Interview with WISC Speaker Courtney Martin
Courtney E. Martin is an author, entrepreneur, and weekly columnist for On Being. Her latest book, The New Better Off, explores how people are re-defining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.
Courtney has authored/edited six books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women, and her work appears frequently in national publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges.
She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her family in a co-housing community called Temescal Commons in Oakland. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.
How did you hear about WISC?
I met board member Helena Ribe at an event that Helen Kornblum through some years ago and immediately fell in love with her generous spirit.
What projects are you working on now?
Raising two babies, writing a weekly column, and doing various entrepreneurial and consulting projects.
You recently spoke at the Aspen Institute’s panel on social factors of health. What was that experience like?
It was amazing. I felt a little like Oprah because they gave me 6 incredible experts and said, "Craft 90 minutes of interesting conversation." So we did everything from discussing how poor people are self-assessing their strengths and needs in Paraguay to thinking about non-communicable diseases in Botswana to discussing how YMCAs have been radical in reshaping communities and health in this country. I love a wide ranging conversation like this.
I read this from you, and found it very evocative and important. “Instead of teaching women/POC to own expertise, should we be spending more time teaching white men to own limitations of their knowledge?” Can you say a little more about this?
I do some work in the philanthropic sector these days and I'm always amazed at how succeeding in business convinces many men (usually white and from privileged backgrounds to begin with) that they know best how activists should be doing their work. It occurs to met hat I've dedicated much of my energy to making sure that women and POC take up more space, and perhaps I should spend more time (or recruit my husband) to helping men like these see the limitations of their own knowledge.
Name 3 inspiring women.
my mom, Jere Martin
Ai Jen Poo
What are you reading?
YA fiction - The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
What can help millennials and boomers to more effectively communicate?
Don't seek perfection, but endurance. If we can build resilient, gracious relationships, we can weather the generational disconnects.
What is your writing process like?
I had to learn totally new ways of getting writing done when my two daughters were born. I simply don't have the luxury of waiting for inspiration. I do a lot of sitting down at coffee shops, shutting off wifi, and giving myself a 2-hour time goal. If there's anything I would have looked up if I'd had the internet, I write it down on a pad of paper next to me. At the end of the session I usually find that at least half of the things that might have led me down a rabbit hole were unnecessary.
How does your “New Better Off” message play out in places where people don’t have access to higher education or opportunities for independent work?
Part of The New Better Off is a reinvented social safety net that honors the reality of how people are working these days. There is a whole chapter devoted to how labor organizing is changing, how smart, ethical people are thinking about a portable social safety net etc. For people who aren't college graduates, these kinds of evolutions are HUGE.
Individual vs. collective responsibilities.
I've learned that if there is a problem, community in some form is usually the answer. Sometimes consumerism seems like the answer, but it's usually a shallow and poor excuse for a deeper root solution.
Say something about philanthropy.
Oh man, you caught me at a rough moment on this one. I'm feeling very disillusioned right now with the philanthropic space. Read this for more eloquent and slightly more balanced thoughts than how I'm actually feeling.
I’m going to say the word “balance” and ask you to comment.