In a good cause: for science!

I suspect that everyone who reads this blog knows that science is a strong and passionate interest of mine. Science! Because it works! Science! Because it’s built to incorporate new information when new information is available, and to provide tools for making it available! Science! Well. I don’t think you’re the people who need convincing.

But there are people who need convincing, because our president-elect has just been making noise about “nobody knows” whether climate change is real. Oh, sure, nobody except a vast consensus of scientists and a still more vast consensus of scientists whose fields are relevant to it. And the people who listen to them and read their papers and look at data. But other than that, nobody.

It’s a really good time to support science with a public face. Science playing a role in civic affairs. Science trying to shake us all by the shoulders and say “LISTEN UP BUDDY THIS IS SERIOUS.” This is why this week’s charity Union of Concerned Scientists. http://www.ucsusa.org/ Tons of scientists doing tons of work in a democratic society, towards a democratic society. Worth the time and attention. Go. Support. For science.

In a good cause: autism resources

A lot of charities for health variants assume that those health variants are illnesses or disabilities. And a lot of them are. And some of them aren’t. One of my metrics for whether I’m willing to support a group that’s “about” autism is whether they automatically assume that it’s a disease, a disability, a flaw. I’m a non-autistic/neurotypical person, but I have several autistic people dear to my heart, and they’re different from me, not flawed in the way that my balance disorder is a flaw. They process differently than I do. I’m really glad to see the word “neurodiversity” in the world, because I think having different modes of thought, different perspectives, is a positive good, and some of those are about brain wiring, not just philosophy. Sometimes we’re using a metaphor when we say that someone sees the world differently. Sometimes if you’re measuring, for example, discrimination between number of fine lines per inch, it’s really quite literal and you can poke it. And seeing the world in more than one way helps all of us.

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) is one of my favorite resources for this philosophy. With the motto “nothing about us without us,” they form a solid opposition to the kind of rhetoric that treats autistic people as objects, and inconvenient objects at that. Website is http://autisticadvocacy.org/

(I am putting websites in text right now because WordPress ate my link yesterday. Sigh.)

Autism Housing Network definitely inclines toward the portions of the autism spectrum that are more clearly disabilities, or at least are disabilities under our current society. But people with those types of autism do need choices for where and how to live as adults. http://www.autismhousingnetwork.org/ has been recommended to me as a good resource for people struggling with those choices.

I would be glad to hear about other organizations that support neurodiversity in our broader culture, with a clear focus on not treating difference as a problem to be eliminated or solved. Or, as always, any other charities near and dear to your heart can go in the comments section, too.

In a good cause: NoDAPL and other Native Rights

Sometimes the obvious thing is the right thing. The NoDAPL movement–opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline–is something a lot of my friends are thinking about, talking about, wondering how to help with. So it may seem a little obvious. But obvious is sometimes right. And I think that–for example–the difficulties of reservation law enforcement in dealing with white people who commit crimes on the reservation are not necessarily obvious to people who don’t want to think about it. They’re only well-known in certain circles. So: Native rights, justice for Native people both at Standing Rock and elsewhere: generally a good cause.

Let’s start with Native American Rights Fund. They support a broad range of causes–government accountability, preservation of resources, individual rights and justice–with an ongoing umbrella organization that will not only help the people at Standing Rock, they’ll help the people at the next Standing Rock. And try to prevent the next one from happening in the first place.

Last week for Thanksgiving there were several round-up posts about what you can do, if you don’t want to go from site to site. Here’s one. And another. Please remember that if you’re going to go participate in the protests yourself, you want it to be about what the people there need, not about your own spiritual journey. (Actually that’s a good focus for any charitable/volunteer work.)

There are also individual camps taking donations, so you can take your pick: Oceti Sakowin camp; Sacred Stone Camp; Standing Rock Rosebud Camp; Red Warrior Camp. And hey. This pipeline was judged not safe enough to go through the predominantly white areas–that is, not safe enough for my cousins. So why is it safe enough for someone else’s? It isn’t. This pipeline is being built by people with some of the worst oil pipeline leak records in the country. The other question to ask is: what have I done, actively, to be a good neighbor to my Indian/Native American/First Nations neighbors? Because we are long past the point where “I didn’t personally go kick them in the shins” is enough.

In a good cause: going on

I said I was going to make a post about charities each week until the election. And look, the election is over! I took a week to think about it, but I don’t really feel like stopping right now. I don’t really feel like now is a time when I feel less like promoting good causes to which you can donate time and money. So I’m going to keep going with weekly charity posts, because that’s the world we’re living in right now.

(You know what? These charities would still have been a good idea if Hillary Clinton had been elected. There is so much more that needs doing in the world than we will ever get done in one lifetime, even if each of us makes exquisite choices every single day from here on out. When you are disappointed, when you are elated: the work of the world will still need doing.)

So let’s talk about civil rights for Muslims in this country.The biggest Muslim civil liberties group, the one you’ve probably already heard of, is CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. They need non-Muslim support in addition to Muslim support right right now–they have for years. (Other groups are increasingly vulnerable, too. By all means recommend charities in case I don’t have your favorite one lined up for another week. Additional positive groups are always, always welcome in the comments.)

If you prefer to keep your charity work closer to home, keep in mind that your local Muslim cultural centers may be facing various problems in times when the US’s treatment of its Muslim citizens and residents is in the news. In Minneapolis area, there is, for example, the Islamic Center of Minnesota, which provides all sorts of community services (listed on webpage) for local Muslims. This sort of group providing a food shelf and burial services is exactly the sort that get targeted when racists decide they want to do bad things. If you’re able-bodied and able to help with counter-demonstrations, clean-up, etc., find the cultural centers in your area and keep them in mind when you read the news. Inter-faith (or interfaced faith-with-lack-of-faith, why not!) outreach shows that we believe in civil rights for everyone, that we cannot be divided so easily.

Here’s how broken our culture is: when I went to google “Minneapolis Muslim cultural center,” Google tried to autocomplete, “Minneapolis Muslim problems.” And for some reason they didn’t seem to think that “getting kid good ice time” and “finding halal Swedish meatballs” were the Minneapolis Muslim problems in question. Some people would like you to think that Minneapolis is a war zone, with our Somali neighbors trying to force their religion on the rest of us. Nothing could be farther from the truth. That’s fear and ignorance talking, not fact. It’s all very well to say “if there’s a registry for Muslims, I’ll register too!”, but if it’s an immigrant registry, that’s not going to help. CAIR and your local Muslim institutions almost certainly have some very concrete ideas about what will help. We’re all in this together. We always have been.

On preaching to the choir

I want to say some things to you about preaching to the choir.

I’ve heard that expression a lot the last few days. We all know what it stands in for. The choir is your core group of faithful. They show up every week. They know the message by heart. Preaching to the choir means that you’re not reaching anyone new, you’re not changing hearts and minds.

But sometimes.

You look through the choir and you will find some people who are exhausted. Some people who only made it because they gave their word they’d be there. They feel hopeless, lost. Some people are frazzled to a nubbin, and their choir robe is sticking to the syrup they spilled on their shirt at breakfast. Didn’t have time to change it and still get there. They got there. But they need what you have to say just as much as anyone who has never heard it before.

In our lives, we have very few conversion moments. Very few grand revelations. Today is probably not the day for yours, statistically, and there probably won’t be one tomorrow either. But there are a lot of moments when you shift a little. When you get a slightly different angle on something, and as it percolates through your mind, through your actions, you’ll get different angles on more. And one of the things this means is that we’re not lucky enough to help other people to epiphanies very often either. Demanding an epiphany out of everyone, every time is the path to disappointment. Quite a lot of time it’s the small things–the things that you and your choir might not line up on just exactly. Nobody agrees with any other person on everything. But sometimes you can show another person something smart and interesting and compassionate about one more thing.

A choir sings together. That’s a truism. But the most expensive recordings in the world, from the biggest recording conglomerates: if they want the sound of a choir, they don’t record a hundred people singing their parts separately and mix them. Not just because the tracks would be a nightmare. Because it wouldn’t sound the same. If you’ve ever sung with a choir, you know it’s not the same as singing along to a recording of a choir. You’re surrounded by people with the same aim as you, the same goal, and you’re working together to make it happen. Solo performances are powerful, and choirs are powerful, but we need both. And sometimes the choir needs to show up and listen together. Sometimes knowing that they’re hearing it together, surrounded by people with the same aims as they have in at least one area, makes all the difference in the world.

For most people, it’s easier to show up and sing in a choir than to sing a solo in the middle of a public place. And that’s okay. Not everybody has to have the chutzpah–or the talent–to belt out “O Holy Night” in the middle of the subway station. That’s not the shape of everyone’s contributions.

We have to remember, though: the choir is not there in this metaphor to listen. They will listen. But that’s not what makes them a choir. The choir is there to sing. I know this isn’t a home metaphor for all of you, but for those of us who have experienced preaching from the choir loft, we can all think of a time when it went on too long. When each of us–and every face in the congregation–yearned silently for the sweet release of the offertory.

So don’t castigate yourself for preaching to the choir. Just don’t mistake it for the only thing you could possibly do. Make sure you have something to say, bring them together, say it–and sit down, shut up, and give them the chance to sing.

In a good cause: arts organizations

Well, here we are. I said I’d make a post about worthy charities every week until the US election, and–this is it. I’ve enjoyed doing it, actually, and may at some point do another series of charity posts just because I feel like it. Because I am nowhere near out of good charities. Not by a long shot.

Today I wanted to talk about arts organizations. I think pretty much anyone who reads this blog is interested in some form of the arts and is familiar with Patreons and Kickstarters for supporting individual artists directly. And hey, more power to them! Please feel free to link to your own or someone else’s project in the comments. (Really. Please.) But larger arts organizations are important too, for wider community outreach than a single person can do, for structural support, for projects that take infrastructure and are bigger than one artist. So that’s what I’m focusing on with this post.

Many of my examples will be Minnesota-local, but

Let’s start with Juxtaposition Arts. Youth-oriented visual arts center in Minneapolis. They have a lot of great programming across cultural and arts genre lines. Here in the south suburbs in Eagan, we’re trying to get an arts center of our own, and Art Works Eagan is the group doing that. Nor are they resting on their laurels in the meantime; AWE has been hosting events in other local spaces until they get a permanent home.

Within the last week, I’ve been to hear music at the Cedar Cultural Center and at Orchestra Hall, home of the Minnesota Orchestra. Venues like these don’t stay alive on ticket prices alone, or tickets would be too expensive for the community. They also rely heavily on volunteers for various duties around the venue–a great opportunity if what you have to give is time and enthusiasm rather than cash.

I’ve also just made my first visit to The Museum of Russian Art, and I’ve been a member of the American Swedish Institute and Minneapolis Institute of Art for awhile now. These museums have a variety of great programming–again, spanning cultures and media–and serve as community focal points.

If you don’t know what the equivalents are in your community, why not find out? You don’t have to be a big city to have theater groups, art groups, music groups that need support. If you look at a program, they’ll start listing names of donors sometimes at the $50 level or below–which just shows you how much these donations matter. And when a $50 donation matters and you don’t have $50, an evening of volunteer work for which they don’t have to pay $50 also matters. Putting the word out that these groups are out there and talking about their various exhibits and productions and projects also matters. We all need the solace of art on our hardest days as well as the joy of art on our brightest ones.

In a Good Cause: Hope for Haiti

One of the most frustrating things about the way the American news cycle has devolved into over a year of all-presidential-election all-the-time is that events in the wider world get downplayed, ignored, or at best recast as opportunities for US Presidential candidates to make a gaffe (or, I suppose, dodge one).

Meanwhile, Hurricane Matthew is yet another blow to the country of Haiti, which has already suffered under natural disasters and shoddy international policy from the rest of the world. Disaster porn gets thirty seconds on one night of the evening news, and then we go back to discussing our own horse race. The people of Haiti deserve better.

Hope for Haiti is working to provide support as Haitians develop sustainable economic and social communities. Clean water, a cause close to my heart, is one of their primary areas of endeavor, but they also work in other infrastructure areas, health care, education, and more.

In a Good Cause: Alliance for the Great Lakes

Every week between now and the election–thankfully not that many weeks left–I’m posting about a charity. This week’s is Alliance for the Great Lakes. (WordPress has been weird about dropping my links when I publish posts, so I’m going to write out the URL here even though it’s awkward: https://greatlakes.org.)

Those of you who know me know what a major spot Lake Superior has in my heart, but they’re all pretty great. (It says so right in the name!) And they’re also really significant for the water health of North America. Alliance for the Great Lakes scores very high on all the charity raters for how much of their money goes to their mission instead of overhead and gladhanding. The eastern Great Lakes are a stellar example of a place where making an effort to clean up our act as a species has made a significant difference in my lifetime, and we want to keep Lake Superior awesome rather than letting it get awful and having to clean it back up again. Safe swimming in Lake Michigan for fish and nieces! Support our Great Lakes!

In a Good Cause: 360 Communities

Remember last week, when I said I was going to post weekly about charities between now and the election? Yep, that was last week.

This week’s charity is 360 Communities, formerly known as the Community Action Council. They have multiple sites in the south Minneapolis metro, providing shelters for people who are fleeing domestic violence, food shelves, school success programs, and assistance toward self-sufficiency. They also run a hotline and assistance for those who have been sexually assaulted. They work toward affordable, available, high quality child care. Basically the more you learn about this group, the more good stuff you’ll find they’re doing.

They are local to me. But there are groups trying to do similar work local to you. If you live in an area with food shelves and shelters, they always, always need support–volunteers as well as donations. And if you live in an area without those institutions, I guarantee that there are other people in your broader community looking around to say, “this is wrong, we need these resources, what can we do in the meantime?” “Domestic violence shelters in [your area]” will give you a first pass search on what’s out there. Same deal for “food shelves in [your area].”

One of the things I really like about 360 Communities is that they’re trying to address people’s whole set of needs, not just one piece or another piece. But getting at the pieces is still useful when you can do it. Better some than none.