If Not Now…

One of the most revered Jewish sages, Hillel, famously asked three important questions that continue to have relevance to this day:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

If I am only for myself, what am I?

If not now, when?

Question Mark Clip Art 7625

Every one of us should ask our selves all three of these questions on a regular basis. The first question reminds us to take care of ourselves, as while empathy for others is important, failing to engage in self-care and self-advocacy will ultimately result in an inability to thrive as a human being and care for those who matter most.

The second question reminds us that those who engage in purely selfish behavior must ask themselves why they are on this planet as their purpose cannot simply be to ignore others to simply engage in self serving behavior.

The third question is a call to action. Specifically, it challenges each and every person who may be tired of the endless bickering of politicians and pundits that if you are not prepared to take action now, when will you do so?

Hillel’s questions have inspired a movement which calls itself If Not Now which is dedicated to ending American Jewish support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. It is a non-violent movement striving to win the hearts and minds of the Jewish community.

As important as ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is, Hillel’s questions go far beyond any one specific issue. Regardless of one’s background, we live in communities, nations and indeed, an entire world that demands that no one sit on the sidelines.

Of course, many may lament the state of the world but simply not know what they can do to change it for the better. Indeed, nobody can engage in every single issue that seemingly cry out for our help every day. In fact, doing so, will result in violating Hillel’s first question as those who try to fix everything ultimately fail to take care of themselves and will end by crashing and burning.

If you are inspired by Hillel’s message and want to take action, but you are unsure of where to start, I suggest taking the following steps:

  1. Identify an issue that you really care about;
  2. Find an organization that is working on the issue you care about in a way that resonates with your values;
  3. See if that organization needs volunteers, and if it does not, or you are unable to volunteer, donate funds within your means to help the organization do its work; and
  4. Support candidates who seek to make the positive changes in the world that are consistent with your values. This can include volunteering for the candidates, sending donations to help their campaigns, and remembering to vote.

While I have spent my entire career doing my best to follow Hillel’s sage wisdom, I understand that for many, it is difficult. There are many challenges that we all face: personal, emotional, financial, and in today’s world, simply a feeling of helplessness due to the overwhelming nature of need. My advice to those who feel frozen in inaction is to start small. Just pick one issue to work on. Ask yourself every day,

what am I doing to make the lives of others just a little bit better?

We all have the ability to lend a helping hand to a neighbor, vote for a candidate who represents our values, or provide support to a charitable organization doing good work. This will not only help improve your community and the world, but it will make you feel better about yourself and less of a victim of those powerful forces which degrade our world on a daily basis. Doing so will allow you to answer all three of Hillel’s questions in a positive manner.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

Advertisements

Saying Kaddish for a Friend

Last week, one of my best friends, Stan Pollan, died. We both moved to Madison around the same time 32 years ago and met a few months after we moved here, when his wife Ellen was pregnant with their eldest son, Henry. Stan’s parents and my wife Sheryl’s parents had been friends for many years before we met and encouraged us to get to know each other when we started living in the same city. Stan, Ellen, Sheryl and I are forever grateful for the encouragement our parents gave us to get to know each other.

About two weeks before Stan died, he asked me to say the mourner’s kaddish for him after he died. Stan was born Jewish, but he was not very observant. We regularly invited his family to our house for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Passover, which they appreciated. However, the only time I saw him in a synagogue was on Yom Kippur, when he would come to my synagogue to say the mourner’s kaddish for his parents after they passed away. So, of course, while dismayed that my dear friend was dying, I was honored to be asked to fulfill one of his dying wishes.

What I did not anticipate was that as Stan’s death drew nearer, his family asked me to organize and officiate at his funeral. I am not a Rabbi and I have never officiated at a funeral, but despite the challenge, I was further honored by this expanded role. I worked closely with Stan’s sister-in-law, Cheryl Siegel, to whom I will be forever grateful for her deep sense of caring for what Stan and his family wanted at his funeral. As she and I both told each other, through Stan’s loss, we each made a new best friend in each other.

It was very important to me that the funeral honor Stan’s wishes, as well as those of his immediate family, so I talked with Ellen and Stan’s sons the day after he died to discern what they wanted. They made clear that they wanted the service to be short, simple and sweet, including some music, and to be sure that any Hebrew was both translated and transliterated so all those present could understand and participate. Over the next two days, working with Cheryl Siegel, Ellen and her sons, Stan’s brother Jim, our friend Jason Garlynd, who did a reading at the family’s request, and the musicians, Jeff Laramie and Bruce Wasserstrom, we pulled the service together. Just an hour and a half before the service started, I picked up the copies of the service we quickly created from the copy shop.

Jeff Laramie opened the service with a beautiful rendition of the Beatles’ song, In My Life, during which some thunder roared. I told the mourners that was Stan applauding. I also made clear to them that I was not a Rabbi and this was my first time officiating at a funeral. Despite that, I have since heard that many people told the family that the “rabbi” did a good job. Someone even asked me for my card after the service. I reminded them that I did not officiate funerals professionally.

Before we got to the kaddish, I led some readings that all the mourners said together. However, since the family wanted Jason Garlynd to do a reading, he agreed to read the following:

Ahavat Olam-Love of the World (interpretive version-Rami Shapiro)

 We are loved by an unending love.

We are embraced by arms that find us

Even when we are hidden from ourselves.

We are touched by fingers that soothe us

Even when we are too proud for soothing.

We are counseled by voices that guide us

Even when we are too embittered to hear.

We are loved by an unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us

even in the midst of a fall.

We are urged on by eyes that meet us

even when we are too weak for meeting.

We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled…

Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;

Ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;

We are loved by an unending love.

The next day, we received a call from Stan’s eldest son, Henry, who invited my wife and I to join him and a few friends on a canoe trip the following day. We were honored to be asked so we gladly joined Henry, his best friend Ben, Jason and his son True on the Bad Fish Creek which due to heavy rains had swollen into a raging river. Henry wore his father’s captain’s hat and it made me think back to when Sheryl, Ellen, Stan and I canoed together when Henry was very young. Despite very challenging conditions, including capsizing, navigating logs through rapids and ducking under many branches, we all had smiles on our faces and felt that the blue heron that led us down the river may well have been Stan’s spirit guiding us along the way.

P1030752

From left to right, Jason, True, Sheryl, Henry and Ben, at the end of a lunch break.

There is a Jewish tradition that we say, May his memory be a blessing, after someone dies. I truly believe that Stan’s memory is and will continue to be a blessing and through the many memories of his kindness, his life will truly be eternal.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

Feds Support Positive Behavioral Supports, not Suspensions

On August 1, 2016, the U.S. Dept. of Education (USDOE), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) issued an important 16 page guidance letter informing schools that they must do more to provide positive behavioral supports to children with disabilities, instead of suspending them. The letter decries the fact that in the 2013-14 school year, nationwide 10% of all children with disabilities were suspended for 10 days or less, and that rate rises to 19% for children of color with disabilities. The guidance focuses on short term suspensions because the law gives school districts far more flexibility with suspensions of 10 days or less.

USDOE

The guidance letter makes clear that,

Research shows that school-wide, small group, and individual behavioral supports that use proactive and preventative approaches, address the underlying cause of behavior, and reinforce positive behaviors are associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and fewer suspensions and dropouts.

Moreover,

Research shows that implementing evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks can help improve overall school climate, school safety, and academic achievement for all children, including children with disabilities.

Since children who are eligible for special education are legally entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), OSERS makes clear that,

when a child with a disability experiences behavioral challenges, including those that result in suspensions or other exclusionary disciplinary measures, appropriate behavioral supports may be necessary to ensure that the child receives FAPE.

Therefore,

In the same way that an IEP Team would consider a child’s language and communication needs, and include appropriate assistive technology devices or services in the child’s IEP to ensure that the child receives a meaningful educational benefit, so too must the IEP Team consider and, when determined necessary for ensuring FAPE, include or revise behavioral supports in the IEP of a child with a disability exhibiting behavior that impedes his or her learning or that of others.

Of course,

IEPs should contain behavioral supports supported by evidence—IDEA specifically requires that both special education and related services and supplementary aids and services be based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable. As a matter of best practice, we strongly encourage schools to consider how the implementation of behavioral supports within the IEP could be facilitated through a school-wide, multi-tiered behavioral framework.

In many cases, it is not simply a matter of changing disciplinary practice. As OSERS states,

Appropriate supplementary aids and services could include those behavioral supports necessary to enable a child with a disability to be educated in regular classes or the setting determined to be the child’s appropriate placement. Such behavioral supports might include meetings with a behavioral coach, social skills instruction, counselor, or other approaches. In general, placement teams may not place a child with a disability in special classes, separate schooling, or other restrictive settings outside of the regular educational environment solely due to the child’s behavior when behavioral supports through the provision of supplementary aids and services could be provided for that child that would be effective in addressing his or her behavior in the regular education setting.

Program modifications and support for personnel may also be necessary to assure that children with disabilities are receiving the FAPE to which they are entitled.

School personnel may need training, coaching, and tools to appropriately address the behavioral needs of a particular child.

Fortunately, the federal guidance also includes resources, such for classroom strategies, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports Implementation and Self-Assessmentand a School Discipline Guidance Package.

The guidance identifies seven specific ways which may indicate that there has been either a procedural or substantive failure in the development, review or revision of a child’s IEP, including:

  • The IEP Team did not consider the inclusion of positive behavioral interventions and supports in response to behavior that impeded the child’s learning or that of others;
  • School officials failed to schedule an IEP Team meeting to review the IEP to address behavioral concerns after a reasonable parental request;
  • The IEP Team failed to discuss the parent’s concerns about the child’s behavior, and its effects on the child’s learning, during an IEP Team meeting;
  • There are no behavioral supports in the child’s IEP, even when the IEP Team determines they are necessary for the child;
  • The behavioral supports in the IEP are inappropriate for the child (e.g., the frequency, scope or duration of the behavioral supports is insufficient to prevent behaviors that impede the learning of the child or others; or consistent application of the child’s behavioral supports has not accomplished positive changes in behavior, but instead has resulted in behavior that continues to impede, or further impedes, learning for the child or others);
  • The behavioral supports in the child’s IEP are appropriate, but are not being implemented or not being properly implemented (e.g., teachers are not trained in classroom management responses or de-escalation techniques or those techniques are not being consistently implemented); or
  • School personnel have implemented behavioral supports not included in the IEP that are not appropriate for the child.

A child’s IEP may not be reasonably calculated to provide a meaningful educational benefit if:

  • The child is displaying a pattern of behaviors that impede his or her learning or that of others and is not receiving any behavioral supports;
  • The child experiences a series of disciplinary removals from the current placement of 10 days or fewer (which do not constitute a disciplinary change in placement) for separate incidents of misconduct that impede the child’s learning or that of others, and the need for behavioral supports is not considered or addressed by the IEP Team; or
  • The child experiences a lack of expected progress toward the annual goals that is related to his or her disciplinary removals or the lack of behavioral supports, and the child’s IEP is neither reviewed nor revised.

To avoid confusion, the federal guidance also makes clear that disciplinary removals are not limited to formal suspensions. They also include:

  • A pattern of office referrals, extended time excluded from instruction (e.g., time out), or extended restrictions in privileges;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school on “administrative leave” or a “day off” or other method of sending the child home from school;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school with a condition for return, such as a risk assessment or psychological evaluation; or
  • Regularly requiring children to leave the school early and miss instructional time (e.g., via shortened school days).

Inappropriate discipline without behavioral supports can impact the child’s right to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate for the child, as the guidance points out.

Circumstances that may indicate that the child’s placement in the LRE may not be appropriate include, but are not limited to, a scenario in which a continuum of placements that provides behavioral supports is not made available (e.g., behavioral supports not provided in the regular educational setting), and, as a result, the IEP inappropriately calls for the child to be placed in special classes, separate schooling, or another restrictive placement outside the regular educational environment (e.g., home instruction, home tutoring program, or online learning program).

While harsh disciplinarians may not be pleased with the federal guidance, parents of children with disabilities should be thrilled that the federal government has issued detailed guidance which is designed to ensure that children with disabilities stay in school and receive an appropriate education instead of receiving discipline funneling them into the school to prison pipeline. As an attorney who has represented children with disabilities and their parents in school discipline matters for well over 20 years, this guidance is a welcome tool to correct inappropriately harsh discipline meted out by zero-tolerance educators.

_________________________________________________________________

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.

Refugee Stories: Giving & Receiving

In the past week, I have enjoyed 2 recent interactions with refugees who immigrated to Madison that reminded me how important it is to assist new refugees and how eager they are to give back to their host country.

In the first situation, I was contacted by my old friend Andy Heidt, a former City of Madison Alder, who now runs the Bayview Foundation. As set forth on its website:

The Bayview Foundation’s guiding purpose is to facilitate families as they meet their needs, realize their dreams and make contributions to the community. Together, Bayview Foundation and Bayview Townhouse residents created a people proven model of successful, dynamic cooperation that works. The mission of Bayview Foundation is to provide housing, human service, arts appreciation and cultural awareness.

Andy put out a call seeking a lawyer to provide pro bono assistance for a Hmong immigrant mother and daughter because the daughter’s citizenship papers mistakenly listed her year of birth 4 years early which was causing problems with age related issues such as school enrollment. Working with a translator, I drafted an affidavit for her mother to sign in order to verify her daughter’s actual date of birth. After she signed the affidavit and expressed her thanks to me, Andy proceeded to give me a tour of Bayview’s affordable housing where many Hmong immigrants live. I am glad to see that Andy is continuing the good work he has done for many years and was pleased to help out one of his residents in my own small way.

A few days later, my wife and I were on the receiving end of assistance from a Laotian refugee who has become our friend.  Thongpone owns Sala Thaia lovely local restaurant that my wife and I have enjoyed eating at for many years. Mutual friends live just a few doors down from the restaurant and introduced us to Thongpone a few years ago. When Thongpone heard from our friend that my wife was home recuperating from a recent surgery, she volunteered to bring over some Laotian & Thai comfort food for lunch. Her gracious generosity was greatly appreciated by both my wife and I. As we sat together eating her delicious food, we marveled as she shared the story  of her amazing journey from Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand which led to her eventually becoming a successful and generous restauranteur, and now our friend, in Madison.

sala thai

As the Vietnam war was winding down, Thongpone fled an unstable Laos and sought refuge in a Thai refugee camp where life was very difficult. When she was eventually approved to immigrate to the United States, the original plan was to place her in Montana, where she knew no one. Fortunately, however, while in the refugee camp, she had met the owner of another lovely Madison restaurant, Lao Laan-Xangwho agreed to sponsor her in Madison.

That’s what refugees do. They help each other. That’s what good people do. We help each other. Our nation, our community, our neighborhoods are all made great when we help each other. I was fortunate to be on both the giving and receiving end in the past week and I look forward to many more opportunities in the future to give and receive both to and from former, current and future refugees, whom I welcome into my life. Together, we are stronger.

_____________________________________________________

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.

Education Progress? A Deeper Look

Recently, I received a copy of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s 1st Quarterly Review of its Strategic Framework. It is addressed to the Madison Community and opens as follows:

We are pleased to present our 1st quarterly review of progress for the 2015-16 school year. Our school district is on a mission to close the gaps in opportunity that lead to disparities in achievement and to ensure that every child graduates ready for college, career, and community.

FrameworkImage

However, as I read the review, I noted that it focused exclusively on African-American students and contained very little data, none of which appeared to be from the 2015-16 school year. While I fully support the need for Madison to close the educational achievement gaps for its African-American students, this cannot be done successfully by touting limited and misleading data. Moreover, my long career in educational advocacy has taught me that educational progress for one group of students cannot be achieved in isolation from the rest of the school district. Rather, educational progress must be premised in articulating clear achievable goals, providing necessary support and training to staff and students to achieve those goals and holding administrators accountable when goals are not met.

Thus, when I examined MMSD’s progress in its Strategic Framework from the 2013-14 to this 2014-15 school year, I was troubled to discover that the progress is not nearly as rosy as the district’s 1st Quarter Review suggests.

Here are some key pieces of data that the district does not reveal in its 1st Quarter Review.

District-wide Progress

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 45% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 37% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 48% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 44% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 42% (up 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 39% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 20% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 48% (down 2% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 79% (up 1% from the prior year)

African-American Students (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 16% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 13% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 12% (up 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 15% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 7% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 9% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 47% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 13% (no change from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 56% (up 2% from the prior year)

Hispanic Students (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 26% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 20% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 25% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 18% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 21% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 18% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 30% (down 8% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 35% (up 9% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 70% (no change from the prior year)

Students in Special Education (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 20% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 13% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 13% (down 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 11% (down 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 12% (no change from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 10% (down 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 38% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 18% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 50% (up 3% from the prior year)

As you can see, the results are mixed and though there is some progress from some students, in many ways the results are very troubling. To be clear, I am a strong supporter of our public schools and will continue my many years of advocacy to make sure they receive the support and funding they need to provide a high quality education to all of our children.

However, it does not help to provide limited data to the public to create a perception that more progress is being made than is actually the case. That is why I have provided this deeper look.

_____________________________________________________

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.

We are all Muslims

While many have weighed in on the racist xenophobia spewed by Donald Trump’s call for registering American Muslims and keeping Muslim visitors and refugees out of our country we know as the land of the free and the home of the brave, we must also face the very scary question of what each and every American would do if this very dangerous fascist actually became the President of the United States.

At times like these, each of us must decide whether we will allow racism and xenophobia to divide friends, neighbors and fellow citizens, or whether we will choose to fight back and unite against fascism.

Recently, Israel honored a non-Jewish American soldier for his bravery in saving other Jewish prisoners during World War 2. As reported by the Jerusalem Post:

An American non-commissioned officer who defied the Nazis while in captivity by refusing to identify Jewish POWs was posthumously honored with the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem on Wednesday.

The title, granted after extensive research and corroboration, is intended to honor those who risked their own lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of the US 422nd Infantry Regiment was the senior officer in the American section of the Stalag IXA prisoner of war camp.

When Nazi guards demanded all Jewish prisoners report the following morning, in a move reminiscent of the movie Spartacus, Edmonds instructed all soldier inmates in the camp to show up alongside their Jewish comrades.

When camp commandant Major Siegmann saw the entire American contingent standing and identifying as Jews he exclaimed, “they cannot all be Jews,” and Edmonds replied, “we are all Jews.”

Siegmann then drew his pistol on Edmonds, who coolly responded that “according to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.”

Outfaced by Edmonds, the commandant turned and walked away.

ShowImage.ashx

Edmonds was not Jewish. But to combat the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people, he declared himself and all of his fellow soldiers Jewish.

I am not Muslim, but if Trump is elected as the next President of the United States and he starts registering American Muslims, I will do as Sgt. Edmonds did. I will stand with my Muslim friends, neighbors and fellow Americans, and declare myself to be Muslim.

Our country will not become safer through hate and xenophobia. It will become safer by expanding the compassion footprint  as the wise Muslim author Dahlia Mogahed co-author of, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, speaks about. When I heard her speak in Madison some time ago, she explained that just like global warming cannot be stopped merely by each of us taking small actions, but indeed, requires systemic reform of the way we produce power and energy in our world, the social ills of our world, cannot be completely solved by small individual acts of compassion. However, this does not render those acts of compassion useless or unnecessary. Rather, those individual acts of compassion can help build a movement to demand systemic change in the way our society approaches social ills such as poverty, inadequate education and discrimination.

DaliaHeadShot-150x150

_____________________________________________________

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.

 

Our Gun Sick Nation

Another mass shooting.

4534

Does the motive even matter anymore?

As the saying goes,

Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

During the busiest shopping day of the year, the FBI ran a record 185,345 background checks on so called Black Friday, about 5 percent more than the amount processed on the same day last year. However, as the New York Times reports,

But since about 40 percent of all gun sales are through unlicensed sellers, that figure probably underestimated how many firearms actually changed hands, said Jon Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

I have written other gun control posts about repealing the 2nd Amendment and establishing a bullet tax. Our political leadership remains cowed by the NRA and refuses to do anything meaningful while innocents die and politicians blame each other rather than doing anything constructive to solve the problem.

Maybe writing another blog is just my own personal way of coping with our nation’s infatuation with mass murder. But maybe, by acknowledging that we are a gun sick nation, we can begin to look for a cure. And let’s be honest, the only real cure is to disarm our nation. There will always be people who want to hurt other people. But only in the United States of America do we make it all too easy to give those people the weapons to wreak mass murder.

_____________________________________________________

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.

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.

4f067929300a5-JC_DP_Image14

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.

_____________________________________________________

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.

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.

liberty_2608233b

  • 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.

_____________________________________________________

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.

Protecting the Environment at the Local Level

Twenty-three years ago, my wife and I were fortunate to find and purchase an incredible piece of property in Central Wisconsin, on Goose Lake, in Adams County. For many years, we focused on preserving the old oak forest, wetlands and farmland on our property. But, a few years ago, the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD) was formed, which has the authority to levy a small amount of taxes to use to care for and preserve the lake.

After attending the first 2 annual meetings, I was elected the Chair of the GLWD, as I recognized that preserving the diverse ecology of Goose Lake required working with my neighbors through this small government authority. We have done many good things together, including purchasing our own used weed harvester, improving the public boat landing and beach, and in 10 days, we will stock the lake with about 3000 young fish.

However, one dangerous eyesore remains. About 40 years ago, when a corner of the lake was developed with vacation homes, the developer placed ownership rights of a small island on every deed of the adjoining properties. The developer also built a wooden boardwalk and footbridge to the island. Unfortunately, these 20+ island owners have never been able to coordinate the upkeep of the bridge and so it has fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair.

20151011_143348

For the past couple of years, the GLWD has been exploring many possibilities to deal with this dilapidated and dangerous bridge. We have stayed in regular communication with the island owners, sought legal advice, and held public meetings to make sure that all options can be thoughtfully considered. At our last Annual meeting, we decided to issue a request for proposals to remove the bridge and boardwalk.

We received a few proposals, but only 1 was within our budget. I have spent the past few weeks checking references. The GLWD will consider whether or not to engage in contract negotiations to remove the bridge and boardwalk at our meeting this coming Sunday. I am optimistic that we will move forward to remove the bridge and boardwalk this coming winter and in doing so, we will make our lake safer for the people who use  it and the diverse wildlife, such as Sandhill cranes, that nest nearby.

This is one of many reasons why small local government matters. In an era, when out state legislature and Congress seem to dominate government decision making, I am proud to be a key part in leading the Goose Lake Watershed District’s effort to preserve this diverse ecological paradise.

_________________________________________________________________

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