Countable

A few weeks ago, I downloaded the free Countable app. It’s a free app that tries to make it easier to understand what laws are going in front of Congress and provide feedback to your lawmakers. Now that I’ve tried it out for a few weeks, here’s what I think.

Plain language explanation of bills – This is pretty great, actually. Bills are explained very simply. Also provided is a plain language summary of the argument for or against a bill. I do, however, worry that important nuances and details can be lost in these brief summaries.

Tracking legislation – Overall, I think this is one area where the website is more useful than the app. They do a summary of upcoming votes and issues at the beginning of the week (usually Monday). I find it’s easiest to pull it up via their website and then follow the links to the relevant pages. I particularly like that bill numbers are included, so I can refer to those if I want to call my representatives.

Feedback to elected representatives – I’m not exactly sure how this feedback gets delivered, but I know it does. I’ve gotten a form email from my senators for every time I’ve expressed an opinion on a bill. However, I’m not sure how much weight legislators put on communication from Countable. Most of what I’ve read suggests that they really only care about phone calls.

Seeing how Senators and Members of Congress have voted on bills – I really like this aspect of the app. It seems to be one of the easiest ways to see how your elected representatives have voted—and whether you want to support them the next time they’re up for reelection.

In general, I like using Countable and I’ve found it to be a great tool for trying to be more politically active and aware, but it’s not perfect. Except for places like California, Texas, San Francisco, and NYC, it’s not useful for following state and local politics. I also would like to find a way to see upcoming votes a bit earlier, so that I can better plan what I’m going to do and say.

Who do you read?

Let’s look at books. Yours. Mine. Your kids’, if you have kids.

How many of those books have people of color in them? How many have Muslim characters? LGBTQ? Characters with disabilities? Does that include the main characters? And if you’re male, how many books do you have that have female main characters or authors?

I’d say that a tiny minority of what I’ve read has had characters who fall into any of the above categories. Most of what I’ve read consists of books by white men and women written about white men and women. I’m guessing that the same applies for you, and I think that’s a big problem.

Diverse Books Lead to Greater Empathy

It turns out that reading fiction makes you more empathetic, and reading diverse fiction makes you more empathetic towards people who are different.

It seems that literary fiction is better at this than genre fiction. But if you happen to read or write genre fiction, I still encourage you to seek out diversity. As a reader, I almost never see people of color in mysteries—especially the cozies—and I rarely see them as main characters in fantasy. But more people read genre fiction than literary fiction, and seeing different types of people in fiction helps reaffirm their humanity in the real world.

Give the Gift of Diversity, If Only to Yourself

So if you’re a writer who is a person of color, Muslim, LGBTQ, has disabilities, etc., keep writing! You don’t have to write literary fiction. Just write.*

If you’re a reader or a writer who doesn’t fall into one of the above categories, then actively look for books about people who are different from you—especially if they’re written by people who are different from you.

Perhaps most importantly, if you have kids (or even just know kids), look for diverse books that you can give them as gifts. There are some good kids’ gift ideas at the WeNeedDiverseBooks.org. It might just tip the balance in favor of a better, kinder future.

So what about your books? Your kids’ books? Let me know in the comments. I’m curious.

Footnotes:
*I should take my own advice.

Introducing Leo and Nira

I thought I’d take a break from political posts to introduce my new housemates: Leo and Nira. They’ve been living here for a little over 3 weeks now, and came to me through PAWS.

Leo

Leo is a mostly white cat with brown spots and a brown tail. He is sitting in my office chair.

Leo is about 16 months old. He’s a cuddlebug who is a little needy, but very sweet. He’s also extremely athletic and really good at getting to places he shouldn’t.

Nira

Nira is a brown tabby cat. Here she is sitting on my bedspread.

Nira is 14 months old. She’s a little shy, but very sweet. She’s been taking a while to adjust to me, but she and Leo have been getting along pretty well.