From Generation to Generation

This past weekend, my wife, son and I traveled to Detroit to celebrate my nephew Jonah’s Bar Mitzvah. Jonah did a marvelous job reading from the Torah and describing the meaning of his Torah portion to the congregation. It also gave our family a welcome opportunity to be together and celebrate Jonah’s coming of age.

Our family was ready for an opportunity to celebrate because less than 2 months ago, my mother suffered a stroke. This unfortunate event happened about 2 years after she fell down her basement stairs shattering her femur and breaking 3 vertebrae in her neck. As I wrote during her recovery, her brave battle to rehabilitate from these devastating injuries reminded me of why she is my hero.

My mother has approached her effort to rehabilitate from her stroke with the same attitude that has allowed her to recover from many setbacks in her life. She knew her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah was not far away, and she was determined to be there and soak up as much pride as a bubbie can absorb.

Sure enough, on Friday night, as family and out of town friends gathered for a Shabbat dinner, my mother leaned over to me and said, “you didn’t think I would make it.” To the contrary, I informed her that I always knew she would make it.

During the past few years, my son has had an increasing interest in understanding where his ancestors came from and enjoys talking to his grandparents to fill in the holes in his knowledge about family history. On Friday afternoon, we had a chance to visit my mother while she relaxed at home and he asked my mother many questions about her family history, going back to her grandparents in Europe. She told him stories that I had not heard, including a trip she and her husband Peter (who has been a true marvel in helping my mother recover) took in 1999 to the small town in Poland where her family emigrated from prior to World War II. My son asked questions and took notes, and despite my mother’s slowed speech due to her stroke, he learned a lot about his family history.

On Saturday night, my sister and brother-in-law hosted a lovely party to celebrate Jonah’s Bar Mitzvah. My mother and her husband came and enjoyed their third event in 24 hours, but after a few hours, they needed to go home and rest. When they did so, much of my family accompanied them as they left and you can see the pride and joy which my son and my mother take in each other’s presence.

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Although my wife and I do not live in the same towns as our parents, we have always strived to raise our son with a deep respect for his ancestors. Now that he is an adult, attending college away from home, we take great pleasure in watching him connect with his grandparents, as he seeks to learn about his family history from them. We hope our parents continue to live for years to come and provide their grandchildren with the knowledge and history that helps them understand where they came from to better understand who they are.

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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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Random Acts of Kindness

Every morning, I walk my dog through our neighborhood park. During these walks, I always pick up whatever litter I find to help keep our beautiful park clean and to keep the trash out of the waterways.

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Tenney Park

Since I keep my eyes on the ground for signs of trash while I walk through the park, every once in a while, I am fortunate enough to find some money. Indeed, sometimes I have found as much as $50!

Over the past few months, when I have reported a fortunate discovery of money to my son, who is away at college, he asked me what I was going to do with the money. His question gave me pause because in the past, to be honest, I just put the money in my wallet and considered myself lucky, and really never thought about what I would do with the money. Since I am fortunate enough not to need the money to meet my basic needs, I responded to my son that I would use the money for random acts of kindness.

Of course, responding in that way presented a new challenge to me, namely, to consciously remember that I am committed to using my fortunate findings of money on the ground to engage in random acts of kindness. This has actually raised my consciousness about the privilege I have to be economically secure so that when I encounter those who do not have that security, I can provide some assistance to them. It also means that these random acts of kindness need to supplement rather than supplant my normal charitable giving.

Earlier this week, I was given an opportunity to help someone in need. While relaxing at home with my wife watching a show on TV, I received a call from someone who I have been supporting along with a few other people in a Circle of Support. Our support is generally strategic and not financial (i.e., how to find housing and employment). It was unusual for him to call me at night, particularly because we had a Circle of Support meeting scheduled the following evening. He asked me if I could come to meet him, and I asked him if it was urgent. He said it was, so I agreed to do so.

When I met him, he told me that his few belongings were gone from his apartment and when he asked his roommate what happened, his roommate told him that he had been evicted and the landlord had thrown out all of his belongings. He was wearing slippers as his shoes had been thrown away. I told him I would contact his landlord in the morning because self-help evictions and throwing away a tenant’s possessions are both illegal. However, the most immediate concern was where he would spend the night.

He asked me if I would take him to an inexpensive motel as he did not want to spend the night in a homeless shelter. Although I had some concerns about where he would stay in the future, I decided that my random act of kindness would be to honor his request. Before doing so, I bought him a sub sandwich and a bottle of water. On the way to the motel, he also asked if I could give him some money for a soda. Since I was concerned that a sub sandwich and a soda would not give him sufficient sustenance the following day, I gave him $20 to buy some food the next day. In doing so, I told him that I found the money in the park. He didn’t believe me, but I insisted it was true. He told me he would pay me back and I informed him that he did not need to worry about it, although if he chose to do so once he was back on his feet, that would be fine.

While random acts of kindness may not change fundamental systems of oppression and poverty, they are the necessary acts that help each of us survive and remind us of the qualities that make us human. Perhaps if we all practice random acts of kindness on a regular basis, those who suffer from oppression will receive enough relief from their burdens to persevere another day.

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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.

Setting a Progressive Constitutional Convention Agenda

Yesterday, Wisconsin became the 28th state legislature to pass a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention. Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides that a Constitutional Convention may take place if 2/3 of the states call for one. That means 6 more states would need to call for a Constitutional Convention in order to take place.

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There has not been a Constitutional Convention since 1787 when the current Constitution was written after it was recognized that he original Articles of Confederation written during the revolution and ratified in 1781, did not provide adequate cohesion for the new nation. Even the new Constitution quickly proved inadequate, requiring Congress to propose the Bill of Rights, which became the first 10 amendments to the Constitution when they were ratified by the states in 1791. Since then 23 additional Constitutional amendments have been proposed, and 17 of them have been ratified. Some of these amendments changed prior aspects of the Constitution (e.g., slavery, election of the Senate, revisions to how the President is elected, ending prohibition of alcohol, Presidential term limits, granting Presidential electors to the District of Columbia, and establishing a succession order to the President). There has not been a Constitutional amendment ratified since 1992, when the 27th Amendment, which delays any Congressional salary raises approved by Congress until the next Congress is elected. That amendment took 202 years to ratify, by far the longest period of time any amendment has taken to ratify.

Most progressives have opposed efforts by states to approve a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention  because the impetus for these resolutions, which have been pushed by the fiscally conservative Koch brothers, is to adopt a balanced federal budget requirement into our Constitution. Most progressives and many economists believe that such a balanced budget would be ruinous for the American economy and that funding for social programs would be eviscerated under such an amendment.

The surprising aspect of progressive opposition is that it is driven by an assumption that fiscal and social conservatives will prevail and get their way. It further presumes that the U.S. Constitution is just fine as it is, when in reality, there are a number Constitutional provisions that progressives can and should push to amend should a Constitutional Convention take place.

Indeed, instead of just playing defense, affirmatively proposing a progressive agenda for a Constitutional Convention could actually rally grassroots support to accomplish the following important goals:

  • Revising the 1st Amendment to clarify that political donations are not protected as free speech. This would go a long way towards elimination of secretive and huge donations to politicians which have turned our elections into a buyer takes all nightmare.
  • Revising the 2nd Amendment to clarify that ownership of guns can be tightly regulated and that weapons that have no legitimate purpose other than to commit mass murder, can be outlawed.
  • Revising the way we elect our President by eliminating the electoral college, thereby assuring voters that a majority of voters will elect our President.
  • Establishing a right to legal counsel in civil cases so that people cannot evicted or have other civil rights removed without representation.
  • Granting statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; and
  • Finally passing the Equal Rights Amendment to assure that women have the same rights as men.

Of course, there may be other progressive ways we can improve our Constitution, but if progressives simply stand pat with their current “just say no” to a Constitutional Convention, we will not even have these discussions to find out what other wonderful ideas to improve a document, originally written when it was legal to own slaves, and women did not have the right to vote, was first ratified.

To be clear, a Constitutional Convention in the 21st century would open our nation to potentially regressive changes to our Constitution, but in this case, a good defense, requires a very strong offense.

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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.