Katrina Baker is a die-hard liberal, a practicing lawyer, and co-director of the political network, Living Liberally. Baker was raised in Western New York with plans to go into broadcast journalism. After a particularly eye-opening internship, Baker sought out alternative ways to share stories and inform viewers internationally. Baker appeared in the documentary entitled Bridge to Baghdad, connecting young Americans with their peers in Iraq, and has since produced other web shorts. She is now an associate at Kramer Levin Naftails & Frankel LLP where she focuses on employment law litigation.
Say a little bit about Living Liberally as well as your role as co-director.
Living Liberally is a political community — the social arm of the left movement and I would say the liberal movement, but lots of people are uncomfortable with the L word. It’s a support group for some communities like in red states where people have no place else to talk. In New York, it’s more of a real rallying ground. Living Liberally is also a place for people to convene in between election cycles and campaigns. We are not exclusively Democrats, but one thing that Democrats do really terribly is maintaining a community in between election cycles. They have no infrastructure whatsoever.
How do you keep track and interact with chapters all around the nation?
Matt O’Neill, Justin Krebs, and I are partners in Living Liberally but I took on a more specific role where I interact more with all the chapters. I do all the orientation calls, so any person that wants to start a chapter has to do a call with me. I interact with them. I answer many of their questions. Every three months, we do this thing called a “Check In” where we have all the chapters respond to a survey, hear what everyone is doing, hear about interesting events that they’re doing and then share that back out with the network so that people can use those ideas. I coordinate all of that with the help of other chapter leaders throughout the network.
You were the national organizer of Living Liberally while you were studying law at Fordham, correct? How did you manage all that and law school?
I think in one way it was that real dose of reality that got me through law school. I took three years off between undergrad and law school so I was used to being in a work environment with adults. It was great to do my fifteen-minute study breaks and then go take a call with somebody in Indiana who wanted to start a chapter. Then, my third year, we had some funding to hire a full-time staff member and he took over those responsibilities for a couple of years.
Tell me about the international documentaries that you worked on.
Mostly I worked for a production company that focused on youth productions. I hate the word “tweens” but that was the intended audience — internationally. The reason I got involved with that production company was that I was in a show that we did where the objective was to link students in New York with their peers in Iraq. I wasn’t a student at the time. I just looked very young. So I was one of those people who participated in that, which was also a production Matt was working on.
And when you say “linked,” what do you mean by that?
Via satellite. So we could see them on our television and they could see us on their television.
What was the objective?
It was two weeks before the war began. We didn’t know when the war was going to begin but it ended up being right before. It was called Bridge to Baghdad. It was a really amazing experience. We got to learn a lot about them. We had some people on the panel on the US side — I was the liberal on the panel — but we had some who were pro-war and someone who was in the military.
Did seeing those Iraqi peers affect everyone differently?
I think so. Especially when so much of the news coverage is the same. When you hear “Ra! Ra! War!” and then meet these people and see everything that has happened to them, you’re differently engaged.
Are you still in contact with any of the Iraqis from Bridge to Baghdad?
I used to be. I’ve lost touch with them. Obviously, their lives got turned upside down after the war ended but they have all moved, almost all of them, out of Iraq.
So how did you end up going the law school route?
What I loved about journalism was this idea that people can share their stories, their experiences, and that we could learn from that and better understand what conflicts we run into everyday and what is affecting our country and our world view. American journalism is not interested in that kind of stuff. It would be hard to get into mainstream media with that kind of material. I just didn’t see it happening and I had huge student loans. I’m the first person on either side of my family to graduate from a four-year college. I wondered, how can I tell these people’s stories in a different way? Lawyering is not so different from that. I took my LSATs my senior year of college and then I waited three years. I got the journalism bug out of my system and then in the meantime I met these guys and we founded Living Liberally. Living Liberally really is about people sharing their lives with each other and sharing each other’s stories and making these human connections throughout the network — I can’t say the country anymore because there are so many ex-pat chapters. Everybody in Living Liberally is tied to each other in a lovely way and I think we’re doing what I originally wanted to do when I was a starry-eyed sixteen-year-old.
What is next for Living Liberally?
When we were just Drinking Liberally, some people approached us and said, “We don’t really feel comfortable hanging out in bars,” so they started Eating Liberally and then Reading, Screening, and then Laughing which is a political comedy show. We are willing to expand the gerunds Liberally to any others that come in. It’s all experimental. It’s great seeing what people come up with. Our Memphis chapter threw a Loving Liberally party and it was a sex toy party in protest of anti-sex toy laws. Our network has become more volunteer-focused since we don’t have any paid staff. We’re figuring out how to run this network as cheaply as possible, which we have always done, and then also do the most for our chapter leaders with everyone’s spare time. We would love to be in every congressional district in the country. After the 2008 election, we saw some chapters shut down and interest lag which is understandable. We would love to get the energy going again. We were around before the Tea Party, after all.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
In visiting our chapters, telling people about our chapters, if there isn’t one in your local area — start one. The more chapters we can have, the better. We always need help with Drupal for our website so any credible help would be appreciated. My partner Justin Krebs just wrote a book called 538 Ways to Live, Work, and Play Like a Liberal. It’s a great way to learn about our network and the fun ideas that have come out of our chapters – it’s also a great holiday gift for that conservative uncle or depressed liberal.
chapter founders, help with Drubal