Last weekend President-elect Obama asked that his supporters meet all over the US. There were about 10,000 Neighbors for Change meetings.
I went to three of them, I am really enthusiastic about what Oregonians can do locally, I would like to see urban and rural Neighborhood for Change (not necessarily an exact quote) pair up, so each group can learn more about why we take the positions we do on political issues.
I would love to see a show about these meetings, the community activism Obama is trying to harness, etc. Here is a reflection piece I wrote about the meetings I attended:
Dear Change Takes Action Colleagues, (one of the three groups)
Thank you so much for your support of this wonderful opportunity. I
attended three meetings this weekend, and I was heartened by something
that I heard at each one. I will first tell you the best ideas I
think I heard, then make my own suggestions based on what I heard. I
am learning every day, so if you want to add to or disagree with
anything I say, please engage me in debate?the best ideas come from
publicly discussing differences of opinion and getting as many
participants as possible to write a shared conclusion. We might most
profit from using the Supreme Court model, where there is (1) a
majority opinion, (2) concurring opinions, which agree with the
majority opinion but raise other arguments and issues, and (3)
dissenting opinions, which oppose the majority.
I first went to Barbara's. I heard two important ideas?the first was
to organize subcommittees to work in depth on issues that are most
important for parts of the group, and the second was to both
participate in the change.gov discussions but to also have a Google or
Yahoo Group forum for the organization. Our group decided to host a
coats and socks drive, and we are in the process of getting that off
Then I went to John and Alison's group. That group featured a large
number of non-citizens who are excited about change?one is even
considering becoming a citizen (giving up her birth citizenship)
because of the possibility of making change happen. It's important to
hear the perspectives of those not born in the US?they have a lot to
teach us all about what we look like to the world and how other
countries have solved some of the problems we face. We will be
volunteering as a group at a soup kitchen or other such site, and
trying to get the media to report our activities as a group.
Finally, I went to Andrine's. This was the only group that tried to
identify our city, county, state, and federal representatives so that
we could mobilize for legislative change. One of the Obama Team's
main goals is to empower us to work within the political structure at
every level, so this is vital. I had to leave early for work, so I
don't yet know what we decided to do as a project before the
inauguration. (I now know that we are creating a grass-roots food and
clothing drive to benefit the Oregon Food Bank and the PPS Clothes
There were many more good ideas, but I want to share a few of my
reflections, based on them. Please, if you think I am taking credit
for your idea, let's talk and create our idea.
I am a policy wonk kind of guy. Not everyone will be, so us wonks
will research and develop ideas in a way that can be presented to
policy makers. I want to debate others, to hone our ideas. I'll say
more about this later.
Many of you are much more interested in educating neighbors or doing
hands-on projects. I will be supporting and, time permitting,
participating in the events of all three groups that I met.
Some of us (not me, so much) are interested in being group leaders.
An effective group requires a leader who makes everyone feel
heard?whether or not they agree with the idea being suggested. It
also requires organizing, prioritizing, and encouraging members to
accept, undertake, and complete their commitments. An effective
organization must communicate with its members, attract, recruit, and
empower new members, make sure the group's agreed priorities are
accomplished, and communicate with the media, elected representatives,
and other groups. Finally, an effective group has a secretary, a
treasurer and, perhaps, a vice-chair.
Here are my ideas based on what I heard and how I reflected on it:
No matter what our group does, part of our mission needs to be
neighbor outreach. Most of us who met were already not only Obama
supporters, but also activists. We need to involve non-activists and
people who supported other candidates in the election. Some of us are
more able than others to talk to people with differing views, so how
we do this needs to be evolved over time.
I think that urban groups should pair with rural groups in a
sister-group program. Realistic and viable health care reform, for
example, must address rural problems at least as well as urban
problems. Urban poverty is much better addressed than rural poverty
in some ways because it is in the cities that we organize and provide
a voice for afflicted groups. Rural poverty is better addressed by
the cooperative nature of rural life?each has its superiority and its
weakness. If anyone in any group has a friend in rural Oregon who
went to or hosted a Change Meeting you should propose to each party
that we pair up if possible.
I envision creating and debates that happen in front of other groups,
whose members can ask questions for most of the time. Two (or more)
five or ten minute presentations on an issue or cluster of issues,
followed by a question period?which should take up most of the time.
In my vision, each debate and the questions and comments enriches the
succeeding debates, until the presenters feel that they are ready to
write a majority, concurring, and/or dissenting opinion. (The devil
is in the details on this one, so let's take it up in debate).
I think members of each group should learn or, if they already know,
share what they know about local institutions. I am a substitute
teacher, so I think that citizens need to know what is good and what
is bad about schools?their neighborhood schools, their school
district, and it is especially important for citizens to know why
administrative policies exist. People who are union members should
let the group know what happens in their groups, and we should really
know more about police, fire, and health care delivery institutions
than we hear on the news. Many people don't follow, are cynical
about, or undermine, rules they don't understand. We can't agree with
every rule, but we will agree with more of them?or disagree more
knowledgeably if we understand them.
Also, I think for any of these groups to succeed in the long-term, we
have to get to know each other and choose leaders. In at least one
meeting, the host tried to defer the leadership role saying that they
had only agreed to host. In some cases, I think some people felt
inadequately heard or agreed to ideas whose wisdom they doubted?which
would be mitigated by leadership and something like Parliamentary
Meeting Rules. Two groups where we should look especially hard for
leadership are among our retired neighbors?whose financial security,
free time, and years of experience make them valuable. The other is
high school and college students?whose enthusiasm and need to learn to
be good activists along with their time commitments, would make them
good leadership resources.
I want you to know that my time is extremely limited. I work as a
substitute teacher almost every day possible, I need to work as a
musician twelve to fifteen nights per month, plus rehearsals (meaning
I get six hours of sleep?three between school and the gig, and three
between the gig and school the next day?except that I play in church
on Sunday morning and have to be out of the house by 6:30 AM for
rehearsal). In addition to playing music, I lead a band, so have all
the administrative duties of a CEO?booking the gigs, planning and
leading rehearsals, selling my cd, and working with the agents that
book me at larger venues. I am an active member of the Portland
Association of Teachers, working on the Substitute Teacher Committee
and representing substitute teachers at union assemblies. Finally, I
am a professional philosopher who is writing a book on human nature
and morality and trying to get articles published, etc.
So, I will see how much I can actually do in the three organizations
we created. It will have to do with how my goals and interests fit
with that of each group, the effectiveness of each group itself, and
whether or not I decide to start a group in my neighborhood.
posted 4 years, 5 months ago
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