By: Danae Edmonds
Let me preface this piece by saying that this interview is one of my absolute favorites as it marks a new chapter for Speaking of Everything. I heard Tina speak at Creative Mornings Raleigh about 6 months ago and was completely in awe. Tina and her husband Grayson are the dynamic duo behind so many awesome movements including Saturday Chores and the Airhorn Orchestra just to name a few. In North Carolina and actually all over the world, their antics have made headlines because of their unique approach to activism. I was thrilled to get the chance to interview Tina and found her words truly inspiring and encouraging. January’s It Girl, Tina Haver Currin!
Name: Tina Haver Currin
Job Title/Company: Creative Strategist at Myriad Media / Activist
Education Background: UNC Chapel Hill, English Major
- Tell us a little about who you are.
I am a member of the downtown Raleigh Community. I’m a millennial. I’m a cat lover. I’m a wife and an activist.
- What sparked your interest in community organizing and activism?
It happened, I wont say by accident because I knew where I was going, but it happened sort of by accident. I participated in the Moral Monday’s movement which was a great grassroots weekly happening that started in 2013 when the legislature started doing bad things to our state. I live in a neighborhood called Oak Wood, which is about three blocks from the Governor’s Mansion and therefore also about three blocks from the legislature building and Halifax mall where Moral Mondays were happening around 5 PM every Monday. I started going to those and I was just really inspired by the movement, the speeches, and the entire sentiment behind it. Certainly I would say, the crux of the media’s attention focused on civil disobedience at Moral Mondays, ie people getting arrested by entering the legislature, staying there, and demanding to be heard.
I decided that I would participate. This was strange and new and exciting and terrifying! I waited until I was married, although I was engaged throughout the movement, because I didn’t want to get arrested as a Haver and go through the court proceedings as a Currin. I actually got arrested the day I returned from my honeymoon, so that was cool. While I was in jail, I had the pleasure of meeting some really incredible activists who had participated in all sorts of community organizing and fighting for their rights for a very long time. There were some people who participated in the original civil rights movement and it was really humbling to be in the company of strong women. That was really inspiring but the sad part was that I was the youngest person in the jail cell by probably 30 years. Most everybody around me had gray hair and then there was me. Several people I was with asked me why I was the only young person there. I didn’t have an answer so I made a commitment to myself and to the people who came before me that from that point on when it came time to stand up for other people’s rights and my own rights, that I wasn’t going to be afraid to do that and that I was going to help encourage young people to do the same.
- Who are you most influenced by?
I can’t say that there is a specific person, outside of my husband who is my partner in crime and inspires me to do wacky zany things outside of my comfort zone all of the time. I think its more so being inspired by the community and the people who show up. I find that the more I do and the more active and engaged I am, the more people I’m meeting who are interested in being active and engaged with me and that inspires me to be more active and more engaged. I am inspired by the people in this community who share these concerns and values, and put themselves on the line. It’s not like some great sexy idol, although I could always say Beyonce because she’s awesome or my grandmother who is also awesome. I think on a day to day basis it is my peers and community members.
- What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
My first job was as a cashier at Whole Foods Market in Cary, NC. I think I was there for a year and a half. I was making like $8 an hour. I got fired from that job (so did a bunch of other people but that’s another story for a different day) and at 18 I thought my life was ruined. I didn’t go to college right away and I got fired from first job. I knew I wanted to be some kind of writer and everyone always told me that was a terrible idea so yeah. You can absolutely stumble a little bit in finding the right path for you. That is totally fine and probably perfectly normal.
- Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?
Last summer North Carolina, Pat Mccrory, etc. passed a really awful, discriminatory piece of legislation, House Bill 2 (HB2) which became a national embarrassment for us as a state. Living the vow to do something and say something in light of oppressive forces, my husband and I decided to write an open letter (I don’t like saying this because it has become a very buzz wordy thing to do) to artists and performers who were at the time canceling their shows in droves.
We just explained that North Carolina is not just what you see or read in the news and that there are plenty of incredible people doing amazing work here. We needed the support and encouragement of other likeminded creative people then more than ever. To cancel those performances would often be to deprive the people who most need the support. We put that letter out there and sent it to everyone we could think of. Within two days we were working with a band called “the Mumford & Sons” to encourage them to keep their sold out arena show in Charlotte, North Carolina. They did and donated the proceeds of that show to organizations standing with the LGBTQ community. We got to work with Duran Duran, the Animal Collective, Dave Matthews Band and a slew of others to keep their dates here and use their voice, platform and finances to make a statement against HB2 in, what I consider, a more beneficial way. Through doing that, we managed to funnel over half a million dollars to organizations who are fighting for equality in the state of North Carolina. It felt good to be able to do that.
- What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
I feel bad saying this out loud but I feel like I’m achieving my goals. I feel like I’m bragging by saying that but my goal has always been to do things that matter and make a difference in the way that I best know how. For me that’s being kind of goofy, using the Internet, and using some of the skills I’ve learned at my job working at a marketing agency. Taking what I know how to do and applying it to situations or applications that could make a difference. I find a lot of times that people think that doing a fundraiser or working with a nonprofit or changing a piece of legislation is really intimidating. It’s my goal to help people understand that its not foreign. You just have to use what you know. There is nothing special about it or any magic formula. Just go out there and do it. I think that I have been pretty successful in communicating that and showing it and accomplishing things with that outlook but I could always be better.
- What do you think is the most important life skill you learned from being an activist?
For me personally, I am a pretty quiet introvert. I like to go home and play with my pets and eat ice cream straight out of the tub. That would be my natural state at all times if the world was perfect and nobody had to worry about anything. Unfortunately we do so I have definitely learned to be open minded and accepting and willing to listen to other people’s ideas. I have learned to engage with people and interact in a deep, meaningful way and to let them into what I would otherwise keep to myself in a private little world. I open up and allow myself to be influenced by the great and wonderful ideas of the community around me. There’s nothing wrong with sitting home and eating ice cream out of the tub. We all need to do that but being open and willing to incorporate other people into your weird schemes is often beneficial.
- Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
Healthy, happy and I hope that our state and our nation and our world has survived a Trump presidency and is well on its way to moving above and beyond that.
- What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day is that there is no typical day! At my job I do a lot of writing and strategy for nonprofit organizations, tech brands, food, and local companies. It is kind of a social good advertising agency so a lot of my professional work does overlap into my personal work and that is really cool but all of it is pretty unconventional. Some days I might be writing, other days I might be meeting people or shadowing them in the field and getting a sense of what they do. Other days I might be out installing some urban artwork or blowing air horns at the governor which is a hobby of mine. It really varies so much which is wonderful and how I like it. I think I would go crazy if I had to do a standard sort of 9 to 5 everyday. I like to be moving around and out and about. I am lucky enough to be able to do that.
- What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?
The honest answer is the sad answer which is being female. I hate to say it but it is absolutely true. Most everything that I have done has been arm-in-arm with my husband who is so awesome and we are a really great team. We love doing things together and have figured out a way to talk about issues and ideas and bounce them back and forth, execute them and make it happen. It is a really nice division of labor. The bummer thing about it… We did a thing probably four years ago called Saturday Chores where we held up signs in front of protesters outside of women’s health clinics. We became counter protesters and it went viral. It was the first time I have ever experienced anything like that. This had been seen in every country in the world and we had reporters calling us from Australia and Germany, Canada and all over the United States. It was encouraging to see people interested in that kind of goofy activism but it was the beginning of an on-going trend of my husband Grayson getting the lion’s share of the credit for doing these things and usually I am referred to as his wife, sometimes not even by name.
We were both in the New York Times for the Air Horn Orchestra we started earlier this year out side of the Governor’s Mansion which is a thing that I actually ran yet it was credited to ‘Grayson and his wife.’ It is so frustrating to work on things equally, if not more, with a man and to continually see these very classic and stereotypical gender roles (even in publications that are meant to be progressive). I don’t let it stop me from continuing to do what I do but it has definitely been something that is discouraging and hurtful to see the way the public perceives a male/female team as the male is the leader and his wife the accomplice. It happens all of the time in places you would not expect it to happen. Both the Washington Post and the New York Times did it this summer. Grayson sent one the editors a message asking them to at least add my name next to his. Giving equal recognition to a man and female is somehow still not even progressive enough to make it into the progressive papers.
- What is the best piece of advice you have received?
“This, too, shall pass away.” It’s incredibly humbling when you are experiencing times of success and its really uplifting when you are experiencing times of sorrow. I think it’s just a good thing to keep in mind. Bad times aren’t going to last forever and when you are feeling good, enjoy it but don’t let it carry you away. Stay grounded and down to earth and enjoy the moment for what it is and what you have.
- When do you get your best ideas?
Probably when I am hanging out with Grayson. Everything that we’ve done has been born of just like casual hanging out conversation. That part is easy, it’s the doing the ideas, the executing them, when the real work comes in.
- Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
Well I was fired from my first job, that’s a big failure. I think in the most basic sense, the only things I would consider failures are not trusting myself or my ideas or feeling nervous or apprehensive about speaking up, acting out, or doing something when I know that I should. You have to try things and learn from them. Readjust and move on. That is totally natural and fine. Failure is more about not doing things. Anything I have done and fucked up isn’t failure. Failure is fear and inaction.
- How do you unwind?
I run a lot. A lot. A lot. I am currently training for my fifth marathon and I find that time totally disengaged from any kind of person or screen (or person on a screen) is really helpful for me. I know that it is cliché and your parents or doctors or self-help book has said exercise is a thing you need to do but I think it is really true! I really love it!
- What would you tell someone else who wants to start mobilizing their community?
Do it! Like I said earlier, there is really no magic formula to making positive change in your community. Nobody is ever going to give you permission to do it. If you wait around until someone says okay now is your time, you are going to be waiting a really long time because that’s not how it works. I would say don’t be afraid or intimidated, just do what feels good and right and use what you know and the skills that you have. Whether that is artistic skills, social media skills, or photography, writing or connecting people… There are all sorts of things that we do on a day to day basis that come naturally to us that can be applied to community organizing. It doesn’t need to be some big to-do or a huge gala or even that well thought out to be honest. When we started the Air Horn Orchestra it was literally just a Facebook status that said, “Hey does anybody want to go blow air horns at the governor? If so, meet us outside of the mansion on Wednesday at 6:30.” That was how it started. It happened to become a protest that lasted about 30 weeks which is about 8 months. It became a Guinness World Record and a media company just ran the numbers on the press coverage we got on that protest. It has been seen by close to 7 million people in this state on broadcast TV alone and if you were to buy that sort of coverage it would cost you $675,000. We managed to get that message on TV for free. All from a dumb idea on Facebook. Don’t think about it anymore. Just go do it.
- What do you hope people take away from your story?
The most important part is that what I have done and who I am is nothing special at all. I am just a young person that has a computer. I was really lucky to get an education but I put myself through school. I believe that most people can likely do the same and if you can’t do that, you can learn by meeting people and being involved in your community. You don’t have to come from some special background or have connections or even really have a clue of what you are doing. I certainly didn’t and often times still feel like I don’t. It makes it fun and keeps me on my toes. There is really no magic formula to it. If you see something that bothers you just say something about it. Do something about it. Be creative. Be nice to people, they will often return the favor.