Inspired by the Battle

Over twenty years ago, I represented 3 clients in a high profile fair housing case in Madison that became known as the drive by landlord case because the landlord would drive by to look at the race of prospective tenants and refuse to rent to African American tenants under a pretext. Although we lost the trial in front of an all white jury, I learned recently that one of my clients, Tomika Gray-Vukovic, was inspired by our battle for justice despite the loss.

I had not seen or heard from Tomika in many years, but fortunately met her recently when Sen. Bernie Sanders came to Madison in October to campaign for Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton. Tomika was working for Russ Feingold’s campaign at the time and recognized me when I entered the building. She greeted me with a big smile and reintroduced herself and let me know that her housing discrimination lawsuit inspired her to make a career out of progressive social change.

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Shortly after Tomika and her family moved to Glendale, she made a point of getting involved in the public schools. Due to her involvement, she was asked to run for the Glendale-River Hills School Board and was elected in April 2016. She loves working to make sure that the children of her community have the best public schools that can be provided for them.

Tomika was also approached to serve on the city’s Planning Commission. With a background in accounting, she brings a business perspective, as well as the perspective of a parent, progressive, and experienced community advocate to the Commission. She is committed to a vision of continued sensible and planned growth in her community. She wants to continue successful economic growth by developing relationships with new businesses and connecting them with numerous vacant property development opportunities.

Her involvement in the schools and in city government has opened her eyes as to how things operate, and how she thinks they should operate. She has noticed that many of Glendale’s alders are unknown to community members because they are not seen out in the community. She wonders how can they know what the community wants if citizens do not know them. This is what has propelled  Tomika to run for a seat on the Glendale city council.

Tomika has taken very seriously President Obama’s admonition to “pick up a clipboard and run for office.” In truth, however, Tomika was one step ahead of the President as she had already committed to run for the city council (in addition to her school board seat) before President Obama gave his farewell address.

When one is engaged in progressive systems change, there are many obstacles. It simply is not for the faint hearted. Losing battles will happen regularly. How those who desire to make this world a better place respond to such losses reveals whether one has the stamina and fortitude to stick with it and achieve positive outcomes eventually. Tomika is a shining example of how losing a civil rights battle propelled her into the fray instead of scaring her away. I am thrilled to see the great work she is doing and I am honored to have had a small role in helping her on her way. I look forward to seeing what she accomplishes in the years to come as she clearly has a very bright future.

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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.

Charisma and Messaging

As Democrats ponder their recent election losses and pundits wonder how it is possible that approximately 17% of the electorate could support President Obama, but voted for Donald Trump, many simply shake their heads and wonder how this could happen. There are, of course, many theories: sexism and Democrats allegedly abandoning the working class and rural America are commonly mentioned. However, almost nobody mentions the one thing that President Obama and Donald Trump have in common. They both have tremendous charisma which enables them to convey powerful messages. Indeed, when I googled “images for charisma” these are the first two photographs that showed up.

Understanding both charisma and messaging are critical to any successful political campaign. Of course, charisma matters more when discussing specific candidates and messaging goes beyond candidates as it also includes issue campaigns.

In the case of charisma, Hillary Clinton conceded that she simply does not have it. That may have been wise for her to simply be honest about it. But acknowledging a flaw does not make the flaw go away. Of course, nearly 65 million people voted for Hillary Clinton, nearly 2.5 million more than voted for Donald Trump, which means that charisma is not the only deciding factor and for many people, Hillary Clinton may have been more charismatic than Donald Trump. But, given our electoral college system, as well as the results in the Congressional and gubernatorial elections, serious political analysis cannot ignore the fact that Donald Trump was able to galvanize far more people to attend his rallies which helped to generate media attention in a way that smaller attendance at Hillary Clinton’s rallies simply could not match.

It is true that charisma alone does not automatically result in winning elections. One need only look as far back as Richard Nixon to understand that Americans will occasionally elect candidates who simply have no charisma. But in order for those candidates and their issues to prevail, they must overcome their lack of charisma with powerful messaging that enables them to win elections. Whether by coincidence or design, it is worth noting that both Nixon and Trump used silent majority messaging to win their elections.

A quick look at some of the hot button issues of our time demonstrates why many traditionally Republican issues have galvanized such a strong following. For example, if you put your own views aside, and you do not have strong feelings about abortion, it is fairly easy to see why the message of: pro-life is more compelling than pro-choice. After all, who is against life?

In the case of the private school voucher debate, the pro-voucher campaign succeeds because it wisely uses the phrase pro-choice and in this case, the anti-voucher campaign simply has no galvanizing message other than it is anti-voucher.

Although it was ultimately abandoned as failed policy, President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind reform of federal education law passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in 2001 and remained the law of the land despite widespread acknowledgment of how poorly it was working until 2015, because of its name. After all, who could argue with the basic concept of no child left behind? Regardless of how the law failed, the name carried such a powerful message that it sustained despite years of bi-partisan recognition that it did not come close to fulfilling its mission.

Although President Obama was able to get the Affordable Care Act through Congress, and the name appeared to carry a good message at the time, it is likely to be abandoned or at least significantly modified by the next Congress not just because of the election results. The simple fact is that unless you receive a subsidy, the Affordable Care Act is not affordable! This is a case of the original messaging running so contrary to reality, that its name may help to bring its own demise.

On the charisma front, it behooves any political campaign to keep this critical factor in mind as it searches for successful candidates, especially in large scale statewide or national elections where TV appearances will be frequent. Failure to do so will result in losing elections in most cases regardless of whether voters agree with the views of the candidate.

Messaging is manufactured and its success starts with listening to what voters care about and testing messages with focus groups. Although I am not a political insider, I am a keen political observer and I have heard enough whining about voters who vote against their own interest to understand that such whining does not win elections or issue campaigns. Listening to voters and crafting messages that they want to hear and are congruent with the values of the candidate, party or issue is how campaigns are won. Patience and perseverance are critical as voters have demonstrated that they will easily switch parties based on charisma and message.

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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.

Political Blunder-Judicial Crisis

While the U.S. Presidential race gets most of the media attention, one of the biggest political blunders of 2016, and perhaps one of the most historic mistakes ever made by the U.S. Senate appears to have fallen off the radar. Earlier this week U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) returned to her hometown to give a talk to the American Constitution Society’s kick-off event for its new Madison Chapter, in which she presented her concerns about the Senate Republican majority’s decision to refuse to fulfill its Constitutional duty to give advice and consent on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the now 7 month old vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced before President Obama nominated Judge Garland that the Senate would neither hold hearings nor vote on any nomination made by the President to fill the vacant seat. His excuse was premised on the argument that the next President should choose the next Supreme Court Justice. Beyond the abdication of the Senate’s Constitutional duty under Article II to provide advice and consent to judicial nominations, McConnell’s blunder was apparently based on the likely mistaken assumption that a Republican would win the Presidential election and the Senate majority would remain with the Republicans. However, it was McConnell’s very blunder that exacerbated the likelihood that neither plan would come to fruition and that the next Supreme Court Justice will likely be nominated by Hillary Clinton and confirmed by a Democratic Senate majority. If that scenario comes true, while the Republicans could have declared a small victory with President Obama’s nomination of the very moderate Judge Garland, Hillary Clinton will be free to nominate a far more progressive Supreme Court justice instead.

It is important to note that McConnell’s political blunder would never have been sanctioned by our founding fathers. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist Papers No. 76, by vesting the appointment power in the President, rather than Congress, the founders sought to avoid having appointments determined by,

the private and party likings and dislikes, partialities and antipathies, attachments and animosities, which are felt by those who compose the assembly.

He went on to say that in assigning the Senate the more limited role of advice and consent to presidential nominations, the founders believed that it was,

not likely that [the Senate’s] sanction would often be refused, where there were not special and strong reasons for the refusal. [Those] special and strong reasons [included] the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment or from a view to popularity.

Of course, none of these reasons apply to the highly respected Judge Garland, and it is worth noting that Sen. McConnell made clear that it did not matter whom President Obama nominated. The Republican obstruction would be total and complete regardless of the merits of the nomination.

Sen. Baldwin pointed out that the Republican obstruction of President Obama’s judicial appointments goes much further than one crucial nomination to the Supreme Court. Close to home, she pointed out that President Obama’s nomination of Don Schott to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has also been obstructed despite being vacant since January 2010. As of now, 77 of 673 U.S. District Court judgeships (11%) are vacant, twice as many as under President George W. Bush at this point in his presidency and 50% more than under President Clinton and President George H.W. Bush at the same point in their presidencies.

As this chart points out, the  Senate Republican obstruction of President Obama’s appointments is extreme and unprecedented.

Number of Judicial Confirmations During Final 2 Years in Office

  • President Ronald Reagan: 85
  • President George H.W. Bush: 122
  • President Bill Clinton: 73
  • President George W. Bush: 68
  • President Brach Obama: 20

In Chief Justice Roberts 2010 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, he made clear that,

a persistent problem has developed in the process of filling judicial vacancies…This has created acute difficulties for some judicial districts. Sitting judges in those districts have been burdened with extraordinary caseloads….[There is] an urgent need for the political branches to find a long-term solution to this recurring problem.

A tie vote on the Supreme Court means the lower court decision is upheld and is a monumental waste of time and money for the parties attorneys and Supreme Court justices. Important issues such as public unions and immigration have been stalled due to tie votes due the Senate Republican refusal to fill the empty seat and more ties may occur in the current October session of the Supreme Court.

History will be the ultimate judge, but thus far, it appears that Senator McConnell and his Republican Senate colleagues may have made one of the biggest political blunders in history, and in the mean time denied justice to thousands of Americans waiting for their day in court.

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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.

Consensus Driven Leadership

As I have previously written, our political system has devolved into a state of Great Dysfunction, such that political leaders, such as Speaker of the House John Boehner and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, seem to thrive on conflict rather than actually reaching across the aisle to resolve problems faced by the people who elected them.  At the national level, Speaker Boehner persists in allowing the House of Representatives to vote over 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even though he knows that such votes have no chance of becoming law.  In Wisconsin, Governor Walker persists on arresting peaceful Solidarity Singers in the Capitol, even though he knows that they will not stop their peaceful protests no matter how many times they are arrested.

The question our nation struggles with today is whether there is any room in our political system for consensus driven leadership.  Before exploring that challenge, let’s make sure we know what consensus means.  A common misperception is that consensus requires everyone to agree.  A much better definition, which avoids the sabotage of vetoing progress by refusing consensus is Merriam-Webster’s definition:

the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.

Using this definition would avoid the political gamesmanship of Speaker Boehner and Governor Walker that appears to be calculated for power accumulation rather than actual substantive policy leadership.

In 2004, then candidate for US Senate, Barack Obama, gave his famous speech at the Democratic National Convention, where he optimistically declared that:

The pundits…like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.

There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Given President Obama’s difficulties in bringing Speaker Boehner’s House along for consensus policy making, the question remains: can consensus driven leadership succeed?

It is well recognized that consensus driven  decisions provide the best results for the most people.  But how can we get there when power driven naysayers are committed to destroying consensus?  Key elements to achieving consensus are:

  • Providing sufficient information to decision makers.  Consensus cannot be achieved in a knowledge vacuum;
  • Consensus cannot be achieved in an atmosphere of fear or threat;
  • Quality leadership is essential to achieving consensus;
  • Consensus requires mutually accepted accountability to implement the decisions which are made.

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker’s new book, Unintimidated, is a declaration of war on those who disagree with him, rather than an invitation to lead through consensus.  His leadership style has resulted in Wisconsin becoming one of the most politically polarized states in the nation.  The challenge for his next opponent, in 2014, is to present a viable option to become the Governor for ALL of Wisconsin.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Hope: Essential, but not Sufficient for Systems Change

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, those who recognize that the status quo is never fully satisfactory for most of us would do well to analyze the essential elements of progressive systems change.  At the very core of Dr. King’s message is a message of hope.  After all, when people lose all hope, they give up trying to make progress, or worse yet, engage in desperate acts of terror, because they have no hope of making progress without the use of such horrific means.

In his first campaign for President, Barack Obama captivated a majority of Americans with his message of hope.  However, those who listened carefully to that message also understood that hope alone does not achieve progressive systems change. Indeed, he started using the theme of hope in his 2004 Senate campaign.

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?

Indeed, in his victory speech after his Presidential re-election in 2012, President Obama made clear that:

I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

To those who felt downtrodden by the struggle for justice, Martin Luther King made clear:

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

As I have written previously, in addition to hope, the following elements are critical to advancing systems change:

  • Truth
  • Education
  • Organization
  • Litigation when necessary, and
  • Persistence

Most of all, using all of these elements strategically and effectively will capitalize on the power of hope to effect progressive systems change.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.