Madison Magazine

Heinen thankful for change

Madisonians care about what's important

I've always felt lucky that one of the components of my work is getting to know what makes this city tick. To do what I do, I get to, and need to, talk to Madison people about Madison issues and how we collectively deal with those issues.

It’s a privilege. And so when I am feeling thankful, which, like many of you, I am wont to do around this time of year, I include living in Madison as one of the gifts deserving of thanksgiving.

A couple of years ago, it stopped being cool to drop a “Best Place to Live” reference without qualifiers with which we are now, thankfully, more familiar. But the tension between the enviable quality of life Madison offers and the issues we face protecting, expanding and including others in that quality of life should not inhibit us from acknowledging our considerable assets.

I am proud to live in a city that responds so strongly, so visibly and with such unity to sexual assault. From the “Take Back the Bike Path” event attended by thousands in response to a brutal assault on the East side, to the free nighttime transit rides offered by the YWCA and United Way of Dane County, the community has made a statement about sexual violence. Advocates and providers like Patti Seger, Erin Thornley Parisi, Shannon Barry, Darald Hanusa and so many others have been working to end sexual abuse for a long time and I’m inspired by their efforts. Like almost every other college campus, the University of Wisconsin needs a lot more work on the issue.

I was heartened to attend the annual State of the Downtown report briefing at a meeting of Downtown Madison, Incorporated, and hear the focus on the issue of homelessness. It was powerful to hear DMI president Susan Schmitz, business leaders and elected officials talk about the conundrum with compassion and a sincere desire for inclusion as opposed to simply creating a self-serving better environment in which to conduct business. There are as many as forty groups in Dane County working to create a continuum of care for homeless individuals and families, and as intractable as the problem sometimes seems, I believe Madison can solve its homelessness problems.

I was encouraged to see Urban League of Greater Madison job training and information sessions attract partners like Exact Sciences, UW Health, Summit Credit Union, Willy Street Co-op, TASC, American Family Insurance, SPi Global, CUNA Mutual Group, State Bank of Cross Plains, UW Credit Union and Great Wolf Lodge. Need proof of action-not-talk to reduce racial employment disparities? That’s evidence right there.

Here’s more. Faith community leaders including High Point Church Pastor Nic Gibson, Grace Episcopal Church’s Reverend Jonathan Grieser and Bishop Harold Rayford from Faith, Hope and Love Family Church addressed the question “Alleviating Poverty: Who’s Responsible?” at a Greater Madison Poverty Forum sponsored by the Wisconsin Council of Churches. Our churches are such beacons of social action. (Special shout-
out to Michael Schuler and the First Unitarian Society.)

Speaking of the Race to Equity, I sure respect Cap Times editor Paul Fanlund’s commitment to keeping the public’s attention on the work of the Justified Anger Coalition. He, for one, is not going to let Reverend Alex Gee’s passionate and determined work fade from our consciousness.

Certainly, many of the assets that make Madison a great place to live have to do with its natural resources, its institutions like UW, its food and arts and culture. I am thankful for them all.

But just as the capacity for creativity and innovation and health and beauty has guided citizens in nurturing and protecting those assets, so too are we addressing issues just as important but that keep us from being the city we truly aspire to be. I feel very fortunate to live in a city where so many people care about those things, too.

Thank you. And Happy Thanksgiving. 

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