Airing my dirty laundry as I try on new clothes

Ivy HestUncategorized

Hi folks!

Wow, it’s been quite some time.  And in that time, I’ve completed the Anne Braden Anti-Racist Training Program, joined the Coordinating Committee for our local chapter of  Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), and started a new job as the Lead Organizer with People Acting in Community Together (PACT), a PICO federation.  I’m pretty happy about where new paths have taken me, and after 5 months into this job, I’m hoping I can get back into posting here with some regularity.

In my role at PACT, I have the amazing opportunity and privilege to support and train the 3 other full time organizers and 2 part-time ones.  I get to do this through meeting one-on-one weekly where we talk about the work, troubleshoot issues, and have a relevant topic that we train on.  I also get two hours a week in Staff Development to train, invite, or support an organizer taking the lead in teaching all the staff about a certain skill or aspect of the work.  (Other responsibilities include overseeing all of our campaigns, overseeing a leadership development curriculum for all of our leader base, and doing some organizing myself. Seriously, if I made a list of exactly what I wanted in a job, this is it.)  It takes a level of confidence in myself that I don’t always have, but with our entire staff each having organized for a little over a year or less, I need to do things like invite staff to shadow meetings I lead that I know will be terrible so that they can learn from me. It’s been weird.

Anyway, I remembered throughout this process that I talk about some of the challenges the organizers are facing, skills they’re trying to build on, and things out of their control through this blog for a year (if you pretend like I didn’t basically ignore this blog for half of it).   Topics I’ve written about here inspire me to do trainings for staff dev, or when I’m trying to find the words to explain how I think about a skill, I remember that a post I wrote actually already does those teachings for me.  So I’ve shared a few of them (namely How to lead an effective decision-making meeting, Earl’s guide to leadership development, and the Underpants Gnomes), proud to share that I’ve been thinking about these issues for a while now.

So then I got nervous– what exactly did I write here?  Is it right?  If my main job is to help these organizers learn the job, do I want them learning this?Read More

Questions I’ve Been Not Answering

Ivy HestReal Talk, Theory

(About 2.5 minutes to read, and a lifetime to answer)

Some of you know I began the Anne Braden Anti-Racist Training Program through the Catalyst Project since the beginning of February. I’m very excited to share with you what I’ve been thinking about and learning about what it means to be a radical, anti-racist organizer, whenever I have free time to reflect on it. For now, I’ve been busy doing the readings for the program and volunteering at Young Workers United, a group that supports minimum wage workers in wage theft and workplace rights. It’s taken up a lot of my actual time, but has also triggered a bunch of big-picture questions that have occupied my headspace to the point that I tried to use toothpaste as shampoo today.

I’m sharing some of those questions here. I want to know your thoughts- “answers” (if there really are any) to these questions or other big-picture questions you’ve been thinking about. Please share your thoughts in the comments, and try not to use too much toothpaste for your hair care needs. It’s not as effective as it may seem in the moment. Read More

Time for some feedback!

Ivy HestUncategorized

Hello lovely folks!

As you may have noticed, things have slowed down a little bit.  I’ll be honest, I really love writing posts, but it’s been hard to get back into it after vacation!  I’ve felt this way with organizing, and well, most things.  If I do it regularly, I enjoy it and am happy.  Skip a little, and just thinking of it is exhausting.  But reflection is one of the most important stages of organizing, and I figured the lull would be a great opportunity to hear from you.

So I’d love to get your feedback on the blog!  I know a bunch of you are lurkers, reading but not commenting.  Now I’m asking you: PLEASE, let me know how this blog is doing and what you and others are interested in!
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Is the personal political?

Ivy HestSkills and Principles, Theory, Uncategorized

(About 8.5 minutes to read)

This past Wednesday I shared a deeply personal story about my body, my feelings about my body, and how it impacted the way I interacted with others.   It was published in my friend’s sex, dating, and relationship column, The Debrief, on

Here are the thoughts that went through my head throughout this process:

  1. It’s 3am and I can’t sleep.  I’ll just want to write this story for myself, as a way to make peace with it. 
  2. Ok, I want to share it with my partner, so he knows how I relate to this experience.
  3. I guess I should share it with my friends who were there for me when this all happened.  Maybe they have more insight for me.
  4. Maybe I should share this with my super body-positive friends and see if they have any similar articles they can point me to about others who have experienced something similar.
    High school me.  Check out the ginormo boobs, and the resulting t-shirt-turned-crop top.

    High school me. Check out the ginormo boobs, and the resulting t-shirt-turned-crop top.

  5. I want to share this with other people.  Only women though.  It’d be weird if I shared this story with men, it might make them and me uncomfortable.  Do I really want guys I’ve known in my life knowing about the history of my breasts?  I think I’m safe only sharing this with women.
  6. Men need to hear this story.
  7. Ok, fine.  I’ll share it with the internet.  And old Jewish grandmothers.
  8. Do I put my name to it?  It should be anonymous, so it doesn’t bite me in the ass later.
  9. How is this going to bite me later?  It’s my story and my history.  Future employers will…what? Reject me because I had plastic surgery when I was 17?  If that’s a thing, I don’t want to work there.
  10. If I put my name to this, everyone will know.  The story won’t be mine to share selectively, it’ll be there for everyone.
  11. If I leave my name off, it’ll still be helpful, but won’t make the statement I want- that I’m not afraid of it anymore.  That I don’t want it to be anonymous.  It shouldn’t have to be.
  12. I’ve turned it in.  This article can’t be unseen.
  13. I’ll just let it sit there on the internet.  I won’t promote it or anything.
  14. Think of the hilarious status messages I could post along with the article!  Oh, I’m so excited!
  15. What did I just do?
  16. I totally just did that.

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On Allyship and Action

Ivy HestHow-To, Individual Sustainability, Real Talk, Skills and Principles

Millions March Oakland on 12/12/14

Millions March Oakland on 12/12/14

(About 5.5 minutes to read, plus some great posts)

On Saturday, an historic (ugh I always hated that grammar thing) event happened across the country as thousands joined marches for the Millions March .  Seeing that kind of mass action was both upsetting and inspiring.  I attended the march in Oakland, first with the organized march and then later with a protest of a different nature- with helicopters fixating their search lights overhead as they issued an “unlawful assembly” order from above.  But this post isn’t about that.

Part of the protest had a message directed specifically at white people:  Don’t take a bullhorn- let us lead the chants.  Make sure people of color are leading the march.  Lead the press to people of color.  Don’t change the narrative to All Lives Matter.  Don’t talk to us about how you can’t breathe.  Don’t put your hands up- you don’t know what it’s like to live in that kind of regular fear.  Instead, follow our lead and support us.  We need you.

As we were marching, the group I was around fell silent.  I was surrounded by mostly white people, who were not chanting or shouting.  We all were just marching, holding our signs.  I felt a little panicked— I came here to DO something, to add my voice to the movement.  I wanted to be respectful of the organizers’ wishes and not lead the group in chant.  But it felt to me like we were all waiting for someone of color to come over to us and start a chant we could all follow.Read More

4 Things I’ve Learned from Ella Fitzgerald

Ivy HestSkills and Principles, Theory

(About 3:30 minutes to Read, plus some awesome music)

I’m a jazz singer.  Ok, maybe I just sing jazz.  I don’t know at what point I can actually reverse the order of the words.  But after years of singing other kinds of genres (and specializing mostly in all things 90’s pop), I’ve landed on Jazz, and I’m pretty happy about it.  I like to think that I specialize in Vocalese (see the video below for one of my favorites- the real vocalese starts at 1:44, but the whole thing gives me chills)  and Improv singing.

Improvising terrifies me.  It makes me want to pee my pants.  And I love it.

The similarities between improv singing and the skills we want leaders to have are striking to me.   Plus it gives me an excuse to add a lot of music to this post.  And while I cringe a bit to imply that leadership development is improvisational (no, the metaphor isn’t perfect), the skills and mindset required to be a strategic leader ring true.Read More

Some of My Best Friends are Black Organizers!

Ivy HestReal Talk, Skills and Principles, Strategy, Supervising and Mentoring

(About 5.5 minutes to read)

I missed the opportunity to go to Wisconsin a few years back, to organize protesters against crippling legislation that would disable unions; I also never had much time to participate in Occupy protests, which were flourishing in Boston.  I felt (and feel) like we are in a particular moment in history where society is getting pushed to the edge.  And maybe, once we’ve really had enough, we’ll all be ready to finally fight back and change a system that’s been oppressive and abusive for years.  And I hope and believe that we’re approaching that time.  But I was just too busy organizing at my place of employment, fighting different, important battles to get involved with other movements at those moments.  And I sometimes feel regret that I missed out on these important, historic moments where the anger is bubbling to the point of bursting, and our society gets up the courage to fight back.

So when the protests began in Ferguson, MO over the shooting of Michael Brown, I too felt anger, rage, and sadness.  I wanted to do something about the injustice- I tried to find out if I could make my way to Ferguson and help organize the community out there.  But friends and organizers alike gave me the same answer: “We don’t need white organizers working in the black community for this.  We appreciate your intentions, but we need people from our own communities out there.”  And they are right.  It’s not that any help is good help.  It’s that strategic, thoughtfully used help is how we’ll win this.  And I’m just not going to be as effective as someone from the community being directly impacted.

I’m white.  I’m so white I might even be translucent in some light.  I grew up with all kinds of privileges and within certain communities that it’s impossible for me to fully understand the challenges and struggles of being a person of color in our society.  And though I have had many experiences that help me relate personally to low-income communities from a financial point of view (so fighting for fair wages, tenant rights, and welfare benefits is not a far stretch for me), I will never not be white, and will never experience for myself what it’s like to be targeted for not being white.

And yet, the only communities I’ve organized in have been communities of color.  I feel comfortable in these communities, and have had some success organizing in them.  I believe that part of my success is in my willingness to be open to and be called out on my privileges and ways I may unintentionally express those privileges.  But I also believe that any good organizer understands the difference in the power of organizing between someone who is “other” and someone who is directly impacted by the issues we’re fighting for.  And while being “other” does afford some benefits (presumed trust, credentials, and safety, to name a few), it’s just not the same.Read More

My Name is Not Saul Alinsky, and Neither is Yours.

Ivy HestIndividual Sustainability, Supervising and Mentoring

At my first meeting in my new job a few years back, I put an agenda on the white board.  I asked if anyone had anything to add, but all I got were eye rolls.  Then I had us set ground rules: we start and end on time, we respect each other, etc.  When this painful meeting was over, one member came over to me.  “That’s not how the last organizer did it,” she said.

A few months later, after I was less nervous and learned how to work with the group a bit more, we had another meeting, and I solicited peoples’ ideas for what they thought would make meetings more engaging.  Another member raised their hand.  “That’s not what how the last organizer did it.”

You're doing it wrongEventually, I asked them if they trusted me to try things out, even if they were different from what the last organizer did.  Their answer was, “Of course we trust you, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  Everything worked fine with the last organizer.  So just do it her way.  Why does it matter?”

I trained myself to do things exactly how the last organizer did it.  I would even talk to the last organizer and find out how she did certain things so that I spared myself the torment of being told I was doing it wrong.  And this went on for a few years.  I was the replacement for who they had before, and while I had my own personality, skills, and strengths, the last organizer was extremely effective and I started to justify to myself that there was no need to rock the boat.  If things had worked with her, transition is hard enough and I should just do what she did.

I started to get bored and drained.  I would have challenging, thought provoking conversations with other organizers about how to deal with issues or take on a campaign.  When I would try them out on the members, they would role their eyes or otherwise not engage in the new activity.  My conversations with my colleagues simply became thought experiments, and nothing more. The work was fun and engaging, but I felt like I just wasn’t living up to the kind of standards the previous organizer had created. 

I started to feel like I was a bad organizer.  Where were my crazy ideas coming from, if they were so off base from what everyone’s done in the past?  Why couldn’t I leave well enough alone?  And why wasn’t I performing the tasks the last organizer had performed as well when I was doing it her way?  I was practically being spoon-fed how to work with these people, and still I was struggling.  Since I couldn’t be as good as the last organizer, was I even hurting the organization by trying my own things out?Read More

How to Get a Bunch of 80-Year-Olds Arrested

Ivy HestHow-To, Skills and Principles, Strategy

“Let’s occupy the Governor’s office!”


“Yeah!  Let’s do it!”

“What?  No!”

The public transit authority in Boston had decided to increase prices for transportation for seniors and people with disabilities by 100%, and in some cases 150% by July 1st.  Members had been mobilizing and organizing for almost a year, without any response from the public transit Board.  We knew it was time to take things to the next level, and were discussing what our next steps would be.

Me: “We are NOT occupying the Governor’s office.”

Cheryl: “This is a grassroots organization.  You’re supposed to listen to us!”

There was some chatter and discussion of other ideas.  But Cheryl went back to occupying the Governor’s office.

Cheryl: “We’ll stay in the Governor’s office and we won’t leave until they drag us out in handcuffs.”

Me: “What would you demand of the Governor?  At what point do you decide to go home?”

Cheryl: “I’ll go home when I get a ride from them!”

Read More

Learning How to Lose

Ivy HestHow-To, Individual Sustainability, Supervising and Mentoring

I don't know who this woman is, but I feel like she's speaking to me.

I don’t know who this woman is, but I feel like she’s speaking to me.

Tuesday was election day, and the end of my first cycle in electoral politics.  Many of you know that I worked for a State Senate candidate since March, have been helping with the Democratic Committee in the area since April, and in October took on Field Director positions for two City Council campaigns.  It was a lot to handle at once, and I’ve learned my lesson there.  I can maybe do two, but only if the roles I play are distinctly different from each other, and don’t both require all my nights and weekends.

The official results are still being tallied, but my State Senate candidate won about 70% of the vote according to initial results!  It was very exciting to be a part of the campaign from early on, and get to know my candidate more over time in the different roles I’ve played.  We had a very intense, brutal primary, and once we broke through that, it was mostly smooth sailing form June through Tuesday.  Unfortunately, I keep forgetting about that victory, and only keep focusing on my losses— the two City Council races.

The results actually went exactly how I had expected them to, and I prepared my candidates for those results as well.  I tried to strike the balance between remaining hopeful and pushing them to keep going, and softening the fall if that’s what happens.  

It still doesn’t make losing any easier. 

Read More