Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ah, the Tea Party

I'm all for public protest. I think there should be more of it. This is America, after all! People have the right to express their opinions. How else can the people send their message to the government in a mostly non election year?

I have questions about the tea party people, though. I wonder who they are. I wonder where they grew up, who their parents are, what their parents do/did for a living, where did they go to school, did they go to college, what did they earn degrees in, what was their first job?

I wonder if any of them grew up in foster care, wards of the state. I wonder if any of them suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. I wonder if their elderly parents receive Medicaid. Did they get Pell grants, if they attended college? Did either of their parents ever lose their jobs or have to file for bankruptcy or have their homes foreclosed on?

I ask because I have this idea in my head about who these people are. I wonder how far off my idea of them is.

In high school, I joined the speech and debate team, not truly understanding what all that would entail. One year, we went to a regional competition. I needed clothing for this, I needed money for my share of the hotel room, and I needed money for food while we were away.

Thanks to my granny's Sears charge card, I got the suit I needed. My drama coach pulled money from some fund the school had to pay for the rest of my expenses. Away I went to the big city!

At the hotel, I was preparing a bath. One of my roommates mockingly (to my memory) suggested that my mother should have warned me not to bathe in a hotel, but to shower instead. I asked her what made her think my mom had ever stayed in a hotel to know to tell me that. She thought everyone took vacations and stayed in hotels. I explained that there were times we didn't know where our next meal would come from; we didn't think much about taking vacations. Vacations were for wealthy people. So were dental appointments and doctor's visits.

My parents were and still are very hard working people. Neither graduated from high school (though my mother earned her GED in her early 40's). But the reality is that I grew up rather poor. I avoided pregnancy and jail and made it out of that. By the grace of God and some ill informed yet lucky choices...and some tax dollars.

I think the tea party people would say my parents had no business having children, especially since they couldn't afford them. I think that's a fair statement. But once they did, I'm glad there were programs like Head Start, Food Stamps, the county Health Department, public schools, and buses. I'm glad there was a slush fund at my public school that could be used to pay my expenses to a regional competition and open the door to a whole new world for kids like me. I'm thankful there are Pell grants and subsidized student loans when I got out of the U.S. Army after four years and went to college. I'm thankful the Veteran's Administration is around and gave me a job for eight years, six of which I spent in evening classes. I'm grateful for the county Job and Family Services department that employed me for eight years, allowing me to give back some of the kindness, encouragement, and hope I have received along the way.

Without the interventions I benefited from throughout my early life, I'd probably be just another poor person in Eastern Kentucky. I may have had little to offer society as a whole. I might have turned to a life of crime and ended up costing tax payers plenty for absolutely no return. Or abused my poorly planned for children or been plagued with some expensive illness.

Instead, I've more than paid back what I received. I've contributed to moving countless families to self sufficiency. I've advocated for the disabled and the severely mentally ill. I've been a steward of the tax payer's dollars. I've been instrumental in saving the government money through my abilities to gather, analyze, and report on how funds have been spent and making recommendations on where the funds might be saved or better spent.

My ideas about who the tea party people are do not include people like me. They include people with very different realities, very different families, and very different knowledge about what people can do with a little encouragement and assistance. I'd have rather grown up as I did than to be able to ignore these kinds of realities.

The tea party people might think they would be okay with letting the poor starve or let the uninsured die, let banks and car companies fail. But there are high costs associated with those decisions. Higher crime, entire industries (social services, colleges, and countless others) shut out. Pure capitalism is intriguing in theory. But there are so many things that people need and want to have an acceptable quality of life that just aren't profitable.

I'd like to see some demographic information about the tea party people. I'd like to hear their ideas on how to improve our current situation. I'm hoping I'm missing some important element about who these people are and that they really have thought about things like what should happen to people like me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Twitter and Business

It seems to me that everybody's a social media expert these days. It's weird. There are millions of people living their lives without "new media". I go to meetings with highly educated professionals who are clueless about blogging, Facebook, and most of all, Twitter. I'm disturbed by all of the articles written to help businesses learn how to use social media for advertising, recruiting, and customer service because I think they miss the point.

Here's the way I view Twitter. It's a relationship and community building tool. If you own a business and you want to use a tool like Twitter to help you grow your business, hire a person to Twitter for your company. Make it that person's job to cultivate relationships with people who are potential customers. Tell that person that they are NOT in sales; they are in the relationship building business. THEN, Twitter might become a successful way for you to grow your business. This is because, when I need a plumber, I'll remember the person I've joked around with, the person who sent out a link to a really interesting article on water conservation. I'll remember that I KNOW a plumber and that's when using Twitter will pay off. Twitter is like word of mouth advertising - you can't pay for it, you can't truly monitor it, and it may be months before the customer shows up at your door.

Both my husband and I use Twitter. I use it primarily for the social aspects of it. I find out what's happening around town, I go to TweetUps and other events arranged using Twitter. Hubby shares bits of advice, positive vibes, and all around good will. I don't know if it has grown his business or not but people know who he is and that he is a therapist. I do know that we've eaten at restaurants because we saw a tweet about them - whether they were advertising a great special of the day or someone we follow recommended them.

That's Twitter's power for boosting business. You can't simply show up, send a tweet, and watch the money flow into your bank account. I know there are lots of ebooks and seminars out there that want you to believe differently but I think they are wrong.