Frustration is not a Plan

Last night, I returned home from Washington DC after spending four days at J Street’s 10th Annual ConferenceAs Chair of J Street’s Madison Chapter, I have attended many of these conferences as well as a number of Leadership Summits. I always learn a lot about the never ending efforts of Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, and many others to achieve a peaceful and just resolution to decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. However, this year, I almost did not attend the conference. My frustration level with American, Israeli and Palestinian political leaders is so high that I truly wondered whether it would be worth it to attend the conference this year.

J Street has wisely invested heavily in subsidizing college students from its J Street U arm and this year was no exception, as 1200 students attended the conference. One of those students was my son, Josh, who after attending college for two years in Israel, at the Technion (Israel’s Institute of Technology), transferred to the University of Minnesota last fall. His decision to attend his first J Street conference was the deciding factor for me to attend this year’s conference.

Yet, despite looking forward to seeing my son, and showing him around the nation’s capital, I remained skeptical about whether my presence at the conference, would help in some small way, resolve the generations old stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians. Despite my frustration, however, I looked forward to hearing what the many speakers had to say, and hoped to find some inspiration.

Indeed, there were many great speakers, including U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders, Ben Cardin and Brian Schatz, NGO leaders, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Husan Zomlot, and at least five Ministers from Israel’s Knesset (known as MKs). One particular MK helped me shift my thinking. On Sunday, J Street leaders were invited to a unique opportunity to eat lunch with all the MKs at the conference. MK Michal Rozin from the progressive Meretz party has done a lot of great work including leading the charge to stop the deportation of African asylum seekers from Israel. When she spoke, she understood our frustration, but then said:

“To be frustrated is not a plan.”

She then went on to say that we each have a choice when confronting the winds of change. We can either be the windmill or the windbreaker. Of course, our choice may depend on which way the winds are blowing, but if we do not want to simply get blown over by those winds, we must cast aside our frustration and decide whether to be the windmill or the windbreaker.

Sure enough, this opportunity presented itself during J Street’s Advocacy Day, when thousands of us, including my son and I, met with our members of Congress to encourage them to take concrete steps towards a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. J Street asked me to be Wisconsin’s Team Leader and on Monday, I reviewed our talking points and schedule with our team. However, we noticed that we did not have a meeting scheduled with Rep. Ron Kind, who is from LaCrosse. I have met with Rep. Kind in the past and we were all disappointed that we were not scheduled to meet with him on this trip.

However, one of our team members, Kent Johnson, a Lutheran Pastor from LaCrosse, said he knew Rep. Kind personally, and asked if it was ok if he tried to set up a meeting with him, and we encouraged him to do so. Later that day, he informed us that although Rep. Kind was very busy, we could meet with his staff and Rep. Kind would join our meeting briefly to say hello.

What we did not know until we arrived at his office, was that Rep. Kind was at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, and along with other members of that committee, he was questioning the Secretary of Labor. We started going over our talking points with his staffer, and then his staffer instructed us to follow him to the hearing room as Rep. Kind wanted to meet with us and would step out of the hearing to do so after he was done with his questioning.

Although I have met with Members of Congress hundreds of times over my 33 year career, I have never been in this situation. Rep. Kind’s staffer instructed us to take a seat and watch the hearing until Rep. Kind finished his questioning, and then led us out into the hallway. When Rep. Kind joined us, I truly expected that he would simply give us a courteous handshake and hello and then return to the important business of his hearing. But instead, he gave us all the time we needed to cover all of our talking points and engaged us with serious questions. Indeed, at the end of our meeting, he had his staffer take our picture with him.

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L-R: Me, Kent Johnson, Rep. Ron Kind, Josh Spitzer-Resnick, Ben Gellman

As MK Rozin said so eloquently, frustration is not a plan. My son helped me get over my frustration with the seemingly intractable dispute between Israelis and Palestinians so I could accept my role as State Team Leader during our Congressional meetings. Kent Johnson refused to allow our frustration with not having a meeting with his Congressman without pursuing it further, and in the end, we had a productive meeting that none of us will ever forget.

While frustration is certainly a legitimate and regularly felt emotion of those of us who want to improve the world, frustration is not a plan. Rather, systems change requires getting past one’s frustration to become the windmill for positive change and the windbreaker against destructive change.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

 

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Learning Patience…again

For much of my life, patience was not my strong suit. I often reacted too quickly on both a personal and professional level. This lack of patience often interfered with what I was trying to accomplish. Indeed, impatience kept my stress level at a higher level than was physically and emotionally healthy. One sign of that stress manifested itself in chronic migraines.

While I have done many things to manage my migraines, meditating every morning has not only reduced both the frequency and intensity of my headaches. Daily meditation also provided the added bonus of giving me tools to increase my patience. However, old habits die hard, and recently I discovered that learning patience is a life long venture.

We are fortunate to own some vacation property on a small lake in Central Wisconsin. Each spring we look forward to putting our pier out when the ice on the lake melts. About 2 weeks ago, although the lake had not completely melted, there was plenty of open water off our shoreline, so I decided to put my waders on, and put the pier in.

Once I put the pier in the water, I brought my canoe down to the lake, so I could enjoy an early spring paddle, during which I could explore the remaining ice on the lake.

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Then, the wind shifted, and the ice sheet started approaching the pier. Within minutes, the ice sheet was slamming against the pier and into our shoreline, knocking the chairs into the water.

 

I used the rake I keep by the water to break up the ice that was pushing against the pier so it would not bend its legs. Needless to say, I did not go canoeing that afternoon. In fact, it was a good thing I did not take the canoe out before the ice sheet started moving, as if I had, it may have capsized my canoe. Even if I had avoided that problem in very cold water, I would not have been able to paddle back to my shoreline as I would have been trapped by the ice.

Last weekend, we returned to Goose Lake, and virtually all of the ice had melted off the lake. I put my waders back on to straighten out the pier. This time I was able to go canoeing, and explore the small amount of ice left on the lake.

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For those of us who live through cold winters, we are often anxious for spring to arrive. This year, it has taken a long time, as snow has fallen in April. The lesson, of course, is that there are many things, including the weather, that we cannot control and we need to exercise patience to avoid unnecessary problems.

Patience is the skill which allows us to delay gratification until the conditions are ripe for whatever we are hoping to accomplish. This applies to systems change as well as the weather.

Living in Wisconsin has been frustrating for progressives for the past 8 years. Protests and recalls did not transform the political environment in the way many of us had hoped. However, rather than giving up, those of us who refuse to accept how political leaders have destroyed so many progressive institutions, stay patient and keep pursuing different avenues to turn the tide.

Recent elections suggest the tide may indeed be turning, but when it does, we will still need to exercise patience as reversing 8 years of regressive politics will take time and a systemic approach. With the help of recently energized young people and a huge increase in politically active women, those of us who refuse to be beaten down can use our patient approach to methodically and systemically make our communities better places for all.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Empowering Voters

It is sad to watch so many politicians try to disenfranchise voters. Until today, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was doing his best to avoid calling special elections to fill two legislative seats which became vacant when he appointed those legislators to state jobs. Despite a clear obligation to call special elections for both seats months ago, he only did so after 3 judges, including one on the Court of Appeals ordered him to call the special election by Noon today. Indeed, yesterday Court of Appeals Judge Paul F. Reilly issued a harsh decision in which he stated:

Representative government and the election of our representatives are never ‘unnecessary,’ never a ‘waste of taxpayer resources,’ and the calling of the special elections are as the Governor acknowledges, his ‘obligation’ to follow.

While this should have been obvious to Governor Walker, his initial refusal to call a special election fits with his strategy to disempower voters by making voting more difficult, including reducing the time for early voting, and requiring voter ID at the polls. Curiously, however, Wisconsin still continues to make voting easier by allowing for same day voter registration at the polls. Less well known is a statutory requirement which requires City Clerks to send Special Voting Deputies to assisted living facilities to help residents cast absentee ballots before each election so they do not have to go to the polls.

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In 2012, I decided to become an election official and work at the polls, upon learning that the best way to empower voters is to make sure that qualified people work at the polls to ensure that all eligible voters who come to vote, are able to vote. This year, I agreed to become a Special Voting Deputy, and I am glad to report that in doing so, along with all the other people who join me in doing this work, we are empowering many people who would not be able to get to the polls, or even fill out an absentee ballot on their own, to cast their vote.

I have now helped voters in a variety of assisted living facilities. Some residents were quite mobile and came to the room where we set up an impromptu voting station and needed very little assistance. However, many residents were unable to read the ballot, so we read it to them. Others were too frail to fill in the ballot themselves, so we did so for them.

Some readers may wonder about the possibility of voter fraud when some of these voters need this extra assistance. However, we have a variety of protective procedures in place to make sure that cannot happen. We always have two Special Voting Deputies with the ballots and with each voter. If we read the ballot to the voter or fill it ballot in, we must sign the ballot stating that we did so. We also count all ballot multiple times to make sure that no ballots are missing. In addition, all Special Voting Deputies are trained by the City Clerk’s office before each election.

Perhaps the most challenging question is whether some of these voters are competent to vote. However, unless a voter has had his or her right to vote removed by a judge who found them incompetent to vote, these assisted living facility resident voters have the same right to vote as anyone else. Since we do not give competency tests to any other voters, why should we give them to those who happen to need extra care in an assisted living facility?

Sometimes, however, these voters will decline to vote because they do not feel they know enough to cast their ballot in a way that makes them feel comfortable. For this reason, we go to each facility twice, as some voters just need a little extra time to study the candidates and questions on the ballot. Yet, even on the second visit, some people choose not to vote. But if they do so, it will be their choice, not because some politicians disempowered them.

Many of these voters are elderly and have proudly voted in every single election since they became eligible to vote. For some of them, the possibility that they might not vote in an election is truly daunting, which is why we provide this extra assistance. We also remind them that they can choose not to vote in some races that they may not know enough about, just like any other voter.

My work as a Special Voting Deputy reminds me that when a democracy wants to empower voters, it knows how to do so. My hope is that we will elect more legislators who understand that democracy is best served when we empower everyone who is eligible to cast a vote, to do so.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Doing the Right Thing

Twenty-six years ago I was fired from my job as Wisconsin’s first legal counsel to the Board on Aging and Long Term Care for blowing the whistle on the Executive Director, who was a high functioning alcoholic, but had previously succeeded in insulating himself from evaluation by the Board. After lobbying Congress to require that state long-term care ombudsman programs have legal counsel, I successfully obtained what had appeared to be a dream job, advocating for people living in institutions and receiving long term care, by providing legal counsel to a great team of ombudsmen, and representing victims of abuse and neglect. Little did I know that my dream job would only last nine months.

Before I took the job, I knew the Executive Director. He was very friendly, but had a reputation of being somewhat lazy. Since I am a very independent worker, I did not think it would bother me to have a lazy supervisor. Indeed, my first few months were highly productive. However, staff started approaching me with concerns, and I soon realized that the director’s apparent laziness, which included often not showing up for critical hearings or meetings, was really a symptom of serious alcoholism. It became apparent that the director frequently lied about his whereabouts to cover for his drinking.

Since I was legal counsel to the agency, I sought advice from the State Department of Justice, and on their advice, I proceeded to gather first person evaluations from staff to provide to the Board, whom I discovered had never evaluated the director. I knew I was taking a risk, but I simply could not stand idly by while the director’s alcoholism degraded this state agency, resulting in inadequate protection for the people in institutions and those receiving long-term care, whom we were statutorily required to serve.

After completing my investigation, I provided all the first person information I had obtained to the Board, and then I waited. All of a sudden, a veil of silence dropped down and the Board no longer communicated with me. Fortunately, to protect myself, I retained my own legal counsel and filed a whistleblower complaint with the State Personnel Commission in case of retaliation.

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At this point, the Board had one of its regular meetings over the weekend, and since staff were prohibited from meeting with the Board without the director’s permission (one of his self-protective maneuvers), I went into the office on Monday not knowing what might happen. The director  rarely called staff meetings, but he called staff in to tell us that he had tendered his resignation to the Board. However, the director told us that the Board refused to accept his resignation, conditional on his going into rehab. I vividly remember putting my hand on his hand and telling him that I knew this must be very difficult for him, and that I would be glad to do whatever he needed to help manage the agency while he was in rehab.

The week proceeded and the director did not announce when he was going into rehab. Nor did he tell any staff how the agency would operate in his absence. However, on Friday, he asked me to write a memo to him summarizing my cases (something he had not previously done), then he called me into his office and fired me.

It did not take long for me to obtain what was the largest whistleblower settlement in Wisconsin history, but that was small compensation for losing what I thought was going to be a dream job. Fortunately, this firing did not derail my career, and I am proud of what I have accomplished since that time.

Why am I writing about this ancient history today? One of the consequences of living in a small city, is that I regularly bump into people I know in public places. This morning, while doing some grocery shopping, I saw the man who fired me 26 years ago. We made eye contact, said nothing to each other, and proceeded to continue our shopping. This is not the first time I have seen him since he fired me, and each time I see him, I wonder if he will ever have the courage to thank me for saving his life, as he did go into rehab after firing me, and I believe he has stopped drinking. Of course, I also wonder if he will ever have the courage to apologize for firing me. However, just like the handful of other times I have seen him in public, he said nothing.

So, the awkward moment passed, and I must simply take comfort in knowing that I did the right thing and that is all the thanks I will ever receive. He must live with his own behavior. I remain proud of my own. Due to my personal experience, I have a great deal of respect for all the brave whistleblowers out there who risk their careers and livelihood when they expose a superior’s malfeasance. Most will never receive thanks for their important work, so like me, I hope they are able to remain proud of the good work they have done.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Zoning Out Gun Sales

While Congress spins its wheels accomplishing nothing to stem the control of gun violence in our nation, some states are taking quick action to regulate the sale and possession of guns. Since the Parkland massacre:

  • Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island to sign an executive order to establish a policy to take guns away from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.
  • Oregon’s House passed a bill making it illegal for people convicted of domestic violence or those with restraining orders against them to possess weapons, even if they are not married to, do not live with, or do not have children with their victims. The State Senate is expected to pass the bill and the Governor has promised to sign it.
  • Other states, including Florida, Vermont, Washington, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, South Dakota, and Texas are actively considering gun control legislation.

Today, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that it would stop selling assault style rifles and would halt all gun sales to those below age 21. Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer and a major seller of firearms, announced it would stop selling the military-style semiautomatic weapons in August 2015.

Yet, given Congress’ inaction, the failure of most states to enact strong gun control laws, and purely voluntary measures by retailers, gun control advocates should also consider engaging their local communities to zone out gun sales. Indeed, that is exactly what Madison, Wisconsin has done for many years regarding handgun sales.

Madison Ordinance Chapter 28.151 applies the following zoning restrictions to handgun shops:

(b) No handgunshop shall be located within one thousand (1000) feet of any church, synagogue, temple, mosque or other place of worship; a lot in a residence district, either in the City of Madison or in a municipality adjacent to the City of Madison; a Planned Mobile Home Park District, Planned Development District with dwelling units; a public or private playground; a day care center; a public library, a youth recreation area, including little league baseball fields, soccer fields or YMCA/YWCA.

(c) No handgunshop shall be located in the same building where alcohol beverages are sold.

(d) No handgunshop shall be located in the same building where any patron thereof under the age of eighteen (18) years may enter, unless accompanied by a parent, guardian or adult spouse eighteen (18) years of age or over.

This well crafted ordinance steers clear of an outright ban on handgun shops to avoid a Second Amendment challenge, but it effectively bans them by applying reasonable zoning regulations to make it nearly impossible to locate a handgun shop in Madison. Indeed, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart do not sell handguns in Madison due to this zoning regulation.

For some perspective on the number of gun shops in the United States, consider the following data:

Since Congress members’ thoughts and prayers will fail to save a single life, and many states will fail to enact reasonable gun control legislation, gun control advocates across the nation should apply pressure to their city councils and mayors to enact and strengthen zoning ordinances to effectively control the sale of guns in their city limits. While the NRA will surely fight such efforts, requiring it to spread its efforts at federal, state and local levels will diminish the NRA’s effectiveness and finally allow gun control advocates to gain the upper hand.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

 

 

The Tipping Point

Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference in 2000. In his book, he discusses how “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses.” He defines the tipping point as  “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” From a systems change perspective, the concept of a tipping point is important when analyzing both how to create sufficient momentum behind a policy change to bring the change into fruition.

One of the most frustrating failures in American public policy has been the complete ineptitude of our nation’s leaders to enact reasonable reform to combat gun violence. Many gun reform advocates believed that our nation would finally overcome the opposition by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to all efforts at reasonable gun reform, after 20 children and 6 adults were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. However, as we all know, the NRA and too many politicians simply offered their thoughts and prayers, and no meaningful gun reform was enacted.

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But then came the high school students who lost 14 fellow students and 3 staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. While the NRA and Congressional leaders continued to send thoughts and prayers, and the President and many legislators would rather arm teachers than enact meaningful gun reform, on behalf of her fellow Parkland students, Emma Gonzalez called BS on these unhelpful ideas. As one of the students, Cameron Kaspy, stated quite simply, My generation won’t stand for this.”

But why might this event be different than Sandy Hook or the many other gun massacres and become a tipping point to lead to meaningful gun reform, when the other horrific incidents did not? While it is too soon to know whether the results will be different, and we truly cannot expect meaningful change until after the November mid-term elections, there are indications that a number of different dynamics are in play that did not exist before, such that we may be approaching a tipping point which could impact the November mid-term elections culminating in meaningful gun reform in the next Congress.

Of course, the first new dynamic is the bold, energized leadership of the Parkland High School students. But since they cannot vote, high school students alone will not have sufficient impact to reach the tipping point. Ironically, the callousness of our President who appears to be devoid of empathy, combined with the energy of these high school students may be what energizes voters to impact the November mid-term elections in a meaningful way on this issue.

There are many signs that a shift in the gun reform dynamic is in play, such as:

  • Republicans who recognize that their day of reckoning on guns is here.
  • A well organized campaign targeted at politicians beholden to the gun lobby to throw them out.
  • A recognition that women could be the undoing of the President.
  • The March 24th March for Our Lives to demand that lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings.
  • Poll results showing American voters support stricter gun laws 66 – 31 percent, the highest level of support ever, including 50 – 44 percent support among gun owners.
    Support for universal background checks is almost universal, 97 – 2 percent, including 97 – 3 percent among gun owners. Support is also at its highest level with:

    • 67 percent favoring a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons;
    • 83 percent favoring a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases and
    • 75 percent believe Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence.

Of course, tipping points are reached by many actions, and as Gladwell pointed out, many of those actions are small actions taken by individuals. So, if you want to be part of the change that leads to a tipping point to achieve meaningful gun reform, here are some things you can do.

  • Investigate how your members of Congress vote on gun reform bills. You can check their votes here.
  • Check to see whether your members of Congress receive contributions from the NRA, and if so, how much they receive, here.
  • Tell your state legislators to support a law that exists in five states that allows guns to be seized from those whom a judge deems a threat to themselves or others.
  • Tell your members of Congress to support laws that evidence demonstrates will save lives including:
    • Requiring permits to purchase all guns by eliminating the exemption for private sales;
    • Banning individuals convicted of any violent crime from gun purchase;
    • Making all serious domestic violence offenders surrender firearms;
    • Banning active alcohol abusers from firearms; and
    • Banning assault weapons.
  • Join and/or contribute to an organization that is working on these issues such as Everytown for Gun Safety or Moms Demand Action  for Gun Sense in America.

Finally, the tipping point will not be reached if politicians believe that NRA support will preserve their power in office. Since the vast majority of Americans support meaningful gun reform, they must translate this into votes that change the calculation of politicians and make them realize that NRA support will become a liability instead of an asset. The only way to make that happen is for gun reform advocates to support gun reform candidates and to vote for them. As Justin Dart, considered as the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), said so eloquently in a way that gun reform advocates must take to heart:

Vote as if your life depended on it, because it does.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Reinvent School Policing

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) continues to study possible changes to the way it uses police in its schools. The school board set up an ad hoc committee to study this issue over a period of 15 months. At a recent meeting of that committee, some advocates argued that police have no business in our schools. They argue that restorative justice is a better approach to resolving discipline problems. However, others believe that police presence in our schools is necessary.

A few years ago, I suggested that police presence in schools should be limited to genuine emergencies in order to avoid the kind of abuse which some police have perpetrated on students in school as depicted  below from an incident in South Carolina. Subsequently, given that police presence continues in our schools, I urged that school based police officers need teen training in order to do their jobs successfully without fueling the school to prison pipeline.

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In Oakland, California, police stationed in schools are taking a different approach. While they handle tough situations that can range from verbal altercations to weapons possession and sexual assaults, they are tasked with much more than providing security in Oakland schools. Using social and emotional learning (SEL) skills like empathy, self-awareness, and communication, officers are directed to build relationships with staff and students first, asking questions that might give them insight into why a student is upset or disengaged, or what really caused a fight.

The Oakland Unified School District started providing Social and Emotional Learning training to police stationed in its schools two years ago. The core competencies of SEL are:

  • Self-Awareness-The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”
  • Self-Management-The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.
  • Social Awareness-The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship Skills-The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed; and
  • Responsible Decision-Making-The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

The Oakland school district started incorporating SEL into its curriculum in 2011, when it accepted the research that students with higher levels of social competence will not only do better in school, but they will have a better success rate in the workforce after school.

Like Madison and many other school districts nationwide, Oakland shares a problem with disproportionate discipline of students of color. To combat this problem, in 2015, Oakland started funding restorative justice programs and banned suspensions for “willful defiance” and “disruptive behavior.” Unfortunately, due to financial problems, Oakland’s SEL and restorative justice programs have been implemented piecemeal, with some schools seeing full adoption and others, none.

While I continue to question  the need for police in schools outside of genuine emergencies, I have no doubt that if police are stationed in our schools, they cannot use the same techniques and training that prepare them for patrolling the streets, with children inside schools. The sooner police in schools receive training geared towards teenage behavior and social and emotional learning, the more success they will have in stemming the flow of the schools to prison pipeline instead of fueling its growth.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Grocery Store Community Building

I do most of the grocery shopping in my family. Not only do I enjoy choosing fresh produce, but I truly enjoy the cross-cultural exposure which grocery store shopping provides. On a recent shopping trip, I was reminded of how choosing to interact with other shoppers and staff in the grocery store may provide one of the best antidotes to the fear mongering designed to make us afraid of people who are not like us that is so sadly prevalent in our society.

Most of my grocery shopping is done in two stores: the Willy Street Co-op and Woodman’s. My wife and I became members at the Co-op on the first day we moved to Madison in 1985, and we continue to support the cooperative model of governance, the healthy food choices provided there and the ease of shopping at a smaller store. However, as it is not a supermarket, there are many grocery items that one cannot buy at the Co-op and other items are too expensive to buy there since the Co-op does not have the buying power of a large supermarket. Probably due to higher prices on many of its items, the clientele is not as diverse as the community as a whole.

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Woodman’s, on the other hand, is a very large supermarket, with low prices on most items. I have also shopped there since we moved to Madison in 1985. Over the years, I have noticed a number of interesting developments there.

  • As Madison has become far more culturally diverse, Woodman’s shoppers and employees have reflected that change and people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds both shop and work there.
  • The produce and grocery selection has evolved in response to the cultural diversity of our community to provide a wide array of items to suit cooking from most ethnic backgrounds.
  • Many of the staff working there have been there for over 20 years, indicating that they are treated reasonably well as employees, a hallmark of any workplace that maintains relatively low turnover.

I often run into friends while shopping, some of whom I see often, and others of whom I may not have seen in a long time. These interactions remind me that grocery shopping can truly help build community.

But, more important than meeting friends while shopping is crossing over cultural divisions and interacting with people with whom I do not have a personal relationship, namely staff and other shoppers.

During my last trip to Woodman’s, earlier this week, the man who was bagging my groceries greeted me by saying, “Nice to see you. You sure have been coming here for many years.” I told him that I had been shopping there for 32 years, and asked him how long he had been working there. He told me he had worked at Woodman’s for 20 years! I noticed that he had an accent, and in my effort to cross a cultural divide, I asked him where his accent was from. He told me he was from The Gambia, a country in West Africa. That gave me the opportunity to let him know that I host the PanAfrica Radio Show on our local listener sponsored community radio station WORT. He was pleasantly surprised to meet the host of a show that he listens to and enjoys and he promised to listen to my upcoming show Saturday afternoon.

As I was walking out of the grocery store, a shopper who must have overheard my conversation with the bagger asked me if I hosted a show on WORT and when I told her that I did, she told me that her husband was the Treasurer on the Board of Directors. These unanticipated connections reminded me of the value of both interacting with strangers at the grocery store, and the community building ability of community radio.

Perhaps the next time you go to the grocery store, my story will inspire you to have a personal interaction with a shopper or employee whom you do not know, crossing a divide that may help you and that person bring our world a little bit closer together.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Active Shooter

Last week, I attended an active shooter training put on by the Madison police department. The training was sponsored by First Unitarian Society, which also houses my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim, and a child care center, so they invited staff and board leaders to this training. It is truly sickening that we now live in a world active shooter events have become almost daily occurrences. The school shooting on January 23rd in Kentucky, killing 2 and wounding 18 was the 11th school shooting of the year.

Meanwhile, our federal government does nothing to put an end to this madness and most states have actually made it easier to carry guns, rather than harder. While Americans who are as sickened as I am with the lock grip that the NRA has on our legislators should continue to exercise their political power to change this dynamic, I chose to take this training because I realized that if I was at an active shooter training, I would have absolutely no idea what to do.

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Sandy Hook Elementary School Lobby (Connecticut Dept. of Justice)

It is important to keep in mind, that despite the increasing frequency of active shooter events, the chances of actually being involved in one are about the same as getting struck by lightning. Fortunately, that means that most of us will never have to experience the horror of such an event. However, just like we have all learned some basic lessons of what to avoid when a lightning strike takes place, it also makes sense to learn some basic and potentially life saving responses that we can all take if we are in an active shooter situation.

The training was gut wrenching. We listened to the Columbine High School librarian’s 911 call, which included sounds of gunfire, and sadly, a librarian who was not following the instructions of the dispatcher because she was in such a state of panic. While she survived, 11 students in that library were murdered.

However, the training also made me feel safer because I now feel that I have tools that I can use in such an emergency that I never would have thought of before. While some may seem obvious, most of us in the training did not know these basic principles known as A.D.D. (Avoid, Deny, Defend), before the training. While this is no substitute for going through the 2 1/2 hour training, the basic idea is:

Avoid

  • Always be aware of escape routes, even if it means breaking open a window.
  • Leaving the area is the first priority.
  • Playing dead, hiding and hoping are not successful strategies as they leave you without options if they do not work.

Deny

  • Move into a room and lock the door.
  • Barricade access points.
  • Turn off lights and silence phones.
  • Remain quiet and out of sight.
  • Once barricaded, remain in place until rescued.

Defend

  • If Avoid and Deny have failed, you must defend yourself.
  • Use improvised weapons (e.g., a sharpie or scissors to the attacker’s eyes) and remember there is strength in numbers to overpower the shooter.
  • Consider attacking at the doorway. The change in lighting and obstacles place in the way may be the best window of opportunity to attack the shooter.

At the end of the training, I realized that it was insufficient for our congregation  that only one board member and I had gone through this training. Fortunately, the Madison Police Department offers these trainings for free and they will return to our synagogue and we will invite all our members in March. In setting up the training with Officer Matthew Magolan, I noticed the following quote at the bottom of his e-mail.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”                                                                                                                           -Theodore Roosevelt “Citizenship In A Republic” speech delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

That quote made me realize that while I may not be able to save myself or anyone else if I am confronted with an active shooter, I now have tools that will at least allow me to try to save my own life and the life of others. While I have been given no comfort from our feckless government which stands idly by with thoughts and prayers instead of real action to stop these mass shootings, I do take some comfort in knowing that I now believe I will try my best to save myself and others, and even if I fail, I will die knowing that I tried my best.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Engaging in Difficult Conversations

As Chair of J Street’s Madison Chapter, following is my testimony against Wisconsin bill: AB 553.

J Street is the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans. For the reasons set forth below, while J Street opposes the global BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, it also opposes legislation like AB 553 that penalizes the BDS movement because such efforts are the wrong way to combat BDS.

coexist

J Street has always been and remains opposed to the Global BDS Movement

J Street advocates for a two-state solution and a secure, Jewish and democratic future for Israel. The Global BDS Movement does not support the two-state solution, recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state or distinguish between opposition to the existence of Israel itself and opposition to the occupation of the territory beyond the Green Line. Further, some of the Movement’s supporters and leaders have trafficked in unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Movement is not a friend to Israel, nor does its agenda, in our opinion, advance the long-term interests of either the Israeli or Palestinian people.

We do not oppose boycott, divestment, or sanctions initiatives that explicitly support a two-state solution, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and focus only on occupied territory beyond the Green Line

These kinds of initiatives are different than those advocated and initiated by the Global BDS Movement. Unlike AB 553, it is critical to maintain the distinction between boycott and divestment efforts, which work against the interests of Israel, and initiatives, which are limited to opposing the occupation.

There is a fundamental distinction between the state of Israel and the territory that it controls over the Green Line, and that distinction must be maintained

J Street believes it is vital for the future of Israel that this distinction be maintained, and clarified wherever it is now obscured. AB 553 specifically treats the occupied territories the same as Israel proper, failing to recognize that the occupation violates international law and interferes with prospects for peace and a two state solution. Funds contributed to the settlement movement help perpetuate the occupation and blur the distinction between democratic Israel and the occupied territory beyond the Green Line.

Since 1967, the United States government has clearly insisted that the settlement enterprise in occupied territory is illegitimate and counterproductive to Israel’s interests and the cause of regional peace and stability.

J Street opposes legislative efforts at the state and federal level, such as AB 553, which blur the distinction between Israel and the territory it controls over the Green Line, and thus act to contravene that longstanding policy.

The Global BDS Movement can only be successfully opposed with a genuine commitment to ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution

Opposition to the Global BDS Movement that refuses to countenance any criticism of the occupation or of Israeli policy will never succeed in winning over any Movement supporters, and will only drive more and more frustrated and concerned people into their camp. It is precisely the wrong approach, and it is having a devastatingly counter-productive effect, especially on campus.

For all these reasons, J Street is opposed to legislative attempts to penalize or criminalize BDS activities because they are the wrong way to combat the BDS Movement.

J Street is opposed to federal and state legislation, like AB 553, that would penalize BDS supporters or impose BDS-related litmus tests on individuals and organizations. This type of misguided legislative overreach is the wrong way to fight BDS. In fact, it actually empowers the BDS Movement. This legislation violates constitutional free speech protections, and is fundamentally inconsistent with our democratic principles as Americans and as Jews. J Street urges lawmakers to engage Americans who are sympathetic to BDS in serious and open conversation and debate, rather than seeking to silence them by aggressively penalizing their actions and positions.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.