Author: Craig Freshley

State of Maine Democracy

What makes for a good democracy?

The League of Women Voters of Maine and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections teamed up to prepare a recent report – The State of Maine Democracy – that looks at the following:

  1. Representative Government
  2. Voter and Civic Participation
  3. Poverty and Voter Participation
  4. Voting Rights
  5. Election Methods
  6. Conduct of Elections
  7. Money in Politics
  8. Freedom of Information
  9. Newspapers and Media Access
  10. The Judiciary

A good democracy requires attention to all this stuff. I know people say that the United States is a Republic, or a Federal Republic, or a Constitutional Democracy, and other things, yet fundamentally don’t we want government by the people and for the people? To most of us, we think that basic democracy is when the leaders represent the people. That’s what most Americans expect of their government.

This report looks at factors impacting how well leaders represent their people; the list above.

As you might imagine, my home State of Maine gets good marks. We are proud of our consistently high voter turnout (3rd in the country at last look) and of our high integrity elections. We get high marks for freedom of information and for inclusive and protective voting laws.

Yet all is not well with democracy in Maine. “To put it bluntly,” the report says, “the Legislature is and has been dominated by older white men.” The report also cites gender disparity in the Judiciary. If we expect the leaders to represent the people, it works really well when the leaders look like the people.

Where voter turnout is lowest in Maine, there are correlations with race and poverty. These things (race and poverty) are barriers to voting and thus affect how well “leaders represent the people.”

The report does a great job of providing take-aways and conclusions from a variety of complex data. Thank you League of Women Voters of Maine and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections for helping us monitor the health of our democracy.

A call for mildness

Below is an excerpt from a March 25, 2021 letter to staff from Ghent University Rector Rik Van de Walle. Ghent is in Belgium where the population is very dense and where Brussels serves as “the crossroads of Europe.” COVID rates are high. Lockdowns are strict. Vaccines are slow. People are in despair. Here is a leader’s appeal to his colleagues. Bold added by Craig.

 

With this message, I would like to draw your attention to the impact we all feel, as Ghent University staff and as humans in general. In the current circumstances, it is far from self-evident to always find the right balance: between teaching and research tasks, between teleworkable and non-teleworkable tasks, between work and private life, between caring for others and caring for yourself.

Therefore, I would like to ask you again and explicitly to show the necessary mildness in the coming weeks. Be mild in judging your colleagues and be mild in judging yourself. Expectations and goals cannot be as high as in normal circumstances. Evaluate the impact of the corona crisis on your tasks with your colleagues and your supervisor(s), whether your tasks are teleworkable and on the work planning and allocation of tasks within the team. Adjust expectations and agreements together as needed.

Also be aware that while the corona crisis affects everyone, some are affected (much) harder than others, for reasons that can be both work-related and personal. Inequality and unequal opportunities for further development therefore threaten to increase further. We must remain alert for this and try to prevent such very harmful side effects of the corona crisis, also when tasks or people are being evaluated.

Hence this plea: let us help each other and remain very close to each other, figuratively speaking, in the context of our university activities and beyond. Keep talking to each other. Please do not let this conversation, even from a distance, fall silent.

– Rik Van de Walle, Rector, Ghent University, Belgium

What is a Land Acknowledgement?

I remember the first conference I was in when I heard one. A guy at the start explained how the land beneath our very feet was once inhabited by Indigenous people – he named the tribes – and he explained that the land had been taken.

Wow, I thought to myself. That’s pretty rad. Turns out land acknowledgements aren’t actually so radical these days. They are showing up at conferences and meetings more frequently. Yet they are not to be done lightly. And there is good advice from Indigenous sources on why and how to do a land acknowledgement. Here’s one resource.

To me, it’s a pause to pay respect to those who died for my freedom came before me. I have a remarkable lifestyle today. On stolen land. The least I can do is acknowledge that. Out loud. And it’s also a shout-out to descendants with us today. There are many here among us.

You may not be ready to start meetings with an announcement that you are on stolen land, but do you know how the land beneath your feet passed from Indigenous people to the current owner? For me, learning the local history helped me acknowledge some hard truths, even if just to myself.

<—- Written by Indigenous author Nancy (Coffin) Lecompte (aka Canyon Wolf), this book is available from the Androscoggin Historical Society

On land that is a homeland for the Wabanaki

I live and work on land that is a homeland for the Wabanaki. I honor with gratitude the Indigenous people before me and among me.

This is my land acknowledgement. The short version is the two sentences above. The long version is a brief telling of some local Indigenous history, below.

This text is from a message given by Doug Bennet to my Quaker Meeting on January 17, 2021, adapted with Doug’s permission. Our Meeting has been exploring the indigenous history of our region and Doug has been taking a lead.

If you look up the story of any Maine town, it’s likely to begin with its first settlers. Yet the story always begins way before that. It is a story we should also know and remember.

What went before are the thousands of years of indigenous peoples living in the Androscoggin River valley — and up and down the Atlantic Coast and across the Americas. The coming of the Quakers and others of European descent tore apart the communities of these indigenous peoples. It’s that longer story, the story of peoples on this land, that I want to tell today. It’s an unhappy story in many ways. It is a story of disease, disruption and dispossession.

In their own telling, the indigenous peoples of New England and the Maritime Provinces (as we call them today), were placed here at the beginning of time by Glooskap, a trickster god who still watches over these peoples. The way of knowing we call archeology tells us that indigenous peoples filtered north into Maine following the retreating glacier, the last glacier to cover this terrain, about 12,000 or 13,000 years ago.

When European explorers and fishermen first intruded, the indigenous people they encountered numbered, perhaps, 20,000 people in what is now what we call Maine.

These people lived in villages and encampments. They followed the seasons harvesting the fruits of the forest, the rivers and the sea when and where these were most abundant. They grew corn and some other vegetables. They were a mobile people moving often across the land in a rhythm with the changing seasons.

They travelled by waterways using birchbark canoes. The rivers were their highways. They had ‘carrying places’ where they portaged between streams or around waterfalls. They lived in wigwams or teepees and long houses that could be moved seasonally.

On the Androscoggin, there was a large year-round village at Canton Point near the town we call Livermore Falls. On the Kennebec there was a village on Swan Island and a larger village at Norridgewock, near the town we call Skowhegan. When the fish ran in the rivers, the alewives and salmon, they camped near the falls, like the ones at Brunswick/Topsham and at Lewiston/Auburn.

The Indigenous people who lived in what is now Maine were all part of a broad grouping of Eastern Algonquian people. Those who lived in southern and mid-coast Maine we now call Eastern Abenaki. We can call the people who lived in the Androscoggin Valley the Arosaguntacook. (That’s a name from which the word Androscoggin was probably derived. In their language it means “rocky flats flow” or “a river of rocks refuge.”) Later, in the 1680s, they joined together with other indigenous people in what is now Maine and the Maritimes to form the Wabanaki Confederacy, a word with the same language root as Abenaki. It is a word root that means Land of the Dawn. They were the first people on this continent, the world they knew, to see the dawn each new day.

What became of these people when Europeans intruded? Again, this is a story of disease, disruption and dispossession.

Disease. Many of us have an image in our heads of armed conflict or warfare between these indigenous peoples and the European settlers. And there was such conflict, but there is a different and deadlier image we should put earlier than that. From the moment of first contact, the indigenous peoples were exposed to diseases carried by the Europeans, diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, plague, chickenpox, measles, cholera, syphilis, typhoid and typhus. Those diseases proved enormously deadly to indigenous peoples because they had no immunity to these diseases whatsoever.

Perhaps 75% of the population died in the first decades after contact – that is, in the early 1600s. These epidemics had their most deadly effect before there were colonial settlements. The mere intrusion of Europeans — fishermen or trappers — set off epidemics. The years from 1616 to 1619 – that is, before the Mayflower — are spoken of as ‘the Great Dying’ because in those years, especially in Massachusetts, the deaths were so numerous. Whole villages were wiped out. The arrival of Europeans was lethal to the indigenous people already living here.

The diseases did not just kill people, they also tore apart their ways of living. It deprived them of able-bodied people. It wiped out their leaders. It weakened their confidence in themselves, in those they trusted, and in what they knew.

Disruption. The diseases that the Europeans carried were one kind of disruption, and there were others. The European intruders brought goods with them that the indigenous people did not know. They brought metal goods useful for cooking and for hunting. They drew the indigenous peoples into trading relationships – for beaver pelts, for example. The Abenaki began to hunt not just for their own use but to trade with the Europeans. These new relationships began to change their way of life.

The Europeans also settled themselves on the land in ways that disrupted the more mobile ways of the indigenous peoples. English intruders built a fort at the lowest falls on the Androscoggin, where the building we know as Fort Andross now stands. It was a wooden fort then, but it was a powerful indication that the intruders meant to dominate that site, make it their own. The intruders fished at the falls not just for their own subsistence, but to send salted fish back to Europe for trade and profit. The Abenaki were pushed out.

These were uneasy times. There were insults and thefts, kidnappings and killings. At times the two groups, the intruders and the Abenaki, managed to live near one another without much conflict. But after several decades of the Abenaki trying to live with the European intruders there came to be full-scale war between them. Beginning about 1675 (that’s about 100 years after the first intruders) and lasting for about another hundred years, there was war in this part of Maine that involved the Abenaki. These wars go today by a series of names of our making: King Phillip’s War, King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, Dummer’s War, the French and Indian Wars. They involved the French as well as the English intruders: these wars were part and parcel of a long struggle between the English and the French for domination of these lands, and each found allies among the indigenous peoples.

In the early stages of these wars, the English settlers were largely driven out. But when these wars were concluded, in the 1760s, it was the Abenaki had been driven out of southern and mid-coast Maine. They had been driven inland, north and east – scattered and decimated.

Today, the eastern Abenaki are not a group that is recognized as having continuing existence by the U.S. federal government. They are a recognized group by the Canadian government in a settlement on the St. Lawrence River in present day Quebec. And, of course, some Abenaki live among us, drawn to living more like we do, but also holding as they can to their long-established ways.

The written and taught history of many Maine communities starts where those wars end. With the Abenaki largely pushed out of southern and mid-coast Maine, the land was open to settlement by European newcomers. Among those newcomers were the original members of this Quaker Meeting. In these parts, the wars ended in the mid-1760s, and this Meeting began just a few years later, in 1775.

Dispossession. What became of their land? There were treaties by which the intruders took possession of large tracts of land. We know those treaties were seen differently by the indigenous people and the intruders. The Abenaki and other indigenous people did not think of land ownership the way we do. And, of course, most of these treaties were not respected – especially not respected by the intruders. Promises were not kept.

The history of land titles in our part of what we now call Maine is full of disagreement and ambiguity and quite complex. But we can say that most of the land we on which we live, work and play, those of us live near Durham Friends Meeting, were legally secured by Richard Wharton in 1684, in a deal with six members of the Abenaki that Wharton, at least, considered ‘Sagamores’ or leaders. Whether the Arosaguntacook (the Abenaki in this Androscoggin valley) saw these six as leaders with powers to trade away their land is very much open to doubt. But we can say that this Wharton Deed (it’s also called the Warumbo Deed after one of the Sagamores) contains this provision:

“Provided Nevertheless yt nothing in this Deed be Construed to deprive us ye Saggamores Successessors [?] or People from Improving our Ancient Planting grounds nor from Hunting In any of s’d Lands Comgo [?] not Inclosed nor from fishing or fowling for our own Provission Soe Long as noe Damage Shall be to ye English fisherys,”

It’s likely that every current deed of land within the bounds of this Wharton Deed derives from the deal that was struck that day. And we should remember that in their understanding the Abenaki never after gave up that crucial legal proviso: to have use of the land for planting, fishing and fowling for their own provision. But as the intruders crowded in, the Abenaki were dispossessed. The animals were driven out, their habitat destroyed. Forests were cut and the rivers were poisoned. The land was fenced in and built upon. Roadways replaced waterways. These lands were no longer ones familiar to the Abenaki. The lands no longer sustained their way of life.

Something like this is what we mean when we say “on land that is a homeland for the Wabanaki.”

Perhaps we can remember they had a life here.

Perhaps we can remember that some still live among us.

————–

Se also What is a land acknowledgement?, written by Craig.

Vote everyday with your voice and your money

With a small effort I can make my voice a lot bigger.

We just went through a big national vote but today our national Congress is in session and so is our Maine State Legislature and our civic leaders are expecting to hear from us.

And with every spending or investment decision, corporate leaders are counting our dollars to be sure. Dollars are votes in the world of commerce.

This newsletter focuses on how to influence your world. All the time.

I hear people complain about government policies yet do little about it. Voting counts. Contacting your elected leader counts. Talking about stuff on social media or other places actually doesn’t. Spending and investing money actually counts. Talking about what others should do with their money doesn’t.

I might not like the ways in which the world has established for me to have a voice and it might take some effort on my part, but these are the ways. Governments have set up many bona-fide channels for us to have a voice that counts, and markets are extremely responsive to our spending and investment signals.

Vote with your wallet

I’m not fanatical about reading labels or researching products, but when I have a clear choice to buy something in line with my values, I try to do it. And my purchase sends a signal to the market, just like a vote. And just like a vote, it might seem like my dollar doesn’t count much considering all the dollars in the country, but it does. Someone is watching that dollar, lot’s of people actually, and decisions are made on which dollars go where.

In fact, you might say that spending is more influential on the planet than voting.

And let’s not forget investing. My retirement money is invested in stocks and bonds that align with my values. Yes it takes some effort, and yes I don’t make as much return on investment because socially responsible mutual funds have to be more actively managed than other investments, but I do it because it actually counts. It makes me feel like I’m doing what I can. And it wouldn’t seem right to say that I’m a pacifist while my money supports companies that make guns.

I get that not everyone has spending and investing choices like I do. A lot of people have no choice but to buy the cheapest thing on the shelf; the least expensive option no matter what it is. And that’s never for me to judge against. Yet there are a lot of us who have a little wiggle room. Some of us are awash in wiggle room. And for those of us who can afford to express our values through a purchase, why not make a purchasing decision that not only gets me what I need but that sends a signal about the world I want?

If you are like me and can sometimes afford the product that aligns with your values, do it. Chances are you won’t miss the money and you will be sending clear market signals. Don’t just talk about your “consumer preferences” on social media, demonstrate your preferences in ways that count. You can see this phrase coming, right? Put your money where your mouth is.

The Last Minute

“Thank God for the last minute,” I once heard someone say. “If it weren’t for the last minute, most stuff wouldn’t get done.”

In a lot of meetings, that’s when the most stuff get’s decided. In fact, I don’t facilitate without a stated end time. This is because meetings without a stated end time don’t have a last minute. I have no leverage to push the group.

In a highly collaborative or “flat-hierarchy” group, the last minutes of a meeting can feel frantic. You know, time is running out, consensus is not clear, stakes are big, tensions are high, and no one by themselves is allowed to make a decision.

Hopefully a skilled facilitator or leader sees such a situation far in advance and plans for it. One technique is what I call Brake in Advance. If you have a high momentum of passion and energy in a group you can’t stop that train without warning; without lots of advance brake-peddle pumping. The concept is explained more fully at the link.

Another technique: I tend to get more pushy with a group as we approach “the last minute.” And I tell them why. I remind them of their meeting objectives. I tell them exactly how many minutes are left to achieve those objectives. And I essentially ask permission to be expeditious so we can get agreement in short order.

Sometimes you can see that you will not get group consensus before time runs out. When that’s the case — at the very least — either Name Leads or Decide How to Decide. You can read what I mean by each of these phrases at each of the links but basically: clarify next steps and lead responsibilities.

The last minute can be a wonderfully productive time and a great lifting of spirits and enthusiasm. Yet it can also be a great unraveling and a plummeting of emotions. Instead of fretting about the last minute, plan for it. Get great things done.

Democracy Reforms Being Debated in Washington

Our Congress is currently debating HR 1, For the People Act. Advocates say the bill is the most consequential piece of voting legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I’m all for it. In my opinion it will strengthen our democracy in critical ways. It will help us get along with each other better, as Americans.

The Act’s stated purpose is to “to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.”

Proposed reform measures are three types — voting, campaign finance, and ethics. If passed the bill would, for instance, require automatic voter registration in all states, end partisan gerrymandering, and encourage small-dollar campaign donations, among many reforms. The bill targets ‘big money’ donations and foreign interference as eroding to our democracy’s foundation. Additional overhaul of the Office of Government Ethics is intended to tighten the ethical standard for government officials.

Opponents say that the bill will affect mostly Democratic voters, make it easier for more Democrats to vote than Republicans. I’m fine with that. There are significantly more Democrats in our country than Republicans so anything that affect “most Americans” is going to affect more Democrats than Republicans.

More than that, just on principle, this package of reforms is deigned to level the playing field among all Americans in many ways. It gets us closer to the basic American ideal that I have held up before in these pages: that everyone gets a vote and the majority decides. The bill is not perfect but moves us in the right direction.

Read the bill here.

See here for the sponsor’s statement.

Strategic Planning Basics

Strategic planning means different things to different people. There are some very specific ways of doing it and some very specific formats. Yet to simplify things, I figure that if you have something in writing with these three qualities, you can call it a strategic plan.

First, it’s a long term plan. A strategic plan is more than just the annual work plan, or the annual budget. It’s usually longer than a year. Two years, ten years, twenty years, it’s a longer range plan than is made on a day-to-day, month-to-month basis.

Secondly, it’s comprehensive. It covers all the different aspects of the organization. Not just the programs that you’re going to run, but also the administrative institutional stuff like board development if you have a board, staff development if you have staff. It also includes the financial plans for capital improvements. If you’re a non-profit, it includes the plans for fundraising, where you’re going to get the money, how you’re going to spend the money. How detailed you want to get is a matter of choice — goals, objectives, strategies, performance metrics, etc. — but it’s only strategic if it says at least a little bit about everything that the organization (or division of an organization) does.

Third, it’s not really a strategic plan if the leaders of the organization aren’t bought into it. It’s not okay for someone two levels down to make a plan for the whole organization and call it a strategic plan. A strategic plan needs to be embraced by whoever is in charge of making it happen.

Strategic planning is an opportunity to rise above the day-to-day operations and decision-making and look further to the future. It’s is a chance to take stock of big trends affecting your organization. It’s a chance to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities; and make plans accordingly.

Many organizations invest in strategic planning every few years since the idea is to not wait for a crisis or a big decision that suddenly needs to be made. Even absent an apparent crisis or big decision to be made, taking stock of your situation and your surroundings makes you able to better anticipate the next big decision and prevent the next big crisis.

Strategic plans are useful for many reasons. Groups use their strategic plan to attract employees, investors, and donors. The plan gives potential partners of all types a good picture of where their organization is headed. Groups use the strategic plan as a way to hold key officers/employees responsible and accountable. It’s an excellent tool for both accountability and for celebrating progress. Groups use the strategic planning process to work through and make hard decisions. Also the process is very useful for gathering input from stakeholders and taking a good look at the environment in which you exist. For many, actually, it’s the process that’s most valuable.

Whatever your reason for strategic planning, it’s important to spend the right amount of effort; that is, in right proportion to the amount of benefit you’re going to get from it. Strategic planning has a bad reputation in the world because so often strategic planning efforts are not right-sized. The biggest complaint is that strategic planning is too involved and requires too much effort in proportion to any good that might come from it. Another complaint is that planning is way too vague or based on too many assumptions, to the point of being useless.

To maximize reward for your participants, know at the outset why you want a plan and don’t push people through a process that’s too complicated or too simple to get what you need.

Let your life speak

I know I’m out there. I’m big on Facebook and email and I usually don’t mind being the center of attention. And I love to tell stories. Mostly about me! And what I experienced. And how I see things. Haha. It’s true.

Maybe it’s because I’m straight up self-centered and need attention. Yup. I can own that. I was born an extrovert, over-confident, and as a kid I was encouraged to go first and show off. Yet there are other reasons.

For one thing, I’m amazed at myself! Really. I am honest-to-god tickled-pink at some of the stuff I can do. This is not arrogance, this is me being in awe of my creator. Have you read The Body by Bill Bryson? He describes MY body and it’s amazing. Yours too. I brought a message to my Quaker Meeting about this. Listen here if you want. It’s called Marvel and Gratitude for What’s on Board.

I truly walk around in a daze of marvel at the world around me. When I see a beautiful sunrise or a forest ski trail, or when I pull off a new song or a fence repair, I want to share my awe. What you see on Facebook is “Look at me. Look what I can do.” But what I’m thinking is “Look what a human can do. Even this human!” My marvel and gratitude overflows and spills out in posts.

Secondly, it’s a Quaker thing — let your life speak — one of our core testimonies. It’s about not just saying stuff but doing stuff. Societal change comes about because of how we live our lives, not because of what we say or think or wish for. Quakers do stuff.

Not only that, while doing good things it helps to show others what you’re doing. Demonstrate. Model. “Let your light shine” is a related Quaker tenet. Something worth believing in is worth acting on. Yet I can be of even greater service to my fellows when I demonstrate my beliefs; when I show what they look like in action. Is it bragging to strut your stuff and say here’s who I am and here’s how I do stuff? I think it depends on intention. For what purpose art thou saying look at me?

We are each a blend of reasons for how we are in the world. I am some blend of some of the above, bumbling along in my over-confidence hoping others might learn from my follies.

What I’m really trying to say is that no matter who you are, if you are truly grateful for the miracles within you than it’s okay to shine. Sharing your awe – even about yourself – is a good way to act on your gratitude. Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket. Let your life speak so the rest of us can marvel at what you can do and who you are.