The Organizer Who Thinks Activism Should Be Part Of

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“Hey, I’m Jess (@jesslivmo), and I’m a trained organizer. I treat organizing like improv or jazz—I want to try new things, experiment, and have people add on top of what I’ve done and remix it. Because it’s cyclical work, I’ve gotten to work for Hillary for America, Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee, and AFL-CIO American Unions. Now I am the cofounder of Supermajority, civic engagement director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, executive director of Care In Action, co-chair of Families Belong Together, and cofounder of She Se Puede.

I grew up in a super religious, Catholic family. Actually, in 2016, my number one voter persuasion project was my own mother. My mom in particular is very politically conservative and has been my whole life. I remember watching the presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush, and because I was rooting for Al Gore my mom sent me to my room. I figured that if I could convince my mom to vote for Hillary Clinton, I could truly convince anyone. I went into election day not sure who my mom was voting for, and it wasn’t until later that I found out she voted for Clinton. It took a whole year of trying to convince her.

People approach political conversations as confrontations, but I think they’re a way to gain understanding. Most people are not policy experts but they have strongly held beliefs. A lot of times, those beliefs stem from either something deeply personal, or some kind of misinformation. I, too have really strongly held beliefs, and I, too am passionate about this stuff, but when I come to the conversation with an open mind and heart it invites others to do the same. Misinformation in particular happens a lot around controversial issues, which are kind of my specialty. When people have misinformation that they think is absolutely true, the most important thing is to ask questions. When I ask questions, the thought process falls apart like a house of cards. It happens a lot about immigration in particular—for example, people will say things like ‘Immigrants come across the border with drugs.’ Most people’s instinct is to respond by saying that’s not true, but who is going to magically agree with that? Instead, I’ll say something like, ‘Oh, why do you think that is?’ Or, ‘How is that happening?’ Or, ‘How do you know this?’ Usually the answer is that people aren’t sure, which gives me an opening to share what I think. When I share personal stories of visiting the border and talking to hundreds of immigrant families, I find that makes the most powerful impact.

I, like all self respecting millennials, am into Korean skin care. I am obsessed with Charlotte Cho—I love how entrepreneurial she is, I love the way she talks about skincare, and I love how she’s recently started speaking up about politics. At night I do a double cleanse with her Then I Met You balm and a random soap bar that my mom got me. My number one holy grail is my essence, the May Coop Raw Sauce. Those people should give me stock. I have really oily skin and if I put too much stuff on my face it’ll be acne central, but this essence makes my skin feel amazing and look plumped up. The price is right too. If it’s morning, I put on sunscreen after that. I use the Korean Etude House sunscreen, which is really great. My moisturizer is the Belif Aqua Bomb, and depending on how my skin looks I might use some oil from Whole Foods on top.

In the beginning of my career I felt like I had to dress up to be taken seriously. At the same time, politics is a very serious environment and for a long time I felt like I couldn’t show the part of me that’s interested in beauty. I am Latina, and we wear big earrings and bright lipstick. The more I’ve embraced who I am, the more people have taken me seriously. On the day-to-day, I mix Pat McGrath’s foundation with the primer to dilute it. I really try to think about how I’m using my dollars to support my values, so I try to choose brands that have a wide shade range or are Black-owned. And a few years ago I consciously made a decision to watch more makeup videos from Black influencers, particularly darker-skinned Black influencers. Nyma Tang, Jackie Aina, Alissa Ashley, and Michele Wang are my go-to sources. That being said, I swear by this one Maybelline concealer—before COVID I traveled a lot for work, and that was my go-to because I could get it anywhere. They need to expand their shade range, but if it comes in your shade you should get it. I use Benefit’s brow product and Smashbox mascara—I have such short, light eyelashes and that mascara makes me look like I was blessed. Sweet Street Cosmetics Wing Queen is the best black eyeliner. And for the rest of my face, I’m strongly drawn to pinks and corals. I have the Live Tinted Huestick in every shade, but if I’m doing a red lip, it’s probably Chanel. I recently got into Inspire by Rare Beauty and I love that one a lot, too.

I went through a curly girl method phase many years ago, and when it had its recent resurgence I got back into it. But those products really messed up my hair. Now, I wash with shampoo but only at the roots—right now I’m using Kristin Ess Curl Shampoo, and before that I used Davines, which I like but it’s expensive. The quest for the perfect curly shampoo is a never-ending journey. After I rinse that out, I flip my head upside down, detangle with conditioner, twist my hair into eight to ten curls, and start squishing it up to rinse out the conditioner. When I get out of the shower, and while my hair is still soaking wet, I put a small amount of curl cream in my hand and scrunch that into my hair. I either use Bumble and Bumble curl cream or Rizos, which is this Latina-owned brand that was started in a basement and is now sold all over the world. Then I do the same process with gel I get from the beauty supply store and let my hair air dry. I think it’s important to embrace a little frizz—the more I let my hair do its thing, the better it looks.

I think about organizing the same way I think about eating healthy or exercising. I don’t always want to get on my Peloton bike, but when I’m finished I always know it was the right choice. Organizing has to be part of your life. That could look like going to a protest on Saturday, donating on Sunday, posting something on Facebook on Monday, calling your congressperson on Tuesday, and going to a meeting on Wednesday. I always ask people what the thing they really, really care about is: Is it clean air and water? Schools? For me, it’s women’s rights and immigration. No matter who wins next week, we’re still going to have to organize to get what we want done for the things that we care about. It’s the work of living a really good life. If you care about your skincare routine, this is just like that! You’re taking care of yourself, and you’re taking care of your community.”

—as told to ITG

Photos via the author





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