“All of us in this room share two things in common,” said Denny Zane at Community Partners’ December 10 holiday gathering, “love and indignation.” It’s both of those seemingly conflicting feelings, he concluded, that drive people to devote so much time and energy, brains and heart to tackling difficult social and civic challenges. I think that sums up pretty well the character of everyone running a project at Community Partners.
I’d even up the ante on Denny’s assertion: it takes a quantum of love and indignation to bring a democracy to life. We recognize that fierce commitment when we single out for appreciation a few project leaders as we did at our recent gathering, Denny among them. Our Albert R. Rodriguez Civic Legacy Honors, given to a few project leaders each year, stand for all of our project leaders – and, in a way, for millions of social entrepreneurs, activists, volunteers and professionals throughout American democracy. As Community Partners’ good friend and founding board chair, lost too early to cancer, Al Rodriguez would agree that all of them care about society’s fundamental fairness and equity. And they do that each day, as they awaken to apply their singular stamp of civic action by serving as democracy’s guardians.
I know that sounds grandiose, but what would we do without the clever innovators, the boundary crossers -- what some label the “crazies” -- who dare us to think freshly, even boldly, about the possibilities of justice for all? In a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, the esteemed journalist Bill Moyers wrote:
“[T]here is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens (something otherwise known as social justice) and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud. That difference can be the difference between democracy and plutocracy.”
Like Denny Zane, Moyers asks us to both intellectually assess and shape through fierce daily action the quality of “We the People’s” relationship to one another and to the democracy we steward as Americans. Our Albert R. Rodriquez Civic Legacy Honors stand for the same idea. We hold up a few each year to stand for the many, even for those who labor in obscurity. Please think about the many as you read a bit more about each of this year’s civic legacy honorees:
Cynthia Toussaint enjoyed a budding career as an accomplished ballerina and dancer but was stricken with a little known pain disorder more than 30 years ago. Though her career was waylaid, she has since worked tirelessly as a health advocate, establishing the project For Grace in 2002 to raise awareness about Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and to work toward equal and ethical treatment of women in pain. At her side has been her partner, John Garrett, who serves as the project’s director and contributes research, media outreach, fundraising talent and more.
Hiroko Tatebe knows a great deal about success as a woman business leader. A native of Japan, Hiroko served as the director, executive vice president and treasurer of a local bank, where she was also the singular female board member. Over the years, she has led numerous civic and professional organizations and received many honors for her accomplishments. She created GOLD – the Global Organization for Leadership and Diversity – in 2006 to accelerate the leadership success of other women in Southern California and Japan through training programs and professional exchanges.
Ronda Spinak is a published author, playwright and TV writer, with credits including Rugrats. Along with two friends, she co-founded Jewish Women’s Theatre to give voice to the experience of Jewish women through theatre. Ronda and JWT recently staged in New York, a beautiful Persian show, Saffron & Rosewater, that played to a packed house of 600-plus and rave reviews. Significantly, JWT revives the tradition of at-home salons – small performances in intimate domestic spaces – and she has curated 18 original performances since the 2008 founding of JWT.
Denny Zane is a former mayor of Santa Monica who spent 12 years on the Santa Monica City Council. His passion for smart growth and effective transit led to his creation in 2007 of MoveLA, the powerful force behind Los Angeles county ballot Measure R, which a few years ago resulted in the current ambitious build-out of LA’s transportation system. That build-out, now well underway, is redefining the covenant between Angelenos and the land they occupy and steward as residents of the region. MoveLA sustains and helps advance LA County’s transit system through coalition building among business, labor, social sector and environmental leaders and organizations. Denny emphatically credits MoveLA’s success to his partnership with Gloria Ohland, his policy and communications director, and Beth Steckler, MoveLA’s deputy director.
When you run into any of these folks in the course of your community life, slap them a high five and give them as much credit as you think they are due. As you appreciate what they have done and will go on to do, take a minute to see them as a mirror and measure of your own civic action in service to caring communities and a strong democracy. You’ll find them nothing less than exemplars of what we should all hope to be.