We Can’t Bury Ourselves

Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a dear friend, who was one of the wisest women I have ever known. I first met Judy Zukerman Kaufman nearly 30 years ago, when she was one of a small group of people, including my wife and I, who decided to form a new inclusive Reconstructionist synagogue in Madison, which became known as Shaarei Shamayim

Judy was a strong believer in a feminist Judaism because religion without equal participation simply made no sense to her. Indeed, before Shaarei Shamayim was formed, she became the first woman President of Madison’s Conservative synagogue, Beth Israel Center. It was fitting therefore, that at yesterday’s funeral, both the current and former Rabbis from Beth Israel Center were there, as well as the Rabbi from Shaarei Shamayim.

Judy never missed an opportunity to teach. In fact, throughout her adult life she taught hundreds of children and adults, many of whom were at her funeral. When our son, Josh, was 12 years old, my wife and I had no doubt when we chose Judy to tutor him in order to prepare him for his Bar Mitzvah. Our confidence in Judy’s teaching ability was reinforced immediately when she made clear that a Bar Mitzvah is not an event. Rather, it is a process, and through that process, our son learned not only how to read Torah and lead a Shabbat service, but more importantly, he learned important lessons that Jewish sages have provided the world for thousands of years about how to engage in tikkun olam (repair of the world). In fact, Josh enjoyed studying with Judy so much that he voluntarily continued tutoring lessons with her for over a year after his Bar Mitzvah.

Although we had been friends prior to Josh’s Bar Mitzvah, the process of Judy’s tutoring Josh helped to bind our families much closer. We celebrated many holidays together and supported each other through a variety of health crises.

Judy’s last health crisis involved an infection that she was unable to fight off. After her first hospitalization to treat the infection, she was sent home with daily (though not constant) home health care, as she was still on IV antibiotics. Since she did not have round the clock assistance, and lived alone, I went to help her out one afternoon to bring her food, and keep her company. We had a lovely visit, though I recognized that she was very frail, and I worried about how long she would be able to live alone. Fortunately, my son Josh was available during my visit with Judy, and I connected them on a video phone conversation. Of course, none of us knew that this would be our last chance to talk to and see each other.

Shortly after my visit with Judy, my wife and I left for Israel to visit Josh, where he has been attending college at the Technion in Haifa. Before Josh left for college, Judy informed him that when she and her husband Jerry lived in Haifa many years ago, her favorite place was a lovely sculpture garden overlooking the city and harbor. Josh took us there during our visit with him which gave us another way to connect with Judy. This particular sculpture evokes the way Judy cared for so many children over her long, fruitful life.

IMG_3474

Judy’s funeral was longer than most because so many people had so much to say about her remarkable life. Rabbi Ken Katz, who presided over the funeral, made clear that these things just “take the time that they take.”

When Judy’s husband Jerry died a little over 2 years ago, they decided to opt for a natural cemetery outside of Madison, called Natural Path CemeteryJudy was buried right next to Jerry. The day before, her children and some friends dug the grave and I had the honor of being one of the pall bearers and lowering her simple unfinished pine casket into the grave.

After her casket was at the bottom of the grave, and we removed the ropes which we used to lower it, Rabbi Katz reminded us that, “we cannot bury ourselves,” and therefore it takes a community of friends and family to receive a proper burial. For what felt like a very long time, many of us took on the burden of doing what she could not do for herself, and filled her grave. We initially put flowers on her coffin and then topped off the soil with more flowers.

20170320_151335

As I contemplate the many lessons which Judy taught me, this last one, that we can’t bury ourselves may be the most profound. In addition to being a Jewish educator, Judy was also a civil rights advocate. Indeed, during our last conversation, she told me about her advocacy for the home health care workers who cared for her. We both shared grave concerns about the trampling of civil rights which the current President seems so eager to do. Yet, remembering that we can’t bury ourselves serves two important lessons.

  • We must support each other in community from birth until death, because as independent as many of us may hope we can be and may wish others were, we truly need each other to survive the many challenges which life presents; and
  • While many of us may wish to bury ourselves under our blankets while demagoguery oppresses others, we simply do not have that option. We can’t bury ourselves because we have a duty to help each other.

May Judy’s memory be a blessing. I know that the many lessons she has taught so many will continue to make this world a better place for many years to come.

_________________________________________________________________

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.

 

Speaking Truth to Power

Yesterday, I participated in the Autism Society’s Day on the Hill, during which advocates from all over the country met with their members of Congress to advocate for better health care and education for people with autism. We had a strong Wisconsin delegation which was able to meet with almost every member of our Congressional delegation to express our concerns about possible changes to the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and special education. We also asked each of them to join the bi-partisan Congressional Autism Caucus, which has well over 100 members.

16641007_1298315810214820_8042725500186015952_n

Brian Beeghly, Mary Fruits, Emily Levine, Kirsten Cooper, Howard Miller and I prepare for our Autism Society advocacy with the Wisconsin Congressional delegation.

Since I have been doing public interest lobbying at both the federal and state level for over 30 years, the less experienced advocates on our team asked me to brief them about each member of Congress prior to each meeting. Before we met with Rep. Glenn Grothman, I told my colleagues that I had known him for many years as although this was just his second term in Congress, he had served in the state legislature for many years prior to that, and during that time, I had met with him many times. I further informed my colleagues that they should expect him to ask an outrageous question.

16807043_1298752926837775_4462451378785279951_n

Mary Fields, Kirsten Cooper and I emerge with smiles after meeting with Rep. Glenn Grothman.

Sure enough, almost immediately, Rep. Grothman walked into his office where we were already sitting down with his legislative assistant, and recognized me and said:

I have to ask you a question. Do you believe that vaccines cause autism?

While I could not have predicted exactly what outrageous question Rep. Grothman would ask me, I had anticipated that he would ask an outrageous question. I could have demurred and said that this was not what we had come to talk to him about as it was not one of our issues, but my past experience with Rep. Grothman was that he would not give up until he got an answer to his question. So, I replied by saying:

No, I do not believe they cause autism.

Of course that did not satisfy Rep. Grothman, so he persisted by asking:

How do you KNOW they don’t?

So, I replied:

You asked me if I believe they cause autism. I do not BELIEVE they cause autism because science has not demonstrated that they do.

I then proceeded to put him in his place by telling him the story of my brother who died from a pertussis vaccine in 1966. We know this because science proved it and Congress passed a vaccine compensation program for such medical mistakes. I further informed him that fortunately our son was born after scientists developed a dead virus vaccine which is safe so we could give it to him. I closed with informing him that people who do not give their children vaccines are bringing back diseases into our community and they are a public health menace.

By the time I finished, Rep. Grothman recognized that he was not going to win this argument and our meeting was able to continue in the manner that we desired by discussing the issues that we came to talk about. The lesson, of course, is that well prepared advocates will not get thrown off by those in power who choose to pursue an irrelevant agenda. By speaking truth to power, I was able to provide both personal and fact based information to Rep. Grothman and steer the meeting back to what we came to talk about.

While many politicians thrive on intimidating others, it is worth remembering that they are just human beings like every one of us, and treating them as you would treat any other human being helps advocates speak to their legislative representatives as equals, instead of being intimidated by them.

_________________________________________________________________

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.

 

Keep on Moving

Many Americans feel stuck right now in a post-election malaise. They have good reason to be fearful for themselves, their families and loved ones as the President-elect surrounds himself with people who pride themselves in denigrating whole categories of people–Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, homosexuals, women, people of color and the list goes on. While many are taking to the streets in protest, calling their members of Congress or taking other concrete steps to protect the civil liberties most Americans hold dear, many others are simply frozen in fear.

When I was a young adult, I learned an important lesson about my own need to keep moving regardless of physical or emotional pain. It was 1981 and I was 21 years old. I had already graduated from the University of Michigan after just turning 20, and spent the next year traveling around Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, including working on Kibbutz Ein Gev during the winter of 1980-81. After returning to Michigan, I became the night manager of Ann Arbor’s popular Pizza Bob’s where I had worked part time while I was a student.

During the spring of 1981, I noticed that my fingers were stiff, painful and swollen, making it difficult for me to do all the manual labor required of managing a busy pizza parlor. I sought medical attention  and my doctor said I had arthritis and should go on high dose aspirin and stop working. It was the worst medical advice I ever received.

The aspirin caused extreme tinnitus (ringing in my ears which I still have) and quitting work did not improve my arthritis. Worse than that, the double whammy of an arthritis diagnosis at such a young age, combined with stopping work, sunk me into my first major depression.

During my many hours of depressed contemplation over my sorry state of affairs, at some point I made a commitment to myself. I theorized that if I kept moving (contrary to my doctor’s advice), my body would not be able to stiffen up completely. As I had always enjoyed swimming, though I had never previously swam for regular exercise, I correctly surmised that swimming would enable me to keep moving without deteriorating my arthritic condition. Slowly, but surely, I increased both my distance and intensity of swimming and since 1981, swimming has been a regular part of my exercise and I am pleased to say that my arthritis has largely gone into remission. I also gained a calming meditative practice through counting my laps while swimming.

swimmers-79592_1920

Of course, I am not suggesting that the answer to what promises to be the largest roll back in civil liberties in the United States since the McCarthy era is for everyone to go swimming. However, I hope my personal story of how I decided to move instead of freezing up  both physically and emotionally, will inspire readers to decide how they can best move their bodies and use their own advocacy tools to resist freezing up and allowing American civil rights to be steam rolled away.

Great suggestions of how to respond to the President elect’s agenda are coming out on a daily basis. Today, the marvelous author Barbara Kingsolver wrote:

We refuse to disappear. We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble. Every soul willing to do that is part of our team, starting with the massive crowd that shows up in DC in January to show the new president what we stand for, and what we won’t.

Latina activist Marisa Franco plans on applying the tools she used to successfully bring down the racist Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to the national scene. She understands that we cannot allow the President elect’s regime to manipulate us through a divide and conquer strategy. Instead, she said, the key

is to build on the successes and lessons learned from every group that has ever fought back against discrimination, and to see this moment as protecting humanity, not just one group’s rights.

Each of us must decide our own path. Some of us are willing and able to take more risks than others. I have lost 2 jobs when confronting Executive Directors of agencies who were bent on ruining the advocacy mission of the agencies they directed. In each case, although I suffered emotionally and financially, I knew I did the right thing, and my career as a systems change advocate only became stronger.

For each of my readers, find the path that works for you. There is no one right way. If you are shy, read this excellent primer on How to contact your representatives when you have social anxiety for helpful hints on how to become an advocate.

But, choose something to keep moving forward. Our future history is not yet written. It may look scary right now, but none of us can afford to allow our fears to freeze us into inaction. The stakes for each and every one of us are simply too high.

_________________________________________________________________

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.

20151030_161537

Next, she worked on her balance and coordination.

20151030_162944

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.

______________________________________________________________

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.

Threading the Systems Change Needle

Lost in the after midnight budget bombshell dropped by the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on our public education system earlier this week, was a small, but important civil rights victory for children with disabilities and their parents. No, it certainly was not the horrific stealth passage of a horrible Special Needs Voucher system that promises to rob children with disabilities of their hard won civil right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), which parents of children with disabilities and their allies have successfully fought for the past 4 years.

Rather, with one small amendment, the Wisconsin Open Enrollment program, which allows students to transfer to other public school districts that may better suit their needs, moved one step closer to ending its statutorily sanctioned discrimination against children with disabilities. Remarkably, ever since this program began in the 1998-99 school year, the law permitted the rejection of children with disabilities who were considered an “undue financial burden.” 

The Open Enrollment program has been very popular all over the state. In its first year, state data shows that fewer than 2,500 students transferred to new school districts under this program. But, 15 years later, in 2013-14, nearly 50,000 students availed themselves of this flexible approach to public education.

Yet, due to the outright discrimination against children with disabilities whom school districts deem an undue financial burden, each year thousands of such children cannot use open enrollment to attend another school district like their non-disabled peers. I have fought this discriminatory law on behalf of dozens of children for nearly 20 years. Although, I have successfully pushed back on the law in court, despite numerous requests, until now, I have not been able to convince the legislature to rid Wisconsin of this statutory discrimination.

The opportunity to do so arose out of my role as a board member for the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin. Shortly after joining the board, I worked with advocates from the Autism Society of Wisconsin (ASW) and the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin to develop an advocacy agenda. We joined forces with many other disability advocates to help preserve Wisconsin’s self-directed long term care program, IRIS, from Gov.Walker’s budget chopping block. But, we also wanted to make progress for children in our schools in a very challenging legislative environment. I suggested that there might be an opportunity to thread the systems change needle by approaching Sen. Luther Olsen, the Senate Education Committee Chair, who serves as the key Senate Education member on the Joint Finance Committee to see if we could get him to sponsor a budget amendment to end the “undue financial burden” Open Enrollment discrimination against children with disabilities.

So, I made an appointment for the ASW Executive Director, Kirsten Cooper, and I to meet with Sen. Olsen. It was a short, but productive meeting. Almost immediately, he agreed to insert a budget amendment that would end nearly 20 years of state sanctioned discrimination. We thanked him, and periodically checked in with Sen. Olsen’s staff to make sure he would stay true to his word. Two nights ago, buried in the bombshell of voucher expansion and charter school takeovers, Sen. Olsen kept his promise, and the amendment to end nearly 20 years of discrimination was passed by the Joint Finance Committee. We have thanked him and will continue to monitor this small, but important piece of progress as the budget process continues to work its way through the legislature.

threading-the-needle-day

In 30 years of systems change advocacy, I have learned that success is often achieved in small but important ways. Knowing how to thread the systems change advocacy needle helps advocates identify the time, place and method for achieving such victories.

_________________________________________________________________

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.

Saving IRIS=Include, Respect, I Self-Direct

A few months ago, I joined the Board of Directors of the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin (ASSCW). With my advocacy experience, I was quickly drafted to join an advocacy team that includes members from all 3 Autism Society organizations in Wisconsin, including the Autism Society of Wisconsin and the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin. While we are working on many issues, one of the most critical advocacy issues for adults with autism as well as other people with disabilities and the elderly with long-term care needs, is Gov. Walker’s budget proposal to eliminate IRIS, Wisconsin’s self-directed, community- based, long-term care program for adults with disabilities & older adults with long-term care needs. People using IRIS have the flexibility to self-direct their plan of care within an authorized budget based upon their individual needs and desired outcomes. ​IRIS participants choose and direct the services and supports that make it possible for them to live, work, and participate in their communities- allowing more people to stay in their homes and avoid costly nursing homes and other institutions.

IRIS stands for, “Include, Respect, I Self-Direct,” so it makes sense that the Governor’s drastic budget cut inspired the creation of the Save IRIS organization which has helped to organize the fight to keep this incredibly successful program in place for the 12,000 people who use it to self-direct their long-term care.

Save IrisSince the Wisconsin legislature is controlled by the Republican party right now, the 16 member  Joint Finance Committee (JFC) includes 12 Republicans, who hold the key votes that will deterine whether or not IRIS will be saved or eliminated. So, yesterday afternoon, I organized a trio of advocates, including myself, a former special education teacher and former ASSCW board member, Char Brandl, and Abby Tessman, an IRIS participant to meet with staff for all 12 Republican JFC members.

As our marathon afternoon of legislative meetings evolved, it became clear to me how critical it was that Abby Tessmann, our IRIS participant team member, joined us. After all, the whole point of IRIS is that participants get to control their own lives. By clearly explaining to all 12 Republican JFC member offices, why IRIS was essential to her living as independently as possible, she evoked consistent responses from legislative staff that the Governor’s proposal to eliminate IRIS had caused their bosses serious concerns. Abby handed staff from each office her business card, indicating that she is an Advocacy Mentor. Abby is pictured on the right along with other great self-advocates involved in the Save IRIS campaign.

Self Advocates

By the time we finished our marathon session of 12 meetings, we felt confident that the Governor’s proposal is unlikely to pass. It remains unclear exactly what the legislature will do, however, so people with disabilities, their allies, families and friends, should continue to advocate for IRIS, the empowering program: Include, Respect, I Self-Direct. After all, isn’t that what all of us want?_________________________________________________________________

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.

Establish a Law School Clinical Program to Assist those Caught up in the Schools to Prison Pipeline

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to University of Wisconsin Law School Clinical faculty and students about the possibility of establishing a clinical program through which law students, under the supervision of clinical faculty, would represent students caught up in the Schools to Prison Pipeline due to school discipline problems.  As of yet, there is no funding for such a program, but there is no doubt that the need is great.

As I have written previously, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) suspends over 2,000 students/year, over half of whom are African-American, and nearly half of whom have disabilities.  While there is hope on the horizon, given the school board’s recent decision to institute a new Behavior Education Plan starting in the 2014-15 school year, that Plan has no specific numerical goals, and as system change tends to take a long time, I have made it clear that students need advocates to navigate their way through the school discipline system.  This is not only my opinion, as the esteemed Yale Law Journal made clear that parents are not enough to help students with disabilities navigate their way through the complexities of the educational/legal system.  Quite plainly, students need external advocates.

There are many potential designs for a Schools to Prison Pipeline Law School Clinical program.  The David A. Clark School of Law at the University of District of Columbia has run an excellent Juvenile & Special Education Law Clinic for over 20 years. The Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University operates a Youth Justice Clinic.

If the University of Wisconsin Law School wants to establish a School to Prison Pipeline Clinic, it would have to make the following decisions:

  • Would it work on cases in one or more school districts?
  • Would it focus exclusively on children with disabilities, where the law is more helpful, or provide assistance to any student caught up in the Schools to Prison Pipeline?
  • Would it have office hours inside school buildings, with the cooperation of the school district, or work in a community agency, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Dane Countythe YWCA Madison, the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, or another local agency, which already work on Schools to Prison Pipeline issues?
  • Would the University of Wisconsin provide the funding for faculty to oversee the clinical program, and any other attendant costs, or would outside foundations need to fund the program?

While many different models could be implemented, the need is great, and students caught up in the schools to prison pipeline need legal assistance now, as there simply is not enough no or low cost legal assistance available to meet the enormous need.  If those who want to address the problem put their minds together, perhaps such a clinical program can begin as soon as the fall of 2014.  But, if not, the need will not disappear, so good planning should move forward so a high quality Schools to Prison Pipeline Law School Clinic can be established as soon as possible.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.

The Synergy of Individual Advocacy & Systems Change

Recently, I had the opportunity to demonstrate, once again, the synergy of individual advocacy & systems change.  For nearly 20 years, I have been combating the schools to prison pipeline, as I wrote about over a year ago.  In January, I started writing a series of blogs and submitted them to the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) school board as its administrators developed a series of 4 drafts of what started out as a proposed revision of its discipline plan, but on my advice, became the new Behavior Education Plan, which will go into effect on September 1, 2014, and you can review here.  That plan had been sailing under the radar with relatively minimal public input, until my clients and I recently went public with an expulsion case which was a classic  example of zero tolerance run amok.  Fortunately, in one night, the school board ended my client’s expulsion, and then proceeded to approve the new Behavior Education Plan, in front of a packed auditorium, putting 2 nails in the coffin of zero tolerance.

As I testified to the school board that night, MMSD’s new, improved plan is not perfect, as it fails to set specific goals for reducing out of school discipline such as suspensions and expulsions, and accordingly fails to set specific goals for reducing the racial and disability disparities in both discipline and academic achievement which the district has long struggled to overcome.  In addition, I encouraged the school board to place advocates in each school to assist students and their parents through the discipline process as well as other challenges, including academic, which students may encounter.

Unfortunately, after I made that suggestion, the President of the MMSD School Board, publicly criticized my suggestion, as he does not view the discipline process as “adversarial,” which is fairly remarkable given his work as an attorney, but even more remarkable given that he truly does not understand the role that advocates actively play not only to improve outcomes for the children for whom they advocate, but to help change flawed systems for the better.

For nearly 30 years, my career as a civil rights attorney has involved taking individual cases and evolving them, when appropriate, into positive systems change.  This includes the struggle to finally pass a new law prohibiting the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint, which only occurred after representing many students harmed by this horrific practice and shedding the bright media light on it.

Any system that desires continuous improvement should recognize the value of advocacy as both an individual corrective tool, as well as a vehicle for identifying systemic problems. Dane County, Wisconsin, has recognized the value of having an internal ombudsman in its human services department to “ensure that people are getting appropriate services.”

While it is unclear whether MMSD can afford to place ombudsmen or advocates in each of its schools, it should certainly examine its budget to pilot such a program in schools with the highest discipline and academic problems.  Moreover, it could partner with outside agencies, which have existing advocacy services, such as Wisconsin Family Ties, which uses non-lawyer professional advocates, Wisconsin FACETS, which uses non-lawyer paid and volunteer advocates, and Disability Rights Wisconsin, which uses non-lawyer advocates with legal back-up and occasional direct lawyer involvement.  However, all of these agencies only work with children with disabilities, and I know of no agency providing school advocacy services to non-disabled students.

If the MMSD truly wants to ensure that its new Behavior Education Plan succeeds, it should actively engage with existing advocacy organizations, and work to obtain foundation support to fund advocates for non-disabled students.  Working together with the school district, on behalf of students, these advocates can correct natural human errors in the new system, and provide useful data to the MMSD administration so it can take corrective measures when repeated problems inevitably crop up.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

Stop Burning Bridges

As we all watch our dysfunctional Congress fail to carry out its most basic duty of passing a budget year after year, and we see divisive political battles in states like Wisconsin, where police arrest peacefully singing protestors resulting in the filing of 15,000 complaints against the Capitol police, it is worth considering whether both sides of the political aisle’s current strategy of vilifying each other achieves the goals they seek. Cynics who believe that politics is all about power and has little to with actual policy may believe that burning bridges with the other side is the best way to fire up their loyal troops.

But for those who seek genuine, long-term systemic change to improve our society, whether on a local, state or national level, burning bridges through name-calling, personal insults and other forms of vilification, will at best, provide short-term emotional satisfaction, and short-term political victories.  Perhaps the worst case example of name calling is through comparing politicians to Hitler or Nazis.  Remarkably, this unfortunate pattern exists on both sides of the aisle, with the left making absurd comparisons between President George W. Bush and Hitler, and the right using the same vilification against President Obama.

Long term systems change happens when society at large believes it should happen and politicians are convinced that blocking such change will result in their loss of power.  Indeed, the opposite is also true.  Do those who invoke the ultimate Hitler insult against a sitting President, or any other politician in power, actually believe that they can work with supporters of the sitting President effectively?  In addition to the fact that such absurd comparisons insult the memories of the millions slaughtered by Hitler, they also ensure that partisan sniping continues and substantive progress on policy grinds to a halt.

For too many, when they disagree with whomever is in power at the time, they believe that they must oppose all that they stand for and use whatever arguments and tactics, no matter how absurd, to oppose that political leader.  For all the appropriate opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on public employee unions, suggesting a comparison to Hitler is not only absurd, but makes it impossible to work with him and his allies.

Thus, in my own work, I have spent my entire career working with politicians on both sides of the aisle.  I have avoided joining any political parties, which has eased my ability to work with whomever is in power. While I certainly agree with some political leaders more than others, and vote for those whose policies I support, I studiously avoid personal attacks and seek to find common ground with whomever is in power while avoiding burning bridges with those out of power.  The simple truth is that power is always transitory and good advocates know that they always want to be able to influence those in power.

So what should an advocate do when faced with political leadership that generally stands for views the advocate opposes?  

  • First, by all means, the advocate should clearly state opposing views, but those views should be articulated intelligently and respectfully, without burning bridges.
  • Second, seek common ground on issues that the advocate and the political leadership both support.  For example, along with many other advocates, I was able to work with both Republican and Democratic leadership during the highly divisive 2011-12 legislative session and obtain Gov. Walker’s signature on Act 125, which passed the legislature unanimously and now protects Wisconsin school children from inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint.

This picture shows how advocates who refuse to burn bridges can work with both sides of the aisle for the common good as the bill’s lead sponsors Democratic Sen. Julie Lassa and Republican Sen. Luther Olsen join me and other advocates to applaud Gov. Walker as he signed Act 125 into law to protect vulnerable children.

Image


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

Systems Change Requires Inspiring Action

Whether it is due to government dysfunction, lack of hope, or a variety of other reasons, it is often difficult to inspire people to join together to advocate for systemic change. Recently, at the J Street national conference, I had the fortune to attend a workshop conducted by a Palestinian, Nizar Farsakh, of The Leading Change Network.  Mr. Farsakh discussed his utter loss of hope as a Palestinian living in the occupied territories, but then told the story of watching Hamas militants shoot a 10 year old boy, which rather than depressing him further, inspired him to dedicate his life to using positive and peaceful tools to advocate for systemic change.

Farsakh went on to explain that many people have one or more of the following inhibitors which prevent them to take action to change the system which oppresses them.

  • Inertia
  • Apathy
  • Fear
  • Isolation
  • Self-doubt

Fortunately, each of these inhibitors can be overcome by motivators.

  • Urgency overcomes inertia
  • Anger overcomes apathy
  • Hope overcomes fear
  • Solidarity overcomes isolation
  • Knowing you can make a difference overcomes self-doubt

For many, of course, it is much easier to say these things than do them, especially if one or more of the inhibitors is rooted very deeply.  Therefore, it is essential to develop a strategy for systems change.

The New Organizing Institute has an on-line toolbox to help those interested in organizing for systemic change.  One of their trainings, on Theory of Change.  One key element of that training is the lesson that:

Strategy is turning the resources you have into the power you need, to win the change you want.

This can be applied to any system that requires changing and is the key to successfully accomplishing your systems change goals.


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