Tagged: Youth

9 Ways to Explain Your Nonprofit Job to Your Family this Holiday Season

son-i-am-disapprove

It’s that wonderful time of the year when young adults prepare to have public judgment of their life and career decisions become a major topic of conversation among a large group of people they barely know (i.e. their extended family).

So, if you’re a budding medical doctor, congratulations!  You have a commonly known, widely socially accepted and financially lucrative career path and can stop reading now.

On the other hand, if you make less money than some of your friends in food service, working at an organization no one has ever heard of, for a cause that’s too political to be seen as polite dinner conversation in the first place, here’s a helpful guide to help you navigate the awkward conversation.

 

1. “This will look great on my grad school application!”

Many of the olds are under the impression that getting a graduate degree is a smart economic choice.  Whether you’re really planning on it or not, allow your family members to believe you’re going to grad school.  This will keep a glimmer of hope alive in their mind that whatever it is you’re doing now is only a temporary transitional phase.  If there’s anything we learned as teenagers, it’s that the only reason any sane person would actually care about helping their community is to accumulate feel-good credentials to use on their college applications.

2. The bait and switch

Sure, some of your college friends working in the private sector may be making 2-5 times as much money as you, but you’ve got a solid job and that’s more than a lot of people can say.  This tactic taps into the fundamental emotion behind your family’s scrutiny: Fear.  Here’s how it works.  First, when asked about your life, explain how you’re living in a tent in Zuccotti Park or are taking a brief holiday break from chaining yourself to ancient redwoods.  After the horrified backlash, tell them actually you have a job with a nonprofit organization.  In comparison, it’ll sound like investment banking.

3. Start a political argument

Say you’ve got conservative family members who even if they could understand the mechanics of what you do at this “job” of yours, would be deeply morally opposed to it.  Now I know nobody likes to argue politics with their family.  But if you distract them with some sweeping abstract debate about immigration, LGBT rights, Obamacare, etc. you can totally avoid having a specific conversation about yourself and your job.

4. The Obama

On the other hand, say you’ve got a progressive family who is down with the overall idea of someone out there saving the world, they just would prefer you to be doing something a little more… professional.  Most people know Barack Obama did some fluffy nonprofit thing in his youth.  And being the president of the United States is about as professional as you get.  This one works kind of like the grad school tactic, but instead of advanced education, you tell them how your current job is preparing you to run for public office.  Your grandma will get at least a few years of bragging to her friends before she catches on to your bullshit.

5. The straight up lie

Many of the family members you see during the holidays are people you only see once or twice a year anyway.  Would it really be so bad if they were under the not-exactly-true impression you were working for Google?  Prepare by watching The Internship so you have some (possibly exaggerated) details to casually mention in conversation about what it’s like to work for Google.  Important: If there are closer family members that actually know what you do, make sure they’re in on the lie so they don’t blow your cover.

6. Get them to understand how miserable being a doctor or lawyer is

This one requires some advance planning.  In the months leading up to the holidays, talk to all your friends in med school or law school or in their first couple years of work in one of those highly respected professions.  Slowly gather horror stories of cutthroat classmates, rampant adderall abuse, 80+ hour workweeks.  To top it off, bring a practice LSAT test and get your family to take it together instead of playing Apples to Apples after dinner.  Works like a charm.

7. “When the revolution comes, no one will be poor!”

Sure, maybe your working-class family is upset that they went deep into debt to allow you to be the first generation to go to college and by being too idealistic you threw away your one shot to provide financial security for you and your family.  Assure them that the imminent Marxist revolution, which you’re a key player in, will eliminate the class structure.  Once the means of production are seized from the bourgeoisie, no one will be poor, including you!  They’ll totally understand where you’re coming from.

8. Crocodile tears

During the holidays, people get pretty emotional and generally give a shit about other people more than they otherwise would.  So when your family pops the question about your work, stare deep into the distance, fake a sniffle or two, and say, “You know, during Christmas I just think about how many children out there don’t have much to be happy about right now…”  After trailing off, give a serene gaze around the table straight into their eyes and say with finality: “And then I remember why I do the work I do.”  Okay, so say your nonprofit isn’t anything about children or poverty.  This can easily be adapted to just about anything.  Work in environmental sustainability? “You know, during Christmas I just think about how many white Christmases we really have left before Santa’s workshop will be submerged under the melting icecaps…”

  1. The long way

Alright, so maybe you actually care if your loved ones understand the work that you pour your heart and soul into and want them to support and appreciate what you’re doing with your life.  In that case, it might be a little harder.  Most regular folks don’t have any experience with organizations like the one you work for.  Many of our families have education, language, or cultural barriers that make it difficult for them to grasp terminology like “I do development and strategic communications for a social justice organization”.  Our loved ones are often in the midst of a difficult process of developing their consciousness about complex issues like poverty or sexuality or race, and hold conflicting worldviews that they’re trying to reconcile with one another.

First off, no matter what, your family cares about you, and their concern is ultimately motivated by wanting you to be happy, even if they have a poor understanding of what really brings you happiness.  Before explaining anything complicated or technical, tell them how much you love the work you do, how happy it makes you and how meaningful it is to you.

They may never understand the details of most of your day-to-day work, but they will understand stories.  Share with them an anecdote about a person whose life has been touched by your organization and how they’ve changed as a result.  Give them an example of an issue you work on—the problem and its root cause, the long-term vision of the solution, and the small things you’re doing right now to get there.  Tell them the story of your favorite day at work and why it deepened your conviction to do what you do.

Get them to see that this isn’t just a short-term phase by talking about supervisors and mentors you have at work who are a few years further along in their career than you are and the ways you want to develop your skills to reach their level.

Assure them that you’re still growing and being intellectually challenged by bringing up some of the big things you’ve learned through your work.  Give an example of how you’ve applied on the ground the knowledge you gained during the education that they supported you through.

Then when you feel like they’re beginning to get it, turn the conversation to their work.  Ask them how their job is going, what their career goals and dreams are.  Show them the same genuine empathy and respect that you expect from them.  Love them for how different they are from you on the surface and maybe recognize that at a deeper level your values are more similar than you think.

Happy holidays and keep doing what you do.

Advertisements

Shut Out: How Community Organizing is Losing Young People

I originally wrote a completely different post that was my typical whining about why more young people don’t go into grassroots organizing.  I decided to scrap it and start over.  I often accuse my generation of wanting the immediate feel-good of direct service and charity, the socially-accepted professionalism of law and government, the comfortable removed intellectualism of academia and think tanks.  But after reflecting on it for a bit, I decided to set down my glass of haterade and re-examine the barriers within the nonprofit sector that actively keep young people from working as community organizers.  I think that’s a more constructive conversation to have.

I wanted to write about this because I’m becoming painfully aware of how much my employer struggles to fill organizing staff positions.  Yet at the same time I know so many unemployed and underemployed young people.  What’s the problem?  Wasn’t Obama supposed to inspire a whole generation of kids to become community organizers when they grew up or something?  Maybe it’s time for me to stop blaming my generation and start talking about the root of the problem and real solutions.

What’s the problem?

We’re reaching a dangerous time in America’s social movements.  The veterans who run many of our organizations cut their teeth as young people in the 60’s and 70’s at the height of progressive activism.  Today many of them are on the verge of retiring or already doing so.  To keep alive the organizations built by the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before us, we’re all going to have to step up.  Yet as we reach an era with perhaps more potential for progressive change than any other since the 60’s, opportunities for the next generation of movement leaders are limited.

More than anything, there’s a need for organizers on the ground.  No social movement has ever succeeded without organizing people.  You can have brilliantly crafted policy and flawless legal arguments but without heat in the streets, there is no movement.  Power responds only to power.  And without money power, people power is all we have.

So what would I do if I was a young person looking to get into this type of work?  Obviously go to Idealist.org, like any other do-gooder who doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.  So I did that.  I searched for “organizer” and filtered by “Entry-level position” anywhere in the US.  I only came across 72 hits and after reading through them, almost none of them were what I would classify as organizing.  Most involved providing charitable services or doing administrative work.

Generally the vast majority of community organizer job postings I see require 2-3 years of experience.  But where we’re supposed to get those 2-3 years of experience I have no idea.

Why are so few organizer jobs entry-level? 

Most community organizing nonprofits, like mine, are relatively small local groups in a particular city or region.  They don’t really have the capacity to train people who don’t already know what they’re doing.  There’s no Human Resources department, no instruction manual, no large cohort of new employees fresh out of school you can train all at once every year.  And in a tough field like grassroots organizing where people often work for a year or two before realizing they can’t make the cut, nobody wants to take risks on people.  Even worse, when an organizer leaves the job, it severs many of the relationships they built in the community, and some members/leaders leave with them.

Unlike for-profit corporations, nonprofits can’t raise money by selling stock to investors who want to take a risk with the promise of future gains.  It’s hard for nonprofits to take the long view and investing in young talent just isn’t worth it in the short-run.  And as much as we like to think we operate as broader social movements, we really operate as individual organizations out for ourselves.  Why pay to train someone who’s probably going to be working for some other organization five years from now?

What’s out there for a young aspiring organizer?

Opportunities for people who want to start organizing usually lie with large national groups that have the scale necessary to train lots of new staff.  For example larger unions like SEIU and AFSCME, faith-based community organizing networks like PICO and DART, or the PIRGs and their broader Public Interest Network.  At one point ACORN was probably the biggest trainer of new organizers, but they’re gone now.  And unfortunately, labor unions, faith-based community organizing groups, and the PIRGs are all shrinking.  Some important training programs like the Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO) have also shrunk significantly from their former reach.

The other option that fills job postings for people looking to enter social movement work is as a canvasser doing grassroots fundraising.  Of course they’re willing to take a risk on us when our job description includes raising our own salary.  What is there to lose?  Although canvass offices provide a point of entry for countless young people into activist work, they have high turnover since many people find the work somewhat unpleasant.  Canvassing also teaches a limited skill set: canvassers get great at making initial contact with other people and getting them involved at a basic level, but never learn how to build relationships, develop leaders and deepen their commitment.

Of course the biggest advocacy groups in the country really do have the money to invest in young people if they wanted to.  (Think the Sierra Club, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign, etc.).  But they typically don’t do much grassroots organizing or hire significant amounts of organizing staff.  They prefer to contract with canvass offices to build their membership.

Don’t my endless hours of activism in college count for anything?

Often when young activists finish school, we find the social justice organizations we want to work for don’t take our student activism seriously as real work experience.  It’s devastating to those of us who poured our hearts into this work, while struggling to balance our activism with paid jobs and studying.  But it might be justified.  Most campuses have little to no opportunities to work with well-organized groups that have experienced organizing staff who can serve as mentors.  Many of the best and brightest young activists are sucked into the black hole of student government.  Student activists often graduate with lots of experience planning workshops and movie nights and speaker panels but few of the tangible skills required to win a real issue campaign.

At best, many organizations that claim to do campus organizing will have one staff person assigned to tons of campuses across a whole region, so they spend little time on the ground building relationships, developing leaders, and investing in their skills.  Movement organizations aren’t willing to seriously invest in students while they’re in school, so young people don’t gain the skills they want.  Then young people don’t have the skills they want, so they’re not willing to take the risk to hire them.

So after graduation, many student activists end up unemployed or underemployed.  Maybe we do Peace Corps or Teach for America because even though those organizations are deeply flawed, at least they want us, and kind of stalk us a little bit, which is nice I guess.  Or we end up working in government or charity nonprofits or going back to grad school.  Or slaving away at some dead-end low-wage job just like the people who write all those obnoxious articles scoffing at humanities majors said we would.  Or with a sigh we acknowledge that our parents were right all along and that our pipe dreams of fighting for justice and equality were unrealistic, and we should just settle down and work as a desk-monkey at some faceless corporation and one day buy a house with a white picket fence and a golden retriever.  Either way, a critical opportunity to become an organizer has been missed.

Is there a solution?

Here’s the point I’m trying to make:  We need more young people to become organizers.  But a lack of young people wanting to be organizers isn’t the problem.  (At least not the whole problem.)  There are tons of young people already out there with the right personality type and natural talent who would be willing to give this work a shot and might become badass organizers if seriously given the opportunity.  Here are my recommendations on how to provide those opportunities:

1.  Invest in on-the-ground organizers who spend quality time at high schools, community colleges, and universities.  Tap into the young activists who want to contribute to your work, help them develop tangible skills, and build relationships with the youth you’ll need to staff up your organization someday.  Sure, not all organizations have interest or expertise in youth organizing.  But then why not give some funding to a local organization that does directly work with youth to plug their members into your campaigns? (Side note: Someone should start a nonprofit that specializes in student organizing and contracts with all the big progressive advocacy groups in the country to organize student activists around their issues.)

2.  If you have interns, give them real responsibilities that are the type of things you expect incoming junior staff to already know how to do.  Think: if I hired this person in two years, what skills would I need them to have?  Yes, sometimes you just need help databasing sign-in sheets from your events.  And yes, sometimes it takes longer to train someone how to do something and clean up the mess when they fuck up than to just do it yourself.  But if you view interns as long-term investments in future staff rather than short-term exploited labor who you’ll never see again, you might find that the benefits eventually outweigh the costs.

3.  Link temporary training opportunities to permanent job opportunities.  Develop organizer-in-training programs that allow you to both train and assess people, reducing the risk of hiring entry-level staff.  But make sure those programs have the possibility of a real job at the end of them.  This is probably the most difficult one to implement:  Where’s the budget to pay these people?  Who’s going to supervise them?  In large cities, community organizations and unions could pool resources and hire someone to run an organizer-in-training program that plugs a cohort of students into local campaigns every summer and then pipelines them into whatever job openings are in the area when they graduate.  In a less urbanized environment like where I work, there might not be enough organizations to do that, but on the flip side, if we train local organizers, we directly reap most of the benefits because they don’t have many other places to work except for us.

This might all seem like a lot of money to spend on a bunch of wayward millenials who might quickly change their minds and decide they don’t want to work for you after all.  But that’s the nature of investing in the future.  Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.  Here’s one way to make it more likely to pay off:  If you’re spending all the time and money to grow your own staff, don’t be afraid to recruit them aggressively.  Big corporations give out free Chipotle burritos at their info sessions at college campuses.  Teach for America literally hires student interns whose job is to recruit other students.  But if you’ve been intentionally working with young people, you don’t need any of that—you have direct relationships—take them out to lunch and say “Hey, what do you think about working for us when you graduate?”  The reality is, most young people don’t know what the fuck we’re doing with our lives and could probably use the help thinking it through.

I’ll admit I understand the problem more than I understand the solution.  What I do know is this:  If our movements are going to survive, our organizations will need to take the long view and intentionally invest in a comprehensive pipeline that provides meaningful roles in our movements for young people.

How the Growth of High-Income Asian Communities Will Reshape American Politics

asianamer3.gifNew York Times article today noted the rise in influence of Asian-Americans in philanthropy.  It has some weird stuff about Asian cultures having a tradition of giving to charity, which as far as I know may be made up.  But the point remains that any time you have a growing community of new money, it means new money to give away.

And in this case, the large numbers of highly-educated Asian immigrants (mostly from India, Korea and Taiwan) who have been brought to the US by high-tech employers might be the biggest new money community in American history.  As you might expect, this is making some old money white folks freak out.  Mostly about the prospects of their children getting squeezed out of Harvard by the kids of the engineers who designed their iPhones.  (Some even say there is an “Asian quota” in the Ivy League, similar to those once faced by Jewish Americans, another new money group of highly-educated immigrants that threatened the halls of America’s elite institutions.)

But what America’s elites should really fear is the inevitable result of trying to close the doors on others:  political backlash.

And here’s what it looks like:

Asian and Pacific Islander voters went even harder for Obama last year than Latinos did.  That’s more than double the 31% of Asian-Americans who supported Clinton 20 years ago.

Political analysts are dumbfounded– shouldn’t any group with high average incomes vote Republican out of basic self-interest?  In the aftermath of the election they scrambled to come up with all kinds of stupid explanations– Asian culture is collectivist not individualist, Asians like science and the GOP is anti-science, Asians mostly live in liberal coastal cities like SF and NY– none of which makes sense, since it doesn’t explain the shift over the last 20 years from Asian-Americans being conservative voters in the 1990’s.

My theory is that this trend is being driven by younger second-generation API folks who have grown up within the context of America’s racial politics.  Most countries have some kind of left/right political divide, but America’s left vs. right is deeply rooted in race in a way that isn’t as intuitive to new immigrants.  You also see this among Latino immigrant communities, where US-born Latinos are more likely to self-identify as “liberal” than their parents.

Even if you might have been a conservative in another country, for a person of color in America it takes about 10 minutes of watching Glenn Beck foam at the mouth about Obama’s plans to destroy white America to realize you’re not welcome at this particular tea party.  The more familiar you are with American political culture the more likely you are to notice that American conservatism has a racist, exclusionary undertone in a way South Korean or Taiwanese conservatism probably does not.

According to the National Asian American Survey, taken in late September, young (under 35) Asian-Americans were nearly twice as likely to support Obama as their parents’ generation, and also less than half as likely to be undecided on who to vote for.

asianvotersbyage

I predict eventually Asian-Americans will occupy a strange political space similar to Jewish-Americans.  (Jewish voters have overwhelmingly backed Democratic candidates as far back as data is available).  Asian-Americans will also become a group who, despite high average incomes that might otherwise predict conservative leanings, consistently vote Democratic and are heavily represented among prominent progressive activists, academics, politicians and donors.

Money brings political clout.  And you can bet that growing philanthropy mentioned above is not just funding universities and soup kitchens, but candidates and advocacy organizations too.  And because many API advocacy groups are not ethnic-specific but work on behalf of API Americans as a whole, they often take strong social justice stances because of the many smaller API ethnic groups and older immigrants who are low-income and politically disenfranchised.  Like Jewish-Americans, Asian-Americans will likely have an influence on politics larger than simple numbers as voters.

But the numbers will be important too.  Asian and Pacific Islander Americans are now the fastest growing racial group in America.  Jewish people make up only 2% of the U.S. population, much less even than the current API population.  But Asian-Americans are expected to grow to 9% of all Americans by midcentury.  That’s nearly the size of the current black population.

In fact, Asian-Americans will be the fastest-growing, wealthiest, and most rapidly leftward shifting group in America, all at the same time.

And that’s bad news bears for the right wing.

And now for your moment of Zen, Bill O’Reilly being confused by the existence of liberal Asians:

Election 2012: 7 Reasons Why Last Night Was the Best Night Ever

Let me start off by saying that elections get way more emphasis than they should, and that most of the real work of social change happens in the aftermath, pressuring elected officials to do the right thing.

But that being said, elections really do matter, and this one was truly beautiful.

To me this election confirmed my belief that we are at the beginning of a movement time, one of those eras when waves of progress seem to come all at once.  You’re looking at me like I’m crazy.  But it’s a lot more messy and uncertain when you’re experiencing it live than when we look back in the history books.  Here’s my case for why I think progressives are going to win huge victories in the coming years.

 

But here’s my 7 Reasons Why Last Night Was The Best Night Ever:

 

Contributors-Table

1.  Barack Obama is our president and we never have to hear about Mitt Romney again.  In terms of policy change, I’m not that excited about this– honestly the next four years will look like the last two years– Republican Congress, total gridlock, not much getting done.   Basically they just gave a black man the worst job in the world for another four years.

What was significant about the presidential race was that in the age of Citizens United, Wall St. wasn’t able to buy this election.  Finance normally hedges their bets by giving to both parties or the expected winner.  But after the major financial reforms enacted by the Obama administration, they went all in for Romney.  And lost.  When was the last time Wall St. lost anything except your money?  Now I hope Obama has the cojones to give them some ice cold retribution.  I’m also happy that in the darkest hour of the campaign, right after the first debate, I still called the election for Obama.  Saying I told you so is the best.

2.  The youth vote made an even larger impact than in 2008.  I was so sick of all the bullshit narratives about apathetic young people who came out in 2008 for a fluke because they were brainwashed by Obama and won’t vote anymore because now they’re stupid and lazy blah blah blah. Oh what’s that?  Young people made up 19% of the vote in 2012, EVEN MORE than in 2008?  SUCK. ON. THAT. SHIT.

3.  California passed Prop 30 and defeated Prop 32.  This is near and dear to my heart because it’s what I’ve been working on this election.  I think the incredible thing about Prop 30 is it’s a turning point.  Since Prop 13 passed in the “tax revolt” of the late 70’s, California has been on the path of endless budget cuts to education.  Yesterday we turned this around– the voters chose to invest in our youth and our future.  In concrete terms, this resulted in a tuition freeze at the UC’s this year instead of a 20% fee hike.  And Prop 32, which may have actually been more important than 30 for big picture strategic reasons, went down too.  This all despite millions of dollars spent against us by billionaires and Super PACs who are now being investigated for money laundering.  I worked with dozens of high school and community college students who spent countless hours volunteering to get out the vote because they knew their future depended on it.  I’m so proud of them.

4.  In California, Democrats will likely win 2/3rds supermajorities in both the State Assembly and State Senate.  Some close races have ballots left to be counted, but newspapers are already calling it.  This is a big fucking deal.  Much of California’s budget craziness is due to the fact that you need a 2/3rds vote to raise taxes, or until recently, to approve the budget at all.  The California Republican Party has become increasingly isolated and radical, viewing any compromise as a sign of weakness, making it nearly impossible to get the couple of extra votes needed to pass no-brainer bills like the Middle Class Scholarship Act.  The bill would have closed a corporate tax loophole that benefits out-of-state corporations and used the money to slash college tuition by 60% for most students in California but failed this year.  But this also opens up huge new opportunities.  Some of these Dems are pretty conservative, and will be reluctant to vote for more revenue.  But with a Democratic supermajority and some good organizing, you could potentially get single payer health care in California, or universal preschool, or dramatically reduce college tuition.  As I said, big fucking deal.

5.  The next Congress will have more women than any Congress in American history.  Women candidates broke records in both the House and the Senate.  One of these women, Tammy Baldwin, is the first openly-gay Senator ever.

6.  Marriage equality made major strides.  Maine and Maryland voted to legalize gay marriage, and Washington looks like it’s on its way.  The tide is moving, it’s only a matter of time.

7.  We can all stop talking about Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney!

Also, bonus points.  For my Ventura Couny folks, we were in one of the closest congressional races in the entire country, and the Democrat, Julia Brownley squeaked out a victory over Tony Strickland, a politician I personally can’t stand.  And Measure S in Berkeley, which would have criminalized the homeless for sitting on the sidewalks, was defeated.

Should Social Justice Activists Give Up on Race-Based Affirmative Action?

Pretty soon the Supreme Court is probably going to hammer the last nail in the coffin of affirmative action.  The court will be hearing the case of Abigail Fisher next week, a young white woman who was denied admission to the University of Texas, Austin and blames it on affirmative action.

I think progressives should take this opportunity to give up on fighting for race-based affirmative action.  Not because it’s a bad idea, but because those of us who care about equality in education will be much more strategic and effective fighting for class-based affirmative action.

First I want to explain why I’ve always been a supporter of race-based affirmative action.  I think institutionalized racism is so deeply embedded in every facet of our society that people’s education and economic outcomes are strongly affected by it from the cradle to the grave.  I know there are some deniers out there.  But if that inequality of opportunity wasn’t real, then why do racial achievement gaps persist so strongly?  Let’s say certain types of people usually seem to win a hypothetical contest millions of times over.  You can only really come to two conclusions:  Either those types of people have some unfair advantages in that contest, or they are just naturally better.  I’m assuming nobody who reads this blog is going to say white people are on average naturally smarter.  So that leaves unfair advantage.  Because education is so critical to success in the modern world, if some groups enjoy an unfair advantage over others, we have a moral responsibility to fight that.

As a product of the University of California system, where affirmative action was banned in 1995 by Prop 209, I’ve seen the exciting sneak preview of how this Supreme Court case will likely turn out for the country:

Yeah it’s kinda like that.

California’s affirmative action ban has led to a campus filled mostly with kids from the upper-middle-class suburbs of the Bay Area and Los Angeles.  The many attempts to promote racial diversity by the UC system since Prop 209 have largely failed.

But sometimes, it’s less important what you wish could happen, and more important what you can actually win.  

This Supreme Court, the most conservative in modern history, will probably strike down race-based affirmative action.  Neither the majority of the American public nor the majority of our elected officials seem interested in keeping it.

A good political strategist knows when to throw in the towel.  But a better political strategist knows when to seemingly throw in the towel, and when their opponent raises their hands in victory, hit them in the chin with a dirty ass upper-cut.

Social justice activists could abandon attempts to defend race-based affirmative action while organizing a broader coalition around class-based affirmative action that includes low-income whites.  This is probably more politically winnable, legally defensible, and may be just a better policy for achieving social justice.

I’d propose some kind of comprehensive economic disadvantage index that includes factors like a student’s household income, parents’ educational attainment, neighborhood poverty rate, and what percent of students from their high school go to college.

While this doesn’t address direct discrimination by college admissions officers, it would still work against the inequality affecting youth in communities of color.  Students who make it through the barriers of growing up in East Oakland or South LA will still get recognition in college admissions for the struggles they faced.

More importantly, class-based affirmative action might do more to advance equity in education anyway.

The current racial categories used in admissions are not very accurate measures of students’ privilege or disadvantage.  An observant college student might notice the disproportionate share of the campus’s black community whose parents immigrated from Africa and the Caribbean.  Or the fact that virtually all the Asians on campus seem to be Korean, Taiwanese or Indian.  Despite the fact that many Southeast Asian communities in the US have similar levels of poverty to African-Americans and Latinos, they get lumped in the same “Asian” category as wealthier groups like Indians.  And even though black immigrant communities have higher education levels and lower poverty rates, they are treated the same as black communities struggling with the legacy of American slavery.

What finally convinced me is a landmark recent study that showed racial inequality in education seems to be falling, while class inequality in education is on the rise.  (See graph on right.)

The struggle for racial justice today is largely defined by the institutionalized racism that leads to deep and persistent poverty in communities of color.   It’s a deep and complex web of oppression and no policy tool is going to be perfect.

But movements have to be built on victories.  At a time when a backwards fall seems inevitable, class-based affirmative action is something we can win.

Obama is Still Winning Because Debates Don’t Win Elections, 22-Year-Olds With Clipboards Do

 

The media’s been blathering on, with a nauseating amount of corny sports/war metaphors, about how Romney dominated Wednesday’s debate against President Obama.   I agree that Romney did better.  And it did move the polls a bit.

But I will still literally bet anyone cash money right here right now that Obama’s going to win.

Why?  Check out the graph on the right.

 

What’s going on in this picture?  Obama and Romney were essentially tied in non-swing states, but Obama leads by an average of 11 points in the states that will actually decide the election.

That’s because swing states are where the real campaigning happens.  If you live in California like me, you might forget what a presidential campaign actually looks like.  Obama and Romney volunteers don’t knock on your door or call you at night, their fliers don’t come in your mailbox, and their ads rarely show up on your TV.   But in places like Ohio, every four years this shit called a campaign goes down on your block.

Here’s what that graph on the right means: Obama’s campaign team is just plain smarter and harder than Romney’s.  It doesn’t show up in most of the country.  But in the swing states, it’s very obvious that the Obama team is killin it.

 

Which is why Nate Silver, whose statistical model is probably the best in the game right now, calculates Romney hasn’t had more than a 1-in-3 chance of winning since late August.  He puts Obama at a 78.4% chance of winning right now, which is down a bit since the debate.  But it’s not nearly enough to really turn things around for Romney.

That’s because debates just don’t matter that much.  Most debate viewers are people who follow politics and have already made up their minds.  Think about all the swing voters you know.  How many of them actually watched the debate?

What does sway voters, in the crucial swing states, is a passionate 20-something-year-old volunteer knocking on their door on a Wednesday night after dinner, and maybe fumbling the script they’re supposed to read a little bit and fidgeting with their clipboard, but ultimately getting some main points across and more importantly making a personal connection.

That’s where the Obama team is kicking the ass of the Romney team right now.  And that’s why Obama is going to win.

The point I’m ultimately getting at here is I think most political journalists should be shipped off to some forsaken island and forced all day to watch two ants race across the barren rocks for moldy leftovers and report about it to each other.

They spend all their time on gaffes and speeches, but rarely cover the grueling behind-the-scenes work that actually wins or loses political battles, which really hurts the feelings of people who do that grueling behind-the-scenes political work.

But it’s not just my personal beef.  This article from the NY Times sums up perfectly how political reporters just can’t keep up with how modern campaigns work:

Journalists tend to mistake the part of the campaign that is exposed to their view — the candidate’s travel and speeches, television ads, public pronouncements of spokesmen and surrogates — for the entirety of the enterprise. They treat elections almost exclusively as an epic strategic battle to win hearts and minds whose primary tools are image-making and storytelling.

But particularly in a polarized race like this one, where fewer than one-tenth of voters are moving between candidates, the most advanced thinking inside a campaign is just as likely to focus on fine-tuning statistical models to refine vote counts and improve techniques for efficiently identifying and mobilizing existing supporters.

The bumbling incompetence of political reporters doesn’t just misinform the public.  It implies that most of the work done by campaigns doesn’t matter.  Which is funny because if they didn’t, candidates would just make speeches all day instead of spending so much money hiring field organizers all over the country.

So I just want to counter the bullshit by telling all the 22-year-olds with clipboards out there that you’re winning this thing, even if Barack Obama is a shitty debater.   The proof is in the numbers.

Are We Getting Smarter About Grad School?

The New York Times reported recently that new enrollment at American graduate schools is dropping.

This seems crazy considering that over the last decade, only Americans with advanced degrees saw any wage growth.  Even the average bachelor’s degree holder lost income.

Image

So what’s wrong with the kids these days?  Don’t those idiots know what’s good for them?

Well.  Are you the kind of nerd that reads an article like that and goes “I want to learn more, maybe I should download the full report”? I am, and I did.  And here’s what I found.

Graduate degrees in arts and humanities: plummeting.

Graduate degrees in math, engineering, and health sciences: still shooting through the roof.

Here’s my theory: When I was starting college, we thought we were facing a horrible crash that would recover within a few years like most recessions.  So being in school was a great way to wait it out.  The ivory tower was like an armored fortress to protect us from the evils of recession-land.  Grad school applications soared.  Now we’re realizing for some reason we seem to be stuck in a long-term stagnation and we won’t return to full employment for what’s technically known as a Long Ass Time.  Unfortunately, most grad programs don’t last a Long Ass Time, so instead those people came out two years later with a ton of debt and a still-shitty-economy.  People are no longer using graduate school as a shelter, they’re now only going if the program will actually improve their economic prospects when they finish.

A similar trend has happened as news spreads that going to law school is an increasingly bad economic decision.  Last spring I obnoxiously gloated to my law school aspiring friends that the law school bubble had finally burst— after a seemingly endless rise, law school applicants had dropped tremendously over the past year.

But then, as if Christmas had come twice, I had even more news to gloat about:  Among those with low LSAT scores, applications were still high.  The real drop in applicants was happening at the top of the LSAT score range.

Image

Weird, right?  Why would the best and brightest potential lawyers stop applying to law school?

It probably means the smartest people are the ones most likely to read news about how there’s a glut of people with law degrees in the labor market.  They’re the ones who hear about things like recent graduates suing their law schools for fudging impressive job placement statistics and decide to not go to law school.

Now I’m all for education having inherent value outside of pure money-making.  But higher education has grown absurdly expensive and financial aid has failed to keep up.  If you just want to open your mind or something like that, you can literally get a Harvard education for free through downloading podcasts of their classes.  There are also hella books in these old fashioned things called libraries.

It’s not that you shouldn’t go to grad school.  If you want to be a surgeon, go for it.  Maybe some other professional schools.  Only a non-professional school if you actually want to be a professor.  If you’re doing it because you “don’t really know exactly what you want to do yet”, please do us all a favor and donate your tuition to a nonprofit organization.  Seriously, here’s a link to mine, you can pay with credit card.

Bottom line: If young people are increasingly saying no to graduate programs that won’t pay off, that’s a good thing.