December 6, 2016

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Meghan Arnold’s Advent Activism

What are you working on—on the side?

I recently launched a side project on December 1 called Advent Activism. I was incredibly depressed following the Election. After a week crying in bed and two weeks of being angrier than I’ve ever been, I decided to turn my emotions into action when I was putting up my Christmas decorations.

A couple of years ago, a designer-friend from Germany gifted me a beautiful handmade traditional Adventskalendar with an individual felt stocking for each day. Instead of stuffing it with candy or gag gifts, I was inspired to pick a different charity for each day of the calendar (December 1–24), and make a small donation.

From my time living in a (now) red state (Wisconsin), as well as serving on the board of Walk San Francisco here in California, I know how critically focused local organizations (or chapters of national orgs) can be in “first response” to the social justice needs of states. Since there are 30 red states, I decided to find organizations in each and highlight one each day as well as make a small donation.

I’ll reveal at least one each day of Advent. The focus of the organizations run the gamut from reproductive rights to LGBT youth services to racial justice. My hope is that these folks get some exposure to people in blue states looking for ways to help with direct services in so-called “Middle America.” The first organization I highlighted, HICA (immigrant services in Alabama), followed up, not only with a more in-depth look at their programs, but also to let me know they received three additional donations—thanks to being spotlighted.

Every year, those of us that celebrate, talk at length about finding “the true meaning of Christmas.” I’m not sure if this is it, but it does make me feel a lot better to shine a light on underrepresented voices than to camp out at the mall for deals.

How do you manage to work on your side project(s)?

Just like anything, you need to find a way to make it part of your routine. This project is very important to me, so I try to tackle it as soon as I get up in the morning. A few years ago, I retrained myself to become a morning person. I find that setting aside a couple hours in the morning, before intellectually interacting with other humans, is a great way to make headway on side projects.

For this particular project, since the daily posts are the same format, I’ve been doing my best to try to get a few written and scheduled out in advance so that it gets done. Still, a lot (including making the donations) is something that I want to actively do on its assigned day. I have two Google Docs for the project. I created a process doc, with the daily steps, as well as posts and communications that can be tailored as I go. I also have a gigantic spreadsheet that I set aside an evening to create when I decided to do the project. It has all the organizations for each state, with links, news articles, etc. Makes my life way easier to have researched and prepped BEFORE I began the project. The projects where I jump in and research on the fly always fail. You can’t double the workload for yourself!

Advent Activism also has a very set timeline for the daily stuff, so I know that I’ll get a break in a few weeks. Self-care, y’all.

Finally, I’ve been on a Facebook diet and it’s amazing how much time you get back when you’re not in the endless scroll!

Why have a side project?

It’s a great opportunity to build up new skills or dust off old ones that have been latent for a bit.

In my current role, I don’t do a lot of writing, so it’s nice to have a project to keep up those skills (which admittedly have dulled in the last few years). This particular project also required a tremendous amount of research, which I absolutely love when it’s subject matter I’m fascinated with, like the social justice response to political machinations.

In terms of new skills, I had never mapped a domain to Wordpress before last week (had always been on my list). Also, though I work in design, I’m not a designer, but hope to maybe play around with some of the template stuff once the daily writing is over. If I do this again next year, perhaps it’ll look even better!

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Diptych courtesy of Meghan Arnold.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.

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