Advocating, Organizing, and Impacting Public Policy

Today I spoke on a panel for the New Leaders Council about activism, organizing, and influencing public policy. It was a wonderful experience with a really important organization for us to have in Omaha, and we had about an hour of lively panel conversation followed by an hour of Q&A from the NLC fellows in attendance. I wanted to share part of my message and experience with you that I was able to talk about with the fellows today. 

Understanding public policy, what it means, and how to advocate for it and influence it requires developing habits for continuous, active learning. As with many subjects, there is constant change, which I think is exciting because it means there are always new takes on new perspectives—there’s never an end to what you can learn, observe, and think about. To follow public policy and become effectively engaged with it, you have to take the approach of a lifelong learner, which is an ongoing and self-motivated process. So the question for busy people like us is, what does that look like? Most of us already read, attend conferences, and participate in professional associations and groups—we already do this stuff because we already want to be more involved. However, to have impact on public policy, you have to take a more focused approach to begin influencing outcomes of policy through your advocacy. I have a few general tips that can help anyone become a life learner of public policy, but these tips can apply to any content.

    1. Read about public policy every day. Set aside time, make it a priority, and identify what it is you want to read so you have it on hand. I suggest reading a local paper, a major national newspaper, and a few magazines that particularly interest you. I read the World-Herald every day, I look at the New York Times every day, and I also keep up with the magazines The Atlantic, The Economist, and Foreign Policy. I also read the Berliner Morgenpost and Die Zeit a few times a week because I’m a German speaker and I don’t want to lose that. I have something to read with me at all times.
    2. Sort of a bonus here, WRITE about public policy every day. Take notes about what you read. I do this mainly by posting reactions online to the news, to opinion pieces I read, to what’s happening locally. This is also great because you can get feedback and have discussions with other people who are interested in the same subjects. Hopefully sharing your take on issues will even inspire others who come across your post to form an opinion as well. I also keep a database of all my notes and writing about political issues. These are sometimes useful to refer back to, because things get buried and hard to find again when you only share them on social media. Whether you want to publicly share your thoughts on these issues is up to you, but it does raise your visibility with other advocates and open you up to feedback and perspectives you can learn from, so I think it's worth seriously considering.
    3. Have a group of friends who you discuss this stuff with. I find that I form more thoughtful opinions and reactions when I am looking forward to sharing them with my friends. It’s also obviously a way to hear perspectives I haven’t considered, especially from friends of mine who are different from me and can lend cultural perspectives that are outside of my experience. These meetings are also a great jump-off point to form anything from formal discussion groups to actual action-oriented organizations. I belong to a few loosely-formed organizations like CHEER, which is working to advocate for sex ed policies in public schools. Then there are ones like Safe Space Nebraska which formed as a casual group of friends in 2012 and went on to become a 501(c)3 with a mission and strategic plan for growth. Other friendships have of course led to opportunities for board service or advisory roles for other nonprofit organizations or professional associations. To get there, to form these coalitions, you just have to start by finding your people. See who is doing the same work as you and get together. 
    4. Find a mentor. Get to know some experts in the policy fields you are interested in who know more than you do, and pay attention to what they are reading and focusing on, and give them your feedback. See what you can learn. I would suggest that you don’t ask too much of these people, but that you look for windows of opportunity where you can enrich the work or help reach the goals they are working toward. A lot of these experts will be found in the organizations and coalitions you will find yourself learning about, and they will connect you to opportunities to sort of learn on the job through volunteering.
    5. So yes, volunteer. Ask where you can help, always. And think seriously about committing to doing one thing for a set amount of time—one month, the entire summer, a year, something. Just start with one. Don’t commit to another thing until you finish the term of commitment for the first, so you don’t overextend yourself too much and so you have space to step back and consider how fulfilling the work is for you.

    This is where I would suggest beginning. Other outcomes will happen naturally from these simple first steps, such as developing a habit of writing letters to the editor or to lawmakers, or turning some of those informal groups into a truly mission-driven organization, or possibly getting involved in a campaign or running for office yourself. I think these habits and tips are exactly where to begin to get that snowball rolling and see where it ends up. 

    ThinkStartDo: See you in Chicago this weekend!

    Hey Chicago, we're coming for ya! Join Sarah and me in Chicago this weekend to learn, collaborate, and grow at ThinkStartDo, a new conference created to support women with the resources and motivation they need to start and grow a businesses. I'm stoked to take the stage with Sarah to speak in the morning about how to get over yourself, take the first steps, and begin building your legacy, even when you don't feel ready. (Spoiler: You'll never be ready.)

    At ThinkStartDo you'll learn from serial entrepreneurs, authors, media personalities, consultants, investors, female founders and innovators from Chicago and beyond as they share their stories and best tips for success, and we're so stoked to be included in the lineup! 

    The Hello Holiday crew--that's you--can receive 50% off your conference pass before Tuesday with code STARTUPLIFE. But hurry, registration closes this Tuesday! 

    ThinkStartDo is designed to promote meaningful connections and collaboration while providing tangible resources and support to entrepreneurial women. Enjoy an opportunity to exchange ideas and resources with people who can relate to your experience as a female founder. Satellite networking events throughout the neighborhood showcase many of the women-owned businesses and creative vibe the Wicker Park area is known for. Recently named Best City in the World for Female Entrepreneurs (Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking 2015), Chicago serves as the perfect backdrop for an event to empower women to take their lives and careers to the next level.

    Intentionally Blank at Hello Holiday

    Sarah and I made a decision last year to stop selling cheap shoes. It's true that they sell well, it's true that we make a great margin on them, and it's true that we can update our offerings more frequently if we sell these styles, but it’s also true that we don’t want to wear those shoes ourselves. It’s true that we don’t agree with the labor practices used in making them. And it's true that by selling them, we are sacrificing our brand values and company ethics in the interest of making an easier profit.

    We can do better, so we aren’t going to do that anymore.

    Last February, we met Ty McBride, the owner and founder of INTENTIONALLY ______________ pronounced “Intentionally Blank”). Formerly the Global Brand Manager of Jeffrey Campbell footwear and the Creative Director of Solestruck, we were first attracted to Ty’s original label because of his experience and familiarity with the good, the bad, and the ugly of the mid-tier shoe market. But when Sarah and I went up three flights to his small studio in the LA Fashion District and spent an hour getting to know Ty, hearing about his design philosophy, and maybe trying on every sample shoe in the room, we’re now lucky to know Ty not only as a shoe guru but as a friend. 

    INTENTIONALLY ______________’s mission is to create a timeless shoe brand that uses quality materials and labor practices to offer a fresh selection of staples for every woman’s closet. They aren’t fast-fashion cheap, but the leather uppers and wood heels, the padded insoles and durable metal zippers have already created a cult following for INTENTIONALLY ______________. They’re beautiful, they last, and they are part of a great brand story that we’re totally rooting for. Most importantly to Sarah and me, these are shoes that we proudly have in our own closets. Shoes that make us look forward to dressing every morning. Shoes worthy of inspiring an entire outfit.

    This is the first brand we’ve committed to in our effort to carry shoe labels that are truer to our personal and corporate values, and we’re so happy that they’re finally available to Hello Holiday customers. My favorites? The Honcho and the Perf heels. I wear them every day. Shoe wardrobe: Complete. 

    Shop INTENTIONALLY ______________ now.

    Beauty Rituals

    Beauty rituals are so important. It’s a gift to be touched by someone who is doing their art. It’s scheduled time to slow down and talk to another person. Or to just be quiet and think to yourself. It’s scheduled time to transform, to emerge looking better or feeling renewed. I believe these things. We take care of our cars, our homes, we clean them and decorate them, and it’s not vain at all to take the same pride in yourself. It needn’t be conventional, typical, feminine, mainstream, anything like that--but whatever you do to remind yourself of your value and beauty is important and absolutely worth taking time for. So, I try to represent that to my daughter, as well as invite her to participate in it.

    Credit to Imagine Uhlenbrock, owner of Just Imagine Nails for this calm and beautiful moment today. 

    Omaha Welcomes Senator Wendy Davis: Inclusivity, Impact, and the Equality Economy

    We at Hello Holiday are so excited to have this opportunity to bring Senator Wendy Davis to speak in Omaha. We're definitely a blue dot in a red state, and we live among a very engaged base of young progressive professionals who are actively invested in the diversity and growth of our city. It’s a very exciting time to live here. Facilitating discussions and events like this one with Senator Davis is an important part of raising consciousness and providing resources for progressive leadership in our community.

    In a state where reproductive rights and gender equality laws require vigilant pursuit, this is an important opportunity to engage our local young professionals, activists, and people in the business community to continue the conversation about equality issues in Nebraska and how these policies affect our local economy. Hope to see you there!

    Tickets on Eventbrite

    Facebook Event

     

    One Thing at a Time 2k16

    Now is when we are buckling down to outline a year’s worth of commitments (or overcommitments), which is surely the basis of my personal aversion to making new year’s resolutions. Resolutions and promises and lists freak me out. Usually as soon as I know of a rule, even if I made it for myself, I want to break it. I also suffer from this extremely rare thing called fear of failure and it causes me to put unrealistic pressure on myself constantly, which of course is a totally unrelatable phenomenon to most other people. I read something recently about how procrastination is often about perfectionism, and that striving toward impossibly high goals doesn’t cause us to work better or smarter, but instead makes us paralyzed to act because we’re so afraid of failing. 

    There is probably nothing wrong with putting pressure on ourselves. We should all want to attain excellence, but the paralysis I mentioned earlier sets in when we choose to set goals that are always beyond our reach. My other downfall that I am vigilant about is that my time, energy, money, etc. limitations sometimes keep me from focusing on doing one thing well at a time. Or, as has happened in the past, I set “wrong” goals that are imposed by others and aren’t necessarily ones I genuinely care about, which makes me more likely to give up and go back into that self-critical headspace that paralyzes me from accomplishing more. 

    One of my mentors, Chris Guillebeau, writes about living a purposeful life and reaching goals by eliminating distractions, busywork, and things that you really just don’t want to do that are just getting in the way of the time you could spend in a more meaningful way—traveling, parenting, helping others, writing, for example. To stop suffering through unnecessary commitments, I always ask myself, “Why should I do this?" "What will happen if I don’t?” It’s cool to give up on things you don’t want to do. It’s fun and freeing to take a lightsaber to a big pile of dead stupid projects you are trying to ignore or shove into the back of your mental closet. The most important lesson I’ve learned from Chris Guillebeau is that freedom is more important than money, which is easy to forget as we fall back into some of our same routines and comfort zones after the self-reflection of the new year. (Chris is a particular favorite role model of mine because he manages his self-expectations so well and has shown me what it looks like to set and achieve high but realistic goals. He’s a NYT best-selling author, he visited every country in the world over the past 10 years, and he’s now finishing up his fourth book. To say the least, I appreciate his influence in my personal cabinet of advisors.)

    My 2016 is going to be full of more of the same things that give me so much consistent pleasure and purpose: Political activism, reproductive rights lobbying, nonprofit advocacy, general bothering of political leaders through meetings and letters and phone calls, hosting events that build community by inspiring difficult conversations or bringing together disparate groups. Drinking shitloads of water. Taking off my makeup and moisturizing every day. Specific focuses of 2016 for me include designing a new line of products and taking a 14-day writing sabbatical in Berlin, which will hopefully contribute to my goal of finishing my next book.  

     

    Do it anyway 2k16
    Disable the comments 2k16
    Rose quartz and serenity 2k16
    Get your money 2k16
    Share the credit 2k16
    Comfortable shoes 2k16
    Girls protecting girls 2k16
    Darker lipstick 2k16
    Water and skincare 2k16
    Think of the children 2k16
    Show up for your friends 2k16
    Protect your space 2k16

     

    It’s true that there will never be a perfect time to get started on a big new goal. But it’s not true that you need to hurry to accomplish everything on your list, or even that you need to do everything on your list at all. So before you begin anything, get your priorities right. Check your motivations. Don’t start things you don’t want to do. It really is going to be a beautiful year—I have a good feeling about this one. We're all a year wiser and a year better. 

    One thing at a time 2k16. Grateful, thank you, more please. 

    Looking Back: 2015, in list form

    After a wild 2014, I expected more adventure and unpredictability in 2015, but the most surprising thing about this year was pretty much that I blinked and the whole thing was nearly over. In immediate retrospect, I feel like I kind of slept on this year. The important thing was that I put a lot of projects into motion and completed several things I started, most of which took a lot of head-down, focused work. Are these things I’m saying from a place of depression to reassure myself that I did not have an unproductive, boring year? Maybe…or maybe it’s also kind of true. 

    In 2015, I found a repetitive, predictable routine of productivity that served me really well by keeping my personal life from distracting me from my work. Of course, in my work there is barely a line between the professional and the personal, but doing more team-based projects and trying to align my foundation toward more intentional future success was easier to accomplish without the distraction of being inside my own head. Though I did it subconsciously, I had to define some boundaries and embrace new habits. But I live for a routine. I am always adapting to myself. Here's where it got me: 

    • I started a 501(c)3
    • I saw Britney Spears in concert in Las Vegas
    • I rode a bike down a gravel road in a bikini to a beautiful open-air restaurant, where I had the best Argentinian steak I've ever eaten
    • I spoke before the Omaha School Board four times about adopting new comprehensive sex education standards in our public schools
    • I stayed in a penthouse hotel room with a complimentary bar (Veuve for breakfast) 
    • I hosted 43 guests in my home through Airbnb
    • A noted old white politician referred to me on Facebook as his "problematic fave" 
    • I had four letters to the editor published
    • I helped paint a beautiful outdoor mural
    • I sat by our unhinged sociopathic Nebraska Governor in coach on a Southwest flight 
    • I went to a secret party at a hidden bar under the S-Bahn in Berlin
    • I designed with Alice two beautiful silk scarves for mass production
    • My company got through the final Skype interview to pitch on Shark Tank, but didn’t end up making the cut for the show
    • I got a spontaneous massage on a beach
    • I ate the best dinner of my life in Las Vegas
    • I saw my daughter walk into her first day of Kindergarten and lived
    • I started drinking coffee
    • I posed for a solid half-dozen nude portraits
    • I spoke at 2 conferences, did 3 magazine interviews, gave 9 talks, moderated one panel and one community discussion, was filmed for 12 TV news stories, did 3 podcast interviews, and was on the cover of one local magazine
    • I think I served on 42069 different committees
    • I celebrated my 29th birthday with a candlelit dinner party at a 30-foot handmade table
    • Hello Holiday started an ongoing event called Omaha Hero Forum, bringing together unique groups to join in conversation with a secret presenter each month
    • I joined the board of Friends of Planned Parenthood
    • I ran into the Pacific Ocean with my best friend in the middle of the night
    • My project design work was featured in two books (one more coming out in 2016!)
    • I celebrated the 99th and final birthday of my great-great-uncle Bill Duane Bush, a WWII veteran
    • I partied all night in Berlin and walked right onto a plane the next morning feeling no pain
    • I was featured in the Product of Public Schools campaign from Nebraska Loves Public Schools
    • I bought my first works of art for my home
    • I saw living genius and hero Angela Davis speak about the U.S. carceral system, where she asked us to consider the intersection of capitalism and punishment in our country
    • I drove across New York in a Camaro convertible
    • I inspired a painting that I found in a downtown gallery called "Alice's Mom" (which now hangs in my living room)
    • I heard my own voice in advertisements for my company on Art Bell’s new radio show, which was a complete bucket list moment
    • I got a massage in a jungle
    • I took my daughter on our annual vacation to Chicago where she walked the entire Art Institute in her pajamas
    • I went to London with our team at Hello Holiday for our first international buying trip

    More things that I am going to be very proud of are coming in 2016--early in the year, too. This year put so many things into motion that are sure to become defining milestones of my life. Looking back is done. Forward, now! 

    For you: Silk Scarves Designed by Me + Alice

    My creative muscles have been demanding some exercise in the past few months so I've been testing a few new design ideas for larger production. One thing I've always been proud of is my silk scarf collection, which grows as I travel--a vintage Pucci scarf from a swap meet in Berlin, a silk Dior polka dot scarf from a thrift shop in rural Iowa, a geometric pastel one picked up in a museum shop in New York. I only like to wear accessories that have a story behind them because when you take inexpensive, small things like that and choose and style them thoughtfully, they can become such meaningful personal signatures. I love how something so superficial can inspire connections that are wonderfully personal.

    Silk scarves are easy to wear, but not as popular as they used to be, right? But why not? I love to wear them around my neck (which is also warm!) and tied in the back, or draped loosely over my shoulders and secured on one side with a cool enamel pin. (We have those, too.) If I'm wearing an outfit that wouldn't be improved by adding a scarf, I often tie one around the handle of my purse or thread it through the hardware on the strap. Natural silk is also a fantastic medium for art because it takes color so well, and the sheer fabric creates these gorgeous muted tones as it moves. It's also relatively inexpensive compared to other statement accessories one could find.

    So these silk scarves are two of the first pieces I've produced as part of some new creative experiments I'm doing. They're 100% silk, ethically manufactured and sourced, and printed by a small community-driven studio based in Canada. I designed the one with the small lips, and the more abstract one was created by my five-year-old daughter, Alice.  They're $50 each and I have very limited quantities. 

    Kiss-Off Scarf, 100% silk, $50

    Alice Elfie Scarf, 100% silk, $50