Watching how democracy works

For those that watch/read the News-Gazette online, you will have seen that the Nov 4th Unit 4 referendum item is getting a lot of comments (1st, 2nd). It is interesting to witness how passionate some people are about their thoughts. Given all that energy, it is somewhat frustrating that these voices are not truly put to the test in a deliberative, public forum.

 

A little over an hour ago, Angelica Sanchez of Channel 15 emailed me; unfortunately, I had to decline an interview offer but was made aware of a petition that is making the rounds on facebook:

Find a more central site for a new Champaign Central High School

 

UPDATE: Those that wish to contact Angelica:

Angelica Sanchez

Multimedia reporter

WICD Newschannel 15

217-351-8538

 

UPDATE 2: Kathy Richards, who initiated the petition and one of many interviewed, will be on Channel 15 for tonight’s 10:00 pm news.

 

I believe this is a significant step up from the anonymous (or pseudo-anonymous) online comments for a newpaper website. Based on a number of those online comments, however, it is obvious that the stated new Central HS location is in fact a big deal to a number of people. Will we then have a petition for including Dr. Howard on the next referendum? What about reducing the size of the referendum? (all reasons stated in recent NG articles and online comments) Note, I think we should, and am tempted to start them myself.

 

This is but the start of a democratic process taking birth. Next, I would love to see a full-blown panel between those who strongly support the referendum and those who strongly oppose it. I would love to see open radio debates. (Eric Bussell, you reading this? *grin*) What I think we would find fascinating about such dialogs is that 1) a whole freaking ton of people agree that we need to do something about the buildings and we need to address capacity in some form, and 2) those who oppose are going to find it difficult to unite on an alternative resolution. If nothing else, I think the latter is one of the biggest challenges behind organizing the “opposition” group.

 

As I told Denise Martin and Dan Ditchfield (co-chairs of the Friends of Champaign Schools), rather than a mere 1700 “no” votes that the district administration and board wants to convert, what about a minimum goal of 5000? Why can’t we have a goal of finding a solution that a super-majority of our voters can agree upon?

 

To help us towards that goal, I am ready to get my hands dirty. I am willing to help organize open public forums, panels, discussions (or whatever you want to call them). I am willing to go looking for people who are willing to debate on radio and TV. Let us set up opportunities in various neighborhood community centers where people can hash out their ideas. But I ask for your help; I cannot do this alone. What good will it do? People, we need to work together A LOT more than we do now. We are too divided. I love how grass-root movements like the Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice unite people around a specific cause and organize their efforts with positive results. There are other small groups like that around town that “get things done”, and it is so exciting when I hear about them.

 

The school district and board has said that we have been talking about this problem for (at least) 8 years now. It has probably been a lot longer. To that end, I believe the consultants we have hired have failed us on that count. We had an excellent start of a democratic effort in 2008 called “Great Schools Together” that totally lacked follow-through and accountability. I think we may have lost the art of healthy disagreement and public deliberation; we voted on November 4th, but yet it is unknown what we said.

Chat with Arlene Blank about the PMPK committee

I had a fantastic talk with Arlene Blank recently. For those who may not be aware, Arlene has been with Unit 4 for several decades, employed in various positions (she reminded me how she hired Greg Novak way back when as the librarian at Edison) both before and after retirement and has served on the board for multiple (different) stints. Arlene also mentioned that she played a role in the 1% Sales Tax referendum; as the Board President of the time, her name was on the document that went to the County Board to be put on the ballot, so she felt some responsibility in being involved in the Promises Made Promises Kept Committee when it was formed in 2009. Although not her intent, she was elected as the board chair and has been so ever since.

 

It quickly became clear to me that there are many different opinions about the PMPK committee (not just between Arlene and I, but with others in the community as well). I hope to do justice to various perspectives and most importantly, keep the door of communication open as the invitation to disagree remains standing.

 

Before going further, Read the rest of this entry »

where are all the people?

There are several big things floating around, a lot of great achievements and some things to watch out for on the horizon, occluded by various rumors. I am going to try to keep this positive but not in the warm-fuzzy-feelings kind of way, but rather in the look-at-what-we-can-accomplish-together kind of way.

First off, I have to give a big huge shout out to the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ); they had a very significant victory over Champaign County’s plans to dump a ton of tax money into new jails. Instead, they have successfully argued for alternative approaches like new re-entry programs and services to keep folks out of jail in the first place. In my own personal experience, I have observed have fundamentally critical these two approaches are, and how severely they are lacking in our “modern” view of criminal justice. The folks at CUCPJ had an amazing uphill fight, but they carried the day. Perhaps what stands out to me is that CUCPJ operated within the confines of a hairy bureaucratic machine, which is no easy task in and of itself, but they did so with aplomb and perseverance.

On the topic of community citizens banding together for the good of the community, a reader forwarded the following story to me as an inspiration for what determined people can do:

http://youpower.democracyforamerica.com/petitions/northbrook-say-no-to-wal-mart

What these two stories tell me is that when people unite together for a shared central belief, they can be powerful. Granted, in both cases you have passionate visionaries who do not waver at the sight at lawyers and persist through obstinate challenges.

With that in mind, Read the rest of this entry »

Another correction: "No more jails" event is on Tuesday, October 1st

Correction to my previous post about packing the house:

 

 

The Meeting with the Champaign County Finance Committee meeting is TOMORROW, Tuesday, October 1st. Sorry about that. Following is the full informational message:

 

NO MORE JAILS IN CHAMPAIGN COUNTY!!!

Help Us Pack This Meeting. The Board’s Finance Committee will be discussing the 2014 budget.  Join us at this meeting and show your support for cutting the budget for jail spending and re-directing the money to programs to build our communities.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 1, 6 P.M. AT BROOKENS ADMINISTRATION BUILDING, 1776 E. WASHINGTON, URBANA

Also:

*Send a petition to Al Kurtz, Chair of the County Board to let the County know you support prevention not detention:http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/build-programs-not-jails?source=c.url&r_by=8795533

Check out the No More Jails in Champaign County website
http://nationinside.org/campaign/stop-jail/ ]

Like us on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/pages/No-More-Jails-in-Champaign-County/227996657340161 ]

Unsubscribe
https://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6220/c/1340/p/salsa/supporter/unsubscribe/public/  ]

Two "Pack the House" events

Putting out the last-minute call to “pack the house” in two seemingly separate events:

  1. TONIGHT! The “town hall” meeting at the Mellon Center to discuss the future high school site. 6pm – 8pm
  2. NO MORE JAILS IN CHAMPAIGN COUNTY!!!” Tuesday, October 1st at 6 p.m. at the Brookens Admin Building, 1776 E. Washington, Urbana for a public meeting with Dr. Kalmanoff and the County Board. More info on the CUCPJ website

I say “seemingly separate” because most people probably think these two things have nothing in common. However, I would contend that they have a LOT in common, especially in our community. As we think about the future of public education in Champaign, we must also consider why we have so many fellow citizens in our jails. A measure of a successful public educational system should be how ready the graduates (all students, even those that drop out of the system) are to participate in and contribute to society. Overcrowded jails should be a shameful statistic for our entire community.

Some other events this week:

Anti-Bullying Moving Screening, Thursday, October 3rd at 5:30 pm, Centennial High School

A screening of the documentary Bully will kick off this evening. After the movie there will be a panel discussion to address questions, concerns and suggestions the audience has regarding the topic of bullying.

Included on the panel are:

  • Erika Harold, former Miss America
  • Dr. Dorothy Espelage, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Michelle Petty, Eastern Illinois Safe Schools Alliance
  • Champaign Police Officer Ed Wachala, Centennial SRO
  • Principal Sara Sanders, Franklin Middle School
  • Dr. Susan Zola, Assistant Superintendent

This event is free and open to the Unit 4 community

Coming up:

PTA Safety Forum, October 23rd, 6:00 – 8:00 pm, Southside Elementary School

IMC: "Sign the Petition to the Champaign County Board to say: Stop the 20 million dollar jail expansion!"

From the IMC:

The Champaign County Board is considering a proposal to spend $20 million on new jail cells. They claim the current downtown jail, built in 1980, is beyond repair. The Board plans to pay for the new jail cells from the public safety sales tax which brings in about $4 million per year.

We say the Board, rather than spending $20 million on jail construction, should focus on investing in preventative services that will keep people out of jail and prison, things like youth job training, mental health centers, substance abuse treatment and re-entry programs for people returning home from prison. Click the title to add your name to the growing list of people who support investing in prevention instead of detention.

“To: The Champaign County Board We the undersigned oppose the Champaign County Board’s proposal to spend $20 million on new jail cells. We believe the Board should spend this money funding preventative programs that will keep people out of jail and prison.”

SIGN THE PETITION NOW: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6220/c/1340/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12271

 

For those not following this, the Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice have been well organized and fighting hard against the idea of a new county jail.

 

PS – I noticed that some petition signers are using the opportunity to make a counter-statement instead of voice support. It is interesting to hear from folks who think that the current laws (and their enforcement) are perfectly just. I ask, if the way we are doing things now is good and right, then why do we have so much crime? Why is there such a huge disparity among the population in jail vs those not in jail? What else explains that?

Yes you can

I had a really good talk with a very involved Unit 4 parent today and we spent a bit of time dancing around the topic of advocacy. One of the things we discovered during our conversation is that the only reason why we have this need for advocacy in the first place is because the system and society that we live in right now has power structures that are oppressive (and history tells us that this has been going on for a long long time); by “oppressive” I mean that the voice of dissent is consistently and systematically squashed. What confuses me is why the masses continue to abide by this twisted reality, why we accommodate it and thus permit it. I know, you are thinking that the nature of oppression in the first place is to basically make sure the status quo is maintained, enslaving the will of those oppressed and thereby to force accommodation. To rape one’s sense of being and worth.

 

But we don’t have to accommodate at all. We can speak out against it. And in fact, I think we have a moral obligation to do so.

 

You think I am being melodramatic – I can tell by the way you are itching to move on to the next thing. Bear with me a moment more. I heard a story of a child who was uncomfortable with the “inappropriate” play of another child. The first child told the attending teacher and nothing happened. The child then went to the next level (someone higher) and things started happening (good for the first child, not so good for the second). The child has learned an important lesson of advocating for self; a pretty rare trait in one so young, but a very crucial one to learn none-the-less. I heard another story of a young girl who witnessed a friend being bullied. Filled with indignation, she told the bullies to stop and walked her friend away from the situation. This was a powerful story of advocating for someone else; she saw something was wrong and could not abide by it, but was compelled to make the situation right.

 

Frequently I hear of parents who struggle to successfully and satisfactorily engage the system of our public schools. Please note, I do hear many success stories as well – the change in Unit 4 since the beginning of 2012 has been significant, even if subtle. Yet there are still those cases where parents, or even other stakeholders, attempt to assail the walls of bureaucracy only to be rebuffed and thrown back. In such cases I want to implore you not to give up. I want to shout “Yes you can!”. You say you are but one person. Yes, I know, so am I.

“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”

— attributed to Mother Teresa

 

If something is not right, if something is objectionable or just plain wrong, say something about it. And don’t stop until Read the rest of this entry »