Monday, November 26, 2018

Running scared?

Earlier this month, six of seven Republican candidates for the Grand Traverse County Commission abruptly pulled out of a public forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Grand Traverse Area (LWVGTA). While they expressed no qualm with the local organizers or their long history of fairness and nonpartisanship, they took issue with League of Women Voters (LWV) National CEO Virginia Kase's civil disobedience surrounding the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

Republican Gordie LaPointe, an unopposed candidate for the county's sixth district, said he was so upset with the League and their CEO's behavior that he sent an email to the other candidates encouraging them to boycott.

“After watching television and the screaming and shouting down of people, I said I can't work with an organization that promotes that type of activity,” LaPointe said in an interview with Interlochen Public Radio. And as a commenter on a story covering the controversy in Traverse City’s online daily, The Ticker, he added “I chose not to participate in the LWV forum based on a principle. I oppose civil disobedience, which seems to be the norm for anything they disagree with.”

The League of Women Voters is a civic organization that was formed in 1920, just prior to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, in order to help women take a larger role in public affairs after they won the right to vote. Their mission is to encourage informed and active participation in government, create better understanding of political issues, and shape policy through education and advocacy. It is officially nonpartisan, in that it neither supports nor opposes political candidates or parties.

LWVGTA President Jan Warren says that the stance taken regarding Brett Kavanaugh was about advocacy, not politics, because he was appointed, not elected.

However, the LWV supports many progressive public policy positions including campaign finance reform, universal health care, abortion rights, climate change action, environmental regulation, and gun violence prevention.

So instead of engaging with voters across the political spectrum at the LWV forum, Robert Hentschel, Brad Jewett, Ron Clous, Dan Lathrop, and Matthew Schoech joined LaPointe in the basement of Horizon Books for a rally disguised as “one-on-one open honest conversations about local issues facing Grand Traverse County.” Addison “Sonny” Wheelock Jr., candidate for the county's fourth district, was the only Republican candidate who honored his commitment to participate.

It is ironic that these candidates are criticizing Kase for the same sort of activity that delivered voting rights to more than half of the American adult population in the first place.

“The League was founded by women who fought for women's suffrage. They marched in the streets, disrupted the status quo, and, yes, faced arrest and punishment to advance their cause. We honor their legacy by participating in our democracy through this civil disobedience,” says Kase.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing was an appalling display of inequity for women’s voices. For far too long, American women and girls have been told to keep quiet after enduring sexual assault. In 2018, the time has come to stop telling women to ‘sit down and shut up’,” adds LWV President Chris Carson.

I suspect that passivity was exactly what many Republicans expected from the LWV. They mistakenly assumed that because these sweet old ladies mainly work to register voters and provide election information through voter guides and candidate forums that they were relatively benign. They are now realizing that politically active women are a force, and that is making them uncomfortable.

“Celebrating this being arrested and illegal protesting, that isn't the sort of thing that is consistent with our candidacy,” said Hentschel, candidate for the county's seventh district, in an interview with Up North Live.

This is a ridiculous excuse to forego a LWV-sponsored opportunity to speak with Grand Traverse County residents, especially when you consider that “illegal protesting” comes with the same misdemeanor charge as, say, jaywalking.

Which brings us back to civil disobedience. Wikipedia defines it as the active, professed refusal of a citizen to obey certain laws, demands, orders or commands of a government power. It is most often equated with nonviolent resistance.

Although civil disobedience is generally considered to be an expression of contempt for law, Martin Luther King Jr. regarded civil disobedience to be a display and practice of reverence for law: “Any man who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail in order to arouse the conscience of the community on the injustice of the law is at that moment expressing the very highest respect for law.”

I find this kind of division distressing, especially on the local level. Promoting the interests of women shouldn't be a “political” issue. Protecting women's health and believing sexual assault survivors shouldn't be considered “partisan.” And it shouldn't be too much to expect candidates from opposing parties to respectfully engage in discourse with their constituents and one another.

“(The six Republicans') withdrawal from the forum prevents us from educating the voters of Grand Traverse County about their qualifications, their thoughts on the critical issues facing the area, and their goals for office,” Warren says.

These candidates believe that they don’t need to engage with voters in order to win. But we all lose when our elected officials stop listening.

Like the suffragettes before her, Kase stood tall to empower voters and defend democracy. They ran away without respect for either.

Adorable kitty or stone cold killer?

Three years ago, our family moved into a newer home in a quiet neighborhood on the south side of Traverse City. We fell in love with the mature trees in the front yard, and my husband and I looked forward to having an attached garage for the first time in our adult lives. But our favorite feature was a small private patio and garden that we could enjoy through French doors from the den. 
Shortly after moving in we purchased and stocked several feeders, and I was thrilled to receive a birdbath for my first Mother's Day in the house. It became a habit to watch for wildlife while drinking our morning coffee from the comfort of the couch. We saw an incredible variety of birds — from cardinals and blue jays to sparrows and doves. Squirrels and chipmunks scavenging the seeds beneath the feeders and cottontail rabbits kept our weeds in check. And one rainy day, we even saw a red fox running through the side yard to take shelter on our porch!
But the following year, as winter turned to spring, we noticed a marked decrease in the number of birds enjoying the buffet, while more outdoor cats were stopping by for our attention. Only after my daughter wrestled a baby rabbit away from one of these kitties did we make the connection. Best case scenario: These cats were scaring the wildlife away. Worst: They were maiming and killing our little woodland friends (we nursed the rabbit for a day before placing it in a makeshift nest where it sadly disappeared the following day).
According to a 2013 study by scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service, domestic cats in the United States slaughter a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals annually. By comparison, if these cats were killing people, every year they would wipe out the entire world population. Twice.
The domestic cat is one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation. More birds and mammals die at the paws of cats than are killed by cars, chemicals, and poisons, or collisions with buildings and windmills combined.
“Cats are responsible to the extinction of at least 33 species of birds that we know about,” says former Director of the American Bird Conservancy George Fenwick. “They are for the most part fed and inoculated, with no natural enemies, which makes them a sort of super-predator.”
Most environmentalists and animal lovers agree that cats shouldn't be allowed to prowl around the neighborhood any more than a pet dog, pony, or potbellied pig should. Some go so far as to say that owners who insist that their kitties are entitled to a bit of freedom are being irresponsible, and by extension, not very cat-friendly. 
The University of Georgia's Kitty Cam Project (where miniature cameras are attached to the collars of indoor-outdoor pet cats to track their daily routines) has shown them lapping up antifreeze and raw sewage, dodging moving vehicles, and fighting with much larger animals, for example.
Most shockingly, the project finds that the felines typically spent one-third of every day hunting and killing small animals — and not just mice; free-roaming cats hunt and kill more than 80 native species.
So, this is what we know: One in three cats kill prey; of these, they average about two kills per week; 21 percent of these killers bring their victims home; 30 percent of their kills are eaten; and 49 percent are left to suffer, die, and eventually rot.
Keep in mind these are well-fed, domesticated house cats. They're not killing for food; they're doing it for sport. And the corpses we see account for less than a quarter of the actual body count. 
How do we remedy this? Experts recommend “conservation and policy intervention” in order to reduce the impact of bloodthirsty felines. And some, like New Zealand economist and environmentalist Gareth Morgan, have proposed more drastic measures. He urges cat owners to neuter their pets and resist the temptation to add any more to their households. He has also called upon property owners to set traps in order to catch stray cats so they can be put down. 
So now that you know the truth, will you do your part to help save our fragile urban ecosystem? I encourage you to stop being an accessory to the killing and join other responsible pet owners by simply keeping your cats inside or building an enclosure for them.
If you feel that feel that you must let your cats roam outdoors, know that bells rarely work. The only proven deterrent is the CatBib, a flexible shield that attaches to your cat's collar, hanging loosely over its chest. It works by gently interfering with the precise timing and coordination needed for successful hunting, and is estimated to have saved several million lives since its introduction.
Dogs may be man's best friend, but cats are our little serial killers. Let's stop the carnage and keep them under house arrest.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"We really ought to do something about this..."

2011 was a tough year for me, both professionally and personally. I had purchased a gallery in downtown Traverse City two years prior and was struggling to save it while my marriage was deteriorating. As a result, I was pretty self-absorbed and unpleasant to be around. 

One morning, as I was unlocking the front door to open, I woke a couple of men who were sleeping on the patio benches behind the building. At first, I was annoyed and even felt a little violated. But they were nice enough, even apologetic, and quickly gathered their belongings to get out of my way. And so we went through this routine most mornings from late-September to early-November. 

Day after day, while sliding my key into the lock, I would think, We really ought to do something about this.” 

Finally, as the snow began to fall, an internal switch was flipped. We is me,” I said to myself. “Get off your butt and do something about it!” 

Mind you, I had spent my professional career in marketing, sales, and arts management. I wasn't a social worker, nor did I have a background with people experiencing homelessness. But I did have a genuine concern for our neighbors, and a sincere desire to be part of a solution. 

The next few months were spent researching the root causes of homelessness including adverse childhood effects and external factors like insufficient mental health and addiction treatment services. I was completely shocked to learn that at any given time, there were nearly 100 people living on the streets of Traverse City. Our community was actually losing housing vouchers because people couldn't find affordable housing on which to use them. 

Safe Harbor was in the news around this time and I reached out, described my skills and asked if there was a place for me. The churches had been struggling with growing numbers of people requiring emergency shelter, and they needed a group to study the problem and hopefully secure a larger, centrally-located permanent facility from which to operate. 

I found a way to contribute and am proud to say that we made it happen -- Safe Harbor opened its new building just in time for the start of the season in late 2017. And looking back, I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity as the past seven years have been some of the most challenging, productive and fulfilling of my life. 

Homelessness is truly a community issue, and I believe it will take each of us to end it. Safe Harbor, along with Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan and many other organizations within the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness, simply could not operate without the generosity of donors and volunteers. They are doing a lot with a little, and I'm encouraged to think what they could do with more.

When we come forward, not only do social issues get addressed, but our local economies expand, businesses grow, education spreads, and support systems become more efficient. More engaged communities make more engaging communities. 

Being involved makes us feel less alone, keeps us healthier and happier, and contributes to a more vital and interesting life. We feel connected, useful, appreciated, and safe. It brings inspiration, helps us succeed in our relationships, and allows us find our way in life. Most importantly, it provides a sense of purpose. 

When you step up, it allows you to sharpen your abilities while making a positive difference. You may even find that you develop more self-confidence, and that you are needed and valued in your community far more than you ever could have imagined.
sk yourself: “What special skills or talents can I offer?” “What kind of person am I?” “Do I enjoy working on my own projects, or do I work better alongside others?” 

And consider going outside of your comfort zone. As a non-religious person, I found working with Safe Harbor's 24 churches and 1,700 volunteers to be intimidating at first. But my life is much richer for the experience, and I'm so glad I did. 

So volunteer. If you’re a people person, see whether you can do something that involves interaction like working at a community meal, making food deliveries, or working as a cashier at a charity thrift store. Introverts can help, too. You might contribute by providing accounting help or cleaning and maintaining shelter facilities. 

Sit on a board. Write a check. Research. Advocate. Speak up and speak out. Think about writing an opinion piece or a letter to the editor. Make a public comment at a city commission meeting or at your local community center. 
Your involvement may help solve a big problem, or it may just make someone's day a little brighter -- both are critically important. 

I'm happy to report that I did manage to turn my business and marriage around, and I give a lot of the credit to volunteerism and community involvement. It sounds cliché, but the more I give, the more I get. The more connected I feel to those outside, the more secure I feel within. I am a happier, healthier, more fulfilled person, and all of my relationships have benefited because of it. 

So remember, We is me.” Get off your butt. Your community needs you, and you need your community.

Social Media Misuse and Incivility is Hurting Democracy

We've all experienced it. An unkind remark while scrolling through the online comment section; then another, even more provocative. Finally, the attacks get personal as trolls disrupt the conversation, making unfounded claims and spinning conspiracy theories in an attempt to challenge others' opinions. In this new frontier of digital media, many acknowledge that civil discourse has become the exception, rather than the rule.

In fact, there’s so much incivility, animosity, and disrespect on social media that 65 percent of American users express disgust and frustration with online discussions. (I suspect the other 35 percent are the ones doing the trolling.) It's not just affecting individual social media users — it’s also hurting our democracy.

Two-thirds of U.S. adults consume at least some of their news on social media. And sadly, most of us are just reading headlines.

A 2016 study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute found that 70 percent of Facebook users comment without reading an article, and 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. In other words, most people comment and spread news without ever reading it.

“This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper,” study co-author Arnaud Legout said in a recent interview with the Washington Post.

Worse yet, the study finds that these sort of unvetted peer-to-peer shares are key in determining what kind of news gets circulated and what disappears from public view. So our thoughtless retweets, and those of our friends, are actually determining our shared political priorities.

The problem isn't with social media itself, but with how it's currently being utilized. Anyone can read a headline, write a quick uninformed comment, and hit “return” on a keyboard. And while everyone has a right to his or her opinions, I believe those that are well reasoned, with a basis in fact, should carry more weight — especially when policy-making is involved.

The debate surrounding the Traverse City Arts Commission's plan to paint a temporary mural around the retaining wall at the Open Space is the most recent example of social media users working in direct conflict with the democratic process.

When plans for the mural hit the news, it exploded on social media. Basic misinformation, mixed with distrust of local appointed officials and fueled by inflammatory comments, created a perfect storm of opposition to the project. In the span of just four days, the Traverse City Open Space Mural Opposition Facebook page gained 450 members. And, as the current chair of the Arts Commission, I participated in no less than 15 different online discussion threads in an attempt to dispel myths and to defend the legitimate decision-making process.

Everything — from the cost and location of the mural, to the design, length of installation and the publicity used during the process — was being misrepresented by social media users. The $2,500 cost was inflated to $25,000. The unobtrusive retaining wall turned into a major impediment to lake views. The blues and yellows used in the design morphed into “neon” colors. The two-year rotating exhibit space became permanent. And nearly everyone refused to believe that this plan included multiple opportunities for public input. The accepted narrative was that we conspired behind closed doors to force this mural “down the throats” of area residents.

Long story short, the artists caved under the public pressure and pulled out of the project. They didn't want to come where they weren't welcome and felt threatened by the nasty emails, phone calls, and even negative reviews being left by trolls on their business' social media pages.

As a result, this virtual “angry mob” wiped out six months of careful planning by officials on three different City boards. We have little way of knowing how many of them were actually City residents or taxpayers, but we do know that none of them participated in the public process prior to approval. 

Even more depressing, just a handful of opponents bothered to show up at the well-publicized Arts Commission meeting immediately following the controversy. This is where next steps for the mural project were being considered and where public input was crucial. Many rejected the original project, but very few made their opinions known for future planning. At this rate, we are doomed to repeat the cycle of dysfunction.

Whether or not we agree with the actions of our government officials, it is our responsibility as citizens to engage during the process. Protesting a plan after it's been approved not only wastes the City's time and resources, it runs contrary to a very important principle of democracy — political participation.
Citizens have an obligation to become informed about public issues, to monitor the conduct of their leaders and representatives, and to express their own opinions. Most importantly, political participation in a democracy must be peaceful, respectful of the law, and tolerant of the different views of other groups and individuals.

So please, get involved. If you can't attend public meetings, read the agendas and minutes online. If you have a concern, send an email — or better yet, meet your representative for coffee. Real people with real issues are far more persuasive than anonymous online commenters. And elected and appointed officials are very receptive when comments are constructive — and when criticism is expressed in a respectful way.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

What does it mean to be a 'progressive'?

Early in 2017, I joined Woman2Woman TC (W2WTC), a local non-partisan group formed to take action by protecting human rights, ensuring civil liberties, preserving the influence of evidence and reason, and promoting public policy through the election of progressive candidates. 

As the new chair, I am sometimes asked, “Isn't a progressive actually a 'liberal'?”

For decades, conservatives have used the word “progressive” as a euphemism for “liberal” – a word that's even become a slur in some circles. Ever since Republican Ronald Regan called Democrat Michael Dukakis a “true liberal” during the 1988 presidential campaign, “liberal” has been considered a derogatory term, a way of undermining someone's position and the values that they represent.

But the two terms actually have distinct roots and philosophies.

The word “liberal" historically speaks to freedom, including individual personal freedom, and describes those we might call libertarians today. However, contemporary liberalism is associated with greater government intervention in the economy, as well as more tolerant attitudes surrounding issues of morality and lifestyle.

A progressive is someone who wants to see more economic and social equality. They're supportive of social programs directed by the state, and would like social movements to have more power. Progressivism has historically been associated with science, rationality and an approach to government and society that is reliant on empirical methods. 

In essence, progressivism represents a government and society where everyone gets an equal shot, everyone does his or her fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. 

The most basic progressive value is freedom. Progressives believe in “freedom from” and “freedom to.” People should have freedom from undue interference by government and others in regard to their private affairs and personal beliefs and freedom to control their own bodies and their own lives. This includes the rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly, and religion.

Progressives also believe that all people should have the freedom to lead a safe and fulfilling life supported by the basic foundations of economic security and opportunity – such as protections against bodily harm, as well as provisions for adequate schooling, income, medical treatment, and financial stability.

Complementing progressives' commitment to human freedom is their belief in opportunity. We all know that political equality prohibits discrimination against anyone based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious faith or non-faith, or disability. But it also means embracing the diversity of our society by ensuring that all people have the chance to turn their talents and ambitions into a meaningful life. Opportunity provides the conditions necessary for people to be secure and to move up in life  – a good education, decent job, basic health care, and a secure retirement.

Progressive taxation helps support these things and provides us with the the economic competitiveness necessary to advance the interests of all. Those who have and earn more should pay more.

Along with freedom and opportunity comes responsibility. We are each responsible for improving our own lives through hard work, education, and by acting with honesty and integrity. We are also responsible to others and to the common good which requires us to put the public interest above the interests of the few. As stewards of the land, water, air and natural resources, we are responsible for the smart use of energy, and the responsible consumption of goods. Working for ecological and social sustainability is our duty.

Finally, progressives value cooperation as the foundation of our most important social institutions including our families, communities, churches and civic groups. Freedom without cooperation leads to a society that cannot work together to achieve common goals or to improve the lives of all. Cooperation requires that we are open-minded and empathetic toward others and that we are accountable for others' well-being as they are accountable for ours – if we blindly pursue our own needs and ignore those of others, our society will soon unravel.

Progressives believe that everyone deserves an equal shot at a healthy, fulfilling, and economically secure life. They believe that everyone should do his or her fair share to build their lives through education and hard work and through active participation in public life. And they believe that everyone should play by the same set of rules with no special privileges.

If we want to achieve greater social justice and economic conditions that benefit everyone, we need an open and honest government and an active and engaged citizenry. Locally, Safe Harbor of Grand Traverse (a seasonal emergency shelter of twenty-four churches and nearly 2,000 volunteers) provides for the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness without the use of public funds. And with organized pressure from supporters of FLOW (For Love of Water) and Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities' “Oil & Water Don't Mix” campaign, Governor Snyder ordered a study of risks posed by Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits, and alternatives that could prevent environmental and economic disaster in the Great Lakes. 

So, regardless of the political labels we give ourselves, we have to agree that public participation is a small sacrifice to make in order to protect the freedoms and opportunities that we all enjoy.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tipped wages set the table for poverty, sexual harassment

At a recent conference in Detroit, I had an opportunity to meet Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) and hero of the gender equality movement. She was presenting at session titled “Closing the Gender Equity Gap.”
While I have been aware of pay inequality for a long time, she presented a mind-blowing study that connected low hourly tipped wages with an increased rates of poverty and sexual harassment for restaurant workers. She also made a compelling argument for why many women who experience harassment and abuse early in their working career choose to downplay or ignore it later on.
Here in Michigan, the tipped wage is $3.38 per hour, and in order to reach the state's minimum wage, lawmakers expect that the remaining $5.52 to be made up through customer tips. Adding insult to injury, restaurant owners are required to report their servers' tips to the IRS, so base wages go toward covering taxes. As a result, nearly all take-home income comes from tips.
“When you earn [minimum wage as a waitress], your wage goes to taxes and you get a paycheck that says $0. You live on your tips, and when you live on your tips, you have to put up with inappropriate customer behavior in order to feed your family,” said Sheena Bland, a restaurant worker from Detroit.
Today, 70 percent of tipped workers in Michigan are women who suffer from three times the poverty rate of other Michiganders, even when taking tips into account. Forty percent are single moms who support their families on tips.
This is especially problematic when you consider that the restaurant industry is the single largest and fastest growing private sector employer in the country. It is worth nearly $800 billion a year and employs more than 14 million workers, with one in ten Americans working in a restaurant.
According to a 2014 ROC United study, women working in states with a sub-minimum tipped wage were twice as likely to report experiencing sexual harassment than women where the minimum wage is the same for tipped and non-tipped workers. This is even worse when you consider that the restaurant industry is already the single largest source of sexual harassment charges filed by women with a rate five times higher than any other industry.
The same study surveyed 688 restaurant workers found that whopping 80 percent of women experienced sexual harassment from customers. Two-thirds reported it from managers, and half from co-workers. (Male restaurant workers also reported experienced sexual harassment, but to a lesser degree.)
“We also learned that managers were encouraging them to objectify themselves — to wear more make-up, to show more cleavage — at three times the rate in states like New Mexico, where the wage is $2.13, than in states like California [with a $10.00 minimum wage],” says Jayaraman.
Interestingly, when tipping first came to America in the 19th century from Europe, Americans found it dehumanizing and demeaning. They thought it seemed contrary to American democratic ideals.
“They rejected it as the vestiges of a feudal system. They thought you should get good service regardless of how much you are able to tip,” says Jayaraman.
But railway companies and restaurant owners fought successfully to have the practice allowed. And while railway workers unionized and abolished the system, restaurant workers never did.
In time, Europeans rejected the notion of tipping, but Americans continued to embrace it.
“In a country where we believe we have done away with master-servant relations, the existence of tipped workers show us this is far from the case,” said Dianne Avery, a professor at the University of Buffalo. “Because what tipped workers represent for the moment of that exchange [with a customer] is an intimate master-servant relation.”
She added, “I think the notion of a young attractive female waitress as a sex object has entered as a cultural norm as a result.” As evidence, Avery points to the emergence and popularity of “breastaurants” like Hooters, where servers are expected to wear form fitting clothes and flirt in order to get tips.

Over the past few years, Jayaraman and members of ROC United have gone up against the powerful National Restaurant Association (the “other” NRA) lobby to abolish the tipped minimum wage, a campaign was the focus of her 2013 book, Behind the Kitchen Door.
While on tour for this book, she was approached by women from across the professional spectrum who pointed to jobs in restaurants as their first experience with gender-based discrimination and harassment.
“Countless young women are introduced to the world of work through the restaurant industry,” says Jayaraman. “And they go on to be more likely to accept forms of sexual harassment as ‘just part of the job.’”
“They’d say, ‘I’m a successful woman now, and I’ve been sexually harassed recently on the job, but I didn’t do anything about it because it was never as bad as it was when I was a young woman working in restaurants,’” she says. “So we realized that there are millions of women who’ve gone through this industry in high school, college, or graduate school as their first introduction to the working world. This is how we show young women what’s acceptable and tolerable in the workplace.”
For me personally, this theory rings true. My first job at age 15 was as a dishwasher at a local boat club where I was constantly harassed and sexually propositioned by customers, and even my manager who thought was okay to get my attention by pulling my hair or snapping my bra straps.
I went on to work several humiliating restaurant jobs both in and out of college, including a nine-month stint at a country club. There, while working a private bachelor party (complete with a stripper), I was teased, grabbed, and groped by a group of horny male customers. One thought it would be fun to pull me onto his lap so he could prove how much I was turning him on. At the end of the night, another one of them “rewarded” me with a $100 bill. In tears, I left it on the table and never came back.
Later on in my sales career, I continued to experience discrimination, harassment, and emotional abuse — but because nothing compared to my past waitressing jobs, I figured that this was just the “way things were” and continued to keep my mouth shut.
But now, with the revelations exposing and rejecting the behavior of many high-profile men in Hollywood, media and politics, I am hopeful that we are at an important turning point.
Today, Jayaraman and others are fighting for the abolition of the tipped sub-minimum wage under a campaign called “One Fair Wage.” It pushes states to eliminate the two-tiered wage system and adopt the regular federal minimum wage for everyone, tipped or non-tipped.
Raising the tipped minimum wage, she argues, protects female employees who are uniquely victimized by the two-tiered system. The seven states that have established One Fair Wage — California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Montana, Minnesota, and Alaska — have cut the rate of reported harassment nearly in half, in large part because workers know that refusing to entertain a customer’s advances won’t jeopardize their income.
And, there is evidence that it can actually spur economic growth.
“We found that [states where everyone earns the same minimum wage] were fairing better by every measure,” says Jayaraman. According to ROC United, these states have experienced above-average employment growth, an increase in per capita restaurant sales, and even higher rates of tipping. Their findings undermine the NRA’s argument that raising wages will put restaurants out of business and stop customers from tipping.
After years of hard work, ROC United's efforts to abolish the tipped minimum wage are finally paying off, Jayaraman says. Lawmakers in seven more states have introduced legislation to end it.
In Michigan, a coalition seeking to raise the state's minimum wage to $12 per hour and phase out the lower wage for tipped workers recently announced the launch of a ballot measure campaign to take the issue to voters in the 2018 election.
“Ten years ago we were having a real hard time connecting labor issues to the food movement.
Now the movement is recognizing that this is a top priority,” Jayaraman said. 
Foodies are finally connecting the dots between sustainable food and sustainable wages and as a result, the momentum for change is accelerating. She adds, “No one should have to experience the financial insecurity, discrimination, and sexual harassment that comes with being forced to live off tips.”

What is 'small town character'?

As we move past the November Traverse City election and look forward to 2018, the close vote totals illustrate that there is no clear mandate for future decisions regarding growth. Like many other communities, Traverse City continues to wrestle with issues of development and change. 

I have found that where there is economic growth and prosperity, there are always those of us who want to stop or stall progress. Maybe because of nostalgia or even parochial interests, we start to question the public planning documents that we had adopted to control and shape how we use our land. 

We rail against prospective development projects using “small-town character!” as our battle cry — cleverly co-opting an image that the entire community supports in order to further restrict the policies we originally helped to create. Frustrated, we criticize local government and community leaders who have been tasked with implementing these plans. 

Letters to the editor, opinion columns, and social media commentary are used to promote the idea of protecting small-town character without actually defining what it is that needs protection.

So, what exactly do we mean when we say “small-town character?" Spelling it out isn't that easy. But in a very broad sense, I think we believe small-town character is that which prevents us from experiencing “big city” problems.

Understanding this, anti-development preservationists disingenuously warn that Traverse City could eventually become the next Grand Rapids, Detroit, or even Chicago.

Keep in mind, Traverse City currently ranks 133 for population size in Michigan. There are literally 132 other municipalities in our state that are larger than ours. According to the last census estimate, Traverse City has grown only 3.5 percent since 2000.

Like many, I'm increasingly concerned about embracing public policy where preservation is a hammer and every development project is a nail. Today, if you want to win an election (or pass a referendum), it’s smart to run on a platform of “preserving small-town charm” or "protecting the neighborhoods." Savvy politicians know that using the term “slow growth” is really code for no growth. 

In my opinion, successful land use policies have a lot less to do with the form of buildings as they do with how they interact with the public sphere. Adding another 50 subdivisions, detached from one another and congesting our streets, will be far more destructive than building up and filling in our downtown. 

To me, small-town character is less about our density and building heights, and more about our residents and their shared values.

The social fabric of Traverse City is woven with community goals, civic participation, and proximity to close friends and family. Other elements that contribute to our unique character include opportunities for entertainment, food and culture, clubs and sports, service organizations, and religious activity.

As residents, we care about our history — not only our historic buildings and landmarks but also the generations that designed and built them. We honor the indigenous people who lived on the land before settlers developed it. 

Whether newcomers or multi-generation natives, our people are what make Traverse City special. We care about our city and each other. 

We care about our jobs and businesses, our cultural and natural resources, and our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. We value our health care and educational institutions, our airport and transit systems, our library and our YMCA. We delight in our opera house and performing arts centers, our parks and open spaces, our marina and our movie theaters.

We also care about our poor and vulnerable. The same city that raised funds to rehab the historic State Theater in the span of a few months donated $1.75 million to build an emergency homeless shelter a few blocks away. Both operate with the help of thousands of volunteers, many of whom are retired and looking for a way to give back to the city that they love. 

As Traverse City residents, we know that change is inevitable. But we also have a sense of control along with the ability to be heard and influence that change. 

Growth doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It is, however, problematic when residents take the approach of an exclusive gated community. A staunch no-growth stance is a dangerous way to confront the pressure that our expanding region is putting on our small city.

I'm not sure we will ever have consensus on the definition of small-town character. And I find it sad that something that should unite us continues to be the subject of divisiveness.

Perhaps a better goal is to agree on what it could be: a state of mind. One in which we behave as if we live in a small city where our actions affect the entire community, and where we work cooperatively to achieve a collective vision for growth.