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.

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Signs of Hope

It has now been over a month since the nation woke up to discover that a man who campaigned for President using hateful rhetoric, surrounding himself with advisors who espoused hate for large swaths of Americans, became our President-elect. Since his election, he has nominated members of his incoming cabinet and key advisors who pride themselves in hating those who are not like them. With an incoming administration seething in hate, it is no wonder that hate crimes have escalated all over the country and many Americans live their lives in fear of what the coming months and years will wreak upon our nation and indeed, the entire world.

Given the choices that the President-elect is making, a Secretary of Education who wishes to privatize public schools in  the name of God; a Secretary of Energy who has called for dismantling that agency; and an Attorney General who does not believe in civil rights laws, the fear which the President-elect and his appointees have instilled in so many Americans is, sadly, a well founded fear. We can and should expect the next Administration to do terrible things which will dismantle many of the civil rights and environmental protections that we have held dear for so many decades.

But cowering in fear will not solve the problem created by the President-elect. Much has been written about various ways to fight back and it remains to be seen how this will play out in Congress, the courts, and elsewhere.

Now is not the time for despair, as it is the enemy of progress. Instead, we need to encourage each other with real and genuine hope for a better future, as hope is essential to systems change. In fact, what we need is radical hope. As Junot Diaz recently wrote, building on Jonathan Lear’s book of the same name:

“What makes this hope radical,” Lear writes, “is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.” Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice; it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as “imaginative excellence.” Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible. Only radical hope could have imagined people like us into existence. And I believe that it will help us create a better, more loving future.

The good news is that literal signs of radical hope are popping up all over the place. Groups are forming and actions are being taken to challenge every hateful action taken or inspired by the President-elect. While collective response is important, many people feel isolated and are unsure or simply unable to join either new or established groups to combat the hateful rhetoric and actions that seemingly surround us on a daily basis. Fortunately, there are easy actions that individuals can take that combat hate and create a welcoming environment in our neighborhoods.

Recently, my friend Jennifer Rosen Heinz helped to spearhead a yard sign campaign which was so successful that the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health has now made the sign available on-line in a variety of formats.

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Simultaneously, a local pastor distributed 700 of these signs that sold out so quickly that they are now available for sale at the Willy Street Co-op. These signs have spread nationally and the design is open for download. This welcoming sign even has its own Facebook page and has received both local and national press as it spreads across the nation.

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We proudly have both these signs posted in our front yard, and as soon as I posted the first one, someone walking by said she liked the sign.

Some may consider it naive to suggest that welcoming yard signs can effectively combat a powerful and hateful government. To be sure, yard signs alone will not solve all the problems which the next administration is likely to foment upon our nation and the world. However, by posting these signs of hope, each of us who does so creates a welcoming message of radical hope which provides more space and courage to do the hard work that will be needed in the months and years to come to protect the most vulnerable people subject to attack and to limit the damage inflicted by the next administration.

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

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.

Hope: Essential, but not Sufficient for Systems Change

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, those who recognize that the status quo is never fully satisfactory for most of us would do well to analyze the essential elements of progressive systems change.  At the very core of Dr. King’s message is a message of hope.  After all, when people lose all hope, they give up trying to make progress, or worse yet, engage in desperate acts of terror, because they have no hope of making progress without the use of such horrific means.

In his first campaign for President, Barack Obama captivated a majority of Americans with his message of hope.  However, those who listened carefully to that message also understood that hope alone does not achieve progressive systems change. Indeed, he started using the theme of hope in his 2004 Senate campaign.

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?

Indeed, in his victory speech after his Presidential re-election in 2012, President Obama made clear that:

I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

To those who felt downtrodden by the struggle for justice, Martin Luther King made clear:

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

As I have written previously, in addition to hope, the following elements are critical to advancing systems change:

  • Truth
  • Education
  • Organization
  • Litigation when necessary, and
  • Persistence

Most of all, using all of these elements strategically and effectively will capitalize on the power of hope to effect progressive systems change.


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