Dismantle Our Current Structures

Redefining what public safety means for the University of Iowa will require the campus community to think differently and to dismantle our current structures in order to build a better future.

Everyone has a right to be skeptical that real actions and change follows, but when that quote follows “in order to truly reimagine public safety on our campus, we must approach the issue as though we are starting from scratch” in the press release from our big public university?

This moment is different.


Or maybe not. Skepticism is OK.

One-track Minds

We’re in the midst of a moment: police brutality, the long-time callous disregard for Black lives, has come to the fore with opportunity for rapid change and reform.

And.

We’re in the midst of a moment: a global pandemic infecting millions of Americans, and killing thousands without an end — or leadership — in sight.

And.

We’re in the midst of a moment: an incompetent wanna authoritarian for whom cruelty seems to be the point stands for election.

And.

We’re in the midst of a moment: the point-of-no-return for our climate.

And so on and so forth.

Humans are so bad at focusing on more than a single rage-inducing issue at a time, our wannabe authoritarian has (inadvertently?) weaponized it against us.

In short: you can stay mad, but you can’t stay mad at the same thing if more horrors keep popping up. There’s so much coming at us and the rapidly-dying media that we can’t keep our focus long enough to make the case that is obvious.

It’s so easy to forget. To forget the compounding weight.

We humans like to chuckle about how goldfish forget something once they hit the other side of their bowl. Or about how dogs only think in the present tense. Or how birds can’t count above three. Gosh, they’re so simple.

And here we are, stuck on our one track.

Hindsight: Best Pandemic Moves

Making a few stock-up purchases two months ago.

Planning my spring break to a cabin in an isolated state park five months ago.

Refinishing the basement and building an addition to provide spaces to work, read, sunbathe, puzzle two years ago.

Moving to careers that pay well and allow us to work from home 12 years ago.

Buying a chest freezer 13 years ago.

Becoming a parent and stopping after one child 15 years ago.

Being born a white, cis, hetero male to educated, well-to-do parents who have been supportive of me my entire life, allowing me an incredibly large safety net so when a global pandemic hits I’ll be just fine, thanks, 40 years ago.

(Did you “make” good pandemic moves, too? There are people you should help.)

Last Meal

On March 13, I consumed one of my last meals in a restaurant for the foreseeable future. I found myself on North State Street in Chicago, surrounded by employees munching on Hot Cheetos and kale salads before the lunch rush.

Nina Elkadi, Life Without Restaurants, Little Village

This piece, which, coincidentally, includes a photo of my family eating at Pullman’s Mission Creek dinner a couple years ago, has had me thinking about my last restaurant meal.

It was for my birthday in early March, and the food, prepared with care and creativity by Rodina‘s team, was excellent, as was the company of Evelyn, Laura, Sam, Erek, Kelly, David and Lisa.

Such meals aren’t ancillary to my social life. As a homebody and an introvert (of which I’m even more certain now than before), they’re often the necessary social lubricant.

I miss (in-person) meals with family, and I miss meals with friends. I miss the magical experiences — surprising, novel and transportive — that restaurants can offer.

When we travel (when will that happen again?), it often centers on food, and we seek out those places we hope will offer a thoughtful meal and then figure out what else we’ll do and where we’ll stay from there.

When we’re home and our kid is off with friends (when will that happen again?), we’ll venture somewhere locally, and simply watch people while we enjoy good drinks and good food.

None of that comes in a to-go box.

24 Hours After Caucusing, Nevada’s Results are Coming Slower Than Iowa’s Were. Why Won’t Nevada be a Punchline?

As some folks are pointing out, the results from the Nevada caucuses (results currently show 60% reported 24 hours later) are behind where Iowa’s were (about 62% reported after 24 hours) after a day, even with Nevada’s four-day early voting head start, but we’re not getting rending of cloth from the press. The Nevada Caucuses, even with a challenge from Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, won’t be labeled a disaster, debacle or worse.

Why?

I think it’s pretty simple.

Democrats in Nevada did a better job setting expectations than we did in Iowa.

When the Iowa Democratic Party said it would have results rolling out starting in the evening of the caucuses, media laid its plans, including live coverage. When, unexpectedly, there weren’t results to report, all the press had to report was the lack of results.

So it did.

In Nevada, they made no such promise.

Having failed to set realistic expectations, the IDP failed to fill the information gap so it was filled with freaking out and conjecture.

When a space exists between what people want to know and what knowledge is publicly available, there’s what I call an information gap. And that gap creates a vacuum that will be filled, if not with real information, then with conjecture.

The political press calls this punditry.

Remember how the IDP phone lines were being clogged by media asking for updates (and a bunch of 4chan assholes)? In a crisis, staying quiet and hoping it will blow over is always attractive to the people who have to talk to the press, but it rarely works out well.

Iowa’s results were supposed to be primetime programming. Nevada’s weren’t.

There’s a huge difference between what the press will do on a Monday night in primetime and what it wants in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

Weekends are when you’ve got the B team on the anchor desk. The big Sunday stories were filed on Friday. The press and its audiences are out to dinner, watching sports or drinking.

Late Friday is the traditional time to dump news you don’t want covered. Saturday afternoon is a good day for voting, but a bad time for news coverage.

Monday night, in primetime, is high-viability, especially when you’ve got your A team all ready to talk about results from the first-in-the-nation contest.

Nevada has a clear winner and thus a story.

This is the most important one. “Media bias” isn’t left or right. It’s a bias towards narrative and conflict.

Bernie Sanders won first in Nevada and the AP called it pretty early. The story is now “Sanders is the true frontrunner for the nomination” while other campaigns fight it out for second place.

And the conflict piece has been nicely filled in, too, with anti-Bernie and pro-Bernie and anti-anti-Bernie factions fighting over if he can or can’t beat Trump and what needs to happen next for a non-Sanders candidate to get the nomination.

Media needs a narrative. Without a clear winner, Iowa’s was “disaster”. With a winner, which is kinda the point of these nominating contests, Nevada has a narrative.

“The door for real change has opened a crack. Put down your shoulder and hit it as hard as you can.”

Amid the world’s chaos — which is exactly why this is the right time to talk about this — I’d like to step back and talk about why I’m all in for Elizabeth Warren

Last night, we had our local Warren organizer, Zoe, who is great, over for dinner.

We talked about things we care about: reproductive justice, racial justice. Social justice. Debt-free education. Climate change. Healthcare. And so on. 

There’s a lot of things to care about — worry about — right now. I bet you care about a lot of these things because a lot of people do.

A lot of people whan to see something different. They want to see meaningful change. 

“The door for real change has opened a crack.” Real change. Big, structural change.

This morning, I woke up to The New York Timesprofile of Elizabeth Warren, listening during my morning run through the darkness.

It focused on the time, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when a door was open a crack. Through that opening Warren pushed the establishment of a consumer safety agency for financial products. 

You know it today as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

The CFBP is good for people. Big bank folks kinda hate it because it means regulation and accountability. Some politicians kinda hate it because people in big banks kinda hate it.

But accountability and regulation is good. Not ruining lives because of bad financial products is good. 

Warren’s able to push these things because she has the ability a good teacher has to explain complex issues clearly, and she can do it to big audiences. That’s her super power.

That and empathy. She cares. 

Anyway, Warren’s moment starts with her puking before going on The Daily Show

It ends with her offering a masterfully clear vision of where we go “after we pull the bus out of the ditch.” 

So she’s got plans. Green New Deal. Blue New Deal. Plans to farmers and workers. Plans to address immigration and our climate crisis and transition to Medicare for All. Lots of plans. 

Progressive plans. 

And you can go and read them

But what runs through them all of her plans is accountability and empathy. Lost in the talk about her progressive stands is that they are centered on anti-corruption.

We don’t make progress on issues we care about because the system isn’t set up for most of us. Our current administration is corrupt and abhorrent and our president should be impeached. But our problems didn’t start — and won’t end — with Trump. 

We’ve nibbled around the edges for years. I’m tired of trying to start in the middle and getting steamrolled. So is Elizabeth. 

“You don’t start out by saying there are people who are going to oppose this, so let’s just ask for 2 percent.” 

Elizabeth Warren can compromise, but we’re going to have to fight for even moderate changes, so why only ask for a little? 

We want to get the money out of politics, but when I get calls from folks who are running for office asking for money, the ask always starts this way: “Gosh, we gotta get the money out of politics. But until then, can you write me a check?” 

Elizabeth is walking the walk. She knows we’re not going to get the money out of politics by keeping money in politics. Or that we’re going to get transparency from our politicians unless we get transparency our political leaders.

 She keeps asking why things that are popular with voters don’t get traction in Washington. And the answer she keeps coming to is corruption. Power and influence and money and access. Systemic, built-in corruption. And it’s been here. 

“It’s about having a vision about who you want to work for.” 

Elizabeth Warren knows who she wants to work for, and she’s doing the work to show she’s legit. 

The door is open a crack. Don’t be afraid to put your shoulder down and push hard.

-30- 

All In on Big, Structural Change

With local elections now passed, my attention turns to the Iowa Caucuses and the vital work of 2020.

The field of Democratic presidential candidates is deep and diverse, and people I respect are committed to many of them. We all want someone who can win.

Our country faces myriad serious issues: racial inequity, a climate crisis, income inequality, mass incarceration, Go Fund Me for healthcare debt, out-of-reach housing, childcare deserts, tax-free corporate profits, crumbling infrastructure, bought-and-paid-for politics, a hallowed-out safety net, disenfranchisement, forced childbirth, gun violence, and a world unraveled and leaders indifferent to the pain they’re inflicting on humans.

Lots of our candidates care about these issues. But that’s just table stakes.

The Iowa Caucuses, whatever their faults, operate outside of the usual choose-one-of-two of elections. It’s our chance to follow our hearts.

And my heart says Elizabeth Warren.

Warren has the skills and the plans for the desperately needed — say it with me — big, structural change.

She’s a big thinker who designed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, then ran it. She’s a hard fighter who isn’t afraid to stand up against big banks, big tech and big energy. And she’s an inspiration and a teacher who can clearly explain the plan, how it works, and why it’s important, and then lead the way.

But can she win? Yes, of course she can. If we don’t let ourselves get tied up in I-like-her-but… knots outthinking ourselves.

I hope you’ll allow yourself to dream big, follow your heart and join me in supporting Elizabeth Warren.

The Arts Will Strengthen Our Community

My first date with my wife, Laura, was a 1995 showing of Braveheart at the Englert.

A few years later, just as I was finishing high school, the Coralridge Mall opened and laid waste to Iowa City’s retail. Big department stores had either abandoned Iowa City or were getting ready to. There weren’t many decent restaurants, and the bars relied on underage drinking. And the parts of downtown that weren’t bars were rapidly being replaced by more bars.

Then the Englert, the last movie theater in downtown Iowa City, closed. It was going to become a bar.

I was in college — the downtown scene was being build for my cohort! — but I was heartened when a group of locals launched the Save the Englert campaign and managed to do just that.

Since then, the Englert has become a cultural beacon, hosting hundreds of show a year, organizing festivals and helping program arts across the community. And FilmScene has brought movies — good ones — back to the heart of Iowa City. And Saturday, they launched a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen our existing venues, grow the arts into new spaces and with new festivals and evolve our organizations with community-driven arts access and education. You can read more about it here.

Here comes the appeal. We’ve given. We’ve asked our friends to give. And I’m asking you to consider giving. These opportunities don’t come around very often.

Communications That Don’t Suck (or Cost a Buttload)


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No non-profit organization exists just to do communications.

Instead, people get involved because they're interested in helping communities, advocating for change or building a needed amenity. But communications are vital to supporting these organizations’ mission by raising funds, recruiting volunteers, spreading information and inspiring action.

But I see a lot of sucky communication from scrappy organizations doing really important work, and I want to help. So I put together a guide with goal of helping organizations get on solid footing and pointed in the right direction with practical advice.

There are other, more sophisticated ways to do communications than this guide offers. You can target your ad spends using lookalike audiences to boost your ROI, if that’s your thing.

The guide, however, is geared towards people who don't have a background in communications, marketing or information technology. In fact, it's geared towards organizations that might not have a website or social media presence.

This guide is for organizations that have more enthusiasm than expertise, and more dedication than dollars.

The guide is not intended to be shared with or used by right-to-lifers, gun-rights champions, 'educational choice' advocates, pro-military chickenhawks, censors, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, science deniers, nationalists, Nazis or libertarians.

You can get the guide with your contact information below. You can send me feedback at nick@bergus.org.


My favorite movies of last year

I watched fewer movies this year than I did at one point of my life, when I didn’t have a kid and TV shows weren’t nearly as good as they are now, but I still saw a healthy amount.

While I made it out to see Oscar contenders like Roma, my favorites of the past year were all over the place.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Saving Brinton

Saving Brinton still

A love letter to Iowa and her people disguised as documentary about saving film history. Michael Zahs, who I had the fortune hearing speak at the conclusion of my first showing, is a natural entertainer and a salt-of-the-earth type who warmed my heart. [Watch on Vimeo]

Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse

Into the Spider-verse

I loved Spider-Man when I was growing up. Then, when I tried to jump back in after a few years away, I found it incomprehensible. What they hell were all these weird contrivances? Oddly and amazingly, Into the Spider-Verse manages to tell a story far from that simple Spider-Man beats up bad guys story of my childhood — including multiple dimensions and a main character who isn’t Peter Parker — but makes it familiar and entertaining.

Black Panther

Black Panther still

I love a good superhero movie and Black Panther was exactly that. Plus: representation matters. Wakanda Forever.

Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade

Part of my love for this movie surely comes from being perfectly primed: I saw this with my daughter the summer she was getting ready to enter junior high. It offered an opportunity for us to talk about the journey ahead. The story and acting is incredibly true to life, cringey in all the right ways.

Blackkklansman

Blackkklansman

Like all Spike Lee joints, this is heavy handed at times. But we live in a time like no other and drawing a straight line from shitty cops and organized racism in the 1970s to a shitty president both-side-ing racism in 2017 requires (and resists) being heavy handed.

Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap

A fascinating exploration of three friends, including the filmmaker, bound by skateboarding, as they grow up and grapple with their childhoods and their futures. [Watch on Hulu]

Blockers

Blockers

I’m not kidding. Blockers is exactly what you think it is. Crass. Gross. Over the top. Absurd. But it’s also hilarious and touching. And it actually treats teen sexuality with respect. Blockers is also an argument for why women should helm more movies.