Hindsight: Best Pandemic Moves

Making a few stock-up purchases two months ago.

Planning my spring break to a cabin in an isolated state park five months ago.

Refinishing the basement and building an addition to provide spaces to work, read, sunbathe, puzzle two years ago.

Moving to careers that pay well and allow us to work from home 12 years ago.

Buying a chest freezer 13 years ago.

Becoming a parent and stopping after one child 15 years ago.

Being born a white, cis, hetero male to educated, well-to-do parents who have been supportive of me my entire life, allowing me an incredibly large safety net so when a global pandemic hits I’ll be just fine, thanks, 40 years ago.

(Did you “make” good pandemic moves, too? There are people you should help.)

Last Meal

On March 13, I consumed one of my last meals in a restaurant for the foreseeable future. I found myself on North State Street in Chicago, surrounded by employees munching on Hot Cheetos and kale salads before the lunch rush.

Nina Elkadi, Life Without Restaurants, Little Village

This piece, which, coincidentally, includes a photo of my family eating at Pullman’s Mission Creek dinner a couple years ago, has had me thinking about my last restaurant meal.

It was for my birthday in early March, and the food, prepared with care and creativity by Rodina‘s team, was excellent, as was the company of Evelyn, Laura, Sam, Erek, Kelly, David and Lisa.

Such meals aren’t ancillary to my social life. As a homebody and an introvert (of which I’m even more certain now than before), they’re often the necessary social lubricant.

I miss (in-person) meals with family, and I miss meals with friends. I miss the magical experiences — surprising, novel and transportive — that restaurants can offer.

When we travel (when will that happen again?), it often centers on food, and we seek out those places we hope will offer a thoughtful meal and then figure out what else we’ll do and where we’ll stay from there.

When we’re home and our kid is off with friends (when will that happen again?), we’ll venture somewhere locally, and simply watch people while we enjoy good drinks and good food.

None of that comes in a to-go box.

“The door for real change has opened a crack. Put down your shoulder and hit it as hard as you can.”

Amid the world’s chaos — which is exactly why this is the right time to talk about this — I’d like to step back and talk about why I’m all in for Elizabeth Warren

Last night, we had our local Warren organizer, Zoe, who is great, over for dinner.

We talked about things we care about: reproductive justice, racial justice. Social justice. Debt-free education. Climate change. Healthcare. And so on. 

There’s a lot of things to care about — worry about — right now. I bet you care about a lot of these things because a lot of people do.

A lot of people whan to see something different. They want to see meaningful change. 

“The door for real change has opened a crack.” Real change. Big, structural change.

This morning, I woke up to The New York Timesprofile of Elizabeth Warren, listening during my morning run through the darkness.

It focused on the time, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when a door was open a crack. Through that opening Warren pushed the establishment of a consumer safety agency for financial products. 

You know it today as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

The CFBP is good for people. Big bank folks kinda hate it because it means regulation and accountability. Some politicians kinda hate it because people in big banks kinda hate it.

But accountability and regulation is good. Not ruining lives because of bad financial products is good. 

Warren’s able to push these things because she has the ability a good teacher has to explain complex issues clearly, and she can do it to big audiences. That’s her super power.

That and empathy. She cares. 

Anyway, Warren’s moment starts with her puking before going on The Daily Show

It ends with her offering a masterfully clear vision of where we go “after we pull the bus out of the ditch.” 

So she’s got plans. Green New Deal. Blue New Deal. Plans to farmers and workers. Plans to address immigration and our climate crisis and transition to Medicare for All. Lots of plans. 

Progressive plans. 

And you can go and read them

But what runs through them all of her plans is accountability and empathy. Lost in the talk about her progressive stands is that they are centered on anti-corruption.

We don’t make progress on issues we care about because the system isn’t set up for most of us. Our current administration is corrupt and abhorrent and our president should be impeached. But our problems didn’t start — and won’t end — with Trump. 

We’ve nibbled around the edges for years. I’m tired of trying to start in the middle and getting steamrolled. So is Elizabeth. 

“You don’t start out by saying there are people who are going to oppose this, so let’s just ask for 2 percent.” 

Elizabeth Warren can compromise, but we’re going to have to fight for even moderate changes, so why only ask for a little? 

We want to get the money out of politics, but when I get calls from folks who are running for office asking for money, the ask always starts this way: “Gosh, we gotta get the money out of politics. But until then, can you write me a check?” 

Elizabeth is walking the walk. She knows we’re not going to get the money out of politics by keeping money in politics. Or that we’re going to get transparency from our politicians unless we get transparency our political leaders.

 She keeps asking why things that are popular with voters don’t get traction in Washington. And the answer she keeps coming to is corruption. Power and influence and money and access. Systemic, built-in corruption. And it’s been here. 

“It’s about having a vision about who you want to work for.” 

Elizabeth Warren knows who she wants to work for, and she’s doing the work to show she’s legit. 

The door is open a crack. Don’t be afraid to put your shoulder down and push hard.

-30- 

All In on Big, Structural Change

With local elections now passed, my attention turns to the Iowa Caucuses and the vital work of 2020.

The field of Democratic presidential candidates is deep and diverse, and people I respect are committed to many of them. We all want someone who can win.

Our country faces myriad serious issues: racial inequity, a climate crisis, income inequality, mass incarceration, Go Fund Me for healthcare debt, out-of-reach housing, childcare deserts, tax-free corporate profits, crumbling infrastructure, bought-and-paid-for politics, a hallowed-out safety net, disenfranchisement, forced childbirth, gun violence, and a world unraveled and leaders indifferent to the pain they’re inflicting on humans.

Lots of our candidates care about these issues. But that’s just table stakes.

The Iowa Caucuses, whatever their faults, operate outside of the usual choose-one-of-two of elections. It’s our chance to follow our hearts.

And my heart says Elizabeth Warren.

Warren has the skills and the plans for the desperately needed — say it with me — big, structural change.

She’s a big thinker who designed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, then ran it. She’s a hard fighter who isn’t afraid to stand up against big banks, big tech and big energy. And she’s an inspiration and a teacher who can clearly explain the plan, how it works, and why it’s important, and then lead the way.

But can she win? Yes, of course she can. If we don’t let ourselves get tied up in I-like-her-but… knots outthinking ourselves.

I hope you’ll allow yourself to dream big, follow your heart and join me in supporting Elizabeth Warren.

The Arts Will Strengthen Our Community

My first date with my wife, Laura, was a 1995 showing of Braveheart at the Englert.

A few years later, just as I was finishing high school, the Coralridge Mall opened and laid waste to Iowa City’s retail. Big department stores had either abandoned Iowa City or were getting ready to. There weren’t many decent restaurants, and the bars relied on underage drinking. And the parts of downtown that weren’t bars were rapidly being replaced by more bars.

Then the Englert, the last movie theater in downtown Iowa City, closed. It was going to become a bar.

I was in college — the downtown scene was being build for my cohort! — but I was heartened when a group of locals launched the Save the Englert campaign and managed to do just that.

Since then, the Englert has become a cultural beacon, hosting hundreds of show a year, organizing festivals and helping program arts across the community. And FilmScene has brought movies — good ones — back to the heart of Iowa City. And Saturday, they launched a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen our existing venues, grow the arts into new spaces and with new festivals and evolve our organizations with community-driven arts access and education. You can read more about it here.

Here comes the appeal. We’ve given. We’ve asked our friends to give. And I’m asking you to consider giving. These opportunities don’t come around very often.

Communications That Don’t Suck (or Cost a Buttload)


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No non-profit organization exists just to do communications.

Instead, people get involved because they're interested in helping communities, advocating for change or building a needed amenity. But communications are vital to supporting these organizations’ mission by raising funds, recruiting volunteers, spreading information and inspiring action.

But I see a lot of sucky communication from scrappy organizations doing really important work, and I want to help. So I put together a guide with goal of helping organizations get on solid footing and pointed in the right direction with practical advice.

There are other, more sophisticated ways to do communications than this guide offers. You can target your ad spends using lookalike audiences to boost your ROI, if that’s your thing.

The guide, however, is geared towards people who don't have a background in communications, marketing or information technology. In fact, it's geared towards organizations that might not have a website or social media presence.

This guide is for organizations that have more enthusiasm than expertise, and more dedication than dollars.

The guide is not intended to be shared with or used by right-to-lifers, gun-rights champions, 'educational choice' advocates, pro-military chickenhawks, censors, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, science deniers, nationalists, Nazis or libertarians.

You can get the guide with your contact information below. You can send me feedback at nick@bergus.org.


My favorite movies of last year

I watched fewer movies this year than I did at one point of my life, when I didn’t have a kid and TV shows weren’t nearly as good as they are now, but I still saw a healthy amount.

While I made it out to see Oscar contenders like Roma, my favorites of the past year were all over the place.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Saving Brinton

Saving Brinton still

A love letter to Iowa and her people disguised as documentary about saving film history. Michael Zahs, who I had the fortune hearing speak at the conclusion of my first showing, is a natural entertainer and a salt-of-the-earth type who warmed my heart. [Watch on Vimeo]

Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse

Into the Spider-verse

I loved Spider-Man when I was growing up. Then, when I tried to jump back in after a few years away, I found it incomprehensible. What they hell were all these weird contrivances? Oddly and amazingly, Into the Spider-Verse manages to tell a story far from that simple Spider-Man beats up bad guys story of my childhood — including multiple dimensions and a main character who isn’t Peter Parker — but makes it familiar and entertaining.

Black Panther

Black Panther still

I love a good superhero movie and Black Panther was exactly that. Plus: representation matters. Wakanda Forever.

Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade

Part of my love for this movie surely comes from being perfectly primed: I saw this with my daughter the summer she was getting ready to enter junior high. It offered an opportunity for us to talk about the journey ahead. The story and acting is incredibly true to life, cringey in all the right ways.

Blackkklansman

Blackkklansman

Like all Spike Lee joints, this is heavy handed at times. But we live in a time like no other and drawing a straight line from shitty cops and organized racism in the 1970s to a shitty president both-side-ing racism in 2017 requires (and resists) being heavy handed.

Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap

A fascinating exploration of three friends, including the filmmaker, bound by skateboarding, as they grow up and grapple with their childhoods and their futures. [Watch on Hulu]

Blockers

Blockers

I’m not kidding. Blockers is exactly what you think it is. Crass. Gross. Over the top. Absurd. But it’s also hilarious and touching. And it actually treats teen sexuality with respect. Blockers is also an argument for why women should helm more movies.

Resolved

The turn of the year is a natural time to look ahead, set goals and pledge to improve.

I’ve never been one for new year resolutions. They strike me as optimistic, and I’m not, as anyone who knows me can attest, not an optimist.

Still, I hope, by the end of the year, to be a better person whose done more good.

Rinse. Repeat.

15 Years

On January 9, 2003, in love since high school and just barely out of college, we met two friends at a magistrate’s office next to the courthouse. One friend was thoughtful enough to bring flowers. The other had appeared in front of the same magistrate for traffic court the day before.

Neither of us remembers the words of the stock vows, but we were told they were lovely.

At our bosses’ urging, we skipped out on work that morning. We celebrated with breakfast at Village Inn.

Within a week, we told our families. Nick’s father seemed suspicious there was a grandchild on the way. (There wasn’t.) Laura’s older brother speculated about the financial benefits and conveniences of marriage. (They were minimal.)

In truth, we had known for years we would marry, but that the wedding would be on our own terms. Eventually, we would get around to throwing a party.

Today, we gather with friends and family to celebrate the first 15 years.


From Nick, to Laura

Floating around our home — saved in boxes, tucked away in drawers, folded into books — are other notes like this.

Some are handwritten, others typed. Some dashed off in a moment, others came slowly and painstakingly. Some are declarations, some appreciations. Some apologies.

Each is a reminder of where we’ve been and a commitment to where we’re going. Each marks a moment.

And here, in the midst of a cold Midwestern winter, we mark another.

First a declaration: I love you, deeply and completely.

I’m inspired and humbled by your empathy and patience and thoughtfulness.
Your steadfastness has kept us on this track, despite my imperfections, more times than I can count.

In this moment there isn’t an apology as we trace life towards more moments.

Together we had a fire and we built a hearth where we can tend it, together, as we gray.


From Laura, to Nick

On tip-toes for our first kiss. Sneaking out all summer. We moved out to move in, together.

Guinea pigs, gerbils, finals. Bean soup and cheesesteaks. Your mohawk, and mail-order celebrity.

First careers and convenience. “Mrs. Bergus” mattered. So I became her, and they welcomed me.

Starter home. Our sweet, wild hound dog. A station wagon with heated seats. Enough.

Then, our Hazelnut. Infinitely better than the sum of our parts. She, and you, pulled me through. To sunshine, forests, cities, mountains.

Advanced degrees. Striving, pushing, saying “yes.” New careers, the next stage, our greatest opportunities.

You deliver on every promise. You hold me up and hold us together before I even know we’re drifting apart.

Calmer waters. A few quieter moments. Deeper meaning, because we’re facing each other now, holding hands.

Bad jokes. Our teenager. Middle age. This life we’ve made. The decades so far: just the beginning of our joy.


January 13, 2018
The Park Lodge at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area
Iowa City, Iowa