slubs in the city

Slub (adj): Maverick; unorthodox; independent in behavior or thought.


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what it means to be America

This past Monday, in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the slubs paid homage to our academic foundations. First, we sat down to watch Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, given in the formidable shadow of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of over 200,000 marchers on August 28th, 1963.

If you have never heard a recording of Dr. King giving this speech himself, it’s entirely worth the 17 minutes to experience. He was a true wordsmith, a master orator, and the way he draws listeners in to the hypothetical and idealistic world of his dreams is an art form. The imagery used in this speech is legendary. His words powerfully unfurl themselves in waves over the crowd and they react in turn, as you will too.

Notice how Dr. King repeats key phrases at the beginning of the sentences of select paragraphs in his speech. He does this to over-emphasize his point, in effect stirring up the audience and clearly driving his message home. The slubs would like to point out that this rhetorical technique is known as anaphora.

After we had spent some time discussing the legacy of Dr. King’s dream and the relevancy it holds for America today, we moved on to watch President Obama’s 2008 election victory speech. This speech, as well, is rich with imagery. Particularly powerful is President Obama’s story of Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106 year-old American whose lifetime has witnessed the most drastic events of the 20th century. His speech is a true lesson in election-time patriotism.

As a Political Science major I recognize the craftsmanship in both of these pieces. Dr. King and President Obama take full advantage of our uniquely American brand of civil religion, infusing time-honored messages of American patriotism with (Christian) religious undertones to create a political-spiritual cocktail of words. (To conceptualize American civil religion, examine the text of nearly any speech given by George Bush directly following September 11th – he portrays America as a city on a hill, a super-unique nation where the word “democracy” evokes the same type of spiritual reverence as “righteousness”.) Each section of these two speeches acts as a subconscious cue for the audience to respond appropriately. Based on the textual meaning of a phrase or the tone of the orator’s voice, each listener knows what he or she is supposed to feel – elation, approval, hope, victory, perseverance, thoughtfulness, joy. Dr. King and President Obama guide their audiences through a range of emotional reactions, and by the end of their speeches we’ve all experienced the intangible influence of their words.

As citizens, though, my roommates and I can appreciate the social value of Dr. King’s and President Obama’s message. Each speaks of a nation of freedom and responsibility, where all inhabitants have a right and an obligation to change their worlds to achieve a holistically “better” standard. They extol the virtues of the individual, but they are careful to remind us that our strength as a nation lies in our collective ability to believe in the potential of America. Can Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech still resonate as powerfully today as it did 50 years ago? Perhaps not in the same sense as it did during the Civil Rights Movement, but the idea that we can and must achieve the social vision outlined in the Declaration of Independence is the undercurrent which directs nearly every conversation in our public government arenas. History will look on these two speeches as snapshots of our citizenry’s particular and endearing brand of social capital.

We have so many blessings as Americans, not the least of which is the right to access our own governmental institutions (though this right is not currently extended to every individual living on our soil). Dr. King and President Obama reminded Kat, Anna, Nora and I of this on Monday, and for that we are grateful.

“…Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled…we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red and blue states; we are and always will be the United States of America.” – President Barack Obama, 2008

con amor,

shan

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why I choose to serve: living in solidarity

“Volunteerism benefits both the society at large and the individual volunteer by strengthening trust, solidarity, and reciprocity among citizens, and by purposefully creating opportunities for participation.” -UN State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, 2011

I am over four months in to my year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA. For those of you who do not know, AmeriCorps is like the domestic Peace Corps. Its three different branches work to fight illiteracy, provide disaster relief, improve health services, manage after-school programs, aid community development, resettle refugees, and strengthen volunteerism in nonprofit and government agencies across America. VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), one of the three branches, strives to fight poverty by increasing organizational capacity through sustainable efforts. I want to take some time, as we navigate our way through the holiday season, to reflect on my experience so far and why I choose to serve.

Living at the poverty line

As an AmeriCorps*VISTA, my stipend is calculated so that I live at 105% of the poverty line. I qualify for and use food assistance. I have a scholarship to the YWCA. I can get discounts to local attractions ($1 for the science museum!).

The intention of this small stipend is to allow us to live in solidarity with the community we serve. The idea is that we will come to better understand the difficulties of living in poverty, so that we can better empathize and better serve low-income communities.

Goodbye lattes…

Practically, this means that I have had to be more conscious of where I spend my money. I have to budget so that I have enough gas money to make it across the Cities and back for work. I have stopped frequenting coffee shops and Banana Republic.  I have been more frugal as I begin Christmas shopping. But, I must stop and ask myself…is this poverty?

Applying for food assistance at Hennepin County may be the strongest glimpse at what living below the poverty line is like, although I would still argue I had an unique experience. Hennepin County is a large, crowded, and confusing building. When a person goes to apply for assistance of any kind, they can expect for it to take upwards of two hours. Luckily, I had the flexibility to spend that much time there. Can you imagine doing it while employed, with children, and lacking access to transportation?

Hennepin County Social Services Building. It is huge, crowded, and confusing.

Laura and I in our business casual clothing stood out like sore thumbs. We received a lot of “why are you here” looks. My caseworker talked to me like a peer, not a client. She told me about her bad day and how they were understaffed, but overworked. I haven’t had a problem with my EBT card or account yet.

While it went smoothly for me, for my roommates and friends it was often times a struggle. We have reflected on the fact that we all had trouble filling out the application and navigating the bureaucracy… and we are college-educated, native English speakers (see how we are constantly surrounded by our privilege?). And this is just a small glimpse into what it is like to live below the poverty line.

Living in solidarity

I am not trying to undermine what AmeriCorps is trying to do. Honestly, I think living at the poverty line is a great experience. I believe it is so important to understand and try to relate to the population I work with.  But, again, do I really live in poverty? Probably not, because poverty is not simply a lack of money. It is a lack of opportunities. A lack of access to the most basic things like healthcare, childcare, jobs, affordable housing, networks… but I have access to those services. I have my parents, who have graciously lent me their car, kept me on their cellphone and insurance plan, given me gifts in the kindest way possible, and always been there for me in a pinch. I have an incredible network of St. Olaf alums. I have a college education. I have met fantastic professionals in the nonprofit field. I have opportunities. I know my situation is temporary.

Yes, let’s live in solidarity. But not a solidarity based on what we earn. Not a solidarity based on the color of skin. Not a solidarity based upon our religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, native tongue, etc. Living in solidarity is so much deeper than that. Instead, let us live in solidarity based on our common humanity. An acknowledgement that we all deserve access to basic needs and beyond. That by working together we can all thrive. This is why I choose to serve.

I want to leave you with a quote for reflection that was introduced to me by one of my favorite college professors, Tom Williamson. This is a quote that really encapsulates how I feel about service and how I strive to serve others. I would love to hear our readers’ comments.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland, 1970s (Lilla Watson)

Thanks for reading. -Kat


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Brain Quest

Data. Information. Facts. Trivia. Learning. I love them all.

I was the child who read the encyclopedia. Played trivia games. Watched Jeopardy. Read every book I could get my hands on. Once, I wrote a report on the Bubonic Plague in 4th grade. For fun.

This, in part, was due to my parents. When all of the other children my age went to amusement parks for vacation, we went to museums. This is probably because of my mom’s fear of rides and my dad’s hatred of crowds, but also because of their passion to make sure that Chris (my younger brother) and I loved to learn. They definitely succeeded. (Especially with Chris. He is a music and math major, who is going pre-med. Yes. Figure that one out)

My favorite places to go when I was little: Living History Farms and the Iowa Historical Society. When we would go on vacation, I would read all the guide books, learn how geographical features were formed, research all of the animals we would see (remember those books that you could fill with animal fact sheets? Chris and I were obsessed.) I also loved going to the zoo and learning about the animals. My parents scoffed at the families calling the lions, tigers, etc. “big kitties”; that wasn’t allowed in our house. They were Bengal tigers or snow leopards.

In the car we did not watch movies. We read books (or listened to books on tape like Matilda and Harry Potter). Played the “alphabet game” (First you choose a category:animals; The first person says the name of an animal: Jaguar; the second person must then come up with an animal whose name begins with the last letter of the previous word: Rhodesian Ridgeback, then Kangaroo, then Orangutan, etc….endlessly entertaining!). Played Brain Quest, which is possibly the greatest children’s game ever! Just tons of random facts. Questions were on the front, answers on the back. YES.

Now, from all this intentional learning I have gained two very important things. Number one: a lot of useless, although intriguing, information (I know more about the Battle of Little Round Top than strictly necessary). Number two: an obsession for gathering facts.

At work, we keep track of our “strengths.” My top strength is “input.” Now to be honest, before taking the strengths finder, I was a bit skeptical. I mean, one of those “career-path-finder-what-should-I-do-with-my-life” tests told me that I should be a plumber. Not something I would excel at; once my dad drove over an hour to fix my toilet (in two minutes. Thanks, Daddy!). However, I was surprised at how well my strengths described me.

This is how input is described: “People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. They like to collect and archive all kinds of information.” Truth. I collect data like its my job (it’s not). As a point of clarification however: Data entry=awful. Hours on wikipedia=awesome.

Now, what was the point of this entry?…Oh! Yes. Transitioning into a work atmosphere from an academic atmosphere has been an interesting journey for me. In school, spending hours researching in the good old reference room was useful. Even if I didn’t include every bit of information that I found, I always thought that the background information informed my paper. But work. I don’t work in a job where research is a primary focus (although I do get to do some and our organization is always doing cutting edge research on volunteerism!). I don’t spend all day collecting information; I spend a lot more time talking to people, thinking about ways to expand membership, marketing on social media sites, advertising for volunteer positions, etc. I do like people, too :).

But, somehow, I always find ways to collect data. I wrote an article for our newsletter. It was one page long and included interviews with six people. I had to do research for it. I did more than necessary. 4 hours of unnecessary. Well, I did end up using three very great pieces of data and finding out some fantastic things about AmeriCorps.

Also, Twitter. Have you ever been on Twitter? It is like a goldmine of interesting articles and facts and names and dates. I have to update our Twitter page and look for “retweets.” Woof. This is just a productivity stopper… but has lead to some great and informative finds!

I do want to say a few things. First of all, I LOVE my job. This is not an exaggeration. I mean, I get to spend all day focusing on volunteerism. I LOVE volunteerism. I love the work we do. I believe in the mission of our organization and the innovative knowledge we produce. And the other part of my job? I get to work with kids. YES. Secondly, I do get things done at work, mostly because I am pretty darn good at multitasking. Why yes, I can write a report on my research findings, reply to emails from volunteers, brainstorm ideas for fundraising, and listen to Ira Glass at the same time.

So. Surviving in the real world. Away from text books and lectures, late night studying and academic discussion, I find myself a little lost. A little lonely for my data. But I’m learning to adapt. I am learning to apply my data mining techniques at work, as I sift through resumes of potential interns, finish up research that I conducted, and continue to learn more each day about volunteerism. I am learning to take advantage of educational opportunities within my job and outside of work (I went to two trainings last week!). I will forever be a data forager and hoarder. I like that.

My ultimate brain quest: collect as much data, information, and ideas as possible and use my archived facts to create lasting, effectual, and just social change. Probably through volunteerism.

Much slub love,

Kat


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our first drive is the drive to actually belong.

For a bit of a pick-me-up after the Republican nominee debate this past Monday, Kat showed us this youtube video:

There are so many cool things about this guy.

  1. He can draw mega fast and his pictures of people and animals are positively adorable. Especially the drawing of the elephant, dolphin and dog. Gaaaah.
  2. He uses the word “shibboleth”. I had no idea what the heck that meant, but now I’m going to use it every single day for the rest of my life. And look how convenient! Miriam Webster provided me with a list of words that rhyme with shibboleth: Crystal meth. Isopleth. Megadeath. Morning breath. Oh, the ways in which my vernacular is expanding…
  3. THIS: Thought bubble at 1:13 – The scientist who wanders into the Italian lab says, “I’m hungry. Mmm…nuts.” After he breaks the nut open, the confused monkey says, “What’s he doing? Eating the hard things!” Finally, the baffled scientist says to the MRI, “Stupid machine. Are you sick?” and the MRI responds, “It’s not me, although the monkey doesn’t taste that nice!”
  4. ALSO: 4:51 – the first angel says, “Have you seen death? Big fella, skull, wears a lot of black…” and the other angel responds, “Mmm…can’t say I have. His name doesn’t ring any bells!”
  5. I think Jeremy Rifkin draws himself in some of the scenes, and if his caricature is true to life, then he looks just like my study abroad leader Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb. So cute. So wonderful.
  6. He speaks complete truth: “It’s very tough being alive on this planet, whether you’re a human being or a fox navigating the forest.”
  7. He brings up some incredibly interesting points about human nature and our capacity to interact with and understand each other on a basic, empathic level. Some of my personal favorite quotes:

“We are actually softwired not for aggression, and violence, and self-interest, and utilitarianism – we are actually softwired for sociability, attachment…affection, companionship…the first drive is the drive to actually belong. It’s an empathic drive.”

“Empathy is grounded in the acknowledgment of death and the celebration of life, and rooting for each other to flourish and be. It’s based on our frailties and our imperfections.”

Every day, we reveal our empathy for one another. Story: Thrivent’s Minneapolis headquarters is on the corner of 4th Ave and 7th St in downtown, right across the street from the Hennepin County Government Center. The Occupy MN movement has been stationed right in front of the Government Center, and hence right across the street from Thrivent, for the past two weeks. Though I see occupiers rustle in their sleeping bags and tout signs around the Plaza every day, I know little more about the actual movement than what I’ve been reading on their blog. Still, the messages they post echo enough universal philosophy that I can understand the spirit of the protest, if not the exact mission. At its foundation, the Occupation is about rejecting the secondary drives that Rifkin speaks of in his video: narcissism, aggression, selfishness. Nora, Laura, Kat, Anna and I resonate with those concepts; you need only look at the work each of us is completing during this year for proof. The five of us believe that it is much easier to feel another’s joy and share another’s sorrow than to assume you are unconnected to the lives of others.

On October 17th, one of the Minnesota occupiers posted the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City on their blog. The first sentence of that declaration is:

“As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together.”

I think Jeremy Rifkin would approve of that statement.

I’ll leave you with one last parting quote from the video:

“6.8 billion people at various stages of consciousness – theological, ideological, psychological, dramaturgical – we’re all fighting with each other with different ideas about the world. And, well, guess what? We all came from two people…we could have come from many. But the point is, we have to begin thinking as an extended family. We have to broaden our sense of identity. We don’t lose the old identities of nationhood, and our religious identities, and even our blood ties. But we extend our identities so we can think of the human race as our fellow sojourners.”

con amor,

shan


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I drive seven minutes.

I drive 7 minutes on Monday nights to a homeless shelter to volunteer. Just 7 minutes.

A delicious co-op in our neighborhood. Appropriately named.

Now, the slubs live in the Wedge, an area in Uptown. We are surrounded by young urban professionals (yuppies), a variety of hipsters, a number of delicious restaurants and bars, and beautiful lakes. Homelessness and poverty have a clever way of disguising themselves in our neighborhood. But it exists. I drive seven minutes and have a concentrated view of how Minneapolis has been affected by homelessness.

This isn’t a post about how privileged I am and how blessed I feel (although I do). This isn’t a post about guilt or feeling bad. Instead, this post is intended for you to think about two topics close to my heart: volunteering and housing. (Also, sorr’ about the length. This is a looong post)

I work at an organization this year whose mission is, “to inspire excellence in the field of volunteerism to impact communities,” especially through the development of volunteer leaders. We truly believe that volunteers have the power to inspire change in their communities and work to foster that in Minnesota.  We are especially encouraged by the fact that the Twin Cities Metro is ranked number one in volunteerism for large metro areas and Minnesota is the third most volunteering state.

When we talk about marketing volunteer roles, we always talk about the benefit to our volunteers. What will they be getting out of volunteering with a certain organization. Is it a resume builder? Does it make them feel good? Are they able to utilize certain skills they have? What impact will they have on clients? I believe all of these reasons are great reasons to volunteer. Personally, I have volunteered for all of those reasons. But the number one reason I believe in volunteerism and reason I volunteer is the ability of volunteerism to foster and build community.

Like most people, I tend to only socially interact with people like me, almost exactly like me. Upper-middle class, usually white, college educated, socially liberal, etc. (oh yeah…and mostly women, but that may be because I work in nonprofits…). Volunteering is a great opportunity to get to know people that are part of my community but that I don’t interact with on a daily basis. It makes me feel connected to my community, and thus responsible for my community.

I drive seven minutes to a shelter in my community to volunteer. The shelter serves mostly men, although there is a small women’s wing, with emergency shelter for up to 28 days (90 days if residents choose to meet regularly with a case worker). It provides rooms for 2-4 men or women, a luxury in the world of homeless shelters, where many times shelter is cots or mats, hundreds at a time, on the floor. Like most emergency shelters, it is only open at night (doors open at 6 p.m. and men leave by 7 a.m.). We provide meals and according to the residents we have the best food in town thanks to some wonderful church and community volunteers, as well as activities, from job club to laughter yoga. We also provide toiletries, medical help, and more.

So you might be thinking, what do the men and women do during the day? Actually, many work during the day. Yes, that’s right, many homeless men and women work (Wilder Foundation reported that in 2009, upwards of 20% had a least a part-time job in Minnesota; with the tough economy this number has fallen a bit, down from 40% in 2000). For those who do not have jobs finding a place to go may be more difficult. During the winter if the temperature drops below 0 degrees or there is a major blizzard the shelter will stay open all day. Catholic Charities, down the street, provides day shelter. Many men actually choose to spend the day in the library as well: warmth, free shelter, and something to do. However, none of these options are open on Sundays…

Why homelessness occurs is a complicated question to answer. It disproportionately affects African-Americans (41 percent of homeless people are African-American; 4 percent of Minnesotans are African-American). 26 percent of homeless adults in 2008 had not completed high school. 65 percent have recently left correctional facilities. 55 percent have been diagnosed with a significant mental health problem. 46 percent have a chronic health condition. 33 percent report staying in an abusive relationship because they had no where else to live. In 2009, 40 percent reported job loss as the reason for loss of housing. 19 percent have served in the U.S. Military. But I want to stress the structural aspect of homelessness. Systems, not people, create and perpetuate homelessness. Epidemics are rarely individuals’ problems.

I volunteer because I believe that everyone deserves a home, a roof over their head, a house, shelter, whatever you want to call it. Safe and stable housing is essential to leading a happy, fulfilling, and dignified life. Volunteering reveals the obligation we have to one another (Appiah, anyone?). I feel connected to the wonderful people I work with in the shelter and I want to work to make sure that no one has to suffer the indignity of not having shelter.

And we should feel connected to the homeless, the marginalized, etc., because our decisions affect their livelihood, and theirs, ours. I don’t want to make this political because I believe that fighting poverty should not be a partisan issue. It should be about fostering relationships with people because they need a little extra help right now, and there is no shame in that. Sadly, however, the government must look to making budget cuts, and often these cuts affect social services and organizations that serve low-income people. Not including these homeless men and women in our economy and society means we are missing out on the talents and skills they have to offer. Your vote matters. It costs us (as individuals) more to have uninsured individuals go into the emergency room, than to provide them with health care (read T.R. Reid’s book, The Healing of America). We should want these people to lead lives that include housing, healthcare, education, and jobs because it will make our community better.

I drive seven minutes to commune and connect with people who deserve more than temporary shelter. And above all, they deserve a home and community that welcomes and supports them. Volunteer. We can make that change.

With hope,

Kat

Check out some great places to volunteer that the slubs have connections with (also Give to the Max Day is coming up November 16 and I am sure any of the organizations would also appreciate financial support!) For more general volunteering information visit handsontwincities.org or volunteermatch.org.

Northside Achievement Zone

Urban Homeworks

360 Journalism

Catholic Charities

Girl Scouts

MAVA (Special Plug: MAVA is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! Consider giving 10 dollars to support the amazing work MAVA is doing to keep Minnesota on the cutting edge of volunteerism!)

Junior Achievement

Our Saviour’s Housing

The Crisis Nursery

Dakota Woodlands

Ruth’s House