April's CR Diary

A diary of a 30 year old woman following CRON, or Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition, for health and life extension.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Free Sandwiches, Saint Francis, and Effective Models of Activism

Good morning all... well, it's morning for me. 2:03 am. I wonder if I might ought to just move to a place where everyone else is on my time.

Yesterday I went to the new coffee shop on the corner after lunch to get an iced latte with skim (calcium, protein, niacin) and they gave me a free sandwich. I've been there a lot since it opened last weekend... well, three times yesterday. The manager, Alex, told the staff to give away the sandwiches after lunch time, and apparently they all asked in chorus, "Can we give one to April?" So now I have an egg salad sandwich. What am I going to do with it? I thought about eating half of it last night for dinner, but since I've really lacked an appetite for the last few days, I wanted to make sure that when I did eat I ate super optimal nutrition, so I had brewers yeast in free range organic chicken broth instead. Does anybody want an egg salad sandwich? It's so sweet of the coffee shop staff to think of me, so I didn't want to turn down their generous offer. And I genuinely like egg salad. It's just that I wasn't expecting to be given an egg salad sandwich at this point in my life, and I hadn't planned for it. It can really throw you off to just have someone hand you a free sandwich. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that I should just eat and enjoy this egg salad sandwich. I haven't had an egg salad sandwich in years, and I really used to like them. Maybe I'll have half today and half tomorrow. It's in the fridge and well wrapped so should keep for at least long enough for me to enjoy it in a way that doesn't throw off the entire rest of my CRON plan.

Yesterday, I skipped breakfast again since I was up from 2:30 am on (that cause and effect relationship makes no sense) and I really wasn't hungry at all for lunch, but I had made some delicious cream of broccoli soup that I was planning to serve to some co-workers who came over to my house for lunch (I live three minutes from my office) so I had a cup of that and a small piece of sourdough bread. The cream of broccoli soup is almost all broccoli: I take Imagine brand creamy broccoli soup (vegan) as a base, and blend one entire bag of frozen broccoli into it (after thawing the broccoli) and then I throw another entire bag into it unblended. I then add a little salt and pepper as well as the juice of one lemon. It's quite delicious and a great way to get some variety in how you eat your broccoli, in case you want that for some reason. Then I had an iced latte with skim after lunch, followed by brewers' yeast and broth for dinner with some nice walnuts on the side and a glass of red wine. In the past when I've had these spells of no appetite whatsoever, I've made the mistake of just eating whatever I wanted when I finally got hungry, but now I'm paying extra careful attention to the ON. It's amazing how different I look now, six pounds thinner than my pre-CR lowest adult weight, but so much healthier. That ON really helps. I knew that I had to get some protein and some fat, so my food choices were fairly obvious.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking a lot about effective models of activism. Between Michael's mention of AIDS activism in his post and the fundraiser for the AIDS organization, I've been noticing possible lessons we can learn from the very effective AIDS activists. I used to say, "People are willing to do a lot when their friends are dying." Well, all of our friends are slowly dying of aging.

AIDS activists learned fairly early on that a lot of people didn't like them, and weren't going to like them no matter what they did. So they decided to mobilize power by making the most effective use of the time, talent and money of a core group of dedicated inviduals who were willing to risk a lot to save lives.

Eventually, as they won more and more victories, they became less marginalized. Some of them went downright mainstream. That's all tactics, not strategy. They were and are willing to use whatever tactic moved their cause forward.

It reminds me of the debates I used to have with my old friend Francis, back when we were student labor activists during the Yale strike of 1996. He's the Saint Francis of the headline. We used to stand shivering at the gates of Old Campus arguing for at least an hour after meetings, and I think it's time I gave Francis some credit in the blog because a) he taught me so much of what I know about organizing and b) he actually bought my father's book, _Jesus and the Pleasures_, and is reading it, so should be rewarded. He really likes the book too!

Francis was kinda like the Michael Rae of the Yale student labor activist community. Visionary, brilliant, usually right. People were always saying that he turned people off by being so extreme, but what he understood, and what he taught me, was that if you spend all your time trying to accomadate your critics, you have no time left over to mobilize your base. Back in those days I played the role of the "normal girl with the activist freaks" -- I was the former chair of the Liberal Party of the Yale Political Union, and unlike the activist girls, I painted my nails and occasionally wore skirts. I started out as a representative of the moderates, and in a matter of months turned into the most active of the activists. I never changed my style of dress, though... why wear Birkenstocks when you can be taller in heels? (again, that's tactics, not strategy, but seriously, you try being 5' 1.75" and tell me which you prefer) But I did change my views of what it took to be effective.

At the first rally I went to that year, right before the long strike of '96 was about to begin, I went up to Francis and asked what I could do to help. He sent me off to make 200 copies (wow, I remember the number of copies! the paper was blue!) of a flyer, and my roommate said, "I never thought I'd see the day when you were taking orders from Francis Engler." Truth be told, prior to the winter of '96, I didn't like Francis much. Our freshman year, when I was active in the Liberal party, he tried to convince me of the need to start a Green Party of the Yale Political Union, which I still contend is the stupidest idea he ever had. Then he disappeared to Central America to learn Spanish for a year and I never really thought about him again until that day that I made the copies.

From that day in January of 1996 until the night I left to become a union organizer nine months later, we spent hours and hours arguing: about tactics, about religion, about whether one should put olive oil in collard greens and if so how much.

The essence of what Francis taught me was this: decide whom you need to move to leverage power, and then tailor your message to those people. In union organizer language, that would translate as "Talk to the 3's, not the 2's or the 4's." In a union organizing campaign, you need to move the swing voters, a very identifiable group of people who will decide the election. You tailor your message to the moderates in that case, not to those who are definitely in favor, nor to those who are definitely against. When you're an AIDS activist, you might need to move a political leader with a particular constituency, or the head of a drug company. The tactics and message you choose should reflect an assessment of who you're trying to move and what will move them. That means that you don't waste a lot of time answering your critics unless your critics are actually people who a) you have a chance of moving b) have power to do something.

Francis didn't waste a lot of time answering his critics. With a maturity that was pretty remarkable for a 21 year old kid, he ignored the naysayers and kept on organizing. He was the architect (with help from many others, mostly me and my old friend Jon Z who also gets to take credit for my conversion to vegetarianism, so will get his own tribute blog entry at some point soon) of a very successful student sit-in at the Yale president's office. He knew that a lot of students wouldn't be supportive of such sixties style activism, but he was able to motivate a dedicated base to take this action (risking arrest and expulsion from Yale, a non-trivial risk) because he knew that just talking to students wasn't going to get Yale's attention: stopping business as usual at the executive level would. And it did.

After college, we both got jobs in the labor movement as organizers, and we both went very mainstream: he cut his hair, I learned how to bring back my Southern accent on command, and we tailored our appearance, our message, everything about ourselves to our audience. His was and is mostly Spanish speaking workers in Southern California, mine, as you know, is nurses.

We've stayed good friends over the last nine years... in fact, Francis and I are currently playing the longest round of unsuccessful phone tag in the history of the universe... as you might imagine, it's hard for me to stay awake long enough to talk to a West Coast organizer when he gets home from work at 9 or 10 his time.

The lessons that Francis taught me have helped me make some difficult decisions. I always think to myself: "Who is the audience? Why? What motivates them?"

When I talk to people about my interest in fighting aging, people say things like, "I'm fine with getting old." However, I think I would be hard-pressed to find someone who was actually "fine" with being in a nursing home at 70 or 80 when they could be spending those years as productive, independent members of society.

I think Michael is right when he says that the horror of aging is something most people don't want to confront. No one really wants to think about losing their freedom, losing their senses, losing their mind. But most people think that curing aging is a science fiction fantasy. So they distract themselves from the horror, and it just goes on.

Who specifically, are the people we need to move in order to fund the research that we know needs to happen? How do we tailor our message to those people?

I've learned a lot in the last month from some brilliant people who have been working on this for a long time. I think that the M Prize, that subject of much controversy over there in CR Land, is a great way to bring attention to the real possibility of curing the pathologies of aging. As more and more people put their $85/month or whatever they can into the fund, they send the message that real people believe that curing aging is possible, and are willing to make sacrifices to make it happen.

I wonder what Francis would say...


  • At 5:11 AM, Blogger StretchOutAndWait said…

    That broccoli soup sounds great!

    I've been following your journal for a while, here. I find it very inspirational and realistic! I have been practising CRON for about 1.5 months now and am really beginning to feel as if it's settled in and natural now. I have a question, though, have you had hair loss/thinning? I'm eating about 900-1200 calories a day, so not ridiculously low, but my stylist yesterday was exclaiming over how much it's thinning...and she knew nothing of my recent change in eating habits. She was pushing protein, but I already eat a good bit of it. I also take fish oil pills every day, and eat some good fats.

    I hope you might have some suggestions or experience here. I'm really hoping it will even out after the initial "oh no, what are you doing!" phase and realise that I don't plan to stop feeding it altogether, heh. Thanks.

  • At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    keep up the work with the M Prize ~ WE NEED YOU!

    ..and sham the egg salad sandwich.

    black moth


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