Category Archives: Rotary Weekly Guest Speaker

“Adversity — An Opportunity for Growth”

submitted by Larry Larrabee; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

Melvin Juette 12 11 19

Club President Andrea Kaminski pictured here with Melvin Juette

The presenter at our December 11 meeting is the Director of Dane Counties District Attorney’s Office of Deferred Prosecution, Melvin Juette.  He gave a very inspirational presentation starting with a brief history of his life from the time he was paralyzed by a gunshot wound at 16 on the south side of Chicago.  As he says, “My life went from earning respect by intimidating others to earning it by hard work.”

Wheelchair basketball inspired him and carried him to two gold medals in the Para-Olympics before moving to Dane County.  His story is about those who positively affected his life and helped him realize it’s ability that counts, not disability.

In 2008 he authored Wheelchair Warrior.  Melvin says, “I can control how I react to adversity.  Adversity is an opportunity for growth.”  He and his wife have been foster parents to 82 children, seven of whom they have adopted.  He uses his life experiences in his work with those who choose differed prosecution to help them realize that it’s not about blaming others but about using adversity to become a better person.

He used the story of his life to inspire us, and his life is truly inspirational.  Melvin can be proud of his life, and we can be proud to have him as a part of our community where he serves others.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Democracy Found

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Mike Engelberger

HO7A3865Sara Eskrich, Executive Director of Democracy Found, spoke to us this week. She has herself been in electoral politics, as a Madison alder, and she is concerned that policy decisions are often stymied by politics. There is an inability to get anything done, even when a large percentage of the electorate favors a particular policy. Elected officeholders believe that there is no connection between acting in the public interest and getting reelected. One of the major problems lies in the two-party system today, which, in business terms is a duopoly, able to eliminate third-party and independent competition. This is done through legislation that makes it very hard to offer substantial money to independent candidates. This makes it extremely important for officeholders to ask themselves not whether a policy is good but rather whether support for that policy will lead to opposition in their partisan primary. Another practice that hinders effective governance is plurality voting, in which the candidate with the highest number of votes is the winner, even if the vote total is less than a majority.

Ms. Eskrich’s preferred solution to this situation is two-fold: a top-four primary election and non-partisan-ranked choice voting in the general election. This will allow voters to vote for candidates they really prefer, even if they are not from the major parties. Officeholders will now be beholden to larger constituencies, rather than just their partisans. Democracy Found is working on the state level to get this system adopted.  She feels it is not a silver bullet, but it will make a difference.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

 

It’s All About Peace and Forgiveness

submitted by Mary Borland; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

IMG_1431Dr. Masood Akhtar received our club’s Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award at this week’s meeting. Along with this award, a $2,500 grant is presented by the Madison Rotary Foundation to an agency of the recipient’s choice. Dr. Akhtar has chosen United Against Hate to receive this grant.  After presentation of his award, he took the stage to share information about the state-wide non-partisan movement he started called “We Are Many-United Against Hate.”

This is a group where people who are urban and rural, spiritual and secular, can unite together to build an inclusive community. This movement is not about “us vs them.”  Dr. Akhtar stated that the success of this group is partnerships and cited examples of partnering with schools, especially the Baraboo High School and local media that supports this effort and shines a spotlight on it. Dr. Akhtar also thanked his wife and two children for their support and cooperation 24/7.

Dr. Akhtar is Muslim and shared that there are 10,000 Muslims in the Madison area and 40,000-50,000 Muslims in Wisconsin and that Muslims make up about 25% of the world’s population. After 9/11, the phrase “Islamic Terrorist” came to be, which implies that a religion is tied to terrorism and all in that religion are terrorists. When the phrase “go back home” is cited in America to non-white people, often by our politicians, it is very hurtful. We are all Americans as our constitution of the United States reads.

The United Against Hate movement is about education and non-partisan policies.  Part of the education is teaching others that Islam equals peace and dispelling myths about Islam all across Wisconsin. They teach us to react positively and not negatively and to dig into root causes and best practices within our communities. The movement includes a statewide advisory board representing various communities.

Dr. Akhtar would love to see Rotary start a chapter of the United Against Hate organization and take the movement to Rotary International. He cited these four things as a measure of success: be proactive; be strategic; be non-partisan; and act!

It’s all about peace and forgiveness.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

The 2019 Wisconsin Book Festival

submitted by Rich Leffler

Conor Moran   Conor Moran, the director of Wisconsin Book Festival, spoke to us today. Conor has been the director of the Festival for the last seven years, since it has been presented by the Madison Public Library and Foundation. He updated us on what has been happening with the Festival since his last appearance before us five years ago. The Festival has become a year-round event, which has made it more prominent among publishers, and they are now eager to participate. As a result, the Festival is able to attract some of the best authors of the most important books in the country, with many from the New York Times Best Sellers list. In addition, C-Span now programs the Festival.

In the last seven years, the Festival has doubled its attendance. As the Festival kicks off its new year, the first program will be Friday, September 13. The speaker will be Christopher Leonard, the author of “Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America.” His talk will be at the Central Library. Following on that, on September 19, Bud Selig will speak at the Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium about his new book, ”For the Good of the Game: The Inside Story of the Surprising and Dramatic Transformation of Major League Baseball.” And then on September 24, Samantha Power will speak at the Central Library about her book “The Education of an Idealist.” Ms. Powers’ appearance is sponsored by Cheryl Weston, who was a member of the Club.

On October 17-20, there will be the annual four-day Wisconsin Book Festival Celebration, which used to be all there was. As should be apparent, Conor has transformed the Festival into a major literary event of national importance.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Changing the Study of Native American History and Culture

submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Margaret Murphy

Patty Loew 9 4 2019

Patty Loew, Ph.D. is a well-known Wisconsin broadcast and print journalist, producer, educator, writer and proud member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe.  After retiring as a professor from the University of Wisconsin, she accepted a position as the inaugural Director of the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

When she accepted the position at Northwestern she wanted to change the paradigm that Native American studies had typically been carried out under; that is, in the framework and context of academic study and peer review, and then describing what eras and influences affected the life and culture of the Native American through history.

Dr. Loew’s concept was to build relationships and draw in related and disparate disciplines to bring a fresh perspective on contributions that Native American cultural knowledge brings to our understanding of the world.

In a convergence of science and cultural history the story was told of a fish warden that oversaw when spear fishing could be opened on certain lakes.  He approached his task from a strictly scientific benchmark methodology:  When the lake temperature hit 48 degrees it was time to open spearing season because spawning was about to begin.  A Native American friend of his had a different method handed down from his ancestors: “Frogs chirp before spearfishing in the spring”.  Over time he discovered the results were much better when he melded the two methodologies, but the real trigger was waiting until the frogs chirped!

Dr. Loew related that there are many other ecological heritage stories that have as much validity as western science methodologies.  She has created a minor in Native American & Indigenous Studies to build on the knowledge of historical, scientific and cultural contributions of Native American populations.  Learning in this context is expected to be experiential in nature by building relationships through tribal and Native American institutions.  She also hopes to raise the visibility of Native American culture and language as indigenous cultures become increasingly rare and dormant.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

US Rep Mark Pocan Addresses Club

submitted by Jessika Kasten; photo by Karl Wellensiek

Mark Pocan 8 28 2019

From left: Club President Andrea Kaminski; UW Rep Mark Pocan and Mike May

Today, U.S. Representative Mark Pocan shared updates and insights from Washington D.C. Rep. Pocan began by giving some background on the Second Congressional District which is much larger than most assume, including Dane County as well as more rural counties surrounding Dane. This array of both metropolitan and rural areas greatly impacts Rep. Pocan’s areas of focus in Washington.

This fall, Rep. Pocan is hopeful to see movement in a few major areas: investment in infrastructure, prescription drug pricing (more generic drug equivalents) and gun violence prevention (background checks). He also anticipates that there will be a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would bide leaders some additional time (November/December) after the September 30 fiscal year end to develop an omnibus house appropriations bill and hopefully avoid a government shutdown.

Rep. Pocan finished by answering some submitted questions from Rotarians, including:

Q: What opportunities to do you see for bipartisanship?

A: There are a few areas called out above where we could see movement ahead of the Presidential election cycle. The biggest threat to bipartisanship is gerrymandering, which creates non-competitive districts. Competitive districts would force candidates to speak with all of the district constituents, encouraging additional voices to be heard.

Q: How do you feel Medicare for All would work?

A: The U.S. is the only industrialized nation to not offer universal healthcare. He believes we should focus on the value of having healthcare for all first, and then dig into the how best to accomplish it. Healthcare is the number one concern of his electorate.

Q: Why hasn’t Congress started impeachment proceedings?

A: Congress has requested testimony from those involved, but invitations have been declined. They have now begun an impeachment investigation in order to compel witnesses to come forward and share their honest stories. After these testimonies, next steps will be developed.

We thank WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting this week.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

A Good American Family

submitted by Stan Inhorn; photo my Margaret Murphy

David Maraniss 8 21 19

David Maraniss pictured here with Club President Andrea Kaminski

David Maraniss, Associate Editor of the The Washington Post and seasonal Madisonian, in his latest book, A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father, described the issues that his father faced as a result of becoming radicalized in the 1930s. To gain a better understanding of the history of his career, David visited the National Archives in D.C. in 2015. He found the transcript of a statement that his father, Elliott, wanted to read in an appearance before the House Unamerican Activities Committee in 1952. The title of the article was “What it means to be an American.” For the first time, David understood how difficult life was for his father in the subsequent years. He said that, of his twelve books, it was the most difficult book to write.

Elliott was born in Brooklyn during the depth of the Depression. At this time, many “isms” were arising – communism, fascism, anarchism, etc. During this time, Elliott became radicalized. Later he entered the University of Michigan where he became an accomplished writer. In 1944, he enlisted in the Army for Officer Training, and upon completion, he was assigned to lead an all-black unit. From his experiences in this assignment, he gained insight into one of the most serious wrongs that still persists in our society.

Elliott’s journalist career was affected by his early history as a radical, causing him to be fired from several newspaper editorships. These included the Detroit Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and a small paper in Iowa. During his work at the Iowa paper, he became a friend of William Evjue, editor of The Capital Times in Madison. Evjue invited Maraniss to join the staff in Madison, which he did in 1957.

David gave a brief thumbnail sketch of his latest book, which deals with how the lives of Elliott and his family dealt with all the many disruptions and problems affecting their collective and individual lives. Downtown Rotarians have been fortunate to have David as a summer Madisonian. This was his eight talk to Rotary.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.