Friday, December 6, 2013

Reflecting on a Long-Term Trend in Nonprofit Funding, and What You Can Do About It

Posted by Kim Klein

“I would love to give to the Film Festival, but I really have to devote all my giving to my children’s public school.” This sentence, said by a long-time donor in response to a request for funding renewal from a board member at a local Film Festival, helped to start a project called “Nonprofits Talking Taxes." Starting about 10 years ago, many of us started to hear things like this from our donors. At the same time, many of us in the fundraising profession began to notice that organizations with very diverse and dynamic fundraising programs were having a hard time raising money.  This didn’t make sense:  what were we doing wrong?  As it turned, we were doing nothing wrong, but the landscape for fundraising was changing rapidly and the nonprofits most affected by the changes were doing little to address this.

The root of the change was simple: government cutbacks, some of which had begun years earlier, were taking a huge toll on the ability of nonprofits to serve our various constituencies. As government funding was cut, nonprofits funded by government grants sought to raise money from foundations, corporations, and individuals. But the math simply couldn’t work: there is not enough money in the foundation and corporate community, or even from the vast number of individuals who make annual donations, to pay for all that they always paid for AND pick up all that the government no longer paid for.

As most readers of this blog have experienced, this is completely unsustainable: more work and more competition for fewer dollars does not give us healthy, happy communities or dynamic and creative nonprofits.

For the most part, nonprofit organizations did not fight these government cuts, or, if they did, they fought for their own funding but not for the principle that government has a role to play in providing funding. There are many reasons why this is true:
  • individual staff people have little or no time to advocate for funding in addition to their work,
  • sometimes organizations mistakenly worry that advocating for government funding is illegal, and
  • many nonprofits don’t know how to mount an effective advocacy campaign.
There are dozens of excellent organizations working to address these problems, such as the Alliance for Justice, the California Coalition for Civil Rights, CA CALLS, the League of Women Voters, just to name a few. But we also saw a more fundamental problem, which was that, by and large, nonprofit staff did not really have any opinions about the role of taxes and government funding. You can’t express an opinion you haven’t formed. Some staff felt that tax policy was too complicated to understand, or too difficult to change. Some staff felt that there were no good solutions, but most were too busy trying to keep up with their increasing workloads to think much of anything.
 
We set out to change that.

For the past three years, CompassPoint and the Building Movement Project, along with a number of other partners, has been developing, testing and presenting a curriculum designed for nonprofit staff called “Nonprofits Talking Taxes.” Many readers of this blog will be familiar with the workshops which were presented in a wide variety of settings such as staff meetings, professional association gatherings, training events, and webinars. Our goal was to create something that anyone could use with co-workers and colleagues, something that could be used with three people or fifty people.

We evaluated our workshop and changed it many times. We refined the information and now we are pleased to say that we have developed a training curriculum that is fun, informative, and easy to use. We have uploaded it, along with a  (very brief) trainer “manual,” some videos, and some sample webinars onto a website called nonprofitstalkingtaxes.org.

At the CalNonprofits Annual Convention in November, the new toolkit made its debut. In honor of our work and of the role that taxes play for all of us, we gave everyone a sticker that said, “_____ is the reason that I (heart) taxes.” Conference attendees filled in the blank with a wide variety of reasons ranging from public parks, schools, and safety to more esoteric things that taxes support such as health and elevator inspectors, the FAA, the CDC, or the most unusual, volcano research. We created flashdrives with the curriculum loaded on them, and people took those eagerly (signing a form which obligates them to use the information on the flashdrive and not just download their own stuff).

We piloted the final workshop to a room full of people interested in learning more about how to talk about taxes, and how taxes are integral to the common good. We had a fun, collaborative, and positive conversation about taxes, the role they play for nonprofits, and the role they play for all of us by promoting the common good.

Please consider having your own conversation about the common good and the role of taxes in creating a society that works for all of us. As you’ll see when you look at the materials, you don’t need to be an expert to share these ideas. We believe, as the late Sen. Paul Wellstone often said, "We all do better when we all do better." We also know that this is easier said than done, and that it will take the combined brain power and creativity of ALL of us to really move our state and our country to an economy that insures a safety net for everyone, a high quality public school education for our children, a clean environment, an accessible and excellent health care system, a vibrant arts and culture scene, and a quality of life that one would expect in the world’s richest country.

There are a variety of resources to support you as you plan your workshop. We will also continue to monitor the website and add information as it seems necessary. All the material is copyrighted into the Creative Commons, which means everyone is free to use it. All we ask for is attribution.

We are very grateful to our funders and to the 4,000 people who participated in the various iterations of the workshops over the past three years, as well as the 30 people who used the material in trainings.

For questions or comments, please feel free to email me at kim@kleinandroth.com. As one of the founders of this project, I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Happy Poverty Day

This post was originally written by Sean Thomas-Breitfeld for the Building Movement Project, as part of their blog series on Poverty.  To read more on this topic, head here

You didn't know Poverty Day was a thing? I kid, it’s not really something worth celebrating, but this is the one time a year when we can count on the media to focus on the economy as it is experienced by the millions who are struggling to make ends meet. Most other days we get news about the record profits of the banks that tanked the economy 5 years ago, or the latest worries over how our dysfunctional Congress could threaten the economy by repeating the debt-ceiling drama of 2 years ago. But for today, the headlines read that the poverty rate was “unchanged” and “hold(ing) steady.

But a stable poverty rate is not a good thing when 15% of the population, 22% of children, and more than one-quarter of both the Black (27%) and Latino (26%) communities fall under it. The fact that the poverty rate is “stuck” at a record 46.5 million (it was 46.2 million in 2011) should be a sign to our nation’s decision-makers that we really are living in a country with two contrasting economic realities. Sadly many members of Congress seem intent on shredding the social safety net. This week we could see a vote in the House of Representatives on a heartless Farm Bill that would cut $4 billion a year from the SNAP program (the anti-hunger program formerly known as Food Stamps) at a time when the USDA is reporting that nearly 50 million Americans struggled with hunger last year. And across the states, far too many governors and legislatures have been more interested in playing politics than giving poor people access to lifesaving Medicaid coverage.

For the service providers, organizers and other nonprofit types who are doing their best to step in and help, today’s release of the poverty data only confirms what they see every day in their communities. Workers are struggling to provide for their families, entire neighborhoods haven’t bounced back from the last recession, and more and more people keep falling deeper into economic despair. But it seems that the stories of 15% of the population can’t compete with the 1% who are doing very well right now and paying handsomely to control our “billion-dollar democracy.”

Right now, the organized millions of a few people dominate the public debate and policymaking; and that leads to record poverty, mean-spirited legislation and more austerity politics. The only way to overpower organized money is to organize the millions of people who want and need fair wages, food stamps and a safety net that actually works. It’s going to take all of us.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Commons Frame for Social Justice


Posted by Kim Klein

When people ask how, specifically, a commons frame can be applied to social justice, here is a great example:

 Eminent Domain and More: Green Party Mayor and Nonprofits Create Prototype
From Nonprofit Quarterly

Earlier this year, declaring 2013 “the year of the mayoral races,” a pro-nonprofit political advocacy group called for support for mayoral candidates whose platforms grasped the needs and potentials of nonprofits and proposed policies that would strengthen the nonprofit sector in their communities. The barometer for a mayoral candidate’s nonprofit cred was his or her response to the question, “How will you include nonprofits as part of your economic plan?” To that end, Gayle McLaughlin might be the prototype for this new breed of pro-nonprofit mayor...

Click here to read the full article at nonprofitquarterly.com

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Social Equity By The Numbers

A commons society is characterized in large part by rough social equity.  Our country moves further and further away from that with each passing year.

This article provides the facts we all need to organize ourselves and our communities to reverse the slide into a society which will be made up of two classes of people:  the super rich and the very poor.

A typical American household made about $51,017 in 2012, according to new figures out from the Census Bureau this week. That number may sound familiar to anyone who remembers George H. W. Bush’s first year as president or Michael Jackson in his prime. That’s because household income in 2012 is similar to what it was in 1989 (but back then it was actually higher: you had an extra $600 or so to spend compared to today).
That sobering statistic gives an indication of where the American middle class appears to be headed. Take a look below at a snapshot of where the middle class is now, the problems they face and what our Facebook audience has to say about squeaking out a living these days.
A note on the term “middle class”: There is no single, universal definition so we turned to economic analyst Robert Reich – who spoke to us this week – for some direction. Reich suggested defining middle class as those with income levels 50 percent above and below the median income. Median is a term that means the “middle of the middle.” Median earnings are a key indicator of how the middle class is doing.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Kittens, Cats and the Commons

A few weeks ago, a cat and two half grown kittens showed up in a friend’s yard.   My friend doesn’t have pets and isn’t really an animal person.  I have sometimes teased her by saying it is her only major fault.  She called all the usual places that help you with feral cats and they were all swamped.  The municipal shelter said they had more kittens this year than any other time in their history.  Most places recommended trapping them, fixing them and then releasing them back to her yard.  A few people said you could try to tame them and find homes for them, but that would take a long time and is often impossible with truly feral cats.  My friend was open to trapping and fixing them, and marginally open to releasing them back into her yard.  

To make a long story, which is also not the point of this blog post, short:  we were able to trap the mother and one kitten. (The other kitten took off and remains quite wary).   I took them to a wonderful organization called “Fix Our Ferals” which runs a clinic devoted to spaying and neutering feral cats as well as giving them shots, fostering young kittens and the like.  I brought the kitten and the mother to my house to recover.  They hunkered down in their cages and hissed and spat when I put food in for them.  They ate voraciously but without any gratitude.   I knew the mother had to be released—she showed no signs of being tamed.  The kitten was another story.  He let me pat him and even let me hold him.  He wasn’t happy about it, but seemed to know I meant well.  Ultimately though, the time and effort it would take to tame him, even if that could be done, was more time than I, or the many people to whom I tried to give him, had.  After much thought, I released them both in my friend’s back yard.  We have continued to feed them. 

What I was struck by during this whole period of taming, trapping, neutering and releasing, was the fact that these cats will never understand what happened to them and, particularly, will never think that we did this for their own good and the common good.  To be sure, cats don’t think like that.  They are not regaling the other ferals with how they were betrayed by people who fed them, then kidnapped and tortured them, held them against their will and then, for some reason, let them go.   The mother is not bragging that she never gave in and never stopped hissing.  The kitten isn’t describing how he hoped he would be able to escape when I took him out of his cage, but the time was never right.

The point is how do we get the kind of distance we need to see the big picture of what is really the common good?  In a perfect world I suppose there would be no feral cats.  All cats, like all people, would live in loving homes.  But those of us who work for the common good must be realists, and we must not let the best be the enemy of the good.  If we wait for perfection we may not take the opportunity to do the little we can to make minor improvements.   A big danger is assuming that we see the big picture and not just a big version of our own biases.  There is no one answer to the question of what is the common good, but finding the answers must include conversation and discussion with a wide range of people who have a variety of viewpoints.  In the case of these cats, I talked to a range of people each firm in their opinions about what should happen, which ranged from euthanizing to releasing in a more wild place.  I read studies about feral cats and I discussed all of this with my longsuffering partner and several friends.   I don’t know if I made the absolutely right decision, but I feel confident I made the least wrong decision. 

But the bigger issue is that I had to challenge my assumptions and biases several times during this process, especially including the assumption that I would find the absolutely right decision, know it when I found it, and then make it.  Everyone, feline and human alike, would live happily ever after. That did not happen and probably rarely can.  The common good is a not a constant, but a constant search; a letting go of old ideas, of trying on new ones, and a willingness to live in uncertainty.  For “I’m right and full steam ahead” people like me, that is the bigger picture. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Long and Short of It

Posted by Kim Klein

Last week, the Nonprofit Quarterly featured a piece announcing a large grant that the Skillman Foundation had awarded the Detroit Bus Company, an independent transit provider in the Michigan city.  The grant was for $100,000 and will support a program that will provide free transportation for the city’s children to travel to and from over 90 approved after-school  and summer programs.  The Foundation’s hope is that with the added lure of free transportation more children will enroll in the programs the bus route supports. 
It’s a great idea in theory. The public transportation system in Detroit has been recently decimated by funding cuts.  Funding a program that provides free transit eliminates a common barrier to after-school programs and care- transportation.  These programs are now an option for families who don’t own a car, have parents who work during normal pick-up times, or who depend on city transit with buses that have become, at best, unreliable.  The busses will even drop children off at other pre-approved safe locations, like local libraries or police stations.

So what’s the problem?  I don’t like to always be a wet blanket but I really wish that Skillman, in their award letter, would say something like this, “We are proud to support this program as a temporary solution to the much bigger issue of Detroit’s lack of public transportation.  We will be working with partners in Detroit to address this issue.  Stay tuned.”  Without that caveat, the program stands as yet another example in a string of private enterprises taking over the provision of necessary public services, especially in Detroit. These programs are rightly lauded for stepping in to provide a needed alternative to the public system after cuts to local services render the original programs insufficient, but these programs are rarely, if ever,  set up to cater to the most marginalized people who depend on public services the most.  In fact, the original goal of the Detroit Bus Company was to provide weekend barhoppers with transportation to and from local watering holes downtown.   Regular rides on the bus are $5, compared to $1.50 city bus fare.   While the Company provides the after-school program for free, its need to seek profit will have an impact on how long it can provide this service.  
Short term solutions are important because we all live in the here and now.  But whenever we create something that solves a problem temporarily but is not at all an ideal solution, we have to ask ourselves how are we going to prevent short term solutions from having a cascading litany of consequences that may cause the appropriate long term solution not to ever happen?  When this $100,000 grant runs out and Detroit still doesn’t have proper public transportation, these kids won’t be able to go to their after school programs.   Then those programs will close.  Meanwhile, all the people that need to go somewhere who don’t have cars and who would have depended on the bus system can’t go where they need to:  job interviews, doctor’s appointments, the grocery store.  You don’t have to have much of an imagination to see the problem growing bigger and bigger. 

What the NPQ article fails to highlight is that it is because the transportation system in Detroit has been so gutted (allegedly unconstitutionally) that others have needed to step in, perhaps without a lot of thought about the long term consequences of their short term generosity.  What they also don’t report but what is so important to note is that local groups are uniting in the face of these cuts to organize and advocate for a better public system that services Detroiters who depend on it the most.  The North End Woodward Community Coalition, a partner of Building Movement Detroit’s, has been working tirelessly to force local Detroit officials to restore bus services to pre-cut levels.  They’ve done it all, from filing a Title VI Civil Rights Complaint with the Department of Transportation, to submitting a petition to restore bus services with over 1,300 signatures to the city council.   Perhaps the $100,000 spent on the Detroit Bus Co would have been better spent on this organizing, or perhaps another $100,000 can be freed up to do the long term work required for providing actual public transportation funded by the public to Detroit’s residents. 
To his credit, the founder of the  Detroit Bus Company, Andy Didorosi, says he hopes his service will “get made redundant one day" and appears to be active in the community and committed to a revitalized Detroit.  The nonprofit sector needs to step up and help Didiorosi’s vision of redundancy come true. 

Special thanks to Caitlin Endyke for all the research required for this blog post and for providing much of the original writing.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Turning the Lens Back on Ourselves

Posted by Kim Klein

As we read the reports from uprisings around the world, the satire below, published by the Global Post, serves as a reminder that the lens we use to look at other countries is a little painful when aimed at ourselves.  Interestingly, the Global Post felt they had to note this was a satire even though all the actual facts in the piece are true. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/130607/what-if-journalists-covered-us-like-they-cover-world

Inside the United States

GlobalPost goes inside the United States to uncover the regime's dramatic descent into authoritarian rule and how the opposition plans to fight back.
       
This is satire. Although the news is real, very little actual reporting was done for this story and the quotes are imagined. It is the first installment of an ongoing series that examines the language journalists use to cover foreign countries. What if we wrote that way about the United States? 

BOSTON, Mass. - Human rights activists say revelations that the US regime has expanded its domestic surveillance program to private phone carriers is more evidence of the North American country's pivot toward authoritarianism.
The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported this week that a wing of the country's feared intelligence and security apparatus ordered major telecommunications companies to hand over data on phone calls made by private citizens.

"The US leadership in Washington continues to erode basic human rights," said one activist, who asked to remain anonymous, fearing that speaking out publicly could endanger his organization. "If the US government is unwilling to change course, it's time the international community considered economic sanctions."

Over the last decade, the United States has passed a series of emergency laws that give security forces sweeping powers to combat "terrorism." But foreign observers say the authorities abuse those laws, using them instead to monitor ordinary Americans.

While the so-called Patriot Act passed in 2001 is perhaps the most dramatic legislation to date curbing freedoms here, numerous lesser-known laws have expanded monitoring of news outlets, email, social media platforms and even opposition groups - like the Occupy and Tea Party movements - that are critical of the regime.

US leader Barack Obama, a former liberal community organizer and the country's first black president who attracted a wave of support from young voters, rose to power in 2008 promising reform. He was greeted in the United States - a country of about 300 million people - with optimism. But he has since disappointed those supporters, ruling with a sometimes iron fist and continuing, if not expanding, the policies of the country's former ruler, George W. Bush.

On a recent visit to the United States by GlobalPost, signs of the increased security apparatus could be found everywhere.

At all national airports, passengers are now forced to undergo full-body scans before boarding any flights. Small cameras are perched on many street corners, recording the movements and actions of the public. And incessant warnings on public transportation systems encourage citizens to report any "suspicious activity" to authorities.

Several American villagers interviewed for this story said the ubiquitous government marketing campaign called, "If you see something, say something," does little to make them feel safer and, in fact, only contributes to a growing mistrust among the general population.

"I've deleted my Facebook account, stopped using email, or visiting websites that might be considered anti-regime," a resident of the northern city of Boston, a tough-as-nails town synonymous with rebellion, told GlobalPost. It was in Boston that an American militia first rose up against the British empire. "But my phone? How can I stop using my phone? This has gone too far."

American dissidents interviewed by GlobalPost inside the United States say surveillance by domestic intelligence agencies is just one part of a seemingly larger effort by the Obama administration to centralize power.

The American leader, for example, has in recent years personally approved the jailing - and in some cases execution - of American citizens suspected of involvement in what the regime calls "terrorist activity."

"What exactly is terrorism? The term is used so loosely these days it could include just about anyone," said one anti-government protester, who was tear-gassed and then arrested in 2011 for participating in a peaceful demonstration in New York, America's largest city and its economic capital.

Obama has also overseen a crackdown on whistleblowers, most famously jailing Bradley Manning, a US soldier, for leaking documents that called into question US military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The government quietly imprisoned Manning for three years before finally trying him in a military court this week. He spent the first nine months of that in solitary confinement, where prison officials forced him to sleep naked without pillows or sheets and prevented him from reading newspapers, watching television or even exercising.

Activists also criticize the US regime for imprisoning without trial foreigners it deems threatening to national security in an offshore prison camp called Guantanamo Bay. This week an investigation revealed that the US regime force-fed Guantanamo inmates participating in a hunger strike. Force-feeding is illegal under international law.

Meanwhile, whispering in the streets about what the regime might do next has reached a dull roar. But after a national uprising in 2011 by the leftist Occupy movement ended in evictions, arrests and tear gas, Americans appear hesitant to take their anger into the streets.

Most major media outlets, which in the United States are largely controlled by politically-connected corporations - many of them, in fact, financially supported Obama's election - have been relatively quiet on such issues.

Foreign observers, however, say the recent news about domestic surveillance is spreading wildly in other ways - on Twitter and around the dinner table. They say the news has the potential to spark an uprising - at least among urban, educated elites in the country's major cities - mirroring those happening now in Turkey and that earlier swept parts of the Arab world.

One foreign businessman who works closely with the US government on issues of security said he thought Obama was too well-established and had too strong a security force for any challenge to its authority to take hold.

"This isn't Tunisia," he said. "This is more like China, where a massive security presence could easily put down any organized opposition movement."

The businessman added that Obama was democratically elected twice, which he believes gives the leader enough credibility to weather any serious opposition to his rule.

In a small, unassuming house near Boston's bustling seaport, though, supporters of the opposition disagreed, saying the leader had lost "all credibility." The group said the opposition continued to organize and grow, and that it was just a matter of time before the rest of the American population joined them.

Indeed, different political factions are beginning to unite over the issue of domestic surveillance, despite their strong differences.

"We meet in person these days to talk about strategy, phones and email are no longer safe for us," one of them said. "Our goal now is to just get out the message to the world about what is going on here. That's the first step. We need to educate not only Americans but the world about the extent the US regime is controlling the lives of its citizens."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Women I Have Wanted To Like But Can’t: A Reflection on the Death of Thatcher


Posted by Kim Klein
When I was a child, there was a complete dearth of women in political office.  I remember having a fight on the playground (a way too often occurrence of my elementary school years) when a boy yelled, “Girls can’t be in charge” as I tried to be in charge of our mixed gender softball team.  I yelled back, “Yes, we can.  Girls are in charge of a lot of things.”  “Like what?”  he replied.  Too late I realized I had fallen right into a hole.  “Well” I stuttered, “England, dope.  Have you heard of the QUEEN of England?” 
He was temporarily chastened but came in the next day to tell me that the QUEEN was not in charge of England—the Prime Minister was, and he was A MAN!!!  For years after that, I looked for women in politics.  I felt my heart beat faster when Indira Gandhi came to power in 1966 in India  or when Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1969.  Meir died in 1978.  Gandhi was assassinated in 1984.  Both were called “Iron Ladies” well before the woman who would embody that title came to power.  In 1979, when I was in my late twenties, England elected the first (and, so far, only) woman prime minister—Margaret Thatcher, who died on Tuesday. 
I so wanted to like and admire these women.  The problem is that to know them was to despise much of what they stood for.  Golda Meir was tough, brave, smart, but so blind to the existence of Palestinians that she once said, “There are no Palestinians.”   Indira Gandhi created one of the darkest periods in Indian history, euphemistically called “the Emergency” where she savagely suppressed any dissent and virtually shut down India’s free press. 

And Thatcher?  Many of us who were activists in the 1980’s spent a lot of energy protesting her policies and disagreeing with her politics, along with her good friend and President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.  They always seemed separated at birth in some ways and ironically they both suffered from dementia for many years before finally dying.  Thatcher once called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.  She privatized British mining, causing 20,000 people to lose their jobs almost overnight.  The list of things she did that we decried could fill a book. 
But here is the funny thing about Thatcher as we look back on her.  Today she would be seen as almost a socialist.  Froma Harrop, writing in Nation of Change, notes Thatcher’s reflection in her memoir on the national health service, “I believed that the NHS was a service of which we could genuinely be proud. It delivered a high quality of care — especially when in it came to acute illnesses — and at a reasonably modest unit cost, at least compared with some insurance-based systems."   She goes on to point out that Thatcher greatly admired Friedrich Hayek's "Road to Serfdom," a book conservatives consider a great repudiation of socialism, but that Hayek himself wrote, "there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody ... Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision." For insurable risks, he added, "The case for the state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong." http://www.nationofchange.org/moderation-margaret-thatcher-1365518121
The list of women in political power is much longer than when I defended the Queen in 1963, and I am happy to say that I do admire many of them:  Barbara Lee, who is my representative, Karen Bass, Maxine Waters, Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren….the list is long.  But I am now much more focused on keeping our country from moving any further to the right.  I do not want, from my perch at the Shady Rest Nursing Home, to watch the funeral of someone like Michele Bachman and have to say, “Today she would practically be a socialist.” 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Commons on the Airwaves

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

Born 4 years after the Fairness Doctrine was revoked in the courts, I can't tell you that I remember a time when listening to the radio was an opportunity to catch up on community issues and open productive public discourse.  But I was intrigued by this piece, recently posted on onthecommons.org, that provides an excellent history on just how the American airwaves went from platforms for addressing community issues to the sports-talk-radio complex it has become today- filled with little more than Top 40 and hate-based political pundits (and the occasional This American Life episode).  I'm always most interested in ways that different technologies can both promote and hinder commons-based efforts, and this example is a bit of both.  Originally ruled as a resource that needed to be owned and operated for public benefit, the radio was perhaps the commons ideal- a cheap-to-produce broadcast system that was legally bound to offer an open dialogue and address community needs.  Yet over time, and with the changes in certain governing laws, radio has become a place (more on some stations than on others, for sure) for people like Rush Limbaugh to prattle on unstopped (and uncensored at least in the content of his speech, though perhaps not in the actual words he's allowed to use). 

As the authors note, "Fifteen years [after the Fairness Doctrine was revoked] talk radio has changed the nature of political discourse. Some persuasively argue it has changed our very culture. Media scholar Henry Giroux describes a “culture of cruelty” increasingly marked by racism, hostility and disdain for others, coupled with a simmering threat toward any political figure who comes into the crosshairs of what many now call hate radio".

How do we curb this trend? Can we go back?  In an era where the numbers of regular radio listeners  is continuing to dwindle, do we need to?  And if we don't, what are some other technologies that would allow us to establish a similar commons-based broadcast approach? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Entry Denied

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

I was always a sucker for any historical museum that did it's best to put visitors in the shoes of the people or the time period the museum was trying to illustrate.  As a kid (and future history major) my favorite family vacation was to Colonial Williamsburg.  So I was intrigued when I came across this link shared by someone I know on Facebook.  The site, run by a Jewish organization but focused on progressive immigration reform, takes users through how their ancestor's immigration story would play out if they were coming to America under current laws and regulations.  Its goal is to illustrate how hard a pathway to citizenship has become since boats of Western European immigrants were unloading at Ellis Island (though conditions then were not exactly great either, and new immigrants often faced various forms of discrimination), and to remind visitors that at one time or another most of our ancestors were similarly coming to America hoping to find a better life.

 Recently, we've become increasingly focused on individualism (take my recent post on "Prepping", for example), to the detriment of commons-based policies and practices that would be more beneficial for society as a whole . Too often we not only forget to put ourselves in the current shoes of those around us, but we also forget the common histories that link us all together.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Who Needs Government?

Posted by Kim Klein

Time is the most important commons we have.  This article shows how one of the government’s job is to help people have time to be engaged in pursuits beyond survival.

Read the full text here: http://www.onthecommons.org/magazine/who-needs-government

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Millennials and the Commons



Posted by Caitlin Endyke

As an early-twenty-something reading through the New York Times this morning, one headline in particular caught my eye- “Do Milliennials Stand a Chance in the Real World?”  The article, written by Annie Lowrey, goes on to talk about everything I’ve heard before- as a generation that entered the workforce during the depth of the recession, we are likely to continue to experience the effects of the economic downturn for the rest of our lives, both emotionally and economically.  We are the first generation since the great depression where our earning potential as individuals is likely to fall below that of our parents’.  It’s nothing we haven’t heard before.  

Yet this piece did bring up an interesting thought- is the millennial generation, because our most formative years were spent under the shadow of 9/11, the collapse of the housing market, and the subsequent recession, most affected by income inequality? This article alleges that Milliennials, more than any other generation, think American economic policies only benefit the wealthy. Consequently, they have caught up the “We are the 99%” rallying cry perhaps more than any other group.  

Because of this, could the millennial generation, even for all they’ve been often criticized for, become the generation to most support commons-based policies?  They’ve grown up in a time where the profit-driven market clearly did not serve them well, so could they imagine a different and more inclusive model?  When contemplating an audience that is most primed for the Commons-based argument, perhaps those parents' basement-dwelling, student loan-paying, over-stressed twenty-somethings would be the most receptive.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Organizing+Education+Service+Policy = Profound and Lasting Change

Posted by Kim Klein

The Christian Science Monitor of Feb 25, 2013 has an article titled, “US Domestic Violence Falls:  It’s down 64% between 1994 and 2010.”  I read this article with great interest because I started my fundraising career in the domestic violence movement.

I was a seminary student in 1976 and had to do a field placement as part of my studies.  I did it at La Casa de las Madres  which was (and remains) the domestic violence program serving the county of San Francisco, CA.  They had just opened a shelter which was the first in California and the fifth to open in the United States.   We were then called the “battered women’s movement” which started in England when Erin Pizzey and others opened the first shelter  in Chiswick in 1970.  The first shelter in the USA opened in St. Paul, MN in 1973 and the movement got quite a bit of publicity when Erin Pizzey published the groundbreaking, “Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear” in 1974. 

La Casa was in a large funky house and  was chaotic and badly run.  (La Casa moved a few times when the address of the shelter would become too well known, but I mostly worked in one location.)  I would arrive for my shift and be told we didn’t have enough food for the residents for whatever the next meal was and I needed to find some free food fast.  Having no idea how to do that, I would go from church to church to see if they had food in their pantries they could give us.  Thus dinner might be all kidney beans and ketchup or breakfast might be apple juice and canned spaghetti.  We always seemed to have a lot of kids and they actually liked the food but it was not nutritious or well balanced.  

The women we were sheltering were, of course, traumatized and sometimes took it out on each other or their kids.  Kids were spanked or yelled out way out of proportion to their offense. The women themselves occasionally came to blows.   The shelter workers (like me) had little training and at age 23, little in the way of experience to bring to bear on the situation.   

While others tried to figure out how to actually manage the shelter,  I  started raising money from churches and synagogues, then from individuals.   Fundraising took me away from the day to day work of domestic violence, and I watched as this feminist movement transformed into a social work discipline.   I didn’t go into any shelters for many years, and then in the last ten years, I have toured several and been amazed by them.  Well furnished, lovely kitchens, childcare spaces, and sometimes even play equipment in yards!   Trained social workers and counselors know what to do.  It is a far cry from where we started.   Second stage housing, job training, anger management workshops, and so much more is now de riguer in domestic violence work.

In reading the article referenced above, I feel some pride.  I was one of thousands of people who helped start this.  We can document, finally, that we have less domestic violence than we used to.  Organizing and fundraising played a big role.  But also research on the nature of this kind of violence including the twin realizations that men were sometimes battered by women and that violence amongst gay and lesbian couples was not uncommon, led from “battered women”  to  the current and more accurate “intimate partner violence” or IPV.

From the 1970’s to the early 1990’s, IPV did not go down.  Some years it went up, reflecting mostly that people were reporting it more often and that it was becoming much less tolerated by everyone in the community.  However the incidence of domestic violence began its slow trajectory downwards in 1994, which is the year Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Joan Meier, professor of clinical law at George Washington University says , “I am willing to speculate that VAWA had a direct impact on reducing violence.”  VAWA was a federally funded approach to domestic violence which particularly took into account the role of law enforcement in dealing with this issue.  It provided sensitivity trainings for police, funded  legal services for victims, and encouraged states to adopt mandatory arrest laws.  The latter are controversial in their impact but the fact is that we wouldn’t be able to know what is good and what is problematic about mandatory arrest if we didn’t have 22 states requiring it. 

What does this have to do with the commons?  To me, it is an example of a small movement that became a bigger movement that become a social service and an academic area of research, and by being all those things, many times all at once, became a force for advocating that the government of the country do one of its most important jobs which is to protect the residents  from violence.  Only large federally funded programs can really address these kinds of problems and hope to make lasting change.  (It is ironic that VAWA ‘s reauthorization was opposed by 130 Republicans, but this is proof we still have work to do!)  If we continue to have the progress we have had since 1994, we could see an end to domestic violence in the next two generations.  And that would be a major step toward rough social equity and a commons based society.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Shaming on the Subway



Posted by Caitlin Endyke

On my commute home last night, my subway car had one of the ads mentioned in this CBS piece- ads produced by the City of New York in an effort to curb teen pregnancy.

And I was about as irked by them as the people mentioned in that article (the piece spells out a pretty good argument for why they are insensitive and ineffective, which I won’t repeat here, but it’s worth a read).  But after ranting to my roommate about them, I thought about how these ads were also indicative of how we talk about issues like these in society, in general.  

What these ads do is place blame squarely on individuals (and not even adult individuals, at that), without offering any concrete solutions or positive examples.  They essentially say, in provoking imagery and language, “Don't Do This”, or even, “The Situation You're Already In Has Ruined Your Life”, yet they do nothing to offer constructive alternatives or get at root causes of the issues that might be leading people to find themselves in these situations in the first place.  This, I think, is the kind of discourse that really needs to be taking place both on the local and national levels in this country.  On both sides of the political spectrum we spend so much time denouncing the efforts of the other side, and so little time offering alternatives or speaking to what got us here in the first place.  I think one of the first steps towards a commons-based society would be to stop blaming the people around us and start having real conversations about how we can best help our fellow citizens. We need to do more than try to scare or intimidate people.  We need to provide our communities with information, resources and examples of how we can all support each other in leading more fulfilling lives. 

 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

At the Building Movement Project, we do a lot of work in Detroit, partnering with key neighborhood groups and community activists throughout the city in order to unite Detroiters around common issues.  The picture for Detroit residents can be bleak- the city and state government continue to cut vital resources to Detroit residents who most need them. What’s been in the news most recently is Gov. Rick Snyder’s passing of the controversial Emergency Manager Law, which was defeated by popular vote a few months ago and which gives innumerable government powers to one appointed individual with few democratic checks in place. 

This is why the issues raised in this piece, featured in the New York Times this week, are most disheartening.  While the government claims financial straits dire enough to resort to an Emergency Manager system, the private sector in Detroit is on the rebound.  Downtown neighborhoods are thriving with independent coffee roasters and boutiques.  The three big auto manufacturers are reporting massive gains, for the first time in years.  There is money in Detroit.  The problem is that money is not going to the public.  It’s circling around the private sector, allowing businesses to flourish while city residents, especially those located out of key downtown neighborhoods, are left behind to fight for basic rights (though they certainly are fighting). 

In a Commons-based society, I’d imagine that there is still a place for business and the private sector.  But what we can’t allow is the creation of a real-life Tale of Two Cities- one where private corporations thrive and another where every day citizens suffer as the public sector is drowned in debt and a massive lack of resources.