As an organization we are “dedicated to building public will for the common good.” Each year we also aspire, as individuals, to promote this goal in our non-work lives. Each staff member at Public Works makes a couple of resolutions in which we plan to make the public lives of our respective communities just a little bit better.
Here’s our list. Maybe it will spark some ideas for civic-minded resolutions of your own.
Dianne Stewart, President
Dianne is new to the Chicago area and is taking advantage of opportunities to engage in activities that both have a larger public purpose and will help her integrate into her new community. She has been participating in the great array of public seminars available through the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, where she tries to bring the perspective of stewardship and citizenship into the midst of political talk.
She is also planning to undergo training to do volunteer outreach with Get Covered America so she can help people sign up for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Dianne believes this is an historic opportunity for people to see government working in their own lives. Dianne also would welcome suggestions about ways that she can connect with other publicly minded people in Chicagoland, so feel free to suggest lunch dates for her!
Sarah White, Director of Operations
Sarah’s local school district is beginning a strategic planning process that will outline a path for the district’s next 10 years. Since her daughter Maggie will be starting school in 3.5 years, Sarah plans to attend the community meetings that are part of this process so she can to listen and provide input as the parent of a future student and as a taxpayer. Good luck, Sarah… and Maggie.
Sarah also plans to more closely follow legislation related to benefits for members of military, especially veterans (a cause that is close to her heart) and to contact her elected representatives to voice her support or opposition to legislation she feels strongly about.
Marcia Kinsey, Director of Research and Engagement
Marcia has resolved to live out the lessons she teaches as a crackerjack trainer for Public Works. She’s going to start by using values to find common ground. She plans to initiate conversations about thorny public policy topics with a thoughtful value-laden explanation of why everyone should care about the issue and the common-good goal it helps to achieve, rather than assuming facts will make the case. Marcia admits that, while she teaches this lesson to others and believes it to be true, she sometimes shies away from the task… but not this year.
Marcia also plans to use 2015 to practice saying, “It’s complicated.” It’s a powerful thing to acknowledge that there may be more than one reason for a problem and more than one solution. This year, Marcia will demonstrate that she’s willing to explore answers to policy problems with people who don’t, on the surface of things, agree with her. Yes, Marcia is a brave soul, and we will make sure she reports back to all of us on this.
Anika Fassia, Director of Outreach
Look out Austin-ites, because Anika is ready to go native.
Anika has resolved to actively participate in the city of Austin’s community engagement portal, speakupaustin! The website facilitates discussions between the public and the city on how to improve and shape the future of Austin. Anika has been receiving their email updates since she moved to Austin more than two years ago. In 2015 she plans to start “walking the talk” and engaging with her local government on what she’d like to see happen in her community.
Anika also plans to attend and participate in public hearings in collaboration with Undoing Racism Austin. She has been loosely involved with this volunteer-run organization for the last year, and they often participate in public hearings to increase awareness around the implicit and explicit ways that policies exacerbate racial injustice in the city. Undoing Racism Austin lives out the public participation needed to shape and create public systems that work on behalf of all of us.
Elaine is not cold-hearted, but she is intrigued by new research that shows you can actually train yourself to become more compassionate using specific types of meditation. Compassion toward strangers and even people we dislike could be a missing link in building public support for government programs that some people see as helping others but not themselves. We’ll let you know if Elaine becomes too much of a sap.
From time to time Elaine receives notices from issue groups that she supports asking her (and others) to offer public comments during government rulemaking processes. Admittedly, this is not the most fun way to participate in civic life, and yet Elaine is concerned that too few citizens make public comments, and that has consequences. Do we want companies that pollute, for example, to be the only ones commenting on how best to implement new clean water regulations? Long-time Public Works board member and ally Michael Lipsky recently published this article about how we can reform rulemaking processes. That got Elaine thinking that if we don’t use this important tool for public engagement, we may lose it. So rather than attending another exciting rally this year, Elaine will be speaking up about rules.
If our resolutions inspire you to make some resolutions of your own, visit our Facebook page and let us know! Every year has the potential to be the best year yet. We wish all of our readers a happy, healthy, and civically engaging 2015.