Sunday, April 29, 2007

Conversation Recap for April 29, 2007

We began at 9:10, with announcements.

This coming Friday (4:30) and all day Saturday is the education forum, “Get Smart Tacoma,” at Stadium High School. The powers that be will be there, and the Superintendent may be looking for feedback on the district. See the school windows story, below, for an example of why this is an important meeting.

May 9, as part of Tacoma Reads The Pact, Wednesday (probably at 6pm) at King Books there will be a conversation about mentoring kids in choices.

May 18-20 there will be a Native American Pow Wow at Freight House Square.

After introductions, we heard Sonia’s story.

In the question and comment period, we discussed the phenomenon of white families discussing, or not discussing, their connection to slavery. One member observed that the subject is rarely acknowledged.

Another observation: In this land we seem to be very willing to appropriate the music and other cultural features of other people, but are slow to embrace the people who created them.

We had a song from 2012, Keith and Noah, a treat that drew applause.

Housing Affordability Task force in Pierce County, a subcommittee of the county Planning Commission: Thom reported on 22 recommendations for changes in the building code, which have been endorsed by the PC executive and county council. Affordability is defined in terms of individual family resources instead of the market—much of what gets defined as “affordable” is far beyond the reach of poor families. One proposal, for example, is to attach an affordable housing requirement when developers seek exceptions to the code. This is still at the recommendation stage, and is in the negotiation process that leads to actual regulations. On another point, the task force identified a need for 37,000 units of affordable housing in Pierce County. That goes to the Regional Council of Governments for discussion (several communities in the area have a moratorium on affordable housing). The recommendations will be shared with members of the Conversation.

The ensuing discussion brought in several observations about the affordability issue in Tacoma—patterns on the Hilltop, the place of renters in the issue, and the ‘who pays’ question. Tom gave us a very clear description of the commonly used methods of paying for affordability. This served as an example of the difficulty of discussing justice, equity and color in our times. The rules of the economic game are a context for bringing up these ideas. This was a lively discussion that highlighted how complicated this can be.

One story that came up about the costs of the replacement windows at Stewart Middle School. Political pressure makes things happen, and people were invited to get involved.

Dexter went through the questions from last week and grouped them into ten categories. He wanted to bring up one question, and then bring it back to the discussion of what we want to be and do.

One of the questions Dexter raised last week, one of the unaskables, was about guns. The agenda being driven by the NRA (what we need is not more gun control, but more guns) has prevailed thus far. Will this continue? As noted in Bob Herbert’s NYT column this last Thursday, a million of us have been killed by guns since King and Kennedy were assassinated in 1968. There is a movement of mayors who are signing on to an initiative to support gun control.

Another issue has to do with wealth and poverty. We were asked to guess how many responded to a public opinion poll on whether they supported taxes on the wealthy to fund equality projects. 49% said the government should do this, 47% said no.

Consider these possibilities for health care. It is possible to dream about a more equal situation, and it is possible to transform a situation into almost anything. Yes we live in a capitalist society, and it is in this same capitalist country that enacted government policies that made home ownership and college attendance mass phenomena.

That which seems impossible is made to seem impossible because there are forces that do not want us to achieve it. And it seems impossible because we have never seen it done.

It wasn’t that long ago, within the lifetime of many of us in the room, when people that looked like him were not allowed, by law, in many public institutions.

So we come back to those questions: Can we address poverty, health care, guns, homelessness? We can. We begin with our dreams: what we can ask, what we can dream, what we can work for. There is a history of this country that has been made to work based on government intervention. The notion that we should emphasize the fundamental capitalist base has us miss out on some possibilities.

Dexter’s grouping of the questions from last week:
1. peace, violence and war
2. religion
3. US creed: idealism and reality
4. US and world politics
5. Racism
6. Humanity, earth and the environment
7. Activism
8. Poverty and Wealth
9. Education
10. Meta-questions (questions about questions)

These form a template that can become guidelines for how we want to proceed with the overarching question of who do we want to be, how do we want to do it.
We opened up the discussion. The list reminded one person of the Panthers’ ten-point plan. It is reproduced at the end of these notes, as the second appendix.
The discussion produced this: We want to think about a way to proceed with this, to make sure it is open and inclusive, and we want to suffuse it with the idea that deliberation of all of this is at the heart of what we do. For example, of we decide that in two weeks will have a march on Stewart Middle School, an action like that could not happen without deliberation without the possibility for dissent, even encourage it to help sharpen our ideas.

There will always be members of this group who are activists. There are other sorts of approaches that are part of us, too. We want to support members of the Conversation in what we do. The group will need to keep the synergy that we have grown to appreciate.

As a vehicle for deliberation, the list of questions might not have to be all worked into a plan for action. One member noted the structure of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is a statement of principles to which is attached various programs. (It is reproduced below as the first appendix.) Deliberations may produce new things over time. We might think of it as a conceptual safety net that we enact each work—a broader safety net through which people are supported in their various activities. And promulgation, for example, through the news media, may be an important part of this. That raises an earlier question—how do we make what we do available to people. For example, does the Sunday morning work best for us? We talked about it, and we need to include in the conversation people who are not here this morning.

We want to get others involved—for example, if we were to want to march on Stewart Middle School, we probably want the churches involved.

And we may decide, for example, that the Conversation should be of a certain size, and that if we exceed that we can split into more than one—or, to preserve a small group structure within the committee of the whole.

We could rephrase the 10 question categories as a descriptive account of the Conversation.

We may need to be vigilant about taking note of groups that are out there doing things we can support. We might be able to become known as people who are there—the example of the presence of Conversation members at the World Affairs Council, for example. Another connection might be with the Temple Beth El community. We can be part of reactivation of a dialog that has languished for the last generation.

New members might be very interested in a description of what we are; it might also be good to let individuals know about the upcoming topic for a particular week. And perhaps we could add to it a list each week of community resources that help people get active.

We have not had the rotation of volunteers expected before (the V-Team structure of training replacements for the 6-month commitments of volunteers to take charge of various duties).

What are activities we want to do?

Among the things listed: some connection with a variety of religious experiences, perhaps have some programmatic invitation for

One member urges us to retain the mutual aid aspect of the Conversation. For example, the WSHM efforts to enact a more inclusive sense of what Washington is about, or the efforts of some people to work with local government institutions on issues of social justice.

We need to be open and flexible, and preserve the connectedness we have. Individual members have different amounts of time and energy that can be devoted to some of the areas in the list of question topics—some may be able to focus on education, and not a lot else.

One member spoke for some community education piece, such as a quarterly session that reaches out and deals with one or more of the question areas.

It is possible to identify gaps that we can fill in the community, and by filling them establish our identity. Do we want to look at the annual calendar and say, that’s when the Conversation can hold its big event? That worked this year with the MLK jr day event, but note we can only do so many things like that in a year. When we think of education, what kind of identity do we want—one that brings popular intellectual capital to town? Dexter encourages us to have the regular meeting, but also to focus on some definite goals where we put on some program, which involves planning and commitment.

If we look around at what is going on in town, we will see organizations doing things, not all of which works well. Before we step forward with a project, we need to get to know the lay of the land to see what is going on, and make sure we address what we need to and not create unneeded overlaps with existing effort.

With the World Affairs Council and this Get Smart Tacoma initiative, the language seems to be about becoming a culturally rich and actively engaged place. Hmmm, how did these two apparently talk past each other? Is anyone aware of the connections between these? Are there networks of citizens who are working with it, supporting it? The overall goals on the website of the GST group focus on economic development without mentioning social justice, on preparing a skilled workforce without mentioning some of the dire needs we often discuss on Sunday mornings. The grand vision for 25 years seems to be organized by the politicians—the institutions that are there for lifelong learning, for example (three universities in town, a couple of community colleges, etc.) don’t seem to be part of the overall deliberations. Someone mentioned the notion of politicians talking to politicians.

Next year we may decide to do something with World Affairs Council matters. Their planning could be quite different—do we want to be able to get involved in their planning? Get Smart Tacoma has been building for a year and a half…. good…. it is not haphazard. Yet many folks who pay attention to this sort of thing heard about the first time today.

See the following links to the Panthers' 10 Point Plan and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Panthers' 10 Point Plan

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Also, check out the Get Smart Tacoma website HERE.