Public Listening with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez


The whole country is politically energized at the moment with few areas more energized than my part of New York City where a bevy of first time candidates ousted established ones. No one exemplifies this dynamism more than Bronx born Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat one of the most senior Democrats in Congress, and the head of the Queens County political machine, in a primary a few months ago. I had the pleasure of bing a public listener for a fundraiser for Ocasio-Coretez at a private home in Jackson Heights a couple of nights ago. She spoke at length about her campaign, her strategy for change, and then fielded questions from attendees. Before and after she chatted one-on-one with attendees.


She struck me as very down to earth, plain spoken, and a good listener, as well as speaker. The fact that she is 28 years old makes her ascent all the more impressive.


She has a very ambitious and far ranging agenda, part of which is to help shift the perception of what is possible on the policy front. Her rule of thumb, don’t take the temperature, change the thermostat.


Since she is heavily favored to win in the general election, she is expending a lot of energy supporting other candidates in New York State and nationally. She said she hopes she’s a foot in the door for other like minded candidates, framing the political struggle in this country as between the top and the bottom, not the left and the right.

One thing that popped out for me is that she did not run to win (even she was shocked when she did win)—-she ran to educate and organize. I will be interested to see how she educates and organizes with her platform as congresswoman.


If you are interested in hearing more about how I support clients to help them have impactful meetings with public listening and visual thinking, sign up for the Visualize Good newsletter, or just get in touch.

Tip of the hat to the incredible Anthony Weeks for the term Public Listener. I believe he coined this phrase.

Visualizing Democracy

Jackson Heights Resident RadHa Vatsal described how she was elected to represent her block on the Queens County Democratic Committee

Jackson Heights Resident RadHa Vatsal described how she was elected to represent her block on the Queens County Democratic Committee

One way to think about democracy—-it’s an interface for the community to shape its own reality. There is a renewed interest in democracy and politics from the humblest elected office to the highest, and I’m proud to support democracy by visualizing voters’ priorities and by making the machinery of democracy more visible through visuals. Recently, I did visual listening for the New Visions Democratic Club where Ben Yee, Danny Dromm, and Radha Vatsal explained the nuts and bolts of the Queens County Democratic Committee—-part of the local party machinery which is simultaneously neglected by many and exploited by a few. While on paper the committee which comprises of hundreds of neighborhood representatives, has influence over appointing judges, allocating resources to candidates, and choose Democratic candidates who fill in when someone resigns/dies/leaves in mid-term in reality it’s controlled by a few at the top AKA the Queens Machine. This may be changing. But if it’s going to change, it first needs to be understood, and that’s why I helped the speakers turn their knowledge into pictures.

Afterward, participants told me I helped them keep track of the complexity of how the Queens Democratic Committee works. I certainly needed to draw pictures to keep track for myself! (Photo credit: Tammy Rose)


For such a seemingly dry topic, we had great turnout and participation. At the end of the meeting local Democratic nominee for Senate Jessica Ramos (standing) recruited volunteers to knock on doors for fellow state senate candidate Anna Kaplan. Great seeing democracy in action! Seated behind her in Blue, Democratic nominee for state assembly, Catalina Cruz, told us she would foster a collaborative process for her district’s approach to the county committee.


The local committee system has roots in the Tammany Hall operation of the 19th century. Time to modernize!

Visualizing the Importance of Alumni Giving for Scholarships and Innovation

(Above: video of sketchnotes of speakers at Colorado College Across the Country Alumni event)

Scholarships are a critical steppingstone to opportunity to students who don’t have the financial resources to pay for college. Giving capable students the opportunity to get a top flight education doesn’t just help them, it helps all of us by making their skills and passions available to the community. To this end, my alma mater, Colorado College is trying to increase the amount of scholarships it can provide to capable young people who need financial assistance to attend. I was invited to an alumni event in Denver to use my visual storytelling skills to capture what the college is trying to do to boost investment in scholarships, and to give current scholarship students the opportunity to share the incredible work they are doing with alumni. I created the video above by taking notes on my iPad while students, and the faculty and administrators who introduced them, spoke live to a multigenerational crowd of Colorado College Alumni.

Before and after the talks, I did visual interviews with alumni who attended the event. Talking to them reminded me why I loved my experience at Colorado College so much—-the variety of interests and experiences really struck me.


Here are a couple of CC alumni who are busy making a difference in the world. Angela Cobian is an elected official and community organizer in Denver, and Meghan Holseth is working as graphic designer making communications materials for folks like Angela.


Cristina Garcia grew up in an economically strapped town in Colorado, identifying with her native and Latinx heritage. She was one of the scholarship recipients who spoke at the event. Her involvement in student organizations led her to participate in protests to protect native land out of state and then led her to work to create a more welcome environment at Colorado College for students with indigenous heritage.


In the two years since David Mulcahy graduated from Colorado College he has rapidly climbed the ladder at the mutual fund where he works. Colorado College helped him develop the flexibility and discipline he needed to excel at work in multiple roles.


Professor Jane Hilberry talked about how to help students become change makers through an approach she is developing with students and other CC faculty and staff to give them a structured experience to allow for experimentation and mutual support to take the kind of risks needed for innovation.


Colorado College scholarship recipient Annie Bronfman talked about how meaningful and powerful her learning experience has been, particularly when she and her classmates gave up their cell phones for several days to immerse themselves in the creative process.


Jack Wold, Colorado College Board of Trustees member stressed how important alumni support is to support Colorado College’s well deserved #2 ranking in the US News Most Innovative Schools list.

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The event took place at the History Colorado Center. After the scholarship students spoke, we projected the digital sketchnotes above the mixing and mingling crowd. This was a wonderfully crafted experience that made me proud to be an alum of such a curious, humane, and powerful learning community.

Sidewalk Visual Voter Interviews


I hit the streets with the Catalina Cruz Campaign yesterday. Catalina is running for the 39th New York Assembly seat, to represent the extremely diverse neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst in Queens, NYC.  To see what issues are on Voters' minds, we did visual voter interviews on the sidewalk on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens. I love this interactive form of visualization where I interview people and then reflect what they say into pictures and words. We learned a lot about peoples' concerns. Pedestrian safety was a big one.



Catalina Cruz (left) joined me with some of her volunteers. The voter in Green, Dona Teresa, had a lot of issues she was passionate about. I was proud of this one because it was entirely in Spanish, and I was able to do it! Thanks to Barbara Van Scoyk and Maria Daniels, my excellent high school and college Spanish teachers!


Some issues were wider ones, like treatment of immigrants, and some were hyperlocal, like prostitution under the elevated train in our neighborhood. All in all, it was a very successful event, in addition to learning about voters' priorities, we generated a lot of attention from passers-by, we created powerful collateral that can be used in electronic communications, we projected an innovative and caring image (which in my experience reflect reality as regards the candidate) and we had a great time.

Visualizing Backyard Democracy

Supporting the candidacy of Catalina Cruz with visual listening

Supporting the candidacy of Catalina Cruz with visual listening

The country is politically energized in these months leading up to Autumn election season. Even local races that normally fly under the radar are getting a lot of attention. My neighborhood (Western Queens) is particularly active---we recently elected Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic primary, and we have a number of first time female candidates throwing their hats into the ring. I was happy to support the candidacy of Catalina Cruz with visual listening at an event she held in the backyard of the Elmhurst Memorial Hall with dozens of neighbors who reflected the immigrant diversity of our little piece of NYC---Burmese, Colombian, Chinese, old, young, we came out to support a former Dreamer who earned her citizenship and practiced public interest law to make a better New York. Politics is the interface between the community and the government, and I'm happy to be able to support people I think will be effective advocates, like Catalina Cruz.

The gorgeous mosaic of Queens, NY. Facing the crowd Catalina Cruz (Democratic Candidate, NY Assembly , Margaret Chin (NYC City Council, District 1), Shekar Krishnan (New Visions Democratic Club), and Daniel Dromm (NYC City Council, District 25).

The gorgeous mosaic of Queens, NY. Facing the crowd Catalina Cruz (Democratic Candidate, NY Assembly , Margaret Chin (NYC City Council, District 1), Shekar Krishnan (New Visions Democratic Club), and Daniel Dromm (NYC City Council, District 25).