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.”

 

 

REUNITING & REBOUNDING

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
— “The Pretender” by Jackson Browne

Yes, I know my June blog is a few days late. But then I’ve been planning to write about my 45th Reunion of the Province College Class of ’71 since the first weekend of June. I just waited for the June 30th concert by Jackson Browne and James Taylor at Wrigley Field.James & Jackson at Wrigley I bought tickets months ago as an early 37th wedding anniversary present. You see I did “find myself a girl who can show me what laughter means” and we’ve been filling in the “missing colors in each other’s paint-by-number dreams” since we met in 1975.

Lynne joined me for this June trip back to PC. Five years ago, I went by myself to reunite with classmates and catch up on our respective lives. She had met a few of them over the years but had not really seen where our college formative years played out. We both enjoyed the long weekend in Rhode Island, the conversational flow of memories and the ‘70s soundtrack.

There were classmates missing because of distance or early death; spouses who have left widowers; and health concerns that persist. But for a few hours over three days, the years did not seem that long ago.

I had a prelude to the memories in April when I was asked to speak at my high school, Fenwick in Oak Park [IL] to seniors who had been admitted to Providence College and were now on the clock to choose. Since both Fenwick and Providence are Dominican institutions, that makes me a “Double Friar.” For someone raised by the Order of Preachers, speaking is not that challenging. Picking the right points does require some thought. Hopefully, sharing my vocational experience at PC was helpful to those Fenwick students making their first major life decision.

It seemed to surprise some, as well as a slightly younger woman PC grad on the June golf cart tour of campus, when I shared that one of my first organizing campaigns was protesting at my college graduation urging the trustees to approve making PC co-ed, which they did. I hadn’t thought about that in decades but I guess equal access was embedded at an early age.

We did our best to avoid talking current politics at the reunion given some strong opinions just under the surface. But there were multiple memories we all had of Draft Lottery night in the midst of the Vietnam War. Many of us had met and bonded as ROTC candidates.PC Class of 71(2) Then came that day junior year in September 1969, when we each on our own had to decide to sign-up or not. I chose to start questioning the war which led to questioning many subsequent governmental actions over the years ahead.

I heard a James Taylor song for the first time this week, even though he wrote it over 25 years ago. When I blogged weekly for a year, I would add to the U2Cando playlist with lyrics to end each blog. These lyrics seem to be a good fit for remembering the past as well rebounding for the future.

And if Jackson asks, I’m not ready to surrender. Love could still be a contender.

Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
and recognize that there are ties between us, all men and women living on the Earth.
Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood, that we are bound together in our desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong.
We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead.
We are bound and we are bound.
“Shed A Little Light” by James Taylor

REFRESHING MILWAUKEE

What makes ReFresh Milwaukee unique, and the recommendations quite poignant, is the fact that residents set the direction of this planning effort. — Mayor Tom Barrett

ReFresh Milwaukee is the official Sustainability Plan for the City of Milwaukee.ReFresh_MKE_cover It provides a vision for community sustainability over the next 10 years as it seeks to make Milwaukee a world class eco-city and the Fresh Coast Capital of North America. The City of Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO) is charged with implementing the plan in partnership with other city agencies and community partners.

On my May visit to Milwaukee, I had the opportunity to meet with ECO director Erick Shambarger, community leaders and my longstanding colleague and friend, Howard Snyder. As I have been exploring sustainability initiatives in other US cities, Milwaukee stands out not only for innovative diverse strategies but also for its strong community building approaches.

Groundwork Milwaukee is part of the Groundwork USA network of independent, not-for-profit, environmental businesses called Groundwork Trusts. I first encountered Goundwork Denver last year.

The US programs evolved from a model developed in the UK, where the first Groundwork Trust was founded in 1982 to revitalize abandoned industrial sites in northern England. Since then, Groundwork UK has grown into a network of fifty-two locally based groups.

In 1996, the National Park Service imported this successful program into three pilot communities: Bridgeport, CT; Lawrence, MA; and Providence, RI. Milwaukee was designated a Groundwork USA Pilot Community in 2003. Today there are 19 Groundwork sites in the US and another 9 underdevelopment.

MUG2In 2014, Groundwork Milwaukee merged with Milwaukee Urban Gardens, a non-profit that manages dozens of community gardens throughout the City. Today, they have grown to over 90 gardens that are exclusively run by community leaders and volunteers. Since 2006, Groundwork Milwaukee has worked on 284 projects benefiting 203,163 people and actively involving 2,558 adults (over 18 years) and 1,765 youth (under 18 years) thru partnerships with 30 schools.

The Northwest Side Community Development Corporation (NWSCDC) has served the economic development needs of Milwaukee’s low-income communities since 1983. It has assisted neighborhood strategic planning to improve safety, land use planning, development to spur retail growth, and numerous business and workforce development programs.

Under the leadership of Howard Snyder, NWSCDC has received 15 Office of Community Services (OCS) awards from 1986 to 2015; making it one of the most successful CDC manager of these impactful federal Community Economic Development (CED) funds. The 12 most recent OCS projects since the year 2000 have all been business expansion loans, totaling $7,545,981 lent. These 12 projects created 985 total jobs (including low-income and non-low-income) during the project periods, and 826 of these new jobs were filled by low-income job-seekers. Two active projects (awards from 2014 and 2015) are still generating new jobs.

On February 15th, 2012, President Barack Obama recognized the innovative efforts of Diamond Precision, a manufacturing plant that received a loan from Northwest Side CDC to expand its operations and create jobs for low-income people in Milwaukee. In his speech, President Obama stressed the importance of “insourcing” for America’s recovery, praised Milwaukee’s impressive job-creation projects and commended Diamond Precision on bringing work previously done overseas back to the US.

In 2008, the NWSCDC lent $580,000 to DRS Technologies as part of an $11 million facility upgrade that created 51 new manufacturing positions for low-income workers. DRSDRS is a high-tech manufacturer of power and control systems for US Navy ships and submarines. The NWSCDC loan also fostered the creation of a business incubator within the DRS facility, which supported 22 jobs for low-income individuals at Universal Housing Systems (a tenant of the incubator).

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago highlighted the DRS project and the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation as “transforming the approach to creating positive economic impact in distressed communities,” and an unique collaboration that could serve as a national template for community-corporate relations.

In 2012, NWSCDC won a $728,750 OCS grant award to assist in financing the purchase of the former Eaton Corporation headquarters, a seven-story 184,309 square-foot tower. Rebranded as Century City Tower, Century City Towerthe building was transitioned from a single-user R&D office building into a multi-disciplinary job accelerator, comprising a multi-tenant facility.

Partnering with the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) was key to saving Century City Tower and turning it into the Energy Innovation Center, an accelerator for businesses in the Energy, Power, and Controls Technology industry cluster. The offices of the NWSCDC and M-WERC are both housed in Century City Tower, further cementing their ongoing economic development partnership.

M-WERC is a consortium of 90 firms and 4 universities. Its Energy Innovation Center creates, tests, and licenses new technologies with lab space for collaborative research, advanced prototyping center, and large scale product piloting space. Current research is focused on: Distributed Energy Resources & Systems (DERS) and Conversion Architecture for Microgrids and Integrations of Renewable Energy Sources as the next big wave to accelerate growth of the building energy efficiency (BEE) market. NWSCDC is partnering with M-WERC to plan and design advanced Microgrid facilities at pilot sites in their community.

In the community development field, we often use “Re” words of reinvest and revitalize. As we now explore sustainability strategies for our communities we can also consider “restoring” vacant land to community gardens and “recharging” our power sources with renewable energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. But as we do so, we must keep focused that to really “rejuvenate” our communities we need to “revive” our local economies.

There are a lot “Re” words to be found in the Thesaurus for “refresh.” Many of them are being deployed in Milwaukee where they should be: in the community and by the community. That’s a “reality” to be remembered across the country in this political season.