Buy the Zoo (+ 16 other things we learned during the Inauguration & March)

Two months ago, my best friend Maribeth and I bought a zoo. (Bear with me for a minute.) In a late-night text conversation on November 10, we came up with The Whole Truth Booth: a virtual platform for people across a divided America to listen to and learn from one another. Part of this was for our own personal benefit: we lived in deafening echo chambers, and we never expected a Hillary loss. But if Trump was to be our new President, we had to find a way to listen — to understand those who seemed so far away from us physically, socially, culturally, and politically.

We did what any startup does: ran the idea past some friends, found an app developer, and against all rational judgement (those pesky jobs and families), bought the zoo. We never fancied ourselves tech entrepreneurs. We were just two women living in flyover states (Minnesota & Colorado) who wanted to help bridge political divides across America.

The Whole Truth Booth Video

Putting our action where our hair-brained ideas were, we went D.C. for the Inauguration and the Women’s March. Different crowds, different mass gatherings. Both wholly American days. Through all of this— the app, the travel, the conversations with 200 strangers over the course of two days — we learned some stuff. Here are the 17 things we think you should know:

1. Everyone has a story. While they might hesitate at first, they want their story to be heard. And once they start talking, they realize they have so much to say.

2. Everyone cares right now. If your guy won, you’re excited, hopeful, and ready for change. If your gal didn’t win, you’re focused, charged, and motivated to be the change.

Clips from WTB Footage of Inauguration Day

3. If you can’t stand the guy getting sworn in, there’s something to be revered about watching the peaceful transition of power.

4. If you’re thrilled about the guy getting sworn in, there’s something incredible about letting other people voice their frustration peacefully.

The WTB team arrives at Inauguration (Capitol photo bombing in the background)

5. People are kind and generous. They care deeply about the future of our country. They are proud to be American. They love freedom — of speech, religion, choice — and they love opportunity.

6. Listening is hard. But actually hearing others can move us forward as a community. Have a conversation, feel compassion, and really listen. Keep seeking those moments. Promise, it’s worth it.

7. If we don’t collectively get out of our phones and look people in the eye, we won’t move forward. There is no replacement for human connection. (But you should still totally download our app.)

Ricky from Maryland shared his truth with WTB at the Women’s March

8. Yelling feels good. Whether it’s cheering for the new President or fighting for your rights — especially with a whole bunch of other people doing the same thing — yelling is cathartic, empowering, and motivating. Yell for what you believe in.

9. Being uncomfortable is the new black. Have the hard conversations. You’d be surprised what you can learn when you seek out people who challenge your ideals. Getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations is one step toward finding common ground (and there’s lots of it).

10. Invite your proverbial mom. But don’t expect her to sit idly by. Sometimes your mom will surprise you and turn into the world’s-greatest crowd wrangler. Sometimes she’ll start call-and-repeat chants with hundreds of people. Moms can be tenacious, silly, generous and fiercely supportive. Bring your mom.

Nina’s mom (Janet) charmed every person she met — total badass.

11. Always have your people. Find ones who’ll drive across the country to help. Ones who share your vision and want to make it real. They’ll provide ideas and be in it for the failures, glories, excitement, and sadness. Buy them a lot of cheese and beer and cross your fingers that they laugh at your jokes.

12. Wear sensible shoes. Civic participation often means long days on your feet and smart footwear is key. Being a patriot is hard work. And it’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. So get in a sneakers mentality — you want to move, not strut. Be willing to walk a long way.

13. Be a camel. Retain everything (especially water). There will never be enough time to absorb what you hear and see and feel in the moment. Hold onto it until you have time to digest it. There will also never be enough port-o-potties. So, chew slowly. Sip the water. Be purposeful.

WTB Team at the Women’s March

14. Plan your food. Because at 6 AM, you aren’t going to want to pack a lunch. And there isn’t going to be anywhere to buy snacks. And when your team barely has a moment to take a deep breath, you’re going to get hangry. A team is only as strong as its hangriest member.

15. Find a best friend. Probably in a bar, when you’re 22. Spend 15 years growing up and laughing openly with (and at) each other. And when one of you comes up with an outlandish idea, hear her out (and then see #16).

16. Buy the zoo. You might have no clue what you’re doing, or recognize any of the animals, but do it anyway. Because if you can’t think of anything else, and if you can’t think of a reason not to, then the zoo is yours, and you’ll figure the rest out along the way.

17. Butterfinger is the best candy ever. Nevermind, we knew that already.

We probably learned some other stuff too (like how to use a D.C. metro card, for instance). All we really know is that this process — listening, learning — doesn’t end. But we wake up and do this every day because we are Patriots. We love this country, its people, and the hope it instills in the world. And we know that if we can listen to people across this great country every day, we’re gonna make it after all.

To learn more visit The Whole Truth Booth. And to donate your lunch money, visit our Indiegogo campaign.

Co-Founders Nina & Maribeth at the bar in NYC where they met 15 years ago.

*Many Butterfingers were harmed in learning all these things. Butterfinger has no relationship with The Whole Truth Booth other than being delicious.

**RIP Mary Tyler Moore. Thanks for inspiring us — and generations of women — to find our own inner Mary Richards.