HAPPENING HERE?

HAPPENING HERE?

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings.– Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968

My political heart was first broken when I awoke on the morning of June 6, 1968 to learn that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated the night before. The 50th Anniversary of that event will now occur during a Trump Presidency. Given his “American Carnage” inauguration speech, I don’t expect much eloquence from the White House on that memorial date.

41t-9lej7cl-_ac_us218_President Trump’s inaugural pledge to listen to “the forgotten men” may be promising to some. To me, it is reminiscent of the League of Forgotten Men from Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. According to a Chicago Tribune 1/15/17 article on the growth in alternative history fiction and movies, this 1935 best-seller tracts the rise to the US Presidency of “a crass, plain-spoken East Coast businessman who drapes totalitarian urges in the flag, demonizes his enemies, then defeats Roosevelt and wins the presidency.”

This Trib story noted that the day after Trump’s election was a good one for Sinclair Lewis. His book sold out on Amazon. With a spike in sales in excess of 1000%, more copies have appeared on bookstore shelves. I got my copy last week. The 1930s writing style is a bit challenging. I’ve only made it through the first 100 pages and the 1936 election. So I have yet to read about the first American Fascist administration. However, there are passages that seem relevant:

“any gang daring enough and unscrupulous enough, and smart enough not to seem illegal, can grab hold of the entire government and have all the power and applause and salutes, all the money and palaces and willin’ women they want.”

One day after his term starts, President Trump and his spokesman, amid mass protests nationwide, accuse the media of understating the turnout for his inauguration. Whose rally was bigger? Really, that’s what matters to our new President’s ego.

rfk-campaign_speechMy current non-fiction reading is Larry Tye’s recent biography, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal  It’s what got me through the fall election. I’m only a third of the way, up to Bobby’s Attorney General days. Really, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions nominated for the same office?

Many remember the eloquence with which Senator Kennedy informed the Indianapolis community of the murder of Dr. King. The next day he was scheduled to speak in Cleveland where he changed his remarks to what became known as his “Mindless Menace of Violence” speech. Particularly relevant to Trump discourse is this RFK admonition:

“When you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but conquest, to be subjugated and mastered. We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens.”

In my alternative history, I envision the inaugural speech that President Robert F. Kennedy could have delivered in January 1969 and should be considered as a mantra during the four years ahead:

“Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and women. Surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and sisters, countrymen and countrywomen once again.” — Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968

I now dream that someone will give that inaugural speech in January 2021.

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REBUILDING COMMUNITIES REMAINS THE ANTIDOTE

REBUILDING COMMUNITIES REMAINS THE ANTIDOTE

“If President-elect Trump has his way, we will be standing still on a melting planet. Are we really going to let that happen?” — Sigourney Weaver, Years of Living Dangerously, National Geographic Channel

I finally found time to watch YLD’s season closing episode, “UPRISING,” which weaved Weaver’s exploration of China’s explosive economic growth and its impact on the waukegan-coal-plantenvironment, not only locally but on a massive global scale with America Ferrera’s visit to Waukegan, Illinois. There a still-functioning coal plant, owned by NRG, is creating tension between the community leaders who want to shut it down for the sake of their health and those, including the mayor, who want to keep it open for the jobs. Together the stories connected how climate action requires global attention but must start with local steps.

For over 40 years, SHELTERFORCE has covered the work of practitioners, advocates, and activists for social justice and community development. Some of my November U2Cando blog and some of this month’s blog were posted December 22nd on its ROOFLINES blog website under the title: “You’ve Seen This Movie Before. You Know What to Do.”

I shared how hearing Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, on November 9th served me well as a post-election group therapy. I recalled how his remarks generated flashback memories to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta, who spoke truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the Reagan years of deregulation for profits. Yes, the Reagan Years: when the early days of the Community Reinvestment Act were intentionally stifled; when a promising national investigation and organizing campaign on insurance redlining was suppressed by cancelling one of the final contracts of the Carter Administration.

But then I shared how my community development career started when Nixon was President. Yes, the Nixon Years: when redlining was prevalent as “wise” investing for cities-destroyed-for-cashprofit; when under the watch of HUD Secretary George Romney (yes, Mitt’s dad) Cities Destroyed for Cash was the outcome. That is the title of the 1973 book by journalist Brian Boyer, which documented how the federal government itself had become the predatory lender that fueled redlining and the withdrawal of private capital from America’s communities. I’ll refrain from reminding us about the George W Years; except to observe that our communities are still hemorrhaging from an economy destroyed by greed.

Yes, we have seen this new Trump movie before. But I don’t remember the CEO of Exxon Mobil being cast as Secretary of State. Personally, I prefer CBS’ Madam Secretary, Téa Leoni. Her TV experience is better than the President-Elect. She’s been saving the world; not firing people.

The reality of the current previews for the Trump Years is that this is shaping up to be one of those horror movie sequels with more violence and blood than the earlier ones in the franchise. There is a reason to be scared, horrified in fact. But we cannot retreat.

Thanks to an obstructionist Congress eight years after Wall Street crashed our economy and devastated our communities, government officials still can’t figure out how to employ community residents in rebuilding their own neighborhoods by rehabbing vacant foreclosed homes at affordable prices. The potential for green jobs was never really pursued when the demand for residential energy-efficiency was minimized by a Bush-appointee’s blockage of an innovative financing tool, Property Assessed Clean Energy [PACE]. The expansion of solar has been curtailed by public utilities duplicitously working to negate its expansion for residential, commercial and publicly-owned properties; all of which are significant job creating markets.

Our best recourse is to re-engage with our municipal governments to further locally-generated solutions. We must advance the rebuilding of our communities as a core economic strategy to create jobs and assure affordable housing to raise families. It is the antidote to the current plague of hatred. It remains the healing cure for a just and equitable society. We must persevere at the community level, at our roots.

America Ferrera concludes her segment on THE COAL WARS observing:

“The fight against climate change and the transition to clean energy is messy and difficult. But there is so much to be hopeful about. Ordinary people in Waukegan are doing what they can to take on climate change in their corner of the world.”

That’s a theme we should all consider for our New Year’s resolution for 2017 action in our corners of the world.

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

“Today, I am as optimistic and resolved as ever that we will solve the climate crisis. Our collective efforts are dependent not on politics or ideology — or elections — but on our commitment to each other, to the health of our planet and to a sustainable future for all…. Now, more than ever, our planet needs us — and I’m inspired by the knowledge that we’ll take the path forward together.”
Al Gore, Founder & Chairman, The Climate Reality Project, November 09, 2016 24hours-logo

The last presidential candidate who won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College went on to use his free time to give us “The Inconvenient Truth.” Perhaps, it is now obvious to Hillary Clinton she should have made this year’s election about climate change.

Turns out I had pre-booked my post-election group therapy by getting tickets with other colleagues of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA to hear Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org. I’m sure all in the audience were looking forward to hearing about all the progress on climate action that was awaiting us over the next four years. While McKibben shared the audience’s frustrations, he inspired me with his story telling on how 350.org was founded.

In 2008, 350.org began with six Middlebury college students of McKibben’s. One of the first environmental organizations to use a website as its moniker, 350 signifies the 350-vs-400concentration of carbon dioxide in parts per million (ppm) that the atmosphere can safely hold without changing our climate. Too bad for us, we are currently around 400ppm.

The group first focused on an International Day of Climate Action to encourage the world’s most widespread day of political action reporting 5,245 actions in 181 countries on Saturday October 24, 2009. This resonated with me for several reasons.

First, college students sparking this initiative shows the strength of service learning projects such as ICA’s Accelerate77 convening the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network. Second, the breadth of the international engagement challenges ICA to collaborate with our ICA-International colleagues to commemorate in 2017 the 40th anniversary of ICA’s “Band of 24”which created human development projects in all 24 time zones across the globe.

Then there is the flashback memory to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta speaking truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the early Reagan years of deregulation for profits.

McKibben outlined the arguments for divestment in 2012, when he boiled down the future of the fossil fuel industry to simple arithmetic – companies own at least four times more fossil fuel reserves than we can safely burn, so it must stay in the ground, so the reserves and the companies are overvalued when these become “stranded assets.” Not a good long-term investment.

Divestment movements continue to spread on campuses across America. 350.org’s fossil fuel divestment campaign is shifting money faster than any divestment movement before it. Now it’s time for local governments to enter the fray and protect the future of our citizens.

If you’re looking this fall for real “reality TV,” check out season two of Years of Living Dangerously, airing on Nation Geographic Channel. In the October 30th opening episode, BLOCKING THE SUN, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong traveled to Florida and Nevada to investigate what’s blocking the growth of solar energy in the U.S. I know it’s shocking to discover it’s our publicly regulated utility companies.

On the good news side, Florida voters in the “Sunshine State” rejected on November 8th, a misleading utility-backed campaign promoting a referendum as protecting consumers and encouraging solar. Their promotional materials did not include an explanation that the amendment would open the door to new fees and costs to rooftop solar users. As Cecily’s interviews captured, solar industry advocates argued that instead of expanding rooftop solar generation, the amendment had the potential to make it less economically viable and limit its expansion. So the battle will continue for more solar in the Sunshine State.

But as other episodes on Years of Living Dangerously document local battles abound. David Letterman’s trip to India —soon to be the world’s most populous but with 300 million people living in rural villages without power – focused on India’s dilemma of using dirty fossils fuels like coal or leading the way with the renewable energy.

central-valley-caIn California, the worst drought in 1,200 years is devastating the nation’s most populous state and the world’s seventh-largest economy. A global water crisis is forcing family farmers off their land in the parched Central Valley and threatening our food supply.

In the remote corners of the African Sahel, migrants are being forced to make the deadly trip across the Mediterranean as “climate refugees.” senegal_ricci_shryock-111-1024x683

“We have a choice, we can build walls or we can build gardens. If we don’t help people build gardens here in Africa, they’re going to come right over our wall,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Perhaps, the President-Elect can find the time to watch a few episodes and learn how all this is connected and why climate action is an imperative. Otherwise, we all will be living dangerously over the next four years.

GOING ALL THE WAY

GOING ALL THE WAY

And here’s to the men and the legends we’ve known
Teaching us faith and giving us hope
United we stand and united we’ll fall
Down to our knees the day we win it all….
And when the day comes with that last winning run
And I’m crying and covered in beer
I’ll look to the sky and know I was right
To think someday we’ll go all the way
Yeah
Someday we’ll go all the way
by Eddie Vedder

Someday finally came just before midnight [central time] on Wednesday, November 2, 2016.

Cubs fans had seen 8th inning heartbreaks before; I was there at Wrigley in 2003. This time the threat was with only 4 outs to go, not 5. I had texted my brother at 9:30 Wednesday night to stop counting outs. It was hard not to.

Eddie Vedder was there in Cleveland, easily seen on TV in the front row. I started wondering if he was going to have to write a new verse to his song, first performed in public on August 2, 2007, another Cub year that didn’t have a happy playoff ending.

But this year there was divine intervention, when the heavens opened for a 17-minute rain delay. Yes, the player who hadn’t been hitting used this “Cubbie time out” to motivate his teammates to remember NEVER QUIT. A new Cubs legend was born out in the top of the 10th. Thank God, they scored 2 runs since they needed both.

Our son TJ grew up at Wrigley Field listening to Harry Carey sing the 7th inning stretch. tj-family-brickUsually the Cubs were losing in the 7th and Harry would end by yelling: “LET’S GET SOME RUNS!” It was always plural, since Harry knew one run might not be enough for our bullpen.

One game, when TJ was 5 or 6, the Cubs were actually winning by a large margin in the 7th so Harry didn’t add his signature call. TJ looked up at me and asked: “Dad, why didn’t Harry finish the song?” He had grown up thinking “Let’s Get Some Runs!” was the last line of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

That’s our “family brick” on Sheffield just to the left of TJ’s hand in his World Series celebration photo. We finally got enough runs.

I tweeted at 11:57pm November 2nd with the official Cubs World Series Champions logo: “Season ticket holder since 1985; worth all those games to raise our son a Cubs fan to never quit.”

Yes, we went all the way! Now TJ, Lynne & I really can’t wait until next year. Let’s Get Another One!

world-series-game-at-wrigley

ENGAGING CITIZENS 40 YEARS AGO

ENGAGING CITIZENS 40 YEARS AGO

“Town Meetings in ’76 are where I learned program organization skills and the power of group participation. The explosion of spirit always happened when the new song was sung and the new story of the community-past, present and future-was read.” – OliveAnn Slotta

town-meetingsIn 1976, the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) launched a Bicentennial Commission approved initiative to convene Town Meetings in 5,000 counties across the US, creating one of the most comprehensive data sets of community challenges, aspirations, and proposals. Many of those original documents are in ICA’s extensive archives.

This past year our Archive Team with Dominican University Library Science graduate students explored the community challenges and project proposals that were developed in nine states as a result of ICA Town Meetings. I first found the results surprising but then remembered that this was the post-Watergate Presidential Election Year. What I find disturbing is how relevant these findings are for today’s politics and Presidential Election Year.

Finding #1 from Town Meetings during America’s Bicentennial was the gap between government and citizens fostered by poor communication between citizens & government.

Finding #2 from 40 years ago was the lack of citizen and community involvement and the extensiveness of public apathy.

Finding #3 was no appreciation for diversity amidst racism.

Finding #4 was the challenge of planning for long-term development when confronted with few public services, aging infrastructure, loss of resources, and not enough jobs.

OliveAnn Slotta worked on Town Meetings from ICA offices in Cincinnati and Cleveland. As she reflects above, the experience of engaging citizens to identify challenges that their communities face and to build consensus on action for solutions can be powerful. It is also essential to the spirit of our democracy if we are to trust government to represent its citizens.

OliveAnn now lives in Denver and teaches at Metro State University. With her husband Jim and other ICA colleagues, she is working to Accelerate Climate Action there.

“Now in Denver, it feels like deja vu. We are eliciting agency resource support, and telling the story of possibility that happens when local people join together to share visions and plan, to anyone who will listen,” reflects OliveAnn. “The major difference this time is that we are working with an experienced team of ICA and ToP facilitators, and Climate Action is an urgent message that everyone recognizes. We are expecting 50 representative participants on October 22nd at the Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods [CHUN] Community Hall. No red, white and blue balloons this time—but maybe some green and blue ones.”

Yet this urgent message of Climate Action is missing from our current political discourse. Climate Change is not a Chinese hoax. It is a Chinese calamity when air pollution is killing about 4,400 people in China every single day.

childrens-trustCurrently, a landmark US constitutional climate change lawsuit is pending a ruling thanks to twenty-one youth from across the United States, age 8 to 19, and Our Children’s Trust who filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit in 2015 against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Check out their website and sign the petition in their support.

Perhaps, it’s time to be even more direct and personal by starting to sue climate-denier elected politicians for “political malpractice.”

bob-sandra-rafos

Bob & Sandra Rafos

At ICA’s Board meeting on September 18th, Bob Rafos (who will be terming out as a director at the end of this year) was asked to offer the Closing Reflection: “We are facing the greatest threat of our time: Climate Change. This is our one mission. Our role now is as it was before:

  • Be a source of awakenment.
  • Sound the call to commitment; and
  • Demonstrate what is possible.

Using ICA’s GreenRise building as a symbol of service and sustainability, we must outreach to others working on climate action.”

That’s what we must do at ICA to fulfill our mission to “build a just and equitable society in harmony with Planet Earth.” That’s what we all must do to engage as US citizens.

Climate Action cannot wait for the 2020 Elections.

RETURNING TO A SUPERIOR LAKE

RETURNING TO A SUPERIOR LAKE

It’s been two years since we were last in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Here on the shore of Lake SuperiorUP Beach I was inspired then to start blogging. After blogging weekly for a year and then monthly for another year, this is my 2nd year anniversary of sharing my perspectives thru U2Cando!

It’s only fitting to be drafting this 64th blog here in Grand Marais as I look out at a calm lake this sunny morning before starting the journey home. Another good vacation but one I’m not yet ready to end. Can’t help but think what it would be like to spend two months up here in the UP [preferably September & October not January & February].

Writing and reading before a mid-morning beach walk. Deciding over lunch where to hike or kayak in the afternoon.UP red sunset Starting dinner in time to be done for sunset on the deck and finally hoping it will be clear enough for a plethora of stars as it was last night.

Now you may understand with that daily schedule why I’m hesitant to start loading the car and would rather grab the latest Daniel Silva thriller and head out to the deck instead. Perhaps there may be time at least for a short beach walk before departure.

Two years ago I wasn’t even thinking about climate change; now Lake Superior is my safe haven. I now prefer sweatshirt weather in the UP to worrying if Chicago’s heat may send me to the ER a third time. The lake and the wind were too cold this trip to even consider a “Superior” swim however short.

I did get some quality “dog time” these five days with Minnie & BowWow. They are the resident philosophers of my inspiration blogger Jan, who was blogging daily two years ago when we visited. Now she is an award winning blogger and still an inspiration.

Au Sable LighthouseYes, there was a lighthouse visit as we hiked the trail to the Au Sable Lighthouse in the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. Although we missed the National Park’s 100th Birthday Party by two days, I still tweeted congrats on job well done in saving our national treasures.

I know where I will hopefully be a year from now. Not sure when we’ll be returning to the UP but even if it’s another two years, I’ll look forward to this as a “Superior” memory to relive.

May your voyage be a safe one, well lit and with the wind at your back.

 

CONFRONTING ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION THEN & NOW

CONFRONTING ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION THEN & NOW

”The Chicago problem is simply a matter of economic exploitation. Every condition exists because someone profits by its existence. This economic exploitation is crystallized in the slum.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The MLK Fair Housing Exhibit Center at 1558 S Hamlin details Dr. King’s time in Chicago in 1966 and speaks to his influence on the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Dr. King ApartmentsRemembering this 50th Anniversary, the Center’s goal is to build community awareness of the legacy that Dr. King left in the Chicago area during his residency in North Lawndale.

Six months after the Selma to Montgomery marches and just weeks after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a group from Martin Luther King Jr.’s staff arrived in Chicago, eager to apply his nonviolent approach to social change in a northern city. Once Dr. King 1966there, King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined the locally based Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) to form the Chicago Freedom Movement.

My wife & I participated in Old St. Patrick’s Kinship Initiative promotion of the Center’s “Continuing the Dream” weekend by attending two book discussions there on Saturday morning July 23rd. One covered the past exploitation of North Lawndale through the battle waged by the Contract Buyers League as told by Beryl Satter, author of “Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America”. Beryl’s account of Chicago in crisis over 50 years ago, with religious leaders and community organizers battling slumlords and speculators, is also the story of her father Mark Satter, an impassioned attorney who launched a crusade against the profiteers.

The second book addresses the urgency of today as told by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his message to his son in “Between the World & Me” of the perils of living in a country where unarmed black men and boys are dying at the hands of police officers. The discussion was co-led by Xavier Ramey, whose day job as Senior Assistant Director for Social Innovation and Philanthropy at University of Chicago, is complemented by his social justice passions. It turns out that I knew his father Paul as an impassioned activist and advocate for North Lawndale from my CANDO days in the ‘90s.

During this past month of political conventions, I can’t help but ponder this continuing link between racial injustice and economic exploitation and remember the martyrs we lost in 1968. RFKIn the words of solace that Robert Kennedy offered April 4, 1968 on the assassination of Dr. King:

“What we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love, and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”