Social Engineering to repair us.

As an activist and organizer I have worked on local, state and national political campaigns. In crisis, I have worked on the ground in many parts of the world (Zimbabwe, Hurricanes Katrina & Sandy and Nice, France). Frequently I get calls from organization or non-profits that want my help. Almost always they want my experience and my knowledge for free.

A few years back I was asked to help a burgeoning crisis in Madagascar. Locusts were destroying the food supply and the Island was going to face huge hunger issues. The island was also going to lose one-of-a kind species that can only be found on Madagascar. I suggested to the hiring team to create a way for the locusts to be caught and entered into the food supply. My contact loved the idea and asked me to begin raising money.

I knew exactly what needed to be done, and how to execute the plan. It was important to get local people involved on the ground to change the trajectory and outcome of this crisis. In my career, I use to raise money to help organize solutions or create an awareness of social issues like those in Zimbabwe, where men are counseled to rape virgins to cure their aids. Yes, this is true and men continue to rape one day olds every. single. day.

I stopped doing this work because my husband finally said, “If you stop doing all these things to change the world, we will actually make money.” Which really meant that I was subsidizing my documentaries and crisis work. Even without a MB from Stanford, I knew this was not sustainable. This was the last time I ever took on a project to raise the money for my own work or take a job that wanted me to work for free.

Turning down some of this work is painful because many times the subject or place of crisis is a passion of mine. I must say though, it is incredibly backwards to ask people who risk their lives, save lives or create an awareness to STOP something horrible happening globally to work for low salaries or for free.

There are some people, who I call “Angels on Earth” with careers in Nursing or as firefighters and teachers should not have to struggle to survive in our world. For example, most of the people who care about poverty in East Palo Alto, or the 50 million americans living with “food insecurity” which is just the government cleansed words for children that go to bed hungry.

If we just talk about the U.S. we are unprepared. If we expand the discussion to the world, we are woefully unprepared.

Why should you care?

Global climate violence. Weather changes that affect food supplies. ISIS wreaking havoc.crumbling infrastructures.ineffective government.

Who is going to hand you your basket when the world goes to hell?

No one.

Let’s take the Red Cross. They are an epitome of a sinkhole of expectations. Working side by side with the RC in two hurricanes, written articles about their ineffectiveness and how little of the money they raise gets to the victims in disaster zones. Despite the bad headlines, and the poor response, nothing has changed.

In Hurricane Sandy there was this terrific group of local cops and firefighters and neighborhood volunteers who created their own emergency team- because those first 48 hours are the worst of the crisis. Most emergency agencies begin to come in on the 3rd day. Until they arrive, what do you do with the bodies? How do you clean out toxic houses and streams? http://www.

If you haven’t heard about the half a billion dollars the Red Cross raised for Haiti, you must be living under a freeway overpass. In that case you are too far down the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy needs, you can stop reading. However, RC was disparaged for their lack of effectiveness in the Haiti disaster. After a few months, people forget. It’s like having a baby, the reason women have more is we forget how painful the first delivery was.

I have seen the pain and powerlessness that strikes neighborhoods where there is no help. Those first 48 hours are a lifetime in tragedies. I have witnessed the volunteers who stayed in upscale hotels, choose not to eat the food they distributed and could not solve a problem in real time unless it was sanctioned by leadership. (See how long that takes you!) In crisis you have to be able to think on your feet.

One time a team member got a call from Red Cross volunteers who had over 500 hamburgers cooked and ready to eat. It was just hitting dusk in Sandy Hook and there was no electricity. Volunteers and residents had gone home before darkness descended. “Sorry we told them, everyone has gone home. “ The two men wearing Red Cross emblazoned jackets threw the garbage bag of meat off the back of the truck anyways. Someone on the crew, took a photo. It went viral. We all agreed that none of us would have fed that meat to our own dog.

I don’t mean to pick on the Red Cross, it’s just one of the groups that I have had the most experience with, but they are far from the only one. In fact we have a systemic failure in our government and organizations that help the world in crisis. Hurricane Sandy happened in the winter of 2012. It has been almost 4 years, and we are as ill prepared today as we were than.

We are not just ill-prepared in natural disasters. Our law enforcement has huge training issues regarding race. The justice department just released their report confirming the worst about how police treat African Americans. The justice Department also discovered leaders in law enforcement and the court system in Baltimore had a gender sexual assault bias as well, Perhaps we can look at why so many hundreds of thousand of rape kits that go untested yearly. Testing these kits could prevent further rapes and murders from happening: http://www.

When the Nice, France terrorist attack happened last month, for reasons that are too boring here, I had to jump in and help. It has been four years since Hurricane Sandy and still…

There was no answer at the White House when I desperately tried to notify them we had over 50 people missing.

The International and U.S. based news teams have been gutted. I reached voice mail for every major news outlet including the BBC and CNN 24 hour news service. CNN isn’t that false advertising?

Technology can do incredible things today, but in emergency situations the the technology remains in the dark ages. We still have black boxes recording information on downed planes, lack of locating devices on victims. In Nice, their was no official missing persons list for victims of the attack. Families and friends searched frantically for loved ones, on the pavement and driving from hospital to hospital. There are so many better ways to handle this.

Don’t give critical jobs to your buddies. I was once offered a prestigious Franklin Fellow in the Department of State. It was an illustrious opportunity until I realized there was no salary, no stipend and no housing. Sure I could be one of many that have these opportunities, but these opportunities are only for those who have the connections and/money. We are getting only one sliver of the american demographic and one that probably hasn’t had much experience in the ghetto.

Stop giving roles to those without experience -Just like Presidential elections, the more money you raise, the better Ambassador role or staff position you will get. This should stop. It is your reward for your hard work in that sector and your experience that should get you those roles. If not, we limit the passion, the knowledge and the potential impact.

We need a global emergency response team. Somewhere any time of day or night, people can call. Do you know that in the 2004 Tsunami scientists knew 6 hours before the water hit the shores, and could not reach anyone: http://articles. Since that event, there is a global warning system, but it’s not enough. We are looking at increases in natural disasters and oceans rising. We need to learn to pivot and iterate like Silicon Valley to address these issues in advance. We have the knowledge, but have not shown the commitment.

We need to gut many of our crisis organizations. This includes tea-drinking southern board members who are rigid and unable to pivot in an emergency situation. Yes, being on a board might be nice for your resume but if you are not adding value, GET OUT OF THE WAY. Executives need to come out from behind their desks, put away their designer suits and go work at the crisis on the ground. It would be great if every. single. member. of Congress joined them.

Politics and citizens need to shift to the art of social engineering. Our country has been broken for so long, we have forgotten what needs to be fixed. Worse so many citizens feel powerless, it seems no matter how low we rate Congress, they don’t care. We don’t set the agenda, money does. We need to change that too, and not just with Citizen’s United. If their is a loophole or a way for the average citizen to fight back, Congress usually finds a way to change the law. Who is working for whom?

Expect your government to do their job. When I was stuck in a third world prison in Africa, my assistant and I spent one of the nights listening to 6 African women tell their personal stories about AIDS, an arrest after bordering jumping or being beaten by their spouse. The woman who had been hit, was beaten so badly she was unrecognizable in the photos she carried. At one point, I just began to sob. The one woman who was the leader asked me why I cried. “I said I cry for you, for your lives.” She looked at me with a complete lack of understanding. A blank stare. These women had such little expectations for their lives, they did not even recognize how bad it was.

The good news is that most Americans have seen higher expectations for their lives and our country and know we are on the wrong path. We know that our country must face, explore, and resolve many issues. We recognize the situation we are in, but like the bullfrog placed in warm water, we were complacent even as the pot heats up. Doing nothing is the same as watching that poor frog who cooked. We must turn that powerlessness into powerfulness.

We need to get rid of outdated, inept buildings and people and departments that cannot move fast and make decisions.

If you can’t SOLVE the problem, I don’t care how much money you have raised for a candidate, get out of the way.

Corporations need to held accountable by our government.

Our government needs to be held accountable by the people.

But…our people are asleep. We are asleep. WAKE UP