Sunday, December 14, 2008

Conversation Recap for December 7, 2008

Nineteen of us gathered this morning under clouds, with the sweet, spicy aroma of several dishes laid out on the table.

We listened to of Dexter’s KXOT commentary from August, on the pending election of Obama. You can hear it HERE.

In the ensuing discussion we heard many echoes of the themes in Dexter’s talk. The consensus is that the talk very usefully framed the mix of symbolic and material outcomes possible from this election. There are many sides to what is going on.

One participant noted some commentary from Naomi Klein, which you can get a sense of at the following:
Democracy Now!
The Nation

One participant noted that the left in the US needs to be much better at supporting people. Take a look at this, for instance. Are you kidding? Why take it in that direction?

Another vital policy question is his policies about the war in Afghanistan. This might be a sign of the way his advisors constitute such significant choices. The machine that is in place might constrain his choices, and it is very possible that very bad outcomes are down the road.

We continued last week’s discussions with a presentation, entitled “Racism 201.” Last week an earlier attempt to discuss it took an unplanned turn, and we never did get back to the original topic. As he read last week from the concluding chapter of his book, Dexter suggested that none of us are untouched by what happened regarding race in the United States. Shortly afterwards the conversation took some turns that Dexter felt were especially critical of him, and it hurt.

Terms of engagement of the discussion. (from a list last week, based on a Conversation document from a couple of years ago)
1. Remember none of us is excluded
2. we are all both teachers and learners
3. manifest mutual respect and caring for each other
4. work hard to create a safe and liberated space
5. develop a thoroughgoing analysis of racism
6. embrace difference
7. racism is a difficult emotionally laden subject.

In the exchanges last week, the discussion was framed as one person marginalizing or minimizing the statements of someone else, and from therethe discussion never got back to the original topic. This week he offers a new list for Strategies of Engagement.
1. Assume best intentions
2. listen carefully and with curiosity, not with certainty
3. listen to understand not just to respond
4. own your works and your feelings by using “I statements”
5. engage, be courageous, explore your own discomfort
6. empathize, be courteous, allow others to explore their own discomfort
7. engage intellectually and emotionally
8. commit to talking through issues even if after session conversations are needed

One participant noted that there are some responsibilities shouldered by all of us. If someone says something that strikes us as somehow not right, or not following the terms of engagement about what we can say and what is left for others to say (say, about how we ourselves feel, and how we think others feel), we all have an obligation to seek clarification. Don’t let something sit there. Feel an obligation to request clarification. One participant suggested her obligation (and by extension, an obligation shared by all) to respond honestly and sincerely to things heard at the Conversation.

Other participants noted the same thing—that they noticed a need to clarify a topic, but balked at doing so. Several people expressed similar concerns, and described the particular issues that led them to hesitate. Remember folks, letting things ride is not an option.

One participant noted that we, like Dexter, play several roles here—sometimes we are listeners, sometimes we are speakers, sometimes we have a role in facilitating, and more.

We looked at some of the Conversation documents, available on the website. If you are reading this from the blog, check the links on the left, “Conversation History and Structure.” Some tentative suggestions were made about the content of some of those documents, yet most who spoke on the topic believe the current distribution of roles works well for us.

One participant noted that this extended discussion of process illuminates some of the approaches to our roles that we bring to discussions of racism—how active are we, how many of the terms of engagement we skillfully follow.

One participant shared that the conversation last week did not produce feelings of conflict or discomfort—on the contrary, his memory was that the conversation got into some interesting and illuminating territory from several points of view.

One participant noted that we each have a piece to contribute to a discussion of race, we each have experiences with it. And, we wish to try to understand these many perspectives.

A new slide in the Racism 201 presentation made these points: America is often depicted as Eden. And, it has two original sins…. the near extermination of the native population, and the importation of slaves from Africa.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Conversation Recap for November 9, 2008

We met at Evergreen and checked in.

We went around the circle with stories about where we were when he heard about the election outcome. Participants found a wide range of things to appreciate about the Obama victory. This is a time to remember for participants of the Conversation.

Several participants reported having friends from beyond our borders who offered congratulations and more—the whole world seems to be ecstatic about the election outcome.

We also discussed some expectations about political outcomes in the Congress, whose final makeup is not yet known—a couple of recounts are underway.

One participant observed that our joy for the election outcome needs to be tempered by a practical awareness of what happens after elections. A political machine exists, and the people who voted are not directly involved in exercising influence. Officials in the government, including appointees, and interest groups are the ones who are there day in and day out. The election is just a start. We were reminded that the post civil-war hope of overturning slavery, seriously reconstructing the country, quickly was swamped by the conservative counter-movement. Is a new reconstruction possible?

One observation shared by several people, was that this is a time to help articulate a progressive vision. We can help with that right now. Staying engaged might mean keeping in contact with elected officials. It might mean taking opportunities to speak, write and publish political visions that reduce the influence of the right wing dominated talk radio, along with its influence over the mainstream media.

Another topic that arose: to what extent is this an inherently conservative country? It is something we hear repeated. Yet ask for clarifications on what that means.

We continue today with a discussion of liberation theology (LT). We were guided by Dexter’s powerpoint presentation. For people looking for summaries of liberation theology, check these summaries: (an emphasis on development of the ideas, and its historical stages); (an emphasis on how liberation theology did not bring about the institutional and social changes initially pursued, but that the movement still is evolving and has much to offer). For an academic treatment of liberation theology applied to the special case of Africa and decolonization, see Dibinga Wa Said, “An African Theory of Decolonization,” at As a note, you may be interested in the obituary of Hugo Assmann, in March of this year, in the Times of London, at

Theologically, LT includes the idea that God needs to be seen as more than transcendent. The divine mysteries are clarified when we can see the suffering of others, in particular the plight of the poor. The evangelical quest, in LT, is not just to proclaim the good news, but to actually change the world. God becomes less mysterious if we see it moving us to live better, liberated from oppression and injustice. When peace comes, that is good news.

We were invited to consider the work of evangelism, worldwide and in our personal lives. There are opportunities to point out ideas about peace, and justice.

LT is partly grounded in the Old Testament, in the story of the liberation of Israel. It is also grounded in the New Testament, in Jesus as a liberator. The news to the poor is not merely salvation after death, but freedom from poverty and from oppression due to race, sex and class. The worldly examples of the message are many, such as Luke 1:51-3.

The LT construction of faith, hope and love speaks to the work people do here on earth, as well—fidelity to history, confidence about the future here on earth, and opting for doing something about poverty. The ‘end times’ vision of Christianity that is popular these days is precisely the opposite interpretation as LT—a giving up on this world, and for some actually promoting a last battle, starting in the Middle East, with an eye toward hastening the end of this world.

We grouped to discuss three questions: implications of LT for our (referring to the United States, not just us personally) religious practices, how LT affects our concept of God, and how it affects our work for social justice.

We heard of some experiences from Central America in the 1980s, when death squads targeted priests and teachers as a tactic directly aimed at LT and what it offered to the poor. And historically it turned out that parallel structures were required to carry the movement, because if it is just in the church its opponents have clear targets.

We heard some observations on the divisions among Christian churches with regard to the message offered on engagement in the world.

One report on the period from the mid-1970s Central America suggested that the movement during the time toward governments more on the left was part of that, and that the construction of it officially offered by our government, and generally supported in the media, was that this was evil communism.

One participant suggested that this is a version of a larger issue. For all of us, we can ask ourselves what is our relationship to people in poverty. It is not just something that people with a strong religious faith have to work with.

What does it mean to have a revolution without violence that targets poverty? LT asks people to fundamentally change many things. It asks for major changes in institutional priorities, in government policies.

One suggested we have a serious discussion of redistributing the wealth. One participant observed that we have trouble discussing this publicly because, in practice, we currently do redistribute wealth—through the tax code, through subsidies and legal support of various economic activities, we redistribute wealth upwards.

We heard a couple of observations about the quality of political arguments in the United States. The venom of talk radio (one person reported hearing a claim that Obama will be a “dictatorial socialist”) is repeated by people on the street. A participant told a story of seeing a couple of them at a Veterans for Peace march the other day.

One participant told an interesting story of how the state of Arkansas restored its usury laws and thereby kicked the check cashing businesses out.

The arguments for the plight of the poor seem to lose in this country, at least for the last 28 years. We can perhaps do something about this, and keep the pressure on.

It is possible that something like 85% of Washingtonians eligible to vote did so in this last election, which makes it the closest thing we have seen to an election expressing the genuine will of the people. Well, a continuation of these levels of engagement will make us look back at this election as genuinely transformative.

Involving at-risk youth in gardening: Thurs, 9 am

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Conversation Recap for October 19, 2008

The day after the Achievement Gap Summit, we check in, and straggle in, but we are here. About 17 of us assembled.

Today we heard Colleen’s story.

In it we heard of several people who were bright and yet poorly served by schools. There is a clear pattern in schools of defining learning rather narrowly, and responding rather poorly to kids who learn outside of those bounds. One way to think of it: the schools seem designed to serve middle class white little girls, and not much else.

In the discussion we heard more stories of kids who were smart but didn’t fit into the schools. As part of these stories, a common thing to emerge is that parents find ways to blame themselves when their children have difficulties. Another theme: MANY of us have similar stories in our families. One part of it seems to be the categories used to classify kids—what constitutes adequate learning, what constitutes “behind” something like “grade level,” what constitutes adequate measurement of the standards, and so on.

One message that emerged: The kids have a much better chance of finding a path to success if they have parents who are highly skilled advocates. That seems to be a gigantic source of inequality. The kids who are not well-served by schools and who don’t have highly skilled parents face huge barriers.

The conversation in this group may have to add one more dimension. Note how the Achievement Gap Summit was built on the premise that there needs to be an incubator of ideas for people in schools, and connected to schools, so that people can take something useful back to their schools—go out from the incubator and produce change. This group turns out to have a wide range of skills and experience, and can come up with some original ideas. We should develop a team to get some funding to connect some of the people in this group, and to do this work. We can easily name three of us that have the right mix of knowledge and experience to work on the issues we care about—such as the achievement gap.

We turn to a related topic: What several of us are working on.

Dexter told us about HB2722. Years ago, a number of people—like Thelma Jackson, the Tacoma Black Collective—started to advocate in many forums for changing education to better serve African American children. At some point the strategy shifted to getting a law passed so that designated resources could produce an agenda. That resulted in HB2722, which in particular, it has the state recognize specifically the unmet needs of African American students.

The committee Dexter is part of is empowered to meet and set goals to promote change, suggest needed policies, programs and strategies for the state and local schools to consider, and to suggest benchmarks for achieving the goals.

Two committee meetings are left: Thursday, Nov. 20, from 10 until 2 or perhaps 4 (somewhere in Renton); and Thursday, Dec. 11, from 10-4 (somewhere in Olympia). A town hall meeting will be November 20, 6:30-8:30.

For more, CLICK HERE.

Tom told us about the Black Collective, which has been engaged with the school district for years. Things have gotten to the point where the Black Collective can no longer assume the School Board is going to act in good faith. Instead they have expressed to the Board a set of expectations about what constitutes progress, and set a condition on it: if progress has been made, they will support the Board’s future requests for voter approval of levies and bond issues; no progress, they will encourage members and allies to not support those requests for money. Several allied organizations have said they will also send this message to the School Board.

Tom also told us about the Tacoma 360 initiative. Remember GetSmartTacoma? They had several rounds of planning and discussion, and it sounded like a commitment to take action—but no money and commitment to specific steps to implement those ideas. Also, remember about a year ago when Tacoma Schools sent a team to a conference at Harvard, charged to come back and be a catalyst for change? The Harvard study group met for a few months, but support from the Tacoma administration evaporated…. just after Superintendent Jarvis was chosen as the Superintendent (previously he had held “interim” status).

Tacoma 360 is an effort to draw together the School Board, the city, Metro Park, and others to commit to an action agenda—the main device being the appointment of a person who will have the job of bringing those plans to an action level.

Eve told us about the “Meaningful High School Diploma Initiative,” which you can read about HERE. The state legislature asked the State Board of Education to develop a better set of graduation requirements, and Eve is one of the people involved in this. They have drafted a new credit framework called “Core 24.” This is from the website:
CORE 24 is based on the following principles:

  • Equip everyone: Prepare ALL students for life after high school—in gainful employment, an apprenticeship or postsecondary education. Expect more: Align requirements to meet the increased expectations of the 21st century workforce.
  • Provide flexibility: Allow students to customize their education, creating relevance to their interests.
  • Give focus: Encourage students to align course work to achieve their future career goals.
  • Plan ahead: Emphasize the High School and Beyond Plan to offer students personalized guidance to prepare them for work, postsecondary education, or both.
  • Start early: Prepare students to enter high school and create opportunities to meet high school graduation requirements in middle school.
The central idea, then, is that we need multiple pathways to graduation, and no matter what path in life a graduating senior has chosen, they are prepared to do it successfully. This is a proposal to make that happen, now before the Washington State Board of Education.

Colleen described the activities of the education group. We attend Board Meetings, get involved in discussions of issues before the Board, and on alternative Thursdays meet to discuss strategies and tactics. Recently we chose to ask the Board for demographic detail of programs, by school building, in programs like AP, IB, and various special ed programs. Several years ago the Federal Way schools put together these data for their district. In one of those odd concatenations of events, the person who put together the data for the Federal Way schools now works for the Tacoma schools, and knows how to do it.

We suspect that AP and IB programs dramatically underrepresent African American children, and that special ed programs dramatically overrepresent them.

As a side note: The HB2722 group is strongly suggesting the publication of such data.

We broke into small groups to consider action items related to these initiatives.

One group came up with the following:

Run a candidate for school board, be thoughtful about how the education group links with the Conversation and with other groups (the Ed Group should be a leader of where the Conversation should go), perhaps focus the Conversation on education issues for several months or until a goal is achieved; develop an approach to identify particular children and help them succeed; perhaps develop a model of what a good school looks like, by constructing it; and maybe take over one or all of the schools that are within a year of failing the AYP standards; perhaps develop an affiliation with the school district (precedents include the Tacoma Urban League Academy and the Tacoma School of the Arts.

Another group came up with the following:

The data that we are uncovering needs to be seen by a lot of people; something like a Town Hall, for students, for parents, to discuss this type of thing, and we could make recordings of them to encourage growth of such initiatives; in every school there should be some kind of person that has links to student families; each of us could think about the communities we are connected with, and find ways to connect them with our efforts.

In summary, Dexter suggested we need a way to take this conversation forward, distill the ideas and come back to the larger group. We will look at draft of such a thing next week.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Conversation Recap forSeptember 28, 2008

Today we checked in, and noted that next week is our potluck (once each month we will do that, on the first meeting of the month).

Today we heard Dalton’s story.

Several agreed that chats between fathers and sons were scarce during the 1950s and 1960s.

We also talked about the politics of our times, in particular electoral politics. The presidential election commands our attention—and we want to look at what we think about leadership, what we know (and want to know) about our political institutions and practices.

We started with burning questions.

1. The electoral college, and its relevance today. An 18th century method of counting votes, originally a way to count votes for President.

2. What ideas about leadership did the authors of the Constitution have in mind, and what are some significant shifts since then?

3. What is the safest way to vote today, to make sure my vote gets counted?

4. Can we split our ticket in a national election? (Can you vote for who ever you want?)

5. Representative democracy (which the authors of the Constitution called “republican” government) does not seem, in our system, to represent the majority of the people. What are ways to get more people’s voices heard?

6. What are the advantages of having a two-party system? Why do we have it?

7. Is there a way we can keep the next election from being manipulated, or, as some in the room put it, stolen?

We discussed some of these, and ways that they overlap. We will go back to these questions.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Conversation Recap for September 21, 2008

We opened with a check-in, sixteen of us assembling at the start time, and a half dozen more shortly thereafter.

Today we heard Sid’s story, part two. In the ensuing discussion participants turned to the topic of code words in today’s USA. Several noted examples of things they have heard lately, in conversations, in media coverage of the election, and in the advertisements of candidates for office. For example, the McCain campaign featured a speech by him where he said the election was between a party that put country first and a party that put Obama first. The implication of less than full patriotism invites the listener to fill in for themselves the meaning of the other position. We noted several examples of people latching on to any old reason, any will do, to justify to themselves a refusal to vote for an African American. Very few people now feel comfortable saying it directly. It is all code words now. A more explicit ad was the one that featured Obama and Fannie Mae chair Tom Raines, with scrolls of “financial fraud” and other bad things running across the screen…. so we see these two black men followed by a white woman who sounds a bit intimidated. Come on, now—how many of the public know who Raines is? Why was it Raines instead of any other leader of the other organizations involved in the financial scandal, all of whom are white? This is a rather deliberate juxtaposition of black and white. One can use code words to make the point. And that is being done.

One participant offered a way to cope. If you or someone you know is not registered to vote, help them do so, help them get to the polls or to fill in their ballot.

We welcomed the return of Rosalind, who is back from her half-year stay in Texas. Participants said warm things—we notice he many contributions of people more easily, perhaps, when we stare at the empty space they filled. The expressions of appreciation ended with Patti LaBelle’s you are my friend (it’s on her “The Best of Patti LaBelle” cd).

This week the topic is leadership, in general and right here in the Conversation. Next week we are going to continue the discussion of leadership in an electoral context, so stay tuned.

For example, people noted the contributions made by Rosalind, and the connections we find regularly. Bringing people together is the product of work.

One way to think about leadership here is to compare understandings of the role of facilitator. One can see a facilitator as a neutral consultant who comes into an organization to bring them to a new place. In the Conversation, our facilitator is an insider, who is anything but neutral.

One participant noted the idea of neutrality, and suggested it is largely a myth that masks positions on issues.

What is leadership, who are leaders, what do they do? Dexter offered this definition to begin with: Having a vision which includes goals, connecting the reality we are in, and figuring out how to get to those goals. So essential tasks will include identifying and managing the steps needed to get to those goals.

Many participants in the Conversation do that, or elements of it, all the kind. And here we assemble, week after week, and people have stepped into many leadership roles in The Conversation.

One book Dexter relied upon for the analysis of leadership is by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge. (They have written several books on this and related concepts.) They list many qualities of leaders, and here is a list of some of the big ones: Honesty, forward looking, competence, inspiration, intelligence. That honesty is a big one—it speaks to a relationship that requires a certain quality that is internal, something that has to do with a person’s character. This gets us on grounds that are hard to judge. Something a little different from character is from the Greek ethos. It occurs when the group, for instance, recognizes a person as honest. It is a connection between group and leader. The members of the group recognize the leader is not there to exploit them, that he or she is guided by the best interests of the group members.

One participant told us about a book by Drew Westen, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.” He was interviewed on Bill Moyers, which you can visit at His analysis goes to a widespread preference or emotional engagement by candidates rather than the details of policy proposals.

Dexter noted three skills needed by leaders: The ability to develop oneself, the ability to deploy one’s own strengths and weaknesses, the ability to facilitate or develop the abilities of other.

The elements noted in the previous two paragraphs serve as tensions in our politics. One of the qualities commonly noted about the President of the United States, for example, is that he is not a man given to self-doubt, not someone who revisits past decisions to examine whether things are going well. By the qualities noted in the Kouzes and Posner approach, this is trouble. How much trouble? Consider the following:

Leadership practices, a list of the top nine:
1. Learning all the time
2. Listening (and, attentive listening is not something that occurs naturally for most of us)
3. Discipline (in part, understanding what one can and can not do because of the responsibilities of leadership)
4. Reflection
5. Compassion
6. Action
7. Take account of time, manage it well
8. Persistence
9. Attitude—understand what attitude communicates to people.

One participant noted our efforts to understand the political choices of our fellow citizens. Personal experience, and he is a person that listens, leads him to conclude that a very large number of people, maybe 2/3, are ready to take the step and recognize the need for large scale changes. Our fears that racism will produce a 10 or 20 point advantage to McCain may not be right. We might not understand the common sense of others very well.

We will see.

One participant noted that in the list of leadership skills, several items are comparatively passive, being a member of a group, being with people.

Some Conversation members attended a Courage and Renewal workshop yesterday. One reported on a discussion of the ways love and power interconnect. This echoed the earlier observations about ethos, the other-regardingness that comes from the connections among people. By the way, this workshop was brought to Tacoma by the actions of one of our participants.

One participant noted that the Conversation can move from valuing these qualities of leadership to learning how to deploy them—some of it might be each of us focusing on what elements we want to develop. Some of it might be in the programming decisions we make.

One participant described different levels of leadership—influence within organizations can come from people who are not titular heads of anything. Others can understand the intensity of commitment or other qualities among other members of their group, and willingly confer leadership authority on those people.

One participant described a new word, multicentricism—it means, many centers moving, all in a single direction. Acting on a challenge from a leader, she coined it to refer to the many backgrounds, circles in which we travel, knowledge and skills, cultural endowments, and so on, that can be drawn together in the pursuit of a task. Take a look at it from the other side—we have picked up from our cultural endowments many forms of weaponry, and our diversity can be a toolbox of ways to not get along with each other. Several Conversation members regularly work in their jobs finding ways to work with others and develop the toolbox of cooperation.
Two participants had a letter published in the News Tribune this week. It spoke to issues we discussed today.

One participant noted that the qualities exercised in one political campaign now is really at odds with the qualities needed to govern. The campaign is earnestly developing a distortion, an image that is patently at odds with the truth.

One participant noted that he holds on to “church” because it is one of the best working models of community groups that regularly meet and identify people who can express qualities of leadership. Following that, people around let a person know they are in a position to provide some leadership. In church, you learn if you can sing.

SoJust needs folks, Saturday Oct 4, to assist with the program—at the kids’ zone, greeters and program handlers, a presence in the various rooms in use (such as being at a table where folks are writing letters to elected officials), food patrol, and cleanup (Setup starts at 10, the event starts at 2, cleanup starts at 6 pm).

Seattle Bioneers are having a gathering Oct. 17-19, see it at

Sept. 26, at Kings’ Books, 7pm, Mazda Majidi will speak on the situation in the Persian/Arabian Gulf.

Time to register for the Achievement Gap summit II, Oct 18.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Conversation Recap for September 14, 2008

Check ins. People are transitioning back into school, some into new employment, others are dealing with serious family health issues.

Intros of new people.

We heard Stephen P’s Story.

Discussion revolved around growing up in isolated privilege and coming to awareness of injustice and social inequality and the gifts that come with that awareness.

Dexter led us in a discussion around how we are progressing as a group. His summary of where we’ve come included the notions that
1. We are an intentional group
2. We are en engaged group

We are committed to this engagement in the sense that we embrace the challenge of embracing the challenge of staying together. When one of us “makes a mistake” and others call us on it, do we return the next week, gather ourselves and return the following week or lick our wounds and disappear?

Full engagement in each others lives is how we will move forward as well as finding the balance between spirituality and social justice. He reminded us that we are the only group of this kind anywhere in this community-not with this level of open membership.

Someone said that as one who is less comfortable with pursuing spirituality, they have personally benefitted from the discussions of Buddism and meditation.

Others cautioned that spirituality and religion can cause problems within an organization because everyone has a different idea about who/what God is.

Several said that religion and spirituality should not be used synonymously and that social justice work is spiritual work and fulfills that space for them.

One person mentioned trying to meet at 1pm on Sundays for awhile to see if that works better for folks who are attending church.

Others talked about how this group fulfills their spiritual needs.

One person talked about the consumptive appetites of so many religious traditions and not being willing to give all that one is to that tradition. But so many of us DO seek connectedness with other people and as this group grows and sustains itself, not having that consumptive appetite grow as well.

Another talked about how the diversity of spiritual traditions in our group means that we can all access wisdom and support from each other without it becoming something that we push on one another. We are spiritual and we are also free in that we accept each other’s spiritual diversity.

Friday night was offered as an option as well, being the end of the week. Another thought that there are people who would enjoy coming but not necessarily every week. Maybe the Sunday at 1 could be once a month, and those who are more committed could come every Sunday.

One person said that they get satisfaction form the group as it is, though some small changes could make the facilitation of discussions even better.

Another point made was that while religion and spirituality should not be heavily emphasized, we should not ever make any subject taboo as long as we keep our commitment to respectful discussion.

One person suggested that we each talk with those we know who have not been coming to get a feel for why. It may not always be about church conflicts.

Another point was about how people often are religious hypocrites-actions speak louder than words. Sometimes we have excuses for not coming that we just need to get over. Those of us that are here are those of us that will be here.

Dexter wrapped up by saying that there is no desire necessarily to make a campaign to “get anybody back” it’s more about sitting with an individual to make sure that we didn’t do anything as a group that felt like an injustice to them. We do operate as adults and people vote with their feet all the time.

The academic perspective that he brings is that we do need to hear “the other side” even if we do not agree so he will not be a member of the group that says it will only talk with democrats.

Another comment was about not needing to go out and recruit those with very different views, but welcoming and respecting those who come to us with differing viewpoints should be our goal.


SoJust has met it’s fundraising goal of $3,500. Lineup is ready, posters done. Anyone with suggestions for community organizations to table at SoJust, let Sonja or another SoJust committee member know.

MLK committee decided to go ahead again and partner with Associated Ministries as fiscal agent. Still need to identify honorees.

Elizabeth Wesley Youth Merit Incentive Awards Celebration
1PM on Sat. Sept. 20th at Clover Park Technical College Sharon McGavick Center

Achievement Gap Summit II on Oct. 18th at UPS

Tacoma Civil Rights Project exhibit is on display at the Washington History Museum until Dec. 7th

Friday, September 19, 2008

Conversation Recap for September 7, 2008


We met in Wright Park, which at 9:30 was covered with soft, thin clouds, trees shimmering in a soft breeze, almost 60 Fahrenheit but due to rise to about 67 by the time we are finished.

Check-in found many people working with the transition to the start of the school year. Many people who do not work directly in education have schedules that vibrate with the rhythms of school. Several people were able to get to the Friday screening of the film that accompanies the Tacoma Civil Rights Project.

Today we heard Tina’s story.

In the ensuing discussion we looked at one event when, quite unintentionally and obliquely, a question brought to the surface a pervasive assumption about who belongs in a community.

In these times when political life offers discouraging revelations about the country, participants said, it is good to hear stories of personal courage in standing up to nonsense. Several of us nodded our heads at a reference to situations where, later, we wished we had spoken up.

One person pointed out that racist language is coded. Public discourse is permeated with references to ‘nice people’ and similar ideas that do not need to be expanded for others to understand.

Today we heard from Callista on “meditation within chaos,” an assigned title.

Why would someone meditate? In the tradition she described (one brought to the United States by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, or for short, Trungpa), we meditate in order to open ourselves to possibilities in the world. We began with a demonstration, with people following guidance on a meditation technique—mindfulness, attention to the out-breath, letting the in-breath simply happen. If thoughts arise, simply label them ‘thinking’ and go back to attention on the out-breath. Eyes should be open with a soft gaze several feet in front.

We then discussed what people noticed during the technique.

Using this and related techniques aim at providing a stable mind—quieting the chatter that goes on in almost everyone’s brains. The chatter is a barrier to deeper insights about how one is thinking and experiencing the world. For example, we habitually move to judgment in particular situations, and these techniques can provide awareness of how our mind has these habits.

We don’t meditate in order to become good meditators. It is about discovering how our minds work.

Why do people start meditating? One experience offered to the group: There was a public meeting with members of an intentional community with contemplative leanings, and at the start of the meeting they asked for two minutes of silence. The participant saw something to which she had been oblivious—physical pain and emotional tension. It was a sign that everyday life is often obscure to us, and our responses can be more aware. Many people begin to meditate in response to particular trauma, such as the loss of someone close or a severe illness.

At a presentation some time ago Dale Asrael told a story from a book called Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach, about a tiger in a zoo in Washington DC: The tiger was in a small cage, and visitors would see it tracing the limits of its restricted environment. Some visitors organized to create a new enclosure that had features of a more natural setting. On the day the tiger was offered access to the new area, it marked out a square the size of the old cage, and it spent all its days tracing the boundaries of that imaginary small space. It was not able to live outside of its old habits.

And most of us share some qualities of mind with the tiger, and we stay with the world we think we know. The habitual cage of our own making can be left. We can step out of it. This approach to meditation aims at enabling people to do that.

When people find some value in this aspect of meditation, some people adopt it as a path. Its benefits is offered less as a one-time revelation of a different state of mind, but as a path for living that pays explicit attention to qualities of mind.

In the tradition described in Callista’s talk, there are three phases in the path. The Hiniyana (“small vehicle” or “narrow vehicle”) has one focus on their own suffering and their release from it.

The Mahayana (“great vehicle”) has one focus on the possibility of releasing other beings, all beings, from their suffering. The phase emphasizes wisdom (in significant part by becoming aware of “emptiness,” much like the tiger did not recognize the space around, the potential for other action, right action, to occur. ) and compassion (many techniques are used to develop compassion toward other beings, other people). The suffering of others is chiefly the result of ignorance, such as a lack of awareness of that emptiness that makes many things possible. It is not to be labeled as evil. Practitioners develop a willingness to live in the chaos around us, to acknowledge the confusion that we and others live in. That means, in part, not slamming others with it. One can be compassionate toward others before they clean up their act.

The Vajrayana (indestructible vehicle”) phase of the path relies on techniques that encourage “sacred outlook,” an encounter with direct experience—lie the tiger was not able to do. It is the responsibility of the practitioner to find in situations the sacred part, and find ways to work with it. Practitioners see emotions, for example, as energy, which means one tries not to judge them. They try to be open, to not have an agenda that one tries to impose on others.

For another day, perhaps: the Shambhala yana, which is a focus on creating an enlightened society.

The grounding in compassion is an essential part of this, as there is a danger that people see the techniques as a path to power. It is something that one does, as mentioned before, a path. Daily practice keeps reminding practitioners of the basics. Part of the tradition, also, is having a teacher, one who knows you and can call you on your games. Another part of it is being part of a community, called a sangha.

Several participants commented on the analysis of ignorance in this depiction of meditation. There are many facets to it.

There is no formula for how long it takes to get good at these meditation techniques—some can be good at it relatively soon, and others can find roadblocks that just stop them, teachers leave and die…. The chief variables might be the ability to clear out one’s life to find room for the work, having some personal discipline, and being in the community that supports it.

One participant reported a similar encounter with life changes—more positive to think about creating new habits than in defining one’s current practices as bad habits, and that a teacher is essential to calling one on their games, and disciplined practice to have the new habits settle into life—much like a disturbed pond whose turbid waters settle into clarity.

Starting next week, we are back to Evergreen.

V team members should expect to stick around next week to do some planning. Some fundamental things need to be discussed—who we want to be as a community, the social justice connection in what we do, as well as housekeeping matters such as time and place of meetings.

Sept 23, Kings Books, 7 pm, talk about economics of global warming.
Sept 26, Kings Books, 7 pm, a talk about Iran.
Oct 17 Steve and Christy will perform at Kings Books at 7 pm.

Yesler community center, in Seattle, 10-2, Disability Empowerment Day event, Sept 20.

Adult college fair at Evergreen campus in Tacoma, representatives Sept 13 from 9:30-1:30.

October 18, Achievement Gap Summit II, Save the Date.

Conversation Recap for August 31, 2008

We met in Wright Park. People wore coats, hats, and some brought gloves. August….

In pre-meeting conversations, a participant extolled the Chambers Creek golf course walk. Don’t be put off by the idea that you are going to walk by a golf course. This is a great local resource, try it.

SoJust note: Fundraising is coming along, a variety of artists, SAVE THE DATE Location: The Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus (6th and MLK)
October 4, 2008
Evergreen Tacoma
1210 6th Avenue

Traveling soon? Check the info available on our own Dalton’s website, at, for a powerful search engine for flights etc. There is more to the business at

We shared a lot of job stories during check-in, some with new jobs, some with challenges in current ones, some doing new things in the old job. Plus, we heard from eyewitness accounts from the Democratic National Convention.

We heard from Eve on “paradoxes of urban living.” Here are a couple:
--The city’s lure of wealth and resources, AND the perils that exist in the streets.
--Our great instinct for community, AND our increasing ability to express it in ways that separate us from each other.

One can be so separated from other people living in close proximity. Three shared stories about the bargains of city life, how some places we live everyone knows everyone else, and others where long-term neighbors are strangers.

For an example of someone who tries to help people construct community through the conduct
One participant described growing up in row houses in Philadelphia, with porches as gathering places, and with frequent block parties. Yet the crack era of the 1980s broke that up a bit, and the violence and fear that came with it imposed a heavy burden on community. Great fear of others, distrust—these are the real barriers to community. By comparison, Tacoma does not seem urban.

One participant described the experience of moving from a small town to the “stalls” of apartment life. In the modern world, we do not take in others, not near as much.

Multiple participants discussed a lost ability to feel responsible for others, the sense that we are our brothers keeper seemed to be stronger in earlier times and in other places. Don’t expect to be able to move to those earlier places, however. The modern zoned country filled with 3 to 5 acre plots do not feel like the small places of our youth.

One participant juxtaposed that with the quick community possible among folks who have shared an experience. You have all seen a version of this. After a convention speech in a huge stadium, lots of people piled onto a train to get on with their evening…. Quick warmth, lots of people in cheerful conversation with folks they just met. Maybe it doesn’t take much to accept such offers of community.

A long time ago, some of us lived on farms, with no close neighbors. Yet we frequently connected with those neighbors. The urge for community does not have obvious rules about proximity.

One story about an apartment house that was the closest community a participant had ever seen—it was not clear what it was that produced the closeness. The trust among people was quite high.

One participant introduced the topic of how community is a commodity, commercialized in advertisement. Concepts of urban living are in part shaped by people who want your money. They want us to see private consumption as a path to community (remember the old rule: the object of an addition never satisfies the addiction). This is one of those paradoxes—the dynamism of capitalism gives much and imposes large costs.

Several participants shared memories of when things changed where they lived—when folks starting locking things up, how the disconnection among neighbors grew.

Near the end of the discussion it turned out that several participants had been thinking about the possibilities of intentional communities, particularly as a way to handle those years when we get older, when children are long gone, and so on.

The discussions produced some wise rules.
--If you find something to be hateful, don’t do it to your neighbors.
--Get into the business of your neighbors more often—there are little things you can do to sow seeds of compassion.

Go out and inflict joy on someone.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Conversation Recap for July 27, 2008

We met at Manitou Park for The Conversation & Fresh Kidz Barbeque. See mini slideshow above. Click on any image to see more.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Conversation Recap for July 20, 2007

We met in Wright Park, and it was cool enough that the group turned heliotropic, following the arc traced by the sun across park grass.

Today we heard Keith’s story, and a wide-ranging discussion followed.

We discussed varieties of corruption, with attention to who benefits and who incurs the costs of different types. It is probably fair to say the different definitions of corruptions are connected to beliefs about justice—the nature and scope of justice situations, and the kinds of remedies one would support. Some ways of seeing corruption focus on the political climate for large businesses. Some seem concerned with situations faced by the largest parts of the population, either middle class folks or people closely connected to the money economy (in poorer countries, many people are not thus connected).

One feature of corruption in the US is its role in degrading a trained, reliable civil service in the United States. Public employees share a broad consensus about the directions taken over much of the last decade. Conversation members may be interested in a recent study published by the chief scholar of the civil service, Paul Light.

The discussion also included considerations of what we regard as properly public, and properly private. The prison, or detention facility, on Tacoma’s tideflats is run by a private company. It has expanded a couple of times, and has plans for more. The increasingly privatized prison industry raises fundamental justice questions.

A view of justice as fairness for people led to comparisons between our corruption discussions and the “40 acres and a mule” idea. For a time we discussed the Freedman’s Bureau, its connection to political issues at the end of the Civil War, and general Sherman’s decision to divide many of the lands taken by his armies into plots of land for those recently freed from slavery. And, after Lincoln’s assassination, Sherman’s orders were rescinded.

The conversation went to this conclusion: this country has found it impossible to collectively acknowledge what has happened to black people in the United States. By any historical comparison, a holocaust happened. But there has been no memorial, no reparations.

We then discussed ideas about what would make this situation whole, and most of it revolved around the context of the upcoming election. Several people offered ideas on what Obama would be able to do as a candidate and as president. Most seemed to agree that what is needed is an acknowledgement of what occurred, a huge commitment to jobs, education and housing in the pursuit of a more equal society, and open discussion of the presence of race in everyday American life.

As part of the discussions, it seemed as though accounts of deservedness of individual people is complicated, and perhaps a distraction from the larger issue. But it does come up.

Conversation Recap for July 13, 2008

We heard Tully's story and then had a great presentation and discussion of the new Lincoln High School program "The Lincoln Center"

Patrick Irwin- Principal Lincoln has been there for 4 years. Mom is graduate of Lincoln high school has worked at OSPI and TPS Central Admin and has been looking at what people do differently – different models- Jefferey Canada doing work in Harlem – Harlem Children’s Zone- parenting classes, nutrition, marshal arts, music, dance, foreign language, extended support after school and on weekends. James Comer at Yale talked about conspiracy of adults who refused to let him fail- at Lincoln for past four years kids have come in unprepared. As principal at McIlveigh Middle – raised test scores but students still not prepared for high school. Low expectations by teachers who "feel bad for kids so don’t push them to succeed"- He agrees with only one concept ever uttered by Bush “soft bigotry of low expectations”.

Get Smart Tacoma Summit last year in Tacoma- well intentioned - no traction

This year’s freshmen at Lincoln most impoverished most mobile kids ill-prepared in Sept. had Eastside Children's Zone meeting with OSPI and community teachers team went back to Harvard Harvard group and Get Smart Tacoma now has a new name - Tacoma 360.
Essentially getting people to come up with a plan where kids have services around the clock that they need to be successful when it looked as though nothing.

Mt T principal came over to team pricipal with Pat and do extended day model. Could do enrichment activities, museums, etc. Some kids have never been to Downtown Tacoma.

Lincoln Center is extended day model –

Middle School’s are starting to get on board – new Portland ave middle school

Q: families that need most support- have no choice to leave area sometimes so what happens when they have to leave program.

A: have different agencies partner pierce transit community health so they don’t get slipped through cracks

Needs community support no question about it

Still wants to hold school system accountable while goes out to community school district still needs to provide resources and support too

Have meeting scheduled with DSHS and also want to bring mental health component into school as well

Model of school treating everyoned educational institutions second equally is limiting school systems are employment agencies first a

Mentoring programs with school of the arts and other programs robotics

Study shows students lost a years of academic growth in transition years 5-6 and we can’t afford thatso we need to teach time management

Historically Lincoln had night school that was bigger than day school people taking language etc.

Meeting with people about evening piece but day is first priority

Instead of wa state history teach Lincoln historand Tacoma history to get ou into community and then state get kids out into state mt st Helens Columbia gorge see what state looks like

Pull kids in for a week late summer in sugust

Safety- crime peaks in America from 3-6 problems happen after school on evenings and weekends

Model also does something for school in general- kids are better off in 1990’s school had chess team


This thurs hb 2722 meeting dexter goes to legislative mandate is to come up with a proposal to address achievement gap
Thifriday as part of alf project iviting about 20 people who are working on the frontline with kids who are already on the fringes of the school system tobring about 150 kids who are w orking insode a program with people who are direct funders scholarship

Race and Pedagogy- fall achievement gap summit

Parents summer spring

Next r n p conference 2010

Tacoma civil rights project- this fall at history museum- have interviewed a number of people- going to develop for k-12 and college and general information
Get smart Tacoma- came up and disappeared – reportsform this group that were part of conversation- one common reference what program is ther
Around that address these issues- r and p one of the constants- no follow up to get smart

Admin of k-12 administration has been disrupted for a year plus now so we would like to restart that connection dexter’s own perception is that Tacoma school district right now has to go through retirement cycle to change system need strong leadership to start from top and vertically go through system but believes in work that circumvents administration even though they do not get the work – this Lincoln center could be that work-
Conversation has educationally interest group to influence

Question put to Pat is giving him platform to say to us how can we help him do this and be thinking at multiple levels- all programs mentioned have connections at various levels-

More questions:

Q: In program is there a place to include mental health sessions to include parents
A: have to provide this and yes want to do work their

Q: why not a later start?
A: busing, sports but agrees

Q: dshs- a lot of families cannot make appointment so may want to have a dedicated liaison for Lincoln to help set appointments

Q: service learning, internships year 2-3?, use of computer for self programs that let students go at own pace for spelling etc.

Q: mentioned goal but would like to hear about process how will it work

A: this is tough iussue for the first right now relying on people saying want to be a part of it- working with middle school and doing home visits off their list or may say here are the services come take advantage of them need buy in and outreach

Q: danger of too much publicity- have success in paper tooting horns and then got backlash and sabotage- can get nasty stuff

A: yes can even come from in the school one expectation is all should take honors English but then would look like exclusive thing

Q: when rudy cruz was superintendent a teacher at mary lyon become endeavor center at mary lyon- lauries daughter went to it once the initiator left the whole program went away- howill you protect this

A: the more people we have involved iof work than less likely that it in process and creation to go away- rumor that pat will go downtown but wants to stay at Lincoln and like model of co-principal

Q: thanks for presentation what did not hear was full community involvement understands- knows school as place that does nothing after school hours most of time is just a building sense that trying to get kids to learn outside classroom didn’t hear the connection to parent learning and economic driver of small business- meetings could happen at Lincoln somehow if you could bring students and organizations together knows there are security issues but could be worked out would like to know that they are moving toward that connection.

A: would like to have opp to do at school what they do not do at home ornald ferguson will be speaking at Lincoln high school on aug 18th “excellence with equity” is new book his concluding chapter talks about teaching crisis
Working with parents is key- did not get go ahead until may Jarvis had to do some budget things have community advisory panel wants Lincoln to become community school model for Tacoma have investment classes and parenting classes talked with frank Russell

Q: what ave you done with community parrtnering kmart target uw foundation grants and things that may come under their purvey what about those who have disability should be a portion of program so that children are raised feeling normal-
A: has meetingwith bob has good history with Lincoln high school looking at universities worked with terri b and uni’s don sloma shared with him would be embarrassed what people give money to for achievement gap there is money to be had gates foundation fn kyle miller – gates does work with schools but do it all over the place- still oppp there

Q:mmight there be opp for student reemployment for those that have to choose between work and school to have option

A: have done some

Q:might their be mentoring programs for students who are shut down toaway form top down teacher control model get

A: Lincoln has become palce to be for educators who make it great and will be looking for community members to come in

Q: what does faculty look like in terms of being representative of students-
A:have 5 teacherss 4 are cauc and one af-am just don’t have it is an issue in Tacoma right now just don’t have a good representation

Q: what about admin team?

A: has addressed that with admin – district has missed opps over the years

Q: could one af am asst principal at stadium be assigned to Lincoln for this program role modeling is so critical to being engaged that worried that the intentions of this program could be lessened without staff representation

A: oner thinghero used to have in Tacoma was peoplein system that know Tacoma are from Tacoma , have hero and achievers in school to mentor but cannot serve all –once at hero assembly and student thought they were lying bc never meet af am male that had college degree before this spurred him onto doing hard work in amy’s class

Q: are there assistant teacher positions to get more people in class

A: ups does good job plu and evergreen first year and Lincoln had 17 dif students and was a mess so had to straigten that out

Q: hisotrical black college students could come to intern has been done before in Tacoma- 2 places to check on that- diversity initiative at Puyallup school district

A: tim heron act 6 has gone to whitworth trinitiy Lutheran-

What can conversation do: mentoring piece, access points for kids- sitting on a panel

Adult soccer at lincoln on Sundays – more than 100 men pass through and students need role model so could connection be made-

Questions of presenting models or modules for work seek to highlight innovative programs – would part be willing to present this model at achievement gap summit

We do know that not only is there resistance in system to thorough going ans straightforward program but straight out rejection of this work
We are invested at various levels in doing this work

Q: concern for advocacy of students- worked wsith gear-up program and found thaaf am collegues had very solid relatiohip and students and students would share with them so feels it is ab essential bc youth do not trust adults really need rep in that if do not have the faculty than really need support system be there consostenly multiple times a week

A: has talked to korbet mosely and men of action to get o board- dr ingrahm

Q: nationwide strong push to identify students from communities that need to be rep as educators could get in that pipeline

A: WSU has program

Q: now really curioushow to get this to work

A: goes back to identification and getting and into certain profind a way to be able to control who teaches at school must be able to break contract and schools be able to

Q: find a way…………..

A:In one way nclb is terrible flawed but is also a civil rights and have to look differnelty so don’t push self out of job

Q: teachers that are quality get involved in unions etc.

A: Ronnie

Q: exchange with conv for adults and youth

A: can use space anytime and do sessions on Sunday

Q: What are the barriers to getting teachers of color in schools?

A: pat’s responsibilities in American society in general do not value education media telling that edu is not happiness city council just added education to advisory committee
Maybe hoping for educational revolution maybe with Obama as president wants to replicate harlem model

Q: You have a lot of optimism but do not have the ability to select people that you think are best for your school is a pessimistic reality-

Q: y are teaachers who exp is actually in what theople in union need to figure out how to structure union and senority different

Q: need to get teachers who are actually trained in what they are teaching

A: do in ctc system- do have some trainined in their professions - again certification process


Should be alternative approach to cert. but that is often used to impune teachers- anti-intellectuals=ism gets advanced by saying people in classroom do not know what they are doing- when teaching is a craft

Encouragethat conversation is taking place on multiple levels 2 years ago it was not. 2 yrsd ago chair and another rep made presentation to a community group and were asked question about failure in district and they said thay have 75 % rate ( a c grade if you accept that #) comes from admin who do not respect our communities with pat on notion that you cannot expect- if you are committed to students of color you can tell them the truth- when talk about 75% rate inside of that the % in there is above 50 and sometimes lower. I say lets continue to change the players and the game.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Conversation Recap for July 6, 2008

We met on Tacoma’s Ruston waterfront, about 200 meters West of the Fireboat on display. A bit more than a dozen of us assembled with much good food, and the weather cooperated.

During check-in we were informed that the Washington State Historical Museum will open an exhibit on Civil Rights in Tacoma, on August 18.

The topic today was national identity, and two people brought flags to display, many of them hand made.

We saw several approaches to the idea of national identity. One frequently used was to conceive of where one’s ancestors are from, in terms of nation states. Some pointed out the shaky foundations of such concepts, as in the case of a Mexican-American whose family stayed in the same place while borders shifted.

We also visited, several times, the idea of whiteness as a blended construct which is part of US nationalism. At times, the “normal” category, as one participant referred to it, does not get marked out as an identity. Over time, whiteness has consisted of many things—color, religion, behavior, consumption patterns, and more.

More than one participant shared stories that suggested historical memory is not a strong suit in the US. Most folks, at one time or another, have run into reminders that we don’t know the history of various groups.

One participant offered a simile of ethnicity as a sort of cafeteria, where many people get to select which identification they prefer. And, some get the identification applied by others. We seemed to agree that the choice in the matter increased with degree to which one appears to be white.

And, there were tales of family secrets of identity, like German backgrounds in the mid 20th century.

One participant noted that nationalism is a modern and rather odd idea, that no one saw it coming, and that some recent scholarship describes it as essentially a religious affiliation.

We discussed components of national identity in the US. One participant speculated that many constructions of ancestry rely on questionable assumptions about their forbearers’ fidelity.

We witnessed a couple of examples of flag desecration in the garments worn by passers by.

We were reminded of the geneticist Spencer Wells, whose book The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey summarizes a widely shared conclusion—that all humans are descended from a person or persons who lived in Africa about 31,000 to 79,000 years ago, and that there is more genetic variation between individual members of a single “racial” group than there is across groups. The discussion moved to consider the differences we note between humans as largely ideological, yet primate biologists usually dispute this.

Several participants described a desire to deemphasize nationalism.

Several participants mentioned the Census, and for a time we discussed the use of “race” in this national account of who we are. We were reminded that the categories applied by the Census have changed over time—in the mid-19th century, people were classified as white, black or mulatto; in the later part of that century the Census added American Indians (those taxed—recall Article I Section 2 of the Constitution), Chinese and Japanese to the list. One census (1890) included “Quadroons and Octoroons.” One (1930) used “Mexican” as a racial category. (See a brief historical overview, from which much of the above was lifted, at The two questions in the 2000 census (the first asking if a person is “Spanish/Hispanic/Latino” and the second asking if a person is one of 14 categories, including “other.” In addition, our laws over the years have recognized different sets of rights based on such classifications. After the abolition of slavery, state laws mandated segregation, limited property ownership and political rights, and proscribed marriage between whites and others.

The Census categories reflected a national conflation of the concepts of race and ethnicity. In this regard one may consult the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) response to the categories used in the 2000 Census, which they generally approved of as a step in the direction of abandoning the use of “race” as a category in the 2010 census. (See it at The AAA regards race as an idea created as part of the wave of Western European encounters with other peoples beginning in the late 15th century, and which was part of an understanding of differences among humans as somehow essential and closely tied to racist interpretations of human morphology and behavior.

For a short time we discussed the Cherokee Freedmen controversy (see the wikipedia page on it, at

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Conversation Recap for June 15, 2008

Today was our First Summer Day Outdoors. Seventeen of us met at Owen Beach, in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park, and people brought loads of excellent food.

During check-in, one participant suggested a Conversation emblem we could adopt, a form of body ornamentation. Several participants evinced an interest.

Today we heard Crestina’s story.

In the ensuing discussion, we discussed stereotypes, the encounters with them during childhood, and the ways we make sense of them now. We came back to this several times. This is at the heart of the Conversation. At times one of us may bring up something that cuts at another member. As one participant said to the participant who uttered the phrase, If it were uttered in a context where I didn’t know you, I would have walked out.

But there was no walking out. Instead we talked about it. People said what was on their minds, and we listened to each other. As one participant told us, the Conversation is a place where we can deal with a little tough honesty.

Among the things said: It is very important to look at the history of stereotypes. What is conjured by the images. In the not-too-distant path it was common for products to be marketed with images of African Americans on the label, in advertising, or in the shape of the package. Examples include Aunt Jemimah Syrup, Uncle Ben’s Rice, and Cream of Wheat. These are historically transitory figures, people who are always depicted as servants, people who disappear once the consumer (say, a child) is past that stage of life when they eat a lot of syrup. One participant summarized such images as “one of the chains that hold us back.” Another participant said the stereotypes fix a limit or ceiling on African Americans.

A related topic: Participants reported numerous social situations where whites are not confronted about our relationships to stereotypes. Some reported a common response, when confronted, is to step back from the situation, as if attacked. It is almost as if there were unwritten rules that say whites do not have to examine these ideas, and their participation in their perpetuation.

Also in the ensuing discussion, we discussed constitutional rights, what they have signified, protected, and empowered over time. For example, in the US it is common to define the Bill of Rights as primarily protections for individuals against government power. At other times in our history they were constructed in more economic terms, such as in the many European immigrants who came here voluntarily seeking a better life. When we characterize the United States as a “we” story, the word “we” is problematic. Are we sure others see it the same way, and share in the story the same way?

One participant suggested a book to read at this point: Octavia Butler, Kindred.

We also discussed connections between the Conversation and social justice topics. A commitment to social justices means difficult topics will come up now and then, topics that ask us to engage in conversations about how we live. We considered generally some questions about how we see transformation of the community. One participant noted that in the current presidential contest there is “big time naiveté,” that the campaigns are avoiding the topic, and that the media are not at all interested in such story lines.

We discussed ways at reaching out to a wider community. One was a forum that focuses on mythologies in the USA, perhaps a series. There are myths that are perhaps properly addressed at the 4th of July, or in the lead-up to the presidential election. Other interesting myths deal with race, the founding, economic opportunity.

Many of the participants are, to use the phrase of one first-time participant, old heads. One possibility for linking up with and listening to not-yet-old heads is to have them invite us to show up in their neighborhood. Perhaps we will get invited to Manitou Park, and we could bring food, etc., and have an interesting conversation. Maybe this will happen July 27. More to come on this. Among the topics that might be discussed: drugs, gangs, pregnancy, and maybe racism (although we heard that younger folks don’t talk about it much).

We learned that, despite the wet and cool Spring so far, we are in a drought season.

This discussion, and going to a public park, was in pursuit of a goal of the Conversation. Get people, and mostly white people, to take the risk to get out and listen to, talk with some folks that are usually seen one-dimensionally.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Conversation Recap for June 7, 2008

Next week, June 15, we are optimistically projected to meet outside. We will meet at Owen Beach, which is in Point Defiance Park. The topic is checking in on where we are in our lives.

During check-in, we heard from Laurie, now in her last week at ESC before moving on to her new job. More on that later.

This week we heard Kathy’s story, part two. Imagine being in NYC 1964-8, the music, the theater, the politics, it was a place where many things happened. A central part of the story was the 1968 strike that began in April of 1968, and the recent 40th anniversary of those events.

The discussion drew out comparisons among the white, black and Asian students during that time, and contemporary accounts made it clear that this was a time when segregation was the norm, and the ways this affected life went largely unnoticed by the white students.

One of the reasons the police took a while to arrest the strikers was that they were worried about Harlem exploding, possibly as a reaction to any mistreatment of black students.

Another strand of conversation looked at student activism, and comparisons between now and those times. There is student activism today, largely focused on the Iraq war.

When asked about her own writing, Kathy described her interviews of members of mixed families. One feature of making sense of the interviews is the question of identity. This is in part a product of the context that defines the color line in America—recall the days of miscegenation laws, the ‘one-drop’ rule, and legalized segregation. She has five categories she asked her respondents about: ascribed identity (what people call a person), cultural identity (cultural features where people find strength, entertainment, etc.), self-identification (what people use when filling out forms, which is often not the same as the previous three categories), how people say they really identify, and a general question where she asked people to describe events or situations that make them feel more white or black or Asian. Identity is a complicated question.

The V-team will meet after today’s session to discuss and set an agenda for the next three or so months. We discussed topics for the V-team to take up. Next week they will present a proposed schedule.

Part of the V-team work may follow a call by Dexter to encourage more dynamic civic engagement on the part of the Conversation. We have subgroups that work on education and on peace issues. We also discussed the organization of small discussion groups within the larger Conversation. This is also connected to the possibilities of our growing, and how to handle larger groups. We also discussed possible topics: American exceptionalism, the links between race and class, the criminalization of immigration, health equity and disparities, a session on helping parents understand their rights and resources available to them in the education system (and elsewhere), public education, Obama’s use of the term ‘post-racial,’ contemporary civic engagement, economics and social justice, planning strategically for social and structural change, native Americans in the Northwest, sessions on Youth and Children. Another topic, perhaps in two weeks, is juveniles in the law and disproportionalities. Other topics are welcome. One thing to discuss is the time of our meetings—the issue we have discussed before that this is the church hour for lots of people, and there are consequences for who is able to be part of the Conversation.

Next week, June 15, we are optimistically projected to meet outside. We will meet at Owen Beach, which is in Point Defiance Park. It is also Sound-To-Narrows and Fathers Day, each which bring out lots of people.

Places to consider for the outdoor meetings.
• Somewhere along the Ruston Waterfront, like Dickman Mill Park
• Owens Beach
• Downtown Tacoma, at the History Museum
• Wright Park
• Peoples’ Park
• Titlow Beach
• There are park facilities or covered outdoor meeting areas at many of the schools, such as Lincoln Park.

If we commit to going outside for the summer, we are committed to potlucks. We will coordinate it through the folks now signed up for food. A couple of our number will check these out and propose a schedule for the next couple of months. One thing to consider: Perhaps instead of meeting at a different place each time, we meet at a couple of places. We will need to print something that everyone can have on their calendar, and in their pockets, to remind them and to help with invitations to people. We also need to put it front and center on the blog.

We express our profound thank you and appreciation to Laurie Arnold, for the many things she has done to organize and energize The Conversation. Several people offered testimonials.

We notice, we appreciate, that Laurie is our steady presence—here every week, here first, here to welcome us and make it happen. This rock steady person is also, as some of us know, rebellious. And we take from this a recognition of impeccable timing—when to be each.
In one testimonial, Laurie is called a fellow traveler in the fight against racism, in the struggle to help families in need, to make education possible for many for whom it was closed, she is the change we want to happen.

Laurie, “our butterfly,” who carries our presence through the internet. She creates stability in the communities she adopts, and we are grateful for doing that for us. She gives so generously to others. We love and honor her and her family of origin. She will now create support systems in new places.

In a tribute from a self-confessed odd person, thank you to Laurie for encouraging us in our oddities, to open Evergreen as a welcoming place for us.

Special thanks go out from Evergreen alumni, who have been welcomes, been taught through her role model as a caring person who fights racism, encourages students, and makes programs happen. The students love Laurie, several testified.

One participant reminded her there is life after change, and the wish for Laurie is for her to be able to experience these wonderful aspects of life in that new place, too.

Laurie is a pillar of the community, our community. Some etymology: pillar: One who occupies a central or responsible position, from the latin pila. The metaphor is architectural, of course, but pillar is the plural form of pilum, the javelin carried by Roman soldiers. For the Romans, pillars were seen as bundles of spears. Pillars don’t just stand there, they are fierce bundles of energy, ready to move and take action. And they are also not single things, but a gathering of the many parts that, together, hold the place up.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Conversation Recap for June 2, 2008

We met as a smallish group on this cloudy day.

Our topic today is race and gender in the current political contests. So we asked people to come up with the “most irritating moment” in the campaigns and the coverage during the last few weeks.

One participant recounted the tale of a superdelegate from our state who recently made a move in the direction of Clinton. An email barrage erupted urging people to berate this person, and to send her entreaties to change back. The level of enmity seems to make people forget that people get to make decisions.

One participant told a story that brought the themes together—it is a dead end to try to decide whether the race or gender features of the election are more important. Where would this go—if you vote for Obama you are sexist, and if you vote for Clinton you are racist? And people get to criticize candidates without being labeled as racist or sexist.

For example, the recent media coverage of the priest who spoke at a Chicago church (yes, that Chicago church) and accused Clinton of exercising white privilege. Interestingly, the same priest was interviewed at length on the topic of reverend Wright, and the tape of it sounds like a smart and perceptive person…. but then when he gets to Wright’s former congregation, he goes off. There is the possibility, one participant observed, that people lose a bit of their minds when the media cameras and microphones are pointed in their direction.

The media coverage focuses too much on candidate statements about minor matters not related to policy—Clinton finding hope in the possibilities of June, Obama examining links between class, guns and religion, and so on.

Does anyone trust the statements of people who say they will vote this way or that, especially in response to the bitter fight within the Democratic party. The media attention is on the infighting, not policy. How many remember the divisive coverage, encouraged by the campaigns, of how the conflict in the economy is between white women looking for jobs, African Americans looking for jobs, and white working class voters looking for jobs? The media and some campaigns frame issues as confrontations between such groups, rather than looking at shared interests.

We discussed media content for a bit. One participant subscribes to both the TNT and the New York Times, and the former often runs stories from the latter—the headline pitch and the placement are usually quite different.

Is party identification (one’s loyalty to one of the major political parties) really durable? Do other features, like color, gender and class, trump party identification? We told anecdotal stories about immigrant groups that have been defined in part with reference to the color line. And there are plenty of anecdotal stories about individual voters, of whatever background, saying they will stay home, undervote or cross to McCain if Obama is the nominee.

There is a whole lot we do not know about this situation, because we have never seen it before. What will a campaign do? We can not expect the mass media to understand what all is going on and listen to, and report, whatever new developments emerge because of the unusual choices we face.

One participant received emails from a group of people, mostly white men, who find all sorts of reasons to not like Obama. These are fairly cosmopolitan people of means who see the world, etc.—there is a segment of our society that can perhaps never be moved on such a question.

We discussed the way the media categorize people—recall the dustup in the media, fed by Clinton advisors, that Appalachian voters (called white, working class) will not support Obama. How does this play into the election? We never have had the discussion of a real choice—Chris Rock could joke about insincere statements of support for Colin Powell, but it was an idea that did not get tested. (One story: Powell finally decided to not run when his wife told him the risk of his assassination was too great.)

One participant reported feeling hopeful one day, and feeling set up for a big disappointment the next. Recall what Dexter said in an earlier meeting—that this country has to go through race, it can’t go around it. And so this election offers a chance to do some of that, if Obama is the nominee.

One participant shared how gardening is good, when the media coverage just gets to be too much.

One interesting part of this experiment—are younger people more open, or in a more interesting place on the color line, than is the average person? Will a youth effect be stronger along the Coasts, or the West Coast, compared to states like Colorado? Areas like Appalachia do have pockets, towns that defy the stereotypes.

One participant told us about a documentary, Kilowatt Ours (see the website at that is another version of the Thomas Franks “What’s the Matter With Kansas” argument. The documentary includes the idea that people whose economic interests are not looked after by anyone will go toward culture issues when they vote. BTW, Franks missed some important features of Kansas politics—poorer Kansas voters have been going less and less for Republicans over the last quarter century, and Democrats are much more likely to have the state legislative seats in districts with larger proportions of poor residents.

One participant, while discussing the way class can figure in our politics, recalled the film Harlan County (see the description on IMDB at, which says this about the movie: “This film documents the coal miners' strike against the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. Eastovers refusal to sign a contract (when the miners joined with the United Mine Workers of America) led to the strike, which lasted more than a year and included violent battles between gun-toting company thugs/scabs and the picketing miners and their supportive women-folk. Director Barbara Kopple puts the strike into perspective by giving us some background on the historical plight of the miners and some history of the UMWA.”). We do see in the media accounts of how distinct are poor, white Appalachian (or other area) voters, and connect that with racism. Perhaps one important piece of political identity in such areas is class. And it would be nice to have a good conversation about class in our politics.

One participant suggested that among the things that motivate people to vote, and to vote one way or another, is their judgment of whether a candidate is a person who will most likely look after my interests (as opposed to, for example, going down a list of issues and adding them up). BTW, there is pretty strong evidence this is true: Arthur H. Miller,, “Schematic Assessment of Presidential Candidates,” The American Political Science Review 80 (1986) No. 2, pp. 521-40.

One participant noted that most young people do not know much about the history of the color line in America—for example, just the other evening one young person did not know about our history of marriage laws prohibiting whites and black from marrying, and defining who is white and black.

We talked a bit about the possibility of the Obama/Clinton ticket, at different times in the conversation. No one thought it was a good idea, or would work, or is likely.

Others have mentioned evidence that the rest of the world would see us very differently if Obama became president.

One participant raised the possibility that the country does not want to confront the idea that the USA is changing, and is not going to look at the way it has, or does not. An interesting comparison of this is Canada, which has made a conscious effort to have a discussion about diversity, has a government commission to study it, keep it in the news, and tweak its constitution with respect to issues that came up.

We discussed identity issues a bit, and one participant shared there are a lot of parts of our lives that serve as anchors of identity. People shared their perceptions of living in diverse neighborhoods, what things are like in the neighborhood surrounding our meeting place, visits to Canada, and Oakland. People shared stories about their observations of families, some suggesting there are trends here.


There is a possibility of having a “Courage and Renewal” retreat, say in September, at the Conversation. More to come about this.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Conversation Recap for May 25, 2008

As part of intros, at a member’s request, we gave some background on what each of us does for a living. We are a K-12 teacher, student service coordinator, fair housing administrator, university nursing faculty, consultant to FDA on health products, director of Pierce County Community Services who also sits on the TPU Board, director and staff of Maxine Mimms Academy, parent support for a gang intervention program at the Urban League, student at Evergreen and member of hip-hop group 2012.

A question was raised about why our utility bills are so high and why there are so few resources for low-income people. There was some explanation about the market forces that affect our power rates as well as the revenue generating sources that can help lower costs. There was also some discussion of programs designed to help the poor.

Another question was raised about why people haven’t been coming. Laurie will resend the member list and each of us will call a name or two under our own from the list to see why they haven’t been coming.

Tom talked with us about the political process around nominating the democratic presidential candidate. Though there’s a lot of excitement around it this year. There is a nominating process and a convention process. Lots of folk who are involved now are not really aware of the procedures around this process.

The party itself has control over the process. There is a difference between the popular process and the party nominating process. The Supreme Court has said that political party members are the ones who may be credentialed to participate in the nominating process.

Our state has a caucus process. Feb. 9th was the state caucus date. They try to have the party caucuses on the same day for “party purity” purposes. The caucuses have 2 purposes—nominating and policy making (party platform). There is a mathematical formula for apportioning delegates for each presidential candidate based on how many caucus attendees sign in for a particular candidate.

The stages are:

Precinct Caucus
Legislative District Caucus
District Caucus
State Convention
National Convention

Who gets to play--Those who can bring people in to support them. Those who can get themselves known, by working, for example in the process—i.e., signing people in at the caucus etc.

The 25th district caucus, held at Jason Lee was the largest ever since 1972. Over 1,000. Just over 850 people attended the convention which represents a significant drop off, based on a misunderstanding of the roles and significance of the convention process and the nominating process and some folks probably lost interest in the policy making process.

A quorum call was made to see if 40% of the delegates were present. It was felt that the call was made strategically by Clinton supporters because they were outnumbered and wanted to quell Obama supporters ability to get platform planks that would be supported by Obama into the platform.

It is possible for delegates for one candidate to change their minds and vote for another candidate.


Question—what role does the general public have in this process? Might there not be a 3rd purpose beyond the nominating and the platform process, that progressives have? The 8-hour workday, civil rights, etc. came about because people went into the streets. We need to intervene in the political system in ways that nourish social movements.

One person asked what might be 3 ways progressives might organize?

Specific issues
Elect our own local officials
Alliances between these other 3

A point was made about how little influence and power the average American feels s/he has in politics.

Another issue that was brought up was how much time was taken up at the County Convention with amendments from the floor on resolutions so that a lot of time was spent by delegates voting on amendments they had very little time to think about. This time around some thing were managed differently AND there were so many more people attending.

One person said she was glad it was messy and hoped it stayed messy because we are struggling with inclusion.

A question was asked about what is done with the platform? It becomes party policy and candidates can be challenged based upon their position(s) on the platform planks.

Another person asked about Florida and Michigan. These 2 states broke party rules in moving up their primaries. Both Obama and Clinton pledged not to campaign in states that broke the rules.

One person said what Clinton is doing for women is phenomenal. Women have never had such a strong public voice.

One person remarked that we live in a representative democracy but we have the technology to do direct democracy. If we had direct electoral voting then Instant Runoff Voting would get his support but until then, in his opinion, IRV will just complicate matters.

Another felt that when someone invests in a process they should get a say in it. A person responded that he would love to believe that it’s possible, but his experience in Oakland was that when there was a large campaign to get rid of some very bad City Council members but at the end of the day, when the New Council was operating, they were faced with all these special interests in their face every day, “now that I’m here I understand the dynamics better” and the New Council became the Old Council within a year.

Hopefully, people will stay involved in the political process after the election and not just feel that it’s ok to go home and watch Jeopardy.

Another person remarked that there is no magic wand for building things but there is one for destroying things. Building something like universal health care will take some time.

Final comments were that this has been an engaging discussion and hopefully folks will take from I that our presence in important.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Conversation Recap for May 18, 2008

We began at 9:15, and went around for our check-in. We were a small crew this morning, on a very sunny morning. It is supposed to be mid-70s today with rain coming in a couple of days. One wonders what else pulls folks away—a couple of people we know are traveling, someone is sick, and other things are just happening.

Today we heard part of Carl’s story.

One question that emerged from his story: How do you describe to a family standing on the front porch in an economically depressed former steel and coal town, that they have benefited from white privilege?

One participant suggested that it takes a relationship, over time, to work with someone on the idea. She recalled an MLK quote, roughly: yes there are poor whites, but poor whites are not poor because they are white.

Another response to the question—go to education. This is a nation with a deep anti-intellectual streak, a hate/love relationship with education and schooling. This is graduation weekend for many college people—and the question we hear at these gatherings is, ‘what are you going to do with that degree?’ Recall Lucius Outlaw’s speech at the Race & Pedagogy conference—that a big part of American education is educating for ignorance, of letting people have a free ride through life without having to confront the divisions among people. The rupture among analysts of the divisions in the US are along the color line. For example, note how we separate race and class—the struggle should be between the poor and the rich, but one can not say that.

We discussed the role of labor unions in doing the work of equality. In the US unions like many other groups, even the more progressive ones, still largely divided on the question of race. And we know what happened during the 1960s, with the Republican “Southern strategy” and the alliance with the rural counties in the United States.

In the discussion, more than one person has a relative who died from asthma and its complications. And, in at least one of the cases a major contribution was the rampant pollution back in the day.

We also noted the effects of class. One described a stark difference in how he was treated when he shifted from a traditional blue collar job to a white collar job.

One participant linked the discussion to institutions, both education and prisons. Some prison people he knows project their future population using dropout rates. And looking at schooling, in the districts with lots of minority students the teacher cadre tends to be overwhelmingly white, female, and young. And these in schools that fail to graduate anywhere between half and 70% of African American students. [This has an obvious connection to the reading today.]

One participant noted a parent’s voice, which several around the room echoed, that repeated the mantra: “if they would just try harder,” or “if they just work hard enough…” In high schools one version of this these days is, “if you study and keep your nose clean, you will get into college and get the scholarships to pay for it.” The mainstream narrative is to

Another answer to the union question—we have unions to thank for the weekend, decent hours and working conditions, living wage, the works. Taft-Hartley was an attempt to break the power of Unions, and it was Ronald Reagan who showed how the modern attack was to work. Why are the people in tough times not blaming Reagan for the assault on unions, and by extension, their opportunities in life.

An observation on American exceptionalism—the notion that the USA has something to offer that no other society has experienced. Plantation societies—much of the US, Barbados, Trinidad—are those that rely on the work of people who don’t have much power. And, of course, plantations are divided on the color line. This led to several observations on the Obama candidacy. The references to nationalism in his speeches are troubling to many of us.

What we do not see is politics framed through an ethic of universal respect for individuals. Politicians have offered a number of categories of who is on top and who is on the bottom. None yet has started with universal respect.

In June we will have a conversation about reading books in the future. One model is to pick one and do a chapter a week. Another is to take a topic, say, American exceptionalism, and read something that will be perhaps a collection of things. We will be having a conversation about it in June.

And we move to the book.

One of the passages we looked at is centered on p. 349, when Barbara was being put out of the apartment, and the description of the crowd-as-vultures waiting for the goods, and the guy with the gun saying “they can’t outrun this.”

A couple of folks who grew up in very different communities than the DC described by Suskind noted that the stability of their surroundings, in the face of poverty, would call up a very different response when one family was facing a crisis. It was “more like a family.” One interpretation offered to compare the situations is to look at the way mobility affects community ties. We have to add into it the availability of housing

It is likely that Suskind does not see the architecture of survival in poor communities, the degree to which cooperation is essential. Look at his stories about the church Barbara goes to—recall the early sections on asking people to give up their last dollar, and how Barbara was asked to put the $20, her last $20, into the plate. Then, about p. 350, Minister Borden shows up with the check that keeps Barbara from being evicted.

We went on to talk about the ways we do not step up to work on the tough systematic problems—note the stories about how Ballou High is doing. Suskind offers next to nothing outside the normal narrative of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. The dominant narrative that bothers to include poverty is about how hard-working, self-disciplined individuals struggle against the surrounding difficulties and rise above them. In that sense Suskind wrote a Horatio Alger book.

One participant noted that in our local schools there is a real reluctance to engage in discussion about race among the faculty, and yet students pick it up and seem willing to engage.
We discussed the underlying story in the book of Barbara, who works at the Dept. of Agriculture and, at the time of the book, made $20k after a good many years, which is not a living wage. Somewhere in the discussion we can get a lot further into jobs and employment policies.

A start of a conversation. We should have a discussion of what to do here, in Tacoma, about the systemic things we have noted about the book. Tacoma is where we live, and we know that the school district has enough difficulties for us to work on. Lots of students are being poorly served.

Here is an idea: There are 30 schools on the District improvement list, for several years now…. it is time to start talking about the possibility of taking those 30 schools and doing something. It might be possible, just musing here, to opt out of the District and to make another where some new things can be tried.

A parent group in Los Angeles, California, sued the school district over similar issues and actually won.

We also mentioned the importance of building a coalition that works on education in Tacoma, and discussed upcoming elections for Board positions. There actually are some efforts going on in that direction. Several people spoke to the importance of building alliances. “We can do this.”