Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Observations on Our Co-op

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

The Co-op (The People’s Food Co-op in Ann ARbor Michigan) is in a bit of a mess and confusion. Which is not anything new. I’ve been off the board for about 4 years, and have been mostly an observer. Although I do step in every once in a while to serve on a committee, as well as I’ve been called for advice and an historical perspective.
Previously, I was on the board for nine years and served three years as President. Not consecutive years. I also served as Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. I’ve been a decades long volunteer.
A few years ago we added up the time I had spent volunteering for the co-op and it was as if I had worked there full time for a year.
So I do have a few observations on the current state of the co-op. These issues are of course intertwined.

Here are a few opinions.

The board has been less than honest with the membership about the state of the co-op, and how much money we are losing. The board should be letting members know that we are in trouble. Not letting the membership know that we have been and continue to lose money is wrong, and also dangerous. It is the membership that can pull us out of this downturn, and the membership should be directly called on to be involved with saving the co-op. The silence and side stepping is bizarre. And may be the primary thing that brings the co-op to its termination.

The vote to unionize takes place tomorrow, Friday. I honestly don’t know if this would be a good or bad thing for the workers and for the co-op. And my opinion isn’t going to make any difference. What I can say is that there was a chance to do this with kindness. With dignity. With honesty and a great process. That hasn’t happened. There was no need to surprise the board with the news. And there was no need to make it personal, with direct personal attacks against the General Manager.
I worked for more focus on staff and having a great work environment as well as better wages and benefits. I’ve seen the progress in fits and starts. I also know that the staff having trouble with management has been a long term theme for our co-op. I believe the path to resolution includes a lot of listening, and a lot of kindness. A lot of the board supporting the GM and making sure they have the resources to work well with staff, and careful professional monitoring to make certain that happens. A union may help the co-op through a maturation process. It may also create an even more divisive atmosphere that will harm relationships and make financial recovery even more difficult.
We need to support the legal process required with a vote to unionize, and I ask everyone to be as kind, thoughtful, and aware as possible. That includes reviewing history and learning from previous mistakes as well as building on success.
I think unions are good things. They also change the culture of the workplace environment. Let’s see more kindness and compassion during and after this process. And I hope the vote is an informed vote balancing the staff needs with the stark financial reality that has been obfuscated unnecessarily.

The Co-op is once again without a permanent General Manager. This is a really painful place to be, and is hard on everyone. Thankfully there is policy and plans in place for this situation. And previously our staff have really pitched in to make things work in the interim. It is a total distraction for the board to go through a hiring process. Focus on long term plans, expansion, and pretty much everything else is set aside. It is essential for the board to get help during this time. I’m less and less confident of the board (not just this board but every board including when I was part of the board) having the skill to go through this process and to make good decisions – especially when a long term plan is still missing and without recent membership surveys and input. After my experience with the hiring process, I don’t think the board is qualified to be guiding this process. I believe the consultants from the co-op world, who have experience and expertise, should be heavily utilized at every step of the process. I also now believe the decision making should be shared by board, staff, and members. Without a clear direction and financial stability this is more important than ever.

A lot of people have been chewed up and spit out working for the Co-op. I’m sp very sad about this legacy.This just needs to stop. Moving forward, I would seriously ask the players to continually ask “how can this process be kinder?” “how can we benefit the most people?” “is there a kinder and more inclusive way to do this?” and “how can we empower the people involved and make sure everyone is informed?”

Those are the questions I would hope people will ask, the people who I am entrusting to make decisions that at this point will allow People’s Food Co-op to thrive or to die.

Afraid to use the Bathroom

Monday, May 16th, 2016

1971, and I moved back to the town where I was born. But was new to the neighborhood, new to junior high, new to having to get to school and back (elementary school was a block away and I walked or biked there up hill and back, new to all day school (I was a walker and came home for lunch before moving).
The junior high had grades 7, 8 and 9. So we were the youngest and most vulnerable. I was trying to figure it all out, trying to fit in, trying to feel safe. In the halls people sometimes pushed me. Once someone jabbed me with a sharp needle or something similar. I held tight to my macrame purse and sometimes a passing student tried to yank it off my shoulder.Sometimes people would knock into you to spill books onto the floor. I was scared making my way from class to class.
But the most frightening thing was the bathrooms. You only had a minute or two at the most to use one, and I heard things about girls being followed by boys and forced into sex acts, being attacked by strangers if they were alone, that there was smoking and drug use, and unknown possible violence.
It seemed like the most terrifying place to me. i didn’t have a friend I could ask to go with me. I didn’t know what was true but assumed it was all terrible. So I decided not to use them. Ever. I decided to be the junior high student who never had to pee.
And I didn’t. We started school sometime around 7:30, dropped off in a car pool. We ended around 2, and I walked the two miles back home. And never used the bathroom at school because I was too terrified. All through 7th grade, all through 8th grade – which only lasted a semester for me. I may have used the bathroom once or twice from desperation, but day after day I waited until I was safe at home. If I had a guitar class after school I waited until I walked the mile to State Street. Using the shared bathroom next to the head shop with adults and hippies and other strangers felt safer – it was a single room no one else could enter once I locked the door behind me.
Junior high survival to me meant staying dehydrated and with a full bladder I learned to ignore.
There was some small truth to the dangers of the junior high girls bathroom. A few girls were attacked by boys, in the high school there were even a few reported rapes. But it was a decision I made on my own, based on exaggerated stories, and I never considered telling anyone else how much I suffered every single day of junior high because I couldn’t pee. I never considered finding out what the real danger might be.
This memory comes to mind now that people are talking about how dangerous bathrooms may become if we allow women and men, boys and girls, to use the bathroom that matches their gender.
I am strongly in favor of just letting people pee. Remove the obstacles, remove the fears, give everyone a safe place to pee. We know that transgender kids are more at risk than anyone else. It’s not hard to make them safer without major disruption.
Here is my proof that those early teenage years can be strange and difficult and fear can take over even a biological necessity. Let’s show some compassion and make it safe for everyone to pee when they need to, and where they can. There are so many real dangers and fears. Let’s not create more.

Being political – learning to listen

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

I invited an anti-abortion “rescue” activist to speak to a class I taught at Community High School. This was many years ago but it was a teaching experience I’ve never forgotten.

The small group of students in my “Political Organizing” class agreed it would be a unique chance to really listen to someone who had a viewpoint they strongly disagreed with. We agreed that the point would not be to debate or try to change anyone’s mind. It was a class comprised of liberal, pro-choice kids, and they truly wanted to understand how anyone could hold a position they found to be simply – but for many of us profoundly – wrong.

My brother David had a friend I had met a couple of times. David had told me this guy regularly went to protest at Planned Parenthood. He joined people from his church to try and “save” women from having abortions. I knew Bob casually, and enough about his political and protest activities to give him a wide berth – and certainly I did not want to discuss his actions with him. Until the class.

When I called him up to see if he might meet my class I was very candid about why we wanted to have him as a guest. And that every student had identified as pro-choice. That this was an exercise in being open to viewpoints we opposed, issues we had already come to a conclusion about. But that the students were sincere in wanting to hear a viewpoint they had not yet encountered first hand.

The class was great in giving Bob attention as he explained why he did this protesting, and his motivations and experience. They asked questions, they challenged him rather gently on women’s rights concerns, and they talked a lot with him about his deep passion and convictions concerning life and his very deeply held religious beliefs.

In the end, no one changed their minds. But something even more important happened. The students expressed some surprise at how deeply Bob felt about the issue, how articulate and well thought out his ideas and beliefs were. They did not expect that. And they gained some insight into why he was doing work that they had dismissed previously as mostly misguided and hateful.

There was a connection, there was greater respect, there was kindness, there was learning. And there was the budding practice of sitting down and learning to listen to a perceived enemy.

I believe it was one of the best classes I’ve ever taught. And this skill is desperately relevant today.

Reporting in Ann Arbor

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

The Ann Arbor Chronicle ends next week. One of the more successful – by some definitions – news publications in a long while. After six years the Editor and Publisher are calling it quits. David Askins and Mary Morgan have gone above and beyond the call of duty, and apparently that is not a sustainable business model, or lifestyle.

There have always been an odd assortment of publications in Ann Arbor, and I’m thankful that I have written for a number of them. Two special pieces in the Chronicle on people important to our community – Ken King and Dick Siegel. I also posted very frequent “Stopped Watched” short reports, on many natural and unnatural events I observed mostly while just walking around.

As a digression, I started by helping to create and write for “Yenta” – a student publication at Community High School in the ’70s. Our motton was “Chicken Soup for the Mind”. I wrote a few pieces for the Ann Arbor Alchemist, one I story in particular really enjoyed on the underground vaulted sidewalks downtown. I’ve written for The Ann Arbor News (guest editorials), The Crazy Wisdom Journal, I started and wrote many years formy own nearly monthly newsletter called “Contributions to Wisdom”. The best part of that newsletter was the monthly interviews of people who I found interesting, generous, and doing important work. I also wrote a few pieces for “The Ann Arbor Observer”. The first was on capturing a swarm of bees, then on the death of my odd neighbor, and most recently on a trip down the Huron River. I was also asked to blog for The reinvented Ann Arbor News – annarbor.com.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle had, from the start, a very clear mission. My interpretation of that is striving for very high standards of writing and reporting, an obligation to report for the community and provide an accessible record of public and especially governmental events. It turned into a forum for thoughtful and mostly kind commentary and additional contributions form readers. Something that informed readers in Ann Arbor no longer take for granted. David and Mary also became frightfully informed sources able to quickly reference and make sensible previous decisions, and related actions. Their ability to provide deep background and useful explanations became more and more awesome the longer The Chronicle went on.

The current version of The Ann Arbor News (reinvented yet again from annarbor.com reinvented from the The Ann Arbor News) continues to provide much of the important day to day “hey there was an accident”, this is happening or has happened, breaking stories, informing us of crime and mayhem. Some good recipes, access to restaurant inspections, and some good news as well. It is a quicker, simpler, more basic kind of news without the context and linking that The Chronicle excelled at. The “news” also has its moments of awfulness, I agree. A running joke around here is in any breaking news event waiting for the story of how people feel about what happened rather than actual reporting on what happened. The recent ferris wheel mishap seemed especially heavy on reporting if people would still go on the ride. This is not news reporting.

The comment section of the Ann Arbor News is especially painful as nearly all the comments actually add nothing of any substance, but are quick conclusions, strongly stated opinions without a lot of substance attached, and often confusion and misinformation. It often destroys any positive reaction I have to a story, and leaves me wondering about the fate of humanity. Signed and verified comments would improve things I believe. The accusation is that it isn’t done because comments increase clicks which increase ad revenue. Yikes. This is no way to get good content.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle ended up relying heavily on voluntary paid subscriptions. Mary tells me I may be the longest subscriber they had. I would be very proud of that if it is true. I believe in these alternative funding models, and while my support was never in large amounts of money, the persistent confidence and trust that a regular payment portrays is also a very vital part of supporting a venture I truly believe in.

I will miss reporting for the Chronicle’s Stopped Watched column. I’ll try and do more of that in my blog. Short, interesting posts that are image heavy. I will miss The Ann Arbor Chronicle as a resource. But I trust other venues will emerge. There is a very funny group of people who tweet city council meetings, #a2council They may become the public record of actions taken within city hall. That would be funny, and not all bad. But a little weird, like the fact that so many now rely on Jon Stewart to get the world news.

It matters a lot to me that Mary and Dave stick around, even that they are in my neighborhood. I hope their next adventures will include my selfish need to have people as funny, talented, creative and with such enormous integrity near by. I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Local reporting can be done so much more on an individual basis. Blogs, facebook, twitter, are three dominant methods. Relying a bit on larger corporations that are in it for the money isn’t all bad. They do employ some talented, creative, and caring people. I know many at The Ann Arbor News, and respect those individuals. I refuse to be bitter or absolute in my critique of that news source. A broad brush does not meaningfully describe what they are contributing.

The best thing that can happen next is creative, interesting ideas for local news and information. The largest hole that will need to be quickly addressed is the need for eyes on government. Openness and transparency in public work requires good and extensive press coverage. Dave and Mary set a new much higher standard, and proved how important this is. How do we meet it now?

Vote on Tuesday

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

The most important thing is to vote. Whatever your inclination. But if you’d like an opinion, here is mine.

I’ve wavered on the proposals for over a month. And I am going to vote yes on them all. I will suport the millage, because we can’t risk having the resources for the best education possible for as many kids as possible. Yep, there is mismanagement. Yes, there are additional cuts that must be taken. But in the end public education is vital for a positive economy and a future for our kids. I have no kids, I pay taxes in two school districts, I don’t like conventional education, so what am I getting in return? The best possible system we have so far. It is still a good system, and absolutely vital for Michigan’s future but most importantly the future of those kids who don’t have other options. It is a very very small price to pay.

I will also support the charter amendments. Frankly, this issue has gotten bizarre. Right now the public notices are being published in the Washtenaw Legal News. Not a publication I read or plan to read. No one I know relies on these public notices to be informed. And yet somehow, people in Ann Arbor are very well informed. We pay attention. We have some great new news sources, and more emerging.

Yes, a public record taken by a third party is important. But that can still happen. The charter is now archaic. It needs to be updated to reflect the present reality. Requiring print publication is actually holding us back.

The robocalls – I’ve gotten 11 so far – are anonymous, make false accusations, and have certainly influenced my opinion AGAINST their message. Today they claimed this amendment would result in further loss of my home’s value. That’s absurd. And implying that a half way house would move in next door and the rest of it was equally insulting. If lying, non-local, harassing people are against this amendment, you can bet I will give it a second look to find a reason to support it. And that wasn’t hard at all.

The argument that homeless people and senior citizens will be left in the dark is also insulting. How many of them have read the legal notices in the Ann Arbor News? That would seem a low priority for someone without a place to live struggling to survive. And our seniors are mostly very computer savvy, and again – who among them is actually interested in the legal news or reading the current paper that is publishing this info.

I support the charter amendment.

I will also be happy to trun out to vote for my Friend Mike Anglin for 5th ward council person. We may nto agree on everything (Argo Dam being the largest thing likely) but I respect his attitude and approach. He deserves another term.

But vote. Please. It matters.

Dam out

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

I sent this e-mail to my council people, and the mayor. This is up for decision tomorrow, a rush to judgment on a very controversial issue. It would be good to have a decision, but there has been no new info, reports are still trickling in, nothing to justify a sudden decision.
And in my defense, I am on first name basis with John and Mike, so the informality is reasonable.
___________
Dear John, Carsten, and Mike,

I don’t think I’ve had a chance to talk to you about the Argo dam. I’ve looked at the information from the Huron River Watershed Council, I’ve canoed the entire length of the Huron except for two lakes, I’ve talked to people pro and con. And my conclusion is the dam should be removed.

We know that dams are archaic, and not good environmental stewardship. This is an issue for the entire watershed up and down the river, not just Ann Arbor and certainly not just the rowers. The science says take the dam out. The economics say take the dam out. The environmental reasoning is the river is best served by being unrestricted. The proper thing to do is to begin to remove dams. Improving this dam in this day and age makes no sense at all. It is not looking at the long term needs of the river and the environment.

Process wise, a sudden rush to decision after all this time makes no sense. If you were waiting for more information, have you gotten it? I don’t think so. Is there a report, a study, or the results form a public hearing that make this the right time to decide? Not that I’ve heard. And certainly bringing a proposal to council with less than a weeks notice, after clearly hearin ghtat this is something that people care about passionately and with clear polarization, means you need to be very pro-involvement on the decision making process.

Please vote no on the dam in proposal.

At least object to the process so that the proper procedures can be followed. A rush to judgement now will create more negative feelings over not just the decision but the sudden rush to subvert a proper process.

Thanks for listening.

I’m Voting for Mike Anglin Tomorrow

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

First, I encourage you to vote if you are in Ann Arbor’s 3rd or 5th wards. I’m supporting former councilperson Kunselman, because of the chickens, because of his position on the Argo Dam, and because Greden seems arrogant and unfriendly.

In the Fifth Ward, I support Mike Anglin. Mike has been approachable, reasonable, and interested in hearing from his constituents. I appreciate his lone vote against the parking garage, and being willing to go against the flow. We have all democrats, we need some diversity to keep council debate healthy and open. Mike has done well in that role.

The attendance issues seems to be greatly overblown. Mike has missed just one of the 41 council meetings, 1 of the 37 caucuses, 1 council work session out of 15, perfect attendance on Liquor Control meetings, has gone to 11 of 16 Parks Advisory meetings, perfect attendance for Audit Committee meetings, perfect attendance for Taxi Board meetings, missed one of the three Brownsfields Board meetings, and his worst record are for two groups – attended 3 of 10 meetings for Washtenaw Area Transportation Study and 1 of 5 Environmental Commission meetings.

So of 151 meetings he could have attended as a part time representative, he actually attended 131. And the major ones were covered. I think calling him absent is inaccurate.

Mike is likely to even better as a 2nd term representative. He deserves the chance, especially now that the overt disrespect and sabotage have come to light. And as one friend said she is voting for Mike Anglin just to piss of Greden. Hey, that works for me too.

Ethics interview

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

I had a chance to talk about one of my favorite subjects recently, with Bart Bund and Jeanine DeLay who are part of a2ethics.org. It was an enjoyable discussion, wide ranging and also covering some interesting aspects of ethics and alternative health care.

The pod cast is about an hour long. I did have a chance to talk about my ethics project, currently in the implementation stage.

They are interviewing “local superheroes” and you can listen to me squirm a bit with that idea. It is always nice to be acknowledged for my work, and I’m more comfortable talking about the work rather than having any super healing powers. And in the interview, I do talk about how those “powers” may be developed, as well as an appropriate container for that.

Nala is present for the first part of the discussion, until she is sent to the basement.

I could talk about ethics for days. Very inspiring, very brain expanding. I’d be curious to know if anyone finds this discussion interesting or stimulating. I liked listening to it again! That’s a good sign.

The podcast is on the site, no separate URL for it.

dating update

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

The good news is I continue to meet many interesting, intelligent, creative men – for the most part.
The bad news is they are so very far from compatible long term.

If it is easy to identify traits/patterns/values that profoundly bother me from one date (everyone on best behavior) that just doesn’t bode well for the long term future and great intimacy.

I really do like people, men and women. I do have different standards for someone I would like to be very close with. If I think about my closest friends – intimate and non – with nearly all of them there was an immediate click, knowing, enjoyment. And then time and experience created intimacy and bonding.

And while I have friends who have very different ideas than mine in politics and religion and other values – the closest most intimate friends are people who share a world view very similar to mine. I just can’t imagine how I could (or would want to) be close with someone who just described many of my closest friends as “perverse” because they are a same sex couple.

A big part of who I am has always been aware of politics, justice, peace, commitment to action and causes. It has to be a shared experience if we are going to have a shared life. And denying climate change, asking for Bush to be forgiven based on context, not celebrating love in all its many forms (including gay), and finding heroes in people who have done great harm to the world (Ronald Reagan is but one example) are all “details” that make it impossible for me to go to the next step in any relationship. And I’ve encountered all that and more recently. And my profile is clear, these guys knew it would be a problem, they carefully avoided the issue until later.

So maybe I’m not getting as many contacts from conservative Catholics, but still a conservative element out there that seems to think it doesn’t matter or maybe that I can be changed? If you are a friend, really now, how likely do you think that is? Yeah, that’s because you know me. I’ll listen, I’ll learn, but not a lot has truly changed in this liberal brain for about 40 years now. There are fundamental values and priorities that I came into this world with, and I am pretty much the same idealistic obnoxious somewhat arrogant peace loving passionate activist I have been since I was on record at 10 trying to save a bit of the planet by organizing (and succeeding I may add!).

I remain bewildered.

But do recall – I’ve never done this before. Never dated lots of guys. Never had this sort of attention and “social life”. And I do hope it is all over soon. I think I’ve had a glimpse of an alternate reality, and that’s all I need.

I’m more than ready to settle in with someone who just simply understands me, supports me, inspires me, and I can do the same for him. We laugh, we talk, we share, and are both the better people for it. Living simply, taking risks, helping others.

It sounds so easy.

More on Bicycle Road Rules

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Just came across this excellent video that makes the point about bicycles needing different rules than cars. I couldn’t have said it better myself – although I did try.


Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

It is nice to see a well done piece of work as well. Very clear, and good use of the media!