Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Pareto Principle and the Radio Show Host

When I started this blog, I didn't want it to be like my more casual blog. I wanted to write when I had something of importance to say...or at least something more important than yet more rage over the current US political snafu or what I had for lunch today. Regretfully, I've not been struck with a lot of inspiration lately. At least not until tonight.

I was listening to a replay of The Derek and Romaine Show on Sirius/XM this evening (or morning. For me, they're one and the same). It seems that there's a big biking fundraiser coming up, and the show's producer is participating. So far, so good, right?

The hosts are trying to use the show to boost donations for the producer. Again, so far, so good, right?

So tonight, on a community service segment, the organizers of the event appeared. Shortly after, the hosts learned that their producer was in third place in the donation tallies, with 225 people having donated about twenty two thousand dollars, falling short of the leader's thirty four thousand...and one of the co-hosts staged a fifteen minute tantrum on the air. Among the sea of Mommie Dearestesque notions like "after all we've done for [our listeners], you can't even give enough to make us first place?" Romaine Patterson made a statement along these lines: This is just like how it goes in our community--a few people do all the work and everyone else does nothing!

Ah, the Pareto Principle--the over-achiever's best friend and enabler for over one hundred years! It's the notion that in a group, 20% will do most of the work while 80% do little, if anything. Realistically, it's more along the lines that 20% will consolidate what they need to make themselves look efficient compared to the other 80%--classic power politics and all-purpose interpersonal shenanigans.

Having tried to volunteer several times since moving to Raleigh, I felt that a letter was in order...


Where do you get off making comments in your little rant tonight that a majority of people in our community don't help carry the load? Even if we remove it from the context of you trying to (yet again) use your listeners to get some press and attention for your show, who gave you the right to cast judgement? Has it occurred to you that because of patronizing and condescending attitudes like yours that people don't get involved more in community service?

I'm a teacher by trade and education. In 1992, I saw a PSA and answered the call to education. I worked and borrowed my way through two master's degrees--one in my discipline and one in educational theory--and up to the dissertation phase of a doctorate. I worked as a graduate teaching assistant and later as an adjunct, as I worked on my latter graduate schooling. I taught high school for two years before I realized that I wasn't a good fit at my school and sought work elsewhere. By then, the recession had started, and because of our country's mindset of teaching as the ultimate fallback profession, the vacant jobs had long since been filled by white collar professionals who lost their jobs in the first wave of the recession in 2007 and 2008. In mid 2009, I was informed that my part time, temporary employer--a Florida community college--could no longer retain me, and I moved to North Carolina, where I had the safety net of promised shelter waiting for me. I spent the rest of the year looking for work, unsuccessfully.

In my second year of complete unemployment (no part time jobs, no temp jobs, nothing), 2010, I turned to volunteering--if for nothing else than a way to give myself some structure. Ideally, it appealed to that giving and helping instinct that teaching once fed. Having been "raised" by 80's era activists when I came out, I turned my attention to my own community.

I first approached the Raleigh GLBT center. Having answered a call for volunteers to write for a newsletter--one that the then-center director wanted to organize to try and shut down another local activist who ran a listserv, whose opinions he didn't agree with--I walked into the office and was met by suspicious glares from a group of men and women assembled there. Let me paint you a picture of what I look like: late thirties, six feet tall, three hundred pounds, thick glasses, bearded, and ponytailed. I spent several minutes in the collected group, trying to participate in the conversation, before a woman asked who I was and why I was there. It turns out that a local AIDS fundraising group, the Crape Myrtle Festival--known locally for their expensive and exclusive events--were having a meeting at the same time as the newsletter meeting, and I didn't fit in with their view of how a gay man should look. She went to the back to talk to the director when I told her that I was there for a meeting. Through an open door, I heard her say that "someone who looks like he doesn't belong here" was in the front room, asking about a newsletter meeting. The director left his office, not having realized that he scheduled two meetings at the same time. Suddenly, I realized why no one in the Crepe Myrtle group was even remotely friendly towards me.

Yes. In my own cultural "safe" space, trying to volunteer my time, a straight, bourgeois white woman suggested to Center leadership that I looked like I didn't belong there. Sadly, being a fat male, I've heard that quite a bit in GLBT space since I came out in 1991. Yet I still try to give to the community that doesn't want me...unless there's money to be given or the signature of a legal voter to be put on something.

The newsletter ultimately failed. I produced a single article that was given to the local GLBT paper (without my awareness or consent) to print. I never heard a thing from the GLBT Center again for volunteering.

Around this time (June 2010), I attended a Drag Bingo event, sponsored by the Alliance for AIDS Services-Carolina. Having lost a loved one to the disease, I saw another opportunity to volunteer. I attended an orientation session in July and was tasked with updating the Drag Bingo webpage. For four months, I updated code, replied to urgent requests, and gave nothing but 100% to the Alliance. Then in November, I was called in for a meeting to discuss the website.

It seems that they'd taken on a younger, more attractive volunteer who was going to be doing the Alliance's IT duties--including web development. The director swore that he'd use all of his connections to help me find either other volunteer opportunities or an actual job. Of course, aside from one rigged job interview at the Alliance (they somehow got money to fund an IT job in February, and strangely enough, it went to the volunteer they had...the who bumped me off the webpage), I heard nothing from him. I would email, but they would go unreplied. Finally in May, he sent a snarky reply and cut ties. He didn't even want me volunteering at the Alliance.

I've had two jobs since relocating to North Carolina. I had a job on one of the local college campuses, but I learned last month that in the wake of budget cuts, it's been defunded. Because I was a temp-part timer who was put on summer furrlough, I can't even apply for unemployment. I've also found occasional work as an adjunct at a local private college, but I learned on Friday that I'm going to be laid off in three weeks...after having just come off a six-week layoff in June and July.

So you go a rant because your show's producer is in third place in the donation tallies, raising twenty-two thousand dollars already, but you want her to top the boards so you have bragging rights for being number one? You have the audacity to chide your audience because only 225 people have donated to her? Really? Seriously? After August 26, I don't know where or when my next paycheck is coming from. I can't get unemployment. I can't even get food stamps any more. I'm so sorry that I don't have eight dollars--one for each of your eight years on the air--to send in so that you and your co-host can (yet again) masturbate your egos on the air for work having been done on the backs of your audience.

...And on top of it all, you have the gall to make comments that people in our community don't burden the load.

I don't have a privileged lifestyle that allows me to open a wallet or whip out a debit card on the whim of a narcissistic radio personality. I've tried giving the one thing I have--at this point in time, the only thing I have left--to my community: my time. And my attempts to do that in the Raleigh GLBT community have been met with nothing but thankless resistance, unanswered emails, and unreplied voicemail messages.

Maybe you should try seeking some volunteer work in the area yourself. Do it without dropping your name. Assume a pseudonym, Romaine. Do it without the words "Laramie Project" coming into the conversation. Do it without mentioning the influence or presence of Sirius/XM dishing out free publicity. You and Derek have used your media presence to the point of having an almost unrealistic view of life for people who can't boast media connections. You're like John McCain thinking that produce pickers make fifty dollars an hour--completely disconnected from the working class, much less the (gasp) icky poor people. Be an average, ordinary person, just trying to donate your time to a charity or non profit. You'll see how "easy" it is to volunteer then.

When you see how shittily most charitable organizations and non profits--GLBT, non-GLBT, AIDS, whatever--treat their volunteers, you'll realize why the little people don't get involved--not the monied men and women organizing the black tie fundraisers, but the grunt level volunteers actually making it happen behind the scenes.

When you "volunteer," you get put on a float or in a booth, with a staff of handlers to accommodate you. The rest of us aren't that lucky.

If the privileged men and women in our community stopped wagging their fingers disapprovingly all the time and realized that some of us do what we can and how we can, you might see more of us out there helping. But as long as GLBT community "leaders" treat volunteers like disposable tissues, I wouldn't expect people to come out in droves. Many of us are poor trash, but we still have our dignity.


As the recession continues, I've seen many articles suggesting volunteering as a means of managing the crushing, listless depression of not having steady employment. I honestly don't think that a single author of those articles have even tried seeking volunteer opportunities--at least not on a cold call basis.

...just as it's a buyer's market for employers, it's also a buyer's market for those with volunteer needs. What could be a great boon for American volunteerism (I mean beyond the funded positions that Americorps offers--it seems that's the only volunteering in high demand) is being squandered because charity and non-profit coordinators can't or won't risk using volunteers they see as being over-educated (speaking as someone who has heard that line far too many times in the last two years, I can safely say that what you call "menial" work beats the hell out of unemployment--nothing is as boring as unemployment) or risks for leaving for other jobs. They're squandering incredible resources right now--talented men and women of all skills and social classes.

I honestly believe that the 80's do want to get more involved, but the entitled and obnoxious 20's like Patterson simply make volunteering too difficult, especially considering how most volunteers are treated.