How will civic life change this Spring? rhino!UP for March 13, 2022
Whether Spring 2022 brings a welcome pause between waves of COVID or a shift to a flu-like treatment phase, many civic activists are looking forward to more social interaction in the coming months. For two years, tenant serving programs and citizen groups have had to adapt to pandemic restrictions and personal concerns about health safety. So today, a week before Spring, RHINO wonders how activists are planning for the future. What are the on-going concerns as the weather and the pandemic are easing up.
A new normal or back to the future? There seems to be a consensus that things will never be the same. For many activists who were compelled to learn how to meet online, there's a sense that remote meetings will continue to play a role going forward. For one thing, it's much easier to get an online meeting with downtown decision makers if you don't have to travel downtown, pay for parking and go through security.
Masking rules are another issue because CDC guidance seems to change from week to week and mask wearing is a deeply emotional decision for many people. Is it reasonable to ask for "mask tolerance" when your group decides to meet in person? Remember the four rules of tenant organizing: meet regularly, operate democratically, be inclusive, and be independent of management. The inclusivity rule requires that members who want or need to wear masks should be welcomed without a stigma. Conversely anti-maskers (for whatever reason) should be welcomed also. One way to accommodate all could be to make sure the meeting space is well ventilated and can provide for social distancing.
Here are some other ideas to accommodate a range of member needs:
hybrid meetings with both in person and online access.
more frequent, smaller, shorter meetings.
meet outdoors in an accessible location.
planned social interactions to renew old values.
Another barrier to returning to "normal" could be lingering rules adopted during the pandemic. Two RHINO friends provided contrasting situations. Building A has reopened the community room, but management insists "no outsiders." Building B has never had a restriction on outsiders and never required masking, but is not providing space for social gathering supposedly because of renovations. In each case, tenants may need to challenge these restrictions.
A lot has happened over two years. In Building A, several key members have moved or died. For others, the artificial isolation from friends and family has led many to examine their previous life commitments, like employment and relationships. Pew Research tells us that there are three primary reasons for upheaval in our work lives: Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected. The same could be true for civic commitments. Hopefully your organization has been conscientious about keeping lines of communication open while social isolation was the rule. Even so, leaders and organizers need to be prepared to reestablish the relationships within the organization and to reach out to other folks who have become alienated from their past associations and are looking for a new social "home."
Even before the pandemic, there was a growing concern about social isolation in communities around the world. Social isolation (sometimes called "loneliness") has been linked to all kinds of health and behavioral issues. Your civil/social organization will need to pay extra attention to this dimension of organizing as the nation emerges from the social restrictions of the pandemic. Expanded opportunities for activities that reinforce shared values and provide mutual support can be tools for groups rebuilding. Two quick examples are social gatherings following a "work session" or establishing free loan service for members who are in need of short term financial assistance.
There's no question that the US is in a malaise that is similar to mindset that arose following the Nixon impeachment, the 1974 Oil Crisis and the Iran Hostage Crisis. Today the "winding down" of the pandemic and the acceleration of world crises (supply chain, Ukraine, postponed civic mourning, and gasoline prices) have soured the civic mood.
Social re-engagement is a part of the solution to a civic malaise. Just bringing people together can bring some sense of control in a world that seems out of control. But coming back together is only half the solution. The other half is finding healing messages that push forward the issues that your community seeks to achieve.
MARCH 13, 2022. slate.com. Two years of Black Death comparisons. What have we learned? "To be mired in uncertainty as one plague year becomes another, to again and again change one’s life and choices and possibilities, all the while addled by conflicting notions of how one should behave—in perilous times such as theirs and ours, this is normal. The lessons to be learned from plagues of the past are not merely about how many died, but that those left alive struggled as we do, waiting and dreaming.
March 14, 2022. Bloomberg News. U.S. Sewer Data Warns of a New Bump in Covid Cases After Lull. "Data from wastewater can spot a rise in infections before it shows up through positive tests." To find the data for your local community, visit CDC Covid Data Tracker, More here.
Reasonable Accommodation: it's more than a tactic! rhino!UP for March 20, 2022
Property owners and managers were just getting used to the fair housing principle to "treat everyone equally" when along came the Federal protection for persons with disabilities. All of a sudden, in 1988, landlords were faced with a new idea that they are responsible to make reasonable "alteration" of properties and policies to address barriers faced by persons with disabilities. A management webpage offers this analysis: "Landlords also have to give in to reasonable concessions [emphasis added] that will allow disable tenants to access and use their housing. Examples include reserved parking spot for the physically handicapped and guide dogs for the visually impaired (in cases where the lease has no pet policy)." The expression "give in to reasonable concessions" is a dog whistle for "we don't like this." Clearly reasonable accommodation changes the balance of power between landlords and tenants.
Accommodation or modification--what is the difference? Modification of the property to remove barriers is pretty straightforward. Building a ramp for a person in a wheelchair is a good example. The tenant has to pay for the modification (unless the property receives Federal assistance). The modification must be removed if the modification makes the property less marketable to a future tenant or owner. Moreover, modifications must be constructed subject to local building, housing, health and safety codes and Federal accessibility standards.
On the other hand, accommodation of a policy or procedure means that the property owner is required to consider "special rules" for persons with a disability. Remember that owners and managers had just got used to treating everyone the same, so in the early days of disability rights, there was a lot of unlearning to do. Examples of reasonable accommodation include:
Permission to keep a service animal in the unit and common areas despite no pet rules.
Permission to pay rent after the first if the tenant's source of income (social security payment for instance) arrives at the bank after the first of the month.
Creating a reserved parking space as close as possible to the entrance of the rental unit.
These are all examples of actual cases.
Because accommodations are specific to the needs of an individual with a disability, there are no cookie cutter solutions, no code that owners or tenants can follow. Instead, making a reasonable accommodation requires landlords and tenants to enter into an "interactive process" to determine what is "reasonable" to both parties. Ouch! Gone are the days when an owner can say "no pets" or "rent is due and payable on the first of the month" or "I'm only required by code to provide two handicapped spaces."
This is why RHINO says that reasonable accommodation isn't just a tactic for helping our a person with a disability. The requirement to hold an interactive process fundamentally changes the relationship between landlords and tenants. We have moved beyond "if you don't like it, move" to "come let us reason together." All that's missing is using the interactive process a part of a collectively bargaining model. Today's Washington Post offers an example of how a group of tenants used the interactive process to mitigate the impact of a sudden rent increase.
Wait, there's more. Suppose that a person who uses a walker is in a townhouse unit. Suppose the property owner hires a snowplow driver to clear the parking lot and in the process pushes the snow over the sidewalk creating a barrier? The landlord may be required to clear the sidewalk for the disabled tenant. Then, the manager's phone is ringing off the hook when the disabled tenant gets snow removal and no one else does. Sooner or later management gives in. One tenant's reasonable accommodation can benefit all the tenants.
The irony here is that landlords, thanks to reasonable accommodation rules, owner managers have learned that they sometimes need to engage in an interactive process, while most tenants in Ohio are still living in the "if you don't like it move" world. The Laurel, Maryland story (cited above) shows that bringing landlords to the table for a non-disabililty negotiation is no longer out of the question, especially if there's a tenant support organization that can guide the process. Advocates: sharpen your negotiation skills and use a force-field analysis to win some victories at the grassroots level.
Leadership and Change rhino!UP for March 27, 2022
Years ago, Jack Rothman, a sociologist, social worker (and Buckeye alumni), introduced the idea that status inconsistency was a factor in the leadership and membership of social change organizations. (Revisit Citizen Organizations are the Engines of Social Change in rhino!UP February 13, 2022) The connection is pretty simple. Persons who are denied social "status," will more often take on leadership and membership roles in social change organizations. Rothman says: "...individuals who participate in social movements are likely to have a high sense of personal mastery...and a high sense of system blame...." Think of social inconsistents as being square pegs in round holes. Their personal goals may be to make the holes big enough to fit through...even with some sharp elbows.
The idea of social inconsistency and change organizations was drilled home just this month in an article entitled More Starbucks stores want to unionize. These women and nonbinary workers are leading the push. Leaders of the union movement among Starbucks employees is rooted in the disconnection between the social backgrounds of the baristas...and their diminished economic status in the world of pandemics and successive recessions. Think of all the leaders of the social movements in the 19th and 20th centuries who, when personally burdened by relative disadvantage, showed extraordinary efforts to overturn unjust systems.
While it's easy to recognize that having borne the burden of slavery made a man like Frederick Douglass more sensitive to the bondage suffered by other enslaved African Americans, think too about the status inconsistency of middle class women in the late 19th century. Denied the right to vote or hold property, they weren't just suffragettes, but they were also the anchors for movements for social justice and world peace. Jane Addams of Hull House or Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker fought for women's rights, and for the rights of the many in lifetimes of life-affirming work. Apply these principles to today's social change movements.
All groups ideally have three types of leadership. When a group is clicking, there is a social leader and a task leader who, between themselves, share responsibility for the well being of the members (social leader) and the mission (task leader) respectively. While leaders may shift from one role to another as the needs of the group evolve, it's helpful when social and task leaders "stay in their lanes."
In addition to social and task leaders who primarily learn by doing, groups can develop identity leaders who, while not active in the operational details, come to symbolize the values of the group. Identity leaders aren't elected. They arise by acclimation, not by aspiration. Being recognized as an identity leader comes from the same kind of status inconsistency that underlies the group or movement. An identity leader's "outsider" status and the leader's embodiment the aspirations of the oppressed combine the values of achievement for all. Gandhi, MLK, Mandela and Tutu were educated professionals whose actions sought to bridge the barriers of status inconsistency.
Leadership succession is another factor that should be on the "to do" list of every leader and organizer. Mentoring replacements can help ease a transition as founding leaders grow weary, move away, or undertake leadership roles in larger groups. Being a square peg in a round hole world should be a factor in identifying future leaders. Existing leaders sometimes find it hard to make judgements about their replacements and so organizers can occasionally bring an outside perspective to the process. Rothman notes "Persons with a history of successful participation in traditional voluntary associations are not good recruits for social movements."
Consider the 1908 Presidential election. progressive activist President Theodore Roosevelt picked establishment Republican William Howard Taft to succeed him. Ohioan Taft. Taft always wanted be a Supreme Court Justice, never a social reformer. Remember too that Roosevelt was a New York City silver-spooner with asthma before he moved west to become a cowboy and later a horse soldier--talk about social inconsistency! By 1912,Teddy felt so strongly that he had goofed, he formed a new political party (the Bull Moose party) so he could run against his hand picked successor in 1912.
Next month, rhino!UP will tackle the tasks that organizers face in shaping leadership in a change organization. Watch for the "Care and feeding of organizational leaders." As always share your comments questions and suggestions.