Increased Interest in Volunteering Since the November Election

An article in Friday’s New York Times discusses the marked increase in volunteering, both nationally and in New York City, following the November election. A volunteer agency, New York Cares, reported a 137 percent increase in would-be volunteers the week after the election, compared with the same week in November 2015.

Nationally, the website VolunteerMatch reported an increase in activity from June 2016 to June 2017 of 7%, but of 199% in the “politics” category. Other categories with additional activity include crisis support advocacy, hunger, immigration, and veterans’ affairs. Sadly, in the “politics” category in Connecticut, there are listings for only two organizations with volunteer opportunities, and both are national rather than local.

How to Deal with Bullying and Other Forms of Silencing at Local Government Meetings

There has been an ongoing dispute in North Haven about the infill of new Middle School playing fields. The content of the dispute principally involves safety and the cost of alternatives (up front and on an ongoing basis). But at least as important are issues involving the process of how this dispute has been handled. These issues affect not only this dispute, but all disputes, because the way disputes are handled can make it difficult to have fair discussions and resolutions of disputes, even in a Town Meeting town such as North Haven.

The principal issues are (1) the shouting, jeering, and interrupting of those in the audience who take the same side as the town’s First Selectman, (2) the extra time given to sympathetic speakers (including town officials and town attorneys, who tend to present a one-sided view of issues rather than fairly presenting the issues), and (3) the prohibition of public input at committee workshops (unofficial public comments at one such workshop had to wait 13 days to appear in an article).

It is difficult for most people to speak in public, especially in dissent, but there are few people willing and able to speak in public when they are shouted at, made fun of, and otherwise bullied and interrupted, especially with the apparent support of the individuals in power. When this happens at a Board of Selectmen meeting on the topic of whether to hold a Town Meeting (as at this particular meeting), it is especially inappropriate.

What can be done? If the board or committee chair (in this case the First Selectman) either refuses to or is unable to bring order to a meeting, and other members of the board or committee do little or nothing, one or more responsible citizens must take over the meeting and insist on respectful silence. It may take multiple occasions (at one meeting and over a period of time) for people who have for years engaged in bullying tactics to be willing to be silent. But it is likely that, if someone else keeps bringing order to a meeting, the board or committee chair will be shamed into doing it herself.

But this will work only if progressives both attend meetings and watch each other’s back. The individual who has the floor should not have to stop such bullying tactics, nor should any speaker have to demand equal time or that officials respond to their questions (failure to respond is just another way of preventing citizens from getting information that will allow them to effectively make their arguments).

If the speaker is interrupted or refused a response, someone else should raise a hand and say, “Point of Order.” That individual should insist on silence, or equal time, or an answer to a question that has been asked. If a member of the board or committee says something inappropriate to a speaker, another individual should rise and say that it was inappropriate, demanding an apology, if no other board or committee member does so.

This is not just about civility. This is about abuse of power and failure to keep order when it is in the interest of those in power. There are occasions where civility is not required of those without power, for example, when they are told they cannot speak until after a vote (speaking after a vote is of little value). In such a situation, dissenters should rise as a group and demand speaking time. They should not let the meeting continue, even if it means that the chair might ask the police to remove them. This interruption by citizens does not involve bullying other citizens; it is an interruption of officials who have abused their position by not allowing public comment.

If there are official rules that prohibit public comment, or allow it only at the end of a meeting, dissenters should demand that the rules be put on the agenda and debated. Until this occurs, as many people as possible should attend meeting after meeting, forcing the news media to recognize the harm these rules cause.

CT Progressive Organizations Working Together on Complex Budget Issues

It’s exciting to see so many progressive organizations working together for clear objectives that do not excite individual action due to their complexity. On June 1, 69 CT organizations representing business, community, consumer, low-income, public health, environmental, and clean energy interests signed a letter to the Connecticut General Assembly opposing two budget proposals, one made by the Senate Republicans that would raid ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs and another made by the Senate and House Democrats that would sweep ratepayer-derived revenues from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The issues involved include clean energy, utility costs for the poor, and public health.

Job Opening at Everyday Democracy

Everyday Democracy is one of the most exciting nonprofit organizations in CT. Its focus is on civic participation and community change, with a focus on the process rather than the content of change. It works directly with local communities across the U.S., providing advice, training, and resources on issues such as racial equity, poverty reduction, education reform, and building strong neighborhoods. It also works with national, regional, and state organizations to expand the reach and impact of civic engagement processes and tools.

Everyday Democracy is currently looking for a full-time Communications Associate in its office in Hartford. Here’s a link to the job description. The deadline for applying is June 9.

A Good Idea from Brooklyn

Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore is launching the Civic Engagement series, to be held the last Monday of each month. The store will host hour-long interactive sessions with nonprofit groups working in social justice, community organizing, and the arts, with the goal of providing tools for involvement, creativity, and action.

The first event in the series takes place April 24 and features the New York Writers Coalition, which hosts writing workshops particularly targeted toward underserved people, including youth, seniors, women, LGBT communities, people living with disabilities, people who are incarcerated or have been incarcerated, and others from traditionally silenced groups.

The May event will feature Make the Road New York (which has a CT chapter), which seeks to build the power of working-class and immigrant communities and achieve dignity and justice through organizing, policy innovation, transformative education, and survival services.

A series like this, in a bookstore or elsewhere, would be a great addition to Greater New Haven.

How Progressives Can Make a Difference Locally

“[O]ur democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. … [F]or all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title:  Citizen. Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. … If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere.”
— President Barack Obama, Farewell Speech, January 10, 2017

This blog will provide information about the many ways in which progressives in Connecticut can make a difference, with a focus on local and state activities. At first the focus will be on Greater New Haven, but it will expand to include the entire state.

Things may not look very hopeful right now, but we can deal with our anger and fears in many ways other than public protest against the federal government and contacting our  representatives in Washington. In fact, with a federal government controlled by those who do not share the views and values of those attracted to this blog, there is an even greater urgency to make a difference at the state and local levels, in activism, in government, in the nonprofit world, and in direct personal and group action in the community.

Locally, we can act more positively than reactively, putting our values on display, setting good examples for our families, friends, and communities, and ultimately trying to change our country’s politics at every level, creating a counterculture that’s less about how we live than about how we can improve the way our democracy works to solve the difficult problems that face us.

This nonprofit blog (that is, with no ad revenues) will provide and share information and ideas that will help progressives decide how to devote themselves not only to causes, but also to processes, such as government oversight and participation in alternative institutions.

You are welcome to comment on blog posts, to let me know about local opportunities for action, and to send in your own blog posts. But please keep your comments relevant to the particular post and your posts relevant to the focus of the blog. And keep in mind that this is a positive blog, whose goal is to help people get involved in service and activism; the only negative contributions should involve obstacles to particular activities, and even here it is most important to consider how to deal with or get around the obstacles.