Heady Days Ahead

ummer in Madison. One of many reasons we live here, but the one most frequently cited when confronted by skeptics stuck on a notion of arctic winters as the defining characteristic of our region. Summer here is glorious.

Marking the seasonal passage of the months has taken on added significance for me lately, though, as each deadline brings a new opportunity to reflect on the events of the last four weeks and look ahead at the four to come. And this month once again I am struck by the sheer volume of important ideas, proposals, reports and issues generated by the people who live, work and play here. And I wonder—and, yes, worry a little—about what it all says about our city.

Since my last column, I attended a meeting of local business, nonprofit and civic leaders to hear from Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert, the founder of the environmental movement called The Natural Step. It was an impressive group of folks, firmly establishing Madison as one of the world’s leaders in both thinking about and acting on planetary sustainability. Editor Brennan Nardi and I also met with Robert Golden, dean of the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, and Brynne McBride and Bobby Peterson from the Madison-based nonprofit, public-interest law firm ABC For Health. We were encouraged and excited by the work both are doing to improve access to health care and coverage at the community level. It’s so easy to be disheartened by the scope of the crisis of uninsured and underinsured in Wisconsin and America. The UW and ABC for Health are making significant strides in transforming the system. And then the terrific staff of the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau met with us to share their vision for building on all these assets as a place to come visit and a destination for meetings and conventions. We have so much to offer, and “convening” is one of the things we do best.

But when I say we have so much to offer, I wonder just how inclusive is this “we”? Another story last month was the release of the report “The State of Black Madison 2008: Before the Tipping Point.” There’s an urge to focus first on the hopeful word “before,” and indeed the report allows that it is still possible to “pivot toward a continuation of Madison’s progressive heritage of diversity and equality.” But the call to action included in the report is based on evidence of a serious and unacceptable gap between African Americans and other racial groups in the areas of economics, education, health care, housing, crime and political influence. It’s clear that far too many of us embrace the good news of a healthy, forward-looking, vibrant and thriving city and simply do not see that it is, by and large, not that way at all if you are black. Nothing will define our future like how we answer this call. This magazine is committed to being part of that answer.

It seems we are further divided as a community by our positions on animal research. This month, Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz explores this highly volatile issue in the longest piece we’ve published in a decade or more. It could have been longer. Much longer. It was prompted by the response to our choice of UW scientist and researcher Richard Davidson as “Person of the Year” last November. Suffice it to say there was some disagreement with that choice. I think you’ll find the piece provocative. I also think you’ll find it fair. It put me in mind of a quote I have hanging above my desk. It’s from Rocco Buttiglione, former Italian government minister and friend of the late Pope John II. “I have one rule,” says Buttiglione, “the rule of liberal society which is the rule of freedom. I respect your freedom and you respect mine. Within this we can talk.” Let’s talk.

Neil P. Heinen, Editorial DirectorComments and letters can be sent to P.O. Box 44965, Madison, WI 53744-4965 or e-mail . Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.