#GamePlan

 

We covered a lot of bases in the meeting. Billy gave an update on pending legislation, and said Madame Senator will be in a major battle to finally pass her signature legislation, the Pollution Irritation Mitigation Pump (P.I.M.P.) bill. This legislation would get the people of our state the same kind of air pollution reduction pump residents in every other state have.

“Billy what’s the game plan?” Michelle asked. “We know when they come at us this time, they’re coming with something different. The last time they attached new mandatory sentencing for marijuana possession to her P.I.M.P. bill and killed it. Now that they’ve introduced new mandatory sentencing as a stand-alone bill, we know her opponents will find something else to kill her P.I.M.P. bill. So, what’s the game plan?”

“She sent letters to Sen. Harry Reid already, and to Congressman Steny Hoyer and Speaker Pelosi on the House side. We’re waiting to hear back from them,” Billy said. “We doubt they’ll be able to pass the new mandatory sentencing as a stand-alone bill, but we’re keeping close tabs.”

“Okay Garrett, could you work with Billy contacting the LDs in the committees where the new mandatory sentencing amendments might come up. Make sure they give us a heads up, so we can keep Madame Senator up to date on it.”

Garrettt agreed easily.

“Billy, make sure you keep in touch with the City Council Chairman and the mayor’s office. We may need them,” Michelle said.

I looked around the room and noticed that staffers seemed to have a lot in common. Everyone was young; most were younger than me, in their mid-twenties. I was feeling like an old-head, but young enough compared to our fearless leader, the seventy-one-year-old Senator. There were photos of Madame Senator placed around her office – a photo of her with the Camille Cosby, another with her and an aging Rosa Parks, and another with her, former Essence Editor Susan Taylor, and the venerable Dr. Dorothy Height, who founded the National Council of Negro Women to groom young women for leadership. I also noticed photos of her with her two sons with her at her first swearing in twenty-two years ago. I couldn’t imagine the pain of losing both her sons in the same year. One was killed in a drive-by shooting back home, the other killed in a car accident less than a month later. My baby brother died of cancer ten years ago when he was twelve. The shock and sadness had been deep and long lasting. For years I was disconnected from my emotions. In many ways, I still am. I considered The Senator’s loss might still make her edgy at times.

  1. Describe one of your current or upcoming goals?
  2. What obstacles, set-backs, disappointments can you anticipate?
  3. What is your game plan for pushing through any obstacles to a particular goal? (Be specific about resources, beliefs, friends who may help you through.)

#UnderAttack

 

The district director, Warner, ran through the list of upcoming community events, then staffers in the District Office gave updates on the events they were planning.

The meeting was in full swing when Madame Senator came in.

“Good morning,” she said, lowering her shoulder bag onto her desk. “Somebody hand me a copy of the agenda.” She sat behind her desk and leaned back in her chair, changing out of her walking shoes into low-heeled red pumps matching her red skirt suit. I noticed we were wearing the exact same small gold button earrings, and the same colors. She reached in her desk drawer and pulled out a bag of cashews and began munching as Michelle handed her the agenda.

“So, what’s the status of the town hall meeting for my clean air bill? Why don’t I see it on this agenda?” she said, holding the page with both hands.

Michelle and Billy looked at each other puzzled.

“Senator, I don’t think you talked to anybody about wanting to do a town hall meeting on the clean air bill…” Billy began.

“I most certainly did!” The Senator insisted. “Michelle, I left you a message on your phone saying I wanted you to discuss it with staff and have details for me when I got in this morning. What do you all do in these staff meetings? We don’t have time for you to be sitting around giving reports. We’ve got to move! Warner, by twelve o’clock, I want a list of the venues available for a town hall meeting on this bill. My constituents need to know this thing is not dead and that I am still working hard to get them the same basic right to clean air as every other American.”

“Yes ma’am,” Warner said. “When do you want to have the event? This month? This Summer?”

“My Word! You all haven’t discussed this at all? I should at least have some possible dates and a list of venues…” she fussed.

“Madame Senator, I told you I did not get your m….” Michelle started.

“Don’t you dare cut me off!” she snapped. “You listen to what I have to say. Don’t you dare cut me off!”

Heads bowed, smiles faded. Sandra tried to make eye contact with Michelle, who was clearly annoyed.

“Now Warner, you get me that list ASAP. Who else is on the phone? Is Danielle here?”

“Yes ma’am,” came a voice on the phone.

“Get me a list of new experts on pollution, some folks who can bring some new perspective and new weight to the issue. You know I hate to repeat anything we’ve already done.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“What else?” she said, looking at Michelle.

“We covered everything on the agenda. We were just about to wrap things up…” Michelle said.

“Sounds to me like all you all did was talk about what’s already been done! I can’t be the only thinker in here. That’s why we have staff. You all have got to learn to use your time more wisely. Think! Use your heads! What needs to be done!”

  1. Describe a time when you felt personally/professionally under attack.
  2. How did you handle it?
  3. What did you learn?
  4. How would you handle a similar siutation better in the future?

#WhoAreYou

 

Michelle introduced me and told everyone to tell something about themselves besides just their name. I couldn’t take my eyes off Billy, who was settled back into the couch with one foot crossed over his knee, pen in hand, yellow legal pad balanced on his knee. He was well-bred white, but rugged, some kind of city-cool. Brown, curly hair, yellow polo shirt, jeans and black loafers. He was wearing a suit jacket when I saw him before the meeting, but looked even more attractive without it.

“I’ve been with Madame Senator five years. I love helping the constituents who call in asking Madame Senator to show up at their event to attract the media will, or to write a letter for their event souvenir programs to lend legitimacy,” Sandra said. “I’m just here for the people,” she concluded. “That lady’s got no respect for me and if she comes at me one more…”

“Ok. I think R.C. gets it,” Michelle interrupted. When I met her a couple years ago through my little brother, I told her I was proud that she was rising through the ranks in the office of a woman I admired much. She had shrugged off the compliment, and now, watching how calm and confident she is, I’m even more proud of her. I noticed the trinkets on her desk as I walked past this morning – a ceramic plaque that reads: “When the prayers go up, the blessings come down,” a figurine of a church-dressed woman lifting her hands in praise, and a flowing plant.

“No. Let me tell this poor woman what she’s gotten herself into. She might as well know up front…” Sandra continued.

“We don’t want to chase her away. You know how hard it was to get somebody to take that job. Now, hush it up,” Michelle said, making others giggle.

“R.C. welcome. I’m Garrett. I worked as a construction site manager out in Arizona before I came here. My friend owned the company, needed a manager and told me to wing it. I did for a while, then hitch-hiked across country looking for a new adventure, wound up in the nation’s capital, needed a job, and ended up here,” a short, White guy with shiny black hair and an infectious smile said. His wrinkled button up blue shirt, faded, wrinkled black khakis, and scuffed brown shoes said he just didn’t give a damn. He rode to work on a bike this morning. Came in wearing tennis shoes, carrying a bag and a helmet. Hung his suit jacket on the coat rack.

“Garrett, you had done some impressive work with the ex-offender population and in the courts system back in Arizona. Don’t make it sound like you were some clown we just picked up,” Michelle said. “Tell her what your G.P.A. was all through college.”

Billy told how he worked as a bartender after college, decided to go to law school, and then landed a job working for a City Councilwoman in the District of Columbia. After his boss lost her re-election bid, he applied for the Legislative Director opening in Senator Jackson’s office, and he’s been here two years. He said he didn’t know anything about Jackson’s state, the tiny state of Vas Calucca, in the mid-west, when he started, but now he knows too much.

“Billy helped draft the legislation to build our new world-class shopping mall, the first mall ever funded by and benefiting private investors and taxpayers,” Michelle said. “Madame Senator hires only the best, R.C., and we’re happy you’ve joined the pack.”

“Glad to be here. Looks like exciting work,” I said. “I am a Vas C. native. I’ve admired Madame Senator since before she was elected to Congress. Of course I voted for her, too, to become the second African American woman in the Senate. Working with her will give me an opportunity to offer more support of her work…”

“Girl please. You’re not on an interview. You got the job,” Michelle interrupted. “Tell them about you!”

I laughed, glad she broke the ice.

“I like writing, love writing. Looking forward to helping Madame Senator get her message out. I worked for her before in her District office, as some of you know. But I here The Hill is a little different…”

“Understatement!” one of the guys yelled from the District Office.

I chuckled and continued. “I did some reporting and managed a small newspaper back home and one up here…”

“R.C. is also a playwright,” Michelle interrupted again. “She wrote that play Till We Meet Again, back home. We are happy to have her. Madam Senator’s quite impressed with her work, and I know her work ethic ‘cause I’ve seen her do her thing over the years.”

“A playwright? Oh, yippie. What we have here is a tragedy of Shakesperian proportions,” one of the guys said through the speakerphone. “Mid-west colony denied basic human rights, used as scientific testing site…”

“O.k. you’re about to get cut off,” Michelle said.

  1. Think fast! In one word describe yourself.
  2. In the next few days ask three to five of your friends to describe you in one word. Did one word come up more than once? Do you agree with your friends’ characterization of you?
  3. Would you like to change the first word that comes to mind when describing you? Why/why not?

#CausesandCommunityService

 

 

Sandra handed everyone a copy of Madame Senator’s weekly schedule, two green pages stapled. I had noticed the schedule on different colors among Octavia’s papers. I guess they’re color-coded for each day of the week. We started the staff meeting promptly at nine-thirty a.m., with staffers in the two satellite offices conferenced in on a speakerphone.

The seven of us staffers in the Hill Office sat in the plush burgundy, blue, and gold striped high-backed, armchairs around Madame Senator’s coffee table, which was decorated with a stack of books, and a glass trophy from the American Cancer Association. She had dozens of trophies from various organizations around her office, and bookcases filled with books against one wall. Her large oak desk was positioned in front of a bay window, through which you could see a highway in the distance, beyond the immediate trees and lush landscaping on the campus of the U.S. Capitol.

I was taking it all in when Sylvia’s outburst startled me.

“Boo, we’re going to miss you sooooo much!” Sylvia said out the blue, getting up and walking over to Octavia. “Give me a hug! Girl, you better not hesitate to call if you need anything. I don’t care. Anything! Boo, give me another hug. We’re gonna miss youuuuuuu.”

“Yes, we will all miss her, and we all wish you well,” Michelle said, re-directing the meeting. “Sylvia, since you got the floor, why don’t you go on and update us on Madame Senator’s bill for after-school snacks for at-risk youth.”

“Well hell! Who isn’t at risk these days!” came a flamboyant male voice through the speakerphone. “Hell, I’m at risk if you want to know the truth about it. We’re all at risk of something. Please don’t use that term to degrade our poor children. I swear. If we can’t get away from that term, what can we expect of others? At-risk, I just hate it. It’s so…”

“Thank you from the Peanut Gallery,” Michelle said. “Seriously. Sylvia, what’s the latest on that bill? Does she have all the co-sponsors she needs to move it? Ya’ll know there are a lot of kids out there who don’t have a mommy home baking cookies after school, and a lot of them only eat when they’re in school. We got more daddies in jail and mommies struggling. Call it what you want, but let’s keep our eyes on the prize. Our babies gotta eat.”

“The prize? We’re still trying to feed the problem with free soup. Oh dear. Now, there’s progress,” came another male voice through the speakerphone.

I remembered the fun I had at the community center where my mother and other Black Panthers fed the community breakfast each morning and realized my parents would be proud I could now help provide such basics on a larger scale. I drew a happy face on my note pad, then turned it into a sun.

“Ya’ll know what? We’re going to handle our business in this piece and get on with the day,” Michelle said. “I’m trying to wrap this up and get ya’ll out of here before Madame Senator comes in. She is not in a good mood today. Be warned. Sylvia, give us your report and let’s get on with it.”

Sylvia opened a folder and began explaining which community leaders she had met with and which Senators were on board. She shared statistics on hunger in various cities and said she would help draft the bill since she had all the details. Nia, the receptionist/office assistant, as perky and innocent as Patty Duke, sat on the corner of the couch, next to another phone, to answer calls that came in while we were meeting.

  1. Are you/have you been involved in community service of any kind at any time? Describe the experience. (If not, why not?)
  2. What compelled you to service?
  3. How did you feel after giving?
  4. Tell why you would or would not do it again.

#DontLoseYourself

 

A few staffers walked in with piping hot cups of coffee this morning. I went to the water cooler and filled the bottle I’d brought in. There was a coffee pot caked with dust, a pile of dishes in the sink, a small refrigerator, and a bag of half eaten chips folded and tucked away in the office kitchen. By nine-fifteen the office was bright and noisy with phones ringing, keyboards clicking, TV’s blaring and the front door opening and slamming shut.

“You can bring your lunch, but you won’t want to use the microwave,” Nia said. “It’s nasty.”

“Come on pee-pole. You all know what time it is,” I heard yet another voice yell.

“Grab your note pad,” Octavia said.

I followed her into Madame Senator’s office for the staff meeting, where I was introduced to everyone. The chief of staff, Michelle, strutted in wearing a sundress and flip-flops! Her hair is died deep burgundy and twisted in neat braids wrapped in a bun at the back. Sandra, the scheduler/executive assistant, had on tan slacks and a cool tangerine summer top, and Sylvia, in charge of responding to letters Madame Senator gets from residents, was flaunting crazy nails, and eyelash extensions. Unabashedly ethnic! Ghetto-fabulous! I loved it! It was like the Hood on the Hill in our office. Only two out of the seventeen of us were White, and everybody was on top of their game.

  1. How do you express/maintain your uniqueness?
  2. Are you more of a comformist ( inclined to fit in and go along with the program) or a creationist (inclined to look for a new way of doing things?) Explain.
  3. When/how did you realize you are more of a comformist or creationist?
  4.  

#PrioritizingBusyness

 

We heard keys in the door, then the voice of a cheerful young woman.

“Good moooooorning!” she yelled.

“Hey!” Octavia hollered back.

“Helloooooo!” I yelled.

“Who’s that?”

“R.C. Paige. New girl,” I said.

She turned on the overhead TV in the office lobby, then come back to our area and turned on another overhead TV. News blasted from the lobby TV and muzak played from the TV on our side, which showed a list of the day’s hearings scheduled.

“You can always tune that out and pull up a TV on your screen,” Octavia said. “In fact, you’ll need to keep that window open to MSNBC so you don’t miss anything.”

“I’m a news junkie anyway,” I assured her.

“Take that up a notch and you’ll be fine,” she said. “Anytime you can get a jump on her, do. She’ll respect you for it.”

“What you mean?” I asked.

“Be proactive. That’s what she wants. I’ll give her credit, they’re never gonna catch her sleeping…”

We heard keys again, then the front door open, then we smelled coffee.

“Who dat?” the young woman hollered.

“King of the castle. Who you think?” came a male’s voice.

“Hey Billy. What up?” the young woman yelled. “Take the lock off,” she added.

“Hi. I’m Nia. Heard a lot about you,” the young woman said, dropping a stack of newspapers on my desk.

“Don’t tell me,” I smiled.

Octavia reached over me and closed the e-mail.

“I need to show you some other things,” she said.

Besides writing press releases to get coverage for upcoming bills and events, and besides calling reporters and pitching stories, I’ll need to plan for big projects, including newsletters, and a year-end report to media. She gave me a ten-page exit memo with a lot of the work outlined. I took a lot of notes, too. She showed me templates for press releases, and templates for statements and resolutions I’ll have to write, but the whole time she was explaining stuff, calls were coming in for interviews.

She showed me the list of media contacts and explained which reporters were friendliest to Madame Senator. She showed me where senatorial bills and correspondence are filed on our shared computer drives, and gave me e-mail addresses for leaders of the Democratic Press Secretaries group so I can keep up with the daily talking points they issue Congress members in the House and Senate. Anytime there’s a major issue in the news, in order for them to deliver a consistent message, the Majority Leader of the Senate’s office will send us all talking points, facts and statistics to use in our press releases.

“They have message meetings on Mondays and strategy sessions on Thursdays,” Octavia explained, “But you’ll hardly have time to attend them.”

When Madame Senator gives an interview, I will have to monitor the interview, whether it’s a live camera interview, or an off-the-record phone conversation with a reporter.

“Make sure she doesn’t get misquoted, whatever you do. Make sure the reporter gets it right the first time,” Octavia said.

 

  1. Is your daily To-Do list crammed with more than ten things to do (cook the family breakfast, pack lunch, drop off the dry cleaning, work 8-10 hours at the office, take daughter to choir rehearsal, pick up son from basketball practice, serve dinner, check homework, one load of laundry, entertain/romance your spouse/lover OR go to school full-time, work two part-time jobs and an internship)?
  2. How do you forgive yourself when you don’t complete every task with 100 percent perfection?
  3. When/how can you be less busy?
  4. What would be the benefits of reducing your business (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually?

#CrisisRecovery

 

January 2010

It crashed.  Just like that, it crashed.  Now I see why you never would ride the subway, why you never did trust “them new-fangled things,” as you put it.  But I am glad you were there to help me out of it, especially since there was no warning, no hint, not the slightest indication that we were in trouble.

As usual, there was a line at all the fare card machines.  As usual, we got bottlenecked at the gate.  The platform was crowded, as usual, but everyone was civil. I blended into the crowd of mostly government workers, dressed in coats, weighed down with briefcases or large purses with folders stuffed inside.  I got on, found a seat and, as usual, plugged in my iPod.  Come to think of it, there was static, unusual static, in my iPod. That seemed weird because iPod’s don’t get static.  G-Ma was that you tinkering with my iPod, making it skip between songs to keep me from dozing off as I usually do o the subway?

I’m glad you were there.  I’m glad you are here.

“Break the window Ruqiyah.” You were loud and clear through all the screams and desperate gasps for last breaths. I heard the screech and the metal crunching – and your voice.  “Break the window Ruqiyah. Kick the glass. Get out.” You always were calm even in the midst of madness.

I didn’t think I could break a window so thick and tight, but you convinced me.  “Kick through the window and go.”  It worked.  I shattered a window. Your voice was diamond hard, crystal clear.

“Save yourself Ruqiyah.”

But that was confusing coming from you.  When you were alive, it was never about just me.  It was never about one person.  Even when I was eight and you taught me how to play Chinese Checkers instead of regular Checkers, which we played at school, you would say, “Ruqiyah Charity Paige, as you go through this life, you’ve got to get ahead not just by yourself, and not just for yourself.” That was the first thing that came to mind when I saw all the other people trapped in the wreck today. It would have taken just a few minutes to help the woman trying to pull her baby through the window opening.  Maybe I couldn’t help the old man mangled in his wheelchair underneath so much rubble, but it would’ve taken just a minute to reach out and pull the young man who was already halfway through.  But your instruction was clear.

“Save yourself,” you said. I heard you. Not like a loud voice booming down from the clouds, not even a still small voice on the inside. It was a simple knowing, an awareness. Now what?  You seemed to be walking beside me as I made my way home.  I must’ve looked crazy – coat ripped and disheveled, hair a frazzled mess, clutching my purse as if my life depended on it. I thought about a lot of things you taught me.  I thought about some of our last conversations before you died.  I remembered you telling me you hoped I would learn one lesson, and learn it soon, in order to be better and do better. You said this one lesson would help me on my job and help me know exactly when it was time to leave.  All those self-help, pop-psychology books I’ve been reading the past fifteen years were useful and fun, but life really was simple, you said.

Was it just a coincidence that each traffic light turned green as I reached the curb?  You knew I was too dazed to stop for a red light, right? G-Ma, why didn’t you reach me before the wreck?  Couldn’t you foresee that the collision was going to happen? Why didn’t you just give me a sign, some warning to take a different train? I’m glad you knew to get my attention through the iPod. I didn’t know you knew about iPods, since that’s one of the things I never got around to teaching you to work. There was a lot we didn’t get to talk about. I wanted to talk to you about the major changes you saw in your 90 years to get a grip on the dizzying changes in my own life. Everything is changing, and changing in the blink of an eye. One minute we’re riding the train. Next thing you know, “Boom!” Smoke, fire, and people screaming for their life. G-Ma, that could’ve been my arms and legs scattered across the field.

I’m sitting in my living room in the dark now.  No TV.  No jazz from the cable station.  Nothing.  I don’t want to see or hear anything.  I need silence. I lit the cinnamon candles. I’ve got the bottle of pineapple rum and a can of Diet Coke on the coffee table. But my hands are still shaking.  I don’t want to get Coke all over the couch and carpet.  Maybe the flicker of the log in the fireplace will me settle down some.  I can usually watch those flames licking the air and forget about things, but I don’t know if I can forget seeing all those body parts at the wreck.

It was awful.  Just like that.  Sc-reeeeeeech, boom, boom, BAM! The stench of heated plastic and burning rubber everywhere.  I still can’t shake the images of the crumpled train cars and the smoke. Bodies blown across the field.  Injured people crawling out of the heap of wreckage. I can’t shake the pictures.  How can a train crash without warning?  I ride it everyday? Nobody could tell it was about to breakdown? I don’t know how many people died, but from the looks of it, a whole lot of families are going to be devastated.

G-Ma, I’m sorry I got too busy to visit you.  The job has been calling my cell since I left the office.  The chief of staff left a few messages saying Madame Senator is trying to reach me.  She probably is just trying to size up the situation. She needs to spin a message to the media to protect the train company since it’s one of her biggest campaign donors.

Victoria’s been calling and leaving messages, too. My sister Trish left a message, too. She heard the news all the way back in my hometown.

“Qi-Qi, I hope to hell you wasn’t on the train that crashed, but if you was, you bout to get pay-aid.  Hey, don’t leave the scene.  If you’re still there, get as close as you can to the crash and lay down on the ground like you cain’t move. Girl, you ‘bout to get paid!  Haaaaaaaay!” she said.  “Use your camera phone and get some pictures to prove you was there, and get somebody else to get some pictures of you stretched out. Lay your ass on the ground and play half dead till the police get there. Hell, even if you wasn’t on the train, you ride it everyday.  Just take your ass to the hospital and say you got injured on that train that crashed.  You deserve to get paid, girl. Girl this is your time.  Like Joel Osteen says.  This is our time. Get paid girl. Let me know you okay.   Call me.”

Chris is coming over even though I told him I’d rather be alone. I need time to think about what I want to do next.

God must’ve had a reason for sparing my life, right? G-Ma, I know I’m lucky to be alive. I’m going to take a few days to think about where I’ve been and how I want to go on from here. My hands are still trembling. I can hear you humming, “we’ll understand it all by and by.” I’ll figure this one out myself.

 

  • Who do you call in your moment of crisis?
  • Describe your last crisis and explain your first prayers/calls?
  • Would you repeat your actions in the next crisis? If you can respond better, tell how. If you’re satisfied with your armor and plan of action, explain why.