My Serendipitous Friendship with Jon

Bumping into Jon serendipitously at an event in early 2019.

An Intimate Gathering in 2017

In April 2017, I made my way across Sandy Springs in Atlanta to a house nearby the JCC (Jewish Community Center). It was an area of town I was more than a little familiar with; I’d grown up around there, my grandparents lived there, I’d gone to school around there, and holiday dinners were spent quite literally in the neighborhood. But it wasn’t a holiday get-together I was attending that afternoon—it was a small, intimate meeting with then-Congressional candidate Jon Ossoff.

There were about 40 people at the host’s house—some of them children who’d come with parents—so it wasn’t difficult to listen to Jon speak intimately about the issues which drove him; issues like healthcare, anti-corruption, job creation, equal rights, and renewable energy opportunities. After a short speech, he took whatever questions peppered the crowd, and in a unique twist of fate, ended on my question about what opportunities he saw in making Atlanta a tech-hub and destination city. He seemed to connect with my eagerness to see the city listed among Boston, San Francisco, Austin, New York, and Seattle as a major tech hub, and recognized the opportunities we had to make it so. Afterwards, we chatted a little further and exchanged numbers to continue the conversation. 

Here, I need to give it up to my grandparents—and especially my grandmother—through whom I effectively met Jon and began our running discourse. She was instrumental in turning out Dunwoody residents for Jon’s 2017 campaign, a fact which he’s expressed gratitude for time and again. He even opened an email with such a sentiment later on (see below).

In June of that year, when Jon became the Democratic nominee for the special election in Georgia’s Sixth District, the energy was something we hadn’t felt since perhaps 2008. Ultimately, Jon would miss by a mere percentage point or two; perhaps meaningless to those living outside Georgia, but to those of us who grew up here, indicative of a larger change on the horizon. 

The Out-of-the-Blue Email in 2018

One of the big questions thereafter was what Jon would do. Would he run for GA06 again? No—he came out as a vocal supporter of now-Congresswoman Lucy McBath. Would he run for Governor? No—he left that to Stacey Abrams and I think everyone would agree that was the right decision to make. Abrams has fundamentally changed the Georgia political landscape in ways previously unseen certainly in my lifetime. Jon seemed to step back from the spotlight a little at this time, focusing I would assume on more personal life events and future plans. 

Nevertheless, he and I resumed a light dialogue after a minor time lapse. I received this email from him out of the blue in February of 2018 and subsequently scheduled a catch-up call.

The unexpected email I received from Jon in 2018.

The call wasn’t long; perhaps about 15-20 minutes. But then again, it didn’t need to be.

How Relationships Grow Through Long-Term Discourse

One of the key things I’ve learned through becoming an expert relationship-building and networking consultant is that it’s the substance that matters, not the time. So it doesn’t matter that our catch-up call was 15 minutes instead of two hours—and it didn’t matter that we don’t speak daily. One of the biggest misconceptions about great relationship-building is that you need to be in someone’s face 24/7 to see any long-term benefit. This is incorrect.

One of the key rules to understand in any relationship-building scenario is that people have a million things to do every day. Time is their most precious commodity followed closely by energy. Recognition of this is core to developing any sort of dialogue that is positive and authentic.

During our conversation, Jon and I discussed the normal things: his expression of gratitude for support in 2017, what my future goals might include, how I might be able to support him in the future, etc. No bombshell revelations, no hints at future runs for office. All I had on that level were my own theories. But the calls accomplished what they were supposed to; keeping the lines of communication open and indicating interest in future dialogue.

This would become our particular dance: running into and acknowledging each other, continuing our discourse, and then parting for some time until the next time. 

Serendipitous Meeting in 2019 and Senate Candidacy

I would bump into Jon again in April of 2019—almost two years exactly since we first met—down at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta at another event. We stood again and spoke a bit about the developing political landscape in Georgia and I asked if he might run again. He demurred a little and returned our conversation to the current event, but I thought I saw a slight glimmer in his eye. 

The next time I saw Jon wouldn’t be too far off, and there wouldn’t be any more question of what lay ahead. It was in September of 2019—at his official Senate campaign kickoff event. It included moving remarks from civil rights icon John Lewis, whom I was also humbled to meet before his passing last year.

Congratulating Jon in late 2019 at his official Senate campaign kickoff.

Jon and I spoke only for a brief few minutes—he was swarmed by people wanting to shake his hand and take his picture (in the time before Covid)—and it was important to let him do so. But in those few minutes, our continued discourse was acknowledged, our mutual hope for Georgia articulated, and, again, an expression of gratitude on his part for support and positive words.

Throughout his 2020 Senate campaign, I saw Jon at a number of events, and watched the crowds grow larger and larger. It very quickly got to the point where the lines for pictures with him were longer than I’d ever seen them, and after he’d be whisked away on his bus to hit the next stop. But every time I was there on the side, watching him take pictures with new supporters, he never failed to acknowledge me and thank me for continued support:

“Adam, great to see you! Thank you so much for coming out. How’s your grandmother? Please give her my best. Shoot me a text and we’ll catch up when things calm down.”

2020 and Looking Forward

The friendship I’ve developed with Jon over the last few years has been unique because it must appear from the outside as arms-length, but on the inside feels—and is, I believe—much more genuine. Like I said before, you don’t need to spend hours on the phone with someone to develop a truly positive and authentic relationship. There just needs to be a mutual desire to pick up each other’s call or answer each other’s email and a mutual recognition of value. Mutual—that’s always the keyword. It’s what I tell my networking clients and associates. 

Now, on the morning of Jon’s 2021 runoff election for the Senate, I find myself grateful for the somewhat unexpected way that our friendship has developed. It’s allowed me to watch his upwards trajectory and draw from it inspirational goals to emulate on my own journey.

I don’t know when next I will speak with Jon—certainly only in a moment of quiet for him after such an eventful year. But I know that it will most likely be as serendipitous as all of our previous meetings have been, a fact at which I can’t help but chuckle a little wryly.

As our friendship and dialogue continue to develop, though, I’ll always be glad I made that drive across Sandy Springs to that first intimate meeting in 2017. 

Launching (and Relaunching) “HowManyPeopleVoted.com”

Background: An Opportunity to Get Involved

Early on November 1st, I noticed that my friend Mubs had posted a new project just days before the 2020 U.S. election—it was called “How Many People Voted?” and was a simple vote-tracker. Apparently he’d cooked it up and kicked it out the door in just a couple of hours.

I flew out of bed and onto a zoom call with him; I saw immense opportunity in it and knew this was something I had to be involved in. Politics and local involvement had been something that I had become progressively more intrigued with, and Mubs’ new build piqued my interest immediately.

Over the course of the next hour, Mubs and I kicked ideas back and forth about how we could grow and expand “How Many People Voted?” beyond the 2020 November election. Sure, it was definitely timely in that respect, but as grassroots involvement has grown, so too has interest in locally focused organizations and initiatives centered around expanding the democratic process. It’s not that similar initiatives weren’t around before, but rather that we seem to have seen a resurgence of local interest from demographics of people perhaps previously not so tuned into the mechanics of the process. 

Maybe it’s just the times we’re living in. 

Minor Tweaks and Copy Content

And this isn’t even a uniquely American trend either. Grassroots and local communities in democratic nations around the world appear to be experiencing similar trends of interest and involvement here. Those people were (ostensibly) voting too—maybe we could apply the same idea there for other elections in the future.

But back to America in November 2020. 

We updated the How Many People Voted? page (and its Product Hunt profile page) as quickly as we could—Mubs rearranged a couple things and I wrote up some copy to give some context to the election for our non-American visitors and the most accurate voting numbers we could source before the actual election.

We added columns for “Early Voting” and “2020 Population” counts as well. Then I tweeted it out into my political network and waited. There wasn’t much to do before the actual voting results started to come in.  

Initial Traction

During the first day or so, we started to do some significant traction—people all of the country (and world!) were clearly geared up to learn and talk about the election, even if we didn’t have any new number yet. Regardless of political affiliation, there was clearly more interest in the political process than there had been in years. 

We got posted to Hacker News and started to work our way up the main page to number eight!

We started with a couple thousand visitors in the first few hours—that night we got posted to Reddit and started to trend!

We were also featured on OnePageLove which was another plus for the day!

Then we jumped to over 7K visitors by the morning of November 2nd. That day we were retweeted by GA State Senator Jen Jordan as well as Staci Fox, the CEO for Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates.

We ended up doing more than 10K visitors by Election Day on November 5th.

Continued Growth

What was interesting was that the visitor numbers only seemed to accelerate after Election day was over; presumably because there were still hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of outstanding votes left to count all over the country. We all knew it was going to be a long wait and that numbers would continue to trickle in. I figured we’d still continue to see some more page views, but wasn’t sure just how many. 

The next day on Nov. 6th, that question was, if not answered, then certainly addressed: we were featured on Refdesk.com as their site of the day. That kicked up our traction a bit.

By the end of the week, we’d done somewhere in the neighborhood of ~13K views with almost no marketing. In fact, the only “real” marketing Mubs and I did was perhaps a tweet thread each with some people tagged. I ended up resharing the same tweets with people in my local network here in Atlanta (the energy here was—and is—insane!) and in my other social networks in the lead-up to the election to try to motivate everyone to go exercise their right to vote.  

Relaunch for the GA Runoffs

Fast-forward to now. While most if not all of the 2020 races have concluded around the country, here in Georgia, things are still very much red-hot. Both of our U.S. Senate seats are up this year; one as a regularly scheduled election and the other one as a special election. The latter will be up again in 2022. 

In Georgia, state law requires candidates to receive a majority of the vote (50.1% or more) in order to be declared the winner; failing to do so for either candidate leads to a runoff election. And this year, our senate seats are heading to dual runoffs!

So Mubs and I put our heads back down and redesigned How Many People voted? for the special circumstances we now find ourselves in. We updated the copy to give non-Georgia citizens an idea of why the Senate is still up for grabs and a brief overview of the four candidates now vying for the prospective seats (the general 2020 election featured an all-party jungle campaign for the special election Senate seat). Similarly, we updated the informational deadlines at the top of the site to correspond with the particular deadlines that are set here in Georgia. 

These include: 

1) The absentee ballots mailed-by date — Nov. 18th, 2020

2) The GA voter registration deadline — Dec. 7th, 2020

3) The day in-person voting begins — Dec. 14th, 2020 &

4) The runoff Election date — Jan. 5th, 2021

Additionally, we totally revamped our informational columns and breakdown. Since we have a Georgia focus until the election is over, we replaced the other state rows with all of Georgia’s 159 counties (we have a ton!) and the number of registered voters per county. And while we wait to have some official numbers of early votes, we wanted to give some context of the last time we had a statewide runoff election here in Georgia, so we included the data for 2018’s runoff for Georgia Secretary of State. 

We’ll see what the numbers tell us as we get closer to Election Runoff Day! Things should be super exciting as there are thousands of newly registered voters here in Georgia who will have just turned 18 and are now legally eligible to participate in the voting process. The energy here is palpable to say the least and it’s clear that everyone’s foot is still on the accelerator. 

Remember, if you’re a Georgia citizen and eligible voter, please #GoVote and make your voice heard!  

Follow the continuing election numbers on Twitter at @HowManyVoted and keep getting involved!

For more content, you can follow me on Twitter & LinkedIn @adammarx13 😎🚀.

Retaining Our Conviction for Gender Equality

Originally published on my Medium on January 28th, 2017. 

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Perspectives from the Son of Two Civil Rights Lawyers

Last Saturday, on January 21st, 2017, women (and men) in all 50 states, as well as 50+ countries around the world, marched for gender equality. Their marches were a protest of the new American President Donald Trump, and his misogynist, exclusionary dialogue (monologue?) regarding gender rights in the U.S.

The marches were a resounding success, drawing more than 3 million people worldwide, and painting my social media feeds—and those of everyone I know—pink with solidarity. And for a moment—a day—it seemed that scores of people saw what I see every day.

My parents are civil rights attorneys—they have a combined 70+ years worth of experience practicing sexual harassment and employment discrimination law, and are barred (i.e. licensed to practice law) in 3 states. They’ve litigated at most levels, from state court all the way up to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on numerous occasions.

As a result, I grew up seeing the disgusting misogyny and sexism (not to mention racism, and most every other “-ism” you can think of) that so many people seemed intent on banishing last weekend. From the time I was in grade school, terms like “Title VII,” “Title IX,” and “EEOC” were words thrown around the dinner table as my parents discussed research for cases they were working on.

Now those words seem to be sinking into the consciousness of Americans on a much broader scale, and that in itself is a good thing. But it’s not the only thing, and we must not become complacent.

The reality is that as wonderful as marches are, they don’t achieve anything by their own virtue beyond creating awareness and emotion. How many people marched against the Vietnam War in the ‘70s? Millions. Did it force Nixon to pull out of Vietnam? No.

The power in marches and collective support is not in their ability to force legal changes—it is in their power to force lawmakers who otherwise would ignore the problems to pay attention and address those issues.

That is the understanding that we must have moving forward after last weekend. If we pat ourselves on the back, and simply drift back to where we were, then nothing changes; Trump is still President, the Congress is still hyper-Conservative, and women’s rights, minority rights, and LGBTQ rights are still in danger and under siege.

Change comes in conviction to speak out for others when there isn’t a big march to attend. It comes in the courage to hold people accountable for sexist policies and discriminatory laws, regardless of the size of the institution or the extent of their war-chest. The precedent for holding public policy-makers accountable is well-established:

  • Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 US 424 (1971) — Decided that certain education requirements and intelligence tests used as conditions of employment acted to exclude African-American job applicants, did not relate to job performance, and were prohibited.
  • McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 US 792 (1973) — Laid out a formula for a finding of discrimination where there is no admission.
  • Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 US 248 (1981) — Laid out that the plaintiff always bears the burden of proof, and sets a finding of context for allegations of discrimination.
  • Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 US 57 (1986) — Found that a claim of “hostile environment” sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that may be brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Ellerth/Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 US 775 (1998) — Decided that employers need to have an anti-harassment policy which is communicated/distributed to all employees, which tells employees who they can complain to if they are being harassed. Once a complaint has been received, the employer has the obligation to address the harassment claim, and take action if the complaint is founded.

And these are only a few of the cases which have become a part of Title VII and Title IX jurisprudence.

Thus it falls to us, in the days, weeks, and months after these marches to keep our focus clear. All the pink hats in the world and all the pictures of people gathered to march will mean nothing if no policy is affected by it.

If there continues to be the same gender-based wage-gap, diversity disparity, and dismissal of sexual harassment claims and grievances, we will have achieved nothing of consequence beyond snapping some great pictures for our social media.

The amazing thing is that it appears to me as if we really do live in a new era. It’s not 2002 anymore—LGBTQ rights matter to people (outside the LGBTQ community) on a scale they arguably never have before. Focus on sexual harassment and discrimination seems to be ticking up as ability to document and share these grievances has grown. More women and minorities serve in all facets of our lives than we’ve ever experienced—from politics, to business, to law, medicine, athletics, and the arts.

Now, the next step after making people aware, and care about these issues, is to make sure than something gets done. We’ve had the high of seeing that millions of people care, and were willing to brave the rain and cold to have their voices heard. We’ve seen that those people don’t just live in New York City and San Francisco, but live all over the country (and the world!)—in Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Anchorage, Miami, Chicago, Boise, Billings, Denver, and Philadelphia.

So with all of this in mind, let’s do something about it. Companies and universities should be actively seeking out attorneys with experience in discrimination and sex harassment law to coach their HR departments—to help them understand Title VII and Title IX, and set proper parameters for their employees based on these legal codes. More understanding and higher accountability means fewer cases, and fewer cases means less money that needs to be spent in litigation. And that’s not to mention the PR perks of high accountability and an egalitarian environment.

With all of the news this weekend regarding Trump’s new Muslim ban (that’s definitely coming up in another essay), it can be easy to forget the message which was loudly sent a week ago. But we need to keep pressure on the pulse of discrimination, and drive steadfastly towards gender equality if we’re ever going to fully achieve it. Egalitarianism and meritocracy are rights deserved by all, but it will take hard work to make it a reality.


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A Message for the Alt-Right This Holiday Season

Dear Atl-Right,

You’re riding high on the fumes of your supposed success, so you think you’ve won the fight.

You haven’t.

I’m still still here—we’re still here. The “others” you so very much detest and scapegoat for problems which have nothing to do with us. Change is hard and uncomfortable, so you don’t like it. You think it would just be easier—better—to keep things as they were. Except, ironically, you don’t seem to realize or care that you were on the periphery then, too. You’ve just found another “other” to turn your frustrations to.

You think that because my skin is black/brown/olive/caramel/tan/not-white that you can intimidate me. You can’t.

You think that because I go to synagogue/mosque/temple/non-church to pray that you will make me doubt myself. You won’t.

You think that because I’m an immigrant I don’t belong here. I do. And anyway, that’s pretty self-righteous talk for someone who lives in a country of immigrants and their descendants.

You think that because I am gay/lesbian/bi/female/trans/feminist/queer that I should just shut my mouth. I won’t.

You think because many of us have different opinions and political ideologies that we can’t and won’t work together against you. We can and we will. We intend to.

And most of all, you think that if I am any of the things above, I won’t be supported by others in my fight to push forward. I am, and we have all made the decision that you won’t win in the end. Singular victories are hollow if they’re not followed by lasting legacy, and they ultimately brittle and turn to dust.

Look at Ozymandias:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

You are him, proclaiming victory when time is coming to swallow you up. The empire you seek to build will soon be in dust, so don’t get too comfortable on that pedestal you’ve built for yourself.

All this time you’ve thought we could be scared away, content to meagerly limp out, tail between our legs.

You’re wrong. We’re not going anywhere.

Happy holidays.

Signed,

The “Others”