Category Archives: Rotary Weekly Guest Speaker

Gaining the Right to Vote for Women

Our Rotary speaker on February 17 was Ellen Antoniewicz, youth experience coordinator at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. She walked us through the 72-year struggle to pass women’s suffrage, with an emphasis on leaders and actions in Wisconsin.

Antoniewicz read portions of a 1776 letter from Abigail Adams urging her husband, who would soon become President, to “remember the ladies” in the new code of law. Abigail wrote: “Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

“Of course, the original leaders did not remember the ladies,” Antoniewicz said. “Nor did they remember the indigenous Americans or enslaved peoples or anyone who was not a white male property owner.” While the rebellion that Abigail Adams predicted did not result in a raid on the Capitol, it did lead to a sustained movement which ultimately did expand the franchise.

As Wisconsin gained statehood in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were organizing the Seneca Falls Convention. This gathering took words from the Declaration of Independence and added two more: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men AND WOMEN are created equal…”  While most of the original suffragists did not live long enough to be able to vote, Antoniewicz mentioned a 12-year-old Wisconsin girl who attended the Seneca Falls Convention and was finally able to cast a ballot at the age of 84.

The women’s suffrage movement was often divided by race, class and political view, but it was united in the belief that voting is a fundamental citizen right. Antoniewicz said it is unfortunate that civil rights groups have sometimes been pitted against each other, as if when one group gains rights it means that another group’s rights have less value. For example, Susan B. Anthony, speaking in Janesville, said that white women deserved the vote more than Black men because they had a higher level of education.

Yet Black women and men were vital to the movement. Sojourner Truth, who settled across the pond in Michigan after escaping slavery in the South, spoke of gender equality — with a degree of humor — when she said: “I can’t read but I can hear. I have heard the Bible and have learned that Eve caused Man to sin. Well, if Woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right-side up again.”

For her, it was a matter of basic human dignity and decency. Women’s rights were not just for literate white women, but for all women.

Most suffragists were active on a number of issues, including labor laws, child welfare and temperance. That’s why they wanted to vote and have a voice in policy, said Antoniewicz. In Wisconsin, women journalists gave voice to these concerns, including the journalists Emma Brown of Ft. Atkinson and Theodora Youmans, with the Waukesha Daily Freeman.

A statewide ballot referendum in Wisconsin in 1912 proposed to grant women the right to vote, but it was defeated at the polls largely because of a strong anti-suffrage lobby led by the brewing industry, which used the threat of temperance to scare voters — all of whom were men.

Meanwhile the focus of the movement shifted away from state laws and to the passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Antoniewicz told the story of State Senator David James, who rode the train from Madison to Washington, DC, to hand-deliver our state’s ratification of the amendment, just beating out Illinois to be the first to ratify. (But don’t expect your Illinois friends to agree about that, said Antoniewicz.)

Antoniewicz discussed other suffrage movements including those for Native Americans, African Americans and other groups. These have led to such landmark laws as the Indian Citizen Act of 1924, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 26th Amendment which lowered the voting age to 18.

Antoniewicz said that the legal right to vote does not always guarantee equal access to the polls. That is something that advocates and lawmakers must continue to work on.

Rotarian Carol Toussaint pointed out following the program that Carrie Chapman Catt, born in Ripon but living in Iowa as an adult when she was active in the suffrage movement founded the League of Women Voters immediately after the Amendment passed.  She is quoted as saying: “We have won the vote; now we must learn how to use it.”

Our thanks to Ellen Antoniewicz for her presentation this week and to Andrea Kaminski for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:   

Reflections on Wisconsin’s Economy

UW Economics Professor Noah Williams is the founding Director of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE) and gave a report on the economic situation since the start of the pandemic lockdown in March 2020 through November 2020. He also gave some insight on economic trends and expectations for 2021.

He examined the impact by looking at labor market statistics from official government sources (State of Wisconsin, Bureau of Labor Statistics), as well as private data collectors that utilize cell phone data and offer employment and business services that can produce data on a more contemporaneous basis.

Professor Williams started by saying the economy is secondary to the course of virus spread and infection. As the virus spread in March, April and May unemployment claims increased dramatically to a peak of over 300,000 compared to approximately 80,000 in 2019. New claims are at the rate of 15,000 per week compared to 5,000 last year. Continued unemployment has declined since the peak but there are still over three times the number of unemployed than there were in 2019. However, this only measures persons eligible for unemployment insurance. It is estimated that the actual number of unemployed individuals is double when you include ineligible and those who have stopped looking for work. In terms of raw numbers that translates to around 205,000 fewer employed than the same time last year.
The impact of job losses has been varied across sectors of the economy. The hardest hit has been Leisure and Hospitality with a 50% drop in employment at the peak in April. While it has recovered somewhat to about a 20% loss year-over-year it is still a dire situation as events, attractions and restaurants have been hampered or outlawed to curb the spread of the virus. Manufacturing and Retail employment took a dip in April (15%), as well, but is now only down from 3.0-4.5% as of October.

Changes in spending patterns and economic activity have been dramatic. For example, Madison has not fared as well due to the absence of students on campus. Foot traffic, measured by cell phone tracking, is down about 40% in Madison, compared to Milwaukee at 26% down and the rest of the state at 30% down. Also, there has been a shift from local and small business to large business and online: Retail purchases are down around 7% and online is up over 20%.

For 2021, the good news is that highly effective vaccines have been developed but we should expect continued economic headwinds (probably at least six months) as it will take many months to get enough people vaccinated. And, while negative surprises were on the downside and recovery surprises were on the upside the rate of improvement has slowed as government support programs are coming to an end. While the most dire of projections have not borne out, the economic consequences of the pandemic will continue to be a challenge.

Our thanks to Prof. Noah Williams for his presentation this week and to Kevin Hoffman for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here:

Young Leaders Shaping a New America

Steven Olikara is the founder and CEO of the national Millennial Action Project (MAP) based in Washington DC.  It is the largest nonpartisan organization of millennial lawmakers and seeks to build a new generation of leadership to bridge the political divides that threaten our democracy and future.

He founded the Millennial Action Project because he saw a need to develop and work with younger members of legislatures and change the tone of politics from contempt and hatred for the other side into compassion, understanding, and building bridges to reach agreement and compromise.  He wanted to facilitate a future-oriented mindset with young leaders rather than be limited to dwelling on the divisions and conflicts of the past.

Even though partisanship and political separation has been on the rise for some time, MAP encourages and supports the rise of the millennial generation into leadership roles and helps them develop future-focused policy and bi-partisan coalitions to get initiatives across the line.  MAP does this through affiliation and support of chapters in each state that identify issues, policies and people to find common ground.

Three issues MAP has identified for further work are election resiliency, gerrymander reform and gun violence prevention.  While it may seem that these issues are as divisive and partisan as they come, MAP has been able to achieve some successes by listening, staying focused on the future, and identifying moderate and swing legislative partners to form coalitions. 

Learning lessons from the spring and fall elections in Wisconsin, MAP is working on strengthening voting systems and, because of the large number of absentee and mail-in ballots in the most recent cycle, working on legislation to allow pre-processing of early ballots.

On gerrymander reform, MAP has found that there are members on both sides who are willing to reform how boundaries are created.  For those who want to reform the system the unifying desire is to have leaders who win based on the best ideas rather than by manipulation of the system and disregard for other interests and constituencies.  They have achieved victories in Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Michigan and Missouri.

The victory they achieved with gun violence prevention is to win authorization and funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to begin studying gun violence as a public health issue.  It is hoped that looking at it from a scientific and rigorous perspective that policies and laws can be developed to protect society from further proliferation of gun violence.

He encouraged us to choose to exercise more compassion and empathy towards the “other” and recognize that many leaders manipulate and profit from hate that is amplified on social media.  Empathy and compassion need to be exercised to grow, and we should choose and support leaders who build bridges and appeal to our better angels.

Our thanks to Steven Olikara for his presentation this week and to Kevin Hoffman for preparing this review article.  We also thank WisEye who co-streamed our online meeting this week.  If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here:

Keeping Dane County Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This week’s presentation by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Rotarian Charles Tubbs, Director of Dane County Emergency Management, was not philosophical, but it was profound.  Many club members have limited contact with or personal need for the services our speakers described.  But in this period of colliding glaciers—the things that keep Charles Tubbs up at night—the scale and complexity of work performed by Dane County–is staggering.

Dane County responded to the pandemic mid-March, when it issued the first stay-at-home orders in the state and moved 80% of its staff to virtual work.

The County is addressing especially the negative impact of the crises on shortages of funds for rent and food, and for small businesses and unemployment:  partnering with Second Harvest Bank and local farmers, spending $6 million to-date and an additional $1 million per month; using $11 million in grant funds for the “Dane Buy Local” initiative; $3.5 million for grants up to $15,000 to licensed child care providers; and earmarking $10 million for tenant rent coverage.

Alliant Energy Center now houses a 400-bed reserve field hospital, which also stockpiles personal protective equipment, administers about 2,000 Covid-19 tests daily, and follows up positive tests with contact tracing.

Charles Tubbs puts in seven-day weeks on more functions than can be contained here:  Conference calls of up to 450 people daily with parallel agencies and policy sources; staying in touch with 61 county units of government; keeping social media up to date; housing the homeless; and on-the-ground work with United Way. 

Tubbs says three things keep him awake at night:  threats such as active shooters, civil unrest, and cyber-attacks; severe weather and climate change; and the pandemic . . . to which one could add, the need for sustained federal financial support.

Dane County’s work is sometimes unsung, but it is critical to the fabric of Dane County’s society.

Our thanks to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and to Charles Tubbs for their presentation this week and to Ellsworth Brown for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:

Pivoting for Change and Adaptation

In the Q&A following Chazen Director Amy Gilman’s presentation, she was asked if pandemic adjustments have had any benefits.   She replied that as the continuum suddenly ended, stillness enabled the Chazen—actually, all of us—to pivot from thoughts about how to return to normalcy and about how the museum can be more intentional about the future fulfillment of its mission.

The Chazen, a UW-Madison museum, has turned its attention to digital/virtual communication, foregoing written communication; alignment of resources (and possible shortages of tax income) with programs; expanding attention to donor communications; creating virtual programming; development of collections; the rejuvenation of the original Chazen facility to more reflect change over time; and applying the measures of diversity and inclusiveness to all elements of its work.  In particular, she recommended to us Parkland: Birth of a Movement by David Cullen.

Two programs are illustrative:  First, virtual tours are in development in support of the UW Art History program, which was accustomed to using the museum’s galleries as part of its activities.  And the Chazen asked 100 Black Men of Madison what is needed by those whom they serve and that the museum could provide.  The result was 1,400 complete kits for two “making art” projects, complete with instructions, examples and necessary supplies . . . part of a significant museum pivot.

Extensive and significant responses to questions followed.  Several focused on the Alliance of American Museums’ forecast that 30% of the nation’s museums—not just art, and usually smaller and more fragile—might fold.  Gilman provided professionally accepted ethical standards for care of collections including their disposition to other museums with shared missions or use of funds from sales of collections for the care and growth of collections rather than for operations.

This was a thoughtful, introspective and constructive presentation informed by a continuing history of service to a variety of audiences—and complete with an invitation to virtual services now and to return to visits when possible.

Our thanks to Amy Gilman for her presentation this week and to Ellsworth Brown for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:

Reopening UW-Madison for Fall 2020

Rebecaa Blank 8 12 20When UW-Madison closed campus in March, 8,000 classes were converted to remote learning. Thirteen days later, 97.5% of classes were online. Closure was a heavy lift, but reopening is a much bigger lift.

UW-Madison faces similar challenges we all are due to the pandemic. Revenue streams are slim, PPE expenses are increasing, and the environment is constantly changing making planning and budgeting difficult. All plans must remain responsive to best serve students, employees and the community.

Currently, UW-Madison will use a hybrid teaching model, blending small-group in-person teaching with virtual teaching for large classes. The class schedule will include classes in the evening, Fridays and Saturdays to keep students physically distanced and classrooms clean. Students will be required to take a pledge to adhere to hygiene protocols (masks, hand sanitization, temp checks, testing, social distancing) and faculty may take disciplinary measures should a student resist complying. Employees must also adhere to these protocols and workstations and work hours have been adjusted to reduce interaction.

UW-Madison is engaged in 320 approved or pending COVID-19 research projects to explore the virus and its impacts. One project is seeking to understand how and why the virus has localized mutations; for example, a strain in Madison is different from that in San Diego. This can help understand if an outbreak is due to community spread or travel into the community.

The university is facing a $150 million budget shortfall, and that’s if a full student body matriculates and pays expected tuition. There will be a long road to financial recovery, and it could be even longer should state support for higher education decrease. Nonetheless, Chancellor Blank is optimistic about the future. “Technology doesn’t replace in-person, live experiences. However, we will be teaching better after this for incorporating technology more fully in the classroom.”

Our thanks to Chancellor Rebecca Blank for her presentation this week and to Emily Gruenewald for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here: