E22: Woman and Advocacy: Cynthia Changyit Levin, From Changing Diapers to Changing the World

[00:00:00] Section: Teaser

[00:00:00] Cynthia: You are an expert in your own feelings and your own story, and we need you. I wrote this book to build a movement of moms and others because we need more voices and many diverse voices. Not just me. Not just people like me. We need you,

[00:00:16] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:17] Overdub: Hello, welcome to The Story of Woman, the podcast exploring what a man-made world looks like when we see it through her eyes. Woman's perspective is missing from our understanding of the world. This podcast is on a mission to change that. I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein and each episode I'll be speaking with an author about the implications of her absence - how we got here, what still needs to be changed, and how telling her story will improve everyone's next chapter.

[00:00:50] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:00:51] Anna: Hello friends and welcome back. Welcome back. So when you were in school as a kid, what did you learn about politics and government? For me, I learned the basics about the different branches of the US government, how it operates, and a select history of its origins. But I didn't really learn anything about how to get involved in that government, about how to use my voice as a citizen to drive change in my community and in the country. Maybe I learned that it's important to vote, but that's about it. 

[00:01:30] But there's so much more we can do. So for anyone else who didn't learn about it in school or maybe just forgot because it was one class a few decades ago, this is a great episode for you. I'm speaking today with Cynthia Changyit Levin about her book From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started. 

[00:01:57] And I wanna say right away, you do not need to be a mom to learn from this conversation or her book. I'm not one. And I learned plenty because again, how many of us really learned about advocating to members of Congress or Parliament in school? But she does write this with moms in mind, because it's her personal experience, and also because we know women have traditionally been encouraged, or in some instances, forced to sit back and let the men deal with politics and moms have been encouraged, or forced, to spend all their time and energy raising the little ones and feeding the men who have. worked up an appetite from all their important work running our governments. 

[00:02:43] But she also writes with moms in mind because of how absolutely brilliant and effective they are as advocates. I mean, let's be honest, moms are brilliant and effective at just about everything because the skills it takes to be a mom are not for the faint of heart. 

[00:03:01] But I love what Cynthia wrote in her book about why moms make brilliant advocates. She wrote " You've already been developing the most valuable tools you need for this work. The persistence you cultivate while dealing with newborns and the patience you nurtured while negotiating with toddlers. The love and frustration you experienced in those repetitive battles fostered incredible power that you can tap into when dealing with Congress. 

[00:03:27] It's a little tongue in cheek, but it's absolutely true, and we get into why moms make great advocates in more detail today, as well as the benefits of getting involved in advocacy for moms and their children. This is not about martyrdom and giving moms more things to do. And we also talk about the difference one person can make and practical steps for getting started. And just as you don't need to be a mom, you also don't need to be in the US to learn from this conversation, as Cynthia will explain. 

[00:03:59] So often we feel overwhelmed and dismayed by the constant stream of negative news happening around the world, and we think, what can we do about it? What can I, one person, possibly do to make a difference? The answer of course, is a lot. There is a lot that you can do. Advocacy isn't the only way, but it's hugely important and a great place to get started. 

[00:04:25] And final note, I just wanna mention the new Story of Woman Newsletter. If you haven't signed up for that yet, it comes out every week. And it's not just about the podcast, you'll also get a weekly dose of all things women: books to read, documentaries to watch news to be aware of, and women to be inspired by.

[00:04:45] So it's a little feminist package to get you through your week. There is a link in the show notes and on the website. But for now, enjoy my conversation with Cynthia about advocacy and changing the world.

[00:04:58] Hi, Cynthia. Welcome, thank you so much for being here today.

[00:05:03] Cynthia: Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here.

[00:05:05] Anna: Yeah, I'm really excited to have you. And we're speaking about your book, From Changing Diapers to Changing the World, which is all about why moms make great advocates and how they can get started. And ironically, it was my own mom who flagged this book to me after reading about it in the newspaper. So I guess, does that make her an advocate?

[00:05:30] Cynthia: She's an advocate. Absolutely. I kind of define advocacy just casually as speaking out to somebody with power to take action. So she spoke out to you and you had the power to schedule your own podcast, so that's awesome. I love that story.

[00:05:45] Anna: So she was lobbying her own daughter, basically.

[00:05:50] Cynthia: Oh, my kids lobby me all the time for all sorts of things. They're good at it.

[00:05:56] Anna: Yeah, fair enough. I'm sure I've lobbied my mom for the past 30 years, so, uh, she can, she can have this one. And I'm very glad she did because it brought you onto this podcast. So, and also she came across it because it was in the local newspaper in St. Louis, Missouri, which is where I'm from and where you live. So all the St. Louis and Midwest listeners out there, Cynthia is a local.

[00:06:19] Cynthia: Yeah. Shout out to the Lou!

[00:06:21] Anna: So I wanna start with the why behind the book, because you became this worlds changing advocate and then you decided to write a book encouraging others to do the same. So, yeah, can you tell us why did you decide to write it?

[00:06:37] Cynthia: Yeah, so I wrote the book that I wish that I had 15 years ago. Advocacy has been a really helpful journey for me personally and I've been able to help a lot of the people who are living in poverty in the US and around the world. But it was very, very helpful to me in my own empowerment and it wasn't exactly an easy journey, doing that while raising little kids. I have kids that are 17 and almost 19 now. But I wanted to save other moms just all the trial and error that went through in learning how to advocate while balancing the crazy work of raising kids. But I should also mention that ever since 2016, I've been hearing from women in the United States who are very upset by the direction of policies in our country, but are slipping into despair because they just don't feel or don't know that they can do anything about it. Uh, so I was writing this book, but it took on greater urgency around that time.

[00:07:41] Anna: Absolutely. And yeah, since 2016, I would say that, that urgency has just increased and people's uh, despair may have as well. So we'll definitely get into some actionable points but your book was fantastic in being very action oriented. Yeah. Not just why you should be an advocate, but practical steps for doing it. 

[00:08:04] Cynthia: That's what I felt was really missing for me at first, and I found those things later, but man, it would've saved me a lot of time and heartache to have 'em all in one spot.

[00:08:13] Anna: Yeah, I'm sure. It is all in one spot in your book and it really takes you on that journey and to even, preface and say things in the beginning about where you can skip to depending on where you are in that journey. So even if you know a little bit more about advocacy and you wanna learn even more, this book is, is still for you. Uh, presumably, I don't know, maybe you agree or disagree, but I think it'd be for anyone along that advocacy journey.

[00:08:39] Cynthia: Absolutely. And I'm charmed by how many people are appreciative that I actually wrote it in a structure where I encourage people to read the book out of order. So if you, you know, at any point that you want to jump into action, then you should flip to the back, get the instructions, and just do it. Like, don't wait cuz how many books do I have in my nightstand that I haven't finished that I have really good intentions to? So, you know, don't make it like an assignment that you have to read every word before you get started.

[00:09:09] Anna: That's such a good point, cuz I also feel like, especially as women, we oftentimes tend to feel like, you know, we need to really educate ourselves, read this book, take this course, be really, really, really prepared for whatever it is that we're gonna take on, if we feel a bit of imposter syndrome or it's something new that we wanna tackle. So that's a...

[00:09:31] Cynthia: gosh, that's funny you mentioned that cuz I'm just putting the finishing touches on a blog about imposter syndrome this morning before I talk to you. It just keeps coming up.

[00:09:41] Anna: It is real. And, and it can really hold, hold us back but yeah, exactly as you say, you can hop around for what's important for you. And what about, is it only for moms? Because I will say I am not a mom and I had loads of takeaways and I feel like anyone interested in learning about advocacy yeah could really learn from it.

[00:10:03] Cynthia: Uh, what I like to say is that this is for mothers and others who want to learn to use their voice and influence policies in the most impactful ways. And what's really important for me as a busy mom and as a former engineer, most efficiently, like my kids, like to laugh about how I'm like, uh, yeah, that's not efficient what you're doing there.

[00:10:29] So, um, yeah, I write, especially for moms because it's my own experience. And also because I feel that moms are a demographic that are held back by misogyny because we're women. Or just the demands on time and energy that we spend on care taking for our little ones. 

[00:10:48] And sometimes for our elders, right? I'm turning 51 this year and thankfully my mom is independent, but a lot of moms of my age are feeling that sandwich squeeze of taking care of parents and kids. 

[00:11:02] But when we as moms and as women work together, I heartily believe that we can be a powerful voice, a powerful force in pointing out common sense solutions. And we're really good at voicing the moral argument for humans to be good and decent and kind. But now for others who, you know, are also good and decent and kind people, but maybe don't identify so strongly with the motherhood part, I have, like we said, included a lot of tips about how to advocate.

[00:11:32] Even when you don't have a lot of time, it comes out because the moms are often doing this kind of work on the go. But I hear from people like you, who aren't parents at all, that they love the book because of how I've laid out the instructions for how to take action really clearly and put little tip boxes in for doing things when you only have 20 minutes or maybe only five minutes and people are responding well to the fun stories and the cute pictures. A lot of people like cute pictures of kids.

[00:12:01] Anna: That never hurt. Yeah, that's never hurt. Well on that point I mean, you've kind of started to touch on it, you said that you chose to focus on moms because that's your own experience, but why do you think moms make particularly good advocates?

[00:12:17] Cynthia: So I thought about it for a long time when I was reading this book, and I came up with these five solid reasons, but I'll just do a couple of them here. Some of them are kind of funny, like moms explain things like we're really good explainers because we explain things all the time to our little ones. And, I like to say that if you can explain something to you know, a seven year old, you can explain something to a member of Congress or a member of Parliament. 

[00:12:45] Congress And it comes off as kind of snarky when I say that, but I actually mean it in a very genuine way because when we talk to our kids, we're saying things in a very plain spoken, easy to understand way, and policy makers are human. And I might be talking to somebody who's really busy and just came out of a defense hearing or something, and like, they don't wanna hear a lot of jargon and statistics from me. They just want to hear like, what is the plain spoken, truth of what I'm saying. And if you can do it with a story that's even better, kids like stories and so do members of Congress or parliament. 

[00:13:27] And I think that we are responsible people. I've been to lots of these lobby days, these action days where sometimes the organizers have really appreciated what the moms bring to it, because we're very self-sufficient people. We've been like, you know, we're the people that are thinking, 3, 4, 5 steps ahead of our kids and making sure we have everything with us.

[00:13:50] Whereas, you know, some other people are kind of like, I'm gonna rely on everybody else to have what I need. So the, when you have been the things standing between like total chaos on a family vacation and, uh, things working orderly, you sort of realize that you need to be prepared and do the thing.

[00:14:13] But in all seriousness, the last one I'll mention is that I think moms are very powerful in a way that we don't always realize. We sometimes feel vulnerable because we're protecting our kids. I'm putting my hands out behind me and the podcast can't say it, but sometimes we're, you know, we're, we're just trying to protect the kids from the world and from policies that are gonna hurt them in the us. We wish that we could shield them from gun violence and things that we feel like we don't have control over, but the stories that we can tell and the stories that come from our vulnerability, from feeling that worry can be extremely powerful and touching and reach that human part because our elected officials are human.

[00:15:04] And we can speak to that moral part and share our vulnerability. There have been meetings where I've gotten a bit choked up and I'm talking to an aide who also got a little choked up. And I'm not saying that we're, we should be manipulative or anything, but when that emotion comes out, that's kind of like a superpower that we have sometimes to reach somebody else's empathy. If you can do that, then that helps them to have their own desire to help on it and not just like I'm doing this cuz she keeps bugging me.

[00:15:40] Anna: Mm mm-hmm. So you're saying lean into that emotion as well, as opposed to, what a lot of the lines go, you know, is don't bring your emotion to these kinds of conversations, they'll hold you back, but you're saying actually that's your superpower.

[00:15:55] Cynthia: It definitely can be. When I go up there, I don't try to emulate like a high powered paid lobbyist, because, in the US, they want to hear from their constituents. And sometimes they won't. Well, it depends on the member of Congress, but they are sworn, they did take an oath to represent us. And so we are the real deal. We're not people who were paid to say a certain message.

[00:16:23] Anna: Mm, absolutely. And speaking of, you know, mentioning that you're in the US talking about congress, parliament, I just wanna mention and kind of get your two cents again, the question about who this book is for. It's written for people who are trying to enact change in the US but I personally feel like anybody who lives in a democracy could apply this to their own, just change the, you know, email or government addresses of the people you reach out to. What do 

[00:16:52] Cynthia: I believe that, and I've heard it from some other people, especially in Canada, in the uk, where systems of government are similar enough, that you do still have that democracy where people can reach out to the people that represent them. That seems similar enough that people like it. Now, I usually know those people through an organization called Results. Results.org is where you can find them. That's where I learned a lot of these methods, I've picked up the tips and instructions I share from several different ones. But, Results is also an international organization, so that has put me in touch with advocates from around the world. Australia is another one

[00:17:27] but, there are some differences, but there's enough similarity that it can work. And I think the human stories do. 

[00:17:34] Just a little tag on that. Sometimes I will hear from people who are some friends I have from Africa that enjoy reading it just because they hear a lot of crazy things about American politics and it's interesting for them to see what it looks like for just an everyday person on the ground experiencing that. And sometimes it's not quite as crazy as maybe they were thinking or hoping. 

[00:17:57] Anna: So could you tell us then, you mentioned at the beginning a short definition, but can you explain to us what is advocacy, what exactly do advocates do?

[00:18:07] Cynthia: Yeah. So advocacy is just speaking out, raising your voice making it known however you want to use it. It's expressing yourself to somebody who's in power that can help, that can take an action to help you. Uh, So we joked about it earlier, that kids advocate to their parents all the time and I have a funny little um, picture that one of my colleagues shared. She goes to protests a lot and takes her kids to protest. And her kids made a sign that said, We want more screen time. And it was like on a stick to carry around. So yes, protesting, I don't know, I 

[00:18:48] Anna: I I Yeah. That'd be hard for her to say no to. I feel like they're, like, they learned from her.

[00:18:58] Cynthia: A future correction or version of the book. I'll say like, uh, it did not work.

[00:19:03] Anna: work. Yeah.

[00:19:04] Cynthia: I dunno. It's a

[00:19:06] Anna: Ongoing negotiations.

[00:19:08] Cynthia: Right? Have to return to the table. Um, so protesting is a valid form, but it is not the only one. So some of the methods that I'm talking about in the book is it can be as simple as, making a phone call to an office or it could be, what I consider the gold standard of it is when you can sit down face to face with the person that's a more advanced level of advocacy, but it's the highest one as far as relationship building and a long term conversation. It could be writing letters to the editor, writing to newspapers about your issue. Or just the tried and true handwritten letter to Congress. People's, have trouble believing that that's an important thing to do. But especially when you can do an organized event where you're getting 50 people to write hand letters to Congress, that actually gets attention quite well because somebody's gotta sit there and open 50 letters, that takes away from whatever they might be doing, and it elevates it um, in importance.

[00:20:17] Anna: Yeah, that's so true. Who would've thought the return of the letter? I liked this, I'm just gonna read what you had in the book that really helped me understand it as well, which was advocacy versus direct service. So you wrote: " Direct service workers give their energy and talents to help people in moments of need change. Advocates take a wider approach and use their voices to rally even more help for the longer term. At its best, advocacy is about seeking out root causes, finding effective solutions, and persuading other people to help implement those solutions."

[00:20:53] So that really helped paint the picture for me, and you had a great analogy about the river. know you'd be able to repeat that analogy offhand, but that was

[00:21:03] Cynthia: Uh, I think I can, I first heard this from an organization called Bread for the World, but I've since heard it many other places and I can't even attribute like where it first came from, but it's this idea that, imagine that you're sitting on the banks of a river, maybe having a picnic with a bunch of other people and you're by this river that's pretty fast, and then you hear somebody crying out for help, so you're like, Oh my gosh, we gotta help that person.

[00:21:29] So you, you wait out there and you pull the person out and then you hear some other people, yelling and drowning and it's like, Oh no, there's more people. We have to help them. So the direct service person will be, compelled to, you know, maybe make a chain of people and try to find a system to pull people outta the river and help. But the change advocate will look up the river and say, What is causing all these people to be falling into the river? Is somebody pushing people into the river, did a bridge fall out, and there's like a ton of other people up there, you know, what is going on? So the change advocate might get a couple people to go with them up there and find out what the problem is and prevent them from falling into the river in the first place. Both are needed. Like you're not supposed to just look and say, Huh, those people are drowning. Goodbye. 

[00:22:22] Really, you know? And often I find out, or I've come to find, people are like me who do both direct service and advocacy. I have found empowerment and a home in community in advocacy, and I also feel like it's a less known thing.

[00:22:42] So I like to go and do things where it's very needed to bring attention to something like that, but it doesn't mean that I don't care about people in my community. So I get involved in food drives and other direct services as well. And I think that that's a common trait among advocates. However, it's not as common that people are doing direct service and just naturally fall into advocacy as well. 

[00:23:08] Anna: I really like that river analogy, that really brought it to light. And yes, both very necessary. But today we're really talking about those people that are upstream trying to stop whoever is pushing those people in the river in the first place.

[00:23:24] Cynthia: I'll tell you a funny story though when I was first doing this and, and you'll see little stories throughout the book where I tried something and it wasn't quite so successful. There's one story that's not in the book where my kids were in preschool and I was like, new to this advocacy thing. I'm like, this is exciting, I'm gonna tell other moms about this. So I asked the uh, preschool director if I could have a little room and talk to some other moms about it while the kids were in preschool. And I told that story and this woman said, Yes, that's exactly, I wanna be the person pulling people outta the river. I'm like well, yeah, ok. I got her more excited about that. But you know, some of us are sometimes suited to one or the other.

[00:24:03] Anna: Yeah. Yeah, that's, that's a good point. Yeah. Maybe you get through this and then you realize, actually I wanna be the direct service worker. So 

[00:24:11] Cynthia: Sometimes we can just really partner together. Like, I will bring somebody, that was, uh, somebody they brought that was ahead of a local services issue and brought them into the meeting with me so they could share their expertise. And that pairing is 

[00:24:28] Anna: is really Ah, lovely. Lovely. So I wanna talk about what people can get out of this, because you write that doing good for others, you know, should not equal martyrdom. Not it doesn't have to, but that it should not, which I think, there's an important distinction there. So, besides making the world a better place, what does a person stand to gain in becoming an advocate?

[00:24:55] Cynthia: I think this is a really good point because it's like what brought me to advocacy was the need and what kept me staying in advocacy was what I got for myself. And there's four or five things that I talk about, and one of them was it helped me to define myself and this may speak to a lot of people in different contexts, but I find that this is important for moms because we go through an identity change. It is part of being a mom. It's like you had all these other things you were doing. Maybe you're employed, maybe you're not, maybe you're a wife, maybe you're not. You have like these different titles, but when you become a mother, it becomes a really important identity change and sometimes it can be problematic.

[00:25:49] It was for me when I suddenly, put wife and mother above other things that I was, and I, I myself left my engineering profession because I felt I couldn't find adequate and affordable healthcare or not healthcare. That's a different problem in the United States. Childcare is what I 

[00:26:12] Anna: Another problem. 

[00:26:13] Cynthia: Yeah, there's of problems to work on. But that's, that's where I was. And so I was saying goodbye to that part of me that saw myself as a professional engineer. And I, you know, you think you know what being a mom is about, but what I found is I was just like always last on the list of priorities. And, being an advocate helped me to define myself in a way that was, you know, included things like somebody who helps others, somebody who has power in the world, somebody who increases good in the world, someone who's teaching my kids about how they can shape the world around us, for not only me and them, but you know, more generations.

[00:26:55] So it was a way that I could be proud of doing everything in my power to take a stand for my beliefs and be something that I'm proud to be and something that I'm proud to show my children. So that's, that's one of them. And on a really practical level, it was a way to engage my brain. brain Um, so I, being a mom is, there's an art to it as far as like, helping your kids through things in a, in a healthy way. But there's also a lot of just repetitive routine to it, it. Yeah.

[00:27:31] Food needs to be made, diapers need to be changed. And for me it was just like, Oh my gosh, we got through another day and here we are at bedtime again, and we've gotta brush teeth, and then I've gotta reset the house and do it all over again.

[00:27:45] And I found that thinking beyond that daily routine of childcare had positive benefits, for me, it helped me explore ideas that take me beyond my, just the duty of being a mom. And, I also found that it could even help me with skills to build my resume when I was ready to go back to work again. Because a lot of us moms, stay at home moms, experience just this gap in our resumes that, you know, people wanna say, Well, what are you doing? And I can say, Well, I was speaking to senators, so 

[00:28:21] Anna: What have you been doing?

[00:28:23] Cynthia: Yeah. And that wasn't a skill that I had before. 

[00:28:25] Anna: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's amazing. There's really so many benefits, finding meaning, finding purpose, self-identity, everything that you said. And I thought you really laid that out really beautifully in the book. And you also talked about a lot about kids and how they fit into this work and what they stand to gain by you, the mom becoming an advocate. So can you talk to that a little bit?

[00:28:50] Cynthia: Yeah. So my kids are unusually conversant in how government works, And it's, it's not that we were sitting there and studying, but one time I wrote a blog about like how the summertime was kind of like a diy, like do it yourself government class, because summertime is also a time, at least in the US, that's when there's a lot more time for elected officials to be available for their constituents. It's a little summer vacation. It's a little more relaxed. So it was also a time when I could, the kids were not in school, again, not having family in town, not having the childcare, it was like, come on. And I would like pack 'em up with me. So when they got to know Congresswoman Shikowsky, who was my US representative at the time that the kids were little, you know, they got to know her in person and you know, hear what we were talking about. And that's another thing that when the kids were present, all of us brought our language down in a really simple way.

[00:29:51] So they were understanding it as well. I feel like it taught them to stand up for themselves and for others.

[00:30:01] And there's an example when my eldest kid, I don't remember what grade, probably about fourth grade or something like that, that there was a kid that loved soccer and I guess the recess supervisors were just being unfair and unjust and just mean. They took away this kid's soccer privileges. So my kiddo enlisted a few others and they had read about Rosa Parks too, and they had a sit-in that they refused to do anything else until they could get an appointment with the assistant principal. And I was very, amused to find out that not only did they have that meeting, but they went in with what we in the business we call a leave behind document, that they wrote the important parts of their argument and then at the end what action they wanted them to take. And it was written in Crayola crayons 

[00:31:02] Anna: arguments. That is adorable. 

[00:31:05] Cynthia: Oh yeah. And by the way, I do know the end of that soccer privileges were reinstated, 

[00:31:11] Anna: Woo. Amazing. That is, that is such a great story.

[00:31:16] Cynthia: Yeah, I like that. And I think it's also just brought us closer together. One thing that's happening right now is that there's a second book in the works with my 19 year old about youth advocacy. So even though they are at college, we still have this other project that we're working on. 

[00:31:34] Anna: on Amazing. That's, that's so great. And you know, as you point out in the book, most of us, we don't learn about this in school. We don't learn about it. So then here we are as adults trying to figure it all out, whereas they're growing up with it, it's just normal to reach out to the people that are representing you in government when you want something changed. That's just a part of 

[00:31:58] Cynthia: Yeah, I was very, very nervous. The first time that I saw my US representative, it was in a grocery store and there was a table and there was just line of some senior citizens that were lined up to talk to her. And I knew from Bread for the World that there was like an important nutrition bill, but I was like standing there and I was like sweating and I didn't know what to exactly to say and I was kind of stammering through it. My kids think it is totally a normal thing to go into the office and just say whatever is on their their mind. It, it's amazing to me. 

[00:32:35] Anna: It is. It's amazing to me too. And I love that. Big reasons to be advocates, to bring your kids along for it. So, okay, so we know lots of these benefits for ourselves, for our kids, for our communities, for our world. But at the same time, as we mentioned in the beginning, there is a lot of kind of despair at the moment. And with the news that we're inundated with every day, it can be quite demoralizing, and it can be, I think, a little too easy to resign to what difference can I make? All of these problems exist. I'm one person, what difference can I make? And I'm just wanting to know, what would you say question? 

[00:33:22] Cynthia: Yeah. I mean, definitely I spend a lot of time in the book talking about getting involved in advocacy groups and you know, the power of like, when we act together, but at the same time, thinking about what different one person can make, sometimes it just takes the right person at the right time with the right message.

[00:33:41] And you, you don't know when that's gonna be. For instance, there was a time that I was up on Capitol Hill and we were granted a meeting with a representative that me and my colleagues were not part of that district, so they didn't really wanna meet with us, but they did, they were nice enough, like we were from the same state, just not in the same district that that particular representative was responsible for. So we went in there and they listened very nicely and they said, Well, the congressman puts a premium on hearing from constituents and responding to their requests. So if you can find somebody who is from the district to make that same request, we will make that happen. And I was like, What? So we went out and in the hallway, we were just like, Who lives in that area?

[00:34:28] And I thought of one person that I had met one time who lived there and uh, I called her on the phone. I did have her phone number, and I said, Would you call this number and just ask for this thing? It was, to ask them to co-sponsor this bill about microfinance, about helping people in poverty, economically and other countries. And she said, Sure. And like a day later that congressman was on the 

[00:34:57] Anna: the bill. 

[00:34:57] Cynthia: Like it just took like that one person. And there have been other times when we were unable to get a meeting until I reached out to, this is a Missouri congressman, I reached out to a member of the clergy who happened to live like way out in this rural part of the district.

[00:35:15] And we just got him on the phone, like in the meeting. And all he did was talk about like how he cared about people that were lacking nutrition in the US and globally. And, then I filled in the parts about the policy and stuff like that, but it took him to get the meeting.

[00:35:37] And one last thing I wanna say is that sometimes it takes a person to have the vision to create a group. And there's a story in there, I have six features about different moms. I didn't think I should write a book that's just me droning on about myself. So I try to include a lot of stories from moms, from diverse backgrounds, whether economic uh, differences than me or racially or just that they work on different issues.

[00:36:04] And Laura Frisch is a mom that very early on recognized that gun violence was a problem in our community in the United States. And it was Laura that started to talk about it in our neighborhood. And I mean, at the time other people just didn't have the vision. So one person can rally others.

[00:36:25] Anna: Hmm. Absolutely. I think one person and and one step at a time as well, when you feel overwhelmed and demoralized, just take that first step. and

[00:36:37] All right, so then now we're, now we're bought in. How do, we're all bought in. Everybody listening. We're all bought something in. How does one go about becoming an advocate? And obviously there is, as we've mentioned, all of these action plans, really step by step, amazing instructions in the book. But for a, a summary for our conversation today, how do you begin? Where do you begin?

[00:37:09] Cynthia: Yeah. I would recommend that people find a reputable, nonpartisan advocacy group, and especially one that's dedicated in teaching you how to effectively raise your voice. Now it's, there are lots of different ways to do it, and I talk about it in the book. It's like, oh, sometimes the way you start can depend on what kind of person you are.

[00:37:30] Like I started by reading a whole bunch of books about the topics that I was interested. It goes back to what you were saying sometimes women do that. It's like, I need to know everything about this, and here's the big that book, but what I'm saying is, if you wanna go a little faster than that, a less frustrating route, would be to find an advocacy group. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. There are people who are doing this who can help you. The reason that I say nonpartisan, and I'm I'm going to delve into American politics for just a second.

[00:38:05] Anna: Go on. 

[00:38:07] Cynthia: Yeah. So we have two main parties here in the United States, Democrats and Republicans, and let's say for example, that I was a diehard Democrat and I felt that way so much that I can't even talk to any Republicans. I don't want to, I actually know some people like that. And I understand there are very very deep feelings on this, but if that's the way that I felt here in Missouri in St. Louis in my little section, that would mean that I would be abdicating my voice and just cutting myself out from the conversations because only my state senator is Democrat. So that would mean, both of my US senators, my US representative, my governor, my state senator are all Republicans. So I would just be making myself absent from that conversation.

[00:39:04] And the other thing about US politics is that our Senate, which is a very powerful body, the margins of who holds power are so thin that it can change in any election, and we don't know who will be in power. Those people get to set the agenda of what gets voted on and what gets talked about. So if we forget to be cultivating those folks, then it, whichever side you're on, if you are not engaged in educating them and convincing them that what you have is important, then all your work could be lost if you're only talking to the one party that's in power. 

[00:39:47] So, yeah, getting involved, and I, I have some suggestions at the end of the book. There are three particular organizations that I'd recommend. I'll say Results first because they are international. So if you're in London, if you're anywhere in the uk, you can find Results there. Canada and Australia and, Germany, France, Japan, and Mexico. So, uh, yes, that's one of them.

[00:40:10] And, here in the US Citizens Climate Lobby is an organization that sprung out from Results, but works on climate issues and Friends Committee, a national legislation, they're a Quaker group that has some of these same, nonpartisan, relational philosophies and I like that they work on peace and sometimes nuclear issues and things like that.

[00:40:33] So there's three, but there's, there's a lot more that are talked about in the book. Look, I think that those three organizations are just particularly good at empowering individuals so they can move on to other issues if they want.

[00:40:48] Anna: Love it. And I'll put links to all these in the show notes as well. So join an advocacy group and a bipartisan one at that. And don't cut yourself off. Don't silence yourself. I think that's a really, really important point for going back to efficiency and what's gonna be effective. Uh, definitely. So the other question centering around how is the practical first steps, which we've just gone over, but then how does one find the time? I, I've heard that moms are little busy. 

[00:41:23] Cynthia: Just bit a bit.

[00:41:25] Anna: So, I would love to hear your thoughts on that. And also if anyone is thinking, Oh, you know, this is, this is one more thing for moms to do, right? We have to run our whole households, a lot of us, we have to run our schools, a lot of us, communities, and now we have to try to run and change the world.

[00:41:46] Cynthia: I hear that a lot. And it's just 

[00:41:48] Anna: is 

[00:41:48] Cynthia: you like, you know, putting this on an already beleaguered population. But you know, I, going back to like all the benefits it had for me, that's one reason I do it. But talking about the practical side of it, I put in a lot of tips about how to incorporate advocacy into your day, just like any other good habit.

[00:42:10] And I found that motherhood was a lot of hurry up and wait. An example of that is like, if you're fortunate enough to have a car, making a call from your car while waiting in the carpool line, and I don't know if this is something that happens in the UK as much, but in suburban areas of the United States, there's this thing that happens when school lets out and there's this line of cars that goes forever.

[00:42:34] And like if you need your kid out of school right away, you wanna be in the front of that line and it means showing up like really early. And so you hurry up so you can be in the front of the line and then maybe you have, you know, 20, 30 minutes to wait or something like that. So that might be a good time to, you know, call a member of Congress, cuz each of those calls only takes like 90 seconds. So you could knock out three of them while you're sitting there. I used to write letters to Congress when I couldn't sleep anyway because my kids would wake me up for, oh, just the worst things. They wanted to be fed, they wanted to be breast fed.

[00:43:13] Anna: Oh, So needy.

[00:43:14] Cynthia: Yeah, they wanted a diaper change. I mean, these are quite normal things to happen, but after I took care of the baby, like sometimes I wasn't in the peaceful frame of mind that I could just drift right off to sleep.

[00:43:24] I'd be like sitting there like, Oh my God, oh my God, what's, Oh, the world is terrible. What should I do? My answer is I should write a letter to Congress because that would calm me down and then I can go back to sleep. I also became a master of multitasking. So I used to make art with the kids because that was a great thing to do and the kids didn't care what kind of art we were making. So I would use like their little hand prints on paper and stuff like that. And then it would have like a message about, you know, please support maternal child health initiatives or something like that. 

[00:44:00] And of course this clicking those online petitions that come out. The One campaign is especially good at those, which is also international organization, definitely very active in the UK here in the US moms rising.org is really good at that. And you'll get things that you care about and then you just like click on it, maybe add a little customized note. 

[00:44:22] So, but I do wanna wrap up this section with a little quote from Yolanda Gordon, who's another one of the moms that is featured in the book. Yolanda has a number of kids. And, at the time that I interviewed her, she was living in poverty and her kids are also neurodiverse. So they needed services from school that she had to advocate for and when I interviewed her, she wanted other moms to recognize that they really do have time for advocacy if they recognize how important it is and that it can be a life and death situation for some. So, she said, "Think about all the things that your child needs that the government is cutting right now, that may not be fixed later. You have to make time."

[00:45:10] Elena Hung is another mom who's the founder of Little Lobbyists that has a daughter with complex medical needs, and that is the focus of that organization. And those kids needed the affordable healthcare that President Obama had proposed. And so they fought hard and they brought their kids with wheelchairs and trach tubes and oxygen to Capitol Hill so that members of Congress could meet them and understand how important this was, because they felt like they had no other option.

[00:45:43] Anna: Wow. That's powerful. So then, what about choosing an issue? You've mentioned these two examples, and of course, they're choosing these issues that are close to home for them and their families. So I'm curious if you can talk to the importance of choosing one instead of just, you know, wanting to change everything, and then how you would, yeah any advice for going about choosing one?

[00:46:10] Cynthia: Yeah. I even laugh a little bit about the book, that this is the advice that I give, but it's hard for me to listen to myself that truly you will be more effective if you are more focused. So if you're focused on one thing and you feel very passionate about it, that's gonna be where you're gonna be most effective. So like you said, for some people it's very obvious, for moms who have, like moms that we mentioned, or moms who have unfortunately experienced gun violence in some way.

[00:46:43] But other times it's a small moment, like it was for me, when I first had a baby, it was idyllic, easygoing in the first couple of days. I'm one of the moms that my breast milk did not come in right away. So, my baby was born and I was trying to breastfeed. I was trying to do the best thing I could, but she just wasn't getting all the nutrients that she needed.

[00:47:09] And you could even, some of the people who are moms might recognize there's a soft spot on the top of the baby's head where it keeps sinking down and down when they don't have enough liquids. And essentially my baby was starving and I didn't know what to do about it. And I was just like, I'm just gonna power through this.

[00:47:27] And so four days later, I just was distraught. It was Christmas Eve, we called the doctor. Thank goodness I had access to medical help. And they said, your baby's starving, you need to get to the drug store and get some formula. And I felt very embarrassed. And my husband went out that night and got the formula, and that baby just chugged it down.

[00:47:49] But in those four days, I was really worried when there was no wet diapers and the baby wasn't thriving. So I was able to see how quickly things can turn around with proper nutrition and clean water. So for me, that became like a wake up call. Like, wow, other moms in the world don't have it. I can't believe I was blind to this issue for so long, and child nutrition was the first thing that I started working on.

[00:48:19] Now for other people, if you just don't feel like what is your issue, take that moment when you're up at night and think about specifically what's bothering you the most, and even throughout the day. This is where it gets a little esoteric that I would say, listen to your body. How are you reacting to the news? Are there things that are particularly concerning? 

[00:48:42] Another thing is, another thing is when you're just looking to get started, sometimes you wanna look around at who, do you have local help? Like for instance if there's already a group at your house of worship that is working on something, join them just to get started.

[00:48:59] The best thing to inspire you to action is to take action. That sounds very repetitive and weird. So I didn't actually put in the book, but I do believe it that when you take an action on one thing, it inspires you to be like, Yes, okay, I did that. Then I should do the next thing. And maybe you're working on hunger or something else, but it will help you to learn the skills until you find the thing that you're really passionate about.

[00:49:27] Anna: Love it. I think that's all really good tips and advice because that could be one of the biggest challenges in the beginning. And like you say, just choose one and take that first step and then you can always adapt and see where it leads you. What would you say to someone who agrees with everything you've talked about today, really passionate, wants to get involved, but still feels like reaching out to member of Congress or whoever it might be, taking this first action, is just a little too far outside of their comfort zone?

[00:50:04] Cynthia: I would say pick something very small to start. If your comfort zone is very small, that's okay. I had this great quote, that I thought it was so awesome when, Becky Morgan, who's another St. Louis mom, said this to me that I said, You know what, I wanna make that the very last quote of the book. So, if people wanna flip to the back page, they'll have something good waiting for them.

[00:50:24] Anna: Aww.

[00:50:25] Cynthia: So, you know, she got the last word in the book. She said, um, " Do what is comfortable for you. Just find something that works for you. If it's a tweeting, if it's a phone call, start there. Become comfortable with that and work your way up to talking to a lawmaker face to face when you're ready. Jump in and find what you're comfortable with. And don't let anybody take your voice away." And she was a Missouri Chapter leader at Mom's Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. 

[00:50:52] Anna: That's a great quote. And don't let anybody take your voice away. Love that. And your comfort zone stretches. It grows. So yeah, if it's a small comfort zone to start, like you said, that's okay. Take that first step and watch yourself over time. Watch how that grows. Actually someone out on the podcast before, she described it as stretchy pants.

[00:51:13] Cynthia: Oh I like 

[00:51:13] Anna: Comfort zone is like pants. 

[00:51:17] Cynthia: Yep. 

[00:51:18] Anna: Is there anything else that you wanted to cover or talk about today that we haven't gotten to?

[00:51:23] Cynthia: I would just leave with something that is related to what we were just talking about, you know, the things that might keep us from speaking out cuz we're not comfortable. And at the very start of this, we were talking about imposter syndrome a little bit. I wanna leave people with the notion today of me telling you that you are an expert in your own feelings and your own story, and we need you. I wrote this book to build a movement of moms and others because we need more voices and many diverse voices. Not just me. Not just people like me. We need you, and that's what I'd like to leave people with today.

[00:52:03] Anna: Goosebumps. That's wonderful note to end on. Thank you for that. And I second that we need you. 

[00:52:13] Overdub: And now for: the “feminism gets a bad wrap because the narrative has been just a bit one-sided" corner.

[00:52:20] Anna: So now for some rapid fire questions to wrap up. These are questions I ask every guest at the end, what does feminism mean to you?

[00:52:32] Cynthia: I subscribe to the definition of feminism saying that we want equality. We're not asking for more, we're asking for equal. And I also would say that somewhere in feminism, to me, it also means pride in being a woman and we can accomplish together.

[00:52:51] Anna: We can, yeah, we can accomplish a lot. What is one of your earliest memories of gender? A time when you realized the world didn't treat girls and boys the same?

[00:53:03] Cynthia: It is tough to reach all the way back. I do have one moment, and you know, I, I don't know if this is the very first one, but it's an early one for sure. So I was born in 1971, which means that I was you know, quite young when Star Wars first came. And I remember being on the playground and like that was the thing that was going on, that everybody was playing Star Wars because the trilogies went on quite some time. So it wasn't just the first movie, this is probably around Empire Time, but wanted to play Star Wars and was specifically told that there was only room for one girl to play because we, they could only have a Princess Leia. And my classmate named Leah was already there, so sorry, you can't. And then like, if I got there first and Leah wasn't there, then I could play Princess Leia and it was just such a crappy thing.

[00:54:03] And, even at the time, I knew that it was injustice but didn't do anything about it. And I was amazed that when I was a mom and had a kid in elementary school, the prequels came out and my kid, who is non-binary by the way, but at the time was recognized as female, and was told that they couldn't play Star Wars because only boys played Star Wars. I'm like, are we still doing this? But I was very happy when the teacher said that my kid just found a different solution and my kid decided to be At-At Walker one of the big, um, military transports. And I'm like, wow, they had a better solution than I did. 

[00:54:49] Anna: Yeah. Wow. That's a wild story that that happened to you and then the exact same thing to your child. Crazy. 

[00:54:59] Cynthia: Crazy. Yeah. I am hoping that this does not happen to my kids' kids because now we have the movies that came out after that that have Ray piloting the Falcon and Rose and just a lot of great female characters.

[00:55:15] Anna: Yeah. times a charm. Let's see how that goes. 

[00:55:23] Cynthia: Kinda derailed your speed round, didn't it? Sorry.

[00:55:25] Anna: Oh no, know, I should just stop calling these rapid fire. It never is. These aren't really rapid fire questions, let's be honest. Um, the last non rapid fire question before they do speed up slightly is what is story of woman to you?

[00:55:43] Cynthia: Uh, I think it is a story of persistence and adaptability. I oddly learned more about the patriarchy from my kids being in high school. I think they had a much better world history um, education than I did. And I just became more aware of it as an adult. And, you can see it throughout history and you can also see it just in our, our personal relationships, our marriages and our jobs that a lot of times women just, we just adapt. We just adapt and change and do what needs to be done, which is the persistence piece. 

[00:56:23] Anna: Yep. Great answer. Great answer. And, and a few more that are a bit more rapid. Uh, what are you reading right now? 

[00:56:31] Cynthia: So I am loving The Murder Bot books. It's wonderful science fiction series and you don't see a lot of women science fiction writers that are being lifted up. So I want to lift up that series. And I cannot remember the name of the author, so we'll have to look that up if it's going in the uh, in the notes. I'll put it in the show notes. We can the author. Um, and do you have any one book that you recommend, a favorite or any book you wanna shout out, other than yours of course.

[00:57:03] Yeah, there's one I read a lot of fancy science fiction and comic books just to keep my mind off of some of the heavier work that I do. But on the other hand, I will recommend reading that is important for us all to do. And there's a book by Ibram Kennedy, How to be an anti-Racist that I think that everybody should be reading.

[00:57:24] Anna: Me too.

[00:57:26] Cynthia: Yeah.

[00:57:27] Anna: And then I always ask if there's anything that you're working on that you would like to share. You mentioned a book you're working on with your oldest. Yeah.

[00:57:37] Cynthia: I would say that I'm working on, you know, pushing this book out there and trying to, get into advocacy organizations and other places like parent organizations and other places where I can bring this message out. So I'm working on my, speaking engagements. And then this other book, the working title is Raise Your Outside Voice: Why kids Make Great Advocates, and How To Get Started. So 

[00:58:04] Anna: a great title.

[00:58:05] Cynthia: Well, I hope we keep it, it's slightly problematic because sometimes like to use the words like, speak out better than particularly voice, because I don't wanna be ableist about it for people who don't have an actual voice, it's such a mom phrase, like, use your inside voice. 

[00:58:23] Anna: Yeah. 

[00:58:23] Cynthia: So sometimes we need to get loud. It's more metaphorical. 

[00:58:26] Anna: Yeah, that's what I had thought of. was taking back to childhood with the raise your voice. Inside voice. Outside voice. Oh, great. And then where can you so that we can see when this book comes out?

[00:58:40] Cynthia: The easiest place is to go to my website, which is www changyit.com. That's my maiden name, C H A N G Y I T, and that has information about my speaking. You can buy an autographed copy from this book here, although it is a little difficult to get it to the uk. As we talked about before, I think you got it from Amazon, and that was just easier, right?

[00:59:06] Anna: Yeah. Yeah. It was. 

[00:59:09] Cynthia: Sometimes it's like, Oh, we wanna support independent bookstores and things like that, but, oh man, Amazon is easier for international. 

[00:59:16] Anna: I know, but top tip, if you do smile.amazon.co uk or.com or whatever, you can choose an organization and a small percentage of what you purchase will go to that to make yourself feel a little bit better for buying from Amazon for these moments where you really want Cynthia's book and you are not in the US and this

[00:59:36] Cynthia: I think I remember hearing that you could choose Results as ah things you could support advocacy. 

[00:59:43] Anna: There you go. could be your first step. You buy the book and your supporting advocacy. And then you join. And then you join. Lovely. Amazing. Thank you so much for your time today, Cynthia. This has been such a pleasure.

[01:00:00] Cynthia: Thank you. This was a blast and I, please extend thanks to mom for connecting us.

[01:00:07] Anna: Mom, if out there... lovely. 

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Cynthia Changyit Levin
Cynthia Changyit Levin
Author of From Changing Diapers to Changing the World