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The Fragility of Democracy

This post was written by ESTHER organizer Bill Van Lopik and ESTHER president Gary Crevier.

On Wednesday afternoon, 1/6/21, we watched with shock and sadness the unfolding events from our nation’s Capital, events that reflected the fragile nature of our democracy. We saw before us how unchecked lawlessness resulted in death and destruction. The members of ESTHER decry these events. While our elected officials were attempting to carry out the will of the people expressed in the Presidential election, they found themselves needing to flee and hide, fearing for their lives. They were afraid not only of the lawless mob banging on the doors outside of their chambers, but also of the noise within, the clamor of false claims that the votes cast in the election by the people were fraudulent.

Hours later, returning to work as the Capitol was being cleared, our representatives certified the results of the 2020 election. The coup was thwarted. American democracy prevailed in the face of perhaps its most serious threat since the Civil War.

In the aftermath, we are left with many questions, as well as a strengthened sense of the importance of ESTHER’s work.

A Seat at the Table of Power

This post was submitted by Penny Robinson

ESTHER encourages an African American to apply for appointment to the Grand Chute Police and Fire Commission

Background of racist social-media posts by police officer

Last summer ESTHER Organizer Bill Van Lopik was informed that Grand Chute Police Officer Laluzerne had posted racist comments on social media. Most of the posts were from high school, but a more recent one referred to Boogaloo, a white supremacist movement.

After connecting with a Black Lives Matter group, Bill and others from ESTHER joined a protest, at which Grand Chute Police Chief Greg Peterson agreed to meet with ESTHER President Gary Crevier. News surfaced that the department was conducting a thorough investigation of Laluzerne. Some wondered if an outside, unbiased individual or group should conduct such investigations. The officer was thoroughly questioned and “put on notice,” but was not disciplined or fired.1

Changing the Narrative

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This post was contributed by Bill Van Lopik, ESTHER Community Organizer

Bill Van Lopik Teaching Social Justice

I am a social justice advocate. I fight against systemic policies, narratives and attitudes that hurt people and silence their voices. Recently I found myself confronting one such attitude that surfaced in my own house. Last week when I was talking with my 7-year old granddaughter she stated, “I was told that bad things happen to bad people.” There was a time in my life when I might have tacitly agreed with this sort of moral commentary and quickly brushed it off. However, this time the narrative which I know is very pervasive in our society provoked a much more critical response. I was not upset at her, but rather, at the confusion that this type of comment plays in her head. You see, her father is incarcerated, and I am sure in the back of her head she was trying to decide how she should feel about him. Is he really a bad person because he did a bad thing? Is he a bad a person even though he calls her several times a week to talk to her and tells her he loves her and can’t wait to see her?

Ban the Box

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People Need to Remake Their Lives

When the prison doors open and a person steps out, it's over, right? Wrong. After prison, a person has to change their life. If they don't, well, the door will be opening again. In the wrong direction.

The Box is a Barrier

People leaving prison need to get jobs, and support their families. So they go to fill out a job application and the first question is, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" And if they check that box, they know that most likely their application will be thrown away. How do you remake yourself if there are no jobs?

How can we as a society say we want to reduce prison recidivism when we don't allow people to get jobs? We may say that someone has "paid their debt" but as long as they can't get the job they need; they are still in debt. And the community is the one paying the debt.

We Don’t Need the Barrier

Employers, and that includes the county organizations that have this box, think that they are protecting themselves. They are afraid that people that committed one crime will commit another. They forget that people can and do turn their lives around and that the information is publicly available. Some people would then argue that if employers can find out a prospective employee has a criminal record, what does it matter if there is a box? Employers get first impressions. If that impression is of a great potential employee, they think of employment. On the other hand, what if that first impression is "felon"?

Let's help make people make great first impressions.

 

WISDOM update November 17

ACTIONS you can participate in this week with WISDOM

There is a lot going on this week in the WISDOM statewide network! It feels heavy, but... This is the reason we build social justice organizations! There are some very serious things going on in Burlington, and in our prison system, and we have some real opportunities to take a stand on the side of those who are fighting for justice and compassion.

Kristin Welch Will Receive ESTHER’s Community Leadership Award

We Are Proud to Present this Award to Kristen Welch

ESTHER is proud to present its Community Leadership Award to Kristen Welch a member of the Menominee Nation. She  is a trained Community Organizer with the Indigenous led non-profit Menīkānaehkem, and she is also a lead organizer for the Womens Leadership Cohort MMIW. Her work includes revitalizing traditional matriarchal roles within indigenous communities through identity work, systems change, and advocacy for survivors of violence. 

The Women's Leadership Cohort Combats the Tragedy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

The Womens Leadership Cohort combats the MMIW epidemic by creating access to traditional knowledge, community organizing, policy change and community education. Kristin helps provide training in advocacy skills, power mapping, policy work, wellness work, and group facilitation, to empower Indigenous women organizers to create meaningful campaigns for social change.

Many Years of Experience in Mental Health Work

She currently sits on the Governors Council on Mental Health and is the co-chair for the Adult Quality Committee.  She has 10 years of experience in mental health, family wrap around care (CST), AODA prevention, and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault advocacy before becoming a grassroots organizer. 

Work Using Traditional Native American Methods and Approaches

She is a proud mother of three, and a member of the healing society Three Fires Confederacy Midewewin Lodge.  She believes strongly that creating partnerships with both formal and informal supports within tribal communities will help build and strengthen an Ecosystem of Care that is equitable, easily accessible, and sustainable. Her work utilizes Indigenous wellness models that offer alternate pathways to healing and are critical for healing and recovery work within tribal communities and for those who serve Indigenous peoples.

When asked why she chose this work, Kristen replied, “We got started out of a necessity.  So many women and families were impacted directly or indirectly.  We had to make sure that Indigenous women were leading the fight and lifting up our families.”

 

Don’t Miss ESTHER’s Exciting Speaker: Rev. Traci Blackmon!

We Are Proud to Welcome Reverend Traci Blackmon

You won’t want to miss the exciting speaker at ESTHER’s virtual banquet on November 1 at 5:00 PM.  We are proud to welcome Rev. Traci Blackmon as the featured speaker at our Virtual Banquet on Sunday, November 5 at 5:00 PM.

A Pastor Who Focuses on Social Justice

Rev. Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ and Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO. She is the first woman and 18th pastor in the 162-year history of Christ The King United Church of Christ.  She is also a registered nurse with more than 25 years during which she worked providing mobile healthcare in underserved communities with the greatest health disparities in her region.

As pastor, Rev. Blackmon has led Christ The King in an expanded program of Community and Regional engagement. The church’s community work includes a computer lab, tutoring, continuing education classes, summer programming, a robotics team, children's library and girls’ mentoring program, all housed in the church.

Regionally, Rev. Blackmon's signature initiatives have included Healthy Mind, Body, and Spirita mobile faith-based outreach program she designed to impact health outcomes in impoverished areas. Sacred Conversations on Solomon’s Porch, quarterly clergy in-services designed to equip local clergy to assess physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health concerns within congregational life, Sista SOS Summit, an intergenerational health symposium for women and girls, and Souls to the Polls STL, an ecumenical, multi-faith collaborative that was successful in providing over 2,800 additional rides to the polls during local and national elections.

A National Voice for Change

A featured voice with many regional, national, and international media outlets and a frequent contributor to print publications, Rev. Blackmon's communal leadership and work in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, MO, has gained her both national and international recognition and audiences from the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican. She was appointed to the Ferguson Commission by Governor Jay Nixon and to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships for the White House by President Barack H. Obama. Rev. Blackmon co-authored the White Privilege curriculum for the United Church of Christ and toured the nation with Rev. Dr. William Barber of Moral Mondays and Repairers of the Breach, Rev. Dr. James Forbes of The Drum Major Institute and pastor emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York, and Sister Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus proclaiming the need for a Moral Revival in this nation.

To hear Rev. Blackmon on November 1, please register for our Virtual Banquet by clicking here: https://esther-foxvalley.org/banquet

Public Transit and the Future of Our Community

A Vision for the Future

The members of ESTHER’s Transit Task Force have a vision for a better world and a stronger community tied together by a multimodal transportation system that provides options for everyone. Options include biking, walking, public transit, and personal car use. 

What makes a vibrant transportation system?  It has an assortment of transportation options that are attractive, efficient, and affordable.  Such a system attracts new riders and the existing riders have more and hopefully all of their needs met. Good public transportation helps build a better quality of life.

New trends require additional investments

Wisconsin is facing changes that will create new needs for our transportation system to address. 

What is an Anti-Racist Organization?

ESTHER has adopted the goal of becoming an anti-racist organization, but we have never defined very clearly what that means. This post is intended to start a discussion on that topic, and for that purpose, I suggest that we should explore the implications of the definitions proposed by Ibram X. Kendi in his book How to be an Antiracist.[i]

Racism Grows from Racist Policies

Kendi begins with the idea that racist policies are adopted out of financial self-interest and not because of racist ideas and prejudices. The racist ideas and prejudices are created later to justify the policies (p. 42). For example, the Atlantic Slave Trade did not develop because Europeans hated Africans or believed them to be inferior. The trade developed because plantation owners in the American colonies were willing to pay for slaves to work in their sugar cane, rice and tobacco plantations. The racist claims that Africans were inferior to Europeans grew up later as justifications for the slave trade and for the practice of slavery in the colonies. The sequence also works in reverse. Reductions in racist ideas and prejudices follow policy changes rather than preceding them. For example, the integration of the schools in the South was followed by a reduction in racist prejudices in that region.

Thus, for Kendi, the focus in fighting racism must be on changing racist policies, not racist attitudes. Changes in attitudes will follow when the policies are changed. This is the basis of his definitions of “racist” and “antiracist,” which are (p. 13):

Are You Part of the Masquerade?

homemade face maskThe first time I went out into public places wearing a mask in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, it was different. I realized that I could not recognize people, nor could they recognize me. What is more important than our individual identities is the identity of the common good. The good of my community and society requires me to filter out as much virus as I can by wearing a mask. It was Thomas Aquinas who wrote, “The common good of many is more godlike than the good of an individual.”

And what about racism? If it is like the air we breathe, then yes, we need filters, masks of humility, masks of justice, masks of respect that will protect us from repeating our long systemic history of oppression towards people of color. Just as there are those who don't wear masks to protect themselves and others from the virus because, in their minds, they feel they are somehow above it all, so too there are those who feel that they are not part of our systemic racism and are somehow above it all. What masquerade are you part of?

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