Friday Hope: DonorsChoose.org

Today is dark and drizzly here in Seattle. I remain even more disillusioned about yesterday’s VP debate and the current bailout.

A link from a friend pointed me to a website called DonorsChoose.org, where public school teachers in the United States are asking for outside donations to fund projects in their classrooms. Projects come across the curriculum from literacy and math to science and music.

In an era of ‘no new taxes,’ we all know that public education gets its budget slashed early. Bill Gates testified before Congress to let him hire more immigrants in high-level computer sciences because there are not enough qualified Americans to do the job.

Public education holds a strong place in my heart as with the exception of three years, my K-12 education was in public schools of varying qualities. Same with my two younger brothers. I have friends who are teachers and I agree with them that No Child Left Behind has left millions of children and schools behind. Even those gifted children Bill Gates wants to hire as college-educated adults.

While I have chosen to not to have children of my own, I vote for every school levy because I remember going to a poor and unpopular high school. I had wonderful teachers who got me interested in literature, politics, art, and foreign languages, and I had an equal share of horrible teachers who discouraged me in science, math, and physical education. To quote Shakespeare, “The past is prologue” and I can’t help but think that those formable years had their impact on where I am today. I wonder what my own schooling would’ve been like had there been better funding.

I think it’s sad, unpatriotic, and inhumane that these teachers can’t get funding elsewhere. But at least, they have somewhere to go to seek the help they need and we can give it to them.

Seattle: Not Just the Big Unfriendly City

When I was growing up, I always said that I was going to move away to a big city and never look back. Which is just what I did in my move to Seattle. (Okay, you can argue that Seattle isn’t that big, but it is the big city in the Pacific Northwest.)

Here’s a view from my balcony:

I had some time to think when I was at my mom’s wedding of just why I couldn’t/wouldn’t move back to my hometown Bend, Oregon. Especially when my mom and fake!daddy offered to kick both my brothers out of their home and let me and Jason move in.

But I think I’ll stick with Seattle.

Reasons why I love Seattle

1. Nightlife — Okay, I’m completely bias considering that I met Jason out and about. But seriously, Seattle has a pretty hopping nightlife from moving-and-shaking in Capital Hill and drunk U students in the University District to a little class in Belltown and that hometown feel in Ballad. Any night of the week, you can go to a concert. Those with more exotic tastes can probably find a subculture to serve something up. But seriously, who doesn’t want to kick it up at Hot Flashes, the ’70s/’80s dance party for 36+ lesbians and those who love them? Or eat a warm Italian wine custard or a 12-egg omelet at 2 a.m.?

2. Neighborhoods — As a prosumer, everything is customizable and that includes your neighborhood. This is especially true in Seattle. Neighborhoods work like a town within a city. They keep your community and they keep your grocery store within walking distance if you’re lucky. I live in Magnolia and I don’t really “fit” there, despite loving my apartment. I liked West Seattle better and all my friends think I should move to Capital Hill. I was having a conversation with my Portlander cousin about why I think Seattle is better than Portland and she said Seattle felt cold and not like a city. Then she told me she’d been staying in Northgate or almost the suburbs as I refer to it. Jason laments letting go of his bachelor’s pad in the U-District, only to remember the frat houses and how hard it was find parking on a Friday night. My friend Gretchen doesn’t think a single woman and cat fit into Ballad and dreams of a condo in Leschi. While my friend Steve swears by Beacon Hill in his post-grad school and paying back student loans years.Another friend of mine is afraid of the South End of Seattle and when inquiring why I don’t show the same worry, I remind her that I lived in Tacoma for five-years before moving to Seattle. Someone is going to make a lot of money is s/he writes a programming code to match you up with a neighborhood based on your personality. Red and blue states divided up on a micro-level.

3. Opportunity — This was the big reason I decided not to move back home after college. Seattle is one of the United State’s most educated cities, and it shows in just how much industry we have up here. Okay, the housing prices completely suck for those without degrees and even for those who do. However, we still need people to make coffee at Starbucks or take tickets at the Space Needle. I work in the tech industry (bias) and Microsoft is only one ridiculous commute away. Not to mention Google, HP, Starbucks, Real Video, Eddie Bauer, R.E.I., etc.

4. Urban Shopping, Farmer’s Markets, and the Great Outdoors — I’m an indoor kitten. I love being able to find what I need inside the city and knowing all those little niche places to find them. I like being on a first name basis with the guy at the comic store. I also love Seattle’s farmers markets. There’s one in every part of the city, plus Pike Place Market, which is open 7 days a week. Support local farmers and eating fresh food is a win-win in my book. I also add the Great Outdoors because it might not be my style, but Jason can testify about the great rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, and other outdoor sports located both in and just outside Seattle. You can swim in Green Lake with assurance that I know a lifeguard.

5. Tourism — Tourist bring money into the city and also create jobs. They also help keep landmarks like the EMP from going the way of the dodo. Plus, tourism guarantees that there’s stuff to do during the day and stuff to do when your relatives come to visit. This is very important since not all of them, like my mom, are okay playing Solitaire and watching Veronica Mars all weekend. (Okay, we were both very ill with the flu that visit.) And tourists go home after they visit, leaving the housing for us Seattlites to fight over.

Reasons why I dream about moving away from Seattle

1. Traffic — Ask anyone about traffic and you’ll get an earful. (On the plus side, it makes a great conversation starter at parties.) Want to leave the office early to beat the traffic on Friday, you’ll be leaving at about 2 p.m. I’ve moved cities just to shorten my commute. Even my Boston-living-and-commuting friend Mally flinched at the traffic. My personal commute from home to work takes me 25 minutes on a good day and over an hour on a very bad one. It’s smart to learn the back roads and how the connect through the city without using the major interstate. Or acquire yourself a friend who used to be a taxi driver to suggest routes to you. (Thanks, Eric! I go that way to and from work.) Or convince co-workers to carpool with you. Jason swears by his bicycle, even it’s sometimes scary, for his commute; his bike is faster than both his car and the city bus.

2. Rain or the Cloud Cover — Seattle is rather infamous for its rain. It’s actually a very temperate climate and gets less rain than Portland. The rainfall is attributed to keeping Seattle cleaner for a city of its size and lush and green. However, there is gloomy cloud cover most all Fall/Winter/Early Spring. The cloud cover is depressing and gloomy. I miss sunshine and rainbows. Seattle needs more rainbows.

3. Northgate, Tukwila, and the ‘burbs — Seattle is surround by ‘burbs. Which are usually the products of two things: 1) people not wanting to expose their children to the scary city and 2) poverty, also known as people who can’t afford Seattle. The ‘burbs make the commute worse as in order to make money, everyone wants to work in Seattle. I also think ‘burbs are a soulless eyesore of sprawl. I work in Tukwila, and it’s super depressing. (Where the poor people live for those not paying attention.) There are box stores, dads driving mini-vans, and those neighborhood you can’t navigate because all the houses look identical. Once in a while, I brave them to visit my Uncle Tom in Lake Stevens, but he doesn’t understand my fear. He doesn’t understand the look of terror in my eye when I can’t find his house, get dragged to middle school volleyball games in the mini-van, and watch him incrementally move his giant TV for best viewing. Sorry, Uncle Tom, but after Seattle going north, there’s only Canada.

4. Everyone has a B.A. in English, just like you — There might be opportunity, but Seattle is full of overly qualified people. Or someone just a hair more qualified than you and you’re probably only three degrees of separation away from them. My former co-workers and I used to compare which jobs we’d all applied for and interviewed for. One now works at a job I turned down.

5. Tourism — Yes, they were on the plus side too. On the bad side, they block the streets downtown on the weekend. They don’t know where they’re going. They leave garbage behind. They complain about the rain and the traffic and don’t live here. Plus, it gives your relatives extra incentive to visit you.

Personal Accountability Starts with Education

I’m a news junkie. Okay, I’m an NPR-listening and blog-reading junkie. I’ve been listening and reading many different commentaries on the collapsing financial structure. I probably shouldn’t be. I think it’s adversely affecting my mood. (Also I really hate the term personal accountability because it sounds like I don’t think that anyone else should be doing anything to help out. Which…just read on.)

One of the most interesting segments I heard on my local NPR affiliate was a segment where people where asked if the federal government should be bailing out these major financial institutions. Most the people who spoke were angry and said that the CEOs should reap what they’ve sown all these years.

Of course, that’s nice and dandy, except for most people don’t realize how much they could be personally screwed over if the institutions failed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for better regulations. I am all for better watchdog groups. I am all for prosecuting CEOs and others who’ve knowingly practiced predatory lending or broke the law in other ways. I do not think they should get huge severance packages that could feed me for the rest of my life.

The base question is Who thought it would be a good idea to run the economy on debt?

A lot of people have some finger-pointing, whether it’s Alan Greenspan, the Bush administration, greedy CEOs, bad auditors, home owners who took loans they couldn’t repay, etc.

One argument I’ve seen less of is how to make this stop from every happening again, and that, I believe, lies in personal financial education. Wall Street and a debt-filled, but bailing-us-out US government are no role models when it comes to finances. And, as a Gen-Y-er, neither are, for the most part, my parents and their fellow Baby Boomers who are currently by-in-large the movers and the shakers of this depressed economy.

Why isn’t there a required Personal Finance and Basic Accounting class for every high school graduate? You don’t just *know* how to set-up a bank account or get a mortgage. You aren’t born knowing how to buy stocks (like that dreadful commercial would like you to think) or invest in a sensible 401k. You don’t intrinsically know how to balance a checkbook.

I grew up with something of a home field advantage. Pre-divorce, my mother did all the accounting for the family business, and I helped her out since I was old enough to stuff envelopes and lick stamps. But even I was in for something of a shock when post-college graduation, I had a degree, about $700 to my name, needed a new place to live with my new roomie, and needed a job. Before my first paycheck, I almost didn’t know if I was going to be able to afford the gas to get to work. Granted, my family and friends were not going to be me starve or be homeless. It was a rough summer, but I did it and was even able to start saving money once my paychecks started.

But not all of us have the know-how to pull ourselves up by the financial bootstraps. A lot of us end up getting loans we can’t afford, end up defaulting, end up filling for bankruptcy, etc. Not to mention all the personal emotional and relationship consequences money can cause.

Currently, things are tight financially at Casa della Erica. Jason and I recently moved, and it was Jason’s birthday and someone (me) went a little over the top with buying him presents. We’ll weather the storm and we know that now is not the time to spend extra money at the comic store or go out to eat. What we’re not going to do is spend money we don’t have. I know I have miles to go when it comes to preparing for my future financially.

If we the people learn how to budget, learn how to search for the best loan options when we need one, etc., then maybe we’ll teach a new generation to have a better relationship with money. We don’t have to financial experts, but we did need to learn the basics and how to tell an expert from a phony when it comes to things we don’t know about. Or as Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” And maybe then we’ll have a stable economy and a better relationship with each other and our world.

And for our stability and money’s sake, make Suze Orman required reading.

The Redneck Vote

Amanda Marcotte on Pandragon.net writes Rednecks and Offense, an article about the changing nature of the word ‘redneck,’ the appeal to rednecks by Republicans, and how she’s not that far from a redneck.

Obviously, I have joked about my mom’s recent redneck wedding on this blog before. It’s no secret that there are a lot of rednecks in my family (on both sides), and yes, they use that word with reclamation and pride. And to be fair, my maternal family is populated with a lot of Vatican II Catholic yellow-dog Democrats and my paternal family is a mix of we-love-guns Libertarians and stereotypical redneck Republicans.

There have been family Christmases were my father’s family all sat around watching the hunting channel and Larry the Cable Guy. Or where my brother and maternal grandpa have changed the station from CNN to the rodeo. All the men in my immediate family drive trucks or jeeps that I, at 5’5″, have to be hoisted into and neither of my grandmas even attempt to climb into on their own. When my brothers go “rock climbing,” what they mean is that they drive their jeeps over rocks or watch their friends do the same.

My mom’s favorite beer is Michelob Ultra Lite that she buys at Wal-Mart; it’s cheap and has 96 calories, and she will hunt down the sales associate to ask him why they don’t stock more than two cases on the store floor. My dad prefers Coolers Light; my 22-year-old brother will drink about anything; my fake!daddy likes Bud Light; and I take lime in my Corona. We all have country and western music on our iPods, except my dad, who I don’t think knows how to work one.

I know how to muck stalls and castrate male lambs. I’ve owned at least one pair of rubber boots from the time I was four until I graduated high school. You do not want to change irrigation or dust chickens with chemicals to kill lice in flip-flops. And I still wear my authentic purple cowboy boots. While I don’t like hunting, I have had a lot of fun at the firing range.

However, I’m one of those latte-drinking big city liberals.

Scratch that.

I don’t like lattes or coffee for that matter. But I will admit that I love Chai tea and I’m a hot tea snob. I like my tea imported from England from Whittard of Chelsea. (Hint, if you ever want to buy me something.)

I do live in the big city. Well, in Seattle, which is the biggest city in the PacificNorthwest. However, my friend Mally from Boston still laughs at me, even if she does fear our traffic after experiencing it herself.

And I am a liberal. I’m very liberal and I pretty much have been. Except when for some reason, as a young child, Ross Perot really entertained me. Probably because he was loud and upset everyone, which is always hilarious.

I’ve always liked to watch the evening news (I blame my maternal grandparents) and listen to NPR, which I guess became a default choice when I couldn’t stand the adult contemporary or modern country stations in my hometown as a preteen. I enjoy being critical of the two-party system, and I’m sure my mom can tell you call about my Bill Clinton paper doll I made, which often said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and wore my Barbie’s skirts. Humor makes me not want to throw up every time I watch or listen to the news.

I’m also part of the liberal elite and went to this really snobby liberal arts university, which I should mention, so did Larry the Cable Guy’s daughter.

But wait, didn’t I state in a previous post, I didn’t know who I’m voting for? That’s right; I don’t. But I never said I didn’t know who I wasn’t voting for.

Like Amanda, I know what both world’s are like. And I also know how far they aren’t apart.

I also know that in order to persuade rednecks to vote for you in next election, you need to speak their language. They need to be included in the branding concept.

The Republicans do a great job at this. Sarah Palin is moose-hunting hockey mom from Alaska; like her or dislike her, she has been a one woman branding force for the McCain campaign. She probably wears puffy coats and is still attractive, while being the type of woman who would drink from a can of beer. This is her image. It doesn’t matter that she raised taxes, even on food, in her hometown and left it $22 million in debt. She’s still campaigning on a smaller government and no tax raises. Palin is telling the redneck contingent what they want to hear because that’s what branding is about.

Obama’s camp, on the other side, might have progressive policies to help the lower and middle classes with taxes, health care, etc. He promises no tax increase if earning under $250K and tax cuts for those making under $75K. However, even taxing the very rich seems to frighten tax-hating rednecks. This is not what they want to hear. And what they really don’t want to hear is the collective head-banging-on-desk of Obama-supporters and the campaign itself, when the redneck voting contingent says they like McCain/Palin better on the issues of taxes than Obama/Biden. No one in my family has ever made over $250k/year. But my paternal grandma is still sending me e-mails about how Obama will ruin the country.

Instead of insulting rednecks for being ignorant, the Democrats need to reach out to them and properly communicate with them. The Democrats need to make a branding campaign that will effect them. I’m not saying Obama should wear a cowboy hat or they have to persuaded a country artist to write a song about them. (Though Toby Keith supports Obama.) But throwing out facts is not working. Obama’s message of Hope and Change is supposed to reach out and effect everyone. That’s one of the reasons why it’s such an effective branding slogan for the liberal-voting choir and why the Republicans have attached themselves to a Change message. (We all agree that Bush sucks.)

If the Democrats want to level the playing field for the redneck vote, they need to direct Hope and Change to that audience. Don’t say, we’ll lower your taxes so you can send your children to college and then they can work white-collar jobs instead of blue ones. Don’t say, are you stupid, there were not weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and global warming is real for the 15th billionth time. Instead, do some homework and get a neighbor, who’s just like them except voting for Obama, to campaign for you or make Biden be the guy who will have a beer in your kitchen with you, make him as VP just as appealing as the Republicans have made Palin. Connect with the youth who use MySpace instead of just Facebook and people (shame time) like my paternal grandma, who really does believe that Obama is Muslim thanks to internet forwards. (I tried to educate her otherwise, trust me.)

If myself and someone who thinks you’re only rich if you make over $5 million knows that this “cultural divide” isn’t as big as it really seems and can market to them, maybe I’ll save a lime or two for Obama and Biden.

“At Least I Don’t Beat You.” Making a Prosumer Workplace

Growing up, my father was not always the nicest person and had a tendency to be emotionally abusive. I was an ornery child who liked to point out this behavior when it happened, or at least, complain about it to my mother. And while these are issues, I’ve dealt with, one thing always sticks in the back of my mind after all these years: the bad parenting excuse was always, “At least I don’t beat you.” Beating was held up as the worst and most unforgivable action a parent could do to a child, and since I was never beaten (we’re talking severe beatings, not light spankings), I was lucky to have such a wonderful father unlike other children.

(Granted, part of the dealing with the issues and growing up, was realizing that my paternal grandparents were likely Old Testament “spare the rod, spoil the child” folks and believers that no one should tell parents what they can and can’t do with their children. My grandfather died when I was very young and grandmother mostly made pancakes and let me run around in her backyard when I was a child. The spoils of being the grandchild and born in the ’80s, instead their child of the ’50s.)

What does this have to do with the workplace and being a prosumer? And why do I believe that being a prosumer when it comes to your career is helpful for your long-term career satisfaction and our economic well-being?

It’s that I’ve come to the realization since entering the workforce, between jobs I’ve had and jobs I’ve been a candidate for, that many workplaces employ the policy of “At least I don’t beat you” when it comes to taking care of their employees, whether it be workplace conditions, salaries, benefits, or policies. Only it’s called “At least you have a job” or “At least you have health insurance even if you have to pay for part of it and go to our doctors only” or “At least you can wear jeans on Friday.”

Okay, I completely get it that our economy is in the toliet, but that’s no excuse and is certainly not going to keep employees at bay. Especially in an age when they google how much a public company’s CEO makes in a year or can do a little digging on privately-held companies. Like how the CEO’s, of the parent company I work for, total cash compensation for 2007 was $4.8 million and that’s not including stocks and other compensation. Even as a prosumer and someone who strives to contribute meaning the world, it still does feel like a kick in the stomach when, after some simple math, including “raise” adjustments based on those given this year, I find out that if I keep going on this job track, I will never make that much money in my entire life. (I simply use myself as an example since I don’t have others’ information, but use it as an example of a common workplace practice in large corporations. Certainly, Wal-Mart greeters make negative pennies compared to Sam Walton.)

Sometimes, I think while that much money would be nice, I know it wouldn’t make me happy. Researchers suggest that $40k a year, having romance, and a social life is the baseline for happiness and anymore does not really increase it. I would also add that it’s probably an average America salary baseline and that you should adjust for cost of living in your area. For example, NYC, LA, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, etc. are going to be a lot higher. Freedom Ideas argues that money is only 1/3 of our happiness. I really like this article in that it talks about ideals that I would consider part of being a prosumer in the workplace, including doing what you love for living.

Okay, sometimes, a job is a job and you need it to pay the rent and live. Sometimes a job is a stepping stone into a better job: all for the experience. But never let a job make you believe that you aren’t worth it and that they’re a good company just because they don’t beat you.

If their tag line is at least I don’t beat you, they aren’t worth your time and your effort. If they ask you if you saw last night’s The Office and then ask you to come in on Saturday, they don’t get it.

I am not lucky to be employed. I earned my employment through my experience and my persistence and keep my job as I’m contributing to the company. Yes, people are hired every day who do not know how to do their job and they’re even kept on by companies. But it’s not luck, they’re obviously giving an employer something they need, even if it’s not actually doing their job.

Vacation time, sick days, and health insurance should not be considered benefits I need to grovel to a company for and praise their holy name for. In my prosumer workplace, I am not an indentured servant, and one day, these are either going to be rules enforced by OSHA (and some already are to an extent) or we’re all going to be losing, except that 1% at the top. I would note that I do not trust corporations to do this on their own and know that they will need government incentives or penalties to get their acts together.

Likewise, as a web designer, having the latest technology and access to the materials needed for my job is not a luxury. I should not be hunting down standard fonts on BitTorrent because a company doesn’t want to shell out $30 a font when annual net profit is up. I should be considered an expert in my field, as that was why they hired me, and when I mention that the company should take advantage of the latest and greatest web marketing technology such as Facebook, Twitter, social bookmarking, or even revamping the site to make it rely on CSS, I should not be ignored or treated like the internet is a passing fad.

Every prosumer requires something different in a job and to make a prosumer workplace. Someone may need a company softball team to make them happy. Someone else may think that free beverages and Friday breakfast make the company as a perk that takes the job from just another job to a career. Someone else may need flexible hours or the work from home to take care of children, parents, partners, or themselves.

The biggest career mistake I ever made was compromising my standards and not doing my research about the company. (For full disclosure, I’ve worked for five different employers full-time since I was 17-years-old, and no, I’m not going to tell you which one I’m talking about.) It was not listening to the tiny voice in the back of my head. This has set my entire career back about 25% from my peers, who are my age and in my field. It was not having the voice of experience to give me a better idea what the workplace was like; it was not knowing what I know now. Part of the reason I have this blog is to grow, learn from my experiences, and retain what four years of expensive elite private college did not teach me.

So what does an employer get out of creating a prosumer workplace? An excellent employee who will be happy and excel at his/her career. An employee, who might not come in on Saturdays, but will maybe stay a little longer during the week. An employee who will not feel the mighty self-esteem blow of fear and will feel empowered by the workplace. Having confident, happy employees that tell people they love their jobs is so much better for everyone, and it just might, actually be better for our economy and well-being as a nation and world. Imagine that.