On Thursday, October, 13, VMC Foundation CEO Chris Wilder was honored by People Acting in Community Together (PACT) as the 2016 Top Community Builder. This recognition was bestowed on Chris for his leadership and commitment to the health and well-being of the Silicon Valley community through many roles and causes over the past 25 years. PACT is a multicultural, multi-faith, grassroots organization the empowers everyday people to create a more healthy and just community.
Chris was recognized alongside John Tortora, COO of the San Jose Sharks.
Below is a transcript of his remarks to the 500+ guests in attendance at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
Thank you Leah [Toeniskoetter who introduced me], our Board of Directors past and present, our amazing staff past and present, friends and family.
My pal J and I went out Sunday to Los Gatos and dropped literature for Measure A. (show measure A). While doing this, we were able to reminisce about our time in the late 80’s/early 90’s doing door-to-door canvassing. The real stuff: Not just leaving a flyer, but actually knocking on doors. Not just gathering signatures or votes, but raising money! How many of you have done this? [many hands raised].
This is super hard work; the hardest way to raise money I know. J and I were laughing about all the stories, the things that happen to you when you’re knocking on doors…from being totally ignored, or being threatened with a trespassing lawsuit, to verbal abuse to unwanted sexual advances – and that’s just when you knock on Donald Trump’s door!
Sorry, I didn’t write that; these jokes write themselves.
Anyway, it’s no wonder canvassing is hard – you knock on someone’s door at 6:30 at night, they’re trying to feed the baby! And the toddler! They just got home, they’re tired. They’re certainly not expecting YOU…never once did I knock on someone’s door and have them say “you know, I was just thinking about the reauthorization of the clean water act, hoping someone would come by and engage me civically!”
And yet, on any given night, a canvasser could expect to raise a couple hundred bucks and sign up five new members of the group. Then we’d go to Sacramento and meet with senators and show them how many of their constituents cared about this or that issue—cared so much, in fact, they were willing to give fifty bucks to this hippy stranger who just showed up on their front door! And then in 1990 Anna Eshoo came to our office and said, “You know, I lost my race for congress two years ago and I want to run again, and you guys go door-to-door in what would be MY district, so you probably know the electorate better than me – what can you teach me?” I was 22. That was cool. Then of course, she did get elected and has served in Congress to this day, representing—in my view—the public interest very powerfully.
So the point here is that this work matters and people really do care! If they didn’t, disasters like Flint Michigan’s water supply would happen more often. Powerful people who put their interests over public interest would win more often, thanks to people like you and organizations like PACT, this is a better place to live than it would be otherwise. The fact that people care is the reason that, if I deserve this honor at all, then we all deserve it. People give to the VMC Foundation not because of me, but because VMC is a jewel, essential for all who live here. Let’s be clear: I don’t save lives! Doctors like Balaji Govindaswami, SCVMC’s Chief of Newborn Care is sitting there, and over there is Dr. Gregg Adams, our Chief of Surgery, and there’s lifelong RN Sue Kehl, the Director of Women and Childrens’ Health…THEY save lives! And our leaders like CEO Paul Lorenz sitting right there, and COO Benita McLaren who run the place…what do I do? I TALK about it all! And ALL the caregivers are amazing, and everyone deserves quality health care…and guys like John Tortora and the Sharks and SAP care as much about the community as they do about winning hockey games. That’s why I don’t deserve this award unless you all deserve it too. And you do.
I’d like to close with a word about RISK. In the late 80’s I left a potentially safe career in hotel management and fell into political organizing. And 13 years ago I joined the VMC Foundation despite having exactly zero knowledge about medical care. And yes, I raise money in unconventional ways…and so people say “wow, you’re willing to risk!”
Maybe…but I’m frankly a little tired of successful, wealthy, well educated, straight white men telling rooms-full of people that they need to be willing to risk. Because that’s not fair. If you’re struggling to feed your kids and pay the rent, and you have no savings and you don’t have a college education, then your opportunities to risk and throw caution to the wind are pretty limited. If you don’t have a spouse like I do, willing to support my risky moves, then the risks may be too high. Kate and I don’t have kids, we’re not a paycheck away from a shelter, so I’m lucky enough that I get to risk.
But organizations like PACT give folks a chance to risk, by putting themselves in unfamiliar and scary situations, and to band together to get things done—without undue risk in a world that doesn’t always reward it.
So yes, I do this work because I am lucky and I get to. And because bad things are wrong, and somebody should do something about everything. Or, put slightly more eloquently by Bobby Kennedy in 1966 in a speech to students in South Africa that I only learned about in 1999:
Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [they send] forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Thank you PACT, for sending forth those ripples, and thank you all, for helping build that current. I’m honored and grateful.