The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the 2020 Elections

submitted by Jessika Kasten

Michael WagnerThis week, UW-Madison School of Journalism Professor Michael Wagner spoke to the Downtown Rotarians on Pandemic Voting: Information, Geography and Polarization in the 2020 Elections. The J-School has done a lot of research on the impacts of media and voting and has tracked the polarization of Wisconsin voters since 1996. Since that time, we’ve seen a decline in local newspapers and local news reporting, a rise in talk radio and social media, as well as a stark rise in the amount of political advertising in our state. The School of Journalism has done a lot of research on the impact of changing information channels and has found that the broader your media diet, the more likely you are to vote outside of party lines. As an example, those who viewed a wide range of information sources were 50% more likely to split-ticket vote in an election (i.e., choose candidates from more than one party on the same ballot). Those who consumed a narrower range of media had nearly no likelihood of splitting a ticket.

The researchers also wanted to compare whether Wisconsinites were move divided on politics from other swing states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio. The results were true that Wisconsinites’ attitudes around politics and social trust were more divided than other swing states. One researcher felt that those in rural and suburban areas of Wisconsin had long felt neglected and under-represented. Governor Walker’s campaign spoke to those people by denouncing Madison and Milwaukee influences, which could have had an impact in the attitudes of those outside the more metropolitan areas.

Ultimately, Professor Wagner summarized his talk by saying that Wisconsin remains divided due to partisanship, geography and the information we consume. He also made clear that these divides fracture our political and personal relationships in many cases. The good news is that a varied and wide media diet can influence these views and offer opportunities to work across party lines.

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

Moe Offers Response Ideas to Community Unrest Over Racism, Police Use of Force, and Protests

–submitted by Valerie Renk

Renee Moe 6 10 2020Renee Moe challenged Rotarians June 10 to improve race relations by being more willing to talk about the issue. Moe is President and CEO of United Way of Dane County, where she has held a variety of positions.  She shared some of her personal challenges growing up bi-racial in rural Wisconsin.  She said, “At 12, I remember praying to be killed, but as a teenager, thankfully, I knew it could be different from my early years abroad. Please know people are hurting because of how society comes together.”

Moe indicated several studies have shown workplace diversity contribute to productivity, resource generation and customer insights.

“It’s about relationships,” Moe said.  “And proximity is what builds relationships.”

Moe indicated it may be helpful to think of Black Lives Matter as “Black Lives Matter, Too” using the analogy that everyone at your dinner table gets a serving of meatloaf.  You don’t get a serving, yet you deserve one. But you still don’t get one.

Recalling a past conversation with a Rotarian, Moe remembers telling him about racial equity, “You don’t have to understand everything, just believe and it will all fall into place.”

Moe was our 2013-2014 Rotary Club President and has both and JBA and an MBA from UW-Madison. She was introduced by Teresa Holmes, Club Racial Equity and Inclusion Committee Chair.

For additional information on this topic, you can visit the following links:

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here: https://youtu.be/0zCOTRubYmw.

“Tiny Earth” – The Need for Antibiotic Research

–submitted by Jessika Kasten

Jo HandelsmanThis week, UW-Madison Professor Jo Handelsman talked virtually with the Downtown Rotary about a project she began while working at Yale University in 2012 called Tiny Earth. This important project was developed to increase the number of students pursuing STEM degrees as well as address the growing antibiotic crisis. Researchers estimate that unless we do something soon, by 2050 the leading cause of death will be related to bacteria-related illness.

Over time, humans have become resistant to many antibiotics that treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia, ear infections, strep throat and the like. At the same time, there have been far fewer new antibiotics put on the market. Antibiotics are simply not as lucrative to pharma companies, and many pharma companies felt as though the vast majority of known antibiotics (99%) had already been identified through the soil. They were generally not willing to put in the time and resources needed to find the new 1%.

Tiny Earth began with just 6 students at Yale but has now grown to participation by more than 10,000 students per year. All of the students are working towards the same goal of making antibiotic discovery cheaper and more efficient for pharmaceutical companies. Specifically, they are developing new screening methods and new targets to find that 1% of antibiotics that are either new or different than previously discovered. They will then share those with pharma companies, thereby reducing the cost. This form of crowdsourcing most recently has discovered three new chemical structures that are currently underway. The COVID pandemic forced the research to stop earlier this year, but students are looking forward to getting back into the labs soon to continue their research.

Tiny Earth is harnessing the power of crowdsourcing, a student workforce and the need for antibiotic research, in the hopes they can make a significant impact on bacterial resistance in the future.

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

On the Significance of Memorial Day

–submitted by Jessica Giesen

VA Sec Mary KolarOn May 20, 2020, VA Secretary Mary Kolar gave an insightful presentation regarding the significance of Memorial Day. She first offered information regarding the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and the services and benefits provided for service members in Wisconsin, where 345,000 veterans reside. The WDVA works hard each day to ensure that veterans have access to all benefits available to them. The programs the WDVA oversees extend from administering the Wisconsin Veterans Museum (a Smithsonian affiliate that welcomes 90,000+ visitors each year), where it continuously educates the public with unique stories and histories of Wisconsin’s veterans, to veterans’ cemeteries where our veterans receive honorable burials, to providing access to mental health and housing assistance.

Sec. Kolar then turned to Memorial Day, a holiday dedicated to remembering those who lost their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The day’s meaning and purpose, she explained, “is profoundly rooted in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the inherent desire of veterans to remember their comrades who never came home.”

The individual stories Sec. Kolar told of Wisconsin servicemen who lost their lives in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War were equally inspiring as they were heartbreaking; they brought this author, for one, to tears: Stories such as that of Morris Togstad, who was the last from Madison to die in World War I and Victor Glenn, one of the first to die in World War II — two men for which the street “Togstad Glenn” in Madison was named. Then there were the Barber brothers – Malcom, Randolph and LeRoy – whose father wrote to their leaders and asked that they be separated and assigned to different ships should anything happen. Unfortunately, prior to that happening, all three remained together aboard the Oklahoma on the fateful Sunday morning of December 7, 1941 – the attack on Pearl Harbor– and all three lost their lives. The USS Barber is named in their honor.

We all reflect together on Memorial Day each year, but it is important to also honor those who serve to protect us throughout the entire year, as well as their families who support them and have been left behind. We can honor these memories through acts of kindness and acts of citizenship – by sharing stories, by voting. Sec. Kolar reminded us that we can never, ever honor our fallen service members enough. This year, as Memorial Day approaches during the COVID-19 pandemic, our community will be unable to gather in person across the state at veteran’s cemeteries. However, a Wisconsin Virtual Commemoration will be held on May 25, 2020, to honor and reflect. Please visit www.WisVetsMemorialDay2020.com to be a part of that special program.

If you missed our online Rotary meeting this week, you can watch it here.

Staying Connected

submitted by Club President Andrea Kaminski

Because it is unlikely that we will be able to hold luncheons with 200 Rotarians in one room for some time to come, several of our directors, officers and committee members have been reaching out to club members to find out how people are doing and how Rotary can best serve our members and keep folks connected in the coming months. As part of this effort, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with several Rotarians about how the pandemic has affected their personal, family and professional lives, as well as how they are feeling about Rotary in this new environment.

We have not yet heard officially about any club members who have personally become ill with Covid-19. However, we have members who are working on the front lines to provide health care or elder care or to keep people safe. We have educators teaching children online and bankers  working around the clock to administer the federal government relief package to assist small businesses. We have business owners and directors of nonprofits who are struggling to maintain their workforce despite drastically reduced demand for things like restaurant meals, new cars, consumer goods and the performing arts. And of course we live in a community where many service workers and gig workers have lost their jobs.

Yet the dozen or so Rotarians I have spoken with have been generally positive despite the challenges, and they value what Rotary has to offer. Most have been viewing the online weekly meetings, and a few have participated in the fellowship groups or committees that have been meeting online.

Longtime Rotarian Karl Gutknecht said,  “Although our lunch meetings have built many friendships, I find enduring value in our Four-Way Test. When we apply our resources, abilities and energies into bettering our community and our world we will continue to make a positive difference!”

It is clear that our Rotary meetings will look different in the future because there are likely to be restrictions on large gatherings for some time. Also, we know that many of our members, for good reason, will not feel safe attending a big luncheon. The board and our executive director are looking at a number of options to address these concerns. For example, one possibility might be to have the weekly meeting at the Park Hotel with a speaker and a program, which would be live-streamed to smaller gatherings in community rooms on the east and west sides of the city. In this scenario, members who are more vulnerable to the virus would have the option to view the streamed meeting online from home.

Let us know if you have any suggestions for how to continue Rotary’s tradition of providing fellowship opportunities, excellent programs and service to the community through the pandemic and beyond. Send an email to rotaryoffice@rotarymadison.org or give me a call at 608-957-2865. I look forward to hearing from you.

Mayor Rhodes-Conway: How Madison is Responding to COVID-19

submitted by Dave Mollenhoff

Satya+Rhodes+ConwayIn Rotary’s first live Zoom meeting, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, against a backdrop of red tulips and the capitol dome, provided a comprehensive 30-minute overview of Madison’s responses to COVID-19.

“Our goal,” she began, “is to keep people safe, reduce the number of COVID-19 infections, and not overburden our health care facilities.  Our initial focus was to help the most vulnerable, especially the homeless and those faced by food insecurity.”

To achieve that goal, she said the City has taken dozens of steps. One third of city employees are teleworking, most city committees have been paused, and the City’s IT department is working overtime to facilitate virtual meetings. The library and Monona Terrace are closed. Bus schedules have been changed and riders enter by the back door. Parking regulations have been relaxed so that businesses can provide curb service.

“But be warned,” she continued, “the economic impact of the pandemic will be drastic.”  It has inflicted substantial increased operational costs and we have already lost $35 million in revenue, so coming up with a balanced budget will be incredibly challenging.

She reminded everyone that our extraordinary parks system is open and available with only a few new restrictive policies.  Then she added wistfully, “How I wish I had time to get out there and enjoy them. In fact, I spend so much time attending Zoom meetings that my Fitbit thinks I’m dead.”

The mayor ended her talk about a long list of “hard and depressing” topics with hope and optimism.  “Madison,” she reminded everyone, “is amazing, and I believe we will emerge with a city that is more accessible, equitable, sustainable and affordable.”

Club member Jason Ilstrup provided a spirited introduction and posed members’ questions to the mayor at the end.

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