Building Community: Now more than ever

Like many people around the world, the election of an American President who has actively engaged in and encouraged racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, frightens me. It reminds me of why I never bank on electoral politics to provide the solutions to our nation’s and our world’s problems. Of course, I vote, but in the end of the day, I only have one vote, and in this particular instance, even when the candidate I favored won a majority of the popular vote, our political system nevertheless gave the Presidency to her opponent.

I have spent my entire professional career working for progressive systems change. This election does not alter that. In fact, it will only cause me to work harder on behalf of the disenfranchised people I represent. A former colleague once called me a “good loser.” At first I did not understand that she was giving me a compliment. Then, she explained, that I never give up even after losing a hard fought battle. I simply examine the new situation for the best way forward and get back to working on making our world a better place. That is what we all must do right now.

Starting last night, many people have asked me what they can do in response to America electing perhaps the scariest President in its history. My sister-in-law just called me in tears. The vast majority of our nation was targeted by our President-elect, including women, people of color, Muslims, Jews, Mexicans, and people with disabilities, as somehow less worthy. But we know better. We also know that, now more than ever, we need each other, and together we can still accomplish great things.

So, here are a few suggestions (with underlined links to prior posts for more detail):

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So, today, give hugs to friends and family. Tomorrow, start looking for local projects that you can dive into to make your local community a better place. Together we can build community and create a better world for everyone.

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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.

21st Century Wild, Wild West

As the U.S. continues to struggle over gun violence, it appears that America’s love affair with the wild, wild west, where vigilantism and gun violence were rampant and romanticized has simply modernized and nationalized. We have regressed from using rifles and six-shooters in barely settled western towns to living in a nation where anyone can be killed or maimed at any time by assault weapons legally obtained by people on terror watch lists or toddlers pulling mommy’s handgun out of her purse and shooting her to death.

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Hickok-Tutt duel February 1867-Harper’s Monthly

The real question, of course, is why 21st century American gun policy appears stuck in the 19th century. The latest polling data shows that a majority of Americans want more gun control:

  • 55% favor stricter gun controls;
  • 92% favor universal background checks that will forbid gun sales to those convicted of felonies;
  • 54% favor a ban on the manufacture, sale and possessions of semi-automatic assault weapons;
  • 54% favor a ban on the sale and possession of equipment known as high-capacity or extended ammunition clips;
  • 87% favor banning convicted felons from possessing guns; and
  • 85% favor preventing people on the U.S. terrorism or no-fly list from owning guns.

Yet, despite mass shooting after mass shooting from Sandy Hook to Orlando and countless tragic places in between, our dysfunctional Congress refuses to pass any meaningful gun control legislation. Worse yet, there are legislators who continue to propose legislation that would make gun possession more likely.

Contrary to any reasonable pro-business, local control ideology, a Wisconsin Republican state representative Bob Gannon is responding to the Orlando massacre by proposing legislation that would hold business owners liable for triple damages if they ban weapons in their business, but someone is shot there. Hopefully, this piece of retrograde legislation will be soundly rejected. However, the sad reality is that the United States will never change its gun laws until voters make gun control a deciding factor when they cast their votes.

The late, great disability advocate Justin Dart was well known for his saying, “Vote as if your life depends upon it, because it does.” In the case of reasonable gun control legislation, he was exactly right. In November, and in every election in the future, American voters can and should choose to vote as if their lives depended on it, and vote for candidates that support the majority view that we can and should have reasonable gun control across our nation. Every such vote has the potential of saving lives, including your own.

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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.

Voting Builds Community

Yesterday, just as I have done for the past 2 1/2 years, I served as an election official at my local ward. The first time I did this was during the Presidential election in 2012, and I was assigned to a polling station on the University of Wisconsin campus. It was truly inspiring to see so many first time voters who were truly excited to cast their first ballots. Some were literally bouncing up and down with joy as they waited in line.

Last year, at my request, the City Clerk reassigned me to my local voting ward, at the Tenney Park shelter, and yesterday, as I registered voters (including my 18 year old son who cast a ballot for the first time), I realized how voting amongst one’s neighbors builds community.

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This happens in many ways. Of course, at its most basic level, the very act of voting is an act of building community. Yesterday’s vote including an overwhelming act of building community as the vast majority of Madison voters approved a $41 million referendum to make many of Madison’s schools more accessible to all, and to improve their decaying infrastructure. Included in this referendum will be a long sought and desperately needed renovation of the decrepit theater at Madison East High School, where my son will graduate soon.

Sadly, local elections like yesterday’s, tend to have low voter turnout, which is a shame since the opportunity for community building at the local level includes electing members of the city council, county board, the mayor, and school board members, all of whom are critical to shaping our community in the days to come.

But there are also more subtle ways in which my experience as an election official helps build community.

  • I registered a woman who rents the house across the street from me, which led to a conversation about her hope to buy the house and remain in our wonderful neighborhood.
  • The woman who helped me register voters lives in condominium complex and was warmly greeted my many of her neighbors who came to vote.
  • The Chair of the Madison Parks commission came to vote which led to an interesting conversation about upcoming improvements to Tenney Park, where our ward votes, and my discovery that Madison has over 200 parks!
  • Many friends and neighbors took the time to greet me, each other & other election officials who are their neighbors and friends, building community with each conversation.

While many focus on the outcome of elections, and of course, it does matter who wins and loses, we should not lose sight of the uncounted benefit of voting as a critical factor in building community, and in my case, it is a community of which I am proud to help build.

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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.

“Vote as if your Life Depended on it…Because it Does” (Justin Dart, 1930-2002)

govt_ADASigningJustin Dart, considered the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is seen here wearing his trademark hat as he watches the first President Bush sign the bill he worked tirelessly to pass.  But Justin Dart understood that those of us who need our government to serve us well must first exercise the responsibility of voting.  Yet, US voters continue to vote at appallingly low rates, especially in mid-term elections.

ResizedImage600351-turnout-chartAs shown in  this chart put together by FairVote.org, mid-term election voting rates are typically mired in the low 40%, never exceeding 50% since WW II.  Even Presidential elections only increase voter participation to the high 50% to low 60% rates.

There are probably many reasons for this, including a feeling of helplessness, cynicism wrought by incessant negative ads, voter suppression laws, and perhaps worst of all–too many Americans simply take their right to vote for granted despite the very real implications of how those who govern us, by receiving our votes, impact our day to day lives and long term futures.

In most other democracies, people take their right to vote far more seriously than Americans.  A recent article lists 58 countries with a better voter turnout rate than the United States, led by Uruguay at 96%.

A few years ago, I was hiking in the remote Copper Canyon in Mexico, home to the indigenous Taramuhara people, who fled to these remote mountains to escape Cortez & his murdering and enslaving Spanish troops.  Due to their remoteness, many Taramuhara walk the mountains barefoot and live a simple, subsistence life.  Many do not speak Spanish. They are famed for their long-distance running ability.

tarahumaraDuring my hike, one Sunday, I noted far more Taramuhara than usual walking out of the  mountains towards the local village.  I asked a local if he knew why so many were walking barefoot out of the mountain.  He informed me that there were municipal elections being held and they were going to vote. I was stunned as I am sadly confident that there probably isn’t a single American who would walk barefoot out of the mountains to vote in a local election.

But we can and must change that.  As election day approaches, let’s remember Justin Dart’s words.

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

As I have done for the past 2 years, I will serve as a local election official.  I look forward to seeing very long lines of neighbors exercising their right to vote.

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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.