Seeking Amnesty

Steven W. Hawkins, Executive Director
Amnesty International USA
Washington National Office
600 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, 5th Floor
Washington, DC 20003

Phone: 202.544.0200
Fax: 202.546.7142

via tweet to @StevenWHawkins

Dear Mr. Hawkins:

You want to hire me as your Senior Director of Identity & Discrimination (IDD) because Cliven Bundy is my shirttail cousin.

Now that I have your attention, please see my forthcoming book The ‘Madwoman’ v. the Madness of the State for the listicle version.

As I recently communicated to your colleague Steven R. Shapiro in my application for the position of Director of the Center for Justice at the ACLU, for longer narrative of my commitment to human rights as well as my qualifications for the position, see my open letter to another of your colleagues, Michael McConnell.

Now for bullet points corresponding to the job description helping you accomplish the goals of Amnesty International:

Education and Experience:

• The reason an MFA is worth more than the job description’s current education requirements is because I have the skills to tell compelling visual narrative imperative in our globally visual era:

you have seen me close detail

You Have Seen Me, 2007, series of 24 drawings, each 76.5×57 cm, charcoal and Prismacolor on Fabriano Artistico (close detail). Photo documentation courtesy Patrick J. Finerty, Jr.

For your current campaign against decades of imprisonment for women in El Salvador who have already suffered the physical and psychological trauma of losing their unborn infants to miscarriage or inadequate prenatal care due to severe poverty, you’ve got a cartoon trivializing the experience as if hoping to attract an audience of not-very-bright children:

Let’s analyze just a half-dozen frames:

Scene opens to cartoon family at dinner table when pregnant teen daughter “Claudia” begins to hemorrhage:

salvador1 screenshotAt the hospital, scary purple cop tells her she’s going to jail:

salvador2 screenshotScary green doctors deliberate her fate:

salvador3 screenshotIn court, without access to competent counsel, there’s the scary purple cop again:

salvador4Having recently suffered a similar experience right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., yes, indeed, I can empathize with Claudia’s fate. Except Claudia’s courtroom has access to sunlight cheerfully spilling through the windows. An ornately framed painting hangs on the wall. Claudia only wears handcuffs, which she gets to remove in court. That purple cop is packing not nearly as much heat as North American publicly funded, privately contracted security guards, and I didn’t get to remove my shackles prior to my court appearance. Plus Claudia’s lawyer looks more attentive and definitely better dressed than my Ada County, Idaho, public defender. So right now I’m thinking, can you send me a bus ticket to El Salvador? Maybe employers there are willing to pay a living wage to educated job candidates?

By the closing credits, your cartoonists are not even convincing themselves, let alone an external audience empathetic to your cause:

salvador5 screenshotAnd how do you plan to convince an audience hostile to your goals?

Granted, a month or six years is not the equivalent of three or four decades of my life, but the experience of subsisting without human agency is immediate, ongoing, and the further traumatization of imprisonment could be repeated at any moment, indefinitely. I’m not sure, but I think I may not be left with enough physical and emotional reserves to survive state-sanctioned torture a second time:

salvador6 screenshotWith no offense intended to your illustrators; they look like they had a lot of fun. May we talk about visual communications and visual metaphor?

My MFA research explored critical theories of identity, trauma, and the taboo, the subject of expertise you seek in your Senior Director. Here’s a partial installation of that work:

mfa thesis exhibition, partial install

MFA thesis exhibition, Prichard Gallery, Moscow, 2008.

Would you like a closer peek at the document under the Plexi vitrine? Here is the crux of my argument:

wild child gatefold detail

Wild Child, letterpress printed gatefold detail.

What that looks like in daily practice is a willingness to hear perspectives outside my own.

• My experiences working with human rights and education activists in Seattle and again on a successful campaign for Seattle School Board demonstrate my ability to identify complex problems and visually communicate solutions:

If you would like me to run a much more successful campaign for at least five years, you will need to place me in a position of substantive leadership and respect my expertise with a professional salary. Right now those activists are too traumatized to strategize, develop, organize, or run their way out of a hole in the ground. One of the benefits of dire poverty is it can be a terrific measure of human integrity. When you are so poor that card-carrying members of self-described feminist, anti-racist, and socialist worker organizations treat you with disdain, then you know what it is to be truly marginalized.

• The current situation in El Salvador came to my attention nearly simultaneous to Wendy Davis’s June 2013 filibuster of the Texas State Legislature and her subsequent bid for gubernatorial office, an announcement she made simultaneous to the video publishing your first day at Amnesty International. My thought process in art-directing a shot via Twitter that granted brand placement for shoe manufacturer Mizuno in the editorial and not just the lowly ad section of national newspapers a full year later: if Texas Women want me to stand with them, what are they standing on?

Product identified by a writer/shoe salesman in Chicago:

That her then-chief-of-staff loaned socks tells me the shoes were not a planned brand placement or marketing strategy.

That’s what I call nationwide teamwork.

Notice the morning-after re-cap in The New Yorker does not yet name Mizuno. But a full year later The New York Times has not forgotten that brand-associated visual moment. And yet her campaign staff were still unable to recapture that visual momentum.

My second thought, could Japanese shoe manufacturer Mizuno, with its all-male U.S. executive board expanding into the Latin American market and Wendy Davis together be persuaded to #StandWithSalvadoranWomen in a truly global effort?

With its long history of philanthropy core to its business values, “proactively addressing labor and human-rights issues and global environmental problems towards the realization of a sustainable society,” do you think Mizuno could do better than teaming up with charities supported by unappetizing, mass-produced food product, payday loan sharks, and pharmaceutical industry promoters?

Maybe #StandWithIDWomen? If they drop-ship a crate of shoes (don’t forget socks!), never mind the bus ticket, I’ll walk.

How fast can you get out here to the wild, wild west with those “boots on the ground,” so to speak?

• Even after my sharply worded email, comparing Planned Parenthood’s corporate branded shiny pink jackets worn by aggressive teenagers combatting for sidewalk space with a genuine grassroots organization begging for money to feed children of color in impoverished South Seattle, momentarily pausing the deluge into my inbox from teachers incapable of writing their own cogent copy let alone visually communicating to connect with an audience outside themselves, still their Washington State representative asked for my media relations expertise:save our schools pr emailI agreed to attend one organizing meeting on the condition that they would not leave without each attendee committing to accomplish a specific goal within a set timeframe contributing to their overall project. Arriving late to their meeting that conflicted with their earlier action outside Apple, I could identify in a split second the failure of their business plan simply by visually analyzing the notes on their whiteboard. Yet the teacher activists continued to talk at and over the top of each other for another 3–4 hours, and further refused to hear my educated expertise on the very problem they were trying to solve.

Do you give the opinion of a railroad engineer equal weight with a brain surgeon if you’re headed into neurosurgery?

But by the end of their meeting when time came to execute their excited concepts? Mumble-mumble about busy-busy as they all slunk out of the room.

Except for the martyred former mortgage banker-turned-kindergarten-teacher who waylaid me on my way back to the bus station and would not stop tell-tell-telling her trauma narrative. Too cheap to pay for psychotherapy, apparently.

Only when the parents’ group was headed to Olympia later that fall did it finally occur to them that they needed a way of visually communicating with political leaders, e.g., another request for slave labor (presumably, I would also supply the supplies) from one suburban housewife supported by her Gates Foundation-funded researcher hubby, but only if I was willing to be art-directed by visually illiterate group consensus rather than that group jumping at the opportunity to hear my design expertise when it was freely offered:

parents across america art directionA teaching architect and HuffPo blogger activist who does not know how to select text within a PDF document, upload .png files to WordPress, or embed an audiovisual file into a website, may have cost me an entire academic hiring season of faculty applications when she meta-tagged her blogpost with my name publicly criticizing what she understood as my technical difficulties uploading a file rather than a behind-the-scenes comparison of file size limitations and interface design between YouTube and Vimeo. Needless to say, her back-handed compliments of my work won me no clients or faculty interviews that year despite steadily increasing interest from that sector as the Great Recession unemployment rate slowly reduced and my professional development skills rapidly gained. She has since removed her derogatory complaint, but with nothing more than a passive-aggressive no-pology for my “feelings” rather than owning her unprofessional disrespect of my volunteer contribution to her project goals.

In other words, the underdog education activists took an educated, actively engaged, politically aware citizen empathetic to their cause, an audience that sought them out, not the other way around, and left me only grateful that I do not have a child to have it enrolled in Seattle Public Schools, thinking perhaps we ought not be so quick to dismiss the corporate options if those are the critical thinking abilities of public school teachers and today’s parents.

Still, with your outside validation of my expertise, I suspect even Seattle’s education activists could likely be brought on board to support Amnesty International’s goals.

Back to your camp video production: are you deliberately trying to shut out an audience potentially empathetic to your cause, obstetricians and gynecologists who could themselves be prosecuted for aggravated homicide?

The question that I have yet to hear global news reporters ask on the problem in El Salvador: where are the men responsible for these embryos?

Untapped market audience by seeking visual communication solutions to that problem.

Healthy communication or collaborative work ethic needs to be modeled from the leader or the person in the most power within any relationship or organization. From my teaching experiences, even though my approach to teaching and learning is intercommunicative practice, I was the leader in my classroom the challenging semester that news broke about the campus shootings at Virginia Tech:

collaboration sidewalk notes

Sidewalk chalk notes during one outside session as we discussed shifting dichotomies and learning to view weaknesses as strengths.

While early class discussions quickly divided the room into “save the world” or “screw the world” camps, challenging conversations that spilled from my classroom into their other classes and back into my inbox, we proceeded to dialogue across those opposing perspectives until each side could hear the other’s point of view. And still work together:

this is what collaboration looks like

One student adds to class mural atop collaborative line synchronously drawn by three students.

They volunteered. I didn’t tell them what to do; in fact, the whole idea of drawing solutions to world problems was prompted by one of my students asking, “Why not? Why can’t we?” I saw my leadership role as nothing more than a mediator of their own ideas grounded in just half a semester of rudimentary tools for visual communications. I felt so proud of them in that moment.

• The campus newspaper story of my double petitions to 1) design my own thesis so image, text, and structure all communicate the same message, and 2) to change the name of my degree as a critique of the masculine bias of language in higher education rewarded my on-the-record comments with praise from students, graduate students, staff, faculty, and community members across two university campuses, including one female tenured faculty member who did not, herself, have the courage to speak publicly. My petitions and recommendations to the Graduate College preceded by many years federal investigation of non-compliance with Title IX at both Washington State University and the University of Idaho:

mfa graduation announcement

Graduation announcement. When the University of Idaho denied my petition to change the name of my degree as a critique of the masculine bias of language in higher education, I decided to print my own – between color changes and baseline alignments, no fewer than nine press runs on this baby!

• From my experiences serving on campus committees that included the local gallery board and the campus-wide Graduate and Professional Student Association, intimate behind-the-scenes knowledge of the dysfunction of Seattle School Board’s passive aggressive mismanagement of its three Superintendents in as many years and their staff and Washington Education Association members, further listening to Boeing engineers describe the same problem in the corporate world, and still further finding that identical structure of unhealthy communication throughout our systems of mental health services and criminal justice, I recommend intensive Drawing and Recovery workshops for all members of dysfunctional organizations. Here’s how to resolve conflict, hear the other perspective, or Unplay that game:


• My independent classroom teaching experiences are comparable to managing staff. Not quite three years, if you count my dysfunctional faculty reassigning my teaching duties in the midst of the final semester of my third year after I invited a Haitian activist into my classroom with the goal of teaching my graphic design students to think as critically as my drawing students had been able to learn.

One student in that typography class from 2008 dropped by to visit me in 2013, and left this note:supervised student feedback

Another student from a Saturday bookbinding workshop I taught on my own initiative, time, and resources with zero support and even vehement opposition from my department office, anonymously evaluated my staff management skills by writing that the course exceeded expectations, requesting a “semester-length university course that included bookbinding, letterpress, and artist books,” and the worst thing about my class?

The department’s facilities:

anonymous student evaluation

As you can see, these poor students in the foundations design studio at Idaho’s flagship institution of higher learning were expected to learn design in a classroom where the stools were too high for the worktops. Or the tables too low for the stools, leaving no room for human legs in between seating and work surface:

industrial design at the university of idahoIn a program where the architecture faculty slashed their industry-wide standard foundations year to just one semester, then regularly complained about how little their students knew prior to beginning their second year area studies, you kind of wonder why they don’t assign the assignment of designing their own workspace? By demonstration, the “monkey see, monkey do” instead of the “do as I say, not as I do” pedagogy.

• Even given these workplace challenges and the differences in our respective budgets, let’s compare apples to apples to describe my skill at building alliances and growing your membership base:

For another of your current campaigns drawing attention to the egregious corporate oversight that resulted in multigenerational, genetic mutation violence in Bhopal, you’ve got Martin Sheen, and, despite a U.S. membership audience of 250,000, only 350 page views over a month after posting:

martin sheet amnesty intl screenshot

Screen shot, Martin Sheen for Amnesty International: Justice for Bhopal Survivors.

Martin Sheen!

Well, maybe the millennials are too young to be wowed by his celebrity.

With zero budget, zero star power, working with activists too dysfunctional to respect my educated visual communications expertise to identify an audience in advance of their action, I’ve got nearly 400 views, with those stats produced within approximately the same timeframe from date of publication. If you watch the video, you can count the size of my audience by the number of activists who attended the action, perhaps 30–40? A disappointing number to me at the time, but in retrospect, that’s a reach of a power of ten:

tfca apple view statsAnd in purely marketing terms?

Because in addition to concept improvised on the fly after the teachers executed none of the skits or music and failed to provide audio of the in-store action that they had brainstormed at such exhaustive length, or even to come prepared dressed in red to visually communicate their own tagline, art direction, graphic design, image editing, illustration, credits, proofing – Did you know? Boston Pubic [sic] Schools provides support to Teach for America. Yes, really – stop motion photography, and clipping the whole thing back together again, along with a last-minute tribute to Steve Jobs who happened to die the week I was finally ready to publish, the parent-teacher activists also expected me to do their own marketing for them-?!

With a built-in audience of 250K, plus your global network, your visual communications should be attracting 2.5 million, minimum.

A judge in Idaho may not think much of my public speaking skills, but then again, she was confused by the value of healthy communications even after I explained it to her in real-world, business dollars. On the record.

Another public speaking opportunity, describing the success of my collaborative teaching experience to an auditorium filled with next semester’s incoming crop of graduate teaching assistants, I held the audience, predominantly male, in the palm of my hand, their eyes damp with unshed tears, freely contributing when I asked them to, and laughing in the appropriate moments when I paused for them to.

Later feedback on my multimedia interactive presentation from the white, male interim Associate Dean of the Graduate College? In that condescending way that some emotionally immature men have of dismissing women as the “emotional” gender, he made a point of congratulating me on the effectiveness of my presentation, while explaining, “We could tell the experience was very emotional for you,” even though he was one of the men with tears in his eyes.

Little did he know the hours I had prepped memorizing my lines beforehand to get my pacing, stage direction, and voice to that almost-breaking point, performed without referring to any notes.

My high school theatre teacher would have been so proud.

Another faculty dean and former thesis committee member writes of my public speaking abilities, “In the lecture she gave in my class, she was well prepared and organized…I was impressed with her ability to generate interest and enthusiasm among a class of largely non-art majors”:

public speaking reference

• From what you’ve read so far, would you describe me as someone meeting your qualifications for exceptional initiative and follow-through skills that deliver measurable results?

• Super good question: why would the national body of a global organization like Amnesty International trust a destitute job candidate with project management overseeing their budgets? Tiny tip-of-the-iceberg question back to you: how much are you spending each month on maintaining fax lines in the 21st century? I didn’t lose my budgeting skills worthy of induction into the American Association for the Advancement of Science just because employers base their hiring decisions on biases like sex, gender, age, class, race, politics, we don’t need visual communications, we can’t afford to visually communicate with our external audience, we don’t want our students to think critically, we’ll save money by relying on unpaid interns for our visual communications, we want candidates already employed when Pennsylvania Avenue and Wall Street went stark, raving mad with narcissistic greed, we don’t know how to attract talent, ad nauseum.

Do you think Amnesty International USA could set a worldwide standard for less progressive employers to follow by reevaluating its HR system to better attract talent and assist your internal communications team? While yours is by no means the worst HR UI design I have seen in the last six years, you are well-positioned to teach the world basic human dignity beginning from communications between employers and potential employees:

Communicate specs of your database so your applicant can prepare materials before clickety-click-clicking through your system.

Will I be permitted to attach documents? What file types does your database accept? File size limitations? Word or character limitations if the cover letter is restricted to a cut-n-paste form field, leaving your poor HR professionals staring at text-based content all day? An unhealthy approach for attracting talent.

This is what I call narcissistic interface design, no information provided, assumes the candidate has unlimited hours at her disposal, and this is the only job on the planet:

iddIf I need to start an account with you, really? If you could give me the hours I have flung to the winds inputting my personal data over and over and over again, I would have designed a successful plan for world peace by now.

More narcissistic interface design, when, culturally, we have already obediently trotted over to LinkedIn and input all of this information. What this tells me is your employees are probably spending an inordinate proportion of their days performing busy, rather than meaningful, work:

idd2Thank you for providing, in advance, your password specs. Many employers around the globe deploy an even worse version of narcissistic interface design, failing to communicate password requirements in advance, and preferring the Shame and Blame Game method of taunting potential employees for not meeting those expectations, but only after one or more attempts at reading the minds of the web developers who coded their site for them. Or rewarding potential employees with a sliding bar ranging from weak to strong, but still without communicating specs in advance:

idd3The rest of these hover hints, however, are redundant to the form fields, thus condescending to your applicants.

“Start application” has ominous connotations for candidates who possess excellent time management skills. This process could take even longer than the research that I have already put into your organization as well as personalizing my cover letter to the qualifications of the specific job, as recommended by HR experts globally?

Will I be able to save and return?

Why is this such a painstaking process in the age of social media?

Why do so many HR departments act as if they are the only HR department in the world?

How well I have learned the value of marketing! But asking for advertising source tells me that you expect that your job candidates will not assist your recruiting efforts within the verbiage of their cover letter; your expectations are very low.

The drop-down menu tells me you are familiar with LinkedIn, yet still deploying narcissistic interface design:

idd4(Click.) Oh, no. Really? Establishing a new account does not automatically log me into your system, ready to apply for the job that most piqued my interest?

idd6Much as the Graduate and Professional Student Association was so impressed with my rewriting of their grants notification letters, shifting from their previous tone of harried grants administrator shaming their applicants to one of praise and gratitude for their underpaid work, coupled with my vast experience applying for jobs for which I meet or greatly exceed the organizations’ expectations, may I suggest a tone change from this grammar challenge:

“Due to high volume, AIUSA cannot provide additional confirmation that resumes or other application materials have been received. Only qualified candidates will be contacted by AIUSA staff.”

To this:

AIUSA receives an average of ___ submitted résumés for each available position. Thank you for your patience while we carefully review all potential members who want to join our team, a process which usually takes an average of ___ weeks/months. (Circle one.) All candidates who meet or exceed the posted qualifications for the job will receive personalized feedback on their applications.

Oh, no. Could I have forgotten the password just in the time it’s taken me to write this step-by-step analysis walking my potential client through your system from your client’s point of view? Did I mis-type?

idd6(Tries again.) Apparently I have forgotten the password, even though I am fairly confident I remembered “Amn3sty” accurately and typed both email and password accurately twice. Would here be a good place to mention the last time I took a typing test the temp agency HR professional was blown away by my accuracy and speed combination? From my perspective, my speed had dropped considerably since my previous test accurate at 90 wpm.

Did your system generate an auto-reply confirming new registration that I need to reconfirm to finalize registration? (Checks email.) No. Reset Amn3sty:

idd7Or maybe not:

idd8Is this HR system asking for any information that Amnesty International could not already access online and for free 24/7/365?

idd9No helpful hint on the password this time. Hmm, maybe there is a redundant registration page somewhere in your site architecture?

idd10Best practice, I never ask my browser to remember a password until I have successfully gained admittance on the other end:

idd11Logging in a second time:

idd12No surprise for an expert client in narcissistic HR interface design:

idd13Just think, thirteen pages of human-to-human communication mediated by narcissistic interface design could be reduced to an email cover letter specific to the organization’s needs and particular position with a link to candidate’s web page, see for example my recent Twitter conversation with one of Google’s formerly “wildest” designers, now Vice President of Design at Capital One.

Your staff are drowning in your own data. How many millions of dollars would you like to add to your budget next year?

One more tiny feedback on your human resources:

graphic design unpaid internshipTo me, design is not about making pretty, but about solving problems.

Unpaid internships reduce your talent pool to wealthy, but not necessarily well-educated, candidates.

Of course, as a nonprofit, you’re not required to pay your interns, but leaving your external communications to unpaid labor is never a good idea. While your overall brand looks like you hired professionals at one point, I hope I have adequately demonstrated here the harm caused when relying on unpaid internships, for your internal and your external communications, as well as my project management skills, including budgeting, to help you accomplish the overall goal of your organization.

Could Amnesty International set a gold standard in human rights and labor abuses by paying all of its employees?

• In evaluating my ability to be a self-starter and work independently, also compare my TFCA: Rotten to the Core stats with my direct mail and web stats from my 2008 entrepreneurial business start up, and, from that link, compare again to venture capitalist-funded Bay Area tech entrepreneur Mariam Naficy speaking about her start up failure and her notion of “success” – with none of her class resources or networked community of mentors and peers at my disposal.

• Again, I taught the class in working collaboratively, and if your constituent groups, including staff, board members, volunteers, donors, program participants, and other supporters do not yet possess healthy communication skills, I am happy to extend the course to new audiences of all sizes, shapes, and flexible timeframes.

• Believe it or not, throughout this entire traumatic post-Great Recession experience with my life threatened again and again and my constitutionally guaranteed freedoms revoked by state bureaucrats, I have maintained my tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, which I hope you can hear in this writing. Key to survival.

Take my expert word for it: if you lose your sense of humor, you’ve got nothing.

Besides your health.

Thank you for giving me the wealth of opportunities to learn from the experts in global justice and human rights, by adding my humble batch of skills to your organization. Thank you for your feedback on adding transparency to human resources. If you decide not to grant my application for Amnesty, do you think you could still send help?


Jana Brubaker


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