CNI is a storied and proud organization, having served the downtown core in one capacity or another since before I was born. Its members have attended countless meetings, altered entire city blocks, and helped to shape, preserve, and improve the city we love. CNI was mightiest and most influential when its members felt like they were fighting for a collective good, not merely reacting to the development or issue of the day. CNI did not wait for the problems of the world to come to its door; it sought out exposure of problems and addressed them head on. CNI helped to create the compelling downtown area that so many of us are now proud to call home.

But, like all great organizations, things ebb and flow. Events became less frequent, attendance dropped, and eagerness to reach out to the downtown’s fast-changing demographics disappeared. Our wealth of institutional memory was not cataloged, and a new generation of leadership was not sought to bring CNI into the next era of engagement in a downtown that needs it now more than ever.

I write to you today to inform you that the ebb and complacency of recent times ends now.

A few short months ago, the CNI Executive Council elected two millennials, the oldest being thirty-one years old, to lead CNI and begin a fresh chapter of the organization. While new to CNI’s leadership, I am not new to Madison or its governmental process. As a former Alder (elected at age nineteen in 2007), a lawyer, and active member of both the Bassett and James Madison Park member-neighborhoods, I know the incredible capacity for good that an organized, passionate, and activeneighborhood association can employ. Your new Vice President, Jacqueline Freidel, exemplifies the other end of the engagement spectrum; this time a year ago, she had never been involved in local government or the civic process. Even so, having just recently moved to a new job in Madison, fresh from her old home in Chicago, she was enthusiastic about the opportunity to join her neighbors to make her home, and our city, a safe, inclusive, and thriving place to live.

I have an unshakable belief that Jacqueline’s story is not the only one like it downtown. I firmly believe that there are a great many of our neighbors, both new and well acquainted to our area, who are simply waiting for someone to give them a chance to get involved. The eagerness of Jacqueline and my generation, along with those who have been engaged in neighborhood activism for decades, is stronger than it has ever been. Surrounded on all sides by headlines of hatred, historic inequities, governmental incompetence, and horrifying injustice, those living in the beating heart of Madison are seeking an organization that can serve as a bulwark against those forces on the most basic, local levels. How are our neighborhoods forged to serve those that live here or wish to? How do we craft local policy to encourage equity, diversity, prosperity, and justice? Who are our advocates when those virtues are most challenged in the halls of the City-County Building or the state capitol? Our neighbors may not yet know it, but CNI can be the mechanism they are seeking to fight for a better city, a better neighborhood, and a better home.

Some will say that this is a romantic view of a neighborhood association. They may be right, but it is my view and I will do what I can to make it a reality. I believe it is each individual person’s duty to do what he or she can to improve the place they call home. I know in my heart that CNI can be a source of change, prosperity, and hope for those who live within its boundaries.

To begin this process, your Executive Council and I have agreed upon an ambitious outreach program aimed at seeking out new and eager residents of the downtown to carry CNI into the next era of engagement. This plan includes the modernization of our communications, more community social opportunities, educational resources for new and well-established residents, and, most importantly, door-to-door outreach directly to our neighbors in all five member-neighborhoods.

It will take time, great effort, and a renewed sense of drive from existing members to make this plan a reality. The CNI Executive Council, Jacqueline and I cannot do this alone. But with your help, we can begin to show our friends, family, neighbors, and city that CNI is just getting started.

Your neighborhood is asking for you to help shape the future of Madison..

Will you?

Eli Judge
President, Capitol Neighborhoods, Inc.

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