Be the Change You Seek


I’ve been signing my emails with the "Be the change you
seek" paraphrase of Mahatma Gandhi for many years. It is an every day reminder
that change starts within. The challenge with change is you don’t always know
where you’re going, or what exactly within you is changing, until you get
there. But you take the first step, sometimes a leap, following where your
heart leads when opportunity knocks, and change reveals itself.

I’m thankful I answered the knock as my heart led me to RH
Reality Check almost four years ago.

Another challenge with change is people come and go. In
sexual and reproductive health terms, some might consider me promiscuous,
sleeping around with different movements, more interested in the rush of new
love than long-term commitment.  I’m
hoping instead you’ll see me as the quirky boy/girlfriend we always think of
fondly, thankful for the lessons we learn together, recognizing everyone comes
into our life for a reason, and some for only a season. Some relationships aren’t
meant to last, but can still be enjoyed.

Instead of specializing in one issue area, I’ve had the
tremendous good fortune to work with leaders in three. People helping to ease
transitions out of physical life in the Death with Dignity movement; philanthropists
working for equal rights no matter how we find love in this life, regardless of
sexual or gender identity at the Gill Foundation; and most recently with the
fascinating world of sexual and reproductive health, how we transition into
physical life.

I consider myself a mid-wife in this latest role, bringing
RH Reality Check from concept to reality, knowing from the start I was to
facilitate the process, then let nature takes its course. The gestation period
was a little longer than anticipated, but as with any healthy delivery, the
pain resulted in joy.

We started with a simple concept: build a community of
experts sharing their evidence-based research in easily accessible articles so
more people have facts upon which to make the best decisions about public
policy, and in their own sexual health.

Along the way we found a loyal community of readers that
continues to grow. We built RH Reality Check into one of the leading health,
civil liberties and political blogs as measured by Technorati, and established
it as a go-to resource for mainstream and new media.

As important as those monitors of success are, life is best
measured by the people we meet along the way and how they touch our lives.  In this regard, I am a wealthy man.

David Harwood and Ellen Marshall, the co-founders of RH
Reality Check, are two of the hardest working, most dedicated souls I know.
Thankfully after four years working closely our friendship is stronger for the
tests we’ve shared.

Ian Cairns is a visionary translator of the potential
between advocacy and technology, a Godsend for non-techies like me. He now
works with Development Seed, RH Reality Check’s original designers, with the
brilliant mind of Eric Gunderson.

Tyler LePard lifted RH Reality Check from intriguing blog to
community resource by skillfully coordinating content and adding her own unique
voice to the mix.  Tyler now works on communicating these and
other issues at the Gates Foundation. 

Amie Newman’s excellent writing on a range of reproductive
health issues is exceeded only by her amazing ability to create, nurture and
sustain relationships upon which the site’s growth will continue. 

Brady Swenson’s technological vision and creativity propel
RH Reality Check forward – and you ain’t seen nothing yet.  He’s not only my nephew, though one far-right
luminary once suggested in comments on the site that we were married, he’s also
a great friend and colleague.

Emily Douglas led a shift from our initial blog style toward
a more journalistic enterprise; coordinating, assigning, and developing
original reporting. Emily is now at The Nation.

When we contracted with Amanda Marcotte as a columnist we
signaled we weren’t going to be shy, her wit and pulls-no-punches writing and
podcasts continue to stir the blogosphere. 

Cristina Page’s courageous assertions, in her writing on a
wide range of reproductive health issues, as well as in her efforts seeking
common ground in one of the most contentious issues in politics today, are
significant contributions to our success.

Margaret Conway’s leadership of an enhanced and improved
Communication’s Connection currently in development will further the site’s
role as neutral convener and technology leader.

Finally, Jodi Jacobson’s keen political sense and
provocative style have elevated our political coverage and currency. Jodi will
succeed me as Editor. Since the day I started, each of the people above will
laughingly attest, I’ve said I was not the right person to lead this site.  I knew RH Reality Check’s ultimate success
depended upon someone with expertise on the issues taking it over. The proof is
evident this year, our most successful yet, as Jodi led the site while I
focused on other issues.

That we’ve done all this working in different cities across
four time zones, and feel as close as we do as a team, is a testament to each
person who came aboard uncertain what we were doing, where we were going. They
simply opened their hearts to change.

Each of these people – and many other writers in the US and
around the world equally part of this team – are proof positive that in life,
the right people always show up when you need them most. You never know who
they will be when change begins, but the best teachers are the people you are
with in the moment. I’m thankful for the moments shared with these talented
people, and everyone who is fulfilling a vision of individuals making wise
decisions about sexual and reproductive health based on respect,
responsibility, and what’s best for their health and life.

What fascinates me now are the intangibles in the three
issue areas in which I’ve worked. The science only takes us so far in
discussing transitions in and out of life. As miraculous as it is, science is
just a revelation, a quest by man to explain and understand. Life asks
questions that go beyond the evidence science provides and for many that’s
where faith comes into play.  Too many
people confuse faith with judgment.

Each of us comes to our beliefs in our own way, just as we
find our unique expression of love with and for others in this life.  Faith is not a narrow concept or dogma, and
like change, starts within.  Faith is
often more evident in our good works than words. RH Reality Check is chock full
of words that are evidence of many people’s good works, compassion and efforts
to help inform and lift others. Even if people don’t speak of their good works
in the framework of faith, these words and the good work that goes into them
express the deepest kind of faith, our ability to learn, grow and be better
tomorrow than today.

I’ve been writing about these intangible ideas as part of
the change I’m seeking. It’s leading me someplace, not sure where yet, I’ll let
you know when I get there.

Until then, be the change you seek, and know that starts
within.

 

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Scott Swenson please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • wendy-norris

    Scott, it has beem my supreme privilege to work with you over the past two plus years. As a fledgling writer, I will forever be grateful for your generosity, inspiration and encouragement. 

     

    Best to you always. — Wendy

  • ahunt

    Well Done, Young Man!

  • harry834

    Thank you for coming here. Others will thank you when you arrive on their shores.

  • amie-newman

    I have been so lucky to work with you, Scott. You are truly a professional and personal inspiration to me.  I cannot wait to follow the next part of your journey. Thank you for all of the opportunity and good times. Except for election year. That was ridiculous :). 

     

    Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check

  • crowepps

    The archive of articles you leave here continues to be valuable and persuasive. Your positive influence here will continue long after you’ve moved on. Good luck!

  • amanda-marcotte

    It’s been such a privilege to work with you and to know you.

  • heather-corinna

    Ditto on that!

     

    I hope you’ll keep us posted on where you go from here from time to time.  You’ll be missed! :)

     

    (And hooray, Jodi!)

  • kirsten-sherk

    Scott, I think it says something about your nature that you can make being slutty sound like a thoughtful and educational life choice. Personally, I’ve learned a lot from your thoughtfulness, grace and respect for others – even on difficult topics, or in response to angry opponents – that came through in your writing. I hope we’ll see more of it back here on occasion. 

     

    Good luck in your next phase! 

    Kirsten

    P.S. Go Heels!

  • jodi-jacobson

    I can never be as eloquent as Scott in saying all that he has said and so effectively describing the critical roles the folks he has mentioned all have played in making what RH Reality Check what it is today.

     

    The fact is that Scott took a nascent idea and made it a reality, he realized a dream share by several people of having a vibrant space where the communities working on sexual and reproductive health, rights, justice, research and politics all could come together and share information, teach each other, learn from each other, and debate each other in a "safe space."

     

    That RH Reality Check not only survived its "neonate" phase but is growing strong is indeed evidence of the power of Scott’s "midwifery."  There is much of which he can be proud, and we hope to continue to make him proud.

     

    We depend on the contributions, ideas, insights, debates and arguments brought here every day by everyone one of you to make the site what it is today.  It is indeed a meeting point for the diverse communities that share the same goals.  Sometimes, like family, we will have disagreements, but we know that there is unconditional acceptance that we all share the goals of promoting the rights and health of all people, everywhere.  Taken the site forward, we urge you to continue to participate in all these ways, because RH Reality Check is in fact what we each make it to be, collectively.

     

    With deep gratitude and thanks to Scott for his leadership in bringing us here……Jodi 

  • dominickj

    Good luck to you Scott as you travel the road/s you go.
    Hope you stay in touch.

  • dominickj

    I’m trying to contact your webmaster to find out how I can circumvent having to enter my login information every time I want to make a comment. THE problem is your code that has to be inserted before my comment can be delivered. I don’t know why but, I have inserted the code 7 times and each time I keep getting a negative answer that I’m putting in the wrong code. I tried doing single spacing, triple spacing, double and triple spacing being very carful about upper/lower case. I also had this prpblem trying to create an account but after MANY several tries I finally made it. My time is valuable. Please have someone fix whatever problem there is at that site and please connect me withsome one who can help with the problem of having to login everytime I come to make a comment.

    Sorry to have to come here BUT I can see no other way to contact someone. I even tried calling by ‘phone but the operator had NO listing for you in Washington, D.C.

  • prochoiceferret

    I would suggest using the "Contact Us" link at the bottom of the page. It’s somewhat bad form to ask the founder of the site for help with a technical issue in a response to his farewell address….

  • jodi-jacobson

    I am sorry you are having so much trouble and I don’t know what the problem is, but please contact our Director of all such things, Brady Swenson.

     

    brady@rhrealitycheck.org

     

    We don’t have a listing in DC because we do not have an office.  We work virtually, and have only 3 core staff right now: Me (in DC), Brady (in Kansas), and Amie (in Seattle).  

     

    I am sure Brady will assist you.

     

    Best,

     

    Jodi

  • scott-swenson

    Wendy, what a nice thing for you to say and it is evidence of how we all learn and teach together for truly your writing and reporting on the site is an inspiration. Thanks for your contributions personally, and for all your work with the team from CIM helping provide state-based coverage. Continued success!


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Thanks you ahunt for the “young” I appreciate that more every day, and to Harry834 for your kind words and invaluable contributions.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Oh, scarecrow, I think I’ll miss you most of all. Election year was a little like flying monkeys at times, huh?


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Thanks crow, Amanda and Heather … amazing talents doing such important work, thanks so much. And yes, Hooray Jodi!


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Kirsten, thanks for your years of friendship, intelligence and wonderful contributions through the work you do. As for “my nature” let’s just say it certainly helps to see through to the good in every situation ;-) and makes each encounter more enjoyable. The fact that theory works in politics too is a bonus.

    As for the ‘Heels, there really is only one thing to say: ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Thanks and very best wishes to you moving forward. As you rightly note, this is a community now and its success far more dependent on the whole than any single person’s contributions. Happy herding!


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • lara-riscol

    Scott, you may be slutty, but you remain true to your glorious, courageous and visionary core. Your varied work reflects the common theme of strategically working against ingrained and unjust convention and toward what’s right and beautiful despite of (or because of) moral ambiguities. congrats and good luck! lara

  • kirsten-moore

    Don’t forget to leave a trail so we can follow you… You have done such an amazing, inspiring job of building an idea into a resource into a community into a leader. Bravo. Your fan, Kirsten

  • france-kissling

    Dear Scott, Over the last months, you have been on my mind. I did not like this change in roles. What, I wondered, was going on. Why were you not writing and editing? It made me uneasy. I like clarity and I like people I like doing what they do well.

    Now, things are a little clearer and I still don’t like it. You are a wonderful, supportive editor with a lovely mind.

    Your “farewell” note a perfect example of exuberance and graciousness. Such nice memories of the start-up. i remember early conversations about the site which has turned out to be more than any of the founders could have imagined – thanks to you.

    I wish you the very best. And I know you will find it because you are the best.

    Frances

  • melissa-ditmore

    Thank you, Scott, for standing alongside unpopular people like sex workers and drug users and speaking out when colleagues at big organizations did not.

    I’ll be eager to watch your next move, in part because you could not have left RHRC in better hands than Jodi’s.

    Best of luck!

  • gloria-feldt

    Scott, it was always a pleasure to work with you. Thanks for your many contributions here and all those I know you’ll make wherever you go. One of the life lessons I learned from Kathleen Turner when we were writing Send Yourself Roses is "Never repeat your successes." It sounds like you’ve always known that. So I will just wish you well on your next journey and ask that you stay in touch.

    Best,

    Gloria

     

    Gloria Feldt

    http://www.GloriaFeldt.com

  • cristina-page

    Scott,

     

    For months and months I worked with you only having a thumbnail image to put to the amazing person I was getting to know. That is the experience of many of your readers. I think anyone who has followed your writing is familiar with your immense generosity of spirit, and thoughtfulness. I, however, am a true beneficiary of it. 

     

    Thank you for being the coach and confidence-builder who has always known the right thing to say at the precise time it needed to be heard. Thank you for also being a fair mediator; for having the patience of a saint and the fortitude of a general. Thank you for being a risk-taker even when you yourself weren’t so sure the gain would be as great as the pain.

     

    You have a knack for believing in people in a way that causes them to believe in themselves. It’s a rare talent, in short supply in the places where it is needed most, like the reproductive rights movement. Keeping up the morale is key to the success of any effort that is combative and often thankless. If we could all just learn this one skill from you, I bet we’d count many more victories on our side.

     

    I am lucky to have had the chance to work with you and am better off because of it.  All the lessons I have learned from you I’ll pay forward. Thank you. Great love and respect, Cristina

  • scott-swenson

    Thank you Dominick and Feret — I trust all is fixed and appreciate the kind thought Feret. This may go down as the most civil commenting stream in the history of RHRC.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Lara – indeed, it is in life’s ambiguities that we find our way to the beauty within — far from the screaming protests. Thanks for being such a great support in all the chances we’ve taken here.

    Kirsten – My thanks to you my dear. You are an amazingly powerful voice (that needs to be seen more on RHRC) in a field rich with powerful voices. I love the way you think and truly put your good words into good works helping people everyday.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Frances,

    Yeah, that lack of clarity thing is funny, but I’ve just learned to live with it and as a result am having a great ride. You, my virtual friend, are truly an inspiration and I adore you especially in the moments I don’t agree with you, because it forces me to think deeper, be better. I’m glad to say those moments of disagreement are few, but in them is the value of true friendship because of the mutual respect that never leaves.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Melissa:

    Thank YOU for your courage in the work you do. Not to be too flip, but some of my best friends are sex workers and drug users, and one thing I’ve learned more from my associations than from any book, preacher or politician is that God (for those who believe) doesn’t make mistakes. The mistakes we humans make, in many ways responsible for people turning to drugs or sex work if its not by affirmative choice, are more often found in judgment of others for circumstances bias and bigotry create. Withholding prevention or treatment or legal protection from people seems to be anything but compassionate. Big organizations are what they are and serve important functions. This is a time to be lean and nimble … keep up your good and very important work.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Gloria – thanks for your kind words and your generous posts in our start-up phase. While we differed slightly on one issue, it was because of that I knew the site had succeeded in becoming an integral part of the community. Thanks for your constructive ideas and your early and consistent support for the site. Continued success to you.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Dear Cristina,

    You make me blush. You inspire me. Your writing inspires me. Your balance of motherhood and writing, reporting and speaking inspires me. But damn, I’m glad I’m not online at 1:17 am. LOL! But I can attest, this is when you work best. That you know that and keep the schedule you do is a tribute to how well you know yourself.

    I wish I could claim credit for all the praise, but what I know to be true is that what we do is reflect to one another the good in the other. Some days that good might mean a really tough conversation as things get worked out. On other days its breaking news and the flow of brilliant words framing issues perfectly so others can make sense of what is happening in legislative, regulatory or clinical settings.

    You my dear are responsible for many more brilliant days than tough ones, and all of them are very, very good. Keep up the good work and always stay true to your heart, it’s the only thing that really matters.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • wendy-banks

    Good luck Scott, you’ll be missed!

  • margaret-conway

    Scott,

    Your vision, diligence, and thoughtful decision-making built RHReality Check into an essential part of the reproductive rights, health, and justice community.  It filled a need that many didn’t even know we had.  But just think–there is now not only a fair-minded forum devoted exclusively to these issues, but a place where young women and men, people of color, and all the many folks who don’t always get called "leaders" have a place to offer their voice. And there is a place to make connections with other issues, influence our movement, and build our sense of community.

     

    It is invaluable, even revolutionary.  And this movement certainly needed some revolution.  Thank you for that–I hope you are proud.

     

    And of course anyone who can work in sexual promiscuity to an essay gets my undying devotion.  

     

    Personally, I will miss you sorely — already do.  I hope we get a chance to collaborate on something in the future–I will certainly be calling on your counsel regardless.  Your sense of humor, gentle yet persistent encouragement, and good political sense helped build RHRC and of course will continue to serve you well.  All the best in your next adventure.

     

    Much love and gratitude,

    Margaret

     

    PS:  There is a line from one of my favorite books "Girls, Visions, & Everything" where Lila Futuransky decides to say "Hi Sluts!" anytime she enters a room.  Whomever answers back is deemed her friend.  I’ll leave it at that.

     

     

  • scott-swenson

    Margaret:

    Oy! You are too kind, and of course by that I refer to your PS, not all the nice things you said about RHRC. I love the notion of revolution or its much maligned kid sister evolution — as much as liberals champion Darwin, we seem to be better at the “eating our young” part forgetting that in politics sometimes change takes time. Mostly I’m pissed that liberals have once again ceded language to the far-right — losing the messaging battle around tea-bagging and tea parties is unforgivable for people interested in sexual justice.

    I hope you know that leaving RHRC just as your project is expanding on the site isn’t easy. The way you think, work, create and encourage leadership in others is amazing and inspiring. You are truly change in action, improving the lives of so many with your brilliance.

    The good news for me is that each time our paths cross we get closer to actually working together. The courtship this year was lovely, doing the deed divine, and soon you’ll birth a new and exciting aspect of the site. Pass the cigarettes.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • scott-swenson

    Thanks Wendy


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher