How to quit your “impact” job and not feel guilty.

I’ve put out another edition of the Yenta Newsletter. Take a look here. For posterity, I’m going to extract one piece of the newsletter — an advice column — and flesh it out a bit here.

For a few years now, I’ve been joking that my hobby is “marxist career advice”. I’ve spent many hours-long conversations with people asking for help with figuring out their life, and my basic orientation involves ideas like “yes, all labor is exploitation, but you still need a job” and “alienated labor is a true crime of capitalism. I shake my fist at it. Now let’s talk about your resume”.

I’ve thought about turning it into some sort of cultural artifact. A set of essays, a book, a podcast, etc. For now, I’ll try something more juicy — an advice column.

(It would be remiss of me not to point out that the incomparable Existential Comics did a fun take or two on this subject. That’s where the header image comes from, and the comic below as well. I love EC and encourage you to read everything they’ve ever written. Their twitter feed is dank as well.)

By Existential Comics:

Recently, I ran into someone who a question squarely in my wheelhouse. It’s a sign. So, now please enjoy the inaugural issue of “Marxist Career Advice”.

I’m thinking of quitting my very cool progressive political job. It is an important job, but the working conditions aren’t great. People are overworked, underpaid, and everything is chaotic.

I come from poverty. I’ve continued to struggle with poverty and housing-insecurity through my adult life. My current employer makes a big deal out out of below-nonprofit-range salaries as a sign that we are deeply committed to the movement. I feel guilty about wanting to spend a few years making a higher salary – which I want to do so I can build up a savings net and allow myself more opportunities to join progressive fights in the future.

I want to do the right thing. I don’t want to feel guilty. How should I think about this?

Conflicted in Carolina

First off, conflicted — I’m sorry that’s happening to you. There is indeed a frustrating pattern where people who consider themselves on the left, pro-worker, pro-equality, etc end up becoming the worst bosses. That’s wrong. You deserve respect, fair treatment, and psychological safety at work, just as much as anyone else does. My buddy Ned Resnikoff wrote a seminal piece on this in Jacobin in 2013: When The Union Is The Boss. You might enjoy it.

You’ve expressed guilt about the idea of leaving the movement, let’s say. Let’s interrogate that! There’s a term for a thing where membership is tied to your employment: an industry. If you take the logic that “you can’t be in the movement unless you’re hired to do so” to its logical conclusion, you’ll end up with a political strategy of hiring 51% of the country in a progressive nonprofit. That’s obviously not going to work.

When I was considering the same question a while ago, I came to a few realizations:

  • If I stay in the professional left, and give up the training, socialization, resume, and money I’d get from going into industry, I don’t think I’d be thanked. Instead, people might implicitly think of me as not good enough to get a “real” tech job.
  • If I stay in the professional left, it’d be very hard for me to get a tech job where there’d be more than 3 people in the department. Little opportunity for growth, or focus.
  • If I go work in industry, and then come back, I’d be seen as having magic startup/SF pixie dust. People would trip over themselves to hire me.
  • If I work in industry, I would not be seen as speaking for my employer. I could be as radical or frank as I want. Whereas when I work for the professional left, I have to be careful of not pissing off potential future partners, clients, bosses, etc. In other words, I need to be insulated enough from professional blowback to frankly call out some vendors or groups are actively harming the cause.
  • If I leave for industry, I’ll be replaced in my current professional left job by someone who is roughly as talented as I am. They will do the work. And even, to be generous to myself, let’s say they are $30,000/year less productive than I am — depriving this one organization of 30k/year of productivity is a small price to pay for my happiness. (And who knows, this job might be an actual step up / dream for the person replacing me, as opposed to the noble sacrifice it is for me right now)

All those predictions turned out to be true, to some extent.

I don’t know your full situation, of course. And so I can’t tell you what to do. But I hope you take these points in mind. (And, while it’s important context, your current and past poverty and housing insecurity aren’t the determining factor here. You don’t need that as a “get out of guilt jail free” card. Because you should be out of guilt jail even if you had a comfortable middle class background. Does that make sense?)

Lastly, this: when we try to unionize workers at McDonalds, we don’t attack them for how terrible their employer is. We see them, accurately, as partially victims — victims that deserve a higher minimum wage, dignity and respect at work, and a union. So, too, when you work for BigCorp, you are not your boss. You are not deciding to use Congolese slave labor, etc. You’re a worker, who needs a job somewhere. A worker who deserves respect, dignity, solidarity — and a union.

Hope that helps.

(Do you have a career advice question? Ask us at


Birthdays for adults that don’t suck (during a pandemic)

Adult birthdays are hard. There isn’t necessarily a built-in community of fellow students around. Even letting people *know* that it’s your birthday takes effort. The pandemic, of course, has made it worse. So, just as I’m on the lookout for better ways to have adult friendships, or date during a pandemic, I’m trying to think about how to birthdays.

There are three examples of how it went really well that I’d like to share and report back.

#1: Surprise voicemail

For my birthday this July, Sarah did a really nice thing. She set up an answering machine on Google Voice. Then she asked my friends around the world to call in and leave a 3-minute birthday message.

On July 26th, Sarah and I strolled to a nice picnic breakfast. Then, and also again over the course of the day, she played back the messages, a few at a time. It was one of the best birthdays of all time. I felt so happy, and loved, and it was a delight to hear from friends old and new. Close friends and distant acquaintances I was frankly surprised to hear from.

Try it!

#2: Playlist + Slideshow

For Sarah’s birthday, I knew I had to match her. But copying exactly seemed impolite. What to do? After a week of dithering, I figured it out.

I make Sarah a mixtape every month. This time, I’d ask all her friends to contribute music to a birthday playlist just for her. Ontop of that, I’d ask them all to send photos and notes to compile into a slideshow.

Figuring out how to ask people to do 3 different things was tricky. Eventually I settled on using one Airtable form and distributing one link. Worked like a charm.

Here’s the slideshow combining the notes, the songs, and the photos. It came out really well!

And here is the playlist. Or, if you prefer text:

  • Lionel Richie – Hello
  • Cascada – Everytime We Touch
  • Club Drosselmeyer – Ginger Snaps *(This isn’t on Spotify)
  • They Might Be Giants – Birdhouse in Your Soul
  • The New Seekers – Free To Be…You And Me
  • Peter, Paul and Mary – Puff, the Magic Dragon – 2004 Remaster
  • Yola – Walk Through Fire
  • Yola – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  • Yola – Rock Me Gently
  • Allan Sherman – Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max
  • Na Palapalai – Ke Anu O Waimea
  • Brigitte Bardot – Une histoire de plage
  • Brigitte Bardot – La madrague
  • Tanis – Ce N’est Pas Moi
  • Mazowsze – Dwa serduszka
  • Elton John – Skyline Pigeon
  • Stephen Sondheim – Company
  • Marvin Gaye; Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
  • Rozzi – Best Friend Song – Lemon Ice Mix
  • Lake Street Dive – You Go Down Smooth
  • Laura Marling – Fortune
  • Stevie Wonder – I Wish
  • Vince Staples; Richie Kohan – Home
  • The Neville Brothers – Sister Rosa – Live From Wolfgang’s Vault
  • 100 gecs; Charli XCX; Rico Nasty; Kero Kero Bonito – ringtone (Remix) [feat. Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, Kero Kero Bonito]
  • Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut To The Feeling
  • Nina Simone – Love Me or Leave Me – 2013 Remastered Version
  • Edo Lee – Black Coffee
  • Trevor Hall – Everything I Need
  • Chromeo – Clorox Wipe
  • Silver Jews – People
  • Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
  • The B-52’s – Love Shack
  • Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes – Forest
  • The Civil Wars – 20 Years
  • A Taste Of Honey – Boogie Oogie Oogie – Remastered

#3: A murder mystery on GatherTown

I hate zoom. And google meet. And the culture of meeting more than 3 people on a video chat structured as a set of boxes. Conversations need to be small! And breakout groups need to be fluid and user-controlled.

That’s why I’m so excited about two different platforms that try to solve it — and spacial chat. And, just the other day, my friend Giselle used gathertown to run a successful murder mystery party!

The day started out a bit normal – a brunch hangout of just a few (~5) of us friends from college. Then, in the evening, we all created avatars and moved around in! The scene was an 80’s themed prom. We each had roles in a murder mystery. Despite the mystery instructions being written years ago (and therefore assuming we wouldn’t be quarantining), gathertown made it all possible!

Try a murder mystery (or just some version of spacial chat or gather town) for your next birthday. You’ll be so much happier than an awkward 20-person zoom room.

The over-arching secret is the wingman

All these case studies had one common success factor: the wingman. These days, you need someone spending their time reminding your friends that the birthday is coming up, and then also directing them to The Plan.

And there does need to be a plan. Gone are the days where we can just spontaneously hoist someone on our shoulders and go to the nearest pub. Instead, the wingman (the planner) needs to lay out an idea, find friends, drive them to the link, etc.

For me, it was Sarah. For Sarah, it was me. For Giselle, it was our mutual friend Anna. For couples, it seems pretty easy to figure out who the wingman is.

But for single people? I don’t know. Must be tough.

Guess that’s one more reason I want to help people find love in my spare time.


Consult the room full of people in your head

Some time ago, on a flight across the country, I decided to listen — I mean really listen — to a full album by the band Cloud Cult. This was new for me. I grew up listening to classical music, and in doing so, I fear I trained myself to ignore the lyrics of songs almost completely. So paying attention to actual words is quite hard.

Cloud Cult was on my mind. kept telling me that they were one of my favorite bands (by number of plays), but I couldn’t tell you much about them, or their music. I had just finished listening to Krista Tipett interviewing their lead for On Being. Clearly they were more important than the silly band with weird songs that I thought they were. So I closed my eyes, queued up a new (to me) album, and simply paid attention.

And then … woah. This song hit me like a bag of bricks.

“There’s a room full of people in your head, and every single one of them claims your name.”

There’s a party going on in your head, yes, but also parties. A parliament. And this parliament is composed of factions, each led by a different personality.

This rhymes with a concept from Jay Smooth. The Little Hater. The little hater is the voice in your head, trashing everything you do. The little hater is the leader of opposition in the parliament of you. (Never the majority leader, because then that’d mean he’d have to take responsibility for actions).

Eventually, the plane landed. The album ended. Tears crossed my cheeks. I staggered out of the airport and met my partner. I had a decision to make — should I leave my job? What sort of thing could I do next?

If there was a parliament full of personalities in my head, we decided, maybe what I needed to do was build a coalition of the personalities I wanted to embody, and do what they wanted.

We walked to a park, and I sat down on a rock, facing a pond. I decided that there were a few values/personalities to embody:

  • The one who believes they will not fail
  • The one who is an artist, unconcerned with material things
  • The one who wants to always be on the side of good
  • The one who weighs the options and coolly does the “correct” thing

For each, I embodied them, the way an actor would, or an avatar. My posture changed. My voice changed. And each personality graded different courses of action, gave advice, etc.

The last one was perhaps the most interesting. I originally thought of it as “the person who worries” or “the person who wants to make sure I’m safe”. But a trick I learned (from Gayle Karen Young at StartingBloc) was to take these personalities and add the modifier “mature”. What does the “mature worrier” look like? To me, it was a sort of Ari Emmanuel character. Brisk, even brusque. Weighing risk and reward. Hardheaded and ambitious, calculating and cool. And his take on the situation frankly surprised me.

That’s the day I realized I needed to leave Facebook (thought it took a while longer to pull the trigger). And that’s how I try to make decisions going forward.

Anyway, the point of this all was originally to suggest you listen to Cloud Cult. Cloud Cult is great! And while Room Full of People In Your Head is a great song, I’d have to say it’s not even their best. This is. Relatedly, Jay Smooth and Gayle Young are american treasures. Find Jay here. And Gayle is here.


The 2020 review of video games

This was the year that I took a self-conscious break from work and finally made good on my years-long threat to play video games. I haven’t spent as much time on a console since I was a teenager. It was nice, a good way to reconnect with the concept of “it’s okay to use time in ways that are not productive.”

But, in order to be a little bit productive, allow me to introduce Sahar Massachi’s 2020 video game review. These aren’t games that came out in 2020, necessarily, just games that I first encountered this year. (Skyrim, while having soaked up a lot of my time, sadly doesn’t qualify). All games are on the Switch.

Top Prize: Return of the Obra Dinn

The soundtrack alone vaults it to stardom

Quite possibly the best work of the last 5 or 10 years, this masterpiece is more like an immersive, fun, work of art that happens to be a video game.

Even people who dislike video games can love this game. The music is so good that I listen to it for fun. The puzzles are exactly the right amount of challenging, and the procedure for validating your guesses is ingenious. this is the sort of game that your girlfriend iwht no hand-eye coordination can play, that your whole family can join in as you play on the couch.

A+. Shows what building a game for love, rather than profit, can achieve.

Notable runner-up: West of Loathing

Real 90s kids might remember Kingdom of Loathing, the php-based browser game (still running strong!). West of Loathing is its stellar spin-off.

Set in a satirical “western” setting, the plot veers into goblin genocide, freaky aliens, the culture of SF, and evil necromantic beings.

“Funny games” are, as a rule, awful. (A Bard’s Tale being the paradigmatic example). West of Loathing is the exception to the rule. Witty and erudite, this combination puzzle game / point and click adventure / basic tactics RPG will draw in jaded gamers and vigilant non-gamers alike.

This, along with Obra Dinn, was the only game I could gleefully play with Sarah — together, at the same time, playing the same character, switching off holding the controller. Given her lack of video game skills (she attributes this to “lack of mario” growing up), that’s a big deal!

Bait and Switch Award: Fire Emblem Three Houses

I am currently playing Fire Emblem. Not at this minute of course, since I’m typing this. But I was playing Fire Emblem right before this, and I’ll play Fire Emblem right after it. I spent over twelve hours playing it every day this weekend.

The game bills itself as a sort of hogwarts-inspired plot: there is a school for fighting/magic/leaders of the continent. And you’re a teacher heading one of the houses! Plus, some battles. And yes, all that is there. What they don’t tell you: the game is also a lightweight dating sim.

Your units have “support” with each other — and as a teacher, you’re meant to help them get closer to each other personally (so that they can fight harder together in battle). As a player, you’re constantly watching cutscenes of your students awkwardly flirt, argue, and teach each other to cook. It often feels more like you are watching an interactive, schizophrenetic movie, than playing a game.

But there’s a twist — your students (and coworkers, boss, dad, and some miscellaneous children) also want to build relationships with *you*. And, for pretty much everyone of the opposite gender (and some of the same gender), “building relationships” feels a lot like flirting. In fact, often, it precisely is. After all, the game wants you to end up marrying one of these people.

I was playing a woman character, and so most of the romantic prospects were men. Mostly students. This felt wrong in a few ways. First, and most importantly, why does the game have you flirt with students? Unethical! But also — I don’t really find joy flirting with men who, again, are my students. So any time a heartfelt moment with one arrived, I’d tense up, afraid of them turning their eyes towards me. Even though most encounters were objectively sweet, and the flirting actually was at a minimum (and kept towards the end of the game, where everyone is 5 years older and has graduated), the whole situation kept me on edge because I was worried the unwanted attention *could happen at any time*.

I imagine this sort of experience vaguely (though with a lot of caveats) feels like the same sort of thing that actual women deal with in real life. (Again, with lots of qualifiers, not least being “the magnitude is different and no switch game substitutes for real experience etc etc).


Nostalgia award: Katamari Damacy

Katamari. What a joy. What a soundtrack. What a reminder of mid-aughts madcap madness, and a gameplay that still has yet to be matched. Katamari combines the simple joy of tidying up with the simple joy of world domination via giant ball magnet thing.

The one thing they still need to fix is so obvious that I’m dumbfounded it hasn’t happened — the game needs an “infinite mode”, where you can roll around to your hearts content with (and this is crucial) no deadline!

Friendship award: Divinity Original Sin: 2

Online coop is weirdly difficult on the switch. The Escapists 2 hasn’t thought through coop move very well. Smash Brothers doesn’t allow online *coop*, only battles against your friends, not with them vs an AI. Streets of Rogue flat out breaks when trying coop. Diablo 3 pulls it off technically, but has such atrocious plot and setting that spending time on it is an insult to anyone paying attention. Pokemon’s coop abilities are a joke. All fail — except Divinity 2.

It’s a marvel that they pulled off this game on a console that is technically a mid-2017 era smartphone in a new form factor. It’s amazing that one can play the spiritual successor to Baldur’s gate on what is essentially a game boy — and do it with a friend hundreds of miles away. Bravo!

Skinner Box Award: Hades

So many pixels have been spread extolling Hades that I’ll keep it brief. It’s reinvented the roguelike genre. It can be a replacement for knitting while talking to friends on the phone, and a challenging full-attention adventure if needed. The story drips out in tiny enough drips to last forever, and large enough drips to keep you interested.

It’s a technological marvel — civilization has come one step closer to the Skinner box. Well done.

Hot Takes

Zelda Breath of the Wild is fine but repetitive. Each zone is the same — find the shrines, do some easy puzzles, fight some bad guys (who respawn soon anyways, so why even bother?)

Cuphead is fun for about 10 minutes before the wonder at the jazzy sound and old-timey graphics fades and you’re left with a derivative (and too difficult) platformer.

Animal Crossing is boring and it’s my understanding that everyone (rightly) gave up on it two weeks in.

Remember how I said that (Loathing excepted) every game that tries to be funny is an abysmal waste of time? The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle is a great example of what doing it badly looks like. (Sorry, creators of the game! I know you worked hard on it, I apologize that I didn’t like it. I did try.)

Undertale is a nice work of art. It continually show you established patterns of a game — then violates different “rules” or norms that you didn’t even realize existed. It’s clearly special. It’s also art more than a game. I wouldn’t call it fun. But it is interesting.


A right-libertarian case for breaking up Facebook

So, this is fun. Over the weekend, I was the featured guest on a libertarian radio show — A Free Solution, by Kevin Wilson and Larry Sharpe. We talked about breaking up Facebook, tech monopolies, surveillance, and content moderation policy. I made the best libertarian case I could for trust busting. Cited Hayek, the presidential election of 1912, and other things.

We had a wide ranging conversation. Some thumbnail ideas include:

  • Trust busting is the limited government alternative to extensive regulation.
  • Facebook is right now meddling in every election. They can’t help it, because the very fact of an algorithmic news feed (and recommended groups, and decisions where to put election integrity resources) means meddling happens trillions of times per day.
  • True patriots don’t stand for unelected dictators like Mark Zuckerberg deciding out of noblesse oblige to deign to try to protect them from foreign meddling in democracy.
  • “Facebook Jail” as worse than the DMV. A giant kafkaesque bureacracy that gets things wrong and has no scope for appeal!
  • Is Facebook biased against conservatives? I heard that it’s a very liberal company. The answer may surprise you!
  • The ad-driven internet builds a surveillance society that is horrifying. Even if you’re okay with Walmart sending targeted ads to you, remember that all that data is also being sold to the NSA (and Chinese, Russian, etc agencies).

Kevin and I go back to around 2012, when I was living in Rochester as an adult. I met his then-girlfriend, now-wife, when she was working for Metro Justice. I wrote People-Powered Rochester in the MJ offices, sitting right next to her!

Even back then, Kevin and I got along. I think we bonded over the Restore the Fourth protests of 2013 and 2014. He’s always struck me as a real, principled libertarian. I’ve asked him for the hot takes on LP politics, and what the Trump era exposed about the libertarian movement. (While he’s a fan of Justin Amash, he definitely agrees with this famous Thomas Massie take). I donated to his run for congress in 2020, and urged my friends and family to vote for him. (The only LP candidate I have ever backed, to my knowledge).

So, it was a friendly interview. I really enjoyed it! Kevin was a gracious host. The format of the interview (radio show, with predefined slots of time) was a little frustrating — as soon as I felt we were ready to get deep into a topic, we’d start over. And the pacing felt rather fast. But it was fun, and I think I did a good job representing the ideas.

You can listen to the show here.

(This should be an embed)

And the bonus (runoff) conversation that continued after the show officially ended:

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I really enjoyed it! It was a fun intellectual exercise and a free-flowing conversation. Thank you to Kevin for having me on. Highlight of my week.

(And I think I’m really good at it. Got a podcast or radio show? Have me as a guest!)


We need new, defiant holidays

(Co-written with a friend who wishes to remain anonymous)

Remember Jeffrey Epstein? A child rapist who built up a conspiracy of blackmail and exploitation that ensnared elites of many countries, parties, and industries. For a while, his empire — and his accomplices — were the most important story in the world. Then he died, and suddenly no one was talking about him any more. Not just in the media — our friends, normal people, etc, just collectively stopped discussing it. His collaborators (some named!) are still out there, free.


We need practices to remember things, otherwise they’ll fall out of thoughts. This is true for learning and retaining facts in a tactical way (with spaced repetition, anki methods, etc), and also true for remembering big, inconvenient truths in a strategic way.

It is particularly important to remember things that reflect the culture of elite impunity all around us. How the powerful break the law and get away with it over and over again.

Here are some examples:

  • The Great Recession was not only caused by fraud, it was accelerated by fraud. Not only did the banksters get off the hook legally — the banks (and corporations as random as McDonalds) got bailed out. Post-crisis, corporations and banks were even bigger and more monopolistic.
  • Epstein, and how his collaborators (powerful, named people!) are still at large.
  • Edward Snowden revealed massive, illegal, and scary expansions of the police state. Elite politicians of both parties (with some infuriating examples and noble exceptions) condemned him as a leaker at best and traitor (or spy) at worst.
  • The Panama Papers revealed how pretty much all the rich people in one hemisphere were breaking the law to hide their money from taxation. The person who revealed it all was killed by a hit squad.
  • And, of course, Aaron Swartz was killed by a combination of MIT, Eric Holder, Carmen Ortiz, and Steven Heymann.

We can add more to this list, of course. Bush and friends knowingly lied to get us into a war, illegally spied on pretty much every US citizen, and then congress gave everyone involved retroactive immunity without even an investigation. COINTELPRO happened. The architect of Iran/Contra is a fox news hero. Everything regard how black people are treated in america. Enron did a sort of 2008 crisis but for energy. Eugene Debs was jailed for opposing WWI. Etc.

How can we remember this? How can we make sure that our children remember this, and keep the rage fostered in their hearts? Not just the rage, but the story. The names, the addresses. The people responsible, and the system that let them get away with it.

We can remember things

Hm… If only there was a model of a way that we could institutionalize memory. Oh wait! There is!

Holidays are a technology humans have developed to fulfill certain purposes. The purpose of a holiday is to transmit, across centuries, the significance of an event and the takeaways from it. Holidays are a way you make sure that you never forget.

How can we make sure that our children remember this, and keep the rage fostered in their hearts?

You could make an argument (though it’d be a pretty poor one) that a religion is at its core, spaced repetition of ideas at the cadence of days, months, and years. And a holiday is the main tool to do so.

Any community can do this, however; just maintain your principles through spaced repetition of stories, so there are opportunities for adults to consistently hone their attention for similar processes happening in the news or the trends in their social environment.

Holidays are for memories: The Jewish Experience

One of us (Sahar) is jewish. The other isn’t. <Anonymous collaborator>’s experience with observing jewish traditions has been enlightening. In his words:

Look at the resilience of the jewish people despite oppression, millenia of diaspora, etc. They maintain a cultural core through memory. While every religion has this, Judaism is an interesting example because it’s an example of how a community defined itself, in part, by remembering its enemies. (I’m particularly inspired by Alain de Botton’s book, Religion for Atheists.)

I find that as an “American”, whatever that means, my friends and neighbors easily forget who our enemies are, and how to defend ourselves against them. Sometimes these enemies are circumstances, or systems, or classes of people.

Sometimes, however, these enemies are individuals. With names. And addresses.

Take Ghislaine Maxwell. She should be crucified in Times Square. In a just world, we would find the people who collaborated with Jeffrey Epstein in every way. We should name them, and, if we can’t legally destroy them, we can at least remember.

I find that as an “American”, whatever that means, my friends and neighbors easily forget who our enemies are, and how to defend ourselves against them.

Jewish holidays are good at remembering enemies. They’re also good at being trans-generational. There’s a ramp-up of participation over the course of someone’s upbringing. Let’s take the example of Purim:

A child might engage with Purim by laughing at the idea of eating cookies called “haman’s ears”. They might listen for his name during the ritualistic reading of the story of Purim, so that they find the opportunity to boo loudly and play with their noisemakers. As they age, however, they will engage more and more with the actual story, such that hopefully by teenagedom, they can be alert to parallels to bilious kings, evil government officials, incitement and antisemitism, in their environment today.

We can learn from this!

A proposal: holidays to remember modern-day evildoers

As we covered earlier, there are moments in our lifetime of colossal elite impunity and abuse of power. Abuse, that is, that has still gone unaddressed. What if we created holidays to remember them?

We could use tools from the toolbox of successful jewish days of remembrance. Food. Games. Ritual. The oral recitation of text.

Here’s an example idea for a to-be-titled “Financial Crash and Bailout Remembrance Day”

For food:

Just as banksters chopped up subprime mortgages and, using CDOs, called them AAA bonds, so too we will chop up sausages, mix them up, put them in bowls, and then eat them. But not before we solemnly point to the bowls of sausage and say in unison: “This is a steak”

Just as the banksters stole from actual people with fraudulent documents, and then later stole from the public with bailouts, so too shall the children of the household be able to eat anything they want on this day. Any child can write some words on a piece of paper, saying a variation of “this is mine now,” and handing it to their elders in exchange for their food. (The older the child, the more complex the sentence/paragraph should be)

For games:

Just as the financial crash was fueled by an elaborate game of handing toxic debt to unwitting participants by a game of hot potato, let us remember by way of a game modeled on musical chairs. Let the rules include mechanics like: participants can stay in the game by taking “high-interest loans”, or: participants can agree to “bail out everyone”, but one arbitrary participant gets orders of magnitude more points than others each time a bailout happens.

Let us remember that Principal + Interest is greater than the Principal.

For ritual:

Just as lives and livelihoods were senselessly lost, so too shall we waste things that are precious to us. Let there be a layered cake. Let all make the cake together. Let it be decorated and nice. No one gets to eat the cake, at any time. All they can do is take slices and throw them at each other (or in the garbage).

For recitation of text:

Let there be a spoken-out-loud reading of key texts. These texts should explain the crash, and point fingers at those people and institutions responsible. These might include: the repeal of Glass–Steagall during the Clinton administration. The heads of major banks. Mitch McConnell. Hank Paulson. Larry Summers. 

Exact texts TBD

Conclusion, caveats, and next steps:

This is, of course, just an example.

We could have come up with other ones. Say, “Epstein International Ring of Blackmail and child rape” day, or “Every rich person is breaking tax law in Panama” day.

We can also come up with different and better rituals, or choose the texts. These sorts of details are important, and we’d love to collaborate with you on them. But the proposal is just meant to sketch out the concept.

We also aren’t aiming to be perfectly clear or accurate about the causes and evils of the 2008 crash in this proposal. More informed people would have a lot to add. Again, this is an example meant to spur discussion.

Lastly, in addition to jewish ritual, we were partially inspired by Aaron Swartz Day, in case it wasn’t clear.

Intrigued? Let’s make this happen for real.

Update: Now this is a slideshow


The September 2020 Mixtape

Every month, I make Sarah a playlist of songs she might particularly want to hear.

I’m running a little behind, so I just finished September’s a few days ago. It has a gorgeous picture of her (at an outdoors wedding we were honored to attend!) and features a mix of new-to-her songs by artists we know, and a few new-to-me songs from bands I found recently in my travels.

Here it is. Or, if you prefer text:

The September 2020 Sarah Mixtape

  • Heart Is A Drum by Beck
  • Tangled up in Blue by Bob Dylan
  • One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer by John Lee Hooker
  • אדם בתוך עצמו by Shalom Hanoch
  • Nànnuflày by Tinariwen
  • Cherry by J.J. Cale
  • Snooza by Säkert!
  • י’א 2 by Tuna
  • Harfe Nagofteh by omid
  • Katamari On The Rocks by GameChops, dj-Jo
  • Je veux te voir by Yelle
  • Angels by The xx
  • Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You) by Bombay Bicycle Club
  • Dry the Rain by The Beta Band
  • Preservation by Wu-Tang Clan, Del The Funky Homosapien, Aesop Rock
  • Let’s Go Crazy by Prince
  • L’maancha by Eitan Katz
  • Lost Cause by Beck

(Thank you for making “get the plain text of a playlist” so much less painful)

As always, you can find all the playlists by going here.


One Weird Trick for a better society

Someone asked me to submit a 1-minute video outlining a bold policy idea that could conceivably be pitched to the incoming Biden administration.

Here’s the text of my submission:

I’m here with a proposal that involves no new legislation. No need for the Senate. It’s just this: enforce the laws on the books. Specifically those to do with white collar crime.

Giant bank monopolies a problem? Well maybe don’t let them get away with massive mortgage fraud in the late aughts.

Facebook, Youtube, and Amazon destroying your society? Well, maybe enforce the Sherman Antitrust Act (a criminal, not civil statute!) and at the very least stop them from buying new companies.

Worried about decline in trust in elites? Then maybe don’t let Epstein walk around free for years. And maybe follow up on the leads rather than dropping the public case against him as soon as he died.

Are the rich getting richer? Maybe allow the IRS to audit them.

Do you perhaps have an epidemic of mistrust of institutions in your society? Perhaps one rotting the very core of democracy? Maybe leading to authoritarian strongmen taking power? Restore that trust by fighting white collar crime, and showing that the system works.


Post-Election donation postmortem

In early October, my friend Lyla, my Sarah, and I set up a fundraiser for the election. Our goal? To decide where Lyla should donate $34,000 towards the election, and then get our friends to match with another $34,000.

Here’s the fundraiser:

We succeeded in our goal. In fact, we raised $84,123 to the following recipients:

(Note that the advice from where to donate was heavily followed, plus a heavy dose of swing senate races).

So, how did we do?

Well, none of these senate candidates won. So, that doesn’t feel great. Here is the postmortem I sent to our donors:

– We accurately predicted that Joe Biden had enough money and didn’t need more.

– We accurately predicted that the senate races were much more competitive / R-leaning than people thought.

– Our candidates lost. Pretty much all competitive candidates lost up and down the ballot. (Except Biden)

– This doesn’t feel great.

– If I were to do it all over again, I think I’d more dramatically push long-term base building organization, rather than campaigns. If nothing else, after election day, we would feel better.

– And we should feel good! We raised $36.901.75 for organizations that are sticking around for the long term. That’s a big chunk of money.

– That said, these two Georgia races are incredibly important. If we win them, that could have huge long-term consequences, due to the laws they could pass in the Senate.

– All in all, I’m proud of us.

A few days late, that still seems right. And it makes me redouble my faith in long-term base building over short-term electioneering.

Here’s the full initial pitch. It’s an interesting artifact of how I think about politics. Maybe you’ll find it interesting too.

Can you donate thousands of dollars, right now, to the election? If so, please do. 

I just donated thousands of dollars more. Sarah did 3k. Lyla donated 17,000 dollars, and another 17,000 as soon as her credit card allows her to. I want you to do so as well. 

Why? The chips are down and we need to do what we can so that we don't say that we didn't do all we could. And I don't want a dissonance between my intellectual understanding of the stakes and my actions. 

Maybe you're like me. Maybe you have money lying around, or have a great job (SF people, I'm looking at you!). Maybe you've been waiting for this nudge. 

We are trying to raise 68,000 dollars in the next few days. We're already at $23,980. If you have the means, this is a great strategic place for it all to go. 

Happy to answer questions or talk about it. 

Though any money towards the election is good, I think you share with me a desire to be strategic. So here's my thinking: 
1. Joe Biden cannot be a failed president. That means taking the senate. 
2. If Trump wins, we absolutely need a D senate or very bad things happen
3. Every ten years, gerrymandering happens. Guess when the next time is? (Hint -- very soon)
4. Joe Biden has enough money. 
5. This late in the race, ads are sadly one of the few things that can scale up quickly. We might prefer organizers etc, but they needed to be hired a year ago -- now is too late. 
6. Campaigns get cheap TV ad rates -- market price (for any other organization, like a PAC or Super PAC) is about twice as high
7. All senate seats have the same power. Therefore, focus on the places with the highest utility for your dollar. Those are small, cheap states with less-prominent races that could still swing. 

A. Donate directly to senate races. 
B. Donate to Maine, Iowa, South Carolina, Montana, Alaska. 

1. Not enough people are paying attention to the state legislative races that will determine control of gerrymandering, and therefore political power for a decade. 
2. (You may remember that Republicans swept in 2010. This led to incredibly strong gerrymandering that has lead to minority rule for years)
3. The lower the level of race, the higher the marginal utility of your dollar, and the lower attention and money they're getting. 

A. Donate to flip state legislatures
B. I propose Sister District, but I'm open to a better organization

1. Spending money on ads makes me sad. Why? Because while ads work, they only work for one race. They don't help the next guy get elected, they don't help other races in the same place. They're short-term effective but long-term wasteful. 
2. Spending money on people power makes me happy. Why? Because people-power is more wholesome. But also people-power can exist after the election. Less short-term impact, much higher long term impact. (In terms of changing voting behavior)
3. Some places matter more than others. Imagine voting in a swing state vs voting in a swing state that has a senate race, a house race, and a state assembly race all on your ballot. 
4. Already-existing community groups, that have been around for a while, have the proven ability to get people involved for the long term. And can scale people-power capacity much more easily than campaigns. 

A. Donate to the Movement Voter Project, a kind of "fund" that disburses 100% of the money to community organizations. 

This is a blend of hard-headed strategic moves, and putting my money towards organizations that share my values. You might disagree. That's fine -- doing something matters much more than procrastinating by trying to find the "best" thing to do. If you choose some other organization or candidate — wonderful!

I hope you join me, if you can. Thank you.

How I use Facebook

I’ve been using facebook (the product) for over 12 years. It’s been my rolodex, my event planner, my post office, my blog, and even my diary.

In the past, Facebook was wonderful. So many of my friends were there. I *lived* there. Then all the ads, the pages spam, etc overwhelmed it. Seemed like I was awash in a flood of crap. News articles, ads, posts in groups I didn’t care about, etc.

So I put a stop to all of it. Now, Facebook feels a lot like the close community of friends that it once was. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Once, I spent the evening on a search and destroy mission. Every time I saw an ad, I clicked (…), then “I don’t like this ad”. It took maybe 200 instances, but in the end, the Facebook feed algorithm realized that there was extremely low predicted benefit to showing me an ad, and a (projected) higher expected harm of me using Facebook less if I saw one. So now I don’t see ads.
  2. Un-like every page you follow. Every single one.
  3. Unfollow all but the most important groups to you. Maybe keep 2-4 that you actively want to participate in.
  4. Sometimes, usually once a month, ads will come back. Hiding the first 2-5 of them you see will keep them away for another month.
  5. Follow (don’t like!) a few pages that you absolutely want to follow. For me, it’s some webcomics, a friend of mine running for Congress, and a magazine.
  6. Any time you see a post from a group that is awful, snooze it.
  7. If you snooze a group 3 times, unfollow them.
  8. When it is someone’s birthday, I try to send them a messenger message (or better yet, text or email). I absolutely won’t post on their wall. Posts are batched together in one big blob. I want my birthday wishes to stand out.

Lastly — don’t log into FB on your laptop while you’re working. Physically log out. If you’re gonna use it, use it on a phone or iPad to make it physically obvious to your brain that you’re not doing work.


Where to donate

Please give between 18 to 180 dollars a month to the Movement Voter Project (if you are able).

MVP directs money to some of the best community organizations in the country, in a way that will have great effects on this election, but also build long-term institutional capacity for years to come.

It’s good for America. It’s good for reducing suffering. And it’s good for the soul.

Things have been bad, for a long time. And they’re rapidly getting worse. The police state, the deaths, the callous looting of the country, the abuse of power both in politics and in corporations. At the same time, we have a strong antidote that has worked throughout human history: people power.

People power is a funny old thing. Many people say they want it. It’s hard to actually come by. America was supposedly the land of free because of “the art of association“, the tendency of people to form groups as easily as breathing.

People power can beat money power via elections, and that’s very important. People power can also do other things. It can build connections between neighbors. It can organize relief to the poor People power can build a union of workers holding their employer ethically accountable. People power can topple unjust regimes.

Speaking of unjust regimes — an election is happening soon.

The Movement Voter Project is the best way to both build short-term and longer-term political power for people who are not fans of the conservative movement and Trumpism.

The staff of MVP has made partnerships with quality community organizations around the country. Then they take 100% of our donations, and disperse them to those organizations. The money is meant to go to building organizational capacity, especially to registering new voters.

Why is voter registration such a big deal? Well, imagine a particular town in a swing presidential state. There’s also a key house race happening there. The state senate might switch control between parties, and tipping point senate district covers the town, too. Any marginal straight-ticket voter becomes very valuable! Whereas any marginal ad might convince an existing voter to switch votes in one race, but not all.

So, that’s the plan. Find key races and geographies. Find the community organizations covering those places. Give them money to do good work. You have an outsized short-term electoral impact, and also, crucially, help grow an organization that will outlast one election. That organization will be pushing for legislation in 2021, or organizing tenant unions, or who knows what else?

Giving money on the regular (weekly, monthly) is also important. Consistent money can be budgeted and planned for. Recurring donations mean that organizations can invest in longer-term projects. Big spikes in donations, on the other hand, can (almost by definition) only be used for one-off projects.

The founders and staff of movement voter project are really nice, good, people. They’ve been running this since at least 2016 (with the motto of “let’s move money in elections away from ads and towards organizing”). In a few states I can name, MVP has become one of the top 3 funders of important, I can’t believe that they have funding problems, oh shit, I’m glad someone is filling in the gap, organizations.

Unlike many foundations, MVP doesn’t throw a ton of paperwork at its grantees. It builds relationships of trust, it asks for some minimal verification that the money is going to the right projects, but mostly, it tries not to burden its grantees with an expensive and useless need for reports.

You can donate to the MVP fund (they take no cut of the money — they’re separately funded to pay their staff), or look on their website to browse their directory of partners and donate to them directly.

This feels much more strategic than donating to campaigns (which I also do some of). Campaigns, even if brilliant, by definition end after election day. I want to build something longer-lasting. Campaigns try to optimize votes for one candidate — I want to optimize voters over many candidates. Campaigns are not accountable to anyone — community organizations are accountable to their members.

We aren’t just facing a life-or-death moment for a form of american democracy vis a vis the presidency. This election is also special because the state houses of 2021 will determine gerrymandering for the next 10 years (this is tied to the census). Gains made right now will persist for 10 years — and we need to win those races.

As the news has gotten worse, I’ve spent more and more time worrying. But worrying doesn’t feel healthy. In part, I’ve been feeling a disconnect between So, instead, I’m increasing my monthly giving to MVP.

So — donating to MVP:

  • Good For America
  • Good For Reducing Suffering
  • Good For The Soul

Please consider hefty donations, monthly, to Movement Voter Project You can think of it as doing me a birthday favor, if you like.


I’m a Berkman Klein Fellow

Well, looks like the secret is out. I’ve achieved my childhood dream of being a Berkman fellow! Gosh. I’ll be starting in September.

They asked me for a blurb explaining what I’ll be doing:

Sahar Massachi’s work straddles social movements and the tech industry. He recently left the Facebook civic integrity team after almost 4 years at the company. He is researching the political economy of tech giants, the structure of the modern advertising industry, design principles for better social media, and generally how to nurture the good parts of the internet while reforming the bad. 

That’s a set of big topics. And I’m still getting my head wrapped around them. But, maybe for my own understanding, I’ll take a stab at sketching out a little bit about how I’m thinking about it.

(Disclaimer: I’m just brainstorming! This is a form of thinking out loud. I have a lot of other things bouncing around in the old brain that I haven’t written down, and I expect I’ll learn things to change my mind on at least a few of these topics. Think of this as a little first-draft sneak peak teaser-trailer of a thing, a year before the movie airs, when the script hasn’t even finished being written, not the thing in itself)

If we think of large internet corporations as new para-governmental actors, can we study and interact with them as if they were indeed states?

And I do think they are quasi-states. Maybe somewhat like an executive branch fused with a court. There’s a need for “scalable” decisionmaking. Precedent matters. People inside argue using evidence but also inter-departmental bureaucratic warfare.

As the task of governing has grown, we as a society have evolved appendages to interact with agencies, legislatures, courts, etc. That looks like think tanks, lobbying, briefs amici.

Okay, so how do, say, think tanks wield power? What’s their secret? In part, they do free labor. A modern congresswoman has only a few staff, most of them dedicated to processing the increasingly overwhelming stream of feedback from her constituents. Think tanks (and lobbyists) do work she doesn’t have staff capacity to do: think deeply about legislation, get in the weeds of things, give intelligence about how different organized political groups feel, and turn her broad principles into actionable legislation.

So, what would a think tank aimed at a social media giant look like? Well, the comparison isn’t straightforward — Twitter, for example, certainly isn’t dealing with a staff of 10. But if you look at any particular team, they tend to be pretty small groups working on logical chunks of big projects. And with all the pressures and politics of working in a company, lots of work that people *wish* they could pursue isn’t being done.

Enter a think tank. Perhaps it could take on those projects that staff wish they could do.

Design principles for better social media (and democracy)

Right now, the dominant response by social media companies seems to be to rely solely on an army of content moderation “cops” to enforce “Facebook law” or “Youtube law”, perhaps armed with more sophisticated detection systems to help them find “bad guys” to arrest.

Imagine, however, changing the design of these apps to make bad behaviour less easy to do. Maybe by incorporating limits on actions that could be harmful (say, limiting the number of Facebook pages that an account could start per week, or limiting the number of subreddits a person could post a link to in the same time window). Maybe by adding friction to actions that might be abusive, in proportion to how certain the system is that it is indeed abusive. Maybe something else.

Imagine if, armed with these ideas (and quantitative and qualitative research to back them), a think tank could interact with both the high level decisionmakers, and the frontline engineers, designers, and software engineers of a company. Often, it’s those frontline workers who have a lot of autonomy to try things. Why not give them ideas of things to try?

The structure of the modern advertising industry

It’s pretty clear to me that advertising has evolved so much that the distinction between “online”, “mobile”, and “terrestrial” television doesn’t exist as much as it used to. For example, when your television sends home data about the ads you watch, do we use the conceptual bucket of “online advertising” or “old fashioned tv ads”?

For reasons, advertising-as-surveillance seems to have grown with the internet and entwined with it, but also be busting free into “meatspace”. And this advertising means surveillance. I’m particularly sensitive to surveillance because of my jewish anti-fascist, anti-police-state commitments.

So, online (and increasingly offline) advertising means surveillance. But online advertising also has market power problems. Political advertising, in particular, has democracy problems.

I want to look at the union of all those things. Because it’s all important, and I think only seeing through of those lenses tends to give people an incorrect view of the situation.

Political Economy of Tech Giants

Here’s something I’m struggling with: am I doing a project on social media giants and democracy? Or about tech platform giants in particular? (In other words, do I care about Amazon and Uber and so on?)

I’m not sure.

I do feel strongly that we should bring a political economy frame to understanding the actions of big tech. Let’s bring concepts like power mapping from politics to understand the actions of, say, Facebook. There’s already lots of journalism pointing out how it, for example, is strategically giving ground / giving gifts to the US political right.

There are also frames from history that we can use to understand what is happening. For example the “studio system” for Hollywood, and the DOJ consent decrees that ended them, could be used as a model for thinking about the distinction between production and consumption in *social* media. Let’s think about agrarian populism and The Grange. Standard Oil. So on!

And if we were to break up, say, Alphabet, how would we do it? What parts become public utilities? Which parts are broken up? Where do we promote competition? Is it possible to legislate such fast-moving things as open standards?

My past at Facebook

I used to work at Facebook. I spent almost four years there. I feel a responsibility to explain it better to the world. The bad stuff, sure, but also just the plain facts. I have a lot of respect for Alex Stamos, and I feel a certain kinship with him. Misinformed, or bad critiques of Facebook bother me. The topic is too important to get wrong.

We want contradictory things from Facebook — censor more to protect democracy / censor less to protect free speech and democracy. Protect people’s data / don’t be a walled garden. Protect us from governments via encryption / protect us from foreign election meddling by snooping on messages. Build real communities of friends / puncture people’s filter bubbles.

These all come from different, valid concerns. Each of those demands comes from an analysis of a real harm. But the proposed solutions often clash.

If we can catalog all these harms, and understand them at the same time, can we come up with proposed solutions that don’t solve one problem at the expense of another?

Wrapping up

Now that I’ve written these sketches out, I’m feeling excited! But I’m feeling that perhaps I have too many ideas at once.

Is starting a think tank too ambitious? Is the idea sound? How does one get funding to start such a thing?

Lastly, a note about heroes. I’m a fan of Louis Brandeis. He was so interesting! He was a hero on the left, but eschewed the standard methods (organizing the poor, agitation, mass politics) that come with those politics. Instead, he was creative. He organized his people — the upper middle class. A public intellectual, he wrote the book about problems with banks and then turned that into a government agency. He enlisted his friends and fellow lawyers to fight bigness in the cloak of monopoly.

Brandeis attributed much of his success to understanding, to a minute level, the workings of business or system, so that he could figure out how to fix it (business), or best regulate it (system). We could all learn from his example.

In the end, in tackling these big questions, I want to keep asking: “What would Louis Brandeis do?”


Where is your line?

“How bad does it have to get?”

Here’s a conversation I’d like to have with my friends and family, and that I wish I had a few years ago:

I think that rule by Republicans will lead to a police state. I’m saying that Trump is a disaster for democracy. And I know it sounds like partisan hyperbole, but also I think it’s real.

Maybe you think I’m wholly wrong, and are voting R. Maybe you think it won’t be that bad, and you’re voting D, but not donating, volunteering, and generally throwing yourself into the struggle.

That’s okay. Just please do this exercise with me: where is your line? What’s the thing that, if it happens, is proof that things are really really bad?

Not just evidence. Proof. How bad does it have to be, so that’s we’re undoubtedly in the Bad Place? What sort of things, exactly, would happen that would spur you to action?

Make it as preposterous as you like.

Maybe Trump announces he’s shutting down elections. Death squads wandering around and killing leftists, then being pardoned.

Or maybe: secret police grabbing people off the street and throwing them into unmarked vans.

Or maybe: “undesirables” being arrested and thrown into concentration camps, where they start dying.

Let it be whatever outlandish thing you like, that you think might never come to pass. Just be honest with yourself. And then, write down what you would do if that day arrived.

Would you change your vote? Would you start volunteering with a political group? Would you give up your savings and plow it into donations? Would you spend 20-30 hours a week doing whatever it took to fight back?

Whatever it is, just please, write it down. Keep it safe. Check it once in a while: are we there yet?

I hope that time never comes to pass. Maybe it won’t this presidency, but during the next R presidency. But if it ever does — remember that you made this commitment. Remember, because the human mind has a marvelous ability to make the abnormal, normal.

(And, for some people, that breaking point might have been hit already, without you realizing).

I haven’t hit my breaking point yet. I still watch television at night, when I could be making phone calls. The other day, I spent way too much money for a hot water heater, when I could have put it to better use. But I can see it on the horizon. That time isn’t so preposterously far away, any more.

If that breaking point comes, I hope I push the button and go all-in. I hope that when your breaking point comes, you change your vote. Or, (to a different audience) you execute on your plan to fight back.

Wherever you are in the spectrum, whatever that action might be: I hope you take it. Because when we shrug at the previously indefensible, we lose a part of our soul.


You don’t need to quit your job to work for the movement. (But if you want to, you have options)

In response to the social upheaval and, frankly, news all around us, I’ve sensed a new spirit from my friends and acquaintances; a sense of renewed interest in Joining The Movement. Often, that translates into “I should I get a job doing Good”. I’m not so sure about that.

The latest edition of YENTA, my matchmaking newsletter, has just come out. The following is lightly adapted from a section of it.

I don’t believe that your job determines your politics. You don’t need to have a job working for a certain special nonprofit organization to be part of a movement. A thing that determines membership due to employment isn’t a movement — it’s an industry.

We need passionate, capable people to be committed leaders of membership driven organizations. It’s important for all of us to show up, consistently, over time, with a local group building power. And the consistency is much more important than choosing the “right” one.

If “doing massive good for the world” only happened by people who were paid to do it, that means that we’d only win when, what? Over half the country worked for tax-deductible charity organizations? That’s unworkable.

How to rise to the moment (not via employment):

A little while ago, I asked on Facebook:

Let’s say a friend came up to you and said: “I’m fired up about the moment. I want to donate money. Where do I put it?”

What would you tell them? And why?

The responses were fascinating, and covered quite a range of ideas and organizations.

Here was my take:

  • *Where* you donate matters less than that you make it a recurring *monthly* donation.
  • Donations are nice. Dues-paying membership is better.
  • Join a group for which you can have an ongoing relationship. Donate monthly dues that you have some democratic control over where they are disbursed.
  • Show up monthly to a local organization. Again, *which* matters less than that you are consistently showing up.

This was about convincing people that there are other, arguably more effective models of making social change than targeted, large, one-off donations. The logic holds up, I think, when applied to advising someone thinking of making drastic career moves: both donations and membership are helpful too.

If you have the desire and capacity to switch jobs into The Movement, that’s great! I’m enthusiastic, supportive, and would love to help. But that’s not the only way to do big things.

Member-driven organizations that wield power locally are so important! And they’re often starving for driven, nice, non-flaky, members. And, often, money. Find them, be useful, be consistent. That, by itself, would be big.

If I were advising myself about groups to check out, I’d suggest a range of organizations that feel meaningful to me. But they’re tied to things like: being jewish, or being in boston, or knowing people who have run these organizations. So a thing that feels perfectly attractive to me, might be less attractive to others.

That said, here are picks that resonate for me:

  • Color of Change: They’re trying to become the new mainstream, and that’s great. Not trying to be the most radical, but if they successfully redefine “moderate” to be what they’re advocating for (what was perhaps considered radical 10 years ago), then the whole ecosystem takes a big step to the left.
  • Bail Funds: Especially as the police unjustly imprison people, this is a way to free them. And, on the appointed date, the money rolls over and can be used for another person! It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Bend the Arc: As a jew, I believe in doing my organizing *jewishly*. And Bend the Arc is a great way to do good anti-white supremacy work while keeping it grounded and accountable to me and my community
  • Working Families Party: Long-term power building.
  • Ujima: Local, Boston, radical, but also thinking about money, power, and shifting resources
  • Movement Voter Project: Strategic! Timely! Power building. Electoral / advocacy / legislative.

But again, I think the *choice* is a bit of a red herring. Showing up, consistently, over time, with both effort and money, is much more important.

All that being said, I am aware of quite a few fascinating roles to work for social justice (or adjacent) causes directly. It turns out that, this time, quite a few of them are for people with tech skills. But not all of them!

Note also — for a few different reasons, I’m going to conflate “social justice” with “progressive” and even “aligned with Democrats”. I realize that those are different terms, etc. And in a time where we are fighting police brutality, in a moment kicked off by the killing of a black man, talking about jobs in, say, Democratic politics doesn’t quite line up. There’s a larger conversation to be had about that. For now, I can only give you suggestions and tips that are informed by my experiences and network. And they are with more of the broad spectrum of left organizations than the specific slice dealing with policing, prison abolition, racial justice police brutality, etc. I do believe that working for left-aligned organizations makes the world a better place, though some organizations have different theories of change than others.

How to find a job that matches your values

Let’s say that you decide you want to leave your corporate job and go Do Good Things With Your Time. Great! Our jobs are usually over 50% of our waking life — doing something you believe in can be really nice.

So, how do you go about that?

Here are some resources:

Conceptually, what you are trying to do here could be described as a career switch to a whole new industry. This industry has a lot of different subgroups: a local racial justice group might have little day-to-day similarity to or interaction with anonline-first campaigning organization, or to a massive name-brand NGO. That’s real. At the same time, these groups exist in an industry that’s different than “the corporate world”, or the “government world”. There is history, best practices, culture, etc, that might be new and different to you.

And, crucially, “the progressive industry”, while intertwined with social movement organizations, is its own thing. There are office politics, and bad bosses. There are weird (un)ethical practices, and culture that might confuse or alarm you. Your personal poltiical activity will always be fair game to link to your employer, which can constrain your freedom of action. It’s not a utopia, by any means.

The progressive industry is also a place to do big, meaningful work, in a decisive and strategic way. There is professionalism, and coworkers that won’t flake in the way that a neighbor-volunteer will. Working for a mission-aligned organization can be really healthy and good for the soul. It’s different and refreshing.

So! What does this mean for you?

  • While there are exceptions, don’t think you can jump in and immediately apply your prior experience to this new role. Be a bit humble.
  • You *might* have to take a more entry-level position than you wanted. Sometimes, but not always, that’s for good reason.
  • Don’t be afraid to treat job conversations as negotiations. You still will have a boss. You still likely need to put boundaries on your work and stand up for yourself.
  • Once you get in, don’t be afraid to unionize!
  • Treat this with the professionalism, and care, (informational interviews, network-building, etc) that you’d make for other big job switches.

I hope I didn’t scare you off! Working in mission-driven organizations can be wonderful, and good for the soul. And all the above, of course, is just one man’s opinion.


On “founders”.

I’ve co-founded two startups. One in mobile apps for social organizing, the other in fintech.

^ That’s technically true, but actually kind of misleading.

Actually, the work I’ve done in other jobs is arguably much more important and interesting. Those startups I mentioned didn’t become wildly successful. But it sounds much cooler to “found” a thing than to “join as an employee”.

There was a time when I knew a lot of people who founded their own nonprofits. When I dug in deeper, though, I realized that they were the only employees of those nonprofits, and all their income came from one source — a larger nonprofit. So what exactly distinguished them from an employee, only paid in prestige instead of healthcare?

At this point, when I meet someone in SF with the title of “founder and CEO”, I immediately translate that into “sole employee, good chance they have no customers, I bet their startup dies in a months.”

That’s often not fair to them — but it feels more accurate than “oh my gosh, founder and CEO! So fancy! Swoon”

Now there’s a paper out about that phenomenon: Towards an Untrepreneurial Economy? The Entrepreneurship Industry and the Rise of the Veblenian Entrepreneur. It even cites my favorite economic philosopher, Thornstein Veblen. Can’t wait to read it.

Until then, here’s a small piece of career advice I’ve given people for the last 10 years — if you can, don’t be afraid to found companies. Expect you’ll fail. Failure is often desirable — it means you don’t have to commit years of your life to this thing any more. But our culture weirdly values being a “founder” of a thing that barely existed, even over being an amazing worker that saved a company from destruction.

Given that, are we so surprised that people take that advice?