One way to respond to the demonization of political opponents

I took a phone call from a reporter for a Madison media outlet a couple of weeks ago. He had recently returned to Madison after several years abroad and was shocked by the breakdown of community in Madison since he had left. Because of the developments in state government and the protests, deep fissures have arisen in Madison. Debate has given way to name-calling, and as he put it, everything seems black or white. I could do no more than concur with his assessment, having experienced myself that any attempt at nuance is often perceived as betrayal or attack.

For this, both sides share responsibility. The effects on our civic life will be felt for a very long time and our community may never be the same. But in the midst of this polarized and polarizing situation, there are signs of an alternative.

During the height of the protest, talk show hosts and others were quick to spew forth epithets. When one radio personality called police and firefighters who were protesting, “lousy, rotten people,” who used violence and intimidation, Lt. Laura Laurenzi of the Madison Fire Department challenged her to provide video proof of such behavior, or to make a substantial donation to a local charity. No proof was forthcoming.

Lt. Laurenzi wanted to make something good out of this, so she challenged members of Firefighters Local 311 to make a donation and promised that she would match their generosity. The firefighters donated $1000 to Porchlight. In return, Lt. Laurenzi wrote a check for $1000 to Grace’s Food Pantry. Her donation will help purchase food and other supplies for people suffering during these difficult economic times.

Lt. Laurenzi did something quite interesting. She demanded that her opponent examine the language she used; she attempted to open up a conversation with her opponent, and she demanded that she be treated as a human being. That her opponent didn’t respond is not suprising. What is surprising is that Lt. Laurenzi made something good out of a dehumanizing situation.

As the dust has settled on the budget, and the protests have diminished, we are left in a community and in a state that seems to be at war with itself. The hard work of reconciliation lies ahead. I wonder who will take the lead.

The Myth of a faith-based social safety net

The Episcopal Cafe addresses the question whether churches and other non-profits can fill the gap caused by budget cuts: The Myth of a faith-based social safety net. It points to a piece by Mark Silk. Here’s the study by Chaves and Wineburg to which both the Episcopal Cafe and Mark Silk refer: Chaves_Wineburg_FaithBasedInitiative&Congregations.

I point this out because I attended an event this morning organized by the Roundy’s Foundation, at which Roundy’s distributed food and money to a number of food pantries and other agencies. Grace’s pantry was one of the recipients. In the course of the program, Chris Brockel of Community Action Coalition cited the increasing numbers of families in Dane County seeking food assistance in the last several years. In fact, the statistics are shaking–a 50% increase in number of families and total number of individuals, seeking food assistance, and a 50% increase in numbers of prepared meals served between 2007 and 2010. Given the level of proposed budget cuts, both on the state and federal level, one can only imagine what the numbers will be like in a couple of years, and the decreased ability of social service agencies to respond to the need. We get much of our food either from the Community Action Coalition (at no cost) or Second Harvest (where we pay only $.18/lb). Of the former, a great deal comes through federal programs.

Here are a couple of photos from the event:


Thanks to Roundy’s for their generous donation of food (over 2000 lb) and a check for $500 intended to go for the purchase of perishables.