Once upon a time in land not so different than our own there was city built along a mighty iconic river with towering mountains to the west and never ending prairie to the east. It was the largest city in the state.

During one of the waning days of summer a council of citizens, who were elected by the residents of the city to make decisions for the good of the people, gathered for their weekly meeting. They had an important decision to make: whether or not to allow medical marijuana shops to open within their fair city.

Citizens came in droves and lined up to speak. Many gave heartfelt and compelling testimony about the ways medical marijuana improved their quality of life, helped them kick opioid addiction, and made cancer treatment bearable.

And then one man stood. We shall call this man Jeff. Jeff ran an organization in a nearby town that protected the citizens of the state from imaginary things. We shall call this organization the Family Foundation. Jeff was nervous but he steeled himself for his testimony.

He thought, "If not now, when? If not me, who?"

Jeff walked up to the podium and cleared his throat. He told the council that he knew a man, a man who lived in a city not so far away, who had trouble selling a commercial building because it was next to a medical marijuana dispensary. He paused for dramatic effect.

"The smell," he said, "we have to consider the smell."

"Nailed it," Jeff thought to himself, with a little fist pump he hoped no one noticed.

Some members of the council solemnly nodded as he spoke. "Yes," they thought, "Jeff makes a good point, we must consider the smell. The residents of our town should not be asked to smell the smell of weed if they don’t want to smell the weed. And what if someone at some point is a little inconvenienced when they try to sell their commercial building?"

"How much can we ask of this community," they thought?

As the council considered the wise words of Jeff, outside, there were three nearby oil refineries along the banks of the mighty river. Occasionally, or maybe frequently, those refineries flared off some gas and stuff, the smell of chemicals and sulfur so ubiquitous that most citizens didn’t notice it anymore. The smells of the refineries were famous throughout the state.

Jeff continued. He spoke of the evils of the marijuana. It is a gateway drug. It is addictive. Addiction is bad, said Jeff. If you allow this, you, the government, are encouraging an addiction.

As the council members considered the evils of addiction, thousands of citizens were in one of the 127 casinos playing at one of the 2,229 gaming machines within the city limits. These citizens weren’t at the council meeting — because they were gambling — but that’s only because they were certain that the council was looking out for their best interests. They weren’t addicted or anything. Also, in this community, there were 82 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 people.

One council member thought about the stiff whiskey he was going to have when he got out of this interminably long meeting.

Jeff went on.

"Marijuana tears at the moral fabric of our society," he said. "It destroys families. And the children, he said, we must protect the children."

As the council members considered the moral fabric of their society, outside there were around 30, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, “spas” and “massage parlors” in this town. They were open 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week and were located all over town; on main roads, in shopping centers and one was even across from a local high school. The windows were darkened and the neon lights never shut off.


These spas were places where men, no matter their standing in the community — doctors, lawyers, politicians, truckers, mechanics — could go and pay for a hand job, or maybe a blow job or maybe even sexual intercourse with young Asian women whenever they wanted. Ride your bike or park your car a little bit down the street and throw on a hat and you’re good to go.

Many of these women have their passports taken, their visas confiscated and are forced under the threat of violence to have sex with strange men. They are moved around to keep them uncertain and scared about their surroundings.

These women are slaves, they are the face of human trafficking.

If a man had enough money, he could buy a 14-year-old girl for $900 for the first hour, $800 for the second and if he wanted to keep her for three or more hours, the price keeps going down.


But this story is coming to a close boys and girls. In the end, seven out of the eleven council members determined it was in the best interest of the community not to allow medical marijuana shops within the city limits. And we were all saved, oops, I mean the people of this imaginary city were all saved from a smell of marijuana and most importantly, the horrendous impacts of people feeling better by smoking or eating pot if they have cancer or another disease.

Jeff was pleased. He could now focus all of his efforts on making people scared of transgender people. Don't thank him though, he's just doing his moral duty to the citizens of this state.

The end.

If you want more information about human trafficking and what you can do to help, you can start with the Polaris Project.

At 5:30 p.m., on a frigid winter night in January of 2013, staff from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Arch Coal employees arrived at the tribal government building in Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to hold a public hearing on the scope of study for the environmental impact statement for the proposed Otter Creek coal mine.

To get to the front entrance they had to walk by 150 Northern Cheyenne tribal members, off-reservation white ranchers and a handful of environmental allies from around the state huddled together around a small fire. Otto and Martin Braided Hair drummed and sang Northern Cheyenne traditional songs.

The DEQ, like many government agencies these days, decided to host an “open house” instead of a public hearing. An open house is when the agency sets up a couple of booths and individuals walk around from table to table and ask questions of agency staff. Then, if you have a comment, you walk to a secluded part of the room where a court reporter is sitting. It’s awful.

In a real public hearing, the community has an opportunity to hear each other talk about the impacts of a project and ask questions. You learn from what others are saying. It sparks ideas. It helps you understand other’s viewpoints. In an open house people are isolated from each other. There is power in public hearings and they are foundational to democracy. I love them. All of them. If I could go to public hearings every day I would.

I was hooked the moment I read this paragraph in Last Stand at Rosebud Creek,

"This was their moment of decision: a public hearing may not have much effect in the halls of legislation, but it uncompromisingly defines the motives and emotions of a community and, even more clearly, the beliefs of the individual. You speak; you make yourself known; you are no longer a bystander in conflict."

Open House or Public Hearing?

At 6:00 p.m. the open house was supposed to start but no one from the public was inside the tribal building. The DEQ staff was starting to get a nervous. They walked outside and told us that if no one came in they would close down the meeting and leave.

Shortly after that announcement the assembled group followed Tom Mexican Cheyenne, the designated speaker, into the tribal building. We brought our own microphone and speaker system. Tom politely informed the DEQ and representatives from Arch Coal that we would have a real public hearing and they were welcome to stay and hear what the community thought about the proposed coal mine on the nation’s borders.

Here's what Tom said.

“I have been asked to be the spokesperson for our people here who are wanting to express what they see is happening in southeastern Montana. And first of all I want to welcome our visitors. The people that have come from Helena and other places and probably the company that is planning on doing the development here. We are here as people from southeastern Montana and also as people who have relatives and ancestors who passed on and gave their lives and their family’s lives and their children’s lives for this land. Just about a week ago we had a run from Ft. Robinson, NE to here. Young people running in memory of our ancestors that didn’t want to stay in Oklahoma anymore and wanted to come back to their homeland. We consider southeastern Montana, this area here, as our homeland even though we don’t physically own it on paper which is the way you look at the ownership of land. We don’t own any land, when we leave this earth, we don’t take it with us, it stays here. But we also believe we take care of it.

We heard about what you did in Broadus and Ashland, how you set up stations and I just want to say that when you come here, you are coming to where we live and I’m going to ask you that you respect that. We don’t talk to microphones, we talk to people. We want our people to be able to hear what is being said and this is the way we’d like you to conduct this. We want our people to tell you how they feel about what you are planning on doing here, in this country.

This is the way we’d like it to be done. Because we have elder people here and other people who have something really important to say that needs to be heard by everybody and not just one microphone and one individual sitting here switching it on and off. We don’t want that to happen here and we want you to respect our ways. This is why we are here.”

A two hour open house turned into a five hour public hearing.

At the end of the evening, Brad Sauer a white rancher from off the reservation stood up to the microphone.

"I want to say to my neighbors the Northern Cheyennes thank you for showing me what free speech looks like and sounds like."

The crowd cheered.

What can we learn from this story?

If you take my recounting of this event at face value, you might assume I’m saying people should take over public hearings. If you think that, you’re wrong. One of the big problems with sharing this, a story previously was unknown to most people, is it is just one small piece of a extremely large puzzle.

It doesn’t teach you much unless you know the larger strategy and story behind stopping the modern iterations of the Otter Creek coal mine and Tongue River Railroad.

On that cold night in January, in the middle of what most people would think of as “nowhere,” 150 people showed up for their land and community. It was a night where people took a little control back from our government and industry.

However, this action wouldn't have made sense if we hadn't already been participating in the government process for the previous five years. We were all commenting, attending agency meetings, lobbying politicians, reading hundreds of pages of documents, holding events and making sure we knew what was happening. We had been building support for years and making sure that when we did something like this that we knew we could pull it off. We weren't worried that it wouldn't work. It wasn’t a social media stunt. It wasn’t for random attention, it was to show the state of Montana what they were up against; a community was united and we weren’t going to let them push us around.

We were showing Arch Coal that it was hostile territory.

This story is about a tactic but it can’t be separated from the larger strategy. The work east of Billings teaches me that real organizing is about building relationships between people and not always about numbers and that the most impactful organizing is not general and national but specific and local. It is about developing a long term strategy for particular goals and being resilient. It’s about working with people who feel accountable to each other and not about name-calling and exclusion.


Organizing isn't just about getting people to protests and rallies or signing petitions (even though sometimes those are important tactics), it is about helping people become competent leaders in our democracy.

One is transactional the other is transformational.

Why now?

Why am I telling this story now? Because I’ve realized the only way we can continue to move forward is if we share our stories about winning and losing, about what works and what doesn’t, about the nuances of organizing work. You never get that information from a lot of organizations so people looking to become more active in government don't realize what it takes or where to start. You don't see a lot of people who are part of campaigns or groups talking about the failures.

Just wait till I get to those.

There are a lot of interesting lessons that can be learned from eastern Montana and from great organizers in the rural west. What does it look like to have a people from different backgrounds, cultures and political views working together for a common goal? How does it happen? I certainly don’t have all the answers, in fact, I don’t have any. But I have ideas.

I’ve been hesitant to share these stories before because organizing is about personal relationships and therefore when I write about it I am inevitably dragging a lot of people along with me whether they like it or not. To help alleviate my anxiety about this, sometimes I will write in general terms to protect my relationships and my friends from unwanted attention and sometimes in very specific terms when it’s appropriate.

I’m going to write about what worked, what failed, the good that comes out of failure, what frustrates me about where I see organizing work going and where I’d like to see it moving. I’m also going to share some stories and insights from other rural organizers I admire and books organizers should be reading.

And if you, the reader, find anything that is helpful in what I’m writing then I’ll consider this effort worthwhile.

Welcome to the EOB organizing school.

According to an article in the Billings Gazette entitled "Is the Big Sky blowing smoke?" only water vapor comes out of the stacks at the three oil refineries around Billings and the sugar beet factory.


Ryan Wegner, manager of finance and public affairs at Phillips 66 Billings Refinery, explains why anyone who says the Big Sky is filled with anything other than steam is just blowing smoke. “Many folks see these plumes from our facility and believe they are something other than what they actually are — steam. In the process of refining oil into gasoline and diesel fuel, much heat is generated which then needs to be dissipated through heat exchangers,” he said. “We use a number of different types of heat exchangers at the refinery, and the white plumes rising from the refinery are steam from cooling towers.”


As someone who grew up in Billings and experienced the very well publicized air quality problems from those refineries and the now-shuttered coal-fired power plant, I was taken aback by the article. And you should be too because there are things called facts. The reporter and her editor apparently didn't think it was necessary to do research on what comes out of those stacks.


Yes, the white puffy clouds are steam but there are dozens of toxic chemicals, gases and heavy metals in that water vapor that you can't see.


What gets released into the air from the Billings oil refineries?


Luckily, because of our environmental regulations we don't have to guess what is coming out of the stacks. Each oil refinery is required to report their emissions to the DEQ and the EPA.  Setting aside for a moment the problems with self reporting let's just look at what we know is being released into the air.


There are dozens and dozens of chemicals, gases and some heavy metals. In the chemical and gas category, the Billings' refineries release naphthalene, toluene, ammonia, anthracene, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, hydrogen cyanide, carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NO2), carbon monoxide, methane, dioxins, hydrogen fluoride, chlorine and benzene.  In the category of heavy metals we have lead, mercury, nickel compounds and zinc. These chemicals and gases are not benign. Most of them are known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, and seriously impact the environment.


SO2 and NOx have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog and haze.  SO2 can pose respiratory illness risks, particularly to children, seniors and people with asthma. And it is no surprise to anyone who has lived in Billings for awhile that we have dealt with unsafe levels of SO2 emissions for decades from multiple sources. Refineries also emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, as well as fugitive volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs.


As the article correctly pointed out, the releases of certain amounts of these chemicals and heavy metals are permitted under the Clean Air Act and other air quality regulations. What Billings residents should know is that how these exposure levels are determined is a highly controversial, political and uncertain process.


Regulatory agencies like the EPA and OSHA are charged with setting "safe" exposure levels for some chemicals by testing for effects at high concentrations and then they use statistical extrapolation and determine levels they deem safe for humans to be exposed to. However, study after study in communities that are around oil refineries have shown a higher incidence of certain types of cancer and respiratory problems.


Health impacts from living around oil refineries


According to the Environmental Health Journal, a peer reviewed scientific journal, the method used to develop safe exposure levels assumes that "if exposure goes up so do effects and if exposure goes down so will effects." However, recent studies have found that chemicals do not always follow this assumption and they may cause different effects on people at higher and lower levels.


Researchers in Sweden studied one of the largest and most modern oil refineries in Europe called Lysekil. They found that during the past 10 years, communities downwind of the refinery had twice as many cases of leukemia as would be expected based on the refinery's low emissions.


In the peer reviewed journal Cancer published by the American Cancer Society, a study found a higher cancer incidences rate in regions near refineries and plants that release benzene. There is a fascinating investigative report done by the Pulitzer prize winning Center for Public Integrity about the oil industry's attempt to downplay the impacts of benzene on human health. In 2015, the Exxon refinery released over 5,000 pounds of benzene, the Phillips 66 refinery in Laurel released 9,300 pounds of it and the CHS refinery released 3,813 pounds.


In the American Journal of Public Health researchers conducted a systematic review of 94 studies that examined residential proximity to environmental hazards, including oil refineries, in relation to adverse reproductive outcomes, childhood cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions and other health problems.


In the 12 studies they reviewed on respiratory illness they found, "residential proximity to both stationary sources of air pollution (industries covered under the Toxic Release Inventory, National Emission Inventory, hazardous air pollutants, petroleum refineries, etc.), and, with a few exceptions, heavily trafficked roads, was significantly associated with asthma hospitalizations."


In another study in Environmental Health Perspective researchers found that short-term episodes of increased SO2 exposures from refinery stack emissions were associated with a higher number of asthma episodes in nearby children.


There are other types of emissions from the refineries the reporter failed to mention that are extremely concerning to most people that study pollution from oil refineries. Flaring of gases results in emissions of SO2, greenhouse gases, VOCs and hazardous air pollutants. There are also fugitive emissions of VOCs that can result from leaking valves and pumps. Those fugitive emissions can result in numerous health effects, including eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea and damage to liver, kidney and the central nervous system.


At the end of the Billings Gazette article was this sentence,


"It’s a common misconception that the exhaust from the refineries and sugar beet factory are harming the environment."


No, this wasn't a quote from a public affairs person from the refinery, it was written by the reporter. The Billings Gazette needs to run a big correction on this puff piece. I don't expect a commentary on the pollution that comes out of the refineries but I do expect the Billings Gazette to report the facts, not spin from public affairs people.


If you are interested in the details of what each refinery said they emitted in 2015, I have included screenshots from the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory. Please click on each table to increase the size. UPDATE: On Monday April 3, Billings Gazette ran an Op-Ed by Eileen Morris, a long time Billings resident whose friend died from an asthma attack caused by SO2 pollution from the refineries.


Exxon Refinery - 2015 TRI Report. EPA's Toxic Release Inventory


Phillips 66 - 2015 TRI Report.


CHS Laurel Refinery - 2015 TRI Report.


And since the Sugar Beet Factory was also a part of the story, here is what they reported releasing in 2015.


Anyone who spends time on Facebook sees many different requests for help including raising money for a cause, voting in online contests, helping share and spread information and asking people to engage in a political issue. Since Trump was elected there is a noticeable uptick in the political ask category and that's great because it shows more people are getting involved.

This is a list of tips for getting the most out of those posts by increasing the number of people that take action. Just remember, you can never be too clear or concise.

1. Be clear about what the decision making body is or who the individual is you are trying to influence.

2. Provide contact information. This is easy if we are just trying to influence one of our federal Senators or a Congressional Representative but harder when we are asking for help at the state legislature. You won't be able to include contact information for every state legislator but you can include information on how people can find out who their legislators are. I've had friends and acquaintances share frustrations about posts that just say, "Call your Representative." Which one? Don't assume that everyone who wants to do something has the knowledge they need to take action. In fact, it is better just to assume that people don't know who their representatives are or which one to contact. Make it your job to provide clear information on how to figure that out. People who follow politics closely might think this is a simple thing but it's not, especially if a person is just starting to get into politics or doesn't have time to research that information. (see #1).

3. Include the bill number or the resolution number if it is a legislative issue. It is important for people to be able to tell the person taking the message what the bill number is. Staff hear a lot of calls with general opposition or support of an issue but would prefer to know what specific bill or resolution the caller is referring to especially in the new era of increased call volumes.

4. Be crystal clear in what you are asking people to do.  Consider giving people an example of what to say.

5. Provide the deadline for action. What time and date do they have to call or email by to make a difference? Your post might not show up for a day and by then it might be too late. You don't want people to waste their time.

6. Tell them what they can expect when they call. Will it be an answering machine? Will they have to talk to someone? If so, who? People don't like to be surprised and there is anxiety around calling the legislature and talking to a person on the phone. If people know what to expect they are more likely to take action.

7. Tell people the consequences if the bill passes/doesn't pass or the reason the action is important. The more local you can make it, the better. Why does what you are asking people to do matter to them? If you can localize the impacts or make it personal people will pay more attention to the post.

8. Follow up with information about the outcome whether it is good or bad. If you are tracking something closely and asking people for help, let them know how it turned out. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose but it's always good to know how our actions impacted a decision.

9. Say please.

10. Say thank you.


I started this website with a very specific purpose; to write to people in southeast Montana about the issues the media wasn’t covering regarding the Tongue River Railroad and Otter Creek mine including boring policy stuff, rallies, events, gatherings and public hearings.

The title east of Billings came from my friend Wally McRae. Getting to know Wally and learning from him has been one of the great privileges in my life.


Over coffee he would tell me about how the environmental laws weren’t enforced in eastern Montana. State agencies looking the other way as groundwater was contaminated from the Colstrip coal plant. Politicians treating the region like a sacrifice area. I could keep going.

He said, “no one cares what happens EOB.”

Then and there the idea for an east of Billings blog and photographic site was born. I was slightly naive and energetic and committed. I wanted to make people care. I bought a fancy camera and started teaching myself how to use it.

My goal was to provide information to people in a way that was accessible. The goat stories were just for fun. I never thought that people who didn’t live in southeast Montana would read it but they did; more than I ever imagined. Some came for the goats, some came for the coal, some came for the photos.

But then I stopped. We won. The coal mine and railroad died a glorious death at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016. I hoped my blog and photos contributed a little to the victory. I was also tired of coal.

I now write for publications that pay me to write. I now take pictures of other places for people who pay me to do it. Both of these outcomes of starting EOB surprised me. Have you heard of imposter syndrome? I think I might have a little of that.

I’m literally always shocked when an editor comes back to me and says they like what I wrote. Really, I think? You must be mistaking me for someone who knows what they are doing.

What jarred me back into east of Billings was an article by David Crisp in Last Best News about the state of Montana blogging sites. When I started reading it I didn’t expect to be mentioned. Or maybe I was hoping I wasn't going to be mentioned. The guilt of letting the site go dark was creeping up on me but I didn't think anyone noticed.

I was nearing the end of the article and then this,

“East of Billings, by Alexis Bonogofsky, focuses mostly on the joys of life in Eastern Montana, with occasional essays on politics, environmental issues and photography. The site's last political post, in April, was titled 'Why Denise Juneau will beat Ryan Zinke in November.”

My first thought was, well thanks for pointing out how fucking wrong I was about the race. I appreciate that. Second, I don’t write about the joys of living in eastern Montana, I write about goats and coal. I don't even live in eastern Montana. I live south of Billings if we are getting all technical about it.  Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Crisp did me a favor though. It made me think about east of Billings again and what it means not just to me but to people with whom I spent countless hours with fighting for a place we all loved. EOB isn’t just a specific geography. I've never thought of it like that. EOB is all the people who have a place that they would do anything to protect; which is pretty relevant in the world we are living in today. EOB is about bringing attention to people and places that get overlooked or ignored.

Otter Creek Valley - July 2014

Otter Creek Valley - July 2014

I have questions, uncertainties and doubts. In the entire scheme of things not many people come to my website; a thousand to a couple thousand per blog if I'm lucky. I wonder if I am wasting my time throwing words out into the sea of internet noise? Also, the time I spend writing each blog is not insignificant.

But then I read something today that gave me the motivation I need to continue writing for EOB. It came from the lead political columnist for Politico who is retiring from his duties after a life long career writing about politics.

“I decline to accept the end of man,” William Faulkner wrote. “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. It is the writer’s privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.”
Have I lifted a heart? Just once? Just for the most fleeting of moments?

Then I leave you a happy man, one filled with joy. And don’t worry. We will always have each other.

Hope gets me every time.

If I am able to write and occasionally help someone think a little differently, help someone smile or help someone take action against an injustice in this world then it is worth it. But this go around I’ll be broadening the scope of what I write about in the spirit of EOB and the people who live there. If you are worried I’m giving up writing about eastern Montana, don’t be. I’ll continue to write about it and take pictures of its amazing landscapes and people because, in the words of Wally Mcrae, goddamn I love this country.

If you are going to read one thing I've written this year please read this one, it's important.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read what I write. Let’s see what we can do together.

Lummi Totem Pole Ceremony in the Otter Creek Valley - 2014

Whether we like it or not Facebook is here to stay and will have an impact on our politics, for better or for worse. There is much to be said about Facebook and its impact on our political discourse. Researchers know it influences how we think and what we believe. It reinforces our worldview and helps us bond with people that think like us.

I’ve done numerous social media trainings over the years and the biggest complaint I hear from organizations is that they don’t feel like anything they do on Facebook is really reaching people or making a difference.

Individuals have the similar complaints. Facebook feeds get filled up with a lot of junk, memes and rants, some that you agree with and some that you don’t. You get added to groups, you try to pay attention but then the posts start piling up and then one day you realize you are a part of 50 groups and haven’t looked at any of them in months. You only have so much attention to give.

The question then becomes; is the Facebook platform worth anything when it comes to affecting social change? This is a big question and one worth pondering. I usually come down on the side that Facebook is valuable but you have to understand its limitations and its strengths in order to utilize it most effectively for your issue.

How to think about Facebook: Facebook is a computer mediated social network. It changes our interactions. This is obvious but the implications of it aren’t. For most of us Facebook is, what political scientist Robert Putnam might call, a “bonding” social network. It reinforces and strengthens your network of people that think like you and helps mobilize solidarity. That's a good thing most of the time but it has negative consequences. It doesn’t do much to build a “bridging” network, which would bring together people who don’t think like you.

Reaching people who are politically disengaged or have a different political outlook is not a game to play on a computer.

What does that mean for how we use Facebook? It means we should be realistic about what we can accomplish with it. Maybe you don't want to accomplish anything with it and that's totally cool. This post isn't for you.

Here are my top ten do’s and don’ts based on my experience. And, with all rules, they should be broken from time to time. If you only read one, read #10, it's the most important.

  1. Limit meme and quote posting. Memes can be funny but also are a waste of time. How many memes did you see today and how many of them do you remember? It is important to understand that your most valuable political resource you have is your attention. It is a resource that is limited. You only have so much of it to give. Don’t waste it on memes (unless it is really funny…..like so funny that it made you snort your coffee out in the morning). This is especially true in any Facebook group you are a part of. Nothing will send me fleeing a group faster than meme and quote sharing.
  2. Limit the ranting. There are some people that can get away with a self-righteous rant but most can’t. Unless you are Hunter S. Thompson or have some serious self-righteousness capital built up you might want to try limited the political diatribes. You might feel pretty good afterward especially if a couple hundred people like it but there’s not much action that happens after the fact. Rants are general, political activity is specific. Rants rarely lead to others taking action. If you just need to blow off some steam, by all means rant away, but don’t expect anything to come out of it.
  3. Add value to content you share. We usually share articles because we think people should read them. Some of the best content I've read has been from Facebook posts. If you want more people to click and read try personalizing it. Why is that article important to you? Do you have something to add to it, an insight or a personal story that puts it into perspective? Is there a particularly compelling quote you can copy into your post?
  4.  Treat every interaction on Facebook as if that person were standing directly in front of you. Facebook is a computer-mediated experience which inherently changes how we interact with each other. There are reasons humans have evolved complex systems of nonverbal communication; these signals clarify our intent and our emotional state. Much of that clarity is lost in our digital interactions and misunderstandings happen all the time. Ask yourself, “Would I say this to a stranger in this particular way?” before you hit the post button.
  5.  Make lists of people and share strategically. If you take the time to make lists of your friends that have characteristics in common, such as geographical location, relationship to you, (college friends, work colleagues, acquaintances, etc.), you can share information that is relevant to them. This avoids unnecessarily cluttering up other people's feeds.
  6. Manage your expectations. Facebook can be powerful, but it will never replace face-to-face conversations. Focus more of your time on building your network and community with personal interactions rather than digital ones. The more you strengthen relationships off social media the more useful your social media efforts will be.
  7.  If you are going to depress people, give them something to do about it. People don't need any help feeling helpless and hopeless. Sharing articles or educating people about problems without giving them something they can do to help tends to feed the cycle of despair. I'm guilty of this. When I see articles about our oceans I share them and then feel like giving up. In fact, I’ve done this so often that my sister sends me the most depressing posts she can find to pre-empt me from posting them and making her cry. So, if you are going to raise awareness take the time to figure out something people can do about it and let them know what it is.
  8. Be aware of political overload. If you frequently post about a lot of different issues people will start to tune you out thinking you are someone who is just angry at everything. Is that fair? No. Will it happen? Yes. I care about a lot of different issues and advocate for them but I understand that my sphere of influence is strongest in certain areas. Maybe ask yourself these questions before you post something: Why am I posting this right now? Is there something I can ask of my social network that will help move the ball forward on the issue? What is the best possible outcome of posting about this issue and how do I get there?
  9. Be yourself. Be genuine. People respond to that. I’m not going to use the word authentic because Instagram has ruined it for me. It used to be such a good word.
  10. Reciprocate. This is the most important piece of advice I can give you. Ask yourself this: How many times have you seen someone crowdfunding for a project and you just kept scrolling? How many times have you seen an event invitation or a page invitation and ignored it? A lot, I'm assuming. Part of the reason is that there is so much content that we get overwhelmed, but the other part is that we tend to look at Facebook as a way to reach our own goals instead of using it to strengthen and develop reciprocal relationships. If you are in the social media game for only yourself and your organization that is how it comes across. If you are using talking points people can feel they are being sold something and tune out.

    The best outcomes occur when we help others meet their goals and they help us reach ours. To reap the rewards of a strong social media network you have to help others. I realize you can't do it every time but we could all do it more. You donate to your friends’ causes, even if it is just $5, because it lets them know that you are paying attention to them. You show up to events, even it if is just 5 minutes, because you want people to show up to yours. You comment on and share posts because you want people to comment on and share yours.

    Making social media work for you is about building the community that you want and being the social media user that you wish other people were.

    Carry on Facebook users. Please feel free to comment with any thoughts of your own on this topic.

In his last weeks as President of the United States, President Obama has been channeling some of the later work of John Dewey (1859 - 1952), American philosopher, educator and writer. A man whose writings have greatly influenced my thinking on democracy and the importance of public participation.

My copy of his book, The Public and its Problems, is highlighted and underlined and dog-eared but one of his most striking and relevant works and the piece that I believe Obama has been influenced by is entitled Creative Democracy: The Task Before Us, written in 1939 on the brink of the United States entering WWII.

He wrote about the need for the public to continue to recreate our democracy through deliberate and determined effort in an era of extremely complex conditions. Little did he know what we would be facing today. Dewey identifies one of the great challenges of our democracy is thinking that our democracy is something that perpetuates itself automatically, "as if our ancestors had succeeded in setting up a machine that solved the problem of perpetual motion in politics."

He warns that it is dangerous to think that as long as we are faithful in voting, performing that political duty, our democracy will maintain itself. Voting is not democracy. A sentiment that Obama has echoed in numerous recent speeches. Dewey maintains that we must see democracy as personal way of individual life.

Put into effect it signifies that powerful present enemies of democracy can be successfully met only by the creation of personal attitudes in individual human beings; that we must get over our tendency to think that its [democracy's] defense can be found in any external means whatever, whether military or civil, if they are separated from individual attitudes so deep-seated as to constitute personal character.

But what does it really mean, at its core, to treat our democracy as a way of life? Our democratic ideals and values can be encoded in statutes and laws but they don't mean anything unless, as Dewey states, "it is put in force in the attitudes which human beings display to one another in all incidents and relations of daily life." Dewey said,

To denounce Naziism for intolerance, cruelty and stimulation of hatred amounts to fostering insincerity if, in our personal relations to other persons, if, in our daily walk and conversation, we are moved by racial, color or other class prejudice; indeed, by anything save a generous belief in their possibilities as human beings, a belief which brings with it the need for providing conditions which will enable these capacities to reach fulfillment. The democratic faith in human equality is belief that every human being, independent of the quantity or range of his personal endowment, has the right to equal opportunity with every other person for development of whatever gifts he has. The democratic belief in the principle of leadership is a generous one. It is universal. It is belief in the capacity of every person to lead his own life free from coercion and imposition by others provided right conditions are supplied.

This belief is the radical nature of democracy. Of course, in his time Dewey was accused of an undue, utopian faith in the capacity of people to make intelligent political and moral judgements. Dewey maintained this was not a faith that came to him without experience. He acquired it from his experiences with people over his lifetime. I know what Dewey means. If didn't ultimately believe what Dewey states about people, there is no way I could emotionally or intellectually continue to do the work I do.

For what is the faith of democracy in the role of consultation, of conference, of persuasion, of discussion, in formation of public opinion, which in the long run is self-corrective, except faith in the capacity of the intelligence of the common man to respond with commonsense to the free play of facts and ideas which are secured by effective guarantees of free inquiry, free assembly and free communication? I am willing to leave to upholders of totalitarian states of the right and the left the view that faith in the capacities of intelligence is utopia. For the faith is so deeply embedded in the methods which are intrinsic to democracy that when a professed democrat denies the faith he convicts himself of treachery to his profession.

But, treating democracy as something that lives within us and not something that is external is a lot of work. It is easier to focus our hopes and fears, our anger and our elation on individuals because the alternative is scary. The alternative is to realize that our societal and political problems are complicated and intertwined and that the solutions require long-term multi-generational thinking and planning, cooperation and conflict, failures and successes that involve engaging the actual public, not the public we want or handpick, but the public that exists right now, today.

Intolerance, abuse, calling of names because of differences of opinion about religion or politics or business, as well as because of differences of race, color, wealth or degree of culture are treason to the democratic way of life. For everything which bars freedom and fullness of communication sets up barriers that divide human beings into sets and cliques, into antagonistic sects and factions, and thereby undermines the democratic way of life. Merely legal guarantees of the civil liberties of free belief, free expression, free assembly are of little avail if in daily life freedom of communication, the give and take of ideas, facts, experiences, is choked by mutual suspicion, by abuse, by fear and hatred. These things destroy the essential condition of the democratic way of living even more effectually than open coercion which- as the example of totalitarian states proves-is effective only when it succeeds in breeding hate, suspicion, intolerance in the minds of individual human beings.

Here is the full un-edited essay. I highly recommend spending some time with it.

Creative Democracy: The Task Before Us

By John Dewey

Under present circumstances I cannot hope to conceal the fact that I have managed to exist eighty years. Mention of the fact may suggest to you a more important fact-namely, that events of the utmost significance for the destiny of this country have taken place during the past four-fifths of a century, a period that covers more than half of its national life in its present form. For obvious reasons I shall not attempt a summary of even the more important of these events. I refer here to them because of their bearing upon the issue to which this country committed it­self when the nation took shape-the creation of democracy, an issue which is now as urgent as it was a hundred and fifty years ago when the most experienced and wisest men of the country gathered to take stock of conditions and to create the political structure of a self-governing society.

For the net import of the changes that have taken place in these later years is that ways of life and institutions which were once the natural, almost the inevitable, product of fortunate condi­tions have now to be won by conscious and resolute effort. Not all the country was in a pioneer state eighty years ago. But it was still, save perhaps in a few large cities, so close to the pioneer stage of American life that the traditions of the pioneer, indeed of the frontier, were active agencies in forming the thoughts and shaping the beliefs of those who were born into its life. In imagi­nation at least the country was still having an open frontier, one of unused and unappropriated resources. It was a coun­try of physical opportunity and invitation. Even so, there was more than a marvelous conjunction of physical circumstances involved in bringing to birth this new nation. There was in ex­istence a group of men who were capable of readapting older institutions and ideas to meet the situations provided by new physical conditions-a group of men extraordinarily gifted in political inventiveness. At the present time, the frontier is moral, not physical. The pe­riod of free lands that seemed boundless in extent has vanished. Unused resources are now human rather than material. They are found in the waste of grown men and women who are without the chance to work, and in the young men and young women who find doors closed where there was once opportunity. The crisis that one hundred and fifty years ago called out social and political inventiveness is with us in a form which puts a heavier demand on human creativeness.

At all events this is what I mean when I say that we now have to re-create by deliberate and determined endeavor the kind of de­mocracy which in its origin one hundred and fifty years ago was largely the product of a fortunate combination of men and cir­cumstances. We have lived for a long time upon the heritage that came to us from the happy conjunction of men and events in an earlier day. The present state of the world is more than a re­minder that we have now to put forth every energy of our own to prove worthy of our heritage. It is a challenge to do for the criti­cal and complex conditions of today what the men of an earlier day did for simpler conditions. If I emphasize that the task can be accomplished only by in­ventive effort and creative activity, it is in part because the depth of the present crisis is due in considerable part to the fact that for a long period we acted as if our democracy were something that perpetuated itself automatically; as if our ancestors had suc­ceeded in setting up a machine that solved the problem of per­petual motion in politics. We acted as if democracy were some­thing that took place mainly at Washington and Albany-or some other state capital-under the impetus of what happened when men and women went to the polls once a year or so­which is a somewhat extreme way of saying that we have had the habit of thinking of democracy as a kind of political mechanism that will work as long as citizens were reasonably faithful in per­forming political duties.

Of late years we have heard more and more frequently that this s not enough; that democracy is a way of life. This saying gets down to hard pan. But I am not sure that something of the exter­nality of the old idea does not cling to the new and better state­ment. In any case we can escape from this external way of think­ing only as we realize in thought and act that democracy is a personal way of individual life; that it signifies the possession and continual use of certain attitudes, forming personal character and determining desire and purpose· in all the relations of life. Instead of thinking of our own dispositions and habits as accom­modated to certain institutions we have to learn to think of the latter as expressions, projections and extensions of habitually dominant personal attitudes. Democracy as a personal, an individual, way of life involves nothing fundamentally new. But when applied it puts a new prac­tical meaning in old ideas. Put into effect it signifies that power­ful present enemies of democracy can be successfully met only by the creation of personal attitudes in individual human beings; that we must get over our tendency to think that its defense can be found in any external means whatever, whether military or civil, if they are separated from individual attitudes so deep­seated as to constitute personal character.

Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature. Belief in the Common Man is a fa­miliar article in the democratic creed. That belief is without basis and significance save as it means faith in the potentialities of hu­man nature as that nature is exhibited in every human being irre­spective of race, color, sex, birth and family, of material or cul­tural wealth. This faith may be enacted in statutes, but it is only on paper unless it is put in force in the attitudes which human beings display to one another in all the incidents and relations of daily life. To denounce Naziism for intolerance, cruelty and stimulation of hatred amounts to fostering insincerity if, in our personal relations to other persons, if, in our daily walk and con­versation, we are moved by racial, color or other class prejudice; indeed, by anything save a generous belief in their possibilities as human beings, a belief which brings with it the need for provid­ing conditions which will enable these capacities to reach fulfil­ment. The democratic faith in human equality is belief that every human being, independent of the quantity or range of his per· sonal endowment, has the right to equal opportunity with every other person for development of whatever gifts he has. The democratic belief in the principle of leadership is a generous one. It is universal. It is a belief in the capacity of every person to lead his own life free from coercion and imposition by others provided right conditions are supplied.

Democracy is a way of personal life controlled not merely by faith in human nature in general but by faith in the capacity of human beings for intelligent judgement and action if proper conditions are furnished. I have been accused more than once and from opposed quarters of an undue, utopian, faith in the possibilities of intelligence and in education as a correlate of intelligence. At all events, I did not invent this faith. I acquired it from my surroundings as far as those surroundings were animated by the democratic spirit. For wha tis the faith of democracy in the old of consolation, of conference, of persuasion, of discussion, in the formation of public opinion, which in the long run is self-corrective, except faith in the capacity of the intelligence of the common man to respond with commonsense to teh free play of facts and ideas which are secured by effective guarantees of free inquiry, free assembly and free communication? I am willing to leave to upholders of totalitarian states of the right and the left the view that fain in the capacities of intelligence is utopian. For the faith is so deeply embedded in the methods which are intrinsic to democracy that when a professed democrat denies teh faith he convicts himself treachery to his profession.

When I think of the conditions under which men and women are living in many foreign countries today, fear of espionage, with danger hanging over the meeting of friends for friendly conversation in private gatherings, I am inclined to believe that the heart and final guarantee of democracy is in free gathering of neighbors on the street corner to discuss back and forth what is read in uncensored news of the day, and in gatherings of friends in the living rooms of house and apartments to converse freely with one another. Intolerance, abuse, calling of names because of differences of opinion about religion or politics or business, as well as because of differences of race, color, wealth or degree of culture are treason to the democratic way of life. For everything which bars freedom and fullness of communication sets up barriers that divide human beings into sets and cliques, into antagonistic sects and factions, and thereby undermines the democratic way of life. Merely legal guarantees of the civil liberties of free belief, free expression, free assembly are of little avail if in daily life freedom of communication, the give and take of ideas, facts, experiences, is choked by mutual suspicion: by abuse􀀥, by fear and hatred. These things destroy the essential condit10n of the democratic way of living even more effectually than open coer­cion which-as the example of totalitarian states proves-is effective only when it succeeds in breeding hate, suspicion, intol­erance in the minds of individual human beings.

Finally, given the two conditions just mentioned, democracy as a way of life is controlled by personal faith in personal day by day working together with others. Democracy is the belief that even when needs and ends or consequences are different for each individual, the habit of amicable cooperation-which may in­clude, as in sport, rivalry and competition-is itself a priceless addition to life.  To take as far as possible every conflict which arises-and they are bound to arise-out of the atmosphere and medium of force, of violence as a means of settlement into that of discussion and of intelligence is to treat those who disagree­, even profoundly-with us as those from whom we may learn and in so far, as friends. A genuinely democratic faith in peace is faith in the possibility of conducting disputes, controversies and conflicts as cooperative undertakings in which both parties learn by giving the other a chance to express itself, instead of having one party conquer by forceful suppression of the other-a sup­pression which is none the less one of violence when it takes place by psychological means of ridicule, abuse, intimidation, m­stead of by overt imprisonment or in concentration camps. To cooperate by giving differences a chance to show themselves cause of the belief that the expression of difference is not only a right of the other persons but is a means of enriching one's own life-experience, is inherent in the democratic personal way of life.

If  what has been said is charged with being a set of moral com- monplaces, my only reply is that that is just the point in saying them. For to get rid of the habit of thinking of democracy as something institutional and external and to acquire the habit 􀁖f treating it as a way of personal life is to realize that democracy is a moral ideal and so far as it becomes a fact is a moral fact. It is to realize that democracy is a reality only as it is indeed a com­monplace of living.

Since my adult years have been given to the pursuit of philoso­phy, I shall ask your indulgence if in concluding I state briefly the democratic faith in the formal terms of a philosophic position. So stated, democracy is belief in the ability of human experience to generate the aims and methods by which further experience will grow in ordered richness. Every other form of moral and social faith rests upon the idea that experience must be subjected at some point or other to some form of external control; to some "authority" alleged to exist outside the processes of experience. Democracy is the faith that the process of experience is more im­portant than any special result attained, so that special results achieved are of ultimate value only as they are used to enrich and order the ongoing process. Since the process of experience is ca­pable of being educative, faith in democracy is all one with faith in experience and education. All ends and values that are cut off from the ongoing process become arrests, fixations. They strive to fixate what has been gained instead of using it to open the road and point the way to new and better experiences.

If one asks what is meant by experience in this connection my reply is that it is that free interaction of individual human beings with surrounding conditions, especially the human surround­ings, which develops and satisfies need and desire by increasing knowledge of things as they are. Knowledge of conditions as they are is the only solid ground for communication and sharing; all other communication means the subjection of some persons to the personal opinion of other persons. Need and desire-out of which grow purpose and direction of energy-go beyond what exists, and hence beyond knowledge, beyond science. They con­tinually open the way into the unexplored and unattained future. Democracy as compared with other ways of life is the sole way of living which believes wholeheartedly in the process of experi­ence as end and as means; as that which is capable of generating the science which is the sole dependable authority for the direc­tion of further experience and which releases emotions, needs and desires so as to call into being the things that have not existed in the past. For every way of life that fails in its democ­racy limits the contacts, the exchanges, the communications, the nteractions by which experience is steadied while it is also en­larged and enriched. The task of this release and enrichment is one that has to be carried on day by day. Since it is one that can have no end till experience itself comes to an end, the task of de­mocracy is forever that of creation of a freer and more humane experience in which all share and to which all contribute.