President's Message: Taking Personal Responsibility, ACB Style

by Mitch Pomerantz

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I will not devote this column to a lecture on why every ACB member should contribute more financially to the cause, although such contributions are certainly welcome and much needed. What I will do in this space is to talk about a favorite subject of mine: why it is so important for all of us to assume personal responsibility for the continued growth and success of the American Council of the Blind, and offer a few ideas on how to do so. 

As I've indicated here and elsewhere, while I have a personal philosophy, I avoid any particular ideology. I tend toward the political center; a moderate and a pragmatist. To my way of thinking, it is far more important to achieve something useful through honest negotiation than to accomplish nothing through stubborn adherence to an unwavering principle. This pragmatic approach has been repeatedly validated over my almost 40 years as an advocate for blind and visually impaired people as I've worked with legislators and government officials from both ends of the political spectrum who understood and championed our various issues. 

A notion most often associated with a more conservative world view - and one to which I completely subscribe - is the concept of taking personal responsibility for the consequences of one's actions. For me this means not making excuses for poor judgment, not blaming someone else (or society as a whole) for one's actions, owning up to those actions and consequences, and making a commitment to doing better. It also suggests making a commitment to, and accepting an active role in, something one feels strongly about. 

I trust that the connection to ACB is obvious (I've never been accused of being very subtle). I'm writing this during the week that the board of directors is deliberating over our 2011 budget. Like just about every other not-for-profit board in the country, we're having to make some difficult fiscal decisions as a result of the current economy. By the time you read this, those decisions will have been made and the consequences of the actions we've taken will have begun to be evident. Regardless of the nature and scope of those actions, it will be even more critical for our members to accept a greater role in, and additional responsibility for, the work of the American Council of the Blind and its affiliates. 

Let me illustrate. At present our Arlington, Va. and Brooklyn Center, Minn. offices have five professional and administrative staff each; 10 employees altogether. We have two individuals working part-time under contract: our webmaster and the managing director of ACB Radio. That's not a large number of paid staff for an organization of ACB's size. While some may disagree, I believe our staff and contract workers are doing outstanding jobs overall and I acknowledge them here for their efforts on our behalf. 

Having said that, I hasten to state for the record that these 12 individuals are insufficient by themselves to accomplish everything which needs to be done in order to advance our agenda as an organization. This is where you come in! Here is where I call upon each ACB member to step forward and take greater personal responsibility for advancing that agenda. 

Since ACB is a grass-roots organization, we emphasize the importance of our 70 state and special-interest affiliates. Therefore, increasing your level of personal responsibility to the organization as a whole may begin with a commitment to participate in the affairs of your local chapter, or to attend your state convention. It can involve helping out with fundraising, assisting in advocacy activities, editing the affiliate newsletter, or taking calls from people seeking information about blindness or the organization. Our affiliates need active members and new ideas. 

Nationally, I've been gratified by the response to my calls for members interested and willing to serve on ACB committees and task forces. Currently, we have approximately 30 such entities with roughly 200 individuals serving. I have another 30 people who have expressed interest in being appointed when committee appointments are next made following the 2011 conference and convention. Given a membership in five figures, I would expect that number to be significantly larger. There will always be a place in an organization such as ours for more participation on committees, greater numbers attending conventions and in giving input and providing feedback to the board of directors. 

Making the kind of commitment and accepting the level of personal responsibility I've outlined - on the local, state and/or national level - may involve having to work with some folks you don't especially like or with whom you disagree. As I see it, that's part of taking personal responsibility as well: recognizing there is something more important than personalities or differences of opinion. It requires setting egos aside and focusing on improving the lives of all blind and visually impaired people. 

I've written and spoken about the difficult times facing all of us. You know about the successes ACB has achieved - including the eleventh-hour passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act - and the challenges we've yet to overcome. If ACB is to continue successfully dealing with those ongoing challenges as well as the challenges to come, we need everyone to become personally responsible for the work which still lies ahead. ACB will not succeed without each and every one of you accepting personal responsibility for that success.