government, politics, President

Wonder: Hillary Clinton has shattered more than a glass ceiling

Tonight, Hillary Clinton will take the stage in Philadelphia to officially accept the nomination for President of the United States. There are women at the convention this year who remember a time when women weren’t even allowed to vote. Hillary didn’t just shatter a glass ceiling; she has shifted a paradigm. She has expanded the realm of thinking in this country about who can hold the highest office in our government. She has given women and girls a new possibility. She has paved a new road toward opportunity. And for her strength and courage in doing so, I am deeply grateful and proud.

creativity, inspiration, play, politics, theatre, women

Beautiful: Ann Richards Has Her Day on Broadway Thanks to Holland Taylor

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Buenas noches, mis amigos! I am delighted to be here with you this evening because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like. Twelve years ago, Barbara Jordan, another Texas woman, made the keynote address to this convention – and two women in 160 years is about par for the course. But, if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” ~ Ann Richards, then-Governor of Texas, at the 1988 Democratic National Convention

The play Ann, now at Lincoln Center through September 1st, opens with this quote delivered via archival video footage of the late great Ann Richards. And though this about sums up her vibrant, spit-fire, take-no-prisoners, gutsy, straight-shooting, truth-in-comedy personality, it is nothing short of an absolute delight to see the brilliant Holland Taylor portray her on stage for two hours in one of the finest one-person shows I’ve ever seen. I was enthralled from beginning to end. Taylor also conceived of the idea and wrote the play, which I find even more remarkable than her stunning performance.

Within two hours, I learned so much about her life and legacy. I laughed. And laughed and laughed. A lot. And then I cried a little when I realized how wonderful she was, how rare she was, in politics and in the public eye in general, and how I will never get the chance to meet her in person. This play made me believe that I did know her, and that’s how everyone felt about Ann. She was exactly who she was, all the time, in front of everyone. From humble house wife to Governor of Texas, she was someone to be reckoned with and yet everyone had to find her charming, regardless of whether or not they disagreed with her. I wanted to have her over for dinner and I definitely wanted her in my corner.

She was a stronger advocate for women, all women everywhere, than anyone else in the public sphere has ever been. And though I’ll never have the chance to know her, I did take away one great comfort. Madeleine Albright once said that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. I believe that the converse must also be true. There is a special place in heaven for women who do help other women. Therefore, I’m certain that Ann Richards is looking down on all of us, cheering us on, bolstering us up, and encouraging us to fly higher than even our own dreams dare imagine. Even death can’t stop that kind of indomitable spirit. And for that I am both grateful and inspired.

Go see Ann. Two hours in her company, and Taylor’s, and you’ll walk out of the theatre and into the world a little taller, a little prouder, and a whole lot more determined to do something extraordinary. (If you’d like to read Ann’s convention speech in its entirety, click here.)

election, government, justice, politics, writing

Leap: Like and Share The 47% Facebook Page

I am bowled over by the support I have received since recording a Youtube video in response to Mitt Romney’s 47% comment. Many people wrote to me to share their own stories of success that began with receiving assistance from the government to better their lives. I am moved and inspired by their words and actions.

Fresh off the Social Good Summit and Clinton Global Initiative gatherings, I wanted to do something more to help people share their stories and to illustrate the humanity behind the 47% statistic. Too often numbers are tossed around without the context of the narrative that gives them meaning and purpose. Behind that 47% figure are people who are trying to make the very best of use of their time, energy, and talent. They need our help and encouragement. Let’s help them to have a voice in this conversation.

Visit The 47% Facebook page to lend your support with a Like and to share your own story of success, hope, and gratitude. Together, we can help government to realize the good it can do by investing in all of its people.

election, government, politics, President

Leap: My Open Letter to Governor Romney Regarding His Comments at a Florida Fundraiser

Below is my open letter to Governor Romney. If you’d like to watch the YouTube video of it that I quickly recorded from my home, please click here.

Dear Governor Romney,
Like every other American, I listened to your comments from the Florida fundraiser. I actually listened to them many times over because I was certain that I was hearing it wrong. While I don’t agree with your politics, I did believe that you were proud of this country and that you were someone who just wanted to do his part to make it even better. However, after listening to your comments about the American people, I realized I was mistaken. When you explained your disdain for 47% of Americans, I understood that you don’t want to help the people; you want to help those whom you deem as your people. And I am not one of them.

I grew up in a family of very few financial resources. We received certain forms of public assistance like enrollment in the free lunch program. We went without health insurance for many years. I went to college because of financial aid as my mother’s annual income was less than tuition at the school I wanted to attend (University of Pennsylvania.) I then went on to business school a number of years later at the Darden School at the University of Virginia, again with the grace of student loans, because I wanted to understand finance rather than be afraid of it.

Though I was someone who benefited from government programs, I didn’t do so because I felt entitled. I did so because I came from a family without financial means and to make this world a better place, I needed to get myself fed and educated. When I took government funds in the form of aid, I took on a tremendous responsibility to make something of myself and to bring others along with me who needed help. As I rose, I bent down, extended my hand, and helped others to rise, too.

In my career, I have worked in government, Broadway theatre management, education, nonprofit fundraising, retail management, financial services, and health and wellness. Today, I own my own consulting business and founded a nonprofit to bring the healing benefits of yoga and meditation to those in need. As an adult, I no longer receive government assistance and in fact pay taxes in the highest tax bracket, which I believe is a far higher percentage than you pay. Just because I needed financial help from the government when I was younger does not mean that I grew up to be an adult who is in your words, a “freeloader”. Because I was helped, I feel an incredibly strong need to help others, like me and far different from me.

And finally, I have a few words to say about the social justice issues you addressed in your comments. I do believe that every American has a right to healthcare, has a right to eat, and a right to be educated. I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but America has been advocating for this stance around the world since its founding. We have gone to the battlefield for these kinds of basic human rights; we have lost many good men and women for this ideal because we understand that no one is free if they’re hungry, sick, and uneducated.

I did have compassion for you upon hearing your initial comments. “Perhaps they were taken out of context,” I thought. “Maybe he was surprised and under tremendous pressure in the moment.” Then I heard your reaction to your comments, and I hung my head low because I realized I don’t have a place in your America.

Still, I do understand why it’s so hard for someone of your means to have empathy for people like me and so many other Americans. It’s hard to explain to someone what it feels like to not have enough food to eat, to be without electricity for weeks at a time because your family couldn’t afford to pay the bill, to be constantly worried that your home would go into foreclosure. You begin to think that because you don’t have enough, then you aren’t enough. It’s a fear that gets in your bones and never leaves. Even now, I am incredibly thrifty with my money. I no longer have to price check different brands of soup at the supermarket, but I do and I’m sure I will always continue to do so.

My past, the good, the bad, and the ugly, is part of who I am, and that includes the fact that I received a lot of help from the government while I was growing up. And I am grateful for it. Governor Romney, please don’t see us as a liability; instead see us as opportunity that needs a little bit of help to take root. We are a long-term bet, but we are worthy of your attention.

Sincerely yours,
Christa Avampato

election, politics, President

Leap: The Democratic National Convention Fired Me Up!

After watching the speeches of the Democratic National Convention, I am fired up even more than I was in 2008. Last night after President Obama’s speech, I opened my wallet, which I do only after intense consideration, to make the largest political contribution I’ve ever made. Then I opened my calendar, which I guard even more closely than my wallet, to give my time and talent to move us forward as a volunteer for the campaign. I can’t spend these next two months before the election just observing and commenting. I am making the time to act.

No matter what your political persuasions, the Democratic National Convention did exactly what it was supposed to do – it motivated people to do something. To talk about the issues, to stand up for what they believe in, to start creating the lives they want to live rather than listing the myriad of reasons of why their lives are less than they want them to be.

Now is the time – take a stand and do something about it. What kind of country do you want to live in and what are you doing to create it?

To volunteer your time to this Presidential election:
Obama – Biden
Romney – Ryan

To donate to the campaigns:
Obama – Biden
Romney – Ryan

economy, politics, Steve Jobs, success, Thomas Friedman

Beginning: The Secret to Everyone’s Success, a la Thomas Friedman and Steve Jobs

“The melancholy over Steve Jobs’s passing is about the loss of someone who personified so many of the leadership traits we know are missing from our national politics…He did not read the polls but changed the polls by giving people what he was certain they wanted and needed before they knew it; he was someone who was ready to pursue his vision in the face of long odds over multiple years; and, most of all, he was someone who earned the respect of his colleagues, not by going easy on them but by constantly pushing them out of their comfort zones and, in the process, inspiring ordinary people to do extraordinary things…There isn’t a single national politician today whom you would describe by those attributes.” ~ Thomas L. Friedman

This quote is excerpted from Tom Friedman’s immaculate weekly column in The New York Times. He has been perhaps the lone voice in our current policy debate who has been able not only to articulate our problems with laser beam accuracy, but to also formulate a plan of how to dig ourselves out. Friedman has been highly critical of both sides of the aisle – he’s not running for office, he’s not trying to make friends, and he’s not trying to support anyone’s agenda. He’s on our side – the side of people who are willing to buckle down and turn our economy around through our own volition. He’s giving a savvy and brutally honest voice to our concerns and worries, and also giving us a ray of hope that there actually is a way for ordinary folks to put our nation back on track toward a future that’s better than our present.

In the article he goes on to say that while it’s very easy to get caught up in what is being said – by Occupy Wall Street, politicians, and armchair pundits, “sometimes the news is also in the silence. “ What does that silence mean for us and for our communities, and for the many people who will come along after us? We need to put our own egos aside and consider what we’re leaving for them. My experience has been that the more frustrated people are, the more they shut down. Frustration leads too often to a feeling of power lost, and once someone feels completely depleted of power they have two choices: crawl into a corner or lash out.

Though I strongly disagree with the methods of Occupy Wall Street, I do understand their underlying emotional motivation. They are frustrated and feel like there isn’t anyone in policy listening to those concerns. Rather than slink off, they found others who have many of the same feelings. They have banded together in the hopes that their combined voices will be loud enough to stir change.

What they need to do now, what we all need to do, is what Jobs did so well – he didn’t like the future as it was so he invented his own and won people over to his way of seeing. As The Onion’s obituary of Steve Jobs so eloquently, if painfully, stated, “he was able to sit down, think clearly, and execute his ideas.” That was his secret and his legacy. It’s a blueprint we can all follow.

discovery, education, learning, politics

Beginning: The Opportunity of Us


“Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.” ~ Immanuel Kant

A couple of years ago, I took Michael Sandel’s online class Justice. (See also wrote a book by the same name, and it takes the basic principles discussed in his class and applies them to today’s economic, social, political, and spiritual debates.) Dr. Sandel is a Political Philosophy professor within Harvard Department of Government and his class is among the most famous in the world and one of the largest and most popular in Harvard’s history. The class is free and open to all.

Sandel is a master lecturer. He opens each class with a provocative and polarizing moral dilemma. Perhaps not surprising to any of you, I immediately have an opinion. Then somehow in the most elegant and subtle of ways, Dr. Sandel has me on the fence and in each class I am reminded that the opinions I think I am the most sure of are actually the ones I am not sure of at all. Suddenly, he has me questioning every moral decision I have made. Of course, this is his objective. As my 9th grade English teacher, Mr. Warren, once said, “Judgement stops thought.” Sandel’s trick is to get us to think again after we’ve judged – a mighty difficult feat.

It’s been such an interesting exercise to take the class again and see how my opinions and ideas have been changed by the last couple of years of experience. The one lessons that he continues to alight in me more than any other is that our minds have such an incredible capacity, a capacity beyond our own comprehension. In his lectures, I can actually feel the physical and metaphysical aspects of my brain stretching, reaching, and ultimately growing. As Kant, the subject of Dr. Sandel’s dissertation at Oxford, alludes to in the quote above, we are in awe of the stars above. Who or what made them, and why are they placed just so? And if their placement, and even their very existence, is all a random and perfect accident, then what triggered it and how sustainable is this situation? What’s the meaning of it all? Big, heady questions.

But there is another chance accident that is just as intriguing, personal, knowable, and close-to-home: the ability to change our minds. Yes, to change our opinions and points-of-view, but also to literally change our minds – the biochemistry, the actually wiring that makes our daily activities possible. We have an extraordinary capacity to believe and then alter our beliefs based upon new information, new experiences.

When we take a step back, we really must recognize that we are remarkable beings with unlimited potential, this vibrating mass of possibility. Just to think of this and begin to approach the full comprehension of the miracle that is us, I choke up. It gives me so much hope to understand that whatever ills we face today can all be changed tomorrow if we are willing to change. The state of the world very much depends upon the state of us, each and every one of us. A new beginning is only a thought away.   

government, politics, yoga

Beginning: Politicians Need More Yoga

Last weekend Bill Keller wrote an excellent piece in the New York Times Magazine about the virtues of poetry. He was taught the power of the poem during an executive program at Wharton. He was thoroughly impressed by how much his fellow classmates took to the subject and what a profound affect it had on them. In light of Washington’s latest antics, he called on Congress to take a cue from the Robert Frosts of the world in an attempt to become more enlightened.

I wonder if the same argument could be made for yoga in Congress. While it may be a bit far-fetched to imagine Congress being called to session with one great “OM”, I fully believe that every person, politician or not, is well-served by a healthy dose of self-reflection through yoga and meditation. I’ve never known anyone to take up yoga and deem it as anything less than enormously helpful. I never regret going to my mat, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. I always roll it up feeling better than when I rolled it out. Its ability to bring the mind and body together in one harmonious effort seems like just the type of action we need in Washington if we’re going to build a stronger, better country for all our citizens and residents.

Here is my plea to every politician: take a comfortable seat in your office, close your eyes, and breathe. Do a quick scan of the body and find areas where you feel stress or discomfort. Send the energy of your breath there. Set an intention. What will you do today to help the people you represent live extraordinary lives? What role will you play in their development, and in their health and welfare? How are you going to lead and collaborate with your colleagues to increase wellness in your communities? Throughout your campaigns in the upcoming year, drop the rhetoric and tell me how you’re going to build a healthier system. That will get my attention and my vote.

choices, economy, government, politics, President

Beginning: Our Role in the Economic Recovery

In DC, I was struck by how much wider the street blocks are in comparison to NYC. In New York, we always feel like we’re moving quickly because it’s easy to see progress in our movements. DC has more space and so it feels like a slow march to our destination.

As we have watched the antics play out in Washington in the past month, I couldn’t help but link the seemingly too slow progress on the Hill to the too slow progress I felt as I traversed the city on foot. I pride myself on having a quick New Yorker step. In DC, my progress was slow and steady no matter how quickly I put one foot in front of the other. It felt like I covered so much more ground with so much more effort in DC than I ever do in New York.

And maybe that’s the trick. I know you’re frustrated by Washington politics. I am, too, and I really do believe that the majority of politicians on both sides of the aisle are also frustrated. As I stood in front of that great Capitol Dome, I couldn’t help but feel a very strong sense of responsibility. The awesomeness of its size and detail is overwhelming, but small in comparison to the decisions that are being made inside.

Our government housed in that Dome is an enormous, gangly beast. To tame and then reform it is quite possibly the most complicated task in the world. It takes time, patience, and commitment. There is no slam dunk answer to any problem facing government today. There is no silver bullet despite the clever sound bites being thrown around by those jockeying for a more powerful position. It is a long, multi-term slog. We will take steps forward and back in an unpredictable dance because we are so intricately intertwined with our global neighbors. The butterfly effect is more potent than ever, and it is inescapable.

It would be easy to throw our hands up and buy into the propaganda being highlighted in every major and minor media outlet. It would be so (temporarily) comforting to pin all our hopes on a political messiah who claims he or she can wave some magic Washington wand and sprinkle the glitter of prosperity across our stubbornly depressed economy. That is the stuff of fairy tales.

Recovery will take many small and courageous acts by ordinary folks like you and me. We vote every day with our purchases, large and small, as much as we do at our polling stations on election day. We decide to go to work or look for a new job. We show up and do our best, or we don’t. We decide to work hard or slack off. We decide to innovate or phone it in, on every level of our lives. We decide to be numb or be present. We are teaching everyone around us in every moment through our words and actions. Those are the choices that will create lasting and fruitful change or continue to send us down in a potentially fatal spiral. These small opportunities for choice are so embedded into the fabric of our lives that we sometimes don’t even realize we’re making them. We forget how much impact and power we really have.

I turned these thoughts over and over in my mind as I made my way up to meet friends in Northwest DC for dinner and drinks. Visiting our nation’s capitol, my former home and maybe one day home again, reminded me of the incredible responsibility that rests with all of us. If we are going to truly reap the benefits of a free nation and free markets, then we cannot turn our backs in frustration when it so desperately needs our attention. Keep tuning in. Keep asking questions, searching for solutions, and raising possibilities. It’s a big ship, and we will all need to work together to turn it around.

education, election, politics

Beginning: Shifting Our National Priorities in Favor of Children

I saw a sign in a store that read, “I can’t wait for the day when we have an education budget that can’t be cut and have to hold a bake sale to fund our weapons program.”

As the landscape of the 2012 Presidential Race starts to take shape, I’ve been thinking a lot about our society’s priorities and how backward so many of them seem. This sign popped up in my life as if to encourage this train of thought. Why is funding for education so susceptible to cuts while re-engineering our defense budget is always off the table? Too many kids have too few options. In several neighborhoods only blocks from where I live, kids have two choices of how they spend their time: the classroom or the streets.

Why do we have such a hard time taking the long view? Why can’t we see that healthcare and a good education are the fundamental building blocks for every productive member of society?

Why are social services seen as expendable when they are literally a matter of life and death for far too many Americans? Does that mean we’re saying those people are expendable, too?

Why does the personal wealth of a candidate have more to do with the viability of their campaign than their ability to empathic and charismatic?

And why is it that we have a possible candidate in the running who says on national television, “let other nations fend for themselves”?

If we want our country and our world to change, we need to change our own communities first and that will require shifting our priorities. The focus has to be on what we do for our children. We have to have their best interests in mind if we hope to have a country and a world we’re proud of.