Category Archives: Activism

Stewarding Politics

US flag over sunsetThe American presidential race is ramping up as we head towards November. As it seems to happen every four years, everyone seems to get caught up in the cause or candidate that they think will save America.

Before you skip this post, know that I’m not advocating voting for any given candidate or platform (or against one, as easy as that would be to do). Instead, I explore what it means to apply the topic of stewardship to our political choices.

If you are an American citizen over 18, you have one vote per race per election cycle. Given the scarcity of this resource, it is important to use it wisely. As tempting as it might be to vote according to your gut or what your smart-sounding neighbor says, it’s just not enough if you really want to be a good steward.

So how can you be a good steward of the vote that you have?

1. Research each candidates and what they stand for. For larger elections, this can take some time, as there are a lot of offices to consider. Resources I use to investigate include the candidates’ websites, local newspaper surveys and their voting record (if they are an incumbent).

While their website is of course biased, it helps me to see what is important to them. If an issue that I’m passionate about doesn’t earn a mention, that says something in itself, even if they publicly espouse the same values I do.

For me, this also means not making up my mind until the last minute. I want as much data as possible before making the decision, and want to be as open as possible as my understanding of the candidates or issues is always incomplete.

2. Engage in reasonable conversations about the issues. If you are passionate about something, I think you should absolutely speak up about it. Whenever possible, focus on the issue, not on the candidates, as candidates are imperfect and you won’t agree with them 100% (unless it’s you!).

In these conversations, be willing to truly listen to opposing views with the goal of understanding, not of refuting. Chances are, the person you aren’t seeing eye to eye with has the same root desires, but sees a different path to achieve those desires.

If the exchange becomes uncivil, kindly excuse yourself (online or in person).

3. Vote. This should be obvious, but I’m afraid it’s not. There are times that I choose not to vote in a particular race, but those are rare. For bigger elections, there are usually more than 2 options, no matter what the TV pundits say.

How do you steward politics?

Photo by Rebecca Garcia

Avoiding Ads

zillions cover
Yes, it was a very 90s magazine.

As a kid, my favorite magazine was Zillions. This was a magazine produced by the makers of Consumer Reports designed to mold kids into being savvy consumers. My favorite part were the cartoon-like illustrations of the hows and whys of advertising.

We all know (if we stop to think about it), that advertisements are designed to make us act in a specific way: buy a product, watch a show or desire to be associated with a specific brand.

Globally, companies pay $500 billion a year on advertising. These companies are smart: they use advertising because they know it will help them sell more product.

I have nothing against advertising necessarily, but I want to choose for myself what I buy (or simply choose not to buy). Whether I acknowledge it or not, advertising has a strong pull on me, particularly ads designed to evoke an emotional response. I’m not especially gullible, but ads often dig in deep to accomplish their goals.

Advertisements are everywhere. In almost no practical context would it be reasonable to avoid them altogether. Still, I can take action to limit my exposure wherever possible.

For example, I do not watch television advertising. If I can’t fast forward through it, I mute the television and turn my attention elsewhere until they’re over. No, I don’t even watch the ads during the Superbowl.

When I do experience an ad, I often pick it apart to weaken its grip. How does this ad want me to feel? What does it want me to do? What cultural lie does it depend on (or what truth does it distort)?

These questions are good for other forms of media. If we’re going to fight our culture’s over-consumerism and me-first attitudes, we’re going to have to question what messages we take in.

Thoughts on Privilege and Wealth

On this day when we remember the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., I can’t help but ponder the place my own white American privilege and middle-class background play in my ability to focus on my financial health and making decisions that are better for the environment. After all, these are things to consider only if you have already taken care of sustenance and safety.

white picket fenceWhile everything written on this blog is told from our own limited points of view (which is probably obvious to you), I hope that there are things here that people from all walks of life can relate to.

Sometimes I do wonder how the blog reads to those who haven’t had the same advantages that we have. Are we ignorantly speaking about things that are givens for us but aren’t for others? I hope that if we do, someone would lovingly point it out so that we could learn and grow.

I still have a lot to learn about the extent of my privilege. I remember an eye-opening seminar I attended for work a few years ago that discussed the wealth disparities between races in the United States.

One contributing factor that was mentioned in the class was that when the social security program was set up, farm and domestic workers were excluded. It’s no coincidence that those were primarily black professions. Before that class, I hadn’t even considered the place that historical racism could still have in wealth disparity today. I know there are many other things I don’t know, because I have had no need to learn them.

It’s easy to feel guilty about having benefits that others do not. I don’t think that’s productive. We shouldn’t take our blessings for granted but should use them for the greater good of all. That said, I’m still working out how that should look.

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, it is a great time to be reminded of how fortunate
many of us are:  many of us can count good health among our blessings, many among us have plenty of food in our pantry and roofs over our heads, and many can even afford the occasional splurge or two.

For many in our midst, that is not the case.  According to Feeding America, an alarming number of our neighbors live in poverty or experience food insecurity.

  • In 2013 alone, nearly 20% of children under age 18 lived in poverty.
  • Over 15 million children live in food insecure households.
  • The numbers are not much better for seniors:  9.5% live in poverty.

These numbers provide only a glimpse into the reality that too many people face on a regular basis.  Homelessness is also an increasing issue facing many in our nation; as the National Coalition for the Homeless points out, “Recent studies suggest that United States generates homelessness at a much higher rate than previously thought.”

It can be easy to be disheartened by such staggering statistics, but it is important to focus on what can be done.  When I was in college, I had the opportunity to take a community leadership course as an elective.  The biggest takeaway for me was the sentiment, “But why (is this the case/does this happen)?”

With this question in mind, I think it is helpful to consider the root causes of poverty and homelessness.  Why are people homeless?  Why are people hungry?  Taking major issues and addressing their causes in bite sizes can make a bigger positive impact and is less overwhelming.

Certainly major events and issues like foreclosure, poverty and mental illness play a role in homelessness.  Poverty and economic hardship may also play into issues of hunger.

So what can we do?

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week takes place November 15-23.  We urge you to check out events that are taking place nationwide.  Even if it is not in your power to give financially, you can help to educate and bring awareness to those in need.  Hunger and Homelessness is not a problem unique to the United States; it is a worldwide pandemic.

This Thanksgiving, we at Striving Stewardess urge you to consider giving the gifts you have to be a blessing to others.  This is a key component of stewardship.