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

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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End of an Era, or The Start of Something New

It is unbelievable that 4,000 people from around the country descended on New Orleans to either memorialize an era of remarkable achievement for volunteering and national service or to look to the future growth of this movement. I say unbelievable because this year’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service provided great content, great speakers, and untold opportunities to learn, serve and network with people who know and understand the power of service. This conference has been a bold joint convening hosted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the Points of Light Institute (POLI) – a relationship that has given rise to a number of highly successful mobilizing efforts including this, the largest gathering of leaders and practitioners in our sector.

Yet this relationship also leads to some strange scenarios like the one we witnessed last week in the Big Easy. While we celebrated the great work of thousands of volunteers who responded to the natural and man-made disasters that have plagued the Gulf Coast region, there was an underlying concern that a storm of a different kind waited just around the corner. And like the BP oil spill and levee failures that taxed the resources and spirit of the Gulf residents, the appropriations for the CNCS (or potential lack thereof) could be a tragic failure of our commitment and ingenuity.

Despite the dark cloud on the horizon that CNCS funding cuts represented, the thousands gathered were not, and could not, be empowered to have a robust dialogue on how to overcome this challenge. Why? Because the CNCS cannot be in a position to lobby its own constituencies in support of their own existence. Strange, yet true. So, while conservative icon and successful Governor Haley Barbour thanks the national service field for coming to the rescue of Mississippi, participants are left to say, you’re welcome and not, you’re welcome and please tell your friends. As a POLI board member, I felt somewhat like the married couple that doesn’t talk about the challenges brought on by the in-laws. On the one hand they can be troubling and meddlesome, and on the other, without them, neither of us would be here.

Next year’s conference will be held in Chicago, and will not be in partnership with the CNCS. Correctly, in my opinion, the CNCS has decided not to renew its contract with the POLI and seek other means to provide professional development opportunities for grantees that may or may not involve the Chicago gathering. I concur with their decision because it will allow them to demonstrate that they are making prudent and careful future decisions on their resources that a national conference with high profile champions could give lawmakers a chance to call into question.

We have to convince our support network to communicate the tremendous value of our mutual work and the need for financial support of our cause. This summer is an excellent time to engage elected officials in their districts and educate and explain the power, impact, and genuine need for national service, especially as we seek to make every public dollar go further. If we don’t, we may well have celebrated the end of an era in the Crescent City rather than realizing the dawn of a new beginning.


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

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Romulus Community Schools Partners with Poured-Out

Romulus Community Schools are saving lives through service, service-learning, and philanthropy education. Students from Romulus have partnered with Poured-Out to provide bio-water filters to Haiti and other underdeveloped countries. Poured-Out is a local organization that partners with Michigan-based companies to produce bio-filters, as well as, educate and provide job opportunities to young adults in underdeveloped communities. The U.S. Navy, free of charge, ships the filters to country’s that lack a clean water source. The partnership between Poured-Out, Michigan based companies and the U.S. Navy provides schools and villages with purified drinking water. Individuals in these countries suffer from disease and illnesses caused by water they ingest. One filter, at $115 provides 1,000 gallons of water per day, which helps reduce the number of illnesses and deaths caused by unsafe drinking water.

Josh Baker is an active board member and teacher at Romulus High School. His class spearheaded the initiative and raised money to purchase a water filter for a school in Haiti. Students used research methods and created PowerPoint presentations to spread awareness throughout the community. Romulus High School students are using curriculum content to serve the community by identifying a need and developing plans to make an impact. For example, Loren Adams is a Romulus High School student who helped build a solar purification system, which incorporates mechanical science. The collaboration between Romulus High School and Poured-Out provided more than 200,000 gallons of water for Haitian communities, and the numbers are expected to grow.

On Tuesday, May 24, 2011, Wick Elementary School students are hosting an informative science fair to present experiments and educate the community about water pollution. The event will also raise funds to provide clean water for communities around the world. Funds raised by Romulus Community Schools will further the outreach in foreign countries and also contribute to relief effort s and the water purification process to victims of tornadoes in Alabama. Students in Romulus are using service, service-learning, and philanthropy education to change lives!

For more information about how you can get involved, visit www.poured-out.org. Romulus Community Schools will post project updates on the Poured-Out blog, located on the Poured-Out website.


Submitted by Lianna Taylor, The LEAGUE Michigan AmeriCorps VISTA – Romulus

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Malcolm Mic Check Poetry Slam – Helping Students Thrive!

Alternative school students are kids who would fall through the cracks without additional support. Many of these students have family problems or other difficulties in their life that make them hard to connect with, resulting in a much higher dropout rate at alternative high schools, as compared to an average high school. At Malcolm Alternative High School in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, English teacher Amanda Fritz has made it her mission to reengage those “lost” students through service-learning. Fritz’s service-learning journey began after being invited by LEAGUE teacher, Tracy Menard, to The LEAGUE Michigan’s 2010 Youth Philanthropy & Service Camp. Fritz was so inspired by her Camp experience that she went back to Sault Sainte Marie to infuse her curriculum with service-learning.

One of the main experiences from Camp that influenced Fritz’s new style of teaching was slam poet, Rafael Cassal. Cassal reached the youth through his honest words and unique style, while speaking on subjects ranging from body image to appreciating others for who they are. Fritz says, “It’s easy to bring slam poetry into the classroom. So many of my kids have been through so much and slam poetry speaks to them on their level, about their life.” After introducing Cassal’s work in her English class, Fritz’s students were so inspired they wanted to hold their own poetry slam. The National Education Association Youth Leaders for Literacy Grant provided the students with an opportunity to do just that.

Malcolm Alternative High School Senior, Cinnamon Cleary, took the lead on this and worked with Fritz and The LEAGUE Michigan VISTA, Chrystal Gubanche, to apply for the $500 grant to hold the Malcolm Mic Check Poetry Slam and won! “If you want kids to read, you have to bring it to them. They have to believe in what they’re reading and it has to mean something,” Cleary said about her grant project. Cleary and Fritz worked hard to create a replicable service-learning lesson plan to tie this fun and interesting event back to the classroom. High school students from across the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan will choose a personally relevant social issue, read a book about the issue and submit a summary and analysis of the book. Students will then create a slam poem speaking out about the issue they’ve chosen and will compete at the Malcolm Mic Check Poetry Slam on April 16, 2011. Students will have a chance to win a new Kindle and other prizes donated by area businesses.

For more information on this event, please contact Chrystal Gubanche at cgubanche@eup.k12.mi.us.

Submitted by Chrystal Gubanche, AmeriCorps Vista for The LEAGUE Michigan

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