Most Valuable Resource Award goes to: ACTIVISTS!

Here we are in a new year, with a new US Congress and new US President. And with a majority of the US population rather unhappy about that new government. Which makes for a whole gaggle of activists spending their time and money to attempt to change the situation we are in. Upwards of 3.5 million of them around the US demonstrated in the name of equal rights on Saturday the 21st of January 2017. Including the 250 thousand I, and my 7 year old daughter, and my rather overworked wife, that marched in Chicago even though they where told the march was canceled.

250,000 at Women's March Chicago

Walking along with 250,000 activists at the Women’s March Chicago 2017-01-21.

For the having drive to do what others said you shouldn’t do; for spending such an enormous effort doing something that no one asked you to do; for doing it with grace and peace; I award you the:

Most Valuable Resource Award

What, you’ve never heard of it? Shame on you! We’ll, OK, I confess, I just made it up. But it’s obvious, right? An activists time, and money, is the one resource that no democratic government can do without. And it’s the one resources the political class goes to great efforts to control. And as you think about what you will do after demonstrating along with 3.5 million people I want you to think about what you are worth as a resource. Because if you are like me, you receive at least half a dozen emails from organizations and politicians a day asking to spend your time and money on their goals. Which brings me to the real point of this post:

Don’t waste your time and money!

I’m not saying don’t volunteer or donate. Just don’t throw that valuable resource away towards inefficient, fruitless, or opaque efforts. What do I mean by that? Simple, when someone asks you to volunteer time, or give money, ask “What for and why?” Find out how your resources are going to be used. And evaluate if that’s a good use of your time and money. Easy right? Well, some times it’s easy, and some times it’s hard, to do that evaluation. Heck, some times it’s almost impossible to get enough information to even begin to consider the question. But knowing the answer to how your resources are going to be used is the key way you can exercise the vast power you have to shape the world, especially the political world.

What does asking “What for and why?” look like? Here are two personal examples to show you what that looks like for me..

First, is the ACLU. I receive countless communications from the ACLU, as email, letters, tweets, etc. on a daily basis. They don’t all ask for money, but a good number of them do, they rarely ask for time, but just about all of them tell me what they are spending the money on. For example:

It has been an eventful few days, highlighting the challenges we face, and the energy and passion with which people are ready to respond. Amid it all, I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss news of the ACLU’s first legal action of the Trump era.

And it goes on to ask me for money. I can also go to the ACLU web site, and read the varied ways they plan to use the money they are asking me to give them. I can clearly see what effect my money will have on advancing the values I believe in. And clearly, I give them money.

Second, is a politician. Yes, I am going to pick on one particular politician in this example. And, yes, I will quote individuals and emails from myself and the campaign. But this is important, as an activist one should never be afraid to challenge everyone and everything. Especially, as is in this case, when it’s my own US Representative Jan Schakowsky. A few days ago I received the following email from the Schakowsky campaign:

Today, Donald Trump takes the oath of office and becomes our next president.

The hateful, dangerous rhetoric we saw throughout Trump’s campaign? It will now live on in the White House. And so many people across this country are worried what this means for their future.

I hope you are ready to fight back. I certainly am.

That’s why we launched our 2017 Action Fund. Please, help our organizers defend our Democratic values by chipping in $15 or more.

I’m proud to stand with progressives across this great country to hold the line defending our principles. Many of us are boycotting today’s inauguration and marching in cities across the country to stand against the Republican rollback of American progress.

But it doesn’t stop there. We will be organizing—daily—making sure America’s most vulnerable will not have to fear for their safety, their families, their health, or their livelihoods.

Your support of our 2017 Action Fund can help us keep the fight alive. Rene, please consider chipping in $15 to defend American progress.

This certainly sounds interesting to me. But as an astute activist, and one with limited funds, I inquire to get further details on what this “2017 Action Fund” is about with this reply:

Forming an “Action Fund” is an interesting development. What concrete actions are you planning on doing with the proceeds of the fund? Is there a specific organization, or PAC that is receiving the funds? Where can I find out more about this?

And I go read Jan’s web site to see if this “Action Fund” is mentioned there.. It isn’t. Shortly after sending the above I get another email from Jan’s campaign, this time from Sarah Gerstein the campaign’s “Finance Director“. I get all excited, expecting it’s a response to my questions.. But alas it’s not. Instead it’s a message solely with “Rene, did you see Jan’s note?” followed by the contents of the first email. They are trying really hard to get my money it seems. Which makes me more determined to find out why. Hence I reply to Sarah’s email asking the same questions:

I did see it.. And I even asked about it. But haven’t heard a response. So perhaps you can help me with some answers about it:

Forming an “Action Fund” is an interesting development. What concrete actions are you planning on doing with the proceeds of the fund? Is there a specific organization, or PAC that is receiving the funds? Where can I find out more about this?

And now I wait for a response.. Truth is I’ve asked such question before from other organizations and politicians. And getting a response is rather rare. So I’m not expecting much. But one trait I seem to have in abundance is I am persistent. I don’t give up. I only postpone, and try and try, for days, months, years, decades, and if I had centuries I would keep trying that far also. So I tried again, this time I looked up Sarah’s direct email, and asked again:

Sarah,

I was at the Chicago Women’s March today with my wife and 7 year old daughter. And I was thinking how wonderful it would be to know answers to some questions about the “2017 Action Fund”. Could you answer the questions? As I’m sure as Finance Director for Jan these fall under your purview:

What concrete actions are you planning on doing with the proceeds of the fund? Is there a specific organization, or PAC that is receiving the funds? Where can I find out more about this?

Thank you, Rene Rivera.

And one day later, i.e. today, I get a response. At which point I have the expected reaction as any activist would have: mission accomplished! Here is Sarah’s response:

Rene,

Sorry for the confusion. It is for Schakowsky for Congress. Our internet folks named it that, but it not a separate fund. The funds of Schakowsky for Congress will be put to use with lots of action items.

Hope that helps,
Sarah

Most importantly I have to commend Sarah for her honesty, it’s a disappearing virtue in politics. Here’s what I learned, as an activist resource, from that response:

  • Jan’s campaign seems to respect volunteers enough to respond to their questions. Kudos to them.
  • The “Action Fund” is a lie, err I mean alternative fact.
  • I have no way at this time to answer the important question as to “what for and why”.
  • I am well aware how campaigns work and how the money is handled to realize that there is little chance that money I give to the “Schakowsky for Congress” is going to be used for anything but for Jan’s, or another politician’s, election efforts.
  • I conclude that I should wait and look for other ways to expend my activist resources.
  • I start considering that it’s a rather good idea to start a real independent “Action Fund” to help carry out concrete actions.

At this point I conclude the conversation with Sarah with respect and honesty:

Sarah,

Yes it does indeed help. Thank you for the honest and direct clarification. I look forward to hearing in the future what concrete actions Jan will be taking with her campaign. But until I hear what those action items are and hence can ascertain how my hard earned money is going to be used I will refrain from contributing.

Thank you, Rene Rivera.

Hopefully as a budding activist, or an experienced one, you can learn how important it is to wisely spend your activist resources.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *