5 invaluable tips on how to resist from a first-time activist.

Lisa Raymond-Tolan spent much of Election Night, and the week that followed, frozen.

Still reeling from her election-induced catatonia, Raymond-Tolan, an occupational therapist from Brooklyn, began noticing posts from friends on Facebook urging people to call their local elected officials. There were Trump's proposed appointments to oppose, the Electoral College to lobby, investigations into Russian election interference to demand. It was overwhelming at first, and scary, but she willed herself to pick up the phone.

"I was so nervous. My heart was pounding. I have real phone anxiety. But I had to call them and complain about X, Y, and Z. And so I started doing it," Raymond-Tolan says.


Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn — where Raymond-Tolan attended her first community meeting. Photo by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons.

The next step was a meeting at a local synagogue, where she joined a working group. That working group eventually became Indivisible Brooklyn, a committee of about a dozen local activists, which Raymond-Tolan helps coordinate and whose Twitter feed she runs.

Like many Americans, Raymond-Tolan had engaged in precisely zero kinds of activism before Nov. 8, 2016.

Since then, she's been placing calls to elected officials around the clock, juggling a now-busy phone and organizing schedule with a full-time job and her role as a parent of two boys. As a first-time activist, she understands the fear — and inertia — of getting started.

Photo by Lisa Raymond-Tolan.

"I was deeply apathetic. I’m only one person, and all these other people are doing these things, so I don’t need to. I was that person just a few months ago, so I definitely understand it," she says.

For the many Americans wondering what to do next, Raymond-Tolan's advice — from a fellow novice who's taken the leap — is an invaluable guide.

Here's what she suggests for anyone looking to make their voice heard, but who isn't quite sure where to start.

1. Remember: You're not responsible for changing everything overnight immediately on your own, so just focus on what you can do.

Raymond-Tolan (L) at a tabling event in Brooklyn. Photo by Lisa Raymond-Tolan.

The key to surmounting the notion that there's just too much to do and overcome? She suggests picking one activity, even if it's small, and adding it to your daily routine.

"I want people to make a phone call every day," she says. "And I think that’s doable. Take one thing and just make that phone call. It’s your daily practice. If you meditate, you do yoga, you exercise, you make a phone call."

2. Start with the thing you care most about.

"Do you care about education? There’s plenty of phone calls to make about Betsy DeVos. Do you care about the Affordable Care Act?"

Photo by Lisa Raymond-Tolan.

Raymond-Tolan's group bases much of its strategy on the Indivisible Guide, a document on how to apply Tea Party tactics to anti-Trump resistance, compiled by four former congressional staffers. Among it's main conclusions? Resistance begins at home.

"You want to be focusing on your local representatives," she says. Out-of-state elected officials don't care much about people who won't affect their re-election.

3. When you get your elected representatives on the phone, remember that you are the one holding the cards.

"These people work for us, so if you think of yourself as the boss, you can call them up and tell them what you think and what you expect from them," she says.

For those who are still intimidated to dial a U.S. government office, realizing that you'll likely be speaking to a 22-year-old intern certainly doesn't hurt either.

4. Don't underestimate the stress-relieving power of bothering congressmen.

"You can call Paul Ryan! You can do that and tell him what you think. Does it matter because you’re not his constituent? Probably not. Does it feel good? Absolutely."

Photo by Lisa Raymond-Tolan.

Early on, Raymond-Tolan called the office of outgoing Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis — a Republican former member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform — to demand investigation into then-President-elect Trump's conflicts of interest. She expected to reach an intern, only to wind up on the phone with the congresswoman's chief of staff. They wound up speaking for 45 minutes — debating their political philosophies and getting to know one another personally.

"I still email with him from time to time," she says.

5. But, seriously, do the work — because it's not that hard.

"My grandfather, he was always really big on voting," Raymond-Tolan recalls. "He always said, 'If you don’t vote, you can’t bitch.' So if you want to complain about something, but you didn’t make any phone calls, you really shouldn’t complain."

Photo by Lisa Raymond-Tolan.

For three months now, she's been heeding his advice. With a little nudge, she thinks many more — including you — can too.

"If I can inspire one person to do one thing, that feels like a win to me," she says. "So let’s make some phone calls."

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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