A Few Thoughts on Election History on Primary Election Day

This week marks the 47th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.  This act prohibits discriminatory voting practices that have been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of millions of people over the course of U.S. history.

While our nation has made multiple strides in the area of voting rights, in recent months we have seen an increase in the number of laws that add barriers to voting.  These laws require specific forms of photo identification to be present to vote, reduce early voting in certain states, and make voter registration done by nonprofits and civic organizations more challenging.   In Michigan, Governor Snyder vetoed bills that would have made voting in our state more complicated and disenfranchised thousands. In an effort to eliminate voter fraud, we have haphazardly created more barriers to voting. This ultimately reinforces what Voting Rights Act was attempting to prevent.

Voting is a right.  Removing barriers to voting and to make it more accessible is important. Nonprofits in Michigan are aiding in this process by participating in MNA’s 2012 Track the Vote. Not only do nonprofits see accessibly as an important part of electoral engagement, but government agencies do as well.

Recently, the National Association of Secretaries of States declared September 25th as National Voter Registration Day .  This announcement falls in line with months of coordination by nonprofits and civic organizations across the country who are already mobilizing people to register to vote on this day.

It is important to remember the history of voting in our country and acknowledge  the struggle that it took to get here.  It is equally important for all organizations, including nonprofits, to encourage legislation and policies that erase barriers to voting and encourage 100% voter turnout.

Finally it is important to vote, and you can start today!

Vote in today’s Primary Election.

Not sure where your polling location is for today’s primary visit the Secretary of State website .

Have questions about who is running, view the candidates here.

Remember all of the people who fought long and hard to guarantee us these rights. And don’t forget to vote!

Submitted by Meredith Reynolds Assistant for Public Policy and Membership, Michigan Nonprofit Association 

College Students are Leaders!

When I was in my 6th grade English class, my teacher said to the entire class, “You are the next generation of leaders!” The thing is, this teacher didn’t tell us how to learn how to be a leader or when we were supposed to assume this role. Now, at age 23, I’ve been figuring out the ways I am a leader in my community and the ways that I want to lead in my future. I attribute this awareness of my experiences to the Residential College in the Arts & Humanities at Michigan State University, and my AmeriCorps VISTA term at Michigan Campus Compact.

Michigan Campus Compact (MICC), an affiliate organization of MNA, supports the civic engagement activities of colleges and their students around the state of Michigan. After the 15th year of Service Leadership Camp last fall, the MICC team thought about whether or not the program was meeting the needs of students, and also posed this question to the network of faculty and staff. The result was the decision to begin a new leadership program and I jumped at the opportunity to pioneer this project!

Throughout the last six months, I have worked with my supervisor, Shannon Zoet, and a network planning committee to coordinate the program for MICC’s first Active Leaders Student Conference this October! No participant will leave this one-day conference without recognizing that they are a leader and learning specific steps to accomplish their aspirations through community service, advocacy, and philanthropy.

“It’s exciting to be a part of something as unique as this event, even more so when you are helping to plan it. This event is very grassroots in the way that it is planned by, geared toward, and has presenters all for the same age group. Many of the leadership events at the college level are only for student leaders that belong to a certain group or specific career path. This event is geared toward leaders from every background who are entering career paths that are just as diverse.”

-Zoe K.D. Haynes, Planning Committee Member, Undergraduate Student, Wayne State University

Amber Cruz, program manager of Mobilize.org will be the keynote speaker at the event and she is excited to share Mobilize resources and ideas to organize voter engagement efforts during the 2012 election season.

For more information about the Active Leaders Student Conference, click here.

Submitted by Jessica Johnson,  AmeriCorps*VISTA, Michigan Nonprofit Association 

Mackinac Policy Conference Review

Last week, the Detroit Chamber of Commerce held its annual Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Donna Murray-Brown and I were fortunate enough to attend the conference this year on behalf of MNA. One difference in the conference this year, was the lack of lawmakers. Michigan legislators stayed behind in Lansing to put the finishing touches on the FY’12-13 state budget.

This year’s theme was on making Michigan and Detroit a place for global competitiveness. To help attendees think about Michigan in a global setting, the Detroit Chamber had two very high-profile foreign affairs experts, Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman. Both had very similar messages, Michigan and the United States can no longer think of itself as the sole “super power” on the global stage – both in foreign policy and economic progress. Both Zakaria and Friedman came to the same recommendations, improve US infrastructure (including wireless deployment), open up immigration policy, and invest in K-16 education. Detroit Public Television has both sessions on their website, you can view each of them here.

Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman were not the only ones touting the need for Michigan to invest in the future. Numerous keynote speakers and panelists also reiterated the point: if Michigan is going to succeed, it must invest in the future.

One slightly low point of the conference was the “Fab Five” panel, where the leaders of Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and Washtenaw counties, and Detroit Mayor, David Bing discussed regional collaboration. There was much more of the usual bickering around turf and who should pay for what, instead of broader discussion of a vision of what regionalism looks like for the Detroit area, which would have built upon what the other keynote speakers proposed. There is always next year…

 

Submitted by Christina Kuo, Senior Director of Public Policy and Public Affairs, Michigan Nonprofit Association

Despite differences, education is central to both State and Federal Budgets

These past few weeks have demonstrated the challenges of creating sound, effective budgets at the state and national level. The Michigan and federal budgets, however, paint two very different pictures of the health of their constituents.

The recession over the past four years has not been kind, but there seems to be a glimmer of hope in Michigan. After several consecutive years of painful cuts, it appears the financial outlook is more optimistic with 2012’s budget surplus. Education funding increased by 0.2%, public safety funding is also set to increase, and the “Rainy Day” fund will grow by an additional $130 million, according to the State Budget Office. At the Federal level, by contrast, the deficit still weighs heavily on programs most Americans take for granted, but rely on – the President offered a 52% decrease in Education, a 35% decrease in Labor, and slight increases for Health and Human Services (3.7%) and the Corporation of National and Community Service (1.3%).

Still, there are some common commitments between the two budgets, such as improving performance and affordability of education. President Obama promotes a ‘Race to the Top’ and links financial aid to universities that keep their tuition under control. Governor Rick Snyder also wants to link increased spending in education to improved performance, best practices, and college tuition restraint. And they are politicians from two different parties.

Despite the other differing priorities of the two budgets, it is clear that superior education for future generations must be a priority for education beyond high school. Whether it is community college, traditional four-year, or vocational – higher education has become increasingly important to achieve personal financial security.

Submitted by Michelle Eichhorst, Public Policy Fellow for Michigan Nonprofit Association

Nonprofits Ready to Partner

Wednesday night, Governor Snyder gave his second State of the State address. As he talked about how far Michigan has moved forward in 2011, and his Administration’s priorities for 2012, he continually came back to two key ideas: collaboration and innovation. Collaboration brings with it a sense of community, inclusion, and hope for the future. With innovation, Michigan can creatively improve upon what is already great or throw out the bad. These are indeed keys to a successful future in Michigan and keystones to the good governance Gov. Snyder also advocates.

But you can’t talk about collaboration with just these two sectors (business and government) while ignoring the impact of nonprofits on many of the metrics on the MiDashboard. By including nonprofits at the table of this discussion from the beginning, alongside elected officials and businesses, Gov. Snyder would not only see a broader, more complete view of the impacts of his proposals, but also a better solution to the problems he has identified.

While Snyder’s agenda was positive and avoided controversy, he can no longer ignore the growing importance of nonprofits that are integral to achieving many of his goals for 2012. By championing his own values of collaboration and innovation, the state, nonprofits, and other key players can work together to achieve the desired results of a healthy and prosperous Michigan.

Submitted by Michelle Eichhorst, Public Policy Fellow for Michigan Nonprofit Association

New Year, New Language

Going through my Twitter timeline after Christmas and before New Year’s Day, I found every single list imaginable for “year-in-review” or “what-to-expect in the coming year.” One that I actually read was #nonprofitresolutions that the Chronicles of Philanthropy was running, here is the link ow.ly/8e3O4.

Two things struck me about this list: 1) the nonprofit resolution from the executive director of the The Evergreen Group, Howard Kucher. He believes that nonprofits should call themselves “social benefit organizations,” instead of by their tax status. 2) That out of the 20 nonprofit leaders that were quoted, only three called for more advocacy and organizing! I kind of feel like these two things are somehow related.

My professional background (nonprofit lobbying and advocacy, and electoral campaigns) really identified with what Mr. Kucher was getting at! A change of language can change perception, both by those who adopt the label and by those hearing it. Maybe if organizations start calling themselves “social benefit” orgs, then it will force us to think of the things we CAN and SHOULD do, i.e advocacy and lobbying, instead of the things we can’t do based on the regulations we have to follow.

By changing the labels, it also allows organizations to think beyond their charitable missions, to ones that include the economic value and contribution of the organization beyond the direct benefit to their constituents and clients. Nonprofts Social benefit organizations need to show more than how many people go through their programs; they need to also show their greater value to society. Yes, I know you fed 200K families last year, but what does that mean? How does that impact the community that I live in?

Maybe by changing the language we use, the sector will finally start advocating and lobbying. It is a new year, so a girl can dream…

Submitted by Christina Kuo, Senior Director of Public Policy and Public Affairs for Michigan Nonprofit Association

Small Steps

Many advocates wonder if their efforts are making a difference. Those of us in the engagement business often measure success by the number of individuals who take action or by the various laws or policies that are changed as a result of our mobilization efforts. Then there are times when success is measured by what doesn’t happen or by extremely small, but extremely important, steps.

Making changes to Michigan’s redistricting process is one of those difficult mobilization efforts for which successful actions may be difficult to realize. The Michigan Redistricting Collaborative has been working hard to ensure that lawmakers seek the input of the public as the lines for voting districts are redrawn. A decade ago, lawmakers were working in private conference rooms to cut deals and draw maps to secretly preserve incumbencies among both Republicans and Democrats. Once finished, the maps were hastily passed through both chambers of the Michigan Legislature, quickly signed into law, and even debated in court filings before the entire process and map formulas became public.

Ten years later the overall process remains the same. The Legislature gets to draw its own maps provided it remains within the general rules laid forth by the Michigan Constitution, Michigan Supreme Court cases and those requirements provided for by the Voting Rights Act. Within these boundaries, demographers are helping politicians privately pick their constituents. Members of both parties are working behind the scenes to ensure they are not drawn out of their own district or pitted against a challenger in their own party.

And yet, we know this prior to the final decisions on the district lines, albeit barely before the critical votes. Many of my colleagues involved in the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative are frustrated by the lack of change in the system, the haste with which the Legislature and the Governor are moving to dispense this “insider’s game,” and the general lack of interest by the public in the dysfunctional nature of our Redistricting process in Michigan. So you ask, what did all our work accomplish? We accomplished what we asked our lawmakers to do: we increased the transparency of one of the most covert, public processes in Michigan.

At www.DrawtheLineMichigan.org you can see the media traffic over the past two months as lawmakers were asked how the maps would be drawn, what input the public would have on the process, which lawmakers would be making the decisions, and what the impact would be on vulnerable populations. Read the quotes from the leadership in the House and Senate where Senate Majority Leader Richardville and House Speaker Bolger were asked to explain how public comment would be sought and how this time, the process would be different. Look at the work that individual citizens did to draw their own maps using the common electronic media and public information tools available to anyone.

This week we will see quick passage of the legislation that will define the voting boundaries for Michiganders for the next ten years. While many may not like either the outcome or the process used, we can take solace in knowing that we brought the process into the light and injected the important principles of transparency, citizen engagement, competitive districts, and fairness into the debate over redistricting. These small victories may not be what many had hoped for in helping to form our more perfect union, but it’s an important start.


Submitted by Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO, for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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