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Let My People Vote… (and You Should, Too)

 

 

When we first started working with Desmond Meade, he told us, “I might be the only homeless crack addict who ever ended up on the cover of TIME magazine.” He is, of course, so much more than that, and his memoir, Let My People Vote: My Battle to Restore the Civil Rights of Returning Citizens, went on sale last week, to huge acclaim.

Let My People Vote tells the story of Desmond’s life, from his tough childhood to ending up in homeless shelters with a felony conviction on his record. Finding the strength to pull his life together, he graduated summa cum laude from college, graduated from law school, and married. But because of his conviction, he was not even allowed to sit for the bar exam in Florida. And when his wife ran for state office, he was filled with pride—but not permitted to vote for her because there are still four states where one felony conviction means you can never vote again. “You may think the right to vote is a small matter,” he told us, “and if you do, I would bet you have never had it taken away from you.”

Desmond became politically active and spearheaded a movement to restore voting rights to 1.4 million “returning citizens,” a term of dignity he accords to ex-felons who have served their sentence and should be granted full rights to rejoin society. Explaining the core rationale of his ballot initiative to voters up and down the state of Florida, he asked them one simple question: “Has anyone you love ever made a mistake?”

Let My People Vote ends on the exhilarating, joyful night in November 2018 when Desmond’s initiative, Amendment 4, passes with 65 percent of the vote, an event that enfranchised the most people at any single time since women’s suffrage. Publishers Weekly says, “This poignant account soars.” And it’s just in time for the election. . . .

Doris Buffett: 1928-2020

 

Doris Buffett, sister of Warren, and megaphilanthropist in her own right, passed away peacefully last month at her home in Rockport, Maine.

I never met Doris. But if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have been commissioned by one of her foundations to write Letters to Doris: One Woman’s Quest to Help Those with Nowhere Else to Turn.

I wouldn’t have been blessed by the creative synergy with my co-writer, Anita Mumm, and our photographer, Stephanie Craig. I would never have met Amy Kingman, the boss you want to have on a project that involves traveling across 19 states for the better part of a year.

If it weren’t for Doris, I would never experienced such heart-breaking, in the sense of heart-opening, interviews with her grant recipients. I would never have met Ken Prather in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who asked for funding so he could take terminally ill children to the zoo in a reliable vehicle. A man who was getting by himself on a tiny monthly disability check had started his own foundation.

I would never have known there were English Labs capable of detecting when a human’s blood sugar level dropped to dangerous levels, until I met one in Rockwell City, Iowa, along with her new owner, Kalie Buenting, a 12-year-old brittle diabetic. Bringing the two of them together was another of Doris’s good deeds.

I never met Doris, but I met her spirit in each of the two dozen individuals we interviewed for the book—and there were hundreds and hundreds more we could have spoken to. This is what great people do. It isn’t about meeting them; it’s about getting to know each other, about getting together to help each other through this life. That is why, when a great person dies their essence remains here more than anything is gone.

You can read Doris’s obituary in the New York Times here. And if you were lucky enough to meet Doris, you can leave a story, memory, or message on this site, which will eventually become part of a virtual celebration of Doris’s life.

Lotus Flower Living: Journaling with Julie

 

 

There are people who rush their books to market. They might have other things they want to write, or they might just be trying to say something and not care that much about the delivery. (They might also be lazy, but we would never say that here.) Julie Matheson’s gorgeous book, Lotus Flower Living: A Journaling Practice for Deep Discovery and Lasting Peace, on the other hand, has been almost a decade in the making. And the care and clarity it radiates show every single one of those years.Simply put, Julie’s work helps us clear patterns. (If you want to hear about it in her own words, watch this brief introduction.) She first helps us identify a specific pattern of thought, behavior, and belief, some of which can be delicate and quite painful. We all have sensitive spots that we protect, compensate for, and cope with. When we endeavor to identify an ongoing issue, however, and put a little time into discovering exactly what we are protecting, a miracle happens.

About Book Architecture, Julie says, “Thank you for appreciating the purpose of this book, for holding my vision while you so gently and expertly coached this material out of me. . . . And, bravely, you were the first to ‘test’ the writing prompts. Without your amazingly intuitive writing methods, this book would not exist.”

We did try out the prompts. And it didn’t take too much more coaxing once we saw how well they worked. We caught fire instead. Come on, you know you have at least half a dozen blank journals that people have given you because you’re a writer. Grab Julie’s book, and you’ll be guaranteed to have something real to fill them with.

Perhaps Partisan Rancor Isn’t The End…

 

 

It is certainly tempting to retreat into the fear that our democratic institutions are failing us. But as wintry as these political times are, there are always signs of a spring of cooperation. And, as with most such things, they usually occur on the local level first.

In Hope for Democracy: How Citizens Can Bring Reason Back into Politics (Oxford University Press, 2020), by our clients John Gastil and Katie Knobloch, the authors introduce new tools for tamping down hyperpartisanship and placing citizens at the heart of the democratic process.

They showcase the Citizens’ Initiative Review, which convenes a demographically balanced, random sample of citizens to study statewide ballot measures. These regular ol’ citizens are the ones to ask questions of advocates, opponents, and experts and then write an analysis that distills their findings for voters.

John and Katie reveal how this process has helped voters better understand the policy issues on their ballots. In the larger context of deliberative democratic reforms, Hope for Democracy shows how citizens and public officials can work together to bring more rationality and empathy into modern politics. Are we ready for that? Will we be soon?

Remembering an afternoon spent in John’s office on the Penn State campus, where he holds a joint appointment as professor of communication arts & sciences and professor of political science, I can report that when you are around him and Katie, you can imagine a better, saner world to come.

About Book Architecture, the authors say, “A whole host of individuals have provided editorial feedback . . . most notably, Stuart Horwitz, who helped us think through the narrative arc of this book and shepherded us through the task of writing for a nonacademic audience.”