Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Healthy organizations and coffee

I was thinking about an email I sent this morning which was about how organizations should work together rather than trying to be the last one standing. That thought led me to thinking about the health of our organization and the little indicators we can look at. As I got my next cup of coffee the correlation struck me.

Almost every Grange I’ve been to has served coffee. The different ways it is served seem to say something about those members. Instant, drip, brewed in a percolator, decaffeinated or regular, all can be seen at a Grange meeting somewhere.

Does instant coffee mean we are looking for efficiency or do we not want to set up the coffee pot? Do we use the percolator because we like the coffee brewed that way or because that is the way we’ve always done it? Do we serve both decaf and regular or just one type?

More importantly, do we offer alternatives? I saw a study this past week that shows young people are not choosing to drink coffee nearly as much as previous generations. Are we offering tea or water or are we prepared to cater to those new members who are not coffee drinkers?

As 2010 comes to a close, I challenge every member to look at the little things, like coffee, and ensure that our Grange is a healthy organization that is meeting the needs and wants of our members and potential members. It is often the little things that make the biggest difference.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Reason for our Grange Structure

"To those who read aright, history proves that in all ages society is fragmentary, and successful results of general welfare can be secured only by general effort. Unity of action cannot be acquired without discipline, and discipline cannot be enforced without significant organization; hence we have a ceremony of initiation which binds us in mutual fraternity as with a band of iron; but although its influence is so powerful, its application is as gentle as that of the silken thread that binds a wreath of flowers."

This quote is from the Preamble of the Constitution of our Grange. In reading the rules of the Grange and the Degree work of our organization, discipline is seldom mentioned, but its presence is often taken for granted.

I find our system to be an fascinating way to enforce discipline within our organization. Each member is a volunteer and has equal voice in their Community Grange and at the Pomona (County or District) level if they choose to participate there. Those local members select the delegates to represent their Grange at the State Session and thus have a say in those proceedings. The National Grange is made up of the State Grange leadership and is constantly reminded of our purposes by the resolutions and comments that emanate from our membership.

The strength of any organization is measured by the ability to put resources and/or manpower toward the accomplishment of its goals. Since 1867 the Grange has been doing so in the local community and furthering those goals in State Capitols and in Washington, D.C. No member is bound to support those things he doesn't believe in, but each is given the opportunity to attempt to sway their fellow members during the process of setting our policies.

It is only when members forget those powerful lessons contained within our Degrees that we encounter problems that become destructive to our Grange. William Saunders wrote the preamble and must have clearly understood the importance of having a method to enforce discipline within our young organization to ensure a long and prosperous future.

Dissension and strife have been kept to a minimum by the knowledge and expectation that we will treat each other as Sisters and Brothers as we debate issues, plan for the future, and learn to work together to benefit our communities. We use the lessons of the Grange to create the discipline that empowers each member to be productive.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fiscal Responsiblity

In November, I gave my third Annual Address to the delegates of the National Grange. The following two paragraphs were from the fiscal responsibility section.

"There is no issue with greater impact on our Nation than the fiscal responsibility of our elected officials at each level of government. If we allow our elected officials to fail to exercise prudent fiscal restraint we destroy what our country has stood for over the past 234 years. Our nation and states cannot spend more than we receive over the long-term, and we cannot continue to raise taxes and fees without harming the initiative and strong work ethic of the average American.

"Our great nation has developed a serious spending problem over the last few decades. Over the past two years our federal government has accelerated this problem beyond any precedent. In the past year, 37 cents of every dollar that our federal government spent was borrowed. By having huge deficits in the budget, we are creating long-term debt that was unimaginable a decade ago."

The debate in Congress on keeping our taxes at their current level should have been held months or even years ago instead of this week. Instead of making the debate one of partisanship, it should be one of finding the best solution for American taxpayers and our economy.

From the looks of things today, a great deal of increased spending will be included with keeping our taxes at their current rate. The estate or death tax looks to be re-instituted, but at somewhat lower levels than they were in 2001. It appears that no one will be happy with the final bill, but there is hope that something will pass this week.

2011 needs to be the year that we reduce spending and Congress needs to continue hearing that message.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cars and Choices

I read an article this week that I found intriguing as I am one of those car guys. The headline screamed, “Car of the future won’t be cheap” in Monday’s USA Today.
The article stated that cars could cost thousands more than the buyers would ever save in fuel costs. Smaller and less powerful cars that cost more in order to increase fuel economy seem be the order of the day.

President Obama’s ambitious goals of 47 to 62 mpg by 2025 will change our choices of vehicles. Just as the station wagon become virtually extinct after the introduction of CAFE standards in the 1970’s, the types of vehicles available to Americans will once again be restricted if history repeats itself.

The article compared the Chevy Cruze starting at less than $20,000 with the Chevy Volt at $41,000 to demonstrate the cost differences between conventional fuel-efficient gas car and an electric car. While I am all for fuel efficiency and reducing the amount of pollution generated by motor vehicles, I believe that political agendas should not trump consumer needs and demands. We also need to consider the reality of electricity as it isn’t free and it isn’t always non-polluting as you need to take into account how that power was produced.

In addition automotive executives stated that they would like gas taxes raised to ensure $4, $5, or $6 a gallon gas prices. At that level of fuel costs they believed that these proposed high cost vehicles will be far more attractive to consumers. What a shock, obviously they believe that when gas become unaffordable, people will need alternatives. This does make for an interesting business plan.

Rural America does not need more disadvantages. Transporting our families or hauling household or farm items are common activities for everyone in rural areas. I can’t speak for everyone, but there are a lot of us who don’t want to live in town. We want to live in a rural community and we understand that there are benefits and costs associated with that choice.

I love having choices. With cars, I enjoy driving my Impala and when I pass a Smart Car, I am glad they chose it and that I have other choices. It is important that our government not take our choices away either by direct action or by indirectly forcing companies to eliminate our selections.

The car of the future must not become a luxury item that many can not afford. Living in the community of our choice must also remain a viable option. These two statements are intertwined in rural America. Having choices are necessary for all!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Community and The Grange

In my Internal Report one of the sections was about the community and the importance of our organization to the community.

"The community is truly the base upon which our great nation was founded and is fundamental in why we have achieved so much. The founders of our Order knew that to improve the lot of the American farmer and their family, the community must remain the keystone of our Order. National and State efforts would only be successful when the local communities saw the strength in unity.

"There are only a handful of organizations with more local units than the Grange and there are fewer still that give the local unit as much authority as our Order gives the Community Grange. Since early in our history we have opened wide the doors of Grange membership to the entire family. For over a century we have welcomed those who were not farmers and today welcome all of good character. The importance of starting new Granges to benefit communities cannot be understated. It is my belief that we are on the brink of expanding into several new states and our goal must continue to be that we have a State Grange in every State in our great nation.

"Looking back at the history of our Order, we should feel proud that we’ve also had a profound influence throughout the world. Meeting in September with the participants and children of participants of the Germany/USA Friendship program demonstrated to me the power that the simple exchange of opening our arms and hearts to others can have. The Germany/USA program existed for about six years and yet 60 years later the participants still gather to share memories and update each other about their lives. For those participants one year of exchange became a lifetime of friendship and family.

"Looking around the world at the problems of fear, poverty, and even survival facing so many nations, it is time that our members once again consider opening their doors and hearts to share our hopes and optimism with others. I would suggest that when opportunities to share the unique dynamics of our organization and our members are presented, we take the challenge and show others around the world that Americans want to help them find lasting solutions."

The Grange has served American communities for the past 143 years and we will continue to serve and benefit them far into the future. If you want to know more about how a Grange can help your community, go to www.NationalGrange.org and learn how easy it is to start a Grange in your community.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

USPS Elimination of Saturday Service

In my Annual Address to the Delegates of the 144th Annual National Grange Session I said the following

"The U.S. Postal Service has proposed to Congress that they be allowed to reduce service to their customers, the American public. While their request notes that they wish to eliminate Saturday service, the proposed changes will allow possible future reductions in service without congressional or administrative action.

"The National Grange has taken a strong stand in opposition to this proposed reduction in services in accordance with our policies that have been adopted over the course of many years. We have testified to postal regulatory officials how rural America will suffer disproportionately from the elimination of Saturday service. A 17% reduction in services for a 6% savings does not make sense at this time.

"Due to the gap between rural and urban America in access to broadband service, rural citizens and businesses still depend heavily upon service from their local post office. Essential products such as medicine and parts, civic participation through mailed ballots, and agriculture products such as chicks depend upon delivery by our Postal Service.

"We understand the challenges faced by the Postal Service and their financial condition. We encourage the Postal Service to explore all cost saving opportunities, but reduction of services is not an option we can support. We also call upon Congress to deal with the retirement early pay-out issue which has devastated the US Postal Service financially and forced it to entertain issues such as a reduction in services to customers."

The Postal Regulatory Commissions has said by year’s end they expect to issue their Advisory Opinion in Docket N2010-1 evaluating the Postal Service’s proposal to eliminate Saturday mail service to homes and businesses nationwide.

Once Congress gets the Commissions recommendation, we will keep our members informed on this important issue.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Meaning of Leadership

National Grange Session is over and my local Grange had officer elections this week. I've had a little time to reflect on what being elected Master/President really means to most people.

Being elected to the highest ranking position in your Grange should be considered an honor as it means your fellow members believe you can do the job of leading. Leading doesn't mean doing it all, it means building a team to accomplish the Grange goals.

I have found that running the meeting is one of the easier parts of the job. If you commit to learning the basics of parliamentary procedure and our opening and closing ceremonies, you will have no problem with this part of leading.

A harder part is building teams and then educating those teams in how to function together successfully. When you understand that the success of your Grange depends upon teamwork, you have achieved a great beginning.

The hardest part of being elected "the leader" is that you must lead. Most leaders are not chosen for their good looks, their superior intellect, or their charismatic personality. Ask yourself why you were chosen to lead your Grange.

Leading is a balance of listening and guiding. It is not remaking or substantially changing the organization, it is building within the framework that exists. It is about showing your members the path that they want to go down. Leading is showing the members that it is fine to try something new or different.

Politicians tend to be poor examples of leadership as they often get caught up in believing their own press. Listen and learn from those you lead and you will achieve great things during your term as leader.

When your time is up, then be a leader and step back and support those who take the reins of leadership in your Grange. The satisfaction of a job well done and the appreciation of your peers is a wonderful reward for your gift of time and effort as a leader.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Paying For Tax Cuts

It has always irritated me when a news reporter or politician talks about paying for tax cuts and today I read an article where once again they were talking about the taxpayer paying for a federal tax cut.

Last time I checked, when you balance a budget, you adjust your spending to fit the income you have. From my point of view, the same principle would seem to apply to the government. If they raise your taxes they don’t credit anything in the budget, so why if they were to lower, or in this case not raise, your taxes where would anyone be paying for them?

For most of us, we don’t set our wages and we do not set the amount that will be taken in taxes, but we do choose how, and on what, we will spend our money. When income goes down, we stop spending on certain items or reduce spending on several. When income goes up, we choose to either spend a bit more or maybe even save a little for the future.

However, the Federal Government sets the tax rates on income and they set the deductions and credits, which means they choose how much to collect from each of us for earning each of our respective livings. They control the income side provided that they keep a balance between people being able to invest and make a dollar and trying to keep it safe from taxes by not investing it. So the income side of this equation is that it is our money that the government uses.

Yet the Federal Government is also in charge of spending all of our tax dollars. A balanced budget would be one that didn’t spend more than it took in, and think about that last time that happened in Washington, D.C. The answer to that question will date you if you remember being there.

The current situation where we are spending far more than we take in (deficit), means that our children and grandchildren are going to have to pay back sometime in the future the money we’ve borrowed and spent (debt).

I remember when President Bush proposed tax cuts and after Congress passed them and the President signed it into law, I had a decrease in the taxes I paid. And just for the record, I’ve never been rich in my life, at least as far as money goes. Now some of these reporters and politicians are saying if they don’t take more of my money we’ll have to pay for it. Did I miss something or are we trying to spin math now?

Now I do believe that all Americans should help contribute financially to support our country. An open debate on how much we should pay through our taxes is proper. From my perspective our government has a spending problem and the only way it is an income problem is if we are determined to spend freely and then try to raise taxes to match.

It is time to call things what they are and quit trying to spin words and facts to confuse people or to further muddy the issue. It is our money that our government takes through taxes and it is our money that they spend to operate our nation. At the moment it is also the money that is being spent that our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are going to be earning in the future.

Regardless of whether the politicians want to raise, lower, or keep taxes at the current level, at least don’t tell us that we have to pay for a tax cut.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Alaska and New Frontiers

I spent the past Weekend in Alaska and it was memorable for a number of reasons.

The next to last "conversation with Grange members" meeting was held in Palmer and eleven members were present. As normal, there were many questions and comments from the members as they participated in the meeting. The duties of the officers, state of the National Grange, and the update on our name protection efforts were all new information to many of the Alaska members. They were pleased to see how National Grange has worked to help them and keep them informed about issues that affect all Granges.

The sixth degree was then conferred that evening to eleven Alaska members following the Fifth Degree obligation ceremony. It was truly a positive and inspiring way to conclude the day's activities.

We had 17 individuals on the team from 9 different states. The team did an outstanding job, with all team members having memorized their parts and they appeared to have worked together for years rather than just having had one practice that afternoon.

Errol Briggs, Master of the team, presented a gavel to the Alaska State Grange as a remembrance to the event. John Porrier, State Master, accepted the gavel and spoke how it was the first piece of history that the State Grange owns. It will now travel through the state until it has visited each of the seven Granges.

Brother Lester Gibbs, Chaplain of the team, presented each new sixth degree member with a pin from the Vermont State Grange. Also I presented brother Porrier with a set of sixth degree manuals so that in the future the Alaska State Grange could properly open and confer the degree themselves.

I am so proud of the fact that our members chose to come to Alaska to be a part of this first ever conferral. The team consisted of M-Errol Briggs, VT; O-Bob White, OH; L-Celia Luttrell, OR; S-Don Johnson, ID; AS-Mark Noah, OR; LAS-Susan Noah, OR; Ch-Lester Gibbs, VT; T-Gaye Hunt, AK; Sec-Mary Reinke, WI; GK-Norm Keller, IL; C-Joan While, OH; P-Betsy Huber, PA; F-Henrietta Keller, IL; Executive Committee-Alan Arner, WI; Barbara Chambers, VT; Clara Scott, MT; and Pianist-Mary Johnson, ID. If you want to get a detailed report as one of these members for their opinion of the day's activities.

Alaska is still viewed by some as a frontier and as far as our organization goes they will not be the last frontier. We are working to start Granges in Missouri, Nevada, and Arkansas at this time. Each new Grange, both Community and State, creates a new frontier for our members. New projects, new activities, and most importantly, new members are created with each new Grange.

The benefit of a new frontier is that they bring new energy and ideas into the existing Granges many of which are over a hundred years old. This blend of new and old invigorates our organization and ensures our continued growth.

I hope your memories of this past weekend are as good as those who went to Alaska and experienced a new frontier.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


This has been an interesting month. It seems that I've been dealing with a number of problems that originate with people not talking to each other.

It is crucial that people talk to each other, especially when one party has some authority. It is never healthy for people or for organizations not to communicate.

It appears that when many people decide that when they are not going to talk to someone else, they also stop listening to them. At that point how do we think we are going to solve the problem?

The next step often is that one or both start complaining or even making accusations to others without talking to the person they need to be talking to. Fairly quickly it becomes a "whose side are you on" situation.

I've seen Granges, churches, and even entire communities divided over issues that started because someone quit talking to someone else. Who wins in these cases? Usually no one wins. Someone may drop a membership or even choose to move out of the area, but did anyone actually win? The sad thing is in these extreme cases, often both feuding parties actually want similar things and they just let things get carried away by not communicating.

People in the Grange have an obligation to help each other. If two people quit talking to each other, others should counsel them to clear the air and find a solution. Those who care about the cause or organization need to show their leadership or they risk losing the things they care about because others are not talking.

It is my experience that as long as people are willing to talk, there is a chance of finding solutions to whatever challenge is facing us. It is when we stop talking and listening that we start to lose.

Let each of us remind ourselves now and again, that we need to talk to others and listen to what they have to say.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

This Past Week

What a week I've had. Interviews for a new Legislative Director, staff meetings, problems in a couple of states, issues that included what we are going to do about the Postal Service proposal to reduce service, and an interesting idea to help farmers and rural people in another part of our world.

The one thing most people don't realize is that I spend at least half my time team building. Working with, training, encouraging, and supporting the members of all the different teams the National Grange has, is one of the chief duties of the Master of the National Grange. Success or failure is often based on how well that single portion of this job is done.

While I am not a "city" person, the time I spend with the staff is not only valuable, but enjoyable. I have trust and faith that your staff is not only dedicated to our organization, but committed to being a part of growing it.

Leroy Watson is going to be leaving his post in a week and a half and I will miss him greatly. He brought a keen mind and 11 years of experience as the Director to the staff and it has benefited every Master he worked under and the organization as a whole. I am also sure that he will continue to contribute in many ways to the future of our Grange, now just as an active member.

The team of staff will change this month and we have already begun to fit new people into the team. The process is the same for new employees as for new members in your own Grange. We need to make them feel welcome, make sure that they understand what we do and why, and listen to their questions and comments. We have the opportunity to learn about ourselves by listening to a new set of eyes.

Sitting at the airport, reflecting on this past week, is a pleasant moment this week. We have strengthened our staff team, we are seeking solutions to some problems challenging some of our State Master team members, and we accomplished a great deal.

Success or failure is the result of team building efforts. This week was another success for the National Grange and our organization as a whole. Hope your week was as wonderful!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Basic Economics

I just don’t quite get why so many politicians seem to be missing the common sense boat when we talk about the economy. It would be truly discouraging if it required a degree in economics to see some of the solutions.

I’ve had a checking account since I was about 16 and at an early point in life, I knew that if a person writes a check or charges a debit for more money than they have in the account, the check bounces, the debit is declined and the bank punishes you with a hefty overdraft fee. When you don’t pay a bill, someone is going to ask some tough questions. If you constantly spend more than you make, you will go bankrupt.

It is seems obvious to me that when you increase taxes, there is less money being spent to hire people by businesses. Undoubtedly there is a tax rate that will generate the maximum revenue for the government with the least negative impact on the economy and while I am not sure what it is exactly, I just have a hunch it is somewhat lower than the total bill we have today.

The bottom line is that the government as a whole doesn’t create wealth and wealth is what increases our standard of living. Without wealth generation, the ideas, services, food, fiber, and widgets that are produced, the economy just can’t grow.
It is also painfully obvious that when you increase taxes on the rich, that many people find themselves being classed as rich who really are not. Most importantly, if the amount of taxes I pay as a percentage of my income goes up, it is a tax increase. The more of my money that the government takes, the less that I can use for the things I think are important. Now don’t think that I oppose paying taxes, I just want a civil discussion on how much I should pay.

It would seem to me that there are some simple solutions to help stimulate the economy.

First stop spending more than is received in revenue. I realize that means making choices, but that is what people normally do when they run out of money.

Second stop raising taxes, especially the ones aimed at business. All they seem to do is discourage hiring. While we’re on this subject, maybe just following a bit of Grange policy and make the tax system simpler would aid the economy. If farmers, businesspeople, and the rest of the taxpayers knew the tax system was consistent and predictable it would be a lot easier to make investments that would lead to new jobs.

Third quit using taxes as a partisan position and as a wedge between voters and start talking about our nation’s financial health. After all, we are all citizens of this great nation.

I have a hunch that just these three basic ideas would keep Congress busy for a couple of years while the rest of us keep working and building the secure financial future we want for our families.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Defining Who We Are

Just two weeks ago I was in Washington, D.C. with my wife, son, and about 500 of my friends. While I was working, my wife and son Jacob visited many of the monuments and memorials and took in the sights around Washington. One of their stops was Mt. Vernon where they spent a good share of one day.

Jacob has always been interested in history and the world in general and is a well informed young man. He commented that he learned that George Washington defined himself as a farmer and he observed that histories don't mention his love of agriculture.

Washington may have been the general that kept alive the dream of independence and he may have been the first President and in the process created a working nation. But when he defined who he was, he said a farmer.

How do you define a farmer? Is he or she a person who takes risks, but is educated and experienced enough to find success? Is it a person who is willing and tough enough to work long hours when necessary.

I believe that we should embrace the picture of Washington as the proto-type of the American farmer. Someone who puts his heart, mind, and soul into growing crops, raising livestock, and today also growing fuel. Highly educated and willing to get dirty, committed to a lifestyle, their family and the community they are blessed to live in. Someone who answers the call to duty when their country needs them, and seldom is far from God.

While Washington thought of himself as a farmer, history often ignores that central part of his life in favor of the more attractive general or President. But why is his own definition of himself so often overlooked? Why are farmers in general overlooked or even ignored so often?

It is possible that American farmers are so good at their chosen occupation and so quiet about it that their silence is taken by the public as proof it isn't so tough. Maybe it is just that they are not vocal about it.

Agriculture faces many challenges today, from government regulation to attacks from anti-agriculture groups. One small things we can do is to take time to look at the initiation ceremonies of the Grange and how we use these powerful lessons to teach the critical role of agriculture and the importance of farmers.

All of us who do not make our livings via farming need to join with that small segment of our nation's population who are farmers. Together we must make sure that we define what a farmer is, not others who have no idea of what is involved in being a farmer.

The Grange is an agricultural organization and as such, continues to educate and teach what it means to be a farmer in today's America. Our membership is not made up of just farmers, but those with an interest in agriculture.

George Washington would be happy to see organizations that remember the high position that agriculture occupies and the importance of the American farmer. Would he be as happy about how many Americans define farmers?

Let's all continue working together to ensure that the we define what a farmer is!

Monday, June 28, 2010

What a Reason to Celebrate

On Saturday, the National Grange took the day to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of our building at 1616 H Street, NW in Washington D.C. This building was built and paid for by Grange members across the country and the day was dedicated to them.

Around 500 members and visitors attended the re-dedication ceremony or visited the building on June 26. From my perspective, it seemed more like a family reunion than anything else. So far this morning, I've found a note from Alex, and a business card from Chris and I'm sure I'll find traces of other members in the office.

I want to thank Clackamas County Pomona Grange for the re-dedication plaque; Kermit and Margaret Richardson, Pete Pommper, and Grange Insurance Association for the artwork they each donated; and Grange Mutual Insurance of Oklahoma and all the Granges and members who donated to aid us in the re-painting of the Goss conference room and our offices on the 11th and 10th floors. The list of donors were in the program and each are so appreciated.

Your National Grange staff deserves your appreciation for their hard work to ensure that the day went smoothly. The officers of the National Grange did a great job throughout the day and then served as ushers as we prepared for the ceremony. A special thank you goes to Ed and Darlene Andersen, Bob and Delores Barrow, and Kermit and Margaret Richardson for taking the time to attend and be part of this day of celebration. As three of our past National Grange Masters it was an honor to recognize them for their contributions to our organization.

The youth who served as building ambassadors made my day. They were so enthused and ready to help everyone. The stream of people showed in a real way what the Grange is. We had kids in strollers, elementary students looking at exhibits, teenagers giving tours, parents were meeting and sharing experiences with each other, and the grandparents were showing their families and friends bits of our history. Saturday was a family affair and the showcase for the Grange was the building.

It is important to occasionally take a moment to celebrate some of the milestones of life. The Grange observed the 50th anniversary of our building, but the real commemoration was recognition of the members who made the dream of a building a reality and those who keep the dream alive.

Today as I reflect upon Saturday, I feel great! It is now time to get back to the exciting task of growing the Grange, I am refreshed and re-energized by being a part of our members celebrating one of the big milestones of the Grange.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Some people claim to be activists while most of us would hesitate to even suggest that we were such. I wonder if today's media and our lexicon should try to differentiate between activists and protesters.

I've seen a lot of TV coverage of protests over the years. From our headquarters building you can often see groups of protesters in Lafayette Park as they march and chant in front of the White House. In reflecting upon all the protests I've seen over the years, only a few seemed to have any strong mainstream American connection. Most seem to be angry people upset over a single issue. Only rarely does a protest seem to draw in people from all walks of life. In fact, many protests are rather small events in terms of people participating.

Of course, most of us who never go to protests have jobs, families, and responsibilities and have little time to go and wave signs and participate in chanting the slogan of that days protest.

Activists on the other hand, are all about getting something done. Being in a group of thousands may influence politicians, but starting a project that makes people's lives better begins with people sharing their concerns. America's traditional civic organizations seldom gather to protest, but they regularly meet and discuss what they can do to help others. These are the real activist organizations.

Just like the Grange, the civic organizations in each community tend to attract activists, those who what to get some action started. These organizations normally work together on bigger projects and they give each member the opportunity to influence which projects or activities the group will choose to work on.

Every American should find ways to become an activist within their community. Community action is how we change both our state and our nation and the more healthy community activist organizations we have, the stronger our communities. Our local civic organizations are the real deal when you want to talk about activist organizations. They are not huge checkbook organizations, they are real people working together to aid others.

Regardless of if you are a small business owner, work for a large corporation, work 9 to 5, or are retired, check out your local Grange to find out how you can be an activist in your community. Your community is counting on you.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Discussion of Big Issues Including Global Warming

The Grange is an organization that encourages our members to discuss, debate, and even to disagree on issues in order to find common ground and solutions to real problems. Policies of the Community, State, and National Grange are the result of our grassroots based concept of setting the official view of our organization through a democratic, collective decision making process. The end result is that the issues that we set policy on are not always the same. A Community Grange policy may differ from their State Grange's policy on the same topic. Any State may have an opposing view from the National Grange's policies.

In reality the only members who are required to publicly support any of the policies of the Grange are the leaders at each level that has policy on that issue. Our support comes from the discussion of our membership during the adoption progress.

Issues such as global warming or climate change, are huge issues that have the potential to divide any group. I am aware of many members of our organization that believe strongly that we are the sole cause of this problem, while many others question just how much change is happening and do not believe that mankind has the power to change climate.

Many groups have taken "politically correct" positions so that they don't have to take the heat. Some groups have ignored the issue and a few have taken the opportunity to have open discussion. On the issue of global warming, all possible positions have danger, at least in a political sense.

Our stand is that each member must follow their own conscience on each issue. Where they disagree with official policy, they should advocate for its change internally and work for their point of view outside the organization. Calling names or implying that leaders are wrong for carrying out the policies of the Grange at that level are not actions based upon the high standards of Grange principles.

The Grange position on global warming is rather brief. We are opposed to the current various incarnations of the "Cap and Trade" bill as they are more about revenue generation than impacting any global warming. We are also opposed to increasing legislation or regulation to restrict greenhouse gasses as governmental intervention seldom solves the problem.

We have a long history of 142 years, during which we have consistently advocated for good stewardship of our land and environment. We don't always agree with particular pieces of legislation or specific rules from agencies, but we do believe that good stewardship must be part of our lifestyle, regardless of whether we live in a rural area or an urban environment. During our traditional initiation process each new member is left with the goal that we should leave the world a better place than we found it.

The Grange remains one of the few organizations where open discussion of the big issues is not only possible, but encouraged. Tempers may occasionally flare, passions may erupt, but the end goal is a civil discussion where all learn something and we search together for common ground.

The Grange Declaration of Purposes, written by the Founders of the Grange and still part of the Constitution of the National Grange, anticipated that there would be conflicts of opinion and philosophy as part of the Grange policy development process. Through the Declaration of Purposes, the Founders teach us that as Grange members, we collectively believe that "....difference of opinion is not a crime...." I would also add that neither is difference of opinion per se evidence of a failure of process or procedure in either developing our policy or implementing that policy. The Founders also teach us in the same section of the Declaration of Purposes that ....the fault lies in the bitterness of the controversy", meaning that disagreements on issues are only problems when we can not accept that our Brother and Sister Grange members, of good faith and honest character can have opinions or perspectives other than those we are comfortable with, including opinions that challenge our core values and ideas of who WE are as individual Grange members and what OUR Grange "stands for."

None of the big issues facing our society will be solved with "bumper sticker" solutions. We understand that complex problems often require solutions that require patience, time, and the ability to change and adapt as we learn. I am confident that Grange policies will continue to change and adapt without losing the fundamental principles that our organization has. The principle of open discussion of the big issues of the day is alive and well.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Healthy" Communities

It is interesting listening to the talking heads on TV and radio, reading the "experts" opinions on the web and in newspapers, and chatting with people around the country about the current state of America. I believe the current state of America is tied to the health of our local communities.

What is a healthy community and what are its characteristics? To me there are several important factors. Good jobs being available and a good school system to ensure education are two big factors. Many communities are struggling right now with these, especially the jobs issue.

Churches, support for the arts, and recreational opportunities also add much needed requirements for healthy communities. Support for the spiritual and emotional needs of a community are crucial for a healthy community.

One crucial aspect often neglected is the need for a place where people can come together and discuss, debate, and search for common ground as a community. In today's highly charged partisan atmosphere, it has become difficult to find organizations that will tackle the big issues in a non-partisan fashion. Many groups have taken the position that they just will not discuss issues that may create disagreements.

We need more places in every community where we can expose people to different ideas and give them the opportunity to share their passions with others. While the Grange has been doing just this for 142 years, others need to join us in meeting this crucial need of every community. The search for common ground within each community is critical to the long-term health of each. Without any common ground, our communities can easily tear themselves apart.

The strength and healthy of our American communities has many components, but one is that we must have places where we can search together for mutual benefits.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why be discouraged?

I am in New Jersey today. I've been in Texas in January. SC, TN, NC, VA, WV, OH, MD, and DE so far this month and tomorrow will head to PA to finish the month of March.

What I am seeing from the members who are coming out to the meetings that are held in each state is an incredible amount of energy. While the presentation tries to give a balanced picture, one containing the good and bad, the members are optimistic and excited about the future of their Grange.

I've done a lot of of conferences and meetings over the years, some were tough and others we couldn't have asked for better results. However, this series of meetings are the best I've ever had the pleasure of participating in. I am leaving each meeting more excited and more energized than I ever imagined I could be.

If you're discouraged, find out when and where the meeting or meetings will be held in your State. Show up and find out what the membership is doing. The entire focus is on two main points, what is happening at the National level and what you can do at the Community Grange level.

If you don't lose your discouragement, I'd be shocked.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Weather, disasters, and other challenges

This year has started out strong with many challenges. Haiti had an earthquake that devastated the island country. Much of the East Coast around Washington, D.C. is shut down because of a snow storm that reached blizzard conditions in places. California has been in the news as they have had serious mudslides due to heavy rains.

Grange members have contacted me about some of these events and asked what they could do. I would suggest that we work together with other organizations to bring relief where it is needed. Our members may choose to help Haiti or they may want to aid their fellow citizens, it is their choice.

As we look to the future, each Grange should consider creating a plan in case of disaster or extreme weather. Can your Grange hall be an refuge for people if something happens in your community? Can you arrange for power, heat, and water at your hall if the lines go down?

How can your Grange members share information to ensure that as many needs are met as possible? Who is going to check in on members who don't have family in the community?

These questions and more are important if you want to develop a plan to help your community. Talk with your local fire department and law enforcement agency. Make sure to consider what they have to say about emergency planning.

Grange members have a history of pitching in and helping during times of extreme weather or natural disasters. In this day and age, it only makes sense to create a plan so that everyone in your Grange knows what to do and who to check with. After all, it is our community.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

National Cattlemen

I am attending the National Cattle Industry Convention in San Antonio. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the Cattleman's Beef Board, the BCBA Trade Show, the American National Cattlewomen, the National Cattlemen's Foundation, and CattleFax all have meetings this week.

I am very pleased that the leaders of these organizations are all speaking of unity. Not just within the beef industry but within agriculture. Just as the Grange has been speaking of unity within agriculture for many years, it is great to hear other organizations articulating the goal of working together.

Lucinda Williams, Chairman, Cattlemen's Beef Board spoke about the three challenges she sees facing the beef industry and agriculture.

First, the reality of the knowledge of our customers must be faced. The average American is 3 generations removed from the farm according to Williams. Our challenge is to educate them about the realities of farm life, practices, and our positive interaction with the environment.

Second, our opposition has abundant resources. The huge amounts of money that many organizations raise creates a challenge for all in the Ag and Natural Resource community as we can not compete on a dollar for dollar basis.

Third, we are working with a media that is friendly towards anti-meat and anti-Ag organizations.

These three points of Williams are points that the Grange agrees with and many rural and farm based organizations have been speaking about.

It is a pleasure to see the energy level of the members of the Beef organization as high as ever. My experiences with them goes back to when I was the President of the Oregon State Grange and worked closely with the Oregon Cattlemen's Assoc. They earned my respect then and the current leadership at the National level continues that tradition.

I am looking forward to the next two days, meeting new friends, and making connections that will help both the beef industry, their organizations and members, and the Grange and our membership. In fact, I encourage all Grange members that are in the beef industry to check these folks out and consider joining them.

The Grange is not a competitor with these organizations, we are allies and the more members we share, and the more we talk the greater the unity we will create. In today's world, unity is strength. I will end with an invitation to the families that make their living in the beef industry, check out the Grange and find out what we will add to your life when you become part of our organization.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hiding Taxes

I found a new tax in Washington DC. When I bought my lunch the person running the cash register asked me if I wanted a bag. It seemed like a silly question to me as I had a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a drink and it was to go, so I said yes. As I paid my bill, I saw a posted sign that notified me that bags now cost 5 cents due to a new District of Columbia law that became effective January 1.

I have now done some research and found that DC now requires all businesses that sell food or alcohol to charge five cents for a plastic bag. Not only does it require payment, but the bag must be made from #2 or #4 polyethylene and the bags must be printed with a phrase that encourages recycling (such as “Please recycle this bag.”) Paper bags must contain a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content and have the printed message also.

The business gets to keep 1 cent unless they offer a rebate for customers providing their own bag and then they get to keep 2 cents.

The 3 to 4 cents left of this new tax will go to the new Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund which will be administered by the District Department of the Environment (DDOE). They have announced that they plan to use it to clean and protect the Anacostia and other local waterways, conduct public education campaigns about the impact of trash on the District’s environmental health, and continue to provide reusable carryout bags to District residents.

Of course as with most government mandated programs, there are some bags that will be banned and other bags from certain businesses that are exempt from this tax.

The real question is not how this impacts the District of Columbia, but why is this a standard way of raising revenue for many cities, counties, and states? Hiding taxes for causes in fees that people don't perceive of as taxes doesn't promote support. The Grange believes in good stewardship of our environment. We would support many efforts to clean up rivers, reduce trash and litter, or even to educate people about their options. However, government often forgets that there are multiple ways to get the message out and to create effective solutions.

Especially in tough economic times, just charging more for taxes and letting a government agency address the topic doesn't seem prudent. Did the city really evaluate their priorities and find nothing of less importance to discontinue? Did they really find that this issue was of such critical importance that a new tax needed to be created?

I know it is only a nickel. If you buy one bag a week it is only $2.60 of which the government will get about $2.00 of. The question I have for those who ask, "why complain about a nickel?" How many nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars are already being used for worthwhile causes with taxes that are hidden? When I pay my income tax I know how much it is. When I pay my property tax bill, I know who gets every part of it. When I buy an item and there is a sales tax, it is there for me to see. The problem is that government officials realize that people don't want to pay more taxes so they are hiding them in plain sight as user fees, bag fees, or have them included within the price of something we purchase.

This D.C. five-cent bag fee will have no impact on most Grange members. The question for each member is how much money do you spend each year without realizing it is a tax from your government and which is often dedicated for some specific purpose? Do you feel that you are paying your fair share? Is your money being spent wisely and for important services? Are you going to bring even one issue to your Grange this year?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Conference in Vermont

I sat through the meetings at the Northeast Leaders conference in Vermont this past weekend. The unofficial theme of the day appears to be youth and growth. Why would a group of Grange leaders be talking about young people and Grange growth?

It is because these two topics are intertwined and work on either issue often leads to improvement in the other. Youth are at the point in life where they are learning and growing every day. They absorb new information like a sponge and most are open to trying almost anything that looks like an opportunity. These traits that young people possess are the same traits that we are teaching members to use so that they can attract new members and to grow their Grange.

Young people are looking for opportunities to learn new skills. They want to know how to run a meeting, how to shepherd an issue through the process to create a change, or how to influence others. Building a team to accomplish big tasks, setting large goals, or picking a project that impacts communities is daunting for all age groups, but youth don’t know what they can’t do and often jump at that opportunity.
In addition, most young people want to be thought of as adults. They want to be taken seriously by the older folks and be considered equals. In our organization we give 14-year old members the right to be adults and we give them responsibility and authority as members.

This group is an important part of the Grange as they bring energy and enthusiasm to our organization. As part of a Grange team they add an important ingredient to the mix of experience and knowledge that our long-time members bring.

That brings us right to the topic of Grange growth. Our members are searching for tools that will teach them how to attract new members to join and how to get members to step up as new leaders. State Grange leaders are looking for communities that need a Grange either with a new Grange or with a reorganized former Grange. All of these create growth in our Grange.

The way we are going to be successful is by working together and forming teams to accomplish the goals and tasks that face us. The more young people that we get involved on our teams, the more diverse and talent the teams will become. Success is a direct result of members working together and not worrying about who gets the credit. We need to reinforce the understanding that that credit is shared by all and success is the real reward.

I am so energized by what I am hearing from the members of the Northeast region. It appears that members and leaders are all focused on the same basic premise of involving youth and creating Grange growth. While each state has its own identity and methods, they have unity of focus and purpose.

Conferences and meetings give each member the chance to pick up some new energy and excitement while they learn a few new ideas that involve young people in their Grange and how to create Grange growth in their own Community Grange.

I hope you get the opportunity to attend an exciting Grange conference in your area. Focus on young people and Grange growth and 2010 will be a great year!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Last Sunday I did an installation of officers at my Grange. Listening to the comments and looking at the turn out, it is apparent to me that many members have forgotten why we do an installation.

First and foremost, installation is to remind the officers of the importance of the position they have been elected to serve in. For a new officer it gives them the opportunity to hear what the formal duties of their office are. For someone who has been re-elected a number of times, it is a reminder of what that officer needs to be doing.

There are several other reasons that may be easy to overlook, but are truly important.

While each officer is installed as an individual, the ceremony is for the entire group of officers. It is a team event, no officer is too important to have their own ceremony, no officer is so unimportant that we skip them. It is a reminder that as Grange members and officers we are interdependent and if we are going to achieve success, it is done together. A Grange that treats certain officers as important and ignores others, does so at their own peril. We elect an officer team to share the burdens and challenges of leadership among a group of members.

The installation ceremony is a public ceremony and we should be inviting non-members to come and witness the pride we have for the organization and for those we elect as our leaders. It is an opportunity to share some of our history, our principles and values, and the spirit of fraternity. For us it is a reminder of these things that we may take for granted.

The members should view the ceremony as an opportunity to get together and celebrate. That celebration should be one of achievement for those officers who have the chance to welcome in their successors. It should be a celebration for new officers as they get to to grow, learn, and become better leaders as they lead the Grange forward. Most importantly, those members who are not officers can join in celebrating a new Grange year as marked by new officers.

We now have two installation ceremonies that can be used. Regardless of which you choose, perform the installation with pride and have fun doing it. The officers will appreciate a smile from the installing officer and the serious duties of each office will not be diminished by all enjoying the brief presentation when done to the best of our abilities.

Don't worry about perfection, worry about the meaning of the words. Review the ceremony in the Manual and reflect on the opportunities it offers you Grange. Use the Installation of Officers ceremony as a positive opportunity to renew your excitement and energy for the Grange and your commitment to being part of the Grange team.