The Need to Connect

A few days ago, I was reading an interesting article entitled Separated at Birth in which the author seeks out adults who were born on the same day in the same hospital as he was in 1949. He describes a variety of common themes that he has with his fellow baby boom generation members, but one particular quote from one of his birth mates struck a chord. He suggested that the reason the author, Daniel Asa Rose, was on this quest was that,

You’re interested in what connects Homo sapiens. You grasp the plain, astronomical truth that we’re on a microscopic pebble hurtling through space at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour–and in a very real sense, connecting with one another is the only thing that matters.

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Since November’s election, I have received daily inquiries about how to respond. My usual quick response is to advise people to act locally and give hugs. While this may seem simple, what I am really suggesting is that the more we connect with each other, the harder it will be for those who seek to divide and conquer us to succeed.

Ever since he started his campaign, and throughout his first few months in office, the President has utilized classic demagoguery to disconnect us from each other. He and his allies actively encourage hatred, arrest and deportation of those who do not look like him. That is why so many of us have such an unsettled feeling. Since a healthy society requires that people connect with each other, living under the leadership of an administration that seeks to destroy that state of connection raises our anxiety level to unprecedented societal heights.

While I support those who seek to change the leadership in Washington, this task truly starts by digging deep community building roots at the local level. For me, it includes;

  • making eye contact as I walk down the street, thereby acknowledging the humanity of every stranger I encounter;
  • living in a neighborhood with sidewalks where neighbors and strangers regularly encounter each other on a daily basis;
  • mentoring youth who face daily struggles with poverty and discrimination;
  • supporting those released from incarceration to succeed upon entering our community;
  • leading my religious community in a manner that helps our community connect with disenfranchised communities in order to combat racism and xenophobia;
  • providing support to friends and family both near and far to maintain connections and offer help when needed;
  • leading a local lake district to work together to protect the environment;
  • engaging in genuine dialogue to build consensus to solve problems rather than sow divisiveness; and
  • providing unique legal and consulting services to disenfranchised clients who likely would not find the help they need elsewhere.

These paths of connection are simply the ones that I choose. Everyone can choose their own path to connect with friends, family, neighbors and strangers, but connect we must. Through a web of connection, we can build hope. Failure to do so will allow demagoguery to prevail.

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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.

Forward Again!

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting with Tim Cullen to learn about his plans for a potential run for Wisconsin Governor in 2018. I have known Tim for over 30 years, first during his initial stint as a State Senator from Janesville, then when he became Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services. He took a break from government service and served as a Vice President for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, during which time I teamed up with other public health advocates to negotiate with him to create a public health foundation with over $600 million which the insurer donated when it converted to a for-profit. Our relationship continued when he returned to the State Senate in 2010. Coincidentally, his season tickets to the University of Wisconsin Badger basketball games are right behind mine, so we regularly catch up with each other at the games.

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I have always been impressed with Tim as a thoughtful man, who is a good listener and seeks to understand and then solve problems. So, after I read the news that Tim was thinking about running for Governor in 2018, I asked him if we could meet to discuss his plans and he quickly agreed.

At this early stage, he is simply meeting with a lot of people around the state to determine if he can garner sufficient support and raise the necessary funds to make a credible run for Governor. Thus far, he has received a lot of positive feedback. It helps that prior to considering a run for Governor he wrote a book entitled, Ringside Seat: Wisconsin Politics, the 1970s to Scott Walker, which is part political history, and part memoir, with a significant dose of critique of the politics of divisiveness that Scott Walker has wreaked on the State of Wisconsin since his election in 2010, fomenting the politics of resentment causing the decimation of state government, public schools and Wisconsin’s economy. He has traveled the state on a book tour and learned a lot from average Wisconsinites about how Scott Walker tore apart a state that was once known for being nice. Knowing how important it is to rebuild the ranks of public school teachers decimated by Scott Walker, with a diverse group of new teachers, he donates the profits of his book to the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Opportunities Scholarship, which has already benefited many young high school graduates of color.

Recently, he starred, alongside former State Sen. Dale Schultz in an excellent video, Whatever Happened to Wisconsin Nice? In the video, both former Senators–one Democrat and one Republican, lament the divisiveness that Wisconsin’s political system has degraded into, and talk with regular Wisconsinites about how to heal that rift.

Our conversation started by Tim letting me know that he has already lived far longer than he ever expected. His father died from heart failure at the age of 63, and Tim never expected to live longer than his father. Indeed, Tim had the same heart problem as his father, but fortunately medical technology has improved and after surgery, his heart is fine. Fourteen years ago, he successfully battled cancer, and he has come through that stronger than ever.

From a political standpoint, it was Bernie Sanders’ run for President that convinced Tim that it was possible for him to make a similar run for Governor. Sanders demonstrated that an older candidate with the right message can inspire millions of young people to engage in politics. He also demonstrated that it was possible to raise millions of dollars through small donations, averaging roughly $27.

Tim and I agree that the key to winning the Governor’s race is for him continue to travel around the state and talk to average Wisconsin citizens about the need to move Wisconsin Forward Again.

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Doing so requires rebuilding what Scott Walker and his legislature have decimated for the past 6 years. Tim recognizes that this will not be an easy or quick process. He also understands that it will require a different kind of leader, one who understands consensus driven leadership and governs by forming Blue Ribbon Commissions to learn from Wisconsin’s best and brightest as to how to move Wisconsin Forward Again. Fortunately, one thing that can be done quickly, is to reverse Scott Walker’s costly decision to refuse federal funding to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, which is projected to cost Wisconsin $678.6 million through the 2017 fiscal year. Tim promises to reverse that decision on his first day in office, if elected as Wisconsin’s next Governor.

Tim also understands the need to end the gerrymandering that has resulted in Democratic legislators receiving far more votes than Republicans but nevertheless only winning a minority of legislative seats. Tim has been a key player in the lawsuit currently challenging what has been dubbed the worst gerrymandering in the nation.

State Assembly MapFinally, while Tim believes his age should not be an impediment to a successful run for Governor, he also understands that he needs to help raise the profile of a promising group of young progressive women politicians, such as Mandy Wright who is running to regain the Assembly seat she lost due to gerrymandering. He believes a successful run for Governor will include a strong young woman candidate for Lieutenant Governor running with him, ensuring continuity of progressive policies after he is done serving our state.

Of course, the Governor’s race will not start in earnest until after this November’s Presidential election. But Tim Cullen is wise to start early. He is willing to talk to just about anyone to find out how he can help move Wisconsin Forward 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.

Procrastination Nation

As our nation and the entire world breathes a collective sigh of relief that the United States will not default on its debts for the moment, one must wonder if the world’s only superpower, has earned a new moniker, Procrastination Nation. 

The dictionary definition of procrastination is:

To postpone or delay needlessly.

As James Surowiecki wrote in his article aptly entitled, Later, a few years ago in the New Yorker,

the percentage of people who admitted to difficulties with procrastination quadrupled between 1978 and 2002. In that light, it’s possible to see procrastination as the quintessential modern problem.

The question is whether our federal government should be modeling such behavior when it is so remarkably unproductive.  Indeed, Surowiecki goes on to point out that,

Each year, Americans waste hundreds of millions of dollars because they don’t file their taxes on time. The Harvard economist David Laibson has shown that American workers have forgone huge amounts of money in matching 401(k) contributions because they never got around to signing up for a retirement plan. Seventy per cent of patients suffering from glaucoma risk blindness because they don’t use their eyedrops regularly. Procrastination also inflicts major costs on businesses and governments.

Indeed, this current federal shutdown has cost the nation billions and its full cost has not been totaled yet.  As the New York Times reports,

The two-week shutdown has trimmed about 0.3 percentage point from fourth-quarter growth, or about $12 billion, the forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers, based in St. Louis, recently estimated. Standard & Poor’s is more pessimistic, estimating that the shutdown will cut about 0.6 percent off inflation-adjusted gross domestic product, equivalent to $24 billion.

It would be one thing if the current Congressional dysfunction was a one-time rare occurrence, but sadly it has become a pattern of procrastination causing long-term economic harm, in addition to loss of standing in the world.  A new report, The Cost of Crisis-Driven Fiscal Policy.  This report concludes that,

Since late 2009, fiscal policy uncertainty has…lowered GDP growth by 0.3 percentage points per year, and raised the unemployment rate in 2013 by 0.6 percentage points, equivalent to 900,000 lost jobs.

Very few good decisions are made by panic.  As a nation we can do better. We must do better unless we want the whole world to just consider us the, Procrastination Nation.  

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Rather than continue this Great Dysfunction, our nation needs:

  • Real statesmen who are genuinely want to govern for the common good, not just pressmen seeking to take temporary advantage of the next sound bite;
  • Consensus Driven Leadership instead of a divide and conquer mentality; and
  • The collective will to Get to Yes, rather than constant bickering and fighting.

It is clearly easier said than done, but voters must demand it, or our nation will continue to suffer the ignominy of being known as a second rate Procrastination Nation.


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

Consensus Driven Leadership

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

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

the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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