Michel: A civics lesson

We have the tools to solve problems constructively
Michel: A civics lesson

In this societal shift toward people openly expressing intolerance, it’s worth mentioning individuals who step up to address it constructively.

Ruben L. Anthony Jr., president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, was among many Madisonians concerned about a recent local effort to start an “alt-right” group associated with the American Freedom Party, an organization that identifies itself as primarily for white European Americans and promotes “freedom from the immigration invasion” and “freedom in racial matters.” A University of Wisconsin-Madison student, who was convicted more than 10 years ago of racially motivated arsons of two predominantly African American churches in Milwaukee and Lansing, Michigan, attempted to recruit members on campus in late January.

The day after UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank issued a statement about the student’s aim to form the alt-right group, Anthony released a “message” that struck a balanced tone of concern and reason.

“It seems that we have entered a new era where efforts to turn back the clock on diversity are gaining momentum,” Anthony wrote in his message. “But, let’s be clear, racism has no place in our community … Let’s work together to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for everyone on this campus and in our community.”

This type of urgent yet even-tempered response is what is needed in these situations, regardless of who’s ideas are challenged or where on the political spectrum one may be aligned. And the focus needs to be on solutions.

In this month’s For The Record (page 44), Neil Heinen elaborates on the power of civic-minded people and the role they can play in making democracy work. He suggests that in order to bridge divides that exist locally, statewide and nationally, we need to support citizens in our communities who want

to engage in democratic practices and allow them to help leaders solve our shared problems.

This could be a time of coming together, rather than being pulled apart.

These are sobering thoughts in a month when we also celebrate the results of our annual Best of Madison readers poll (starting on page 62). But exercising the freedoms we enjoy and working together to solve societal issues are also part of the best of Madison.

The best part may be in knowing we have what it takes to solve our problems constructively–no matter which direction the political pendulum swings.