Sunday, April 8, 2007

Participatory Citizenship Al Dente

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Delicious Company, Delicious Dinner

Last night, I experienced a new self-consciousness. I was going to tell our friends about having seen a former youth group advisee at Sabbath services the night before and I thought, I don't want to be repetitive. What if David already read about it in my blog? And I sat at the table, feeling thwarted by my own communicativeness.

And I lost track of the conversation around me as I sat, thinking about the implications of being an active blogger whose friends would be supportive and look at it. Where will I be living primarily? In real time, or in the blog? Will the blog make live experiences ultimately self-conscious? Will my friends be on alert whenever they're with me, since they know our exchanges could end up in my blog?

Don't they know it already? Haven't I been re-living inspirational times with friends and family in the IBM-intranet blog I've been active in since 1997? Yeah, but that was just behind our firewall. Ugh, stop. Come back and be present to what's going on here, now, at this delicious restaurant on West Street & W. 10th.

Women in Black vs. David and Me

And I did. And I heard Vinny's confidence that same-sex marriage will be legalized in New Jersey this year. And David's mother Judy's satisfaction at being able to be among the Women in Black in Woodstock, where she lives, rather than a Raging Granny.

"What do Raging Grannies do?" I asked.

"They're just outrageous," and as she described them, I knew they were not her at all. "I like simply standing silently with my sign, 'War Won't Fix It.' And then people walk by and say, 'You're right!' or I've had a mother ask to have her young daughter stand next to me, so she could take a picture."

As Judy spoke, her face took on an ennoblement aspect. She was proud of the power of silent, non-partisan protest.

"I've heard of the Women in Black," I said, "in Israel --"

"Right, they were the first [in 1988, protesting human rights violations during the occupation], and now, they're in Italy and here and...." It's all about being anti-war.

"And you wear black, right?"

"Yes, and I must say, I'm getting tired of wearing black." They stand out there in the middle of Woodstock for two hours every Sunday.

"God, I just couldn't do that."

"Not everyone needs to protest."

"But it's amazing that you do it."

I was thinking, What is it about Judy's generation and my mother's that both of them are so active politically?

"I don't do anything!" I said with my voice full of shame.

David looked right at me and said, "What are you talking about?"

And I smiled because he and I have consciously dedicated ourselves to helping make IBM an even more inclusive environment, including for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clients and IBMers. He's right. I do very local things, which I dare to hope could have a global impact.

Politics Are Not Sexy

Vinny said, "The word, 'politics,' comes from people [citizens, actually; I just looked it up], and so when you're trying to do good things for people, that's being political."

Still, I looked at Vinny and how animated he was as he described asking a New Jersey politician about his stance on same-sex marriage and I thought, I can't relate. And he's a guy. And six out of eight of the people in my Political Science elective course this semester are men. What is it about Politics that just doesn't attract me, as a woman?

Vinny spoke of how politicians often give off a very sexual energy and I recalled reading a memoir by a former Knesset (Israeli Parliament) member -- I read it only because she was lesbian -- and how she spoke of feeling very sexually powerful in every direction when she was active in Politics.

What's wrong with me? I just don't see politics as sexy. At all.

And my lens is so corporate. Most of the powerful people I'm exposed to are IBM corporate leaders. And I do see their power and charisma and political savvy and realize that I ought not to opt out of, and shut down, during larger-world political discussions, as they inform my local political arena as well.

The course I'm taking this semester, because it was at the right time of the evening, is definitely a stretch for me, Learning Democratic Practices, but I keep telling myself that becoming smarter about the way politics works, particularly about how democracies work, will serve me well in my own leadership roles at IBM, now and in the future. (Part time, I'm pursuing an M.A. in Organization & Leadership with a specialization in Adult Learning and Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University.)

It's just so hard because the lingo and jargon is not intuitive to me, and not natively appealing. It is true, as the caption to the photo of me in Tiananmen Square attests, The farther I go, the more I learn, and it doesn't only refer to geographic distance. I am well-beyond where I ever meant to travel in the world of Political Science by having taken this course, and I'm probably learning much more than I would in a course that felt more natural for me.

My Lifelong and Lifewide Participatory Citizenship Learning

My professor, Dr. Janet Youngblood, did give us an assignment that appealed to me ultimately, of describing our participatory citizenship learning from early childhood to now. Initially, I said, "It's going to be a very short paper in my case," and then generously, she told us that it could include any sort of activism, in addition to whatever we might have done in relation to formal political parties.

This is what I wrote:

Early Learning:
McGovern-->Watergate-->the Israel Option

My first memory of being a participatory citizen was my mother taking me to the local McGovern campaign headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, where I added stamps to a McGovern mailing. My mother said I was four years old. This qualified as formal lifewide citizen participation learning, probably, since it was associated with a U.S. political party.

During Watergate, my middle sister Kathy, who was five and a half years older than I, created a game for the school science fair called “Schmutz: The Game of Dirty Politics.” Both of my sisters always cared more about politics than I. I was not even remotely intrigued by real-world politics as a child or teen. Informally, I gained a bit of a consciousness, at least, through the actions and interests of my sisters.

Growing up, I did not have a firm sense of my role as an American citizen, other than that we lived in a country of many precious freedoms, and that my father, may his memory be blessed, was proud of his World War II naval service as a radar technician, and that typically, we had a president for whom my parents had not voted, other than Jimmy Carter.

Indeed, I felt most like a Jewish-American citizen, hyphenated. In the formal environment of the Modern Orthodox Jewish day school I attended from 1st-8th grade, we were taught American history and also Jewish and Israeli history, and were encouraged to consider making aliyah with our families, that is, immigrating to Israel and becoming automatic citizens through the Law of Return, Israel’s law that grants instant citizenship to all Jews who choose to live in Israel permanently.

The encouragement to consider Israeli citizenship made an impression on me, along with our Jewish history learning, where we read how often Jews had lived in particular countries throughout history before invariably being persecuted, killed or expelled; I was dually-invested in the welfare of two countries from an early age – the country of my birth and the one for which we collected charity, so that we would have it as a second homeland if need be, as life insurance, as my mother put it.

I was born into a family of Democrats, all of whom were at least half a decade older than I, and my parents were 40 years older than I; never did I question the rightness of the Democratic Party. No one ever sat with me to explain its virtues, but rather, I just knew of my mother’s local leadership as a Democrat within organizations like Head Start and the League of Women Voters. Growing up, any of my citizenship learning felt more accidental than formal.

Adolescent Learning:
Freshman Class Office-->American Forum for World Affairs Radio-->Mondale & Ferraro-->the Israel Option-->Youth Group-->Cable Access TV Co-anchorship

As a fourteen-year-old, I ran for election as Freshman Class Treasurer and won. This was a formal citizen participation learning experience, since there was election protocol. I ran only because I was entering a public high school from a private school and I wanted people to know me as soon as possible, and so having posters up with my name all over school seemed like a good strategy.

We did not make campaign speeches, but I created clever posters with hopeful promises and hand-drawn pictures of plump money bags. It was simply put to a vote, and my advantage was that no one knew me, whereas they knew my opponent from junior high, and disliked him.

At the end of the year, when I was supposed to organize an event to raise money for the class – for a future reunion that never took place, and so perhaps, I contributed to an advisor’s or fellow student’s corruption unwittingly at the time, since I never learned nor sought to learn what happened with the funds – I decided we would be bused to a roller-rink and have a roller-skating party.

None of the students in my Honors classes thought it was a fun idea, or that it would make any money, but it was a huge hit with the majority of the school – the students in the less advanced classes apparently appreciated it greatly. We made hundreds of dollars. From that experience, I learned that the privileged elite, that is, the minority of the school’s top students, did not necessarily represent the wishes of the majority, the many average students. So far, I have never again run nor been an elected official in any arena.

My mother reminded me that I used to be among a teen panel on a local radio show sponsored by the American Forum for World Affairs; we interviewed political leaders when they came to town, who discussed current world events from their perspective. I hardly remember anything about it. Again, I participated only because I thought it sealed my social standing among the smart kids in my high school.

I participated in activities to enhance my resume for college, and yet my single most fun activity in high school was that roller-skating party, where I was surrounded by average students.

Once I got to college, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and at Hebrew University in Jerusalem for my junior year, I day-dreamt about someone to love; wondered what to pursue as a career post-graduation; studied; labored at work-study jobs; and while in Israel, waffled back and forth in my head on whether or not I had the fortitude to emigrate from the United States and become an Israeli citizen, as most of my father’s family had done in the ‘40s.

Could I simply stay at Hebrew University and finish my degree there, and become absorbed into the society that much more quickly? During a school-break, the Israeli Army offered an opportunity to non-citizens to experience Basic Training and as a prospective citizen, I took advantage of the opportunity with a number of male and female American-student counterparts. We were stationed at an army base in the north, at the border of Israel and Lebanon. We wore Israeli Army uniforms, learned to load, shoot and clean M-16s and played war games (without guns). I relished the experience, until during one of the war games, I leapt from too high onto a pile of loose stones, breaking my left ankle. That was the end of my formal citizen participation learning in Israel.

I left the base and spent the rest of the school-break with my Aunt Tovah, may her memory be blessed, in Beth Herut, the moshav (collective village) of which my grandparents, may their memories be blessed, and she were among the founders.

Ironically, my grandparents and aunt, who were ardent Socialists prospered far more so financially, working with the other villagers in a collective industry, than my father ever did, working as a Capitalist industrial designer of toys and games. Like me, he tried living in Israel in his twenties, and opted after a few years to return to the States; it was a time of austerity in Israel and simply, he was bored by life there.

He met my mother at a party in New York City that was hosted by one of her sorority sisters, they married and moved to Greenwich Village, and within less than a decade, they moved with their kids to suburban Stamford, where I was born.

Ultimately, I chickened out of remaining in Israel, and felt guilty and relieved to come back and finish my B.A. in the States. I told myself that I could always choose to return post-college, but I think I knew I would never be able to give up the home I knew for one that was ultimately more foreign to me.

The bulk of my undergraduate experience took place in Ann Arbor and during sophomore year, I recall watching a Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro appearance and rally in the Diag, from an open window on the second floor of the Graduate Library, and so I was not actually at the rally, and so my participation was not direct, nor formal.

The content of Mondale’s speech did not compel me as much as considering the power of his presence. I thought that he was not nearly as charismatic as Ronald Reagan. Ferraro, too, attracted and repelled me at once, triggering some internalized homophobia. At the time, I was fighting my own lesbianism and seeing a strong female of any sort was appealing and distasteful in parallel.

Naturally, being an unquestioning Democrat, I voted for them in any case; it was my first presidential election and my second formal activity related to a U.S. political party – the first, being the McGovern campaign stamp-licking afternoon 12 years prior. In 1988, I voted for Dukakis. I gave no money, nor did any campaigning for Mondale or Dukakis.

By the time Dukakis lost the election, I was 22 and already living in Chicago for a year. With singular focus, I turned the city into a lab for building my self-esteem through community participation. This was the period where I solidified my hyphenated identity further, as a Jewish-American lesbian citizen. The following experiences either were non-formal or informal lifewide citizen participation learning, considering my gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) community participation and activism as a form of participatory citizenship:

In the history of Horizons, Chicago’s GLBT community center and social service agency, I became its youngest-ever youth group advisor volunteer; that was informal citizen participation learning, since I learned on the job how to help GLBT and questioning youth expand their self-esteem through helping them (and myself) build their (and my own) self-acceptance of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Next, I co-anchored a cable access TV show, “The 10% Show,” which was a monthly, hour-long GLBT news and entertainment program of the Chicago bureau of Gay Cable Network. It was started by Chicagoan Jack Ryan, who was moved during the 1987 Gay & Lesbian March on Washington to do his part locally, particularly around HIV and AIDS activism.

The couple dozen episodes we produced as volunteers could be classified as non-formal citizen participation learning, as really, we were not at all formally organized, and most of us, other than the camera people, were not formally educated in Broadcast TV; everyone had a day-job and participated as time allowed. Certainly, I had never before co-anchored a TV show. I had simply written occasional Arts features for my high school and college newspapers.

Grass-roots though the program was, we were internationally-syndicated (aired in Vancouver, too)! I was so fortunate to interview many GLBT personalities – local, national and international – and perhaps my radio show time in high school was a bit of preparation, though I found myself wholly invested in helping these interviewees be more visible than I did with the more universally well-known political leaders I interviewed during high school.

Co-anchoring “The 10% Show,” I saw a wonderful up-side to GLBT culture, and televising so many leaders and role models of the GLBT community inspired me to commit to living my life openly as well.

Within a couple of years, unfortunately, we were hired into all-consuming day-jobs and our major funder, Jack’s partner, died of AIDS, and so we stopped producing the show. The tapes are now among the Gerber/Hart GLBT Library archives in Chicago.

Adult Learning: IBM’s GLBT Community-->Clinton; Clinton; Gore; Kerry-->Synagogue’s and the Course’s Influence on My Political Activity

Shortly after joining IBM, I was invited to become part of IBM’s GLBT Task Force and was honored to do so. In addition, IBM has employee networking groups for eight constituencies, including GLBT people. The leader of the local chapter of the GLBT employee group asked me to take her place soon after I became an IBMer; I told her, “I love belonging to the group, but I don’t want to lead it.”

“But it has to be led,” she said, and so I took it on. We were not elected then, but rather anointed by the outgoing leader. My learning was formal insofar as the group had bylaws and a mission and informal in that I learned so much about my own leadership style simply while actively participating in both the Task Force and employee networking group.

In 2000, I joined the IBM delegation at the Millennium March on Washington for GLBT Rights. Doug Elix, executive sponsor and direct report to our CEO, flew down to host a reception for us and said that IBM’s involvement in GLBT rights was not only a matter of attending to *all* of our customers and employees, but a matter of “social justice.”

Hearing one of our senior leaders use the phrase, “social justice” even further inspired my investment in helping advance GLBT clients and employees; I worked with Task Force colleagues on proposing and helping start up IBM’s GLBT Sales Team, with Doug Elix’s enthusiastic sponsorship. Though I have moved on in my career, now delivering leadership development training to our new and future managers, the GLBT Sales Team continues to thrive.

In my experience with GLBT human rights, IBM has helped advance social change faster than a number of governments around the world. My contribution to that advancement has felt politically substantial in that some of it has even had, “…the intent or effect of influencing government action…” (Verba et al., p. 38, 2002), for example, my being part of the Task Force, which recommended that IBM advocate for the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA), which it did, and by helping recommend that IBM join the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which it did, too, as a founding sponsor.

In ’92 and ‘96, I participated formally as an American citizen by voting for Clinton; in 2000, for Gore; and for Kerry in ’04, though I don’t know how much I learned, as I did not follow the races closely at all. During the dozen years, I did contribute money to national GLBT organizations that lobbied the presidential candidates for GLBT human rights, and in 2004, because my brother-in-law was volunteering with, I gave a contribution directly to; this was a formal case of a recruitment network. If Gary had not engaged me in’s mission through his involvement, I would not have written a check.

Some months ago, my rabbi asked every congregant to consider joining the synagogue’s Green Team, which was made up of members who switched to more environmentally-friendly service from the local utility company in order to decelerate global warming, even though it was more costly. Since beginning to learn how my citizen participation makes a difference during this course, we have joined the Green Team.
Will I become a more participatory citizen as a result of taking this course, Learning Democratic Practices?

In fact, I believe that I will never be the same; already, I find myself reading stories about political engagement in newspapers and magazines when previously, I would have flipped past them; always, it seemed a sacred opportunity and responsibility to vote in any election for which I was invited to vote, yet historically, I deferred to my partner’s judgment in telling me the candidate for whom I ought to vote. Now, I have more curiosity and am grateful for my new maturity.


Verba, S., & Lehman Schlozman, & K., Brady, H.E. (2002). Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

How do you participate most fully? And why? And where? Are you most active in the blogosphere, or in 3-D?

1 comment:

Albert Howard said...

Be encouraged and keep on Blogging!

Shalom Mishpochah!