60. Alternatives to Police: Responding to Mental Health Crises

Rundown

In this episode, Mexie sits down with Rachel Bromberg and Asante Haughton of the Reach Out Response Network in Toronto to talk about their work, which is revolutionizing crisis response in the city. Rachel and Asante are working to actualize a paradigm shift away from coercive, forceful, police-led intervention towards an anti-oppressive, trauma-informed model that will empower individuals in crisis and promote their dignity, autonomy, self-determination, and resilience.

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[MUSIC] 

F1:  How can we not only discover more compassionate relations with human beings but how can we develop compassionate relations with the other creatures with whom we share this planet?

F2:  There’s an us before the wound, there’s an us before oppression, and to me pleasure is the way that we tap down into that.

F3:  We live in capitalism.  Its power seems inescapable.  So did the divine right of kings.

MEXIE:  What is up everyone?  New year, new channel art, and new music.  Thank you so much to the incredibly talented Meneka Repka of Nooch Design Co.  That’s @noochdesignco on Instagram for the new channel art.  We absolutely love it.  This is Rodney, the anti-fascist raccoon.  Just absolutely love that.  Thank you also to the incredibly talented LaborKyle for the new intro music featuring some of the revolutionary women that we look up to the most.  We just absolutely love that as well.  LaborKyle is @laborkyle on Twitter and on YouTube and he’s making just absolute masterpieces on YouTube, so definitely go check those out.  Labor spelled in the American way.  Yeah, we’re just excited about the fresh, new face of the podcast, the fresh, new sounds of the podcast and we’re starting the year off by talking to Rachel and Asante of the Reach Out Response Network in Toronto.

This is a network dedicated to revolutionizing crisis response, basically moving away from having police be the responders to crises like mental health crises, moving away from police doing things like mental health checks or wellness checks because we know that those can go horribly awry.  You’re just escalating a situation that is already incredibly volatile.  Instead, the network and the project puts money into communities and funds community-led teams of mental health professionals and people who are of the community and know the community and are for the community to respond to things like this and to actually help people who are going through crises.  I cannot sing the praises of this project enough.  I think it’s fantastic.  I think you all will really enjoy the interview.

They talk about how this kind of model might be replicated in other places around the world, so if this is of interest to organizers, please keep listening.  Before we dive into the interview, I just want to shout out the new patrons for this month.  This is a donor-funded show.  We rely on the generous donations of patrons, people like you to keep the show going.  If you have just two dollars per month to spare, you can get access to the Total Liberation Discord server where myself, Kathrin, and Mad Blender host bimonthly political chats.  Those are going really well.  We really love having those.  You can sign up to be a sustaining member at patreon.com/veganvanguard or you can give us a one-time tip and donation via PayPal, or you can share our episodes with friends and family and most of all, give us a rating and review on iTunes or whatever podcast app that you listen to.

That really, really helps increase our reach, keeps us relevant, keeps us on the charts and yeah, you’re just helping to spread the message that we put out farther and wider by giving us ratings and reviews, positive ones.  Don’t give us negative ones.  We don’t want those.  So, thank you to new patrons Amanda Reilly, Jim McStanton, Jasper, Melanie Curtin, Madeline, Ed Scherrer, Gabriel, and Cait Fahy.  I’m not sure exactly how to pronounce that but thank you, Cait.  Thank you to everyone who has become a sustaining member.  We appreciate it so much.  We are working to have our episodes transcribed and also it would help to pay for the new — the makeover of the show, so that’s fantastic.  I think that is all for now.  Without further ado, let’s get into this interview.  [MUSIC]

ASANTE:  What’s going on, everybody?  My name is Asante Haughton.  I am a mental health advocate.  I work at a mental health organization called Stella’s Place in Toronto.  I’m also the co-founder of the Reach Out Response and we’ll say a little bit more about what that is in a little bit.  That’s what this whole thing’s gonna be about.  Beyond that, my advocacy is in mental health along the lines of mental health space, poverty, homelessness, athletics, music, a lot of different things.  I wear many hats and I find myself in many interesting places with many interesting people and I’m grateful to be here with both Rachel and Mexie and anyone listening.  Thank you.

RACHEL:  Hi, everyone.  My name is Rachel Bromberg.  I am the other co-founder of the Reach Out Response Network.  I am also the Canadian national coordinator of the International Mobile Services Association which is a service provider’s network connecting folks across Canada and the United States who are building civilian-led crisis response teams in our community or in our — each of our communities, I guess.  I also have been working in mental health for about seven years now and I am a law student also.  I’m really happy to be here.

MEXIE:  Amazing.  Yeah, I’m so excited to have this conversation with you.  I think the project that you’re both heading up is just absolutely amazing.  I guess first to kind of set the scene for people, let’s talk first about the police and about mental health, so could you give us an overview of what kinds of mental health crises are police being dispatched to deal with and what have been the results of police intervention?

ASANTE:  Yeah, well, as of right now, I think in our society, at least westernized society, I think I feel confident talking about, we sort of dispatch police as a one-sized-fits-all problem-solver for virtually anything that’s not a fire or anything that requires immediate medical attention for a physical presentation or a physical issue.  In terms of what sorts of crises police are being dispatched for in terms of mental health, I mean, a lot of different things, a wide variety of things, everything from folks who might be experiencing suicidality or self-harm or those sorts of things to maybe things like someone’s hearing voices or maybe there are delusions happening or there are behaviors that we might consider or perceive as strange or different, so we might call the people we know to call right now which are the police.

A lot of those things and also other presentations.  Sometimes it is a physical issue.  Sometimes it is someone who’s going through a diabetic crisis that sometimes can look like a mental heath crisis, or sometimes it is someone experiencing the effects of substance use or those sorts of things, right?  There are a broad variety of things that police are summoned for in terms of dealing with people who are in crisis or some level or high levels of distress.  For us, we sort of took a look at it as what are the outcomes in these interactions?  How many calls, first of all, are happening to — where police are being called because someone is in distress or a crisis of some sort, and then what are the outcomes, and are those outcomes satisfactory?

I know there’s been a lot of talk here in Toronto and here in Canada about mental health and wellness checks and police showing up and people dying.  There have been some high-profile cases here of people within this past year in 2020; black folks and indigenous folks and other people of color dying during police interactions, sometimes violently or sometimes in the ways that have thus far been unexplained.  A lot of times, people — what we’ve heard are people really setting the bar at did someone die or get hurt which of course is very important for us to be looking at but we want to take it farther than that and say, obviously, we don’t want people to die.  Obviously, we don’t want people to be hurt but more than that, we want people to get a service that is useful to them that can help set them on a path toward a recovery that’s meaningful.

RACHEL:  Yeah, and I think what we’ve heard from the community — we’ve done a whole bunch of community consultations to hear about what people’s experiences have been with police or with existing services when they’ve been in crisis.  What we’ve heard really consistently from folks is that police response when they’re in crisis often makes people feel like criminals.  They feel ashamed, they feel stigmatized, they feel afraid, and that having police as first responders to a mental health crisis makes people less likely to reach out for help, particularly those folks from racialized communities that have historically and currently had really difficult relationships with police.

MEXIE:  Yeah, that makes perfect sense, right?  I think in a lot of cases it can really escalate the situation but clearly, as you said, I think there could be a lot more positive and productive outcomes that we should be reaching for.  So, how and when did you form Reach Out Toronto as an organization and how is your project developing an alternative to this?

RACHEL:  Asante and I used to work together at Stella’s Place before I started law school and both of us have been working with folks in crisis for a number of years and for me in particular, I’ve been working at suicide prevention services or suicide intervention services, I guess, for a few years.  Something that I noticed was a lot of the times when I was talking to folks who were in crisis, who were thinking about suicide, they would not want to share with me about how they were feeling or the extent of their suicidal ideation because they were concerned that I would then call 911 and police would show up.  Some of these folks had had negative experiences with police in the past and they didn’t want to replicate those experiences, or some of them hadn’t but had heard stories and were afraid.

I really saw this as police response to mental health crisis as acting as a barrier for people telling their stories and getting the help that they need.  When Asante and I were working together at Stella’s Place, we had a lot of conversations about this problem.  Both of us sort of thought hey, we can do something about this problem.  There are probably other places around the world that are doing a better job at responding to crisis than we are here at Toronto.  There are probably other systems and other models that are doing better.  This was about two years ago now.  We started doing some research to learn about alternative crisis response services and we discovered that indeed there were a number of other cities that were doing a much better job at responding to crisis.

We learned about the CAHOOTS Program in Eugene, Oregon which has been around for thirty-one years now.  They are a completely non-police response to mental health crisis.  They are integrated into the existing emergency system.  They’re dispatched to be on 911.  What their team is, is they pair a mental health crisis worker who could be a peer worker or a mental health clinician, just someone who knows how to work with people in crisis and a medic who can focus on physical health needs that folks might have.  They send out the medic and the crisis worker to respond to crisis rather than sending out police.  Eugene, Oregon is a much smaller city than Toronto.  It’s about 170,000 people and what they found is that over time, CAHOOTS is able to answer between 17% and 20% of all 911 calls in that city.

Last year, 2019, they responded to 24,000 calls.  We really compare that to the City of Toronto which is much, much larger where police are responding to 30,000 mental health calls every year, so we really saw that there was this alternative model that CAHOOTS in Eugene was using that other cities like Olympia, Washington and Denver, Colorado and Stockholm, Sweden and Austin, Texas and many other cities also had these alternative models.  We really wanted to present these kinds of models to the City of Toronto as possibilities that we should be incorporating as well.  At the time, two years ago when we started doing this work, there wasn’t a lot of interest.  The basic conception among the people in power was everything’s fine, what we have is working, and we don’t need to make any changes.

That really started to change earlier this year when five Canadians in mental health crisis died or were killed during when they were in crisis and police responded, over a period of about ten weeks which in Canada is quite unusual.  That was quite a large number of people who were experiencing really bad outcomes and dying during these kinds of responses.  All of a sudden the City of Toronto completely did a 180 and suddenly became very interested in alternative crisis response services.  There was a motion made in council by the mayor.  It was passed unanimously by all city counselors to commission a report on how to build this alternative crisis service.  That was in June of this year.  They voted to commission this report but no one within the city really had any expertise on how to do this kind of project in terms of a non-police mental health emergency service because it was brand-new.

They hadn’t thought about it before.  The motion had passed really quickly.  That’s when Asante and I were like hey, we have a whole bunch of experience and knowledge about how to do this.  We’ve connected with tons of cities all across Canada and the US that have built these kinds of teams or are in the process of building these kinds of teams.  We know how to do this.  We can help you.  So, that sort of started us on this period of exponential growth.  In May of this year, it was literally just me and Asante and we officially incorporated our organization as the Reach Out Response Network in July.  Basically by this point it’s me, Asante, and 400 other people who are — who had become part of our network, who are volunteering with us, who are helping us with research, with communications, with all of the different things that we’re doing.

We’ve put together six advisory panels of folks with lived experience, of black folks, indigenous folks, of family members of people with lived experience, of service providers.  We secured a contract with the City of Toronto to do a whole bunch of community consultations.  We did eighteen town halls, 120 individual interviews, and two large surveys over a period of about three months.  We spoke with black folks, indigenous folks, deaf folks, autistic folks, folks experiencing homelessness, folks with developmental disabilities, high school students, lots of people whose voices are not typically heard in building these kinds of services but who we identified as really important because they’re often the people who are using these services.

We spoke to close to 1,000 people and we put together a 92-page report outlining our proposed model, both in terms of all the consultations we’d done, what we were hearing from the community, and in terms of the research we’d done on what we see as the best practices internationally and what works in other cities.  We basically proposed to the city that they build a civilian-led mental health emergency service that would be staffed by mental health workers and peer supporters from the communities they serve that would be integrated into 911 dispatch as well as accessible through its own three-digit number, because we know that some folks are not — they don’t trust the 911 dispatch system and they want another number to call.

But we also know that 911 is the number that people know and 911 is — it’s really important if you want to divert calls away from the police that you’re able to divert them at the source and the source is 911.  We recommended that these new teams be available 24/7 across the city with immediate response times just like other emergency services; just like police, just like fire, just like ambulance.  Our vision is that these civilian-led teams will replace police response to mental health crisis.  Where we’re at with that now is we’re doing a lot of political networking.  We’re working with the city to advocate for this model and the model that we’ve proposed has I think to this point been mostly adopted by the city and their propose — or by the city staff we’re working with and this proposal is going to go to city council in Toronto in early February and it’s gonna be voted on.  There’s a pilot that is being planned to start in January, 2022.  So, we’re excited.

MEXIE:  Wow, that’s absolutely fantastic.  Yeah, that’s so exciting.  Sorry, did you say that up until May of this year it was still just you and Asante but then since…

ASANTE:  Yeah.

MEXIE:  Wow, and since then it’s gone up to 400 people.

RACHEL:  Yeah.  People have been really excited and wanting to get involved.  We had an article that was published about us in the Toronto Star which is the big newspaper in Toronto.  We got so many people e-mailing us being like, this is a great idea.  I want to help.

MEXIE:  Yeah.  Wow, unbelievable.  I guess that kinda ties into — I had a question I was gonna ask later on but that you’ve obviously been at this for a while.  You said you started this a couple of years ago but since the very publicized murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Regis Korchinski-Paquet here in Toronto, there’s been this growing call to defund the police or even abolish the police.  Do you find that that’s largely what helped during this current moment, like during the summer to have a lot more politicians and citizens in general be more open and welcoming of your project?

ASANTE:  I think the short answer to that is yes, but I — within that is a lot of nuance in the sense of — I think that oftentimes we talk about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and then we start talking about Regis up here in Toronto, and I think sometimes those issues get conflated because when we look at George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, those are police brutality issues.  Then we look at Regis Korchinski-Paquet and the other higher-profile names; DiAndre Campbell and the other names — I won’t list them all, but those are mental health things that escalated into police brutality or at least situations where people lost their lives.  So, out of all of that, yeah, of course the Defund the Police or Abolish the Police movement, it kinda took hold for a little bit there and there are protests all over the planet.

Everyone kinda started to see the world in a different way in terms of highlighting the kinds of discrimination that does occur for a lot of non-white folks in society, in westernized society in particular.  It created kind of a political wave of politicians wanting to do a lot of things differently.  For us, we don’t really see what we are doing as a Defund the Police or Abolish the Police initiative.  It’s moreso getting the people who are best able and best equipped to serve folks who are in a crisis or a lot of distress, getting people to conserve those people to be the ones serving those people.

As I was saying earlier, we’ve relied on police for so long to be those people who serve people in distress, but the reality is that police are trained for a much different thing and it’s doing a disservice to police officers as well as those being served by police officers to expect them to take all of the things that they’ve been trained for, to put that aside and then to act in completely different ways while still wearing the uniform, while still wearing the bulletproof vest, while still carrying the gun, and to have useful and positive outcomes for people who are in distress.  I think a window was opened by all of the deaths here in Canada but also in the states.  Those things of course got a little blurred together.  For us, with that window of opportunity, it’s been an opportunity for us to amplify the conversation that we want to have about folks who are in crisis and in distress and how we can best serve them and serve them in the best ways possible.

MEXIE:  Mm-hm.  So, I guess talk a bit about this model.  What would it look like to take an anti-oppressive and trauma-informed approach to mental health crises?

RACHEL:  For us, an anti-oppressive trauma-informed approach is really about focusing on the needs of the people actually using the service and what they need in a particular moment to feel safe and those qualitative outcomes.  A lot of the times when we’re talking about these kinds of teams, people talk about things like hospital diversion or diversion away from the criminal justice system or cost-savings or things like that.  Those things are important but what’s more important in, I guess, our opinion, is the person who is receiving the service; do they feel safe and comfortable and supported?  Did they feel like they’re being respected?  Did they feel like their autonomy and dignity are being promoted?  Did they feel like they’re being seen as a person rather than just a problem or a symptom or a diagnosis?

Did they feel like they’re being coerced?  Did they feel unsafe?  Did they feel afraid or did they feel calmer?  Did they feel like this was a good experience?  Did they feel like they would call this service again or would they call this service for a friend if a friend was in crisis?  Those are the things that we really care about.  We think it’s really important that we know — one of the things we heard from the community when we did all these consultations was that a lot of services that exist right now are just not resourced sufficiently well to give people the actual time and space they need when they’re in a crisis to be able to share their story and calm down and deescalate really at their own pace.  We think that that’s something that’s really important.

It can take — especially for people who’ve experienced trauma, it can take a long time to build trust especially when someone is in crisis.  It can take a long time to help them feel safe enough to even think about what are the next steps here to be safe, so making sure that that’s built into the system.  I think one way of doing that and building the system in that way is to make sure that people with lived experience, people who have had their own mental health challenges are incorporated into all levels of the organization including in leadership positions and including working on the front lines of these teams because those are the people who really know what it’s like to be in crisis, what is helpful for folks who are in crisis and of course who also have lots of training in deescalating these kinds of situations and providing resources and things like that.  But those are the folks who are really able to form a really genuine connection with service users and know how to support them most effectively.

MEXIE:  Yeah, absolutely.  I’m wondering about some of the logistics.  Like I was saying just before we started recording, this podcast has a global audience so I’m wondering if there’s anyone listening who are organizers or are interested in maybe replicating a model like this in their city, I guess take us through some of the logistics, right?  You stressed the importance of the response teams being civilian-led and community-based, so how are responders chosen?  I guess they are working for the city, so they would be salaried but yeah, tell us a bit more about this model and how it could be potentially replicated elsewhere.

RACHEL:  Yeah, so there are a few different models that kind of do the same thing but it just depends on what the city chooses.  So, one way would be to have the new service run directly through the city, so some cities like Albuquerque or Chattanooga, I think also Northampton, Massachusetts, a few other places — oh, and Sacramento.  Of course, Sacramento.  What they’ve done is just created a brand-new city department to operate these services.  The staff of the teams would be city employees.  Toronto’s doing this a little bit different than that.  It’s more similar to the CAHOOTS model but expanded.  So, what Toronto is gonna be doing is contracting with a number of different agencies.  They call them anchor agencies to operate the service.

One of the advantages of that is that you’re choosing agencies that have built trust in the communities that they’re in that already have expertise in providing mental healthcare, for example, to particular populations.  The city would sort of set standards in terms of what is the service doing and there would still be one number for all of the different teams to be accessed.  But you would have those agencies that would be hiring and employing the people that are on the front lines.  That’s one way to do it.  In terms of — so, we’ve seen some models that are — I mean, a small number of models that are volunteer-led and those models are not nearly as effective as the ones that have paid staff.

We think particularly when we’re employing peer workers, it’s really important to make sure that these are real jobs, good jobs that pay reasonable salaries with good benefits.  That’s really important just in terms of retention for your staff and also recognizing this is a really emotionally challenging job.  You’re working with people at some of the darkest moments of their lives, so making sure that you have adequate support for your staff is really important.  Then another thing that I just want to sort of flag for anyone who might be interested in bringing this kind of model to their communities, what we see from the research is that having a model that is integrated into existing public safety infrastructure, in particular 911 dispatch, is really important because like I said before, if you want to make sure that these calls are not continuing to go to the police, that they’re being diverted away from police to a new service, that there needs to be a way to divert those calls at the source.

What we’ve seen is that models that just have their own separate ten-digit number that are operated completely separately, they can make some difference on the margins for people who know about them but what we know from the data is the majority of people who are calling 911 about someone in a mental health crisis, it’s not the person themselves that’s calling.  It’s someone else.  Those folks, about 30% of the time, it’s just a bystander.  It’s not someone who even knows the person in crisis.  It’s just a person who sees something going on, maybe behavior that they classify in their mind as odd behavior, concerning behavior, and they call 911 about that.  What is really important to us, rather than sort of creating a two-tiered system where you have the high-information consumers; those people call the non-police service and then all the other people get the police, we really want to make sure that the service is integrated so that everyone gets the non-police service and there aren’t these kinds of biases.

MEXIE:  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.  So, right now it’s mostly a Toronto thing.  Do you see this perhaps being taken up across Ontario or more broadly across Canada, or…?

RACHEL:  Yeah.  There are lots of teams particularly in the US.  The US has been more progressive on this than Canada which is a weird sentence to say, I think.  But there are lots of cities across the US and Canada that are in the process of building these kinds of teams, and lots of teams that we know about in the United States that have either just launched — San Francisco launched their team a few weeks ago — or that are going to be launching their team soon.  So, Sacramento will be launching soon, New York City will be launching their team in February, Houston is gonna be launching their team soon, Portland is either — recently has or is about to, Oakland, California as well.  We’ve gotten e-mails from lots of different people in other cities in Ontario that have been interested in hearing more about our work because they want to bring something similar to their city, and there have been a number of motions at various city councils; I think in Durham, I think in Peel, maybe in York region, too.  There are some places near-ish Toronto and then Ottawa and a few other places that are interested in also building these kinds of teams.

MEXIE:  That’s fantastic, yeah.  I’m someone who — I suffered from depression and I — there was a period of my life where I did have suicidal ideation or I was suicidal but like you said, I didn’t feel comfortable even telling my therapist that because I had it in my mind that that meant that she would need to call the police and that I was gonna be committed or something like that, so I do think that changing the way that we approach these things would make it a lot easier for people to come forward and to get the help that they really need, so I think that’s absolutely fantastic.  You mentioned that you had written a 92-page report.  Is that something that is for internal use only or is that something that maybe other organizers could take a look at, or…?

RACHEL:  Great question.  We didn’t plant this question, for the record.  It’s on our website so if you want to go to our website, reachouttoronto.ca, there is a page — I think the page is called the Resources page and our report is available there.  We also have — for people who don’t want to read a 92-page document, there is a 7-page summary of that document also on our website.

MEXIE:  Fantastic.  You’ve thought of it all.

RACHEL:  Yes.

MEXIE:  Okay, so you mentioned that I guess Toronto’s gonna be voting on this in February, so that’s amazing.  You also mentioned that there’s a lot of people who are reaching out who are interested in helping.  Just wondering for anyone who’s listening to this who might be in the Toronto area or in Ontario or in general, how can people who are interested support and help to advance this work?

RACHEL:  That is another great question.  So, our website, again, a good place to start; reachouttoronto.ca.  There’s a form there if you want to volunteer with us.  You don’t need to be in Toronto to volunteer with us.  We have folks across Canada and in parts of the US who are volunteering with us as well.  You can follow us on social media.  We are @reachout_to on Twitter and Instagram.  Asante, what’s our Facebook thing?

ASANTE:  What is Facebook?  I mean, you can look us up; Reach Out Toronto.  Reach Out Response Network Toronto, so throw that in the search bar.  You’ll be able to find us.

RACHEL:  Yeah, and we have some events that’ll be again on our website on our Events page.  You can also donate to us.  We are entirely volunteer-run but we do provide honoraria to our advisory panels, especially for our black folks, indigenous folks, and service-users.  So, that, again, through our website.  We also do a lot of different presentations for community groups so if you want us to do a presentation for a group that you’re a part of that might be interested in hearing more about our work, you can e-mail us at hello@reachouttoronto.ca.  For those of you who are not in Toronto but might be interested in starting up a similar organization or advocating for a similar team to be built in your city, please reach out to me.  I will share all the information I have and all the resources I have and all of the research we’ve done.  Super-happy to help.

MEXIE:  Oh my gosh.  Amazing.

RACHEL:  Yeah, and for people who are in Toronto, call or e-mail your city counselor and tell them that you support the work we’re doing or give a deposition at the — when this is gonna be voted on at council, give a deposition or give a deposition to the Toronto Police Services Board also and tell them that you believe in the work that we’re doing.

MEXIE:  Yeah, fantastic.  I’ll put all the links to all of your social media and your e-mail address in the description box for this episode so people can check that out and definitely reach out.  So, that’s all the questions that I had.  Is there anything else that you would like to add or bring up before we end this conversation?

ASANTE:  I think for me, I mean obviously the first thing is thank you for having us on and for giving us a platform to talk about what we’re doing.  Apart from that, we — I think in terms of what we’ve been able to do, there are a lot of lessons to learn here for a lot of us who do care about things passionately and do want to advocate.  I’ve been thinking a lot; people often ask us how did you do it?  I’ve been thinking a lot about how did we do it?  It really did start with us talking at work a lot about just this issue that we cared about, doing a lot of research.  We were kind of ready for — people say the right — being in the right place at the right time, and we were kind of ready for that because there had been a lot of conversations between us about this issue.  Rachel had done a bunch of research.

Both of us had been making a bunch of connections, so when it came time to actually start moving, we had a good foundation.  That being said, we’ve been figuring a lot of things out on the fly as we go but it really started with our passion and then just kind of doing things and tweeting out to our followers about this issue and getting them on board first and then them telling their people and getting a whole ripple effect going.  From that, it turned into a lot of community engagement.  We set up — we made it easy for people to be able to share their opinions with their local politicians and leaders by setting up an e-mail tool called an e-mail Zap which essentially — it’s kind of like a Change.org petition kinda thing where you have the choice or not to write your own personal message, but you sign the thing and it goes off to your local politicians.

The politicians started hearing about us and what we were talking about that way.  It just created this groundswell of engagement both politically but also in a variety of different communities.  The rest was kind of pushed by the folks who started to engage with us.  We just kind of did the work after that and did a lot of engaging and cold-calling and, well, these days cold e-mailing politicians and other leaders and asking for advice and sharing what we knew and what we had.  It all just started to coalesce and become the thing that it is now.  I say all this to say to others that if there is something you care about, you really can make a difference if you really set your mind to it and put a good strategy behind it, engage others who are passionate, but also don’t be afraid to engage with politicians and those who have influence and cachet and things like that, because you’d be surprised how willing they would be to talk about the thing that you care about as long as you approach them relatively nicely about it.  Behind-the-scenes, a lot of the folks that we see on TV giving speeches are actually really easy to talk about when you have them one-on-one, or to talk to, rather.

MEXIE:  Yeah, that’s such a fantastic message.  There’s so many listeners that feel like they’re interested in doing something but they can’t really figure out what or sometimes people feel like there’s just not that much they can actually do.  Like, they have big ideas but they don’t feel that within this current society that they can make that much change and I think that yeah, this just really goes to show you that if you follow your passions and just start where you are, right; you both just started just the two of you starting where you are doing the research, putting ideas out there, and then everything just kind of snowballed from there, so that’s just absolutely amazing and really encouraging for anyone who has ideas about ways that they want to change the way that we’re doing things to help people.

That’s, yeah, really inspirational.  Thank you so much for sharing that.  Thank you so much for coming on the show.  This was really amazing and I think that people are really gonna like this episode and get a lot out of it and I hope that this kind of model starts to just spread like wildfire all across the world and that yeah, we can really change the way that we’re responding to these kind of crises.  So, thank you so much.

ASANTE:  Thank you.  We really appreciate it.

RACHEL:  Yeah, thank you so much for having us.

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