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* This first appeared on the blog for the Stanford Social Innovation Review *

Even engaged citizens in Oakland, Calif., didn’t know the city had a Public Ethics Commission, let alone what its purpose was, when I joined its ranks three years ago. And people who did know about it didn’t have many nice things to say: Local blogs sneered at its lack of power and few politicians feared its oversight. Created in 1996 as a watchdog organization responsible for opening up city government, the commission had become just another element of Oakland’s cumbersome, opaque bureaucracy.

It’s easy to see why. Technology and media have dramatically changed our expectations for what defines transparency and accountability. For example, in the past, walking into City Hall, making an official request for a public record, and receiving it in the mail within two weeks meant good, open government. Now, if an Internet search doesn’t instantly turn up an answer to your question about local government, the assumption often is: Government’s hiding something. Continue Reading »

A member of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission, a year ago, I initiated a subcommittee to review Oakland’s Transparency practices. A final report on our activities was published today and I couldn’t be more proud and excited about it’s depth, breadth and  potential to strengthen Oakland’s culture shift towards more innovation, accountability and transparency.  Last night was my final Public Ethics Commission meeting: I hung up my hat as Vice-Chair and ended my three years of public service.

I encourage you to read the report – Toward Collaborative Transparency.

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My last meeting with my fellow Commissioners:

 

 

 

*This was first published on HuffPo Impact*

2013 revealed a promising new political trend: A renewed interest in listening, connection and acknowledgment of gray areas to spur innovation and possibility. It’s not surprising that activists, leaders and organizations would respond to the dysfunction of the federal government by exploring ideas and practices to resolve conflicts and develop common ground.

No one understands the challenges of conflict more than Planned Parenthood, so it makes sense that they stepped out early. Last January, Planned Parenthood made a major announcement acknowledging that Americans’ views on abortion weren’t so cut and dry. Their willingness to adopt the gray area so proudly and publicly signaled potential for a major shift in the abortion conversation.

Less than a year later, they are less alone in their approach. More and more public figures are advocating for better ways of dealing with our differences.

In a fall TEDTalk, Sally Kohn, the liberal pundit formerly of Fox News, spoke about a concept she calls emotional correctness: “You can’t get anyone to agree with you if you don’t listen to them first… we spend so much time talking past each other and not enough time talking through our disagreements.”

Philanthropy publicly embraced the idea of building bridges across divides this year too. The Board of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced a new initiative, which will “zero in on the problem of political polarization. We believe… that alleviating polarization is a precondition for successfully addressing the other problems that bedevil us.”

This desire to try something beyond fighting is happening on the local level too. Continue Reading »

*This was first published in HuffingtonPost Politics*

Years ago, there was a rural clinic in Northern California where women who got abortions one week would bring lasagna to women getting their abortions the next. When I heard about this, I couldn’t help but imagine myself with them. Would I be hungry enough to eat after my abortion, or would cheesy lasagna make me nauseous? Would I want to talk with other women or hang out quietly, feeling cared for?

This room of women swapping stories and plates of food is an image I equate with the ultimate expression of support, connection, and wellbeing after an abortion.

What if we could turn America into a community known for lovingly providing potlucks and supporting friends and family after an abortion?

We may not be as far away from this vision as you think.

Last month, when New York Magazine published “My Abortion,” featuring 26 different women sharing 26 different stories, women and men came together in the comments section and social media, offering support and compassion. We were all able to witness community being formed across a range of diverse abortion experiences. Continue Reading »

* This was first published in the New York Times, “Room for Debate,” on June 30, 2013, amongst other opinions on the impact of women sharing their abortion stories.* 

When I had an abortion it was safe, legal and covered by health insurance. I had no horror story to tell of a scary back-alley procedure, and I had no heartfelt regrets.

But the facts didn’t begin to describe my experience of having an abortion. My story was one of challenge and triumph, heartache and loss, friendship and family, and so much more. I wished I could have talked about it, without my story being used to promote abortion rights or to help dismantle them. Instead, I wanted to join with others to create a conversation rooted in the diverse, complicated lives of the women and men who’d experienced abortion.

It’s crucial that a range of experiences — from remorse to hope — are heard and understood in all nuances, no matter the political outcome.

That conversation is starting to happen. More women, and some men, are sharing their intimate experiences in private and public ways. One result is that the myths and stereotypes of who has abortions are beginning to crumble in the face of true stories. Another result is that women and men who’ve experienced abortion are now able to find and connect with each other. Feeling supported and comforted after an abortion, instead of isolated and alone, goes a long way toward healing and well-being.

But, sharing abortion stories isn’t all warm and fuzzy. There are real risks for the woman and for this emerging conversation about abortion in our lives.

A woman who shares about an abortion experience with family or friends can put her relationships in jeopardy. And, while social media can connect people by spreading stories quickly, a woman can lose control of her story – and her message – as it moves across the Internet. These risks can be mitigated with community support, but it’s hard to build community without first taking a risk.

My worst fear is that our personal stories will become commodities in the political marketplace, casualties in the conflict over abortion that get repackaged to benefit one side or other of the debate.

That’s why it’s so crucial that the full range of personal experiences women and men have with abortion — from remorse to hope — are able to be heard and understood in all their layers and nuances no matter the political outcome.

 

 

I was honored to be a part of the closing plenary of Netroots Nation 2013 in San Jose, California on June 22, 2013.  The plenary was a series of speakers using the Ignite model: 5 minutes, 20 slides progressing automatically every 15 seconds. I was stoked to be the first woman speaker amongst many of my heroes and role models.  I am particularly grateful to Jenifer Fernandez Ancona for being my champion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=tx-T8OkMZhU

*This was first published on Storycenter, the blog of the Center for Digital Storytelling*

“We are wary of listening to stories that we think are being told to manipulate our emotions or push us to believe a certain way,” said Francesca Polletta, author of It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics in a phone call with me last year. “On the other hand,” she says, “ambivalent stories, stories with no clear moral agenda, invite the listener to imagine themselves in the story. True engagement happens when the listener can see multiple outcomes for a story and is able to come to their own conclusions.”  Continue Reading »