus pandemic and which may last for at least another month. I have to admit that I had begun to forget the pleasures of walking into a coffee shop that serves as a community meeting place—Ray Oldenburg’s Third Place. Hearing inviting music in the background. Looking around to see familiar faces. Grabbing a cup of coffee. Sitting face-to-face with inspiring friends/colleagues who form the heart and soul of a tremendous community of learning. And discovering, once again, the hidden gems that/who are within that community, just waiting to be discovered.

We met. We talked. We laughed. We learned. And we adhered to the best, most stringent social-distancing practices possible. Because writer-trainer-presenter Joshua Fredenburg, the person at the center of that “Virtual TD [Training & Development] Talks” gathering of ATD [Association for Talent Development] South Florida Chapter members, created the feeling of a face-to-face caffè gathering online through a combination of creative use of Zoom, his first-rate presentation and facilitation skills, and his commitment to fostering a conversation rather than placing himself at the center of a stage in a virtual learning space. This was a virtual caffè extending from South Florida all the way to where I was sitting, in San Francisco—a 3,000-mile wide caffè which managed to feel as small, intimate, and welcoming as any caffè, virtual or otherwise, that I have ever entered. We could see each other. We could hear each other. And we could even pass virtual notes under the virtual tables via the chat function within Zoom.

ATD South Florida Chapter leaders deserve a lot of credit here. For effectively and positively responding to shelter-in-place and the potential disruption of our community. For quickly and creatively organizing and hosting a dynamic, flexible, informal set of online gatherings. For providing ample opportunities for interactions, during these sessions, that create a sense of presence (telepresence) through brief (45-minute) online sessions. And for making us aware of the “hidden gems” like Fredenburg who routinely draw praise for the way they operate at the national level while those of us “at home” remain (tragically) unaware that we have people like that nearby—until our Chapter brings us together.

And presenters like Fredenburg deserve a lot of credit for creatively and positively exploiting the possibilities created by the online TD Virtual Talks format. When I logged into the online session this morning, I expected to be joining a presentation on and conversation about “Keeping Yourself and Team of Remote Workers Engaged & Productive During COVID-19.” And I certainly wasn’t disappointed; Fredenburg’s expertise and excitement about best practices in leadership was on display and fully engaging from start to finish. But, as so often happens, there was as much to learn from a colleague’s—Fredenburg’s—presentation/facilitation style as there was to learn from the content he was sharing.

Joining the session approximately 10 minutes before it was scheduled to formally begin—I always like getting my coffee and getting settled before caffè conversations, onsite or virtual, are fully underway—I was pleasantly surprised to see Fredenburg (whom I had not previously met) using a Zoom virtual background that made it appear that he was sitting in a wonderfully inviting coffee shop. (Presentation Tip #1: Provide plenty of surprises; they can help make a learning session more memorable/effective.) And I was particularly surprised to hear background music exactly as I would hear if I had been walking into a physical coffee shop. (Presentation Tip #2: Create an inviting learning space online as well as onsite; it adds to engagement and keeps us alert.) Fredenburg, who usually is suited up and ready to roll for his onsite presentations, was dressed casually—which, of course, added to the informal nature of the caffè conversation he was about to facilitate. (Presentation Tip #3: Details—e.g., what you are wearing, how you “set the space”—can help make or break an online as well as onsite session.) And he, like any good host, immediately reached out to me online with a warm welcome as I virtually entered the room. (Presentation Tip #4: Warm up the online room just as you would warm up an onsite room; create the sense of a virtual lounge or virtual gathering of colleagues around a water cooler to foster social learning.) He, the host (Chapter Director of TD Talks Selen Turner), and I immediately began chatting about how he had created that ambience—using a jury-rigged green screen that allowed him to incorporate the caffè background into his teaching-training-learning space, and having music from a YouTube video audible in the background. (Presentation Tip #5: Make every moment a learning moment—without making learning in any way seem like a chore. It’s all about being ready to engage learners in terms of what they want to learn as much as it’s about making sure you foster learning that the session is designed to nurture.)

There was plenty to learn and admire from the session. And much of it revolved around the way that Fredenburg treated everyone as co-conspirators in learning. The result was another spectacular example of turning-challenge-into-opportunity. Community members supporting community members in time of need. Colleagues supporting colleagues by simply doing what they/we do best: working with what we are given. Learning from each other. And remaining committed to, as ATD so often suggests, making a world that works better. Because we can. And because we will.

–N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online.


Changing the World Through Twitter

February 5, 2018

If you want to viscerally understand the power of Twitter, think of the global impact two small words (“Me too”) and their variations in languages other than English have had. Capturing an enormous emotionally nuanced message (we all know someone affected by sexual harassment and/or assault, so what are we going to do about it?), those two words have been repeated countless times to inspire positive action by men and women using Twitter and other social media platforms after actress Alyssa Milano used them in a tweet on October 15, 2017: “Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.’”

Milano quickly achieved her goal of increasing awareness regarding sexual harassment and assault: the hashtag is drawing attention to the often dramatically different reactions people have to the allegations and reality of sexual harassment at local, regional, national, and international levels; I was among those made even more painfully aware of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault than we already were; and it has drawn me—and many friends, acquaintances, and colleagues—into efforts to shine a spotlight on it and combat it at whatever level we can—via social media, through face-to-face conversations, and through support for actions that can decrease the presence of harassment and assault whenever we see opportunities to do so.

Let’s be clear about the role Twitter and other social media platforms played in what has, through the use of the #MeToo hashtag, become another highly visible and extended global conversation (and sometimes bitter argument) about sexual harassment and sexual abuse. The conversation did not start with the breaking of a significant news story on Twitter, nor did the hashtag #MeToo become a widely-recognized unifying call to action the same day it was created. (The hashtag was first used by social activist Tarana Burke in 2006.) Stories about sexual harassment and abuse in a variety of settings including workplaces, schools and universities, and religious organizations have been published and discussed for several decades by those who accept the veracity of the allegations and want to make positive changes as well as by those who deny the allegations and object to what they see as exaggerations or outright falsehoods. Attitudes and disagreements about sexual harassment and sexual abuse were clearly on display during the 2106 presidential campaign in the United States when a recording capturing Donald Trump boasting, in 2005, of his ability to harass and assault women were widely disseminated through traditional and social media outlets.

The #MeToo conversation expanded rapidly after articles published in The New York Times (October 5, 2017) and The New Yorker (October 10, 2017) documented gut-wrenching allegations that Miramax entertainment company and The Weinstein Company co-founder Harvey Weinstein had engaged in sexual harassment and sexual abuse involving dozens of women in the film industry for at least two decades. Reading the first lengthy and well-documented story in The New York Times that October morning left me disgusted and heart-sick; I found it difficult to even finish reading the lengthy article as I thought about this latest set of allegations showing how someone in a position of power could take advantage of people perceived to have less—or no—voice than those who were making their lives miserable.

Absorbing the numerous follow-up reports about Weinstein and many others became even more emotionally challenging when women—lots of women, far beyond the boundaries of the entertainment industry scandals documented in The New York Times and The New Yorker—began using #MeToo to acknowledge themselves as recipients of unwanted sexual attention by friends, acquaintances, employers, workplace colleagues, or complete strangers. I was absolutely stunned by the large number of women I knew who eloquently joined the conversation through short #MeToo posts. And that’s one of the many ways in which the power of Twitter and other social media tools becomes apparent: what at one time would have been stories about someone else continually become stories about those I know and love and care for—because Twitter and other social media platforms provide a way for voices that might otherwise not have been heard to be heard in ways that inspire people to work together to actively promote the changes they want to see to create the world of their dreams. What might at one time have been stories told within small, isolated groups of people or discussed in local communities became stories shared globally—and very quickly.

“The #MeToo movement is an obvious, but powerful, one [an example of Twitter used to effectively promote social change],” Samantha Becker, the independent consultant and President of SAB Creative & Consulting, observes. “Suddenly, people who were scared to share something deeply personal were empowered to tell their stories because other people were doing it. I don’t think that movement could have spread as rapidly on any other platform because of [the] continuous-conversation factor. There’s Snapchat, Instagram, and new social platforms emerging all the time, but Twitter has remained loyal to the idea of words. And in spite of the growth of videos and infographics, etc. Words. Are. Still. Powerful currency.”

Shining a social media spotlight on those situations you want to change is often seen as positive even in the worst of situations; it is, therefore, well worth noting that the same shining spotlight, used with less-than-honorable intentions, can cause tremendous grief for those unfairly at the center of that spotlight—a theme I will explore fully in a later chapter of Change the World. Using Twitter and other social media platforms carries tremendous responsibility—a responsibility that often is inadvertently or intentionally overlooked by users. As you consider incorporating—or further incorporating—Twitter into your social media toolkit, you would do well to follow advice I frequently give: think before you post. If you are in doubt as to whether your tweet meets the highest, most positive ethical standards to which you subscribe, don’t post. Tweets and other posts can wait; once they are out there, they are impossible to undo.

There is obviously plenty to be done with Twitter to positively change your world; it begins with using it to give voice to those—you and many others—whose voices are not often enough clearly heard. There are plenty of examples, from some of the hashtags (e.g., #BlackLivesMatter, #DACA, #Dreamers, #Ferguson, #LoveWins, #MAGA/MakeAmericaGreatAgain, #OccupyWallStreet, and #ParisAccord) I mentioned in a previous post, of the impact a well-designed and well-used hashtag can have. Whether you agree or disagree with the goals implicit in the movements represented by those hashtags, you can easily recognize that their effective use is part of contemporary social and political discourse—a resource not to be ignored by anyone involved in activism.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the sixth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Cayden Mak (Part 2 of 2)

January 23, 2018

This is the second of a two-part interview conducted with Cayden Mak, Executive Director of 18 Million Rising, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; projected publication date is autumn 2018). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

Broadcast vs. engagement: what would you suggest to those who still see social media as a broadcast medium rather than as a way to engage others in reaching shared goals?

Cayden Mak, 18 Million Rising

The answer to this one is in some ways similar to the one above [at the end of part one of this interview]—there’s a thing about moving your social at the pace of ordinary people. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes things you can do to run a tight ship, but at its core you need to be approachable and responsive to the people who are excited about the work you’re doing. Knowing how to route inquiries, for instance, is really important. And making sure responses to those inquiries have a real human touch makes a difference.

Early on, we also adopted a policy where staff would respond to questions and critiques on our Facebook page as themselves. This was easier five years ago before Gamergate and the rise of alt-right trolling, but it really put a human face to the ideas we were sharing and fostered a culture of inquiry on our page. Which you don’t see a lot—and I think people were pleasantly surprised to get a response to their questions from a real human being, not a brand or whatever.

We’re trying to figure out other ways to do this, because I think people’s expectations are constantly changing.

In terms of figuring out new ways to approach what you’re doing on social media: any innovations you’re exploring that you’re particularly excited about?

Well, for one thing we know that young folks are leaving Facebook in droves, so trying to follow them where they’re going is going to be an imminent challenge. We aren’t ready to leave Facebook behind, because its network effects are real and powerful.

Another challenge that has emerged is what a toxic swamp Twitter has become. I personally have had a Twitter account for nearly a decade and I used to actually make friends and stuff on there—now it’s very professionalized, partially because it’s so filled with awful trolls, Nazis, and misogynists. Twitter continues to be a dominant platform for real-time conversation and breaking news, so again, it’s hard to leave it behind.

We’re trying to think of ways to reach people that are a little more in our control, as well. I’m looking forward to doing a pilot of a podcast next year that will be an advice podcast (but not necessarily a personal advice podcast. We’re working on the concept, anyway). It came from the experience of having members ask us to go into more detail about our reasoning on campaigns, and realizing that we need an outlet for that. Again, I think its tone is going to be very personal—like talking to a friend about their political beliefs rather than talking to [This American Life Host/Producer] Ira Glass about his political beliefs. I also want it to be about how to navigate the social challenges of being a person who is involved in social movements for the long term—things like when the work interferes with a friendship, how to care for yourself to avoid burnout, how to preserve a collective memory of a moment in movement history—that kind of thing.

That raises a question I was already going to ask: what emotional toll does all of this take on you and your staff?

Oh, man; it’s hard. It’s super-exhausting to be in a news moment. And when your staff is predominantly people who are personally targeted by the state and by trolls, it’s really hard to keep an even keel. We have a section in our employee handbook about digital and operational security that includes what to do in a crisis—with a big emphasis on allowing people time to walk away. We talk really openly about the cost of this work with each other. I really recommend the book Trauma Stewardship to anybody doing political or movement work on social media—it’s all about how secondary trauma and witnessing trauma can be triggering and impacts your own internal ecosystem, and how to manage that when we are in caring professions, and I think organizing is a caring profession. It’s been very helpful to a lot of our team who are resistant to the idea that they should care for themselves while they do this work.

The past five years have been really rough in terms of the rise of targeted harassment on social media. I really came up in the gaming community and while I never was super close to the epicenter of Gamergate, I think it had a really chilling effect on what a lot of people are willing to be candid about online. Knowing what folks like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian went through—and continue to go through because they have the gall to be outspoken women—is a reminder of how critical it is to keep showing up online.

Gamergate was also a rehearsal for the so-called alt-right trolling we saw during the 2016 election cycle. Targeting Muslims, trans women, undocumented people—a lot of the darlings of the new reactionary right have taken the Gamergate playbook and started to use legit-seeming media and public appearances to do that kind of thing. I worry all the time about the safety of my staff, and we take digital security very seriously. My nightmare as an executive director would be having one of my team members doxed. But again, I think that this points to why I think online organizing is no different than offline organizing—we’re building trust together so we can take risks. And it’s easy to understate the risk you take speaking out online these days. There are often very real material consequences to this stuff.

Whose use of social media for social change do you admire?

I really love the work that Mijente is doing—especially because their online presence is backed up with in-person organizing, especially in the borderlands. They are sassy, thoughtful, earnest, and fun. (http://mijente.net/) They also have a deep analysis of social issues that they are not shy about sharing.

Some of the individuals I think are doing a great job are Linda Sarsour,

Any resources (e.g., books, podcasts, websites) you would highly recommend to anyone interested in using social media to foster movement-building?

I’ve found the research that Upworthy shared a couple years ago to actually be really helpful in thinking about how to approach the nuts and bolts. The annoying “write 25 headlines” thing they do is actually very effective—it gets the ideas out there and generates conversation in a team about what makes good copy and why.

For digital security stuff, I highly recommend the work of Equality Labs—very oriented towards social movements and very practical. https://www.equalitylabs.org/

I also really encourage people who do this work to dig a little deeper and start building an analysis of the attention economy. Some people doing great research on this are the folks at Data & Society, who work on current issues and publish white papers regularly.

In terms of books, I actually think learning about the history of the internet and the ideology that underlies design to be very valuable. Reading theorists ranging from Yochai Benkler to Theodor Adorno have been really useful in developing an understanding and an analysis—I believe that the tools we use are political and being able to critique them thoughtfully helps figure out how to use the tools in ways that are not oppressive.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the fifth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


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