There is no Other

This morning, I was proud to join my Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, as President of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, at the public announcement of the formation of the Dane Sanctuary Coalition. Together with First Unitarian Society, Advent Lutheran Church ELCA, Community of Hope United Church of Christ, and Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ, with support from First Congregational United Church of Christ, First Baptist Church, James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation  and Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, our faith communities have joined together to provide sanctuary to immigrants and refugees who are under threat of deportation due to, “immoral immigration policies that threaten families, instill fear in our communities and violate the most basic ethical standards of our faith traditions,” as so eloquently stated by Rabbi Bonnie Margulis.

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When Kelly Crocker, Minister at the First Unitarian Society, with whom my synagogue shares space and thus joins us in offering sanctuary, gave her remarks, she offered a profound way of viewing the world.

There is no other, just a neighbor you haven’t met yet.

Her simple statement resonated with me as I stood behind her this morning. It is among many reasons why my synagogue joined this coalition and why we offer sanctuary in a public manner. We join together in order to build community, not destroy families and the communities in which they live.

Last week, the Dane Sanctuary Coalition wrote letters to local Mayors, the County Executive and law enforcement officials, to let them know that we are publicly offering sanctuary to immigrants and refugees under threat of deportation. We do so at some risk to ourselves and our faith communities. But we are willing to take that risk to help protect our vulnerable immigrant and refugee neighbors from oppression. After all, we are a nation of immigrants and virtually all of us are here because either we or one of our ancestors immigrated here.  We sincerely appreciate that Madison Police Chief Mike Koval responded by stating:

I am always appreciative when constituents step up to make Madison a more inclusive and accessible community for all.

In our congregation’s recent newsletter, which informed our community that our Board of Directors had voted to join the Dane Sanctuary Coalition, our Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman wrote:

As a Jewish community we are called to welcome the stranger and protect the oppressed. Out of a deep sense of social justice, we are responding to the urgent needs of Dane County’s immigrant communities, and we will stand with them in this act of solidarity.

Sanctuary can provide a deterrent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), thus giving the individual an opportunity to plead his or her case in court rather than being summarily deported. Providing sanctuary is a humanitarian act for an individual, as well as an opportunity to raise public awareness of deportations in our community. We are not hiding an individual; rather we are publicizing our action in the media and to ICE. This makes a powerful public statement that we will not stand idly by.

Offering sanctuary is a centuries old method which faith communities have offered to protect vulnerable people from oppression. I am thrilled that in my leadership role as President of my synagogue, we are now part of the growing New Sanctuary Movement which includes over 1,000 congregations nationwide offering sanctuary to immigrants and refugees under threat of deportation.

Providing sanctuary to people under threat of deportation will take a huge community effort, but I am confident that our faith communities will succeed in this effort and I look forward to the day when immigrants and refugees are welcomed in our nation and offering sanctuary is no longer necessary.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

A Fence to Step Over

Wars are fought over borders. Presidential candidates support absurd border fences. Nations erect walls naively thinking they will somehow ensure their safety. These fences pit people against each other and fuel the fans of hatred and bigotry.

However, sometimes fences serve useful purposes. Responsible dog owners have a fenced backyard to allow their dogs to get some exercise in their backyards, while keeping the dogs out of other backyards and safe from street traffic.

Sometimes fences are really just symbolic. These symbolic fences are not designed to separate people. Rather, they simply demarcate different plots of land.

Last weekend, under the auspices of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD), which I Chair, my friend (and former Chair and Treasurer of the GLWD) Onie Karch, who lives on the other side of Goose Lake from me, and I painted a fence at the beach at Goose Lake, which had recently been repaired. As this picture shows, it is a simple, low, white fence, which simply marks the property line between the private homeowner’s front yard, and the public beach.

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Onie and I spent a couple of hours painting the fence. We could easily step over the fence to paint both sides. John, who lives in the house on the other side of the fence, was unable to help us paint the fence due to recent knee surgery, but he gladly offered us water and was pleased to see the fence being maintained.

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Symbolically separating the beach from private property simply allows the public to enjoy the beach without negatively impacting on the private property owner’s land. Maintaining the beach and the fence has brought praise from both visitors and local residents, some of whom have been kind enough to extend praise for the improved beach to the Town of Jackson Chairman. This type of goodwill will likely encourage the Town of Jackson to help the GLWD improve the road leading to the boat launch to reduce unwanted runoff into the lake.

So, instead of building fences that fuel fear and hatred, policy makers should strategically build fences we can step over, allowing us to build community and make friends with our neighbors and the visitors whom we are glad to welcome into our neighborhood.

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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.

Building Community with Grains of Sand

This past weekend, as our nation celebrated its independence from colonial rule, the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD), which I chair, brought our small community together at a beach picnic. Neighbors enjoyed each other’s company and new acquaintances were made. Towards the middle of the afternoon, I took the opportunity to inform Goose Lake residents about how much a small group of volunteers has accomplished under the auspices of the GLWD.

In just a few short years, our 5 member elected volunteer commission has made the most out of our small budget (roughly $18,000 in tax revenues annually).

  • A few years ago, we bought a used weed harvester, which a volunteer maintains and harvests lake weeds and provides them for organic farming;
  • We have vastly reduced invasive weeds through effective non-toxic bio-management and hand harvesting;
  • Last fall, we started a 3 year fish stocking program with an initial stocking of over 3,000 fish;
  • We removed a hazardous bridge and boardwalk; and
  • This spring we brought in new sand to our small beach and made initial improvements to the boat launch.

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In the near future, we hope to establish a web site and in 2017, in cooperation with Adams County and the Town of Jackson, we hope to vastly improve the roadway leading to the boat launch to reduce runoff into the lake.

American skepticism about government is very high. In late 2015, survey data showed that:

only 19 percent said they can trust the government always or most of the time, and 74 percent said most elected officials put their own interests ahead of the country’s.

However, I have long believed that when money and partisan politics are removed from government, as is the case with the GLWD, and citizens see that government is effectively leveraging their tax revenues for the common good, then citizens will support government not only through their taxes, but through volunteerism.

None of the projects I mentioned above, including the picnic itself, would have happened without the effective participation of citizen volunteers working with our small government unit. While I understand that problems of scale increase as the size of the government and the magnitude of its problems increase, nevertheless, I firmly believe that reducing money and partisanship in politics combined with clear demonstration of effective work performed by government officials, will increase the support for the necessary work that we all need government to perform. Simply put, most people will pay for things that produce value they can see, including government.

Perhaps the most important function government can perform is building community by supporting the shared interests of its local citizens. This past weekend, as the children playing on the Goose Lake beach and in the water clearly demonstrated, we demonstrated that we can build community with grains of sand.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Welcoming the Homeless to our Neighborhood

For nearly 3 decades, my family has lived in the Tenney Park neighborhood in Madison. It is well known as a welcoming neighborhood where diversity is appreciated and generosity towards our neighbors is the norm. I have previously written about how our neighbors build community by opening up their front yards to neighborhood children, and how our sidewalks facilitate community building.

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But, last week my neighbors, elected officials and I were all surprised when we read the news that the County had signed a contract to purchase a recently closed restaurant supply store to use as a permanent day resource center for people who are homeless. The surprise announcement resulted in many of my neighbors immediately questioning the process amid concerns about how it will impact the neighborhood.

Fortunately, our city alder, Ledell Zellers, and County Board Supervisors Heidi Wegleitner and John Hendrick, have agreed to convene a neighborhood meeting at the Messner’s site on October 7th at 7 PM. This morning I met with Supervisor Wegleitner to learn how this project has the potential for being an integral component to address the needs of Madison’s chronic homeless population, and I plan to attend the October 7th meeting to learn more. She expects County staff and a facilitator to help the meeting run well.

As an attorney, I am well aware that process is important. But, I am equally aware that it can be used destructively. In this case, the County failed to engage the neighborhood before announcing the purchase and plan publicly, which was a genuine breach of good neighborhood planning. However, while my neighbors have every right to complain about the bombshell manner in which this project was announced, that initial mistake should not be used as a cover for yet another neighborhood to invoke the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome to kill a project that our community desperately needs.

Today’s front page news included both our community’s ability and inability to effectively deal with the people who are homeless in our midst. The positive: the first shelter for homeless teens will open tomorrow. The negative: those who are homeless will be no longer be allowed to sleep on the City-County building’s front porch, coincidentally also starting tomorrow.

As I observed some of my neighbors raise the genuine process problems, and other siting concerns, rather than welcoming a needed service into our community, I have chosen to learn more and while questions remain, I am cautiously optimistic that this new day resource center could be an integral piece of solving the long term needs of our neighbors who need housing and other services.

First, some facts:

  • The County board has not yet approved this purchase, and will not consider it until November;
  • The City of Madison must issue a conditional use permit in order for the resource center to operate, and fortunately our Alder serves on the Planning Commission;
  • There is neither a design plan yet, nor an operator for the proposed resource center; and
  • We have had a temporary, but inadequate, resource center just a few blocks closer to the Capitol that has operated without significant problems.

Next, some possibilities:

  • The shelter is intended to provide needed and centralized resources in order to connect people to the services that are integral to gaining housing for them;
  • There is a prioritized wait list for the most vulnerable people who need housing, and local service provider Housing Initiativesrun by Madison school board member Dean Luomos, has had great success providing housing for 550 people who have a mental illness, and will hopefully work with this resource center to provide more housing for those in need;
  • Given the proximity to elementary schools, middle school and a high school, the school district can potentially bring educational support services into the resource center; and
  • There are good models, such as Carpenter’s Place in Rockford, and the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul. We should learn from them.

Of course, proper planning needs to be done, including how to make effective use of the large parking lot next to the building, which could include recreational space and community gardens. But, this planning should be done with a mindset towards making this project a model of success to help our neighbors in need, rather than pushing them away. It was not that long ago that many of my neighbors opposed the siting a village of tiny houses for the homeless near East High school, but the project is now widely considered a success.

Madison is a wonderful place to live: for most of us. But too many of our neighbors struggle every day just to survive and put a roof over their heads. Indeed, when it comes to many quality of life indicators examined through racial disparities, Madison is the worst place in the nation. So, as I have long advocated, let’s use this new resource center as another opportunity to move Madison from worst to first.

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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.

Building Community through Music

A couple of weeks ago, I received a lovely invitation to a musical jam session in a nearby park hosted by a very talented local klezmer band, Yid Vicious. The invitation mentioned that they were celebrating their 20th anniversary and wanted to get 20 musician friends together to help them celebrate. I love klezmer music and we had Yid Vicious play at our son’s Bar Mitzvah party 5 1/2 years ago, which inspired virtually everyone there to dance the night away. In fact, they were nice enough to allow me to rehearse a couple of tunes and join the band during the party, which was a lot of fun and truly a memory I will treasure forever.

Much to my pleasant surprise, what I thought was going to be a jam session, turned out to be a rehearsal, as Yid Vicious wanted us to join them for the last 2 songs of their 20th anniversary show at the 38th Annual Willy Street Fair.

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The band asked us to join them at the end of their set for the last 2 songs, but I arrived in time for the beginning of their set to enjoy the music and watch dozens of people dancing on a beautiful day. The band informed the crowd that they had invited 20 musicians to join them for their 20th anniversary and when the time came, the band members got down off the stage to mix in with their musical friends. The sound was beautiful. The dancers kept dancing. But best of all, through their generous sharing of their special musical moment, Yid Vicious helped build community by inviting so many friends to join the band in celebration.

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Photo by Paula A. White

Music carries great powers. I have written about how it can combat racismand improve academic performance and behaviorBut like all great powers, it achieves its greatest strength when used wisely. My hat goes off to Yid Vicious, whose band members understand that the value of their music expands tremendously when they build community through sharing the stage. A heartfelt thanks for a wonderful community building experience.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.

In Praise of Sidewalks in my Neighborhood

My wife & I have lived in the same wonderful Tenney Park neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin,  for 29 years, and in the same house on a one block street for the past 23 years. Located just a couple of miles from the University of Wisconsin campus and downtown, many of my neighbors commute to their jobs by walking, biking or taking the bus.

As our son prepares to leave home for college, and my wife and I contemplate the next stage of our life, we often reflect on the special nature of our neighborhood. A couple of nights ago, on a beautiful evening, we decided to walk to a local restaurant about a mile away for dinner. The walk was lovely, but what made it extra special was that every few hundred yards, we stopped to engage in conversation with neighbors, who are also our friends, who were also out walking. This was not mere chance. Our neighborhood helps to form a cohesive and friendly community, in no small part, because of its sidewalks.

Sidewalks help build community because they create good places for interaction. A good resource for creating good places for interaction is the Community Tool Boxout of the University of Kansas. As they explain:

Good places for interaction are places where people – often from many parts of the community and/or diverse backgrounds – meet naturally and interact comfortably and often pleasurably because of the nature or attraction of the space and/or the activities associated with it.

While sidewalks are only one of many ways that good communities are built, they are invaluable as an easy and casual way for neighbors to interact and naturally get to know each other. The Community Tool Box goes on to list 11 great reasons to create good places for interaction. They can:

  • help to develop a sense of community pride and ownership.
  • help build a true sense of community among people of diverse origins, backgrounds, and points of view.
  • make the community a more pleasant place to live because more people have contact with one another.
  • increase the general enjoyment of life in the community.
  • increase safety and security.
  • improve the livability of neighborhoods.
  • promote individuals’ understanding of one another’s culture and humanity.
  • provide a forum for the exchange of ideas.
  • They can increase equity.
  • They can increase social capital, particularly bridging social capital.
  • They can expand children’s horizons through interactions with people who have different assumptions and expectations. Some time ago, I wrote about our neighbor’s Giving Tree across from our house which exemplifies the importance of this point. Here are some neighborhood children playing on that tree. IMG_1529

Of course, there are many other places for good social interaction, including parks and plazas, but sidewalks are critical as they allow for easy access for neighbors to meet and greet each other on a regular basis, thereby building friendships and community. In just one walk to dinner, my wife and I were able to check in with 7 neighbors (and some of their dogs), who have become our friends by being such good neighbors. Neighborhoods with sidewalks should relish and maintain them. Neighborhoods without sidewalks should strongly consider building them to build better and stronger communities.

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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.

And then… a Community Comes of Age

I have had the good fortune to be a founding member of my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim (Gates of Heaven), an inclusive Jewish community, affiliated with both the Reconstructionist and Renewal movements. This past weekend, Shaarei Shamayim held a weekend long siyyum to celebrate both our 25th anniversary and to welcome and complete a rare Torah, written by a woman, Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli. On Sunday, about 150 members, friends, and others who gathered to join in this historic event.

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As I am once again (for the 4th time) serving as President of Shaarei Shamayim, I was called upon to give some remarks on Sunday, and though I do not write speeches, this is a version of what I told our community that lovely afternoon.

Early in Shaarei Shamayim’s history, when we were a small group of volunteers without a rabbi or any other staff, I coined the phrase, “We are what we do.” At that time, I used that phrase because I do not believe in guilt tripping people to do things. That rarely turns out well. Since we were small, it was important to remind ourselves that we did not have to do everything, and we would be viewed and judged based on what we actually did. I recall one year when nobody would volunteer to coordinate a Chanukah party. Rather than guilt trip others to do this, I simply reminded everyone that in that year, part of who we were included not holding a Chanukah party. It was not tragic, and here we are many years later, having survived quite fine without that particular Chanukah party.

But look at us now. Indeed, “we are what we do.” At 25 years old, we are a well established inclusive Jewish congregation, that has gathered to welcome not only a rare Torah written by a woman, but a beautiful new ark, crafted by our wonderful carpenter/craftsman and member Zaccai Lewis.

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As someone who spends a lot of time helping to develop organizations, I believe that organizations often develop along a human life span through infancy, adolescence and adulthood. At 25 years old, Shaarei Shamayim is now a well established young adult, respected in our community, and thus able to attract the generous funding of the Goodman Foundation to help pay for our new Torah and ark. Of course, we could not have accomplished this without the help of so many people along the way including Jackie Kaplan, who invited my wife Sheryl and I to the first meeting to consider establishing our synagogue, as well as Hava Kohl-Riggs and Roseanne Clark, who convened that meeting and are the true founders of Shaarei Shamayim. Many others, too numerous to mention, enabled us to reach this moment.

As Shaarei Shamayim has developed into a strong, vibrant, and inclusive Jewish community, I have learned that while we continue to hold our values dear, some of our practices have changed over the years and I have learned to let some of them go. To close then, I offer a beautiful poem by Judy Chicago that we used to read during our services, but seems fitting today.

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.

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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.

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.

Ubuntu: I Am because You Are

My wife and I recently attended a wonderful concert performed by the South African musical legends Hugh Masakela and Vusi Mahlasela.  During the concert, these musicians, who played key roles in South Africa’s struggle to break free from apartheid, and are now touring to celebrate 20 years of freedom, introduced the concept of Ubuntu.  While the literal translation of this Nguni Bantu term is “human kindness,” Masakela and Mahlasela presented it as a Southern African existential philosophy: I am because you are.

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I have been thinking of this strong belief in connectedness as my community struggles with the recent police shooting of Tony Robinson, an unarmed African-American teen, just a few blocks from my home, which has led to peaceful protests and calls for change in police practices.  Much has been written about this tragic event, which is still under investigation.  One of the best statements comes from the YWCA, which concludes by stating:

we need to remember that justice for Tony isn’t only about Tony. It is about justice for all.

There are many ways in which our community can move forward.  As I have written previously,  Ending Racism Requires Systems ChangeThe racial disparities in Madison are among the worst in the nation, but that should only motivate us to work harder to change that equation.  I have previously proposed the concept of Moving from Worst to First: Creating the Madison Model and  perhaps transforming Justice for Tony into the change we want to be is the best way to create Justice for All.

However, until each one of us recognizes the core value of UbuntuI am because you are, through which everyone understands that we will never overcome hatred and racism and achieve justice for all until we all recognize that each of us exists for each other, the hopes and dreams of all those who want to transform Justice for Tony into Justice for All will remain elusive. Everyone is responsible for building the community we want to be: police, civic leaders, our neighbors and the strangers amongst us.  Everyone is because we are.

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