One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for March 2015

The Chicago Mayoral Election & The “Digital Divide”

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With the Chicago Mayoral election coming up next week, I’ve been thinking about a question from the first debate between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. One of the questions was about the “digital divide”, and both candidates seemed to struggle with the concept: Garcia made an initially fumbling, but articulate discussion of the issue, while Emanuel trotted out his platform of great schools/neighborhoods/parks/libraries. Although both candidates made an effort to address the issue, perhaps now is a good opportunity to discuss the “digital divide” – and “digital excellence” – as they impact the city.

For some, the “digital divide” means access to technology – that providing people access to computers will foster their ability to use them. On a superficial level, this is correct – after all, there are free wi-fi and computer resources all over the city, and programs to provide training But throwing computers at the problem only addresses one key issue….and in addressing the digital divide in Chicago, it’s not enough.

One of the emerging issues is the growth of businesses. Although Mayor Emanuel has called for a strong central business corridor, community & economic development is also fostered by small businesses and microenterprises emerging in neighborhoods. (It’s no surprise that organizations like Sunshine Enterprises and Greater Southwest Development Corp focus their efforts on local businesses and neighborhood-based entrepreneurship)  Assisting small businesses and microenterprises in using online and open source tools drives business growth. Providing access to inexpensive tools – as well as connections via wi-fi and broadbaC Now Sunsetnd – is a way of bridging this divide. Although economic development is a key issue for the Chicago mayoral election next week, this aspect is rarely discussed.

(If you want another, more concrete example – the Mayor cites 1871 as an example of how the city is driving businesses. In short, every neighborhood deserves their own tech/other business incubator. There’s a good reason why Blue 1647 is receiving great attention….because it suggests that technology and community/economic development go hand-in-hand). The idea that technology can drive social benefit – as well as economic and community benefit – lies at the core of digital excellence. It’s more than using technology for its own sake, it’s the belief that everyone can and should have access to both the tools – and the skills/literacy to use them. (To quote an early blog entry, digital excellence – especially in our current economy – is a basic human right). With our society moving towards a network-based, service economy, it would seem futile to simply this as “free computers for everyone.” (Or as one misguided colleague once remarked, “People in poorer neighborhoods have smartphones – they don’t need computers.) It’s the belief that everyone in each of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods has the ability to learn about new technology, to use new technology, and that by allowing access to tools you create an environment that stimulates community growth. Besides access to hardware and software, digital excellence also advocates fostering literacy and creativity when using these tools. Engaging in a philosophy of digital excellence allows people to grow into and flourish within our increasingly networked, digitally-savvy community.

C Now - BloggingThis not pitting one neighborhood against another – it encourages and fosters stronger collaborations. It allows for resources to be used more effectively, and for people to work together towards a common goal. Despite the divisive nature of the current Chicago mayoral election, one thing stands: many are concerned with the welfare of the city, and want it to move forward. Even as many city departments are integrating technology (including the Chicago Board of Elections – and yes, I’ll be serving as election judge again next week), Chicago appears to be ready for a big idea – a grand solution that can foster a common goal and bridge the divide between residents.

But it won’t take getting the Olympics, or a trophy-winning major sports team. It will take a solution that encompasses all of Chicago’s neighborhoods, can build connections between communities, and which can spark on community and economic developing simply, yet effectively.

That solution is digital excellence….and can not only bridge the digital divide, can strengthen our city.

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The Best (Zen-Flavored) Advice I Ever Received

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Eight years ago this week, I “celebrated” my return to Chicago after living in St. Louis, Missouri for several years. (I don’t remember the exact date, to be quite honest – it’s been a bit of a blur). However, in reflecting back on that time in terms of my own nonprofit career, I remember a powerful piece of wisdom – a kind of zen-flavored proverb – which was the best advice I ever received.

Some years before, I served on the board of Metropolis St. Louis as its Leadership chair, providing volunteer board/leadership development for young professionals. Part of that was overseeing the Metropolis Forum, then funded by the Danforth Foundation, which put on trainings and events. One of these – focused on time management – was held at the St. Louis Fire House. (Yes, I know this is a Chicago Now blog; I’m getting to the point shortly). As I sat in attendance with the Forum’s director (a former co-worker), we were both surprised to hear the presenter make this statement as a way of thinking about time management:

“You can have anything you want; you just can’t have everything you want”.

At the time, I was adjusting to life working as a substance abuse prevention specialist, eventually leading to running a clean air program in a very dysfunctional work environment. Combining that with my activities on various boards, I was a bit stressed. Hearing advice which suggested that I needed to set priorities and allocate time appropriately (as per the presenter’s suggestions) served as a wake-up call. It meant that despite the often hectic, improvisational nature of nonprofit work, I needed to determine what was important to me short-term and long-term…

…meaning moving back to Chicago after my father’s passing and my mother’s impending transplant. When I returned, I wanted the status quo of my previous life: a good job in tobacco prevention, a lively social life….but it didn’t happen that quickly. In fact, it mean compromises, hard work, and being willing to make choices. (Knowing that I could have anything, but not everything, meant knowing where to put my emphasis). In time, I had a slightly different lifestyle: working for a startup marketing firm, getting involved with Net Tuesday to keep my hand in social change, and working towards building a life similar to my previous one.

It didn’t happen. What I received was so much better.C Now Every Minute Counts

It’s easy to focus on achieving all of our goals: for nonprofits, fulfulling its mission in every aspect of life; for social entrepreneurs and social ventures, unlimited business growth with unlimited impact. But knowing we can have anything – but not everything – empowers us to make better choices, to achieve more ambitious goals, to not limit ourselves. It provides a well-needed sense of perspective – in my own life, it has meant making the choice to launch my own marketing consultancy, knowing I can reach for lofty goals, but that I must focus on those which are most important to me. (It’s also meant that I have eschewed the “plugged in” life – work should complement, and not replace, my “regular life”. I have also learned that in dealing with the expectations of others, I have to strike a balance between accepting those aspects over which I have no influence….and understanding that not everyone can share my personal mission, but that sharing a common mission helps drive our acceptance of others.

Like many other social change agents, I have lofty ideals and grand ambitions. But long ago, back in a fire station in St. Louis, I received great advice about learning how to set priorities, scale my ambitions, and most importantly, achieve a kind of zen balance in my life. I’m hoping that this message is one that can resonate with others.

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Written by gordondym

March 18, 2015 at 10:13 am

Addendum: Chicago Mayoral Election Judge

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votingA few weeks ago, I wrote about serving as election judge in the February primary. As a first-time judge, I had some questions and observations, and was fortunate to discuss these matters via e-mail with Jim Allen at the Board of Elections. With a Chicago mayoral election just a few weeks away, I thought this might be a good opportunity to provide clarification to my earlier piece….and to hopefully encourage readers to serve as judges on April 7th.

First is the issue of touchscreens – two weeks ago, I had mentioned that I thought that there were too few touchscreens used in the precinct I served:

In this precinct, we had one touchscreen voting machine with eight “regular” voting booths. (Ironically, when I went for absentee voting, there were numerous touchscreen voting machines). Since I do not have any data on how many machines are currently in use, I wonder how those machines are assigned…

However, as Jim explained, the use of touchscreens in early voting and election day voting serves a very specific purpose:

During Early Voting, we must use the touchscreens exclusively, because that’s the only way to offer every ballot style for every ward and every language, no matter where the voter is from. There are no paper ballots or scanners used at Early Voting. Then on Election Day, there are 2,069 precincts, and we only have enough touch screens to supply one per precinct so that at least one is available to voters of different physical abilities, language needs, or those who need audio ballots.C Now - Networking 02

In that previous post, I had also mentioned that

Perhaps election judge training should not be optional When I started the process, I had been informed that there is an “optional” four-hour training for judges, and which I was eager to attend. (My only reason for not doing so – I was not provided any information about a Monday training). Although I’m used to learning on the go….perhaps Chicago elections should warrant having people work at their best. (If that meant that I didn’t serve this time around, it would not bother me either way). Having a mandatory training – even online – would make things much easier, and more importantly, provide an extra layer of accountability.

This definitely warrants a correction, for as Jim explained:

Training is indeed mandatory. However, if there are resignations or other urgent needs to fill vacancies in precincts, there may be no time to train the person filling the vacancy. We urge every election judge to attend the mandatory training and pay them to do so. If they cannot or do not attend, we do not remove them, given that elections judges, as they’ve already been confirmed as election judges by the Court.

First, I want to thank Jim for reaching out to me, and for granting me permission to quote his e-mail in this post. Several assumptions I had  entering this experience proved to be faulty. As a blogger, my responsibility is to express my opinion, and when my information is faulty, to provide clarification….and in this matter, it is extremely crucial.

To put it bluntly, many voters will have the opportunity to change the status quo with the April 7th elections. No matter what your political affiliation or ideology, it is important to connect with the political process and insure that everyone who can vote should participate in the process. I’ll be working elections on April 7th (meaning – I’ll be voting early) because it means a definite opportunity for  insure that everyone’s vote matters, and that the process is fair and even-minded. If you’re interested in serving as election judge (especially since some precincts need judges), please consider submitting an application. It’s an entire day’s work….but it’s one of the small ways that Chicago residents can make a big impact.

Thanks again for reading – if you have any comments, please feel free to leave them below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. You can subscribe to this blog via e-mail (see directions below), and you can contact me directly – information available via the About page.

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Written by gordondym

March 10, 2015 at 10:52 am

Leonard Nimoy, Diversity and Social Change

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Leonard Nimoy-

Photo by Gage Skidmore

With Leonard Nimoy’s passing, I have found myself reflecting back both personally and professionally. Growing up watching Star Trek, I was strongly influenced both by Nimoy’s performance…but also with the show’s focus on diversity, tolerance, and acceptance. In recent months, I have had some experiences that have me reflecting on those values as they apply to nonprofits, social ventures/social entrepreneurship, and other mission-driven organizations.

There’s been no major incident – just a variety of smaller things that provide some concern. A social entrepreneur once confiding in me that he felt nonprofits were “ineffectual”, and that business was the only answer. Board members of an organization espousing values but acting in a contrary manner. A colleague advising me against any overt criticism of our field, because we’re “too busy tearing each other down”….or words to that effect.

On the one hand, I wonder if any perception of a “split” between social ventures and nonprofits is merely due to a highly charged, more competitive environment in Chicago. Everyone has a role to play, and perhaps the need to tout one over the other may be due to a perception of scarcity of resources rather than the power of collaboration. In addition, I think that many of these experiences speak to key values in the social benefit field: diversity, tolerance, acceptance, and community.

For me, Nimoy’s passing has brought many of these values to the forefront – especially since his primary role helped me develop greater tolerance and wider belief in diversity. In fact, my main underlying principle (which informs this very blog) is that nobody has a monopoly on driving or advocating for social change. Perhaps focusing less on our own “nobility” in driving social change and more on building stronger collaborations with other like-minded individuals and organizations. One particular Star Trek episode proposed the concept of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) which proposes the idea that when different elements interact – and when we come to a common thread – the result are more creative, influential strategies and outcomes.

But one of the building blocks for this is self-exploration: looking at our own innate biases, assumptions, etc. Perhaps this recent video by Jay Smooth, focusing on the Oscars, can explain the process much better than I can:

As professionals in various organizations – nonprofits, social ventures, community agencies, and other mission-driven organizations – we should be focusing as much on being good as on doing good. Making a commitment to checking our own assumptions and biases – regardless of whether we believe we’re on the “right side” of this issue – is a critical first step in driving a much more diverse environment that fosters social change. Many of us do not challenge our own assumptions, or worse – simply assume that we’re automatically “covered” because we’re on the “right side”. But such introspection and self-examination should be as much a part of our personal and professional missions as it is for various Chicago organizations. And with tolerance comes acceptance that despite any difference or disagreement, an organization or community’s strengths comes through handling and resolving such conflicts in a healthy manner, and that greater social ideals can transcend ideologies. C Now - Spock Mouse

So what does all this have to do with the passing of Leonard Nimoy? Simply this: he portrayed a character struggling with a dual heritage and a dual mindset (logic-based Vulcan vs emotion-based human). Working as part of a greater community, Spock found himself frequently in conflict with others (most notably a man who continually asserted his identity as a doctor) but handled his own outer and inner quest well. Nimoy also served as an ambassador for the very humanistic values that Star Trek dramatized within its stories. But one of Nimoy’s most frequently quoted lines has great relevance and resonance for social change agents in Chicago:

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one….”

Sometimes, it’s less about ourselves and more about our goals. Just something to consider and contemplate.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments, either down below or via our Facebook page.. In addition, you can also subscribe for blog updates via e-mail (see below), and contact me directly – my information can be found on the About Page. And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

March 5, 2015 at 2:14 pm