I have been running, running, running for two weeks now to stay on top of things and get a grip on everything else and yesterday I passed the first milestone and then promptly fell asleep at 8pm. I have my own things that are going on but then I also have taken on the role of Managing Editor for Street Sights newspaper (http://streetsights.org). The May issue will be my first and it is hectic, overwhelming, stress filled and delightful.
This is the reason why you haven’t heard much from me in my other ventures (Grace Independent et al) of late because Gracie has come down from the ether and is being woven into the paper. One of the issues (tasks) is to find a balance within the paper. It is Rhode Island’s advocacy paper for the homeless and trying to define exactly what advocacy means, what it looks like in a tangible form, is a large piece of the puzzle.
My work with Gracie has shown me that there is a side of advocacy that gets the short shrift and that is practical and immediate applications of help. We are used to advocacy leaning towards whistle blowing or policymaking and when you leave out the practical stuff, all the rest becomes sort of a philosophical exercise that is not as effective as it can be.
I have come to believe, again through discovery with Gracie, that change involves a four-part plan of approach. You have to have the whole picture in mind (International) – the awareness and education/involvement of how things are interdependent even if they don’t directly effect your corner of the world; you have to have a National awareness – still a big picture but closer, allowing you to learn and work towards policies and legislation that have a cultural and social effect; a local focus – which deals with how policies, programs and the community are involved; and a personal focus, which is where you distill all the policies and advocacies down into something practical you can do with your own two hands to support change without the need of grants, organizations, and all of that. And this approach is not just geared toward specific forms of advocacy but is an approach to living an effective life; it is how you build effectiveness and compassion/empathy.
So, a part of coming in to shape the editorial voice and direction of Street Sights is working with those four parts and introducing them in such a way that the paper remains “the same” so it retains its existing comfort level. An example would be healthcare and homelessness. You have to look at those issues on a global level, then go national, then local and then personal (like writing an article that tells someone who is homeless how they can keep their insulin cold when they are in the street – there is a way).
It is easy, with advocacy on any issue, to get lost in the sound of one’s own voice or the intricacies of programs and policies and lose sight of the need for immediate action. It is easy to think that the telling of what is wrong is enough to advance the resolution of an issue. It is also a habit these days to mistake something like a march or a protest rally for immediate action; those are just other forms of whistle blowing and big picture interactions. Unless you can reach and do in an immediate sense to help alleviate the distress of a person who is affected by the issue then what you are doing to help them is something that remains separate from them. If it is separate, they don’t have the opportunity to connect to the sense of hope (healthy hope, the kind that comes from finding support and help) that advocacy should provide.
I am trying to find a balance in the paper between investigative news, news reporting, profile features, opinion, representing the creative side of the community, features focusing on practical issues (street health, recovery, and so on) and making sure that the community agencies involved with the issue are also represented without the paper becoming a PR mouthpiece for any one of them. The last is hard, we are all jammed in the same small car, like the clown car in a circus and while we are a source of support and promotion for these agencies and their programs, we are charged with keeping an eye on the effectiveness of what they do. Community relations can sometimes be tense.
I am fortunate that I am walking into this with a good group of staff writers, an established presence and a former Managing Editor who got her arm twisted to stay on as the Executive Editor to deal with the more bureaucratic things I cannot stand. We are slowly becoming a team that I think is going to grow the paper. Most of the staff is currently homeless or has experience with homelessness and all of us get what the power of recognition can do for someone who is marginalized.
Another part of the balance I am trying to find is the fact that I am also writing and reporting for the paper as well. Add all that into the mix of everything else I do and you can understand how all this has become a kind of organizational malestorm – but – that is all that it is, a matter of organization.
Hours of sleep have done me well. I am cooking, bubbling and boiling with ideas for things to do today.
I am blaming it on being overworked and lack of sleep but I have noticed this week a change in me. I may have crested a certain hill and started my way down the other side. Not only did I find myself reaching for stuff to ease my joint pain because of the weather but I had to whip out the granny glasses to read the small type but I found that I had to go buy a small paper calendar and post-its so the second something occurs to me I can write it down and stick it on the calendar because my short term memory is shot. Even the act of powering up the cell phone to put it in that calendar takes just long enough for the thought to leave my head.
Perhaps it is age. Maybe its exhaustion. But the important thing is to find a way to deal with it. But they made endless fun of me at last night’s staff meeting every time I whipped out the post-it pad.
c.2011. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.