And then…

Thanksgiving has always been a difficult holiday for my family. My brother died Thanksgiving weekend almost 50 years ago. We have suffered other losses over Thanksgiving weekend, and certainly many others struggle on this day when we are urged to give thanks.

Of course, the fact that life is a struggle for so many is why I engage in systems change on both a personal and professional level. Allowing things to remain the same when the world needs so much improvement is simply unacceptable.

One way the world is enriched and helped to move forward in a positive manner is through powerful art and poetry. For me, art and poetry that evokes a better future helps move me past darker moments. One artist and poet who inspires me is Judy Chicago.

Among her famous exhibits is The Dinner Party. Here is one evocative place setting from that exhibit.

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In conjunction with The Dinner Party, she wrote a poem that is found in my synagogue’s Reconstructionist siddur (prayer book), entitled The Merger Poem. I offer it below as it so beautifully describes my vision of a better future for all.

And then all that has divided us will merge.
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind.
And then both men and women will be gentle.
And then both women and men will be strong.
And then no person will be subject to another’s will.
And then all will be rich and free and varied.
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many.
And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance.
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old.
And then all will nourish the young.
And then all will cherish life’s creatures.
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth.
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

May the artists and poets among us provide the inspiration we need  to improve the lives of each and every one of us.

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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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American Values: a truly mixed bag

The Public Religion Research Institute recently released its 2015 American Values Survey results and the results offer a fascinating look at the very divergent views amongst different groups of Americans. The report is over 50 pages long and well worth reading, but a few key points are worth highlighting.

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  • Fewer than 1/2 of all Republicans have a favorable view of the Tea Party (45%) compared to 58% as recently as 2014.
  • Political independents’ support of the Tea Party has declined from 35% in 2014 to 27% today.
  • Tea Party support amongst Democrats has dropped from 18% in 2014 to 12% today.

Regarding what seems like never ending threats to shut the government down, the vast majority of people from all political persuasions believe that finding common ground to keep the government functioning is more important than standing on principle and shutting it down. This is true for Democrats (87%), independents (78%), and Republicans (67%). Indeed, only a slim minority (49%) of those who identify as Tea Party supporters advocate standing on principle rather than seeking common ground.

One of the more fascinating results is that while the nation is evenly split about whether our best days are ahead or behind us, different groups have vastly different views on this issue.

  • 60% of African Americans and 56% of Hispanic Americans believe that our best days are yet to come;
  • but only 47% of white Americans believe our best days are ahead of us.
  • 59% of Democrats (including 61% of white Democrats) believe our best days are in the future;
  • but only 47% of independents and 41% of Republicans believe our best days are yet to come.
  • The most pessimistic people are those who identify with the Tea Party as only 33% of them believe our best days are ahead of us.

Regarding economic inequity, Democrats (61%) are about twice as likely as Republicans (33%) and members the Tea Party (29%) to perceive a great amount of unfairness in the economic system. This of course leads to interesting views on the minimum wage.

More than three-quarters (76%) of the public supports raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. Support has ticked up slightly since last year, when 69% of Americans expressed support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

59% of Americans express support for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, but there is less agreement, especially across political party lines, about the larger wage hike.

Roughly equal numbers of Democrats favor raising the minimum wage to $10.10 as they do to $15 (91% vs. 84%, respectively). Independents are somewhat more likely to favor a $10.10 wage hike than one that goes to $15 (72% vs. 58%, respectively). Among Republicans, the gap in support grows even larger: while six in ten (60%) Republicans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10, fewer than one-third (32%) say they favor raising it to $15.

The survey goes on to report that:

Americans are evenly divided as to whether immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents (47%) or whether they constitute a burden on the U.S. because they take jobs, housing, and health care (46%). This current split reflects a drop in positive sentiment since last year, when nearly six in ten (57%) Americans said immigrants strengthen our culture and only 35% said they burden it.

But these views diverge tremendously along political affiliation.

  • 62% of Democrats believe that immigrants strengthen, rather than burden our nation;
  • while 66% of Republicans believe that immigrants burden our nation, instead of strengthening it. The report points out that there is no significant difference amongst Tea Party affiliates.

One of the most troubling results of the survey was that over half of Americans (58%) do not believe that African Americans and other racial minorities are treated fairly by our criminal justice system. That belief is held by a majority of white Americans (52%) and a vast majority of African Americans (85%) and Hispanic Americans (67%).

There is also a political divide on this issue. Republicans (64%) and Tea Party members (65%) believe African Americans and other racial minorities are treated fairly in our criminal justice system, while 74% of Democrats disagree.

As the 2016 election campaign kicks into high gear, it will be interesting to see how these values and divides play out, particularly in areas when a majority of Americans feel strongly (e.g., increasing the minimum wage). For those interested in progressive systems change, understanding American values, where they diverge, and how to influence them, are all critical to systems change success.

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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.

Blessing

Some children just beam. Blessing is one such child and I believe the future will be bright for her. I met Blessing last Sunday, when I joined members of my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim (Gates of Heaven), help children at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist church work on their reading while their parents attended church. Here is blessing introducing herself and telling us what she is grateful for.

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Christ the Solid Rock’s pastor is Everett Mitchell, a strong spiritual and community leader who is also an attorney. His sense of justice is so strong that he is currently running for judge. A couple of years ago, Shaarei Shamayim’s rabbi, Laurie Zimmerman and Pastor Mitchell agreed that our two communities could benefit from getting to know each other better and one way to do that was to help his church members’ children read.

First, we helped the church raise funds for a small children’s library and assisted them with setting it up. Once the library was set up, we have provided volunteers to read with the children. I had previously participated in the church dinner/fundraiser, but this past Sunday was the first time I volunteered in the reading program, and I am very glad I did.

Blessing was the first child in the library. Not only did she beam, but although she wanted to play games, she was easily redirected and sat in my lap to read. She is a good reader, and already knows her colors in Spanish as well as English which I thought was pretty impressive for a 5 year old kindergartner.

Of course, not all the children read so willingly. After playing some word games in the large group, we divided into age groups and I worked with the 3rd grade children. One boy was pretty fidgety and did not want to read. Given my special education advocacy background, I suspected that he might have a learning disability, so when it was his turn to read, I read to him. But on his next turn, I decided to challenge him and told him that I didn’t think he could read. He insisted that he could read. So, I asked him to show me. Sure enough, my challenge worked. He could read.

After our session was over, many church members were out in the hallway. One member greeted me with a warm hug and made me feel very welcome.

While I cannot predict the future, I have a strong feeling that Blessing will go far. Not only does she beam, but she is embraced by a community which values its children. I am glad that my community is doing its small part to build connections and support children like Blessing.

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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.

My Mom is My Hero

Ever since I made the decision to apply to law school in 1982 in order to become a public interest attorney, many have asked me why I chose to pursue such a non-lucrative career. While I usually respond by stating that I have always believed that my role on this planet is to help make it a better place, when I examine my personal history and strongest influences, there can be no doubt that my mother, Rachel Siegel, strongly influenced who I am and my desire to advocate for those who get the short end of the stick.

I recently returned from visiting my mother in Detroit, where she is recovering from a horrible fall down her basement stairs 4 weeks ago, when she broke her femur as well as 3 vertebrae in her neck. After going through 2 surgeries and spending 10 days in the hospital, she was transferred to a rehab center to receive physical and occupational therapy to recover and regain her ability to walk and live independently.

Just before I arrived, she had a follow up visit with her doctor during which he made clear that she would not be able to travel to Israel to spend the winter there with her husband, as she had planned. Although this was disappointing, she remained undaunted and continued to focus on her recovery.

One day, while I was visiting her at the rehab center, it was time for her to receive physical and occupational therapy. The therapists, with my mother’s permission, invited me to watch. Given her advanced age, her inability to bear weight on her broken leg, and her very uncomfortable neck brace, I was absolutely amazed at my mother’s  strength, fortitude and determination, to put as much energy as she could muster into her therapy.

Here she is working on strengthening her arms and good leg.

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Next, she worked on her balance and coordination.

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Unfortunately, the next day, she developed sepsis and had to be rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where she was treated with IV antibiotics. She is now sufficiently recovered from that setback and is preparing to return to the rehab center today.

Over the 6 days I spent with my mother in the rehab center and the hospital, I had a lot of time to think about the many challenges my mother has faced throughout her life, dating back to being born to immigrants during the depression, suffering from an abusive mother, losing a 3 year old son (my younger brother) due to complications from a pertussis vaccine, battling Multiple Sclerosis, surviving an unfaithful husband who failed to support her and my younger sister after he left her, as well as many other challenges. At 80 years old, this current struggle to recover from her massive injuries, compounded by a return trip to the hospital for sepsis, could have caused her to give up. But my mother is not a quitter. She has heroically battled her whole life to maintain her dignity, raise her children with strong values, and to fight for what is right for those who need help. When I spoke to her this morning, after all she has been through, she asked me what was new and I was pleased to let her know that I had a good legislative meeting yesterday with fellow Autism Society advocates.

I know that my passion  for advocacy and to bounce back from my own personal  struggles are both rooted in the many lessons my mother has taught me and as I recently discovered, she continues to teach me. Many friends and family are sending her well wishes to encourage her recovery. I look forward to seeing her return to live independently with her loving husband, Peter. Given my mother’s heroic inner strength, I am confident she will do so.

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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.