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Every election term, I learn more about how this country really works.

I grew up believing that voting made me an engaged citizen. Remember Bush v. Gore? I didn’t know, until then, that elections were decided before all the votes from came in from Americans living abroad, including Americans in the military. If the election results that year weren’t so close, I wouldn’t have heard about that detail.

In 2008, President Obama got less votes than Hillary Clinton, but he won more delegates. I didn’t quite get the impact at the time. (Now I understand why Clinton supporters were so enraged.) As Hillary battled Bernie, and as the Stop Trump! movement tried to derail his candidacy, the importance of delegates sunk in.

I learned that delegates are a Party (Democrat or Republican) invention. A news reporter went to a Republican caucus and interviewed a party member. He asked whether or not it was fair for Republican delegates to deny Mr. Trump the nomination. I would summarize and paraphrase her response as, “It is fair because everyone has the same chance to come to party meetings and be a part of the decision-making process. If people are not involved, they get what they get.”

Whoa.

Voting comes at the end of a long decision–making and action–taking process. Engaged citizenship means being a part of the process from beginning to end. Voting is literally the least we can do.

The next NYS election will be on September 13. The registration deadline is August 19.

Rhonda Harrison completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

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“In my experience the motivation of black friends and colleagues isn’t to make white people feel guilty, to beat us up over our racial history, or to just complain about it.  What I hear is deep concern for their children and for their future, and the reasonable expectation that white people not defend themselves from the past but rather join efforts to build a better multiracial future.”  (p. 36)

That’s what Jim Wallis wrote in his book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America.  It’s a great read because of his compassionate, insightful, nonjudgmental, moral, theological analysis of where we are as a country.  Even though Wallis, a white man, talks about white privilege, it’s not an attack on white people, but more of an examination of a social construct of whiteness and its influence on America.  And he does not just pay lip service to multiracial America.  He goes further than the Black/White dynamic that dominates many race-related dialogues and discusses the history of Native and Asian Americans.  Wallis also provides a framework to think through issues of mass incarceration and immigration as well.

His conclusion is that when we genuinely begin to hear one another’s stories, we begin to understand one another, and then we’re able to do the work necessary to cross that “bridge” to a new America.  Every time an ugly incident happens, people start declaring that we need a conversation, a dialogue, a discussion.  The value of America’s Original Sin is that it brings some profound insights about why it’s been so hard for us to have that conversation and touches upon issues of segregation, isolation, and fragility.  Once we get over those issues we can move across that bridge.

“. . . the next bridge to cross is America’s transition from a majority white nation to a majority of racial minorities”. (p. 194)

It’s well worth the read.

Rhonda Harrison completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

Roots will be broadcast on the History Channel from May 30 to June 2.  It’s not a rebroadcast of the original series made in 1977, but a brand new production.  I got a sneak preview at the National Action Network Convention.  The new series is just as powerful as the original.  An elementary school teacher told me that textbook publishers are attempting to whitewash American history by trying to imply that Africans immigrated to the United States like everyone else.  The truth of slavery must continue to be taught.  If the whole series is as promising as the sneak peek I got, people will get a glimpse into the unimaginable horrors of slavery.  African Americans endured a tremendous ordeal, and we should be proud of all the progress we’ve made since fighting for our freedom.

Rhonda Harrison completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

Aresenio Hall hosted a late night talk show with a segment entitled “Things that make you go Hmmm . . . ,“ where he’d point out some random thing or occurrence that most people ignored, until he made you think about it.

My own “hmmm” moment came during an exchange with the administrative assistant who took my copayment, via debit, for my dental visit.  She didn’t offer me a receipt to sign.  When I asked her about this, she replied “You’ve been here before, we trust you.”

Hmmm.

Signatures protect consumers.  If I noticed a fraudulent charge on my credit card, I could dispute it with the company by saying “Show me my signature!”  If they couldn’t show me proof that I approved the purchase, they would have to remove it from the bill.

What’s my protection now?

Another hmmm.   Increasingly, gyms want either a credit or debit card on file.  Hypothetically, let’s say I set up an appointment two weeks from now for yoga; then I change my mind and cancel in accordance with their cancellation policy.  What do I do if the company charges me anyway?  Since no signature is required, how do I prove that the company is wrong and get my money back?

The tables have been turned.  Years ago it was clear that the money in my bank account (or on my credit card) belonged to me, and if a business wanted to get at my money, they had to ask my permission and get my written authorization.

Now most businesses regard me as merely a steward of their money.  They don’t believe that the money in my bank account is really mine, but theirs.  They’re just letting me use their money for a while before they take it from me.

I’m retiring my cards and going back to cash.

Rhonda Harrison completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

 

I attended a NASW Annual Conference workshop entitled Legislative Advocacy & Campaign Building.  Since presidential campaign season is in full swing and because New Yorkers have four chances to vote for a variety of offices this year, I thought to share the tips I gathered.  Some of you might have a “cause” you want to champion.

Register to Vote

Politicians want to get re-elected.  First it takes more than one term to learn the job.  Second, seniority comes with power and the ability to make change.  Therefore, politicians make decisions based on what the voters in their districts want.  You can register through the Board of Elections.  If you’re not registered to vote, you’ll have to sit out the election on April 19th, but you can still vote on June 28th.

Know the Official

It’s important to do a little research on the elected official you want to reach out to.  Does the person sit on or chair a committee that’s relevant to your policy issue?  In regards to the problem at hand, is the official on your side, or against?  How has the person voted on the matter?  One good research tool would be Vote Smart.  Do some research on elected officials who oppose your side.  You may find it useful to hear their position and try to persuade them to your side.

Join an Affinity Group

There’s a group for just about every cause we want to champion.  The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), for example, is rallying unionized CUNY employees in order to get a new contract.  I also found Support CUNY via google search.  There are other advocacy groups based on a host of other concerns.  A google search should help you find whatever you want or need.

Build a Relationship

Affinity groups often organize legislative lobby days to visit elected officials.  Politicians are accustomed to getting visits, and used to seeing people disappear until the next lobby day.  Smart advocacy entails relationship building.  After the visit, there should be follow up with a phone call or thank you letter.  The organization should remain in touch with the official to regularly discuss progress on the matter at hand.  You’ll know you have a solid relationship when elected officials begin to call you about policy.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

I recently attended the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) NYC Chapter Annual Conference.  Glenn E. Martin, Founder and President of Just Leadership USA, gave the keynote address on Mass Incarceration and the Broad Impact on Communities of Color.  The three statements that stayed with me were “use your privilege,” “change hearts and minds,” and “our democracy got us here.”  (By privilege, he means advantage, or anything that put us in a positon to advocate on behalf of people whom very few others either care about or hear from.)  He challenged me to use my privilege to inform people about mass incarceration, and to end mass incarceration.

I heard of mass incarceration when I read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.  To sum it up for people who have never heard the term before, mass incarceration resulted from a series of laws and policies deliberately crafted to replace Jim Crow, while maintaining Jim Crow’s purposes and benefits.

Martin survived the mass incarceration system, having been imprisoned on Rikers Island in his early 20s.  He described some of the his fellow inmates as intelligent, skilled and ambitious human beings who, upon release, are forever relegated to second class citizenship and in many instances are rendered unable to vote because of their record. Martin encouraged us to use our privilege to give survivors a platform where they can tell their stories so that our hearts and minds can be changed.

Both Martin and Alexander agree that changing laws will only replace mass incarceration with another equally oppressive system.  Martin speculated that privatized prisons see the handwriting on the wall and are thinking about how to keep their prisons full once the current system is dismantled. Martin and Alexander argue that only a change in hearts and minds fosters a real desire to work towards a truly just nation.  Once that inner change occurs, we can take a deeper look at the policies and laws, the results of our democracy, which got us here.  Fortunately, the same democratic system can lead us out of here.  Use your privilege.  Remember to vote on April 19th.  Think about voting in people who have the willingness to end the mass incarceration system.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

Elected officials make a lot of decisions that affect students, so we should vote.  We get 4 chances to vote in 2016.  Here’s a little summary of what’s happening.

April 19: New Yorkers will vote in their party primaries for president.  Some of the different parties are Democrat, Republican, Working Families Party, Green Party, Conservative Party, etc..  When people register to vote, they get to select the party they want to be a part of.  Some people do not pick a party.  The registration deadline is March 25th.

June 28: Primary day for all 27 New York members of the United States House of Representatives, including New York State Senator Schumer.  The registration deadline is June 3rd.

September 13: Primaries for all 63 seats of the State Senate and all 150 seats of the State Assembly.  The registration deadline is August 19th.

November 8: President and Vice President of the United States.  The registration deadline is October 14th.

The only way to vote is to be registered.

Find out how to get a job as a poll-worker.

You can get more information by checking out CUNY’s Voice Your Choice website.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

I used to work at an agency that helped unemployed adults get back to work.  Recently, I remembered a co-worker and I laughing uproariously with a client over a comment she made.

The client was trying to get a job at a well-known coffee shop.  She’d just come back from an interview and was telling us how ridiculously difficult the application process was.  She was frustrated and surprised because she was not looking for an upper management position.  She wanted to get a job behind the counter, making coffee and working the cash register.  Why was the employer being so demanding in terms of education, experience, and skills?  “It’s just coffee!” she exclaimed.

In this campaign season, much is being said about the income gap.  Less is said about employers imposing unreasonably high standards upon job applicants.  Employers forget that they’re just trying to hire a worker, not get married.

As you watch the candidates and come to a decision, it’s something to think about.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

I listened to President Obama’s final State of the Union address.  He ended his address by putting the onus for the state of our political system on the American citizenry—us.  He closed the circle quite nicely.

Back in 2008, I was flipping channels and came across Michelle Obama making a speech.  Essentially, she said that if we elected her husband, we couldn’t abandon them once they entered the White House.  She said that her husband would need an engaged citizenry in order to govern well.  It was heartening to hear her.  As a citizen, I felt empowered.

I was encouraged to do something that I had not done since high school.  I read the United States Constitution.  I rediscovered the fact that the President’s job is to protect the Constitution.  I also learned that the states are where the real power is in the United States.  People who really want to be engaged and vote on high stakes elections should really keep their eyes on local races.

Senator Obama’s tagline was “Yes we can!”  President Obama is ending on a note of “Yes, you can!”  We should accept the challenge.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

Politics is a natural and neutral activity.  Whether or not you like it or get anything from it partially depends on your level of engagement and skill in politicking.

That’s what I learned through studying Cervero and Wilson’s theory of program planning.  Essentially, they say that program planning is a political activity because educational events and activities are always planned with other people.  Therefore, all of the planning must be negotiated with others.  I used their theory in undertaking a real-life program planning activity at work.

Cervero and Wilson destigmatize and normalize the word “politics.”  Most workers believe it’s good to shun office politics, because they think only people with wrong motives engage in politics.  I used to think that way, too.  Now I realize that to the extent that I refuse to engage in the political process, I limit my own success in changing things for the good of my students.  If good guys walk away from the process, the only people advancing their goals are people who are only looking out for themselves.  It’s important to engage in politics professionally.

It’s also important to engage in politics nationally.  At work, I get to voice my opinions at meetings, through e-mail, individually, etc..  My opinions get “heard” when I get the ear of the right people.  Nationally, my voice gets heard when I vote.

Years ago, when I first registered to vote, the Board of Elections sent out an Election Guide telling citizens when to vote and who and what we were voting for.  Now, there’s nothing.  Also, in non-presidential election years, it seemed like there were plentiful debates to attend so that you could decide how to cast your vote.  I feel like those things have vanished.  Fortunately CUNY is launching its own campaign to help us out.  Check out Voice Your Choice to see more.

Until then, keep these dates in mind:

  • March 25 – Voter registration deadline
  • April 19 – New York primaries
  • November 8 – General election

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.