Sunday, November 08, 2009

Conversation Schedule

See our Facebook page, under Notes, for current schedule.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Conversation is now on Facebook!

Become a fan! Post comments, events, etc. Join the conversation! Just see the Fan Box on the left.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Conversation Recap for May 3, 2009

We welcomed two new participants on a sunny morning.

Sid shared the story. We discussed our involvement with the public schools, and were asked to consider: how will we look back and describe what we did, knowing what we do?

We were visited by Chris Van Vechten, who is considering a run at the Tacoma School Board next year. He described his experience in public schools, a difficult time that he was able to turn around (three cheers for arts programs in the schools). He graduated from University of Puget Sound. [For some family background, he referred us to a book about his grandfather, Remember Me To Harlem,” ed. by Emily Bernard, from Knopf.]

One particular issue he is interested in in what we define as more important or essential subjects in class. He is also interested in looking at developing a school that focuses on preparation for trades, perhaps on a model like SOTA or SAMI.

He has been campaigning for about a month. When he asks people what needs to be done in their schools today, he hears a variety of things—which means a ‘one size fits all’ approach to improvement is a bad idea. He believes that schools at present very poorly serve students. One broad concept: schools need to be better connected to real life.

We had a broad discussion of the purposes of public education. Some participants shared elements of an answer, and offered the advice that the words need to be said (describing the real outcomes of the present school system), and that plenty of people won’t like it.

One participant compared the Tacoma public utility board’s experience in the drought at the close of the last century. It was an opportunity to be influential on the board beyond the formal rules and procedures. The school board might be a place to think about this—the work of getting others to change the way they see their basic responsibilities and resources is long and hard.

In discussing the achievement gap, several participants’ questions and suggestions encouraged a more specific, experience-based account of what can be done to make a difference. One participant suggested that someone (how about one of us) assemble a list of what we know can be done right now about the achievement gap.

And there was a generous sharing of humorous observations.

The assembled participants offered some broad recommendations about focusing a campaign. The advice from this group has to include the idea that one person can make a big difference. Frame the campaign—this whole thing has to change, and it starts with me.

Keith have a presentation about food security—he used the term “food dictatorship,” by which he means the commercial control of plant genetics. Commercial organizations have been able to patent organisms since the landmark Supreme Court in 1980, Diamond v. Chakrabarty, a 5-4 decision.

He showed us a video on Youtube, Frankenfoods. See it at

This raises some very interesting questions about the ownership of life.

Keith focused on the idea that the justice issues of food security can be addressed by going down another path—dealing politically with distribution issues. The trend right now is to develop food via patented products, which require farmers to enter into feed production of a particular design—they have to earn or borrow a certain amount of money to buy the patented foods, the fertilizers they need, and so on. The model is that property rights extend to all facets of the food cycle, and that all is for sale.

Anyone interested in the rules that apply to use of the “organic” label on your food, see the agriculture department web page on the issue:

A good example of an interest group that keeps track of these questions (such as the link between genetically modified organisms and organic food), and has a rich website, is Their argument about a moratorium on GMO’s is at

There are alternatives to the current model of developing and selling food. Those interested in this may want to check Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy, and Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. Both are well-written, carefully argued, and available in paperback. Each include some practical answers to the question, What Can I Do About It? Several participants raised broad issues that, they said, would be good to connect with practical steps we can take.

One participant noted the seedsavers movement. See

People interested in the story of the Canadian farmer and Monsanto, you can read details at wikipedia:

A recommendation: Stolen Harvest, by Vandana Shiva, and Water Wars, by the same author, are very good on these topics in a more global setting. See also Monocultures Of The Mind.

• Steve & Kristi play at Rhapsody in Bloom, this coming Wednesday, the 6th.
• On the 9th, a StopLoss Event, Coffee Strong Coffee House. All day event.
• Thursday, June 11, is the night of that Little Theater public event involving some members of the Conversation, save the date.
• Conversation meets May 17, at rehearsal hall of Broadway Theater.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Conversation Recap for April 5, 2009

Today looks to be gorgeous outside, it is supposed to get up to 65f.

We started with a story from Candace. The question and answer period was largely about personal things we don’t share on the blog. As a group, the Conversation usually looks for ways to support its participants.

Today Candace gave us a presentation on Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or EDS, a connective tissue disorder. In EDS the body can not make collagen and put it in the right place correctly. Collagen does a lot of things in the body—it helps make skin supple, it makes blood vessel walls flexible, it makes ligaments and muscles strong, it helps make the membranes on organs strong, and other things. Any and all of these can can affect EDS patients, in degrees ranging from annoying skin problems, to lots of pain, to knees and hips popping out of joint, to fatal organ failures. There is no simple test for EDS. Biopsies to analyze collagen, classification through symptoms, and genetic testing are all used to understand particular patients’ condition (there are eight specific genetic markers for EDS). Accordingly, EDS is underdiagnosed in the population (probably by a factor of ten or more), and if often wrongly diagnosed and treated. And, there isn’t much doctors can do beside “support” patients—orthotics in the shoes, pain relievers, and so on. There is no cure.

You can read more about EDS at the EDS foundation, at, or at the EDS Network Cares people, at They have a particularly detailed description of the variants of the disease at

One very difficult family issue with EDS is that the easy bruising is often, according to parents of EDS children, mistaken by school officials as signs of child abuse. So parents have to cope with the Child Protective Services calls, the investigations at school, and more. Similarly, when EDS children are seen by people in the emergency medical system, they are likely to trigger an investigation into child abuse. If children are taken during such investigations and placed into the foster care system, they are very unlikely to be place in households that are knowledgeable about dealing with EDS.

We also had a discussion about how to respond to the situation of a participant in need, and we don’t put that on the blog.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Conversation Recap for March 22, 2009

We welcomed Dexter back, and had lots of good food for breakfast.

Dexter told us about a recent meeting of the Washington Alliance of Black School Educators (see here), and of his research in Jamaica. Some funny stories there that best stay with the group.

This led to some observations on local history. It is rare that the stories of people get recorded, such as the accounts of the oldest people in communities who can fill in the details of what life was like—things that don’t get into the newspapers.

The stories also led to a brief overview of Rastafarian communities in Jamaica. Rastafarians were, in the early days, among the few who would question royalty, investigate blackness, and attempt to construct an appropriate life. They started several communes in the area Dexter visited, and they lived on the beach, fished, did their carpentry, read and talked about Scripture, and lived as men of peace in the town he grew up in. If people want to learn more they can look up Leonard Howell, whose biography is entitled “The First Rasta.” So far no one has published anything about the commune is his particular town. One of the reasons it was not noted much in print was the peaceful lifestyle that fit right in, were not raided by the police, and did not directly confront the authorities (for example, no back-to-Africa doctrine, no veneration of Haile Selassie, no extensive use of ganja, and so on).

Today’s central topic is to look at the experiences of several participants, Growing Up in Which America. (The concept of which America does not refer to North/Central/South Americas, but to the ways the color line divides the United States.)

One participant related how during the first grade (approximately), a woman she was staying with attempted to instruct her in racist ideas. She brought up some of the vocabulary with her mother, who explained that some people were racist. When school busing started in her school district, the white kids continued to go to the local school and the black kids went somewhere else. Another time she was being teased on the playground for being white, and when she got home her mother explained the historical background that helped her see how these attitudes came about. Her mother purposefully tried to organize her social life so that she would have more black friends.

Another participant described the topic today as looking at growing up here that is different from people who are exposed to multiple languages, cultures, and so on. In the USA there is an ideal that isn’t how a lot of people actually live.

Growing up in the USA, one will be exposed to lots of names that mark one as not the ideal. He shared some of the names that mark people, your reporter won’t put them here. Suffice to say we have a well-developed vocabulary for sorting people with respect to the ideal—they all mean “lesser,” in some way.

These names mark us, and the experience of growing up around this constant sorting marks us. What interests him now is constructing a community that is more caring, and more just.

Another participant started by describing a class she is teaching in which she has students write about and discuss their encounters with the color line. That will be more fully developed in a subsequent meeting of the Conversation.

In her own life, she remembers some incidents that happened before she had a vocabulary to process color as a defining feature. On one drive through a poorer neighborhood, and asking about the dilapidated houses. Her parents said that these people don’t take care of their property. She asked why not. There was a long pause, and he said it was because the people who owned the houses do not live there, and it is they who don’t take care of them. She had the sense her dad was doing something

In another memory, an African American woman who came to do housework was referred to by her first name. Weird, her parents referred to all other adults by first and last names. When asked, her mother said, yes she does have a last name, and gave it. She had a sense to not pursue this any further.

In still another memory, a prominent person in the neighborhood, called The Colonel, came over and said something that was somehow portentious. She thought it might be that the river was flooding. When asked, her parents said, no, the concern was that a “Negro” family might be moving into the neighborhood. When asked why that was a problem, her dad said they don’t take care of their property. Oh, she responded, like the (name of family) down the street. That family, of course, was white. Her dad went quiet at that point.

What seems to unify the stories—These are all examples of where people know the myth that they are projecting, and when asked to account for it in careful terms, show they are aware of the contradictions.

An interesting discussion followed these reports of early memories. Many of the accounts were of their own early memories.

One participant told a story of how we cherish the things we now believe. We seem to believe that what is absurd must not be true.

One participant noted it would be nice to have some clear analysis of how white people become split growing up with the self-deception.
As one participant noted, there are quite a few pieces on that…. we should assemble a bibliography.

One participant noted a Native American concept called “acculture.” One has to learn to be mainstream. It is a normal topic. “Say what you want, but we are still prisoners of war.” A good novel: “The Indians Won,” by Martin Cruz Smith, 1981.

One participant noted that kids quickly learn things in a culture of hate. Kids pick up who is hated, and use this knowledge to construct a self. This makes the family something strange—it puts kids on notice that there are dangers here, and that they to can be hated.

One participant noted that he came to North America at the age of 15, and he found that he could walk where he wanted to and do what he wanted to do. It was some time later that he realized the house was subdivided, and that the people there were living differently from others. On the whole he grew up without hearing a lot of disparaging remarks. There was plenty of discrimination in Canada, but the stark divisions described by those of us who grew up in the US were not part of his life. Interesting border. One participant suspected there is, indeed, a big dose of such divisions in Canada, although they may be more obviously mapped in the Native/immigrant line, or the French/English line. In the discussion, it came out there are real differences among the regions in Canada.

Several people noted the “schizophrenic” qualities of the ways race and racism get expressed, as noted above in the stories about myths and absurdities.

One participant shared a couple of stories from childhood. He thought the city he grew up in was a black city. He would see white people downtown, and here and there, but there was a clear association between poverty and being black. And, of course, there where white people on TV. A white teacher at school was nice.

One participant noted The Wire. Most people here have never seen it. Those of us who have said the acting, the writing, the whole thing, is perhaps the best thing we have every seen on television. See the website here.

One participant described The Wire as unfortunately focused on the blacks-as-drug-users. As a kid he did not experience much in the way of white racism, he got all he needed from TV. The depictions of black people are generally pathological. Another participant suggested that the show does get at the complexities—the complicity of the many institutions that contribute to the decay of US cities.

Why was The Sopranos such a huge cultural event, and The Wire was not? That is perhaps something we can do in conjunction with Evergreen.

One participant related discussions about growing up in Tacoma. An early exposure to logic can make a big difference in a life. Parents play a huge role in encouraging kids to make sense of things we see AND things we feel.

One participant suggested that moving towards something else, to be building that more just, more caring society, should be on our minds.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Conversation Recap for March 1, 2009

We welcomed two new participants today, and welcomed back some folks we had not seen in a while.

Today we heard a part of Sid’s story.

Part of the story focused on teaching about the current wars, and

Thursday at 10am, at Pierce College’s Puyallup campus, James Yee will speak and show a slide show. He was a captain in the Army, a muslim chaplain who was arrested and harshly treated in response to his criticisms of our handling of prisoners. He was actually charged with sedition and spying. Charges against him were eventually dropped

Cara Bilodeau, Pierce County’s organizer for Stand For Children, visited today. You can check the Tacoma website of Stand For Children.

We talked about education and children’s issues. Some examples of things we are concerned about: Tacoma’s loss of 1,000 students per year, the achievement gap, high dropout rates, the quality of education students are acquiring—and a fairly widespread perception it is declining, unacceptably so. This is connected to accountability standards. Several mentioned concern with the the focus on testing and its effects on what happens in classrooms. Upside down priorities—an emphasis in Tacoma public schools on “the house,” the physical facilities, and too little on what does on in the rooms with students. Not all students are placed on the path to college, and selection criteria are worth a close look. Pressures on budgets seem to lead to fewer programs in art, music, and physical education.

We discussed the March 10 school bond election, and we have an interesting example of one path to accountability. We read in the News Tribune that “The Tacoma Chapter of the NAACP and the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance each voted this week to oppose the measure on the mail-only March 10 ballot.”

Yet this model of accountability is not the same as looking carefully at the purpose for which we run a public education system, and how well we fulfill this purpose.

We approached this from several ways, and came to a single answer: we need to have candidates who will willingly share information about the priorities in education, will be responsive to these education needs, and who will actually lead to fulfill these priorities. This Fall two School Board members’ terms are over. There are opportunities to find a couple of new leaders. Stand For Children will be actively involved in this, and they invite us to be active around this upcoming election.

We discussed the state’s Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance, whose final report you can read here. It was just published in January, 2009, and recommends several reforms in state education policy. One of the more controversial elements is a tougher path to teacher tenure, which would take longer and be more tightly focused on performance of students.

Their proposed new definition of basic education is:

Students must have the opportunity to learn the skills to:

(i) Read with comprehension, write effectively, and communicate successfully in a variety of ways and settings and with a variety of audiences;
(ii) Know and apply the core concepts and principles of mathematics; social, physical, and life sciences; civics and history, including different cultures and participation in representative government; geography; arts; and health and fitness;
(iii) Think analytically, logically, and creatively, and to integrate different experiences and knowledge to form reasoned judgments and solve problems; and
(iv) Understand the importance of work and finance and how performance, effort, and decisions directly affect future career and educational opportunities.

The Full Funding Coalition, (check them out here) made up of the Washington Education Association, the school superintendents’ association, and other professional organizations, published their own report, which you can see here.

The Full Funding Coalition has so far been successful in deflecting the Task Force recommendations. It does not hurt their cause that the estimates of the cost of funding Task Force recommendations are probably about 68% increase in the State funding for basic education—an extra one and a half billion dollars in a year when the state legislature is trying to find eight billion dollars to cut. Their approach is largely to identify possible sources of new funding for education.

At several points we went back to that idea of clarifying the purpose of basic education. Neither the Task Force nor the Full Funding Coalition address the issue squarely. For example, Conversation members might recall the HB2722 advisory committee, and its focus on a plan to address the achievement gap, made some different recommendations about how to handle education. You can read their final report, issued in December 2008, here.

Conversation participants are urged to contact their legislators this week, as the Washington Legislature is deciding over the next week or two what is to be done this year about education.

AND, we celebrated the birthday of our own TacomaLaurie. Happy Birthday, from all of us.

Conversation Recap for February 22, 2009

We welcomed a new participant today. This prompted a brief reprise of Conversation ideas and dreams, such as the need for the News Tribune to have a social justice column. (It doesn’t have one now.)

Today we heard Keith (S.) story. The Mexico chapter was the focus of the last time he was up, and today Alaska figured large.

One fascinating topic that emerged was the little-known consequences of WWII on the native peoples of the Aleutian islands. People interested in this may check out this site. That association helped publish a book on the topic (Kirtland, John C. and David F. Coffin, Jr. The Relocation and Internment of the Aleuts during World War II, Volumes I-IX. Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Anchorage, Alaska. 1981 and Kirtland, John C. A Case in Law and Equity for Compensation. Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Anchorage. 1981.). Also see this site. Strangely enough, the one dead link your notetaker found on that website was the one describing the Attu taken to Japan and made to work in mines.

Charhys led a discussion of domestic violence. Last week we looked at the topic in the home, and today’s focus was on domestic violence among and against teens. Violence is about power and control, and the point is to dominate the victim. Put-downs can qualify, for the persistent criticism works toward the same end.

For those wishing to recall some of the facts she went over, not recorded here, similar information and resources can be found here. Lots of information is available in .pdf form at this page.

We took a quiz that highlighted some facts about teens in relationships, with reference to violence.

As a note, we were given chocolates as a reward for getting quiz questions correct. We didn’t have to give them back if we got one wrong.

Charhys conducted a study of the relation between domestic violence in the home and in relationships, and getting involved in gangs. She found a strong relationship. It was typical for young women involved in gangs to report demands from men that signify a strong set of expectations—about women needing to be domestic, to serve men, to pay money. The also reported a strong set of expectations on the part of the men in their lives to be ‘ladylike’—to not use certain language, to not get too high, to be faithful, to never flirt, and so on. The young women also generally recognized that the attitudes were closely connected to males valuing their status.

Her study also found that young people, especially the women, do not have role models of good relationships and yet live under pervasive expectations to be in a relationship.

We discussed the availability of good data on the details of domestic violence. For those interested, a good starting point for data about domestic violence is the American Bar Associations Commission on Domestic Violence, here. More data on teens is available at this site. The DOJ report from 2006 on domestic violence of all types is here.

Another topic that emerged from the discussion, from participants with experience counseling young people, was that people have very little information about sex and relationships.

Of course, that is the focus of Charhys’ work at YWCA. Young folks simply need more information about relationships, about violence, about sex, and what they can do to respond to situations.

Several participants shared shared accounts of their own experiences, and people they have known, who have been in dangerous relationships.

Hey, PBS’s NOW ran a segment on their last show about sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. See it on their website.

Conversation Recap for February 15, 2009

Today we started with an effort to construct a phone tree, so that we can notify the group. This was an attempt to fine tune the notification process that was tested on the occasion of the cancelled budget meeting at Evergreen last Tuesday evening.

Instead of a story, we tried a device of having everyone write a note to someone else in the Conversation.

Charhys and Mona led a discussion of domestic violence. They brought poster displays as well as handouts. They work in YWCA programs that offer a number of services to victims of domestic violence. Legal advocates help victims navigate the shoals of the system, whether with hospitals, the courts, and so on.

If you know someone who is a victim of domestic violence, give them the phone number of the YWCA Pierce County: 253-272-4181. (more contact info below)

Charhys works on prevention among teens, and focuses in part on talking to teens about qualities of relationships.
The following appears on the YWCA website about domestic violence:

Domestic violence is abusive behavior that can be physical, sexual, psychological or economic. It is intended to establish and maintain control over another person. It affects people of every race, religion, and economic class. Over 80% of victims of domestic violence are women and 80% of perpetrators are men.

Domestic violence is a crime in the state of Washington. Under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 26.50.010), domestic violence is defined as: a) physical harm, bodily injury, assault or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault between family or household members; b) sexual assault of one family or household member by another; or c) stalking as defined in RCW 9A.46.110 of one family or household member by another family or household member. (Further definitions and descriptions can be found in RCW 26.50.010 and RCW 10.99.020.)

Research indicates that half of all women in the United States will experience some form of violence from their partners during their lives, and that more than one-third are battered repeatedly. In 85% of assaults, the crimes are committed by men against women and for that reason it is an area of major interest to the YWCA. While physical indicators are signs of abuse, it can also be less noticeable and much more insidious. Abuse can be any attempt to control, manipulate or demean someone using physical, psychological, sexual, or economic tactics.
15-25% of pregnant women are battered.
80-85% of all documented reports of adult domestic violence are women abused by their male partners.
10-12% of documented adult domestic violence is the physical abuse of men by their female partners
20-39% of documented cases of domestic violence are reported within the gay/bisexual/lesbian/transgender community (accounting for about 3-8% of the total number of documented cases of domestic violence).
50-70% of men who abuse their female partners also physically abuse their children.
Of all female victims of homicide in the U.S., 30% are killed by husbands or boyfriends, a total of almost 1,500 women each year.
28% of teen relationships involve violence.

A detailed discussion of behaviors, responses and resources for help are available at here.

A great deal of material is found at the website of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. From that website you can get to a recent 100-page publication, Now That We Know, that examines many topics, such as disparities in violence across the color line in Washington State. We discussed this particular point at several points—efforts to emphasize such disparities perhaps are unwise outside of a discussion of how to allocate program resources, because it quickly turns to (if it didn’t start out as) a way of disparaging ‘those people’ (which ever group one is referring to) as somehow inherently more violent, thus diminishing the significance of violence against particular people, and deflecting attention from our systems of dealing with domestic violence.

Mona reminded us that President Obama said we have an empathy deficit—and in the case of domestic violence it is part of a generalized effort to hide domestic violence. Efforts to characterize one group or another as more violent is of a piece with claiming domestic violence is someone else’s problem.

The WA state effort hopes to influence the legislature to fill in some of the gaps in the system, of which there are many.

One item our discussion leaders mentioned was the Adverse Childhood Experience Study, which looks at the consequences of living in a violent household. See it here.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Conversation Recap for February 7, 2009

This morning twenty-two of us began with check-in, and a discussion of progress on the Conversation barter system.

Today we heard Dalton’s story, written in the form of a letter to his children, on the occasion of attending a funeral.

The ensuing discussion went into the different senses of community we see in different places. The sense of community in a place where we grew up, where people tend to stay forever, is palpable. A funeral seems to gather the markers of community.

We also discussed writing letters—something done less often in this electronic age.

We heard a musical interlude, to songs from Steve and Kristi.

Tom, Eve and Keith led a discussion of ‘why we honor people,’ an topic that grew out of the Tacoma Civil Rights Honor Roll. Keith opened with several ideas—we tend to honor warriors. One point of the Civil Rights Honor Roll is that there are many people among us who do the work for years—as a society we tend to honor them less often. Eve and Tom expanded on the idea of the apparently ordinary people among us who do the less-noticed work of justice.
One participant recounted a story of attempting to teach kids who were not supposed to succeed—and a small bit of publicity about the successes drew naysayers. There are institutional forces that react to publicly honoring people. This raised a question: how does the audience of the people being honored feel connected to them? Nationalism is a powerful force that is instantly conjured by political leaders, and can use it to build support for policies. It is not difficult to connect this to honoring soldiers. And yet that dialog can not always be easily controlled—we were reminded of how public perceptions of the war in Vietnam changed.
Several people told stories on the general theme of organizations or people within them attracting attention, attracting honors as resume building, while the workers are ignored. With some of the examples the details were left out, yet it was a theme that many around the table indicated they recognized. We did not delve deeply into this.

We briefly discussed the example of Ben Carson, the surgeon who was the subject of a TV movie broadcast last night. Among the points raised—he was raised by a single mom in a poor city. How often do we hear attacks on single moms, yet here is an example of someone who was always a star—in his high school, college, early medical career, and so on to his current world fame. We seldom hear praises for the single moms of people like this.

One participant asked whether we have the vocabulary to do the honoring we are talking about, particularly with respect to recognizing people of color. The negative images are ubiquitous and powerful.

Another participant suggested that when it comes to justice work, we honor people and then the dialog moves on. People forget what we honored. It is not like we have the continued institutional focus of a national government or armed forces that commands attention of the media. Recognizing the folks who struggle is in part saying we step into the struggle with them—and that can include a comparison with the more comfortable parts of our lives and the forces that enable injustice to persist. This can be a difficult thing to do.

Another participant noted that many of the people we honor as a nation are not clearly connected with the youth he works with. The people we honor are put before us as role models—and yet plenty of kids do not see the connection. He offered that famous people we honor—the examples were George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.—had their personal failings. Honoring people in their complexity might be helpful to showing how they actually do connect to ordinary people, such as a 16 year-old in Tacoma.

A leader of the discussion acknowledged one motivation for today’s discussion is a desire to examine the criteria used by the Conversation to come up with the honorees at the annual MLK Day celebration. Among the issues raised were the following. By focusing on people who have been at civil rights work for a decade or more means that the honorees are going to be of a certain age. Some work that we regard as important may not be classified as “civil rights.” Some in the room draw meaningful distinctions between civil rights and social justice, although as the discussion showed there isn’t a consensus on this point. It is possible we wish to do another kind of honoring, perhaps even at SoJust, if the work we are honoring is close to the focus of that annual festival. One participant noted the timeline of the nomination and recognition process, and connected it to the possibility of drawing ongoing attention to the kinds of things we find important. Another participant said the city’s political leaders used to do more recognition of upcoming leaders, and that is worth doing. The City of Destiny awards go in that direction. One idea is that it is possible to make distinctions among types of civil rights work.

We might want to note that historians and other scholars of civil rights use definitions that emphasize the quest for justice and equality. Distinctions are commonly made among discrimination, historical periods, particular public policies that promote or threaten justice.
One participant noted the national project for honoring the civilian dead in Iraq, at

Note This Announcement. The Lincoln Center first year students have the highest GPA of any school in Tacoma. WOW. This is a big deal, folks. This is being presented to the Tacoma School Board meeting this coming Thursday. The meeting begins at 6, and such recognitions are usually the first item on the agenda. (NOTE: The actual presentation of the news will come at the Study Session which begins at 5PM. Conversation members and others are encouraged to attend).

Tuesday the 10th, 6 pm, we need people to show up at Evergreen-Tacoma. The powers that be at the Evergreen State College are coming to talk about budget cuts throughout the college and how those might impact the Tacoma Campus. They need to hear how we value the place. Please come if you can. Bring others who share the sentiment.

Conversation Recap for January 25, 2009

We began with a check-in. We welcomed a new participant.

Today we heard Tina’s story.

In the discussion we touched on the Courage and Renewal workshops, and the ways they encourage people to connect their self-understandings with their vocations, and their avocations. Phrases used in the workshop contain short-hand references to stories and ideas shared there. The use of a new vocabulary to make sense of one’s life can allow a person to quickly combine several ideas, to emphasize connections between the different pieces of a life.

Another theme that emerged was the shifts in diversity that often accompany transitions in life, such as moving to another state because of a job or education. For example, going from Foss High School to an all-white small-town Southwest atmosphere can be a shock. It also has consequences for what happens to our kids.

We started a discussion of the MLK event.

As a prelude, we listened to the new Seal cover of the song, “A change is gonna come,” title track on his new CD.

And, we watched the January 24 weekly youtube talk by President Obama (see it here). It is a short overview of the policies he intends to pursue during his term. In it he mentioned a website his people have put together.

We discussed some ideas referred to in the talk. People have a lot of hopes about what can be done. One clear point emerged—there is a lot of work to be done, and much of the work has to happen in states and in local communities. High presidential approval ratings do not by themselves produce policy changes. Comments that emphasized the hopes also mentioned the work to be done.

One person noted his limited comments on the health care system, and said that it seems like he is organizing to do something larger. People might be interested in an excellent article on the topic in The New Yorker.

Several participants noted the importance of making opportunities, of a new type, for younger people. For example, some plans for shifting us to different energy sources include creation of many new jobs—who will be trained for them, who will fill them?

We then entered the MLK discussion. One participant reported comments from the Maiselle Bridges family. This was very important to them, and to us.

Several participants noted surprise at the size of the Sons of Thunder group—there was a miscommunication there, and several people here expected five to show up. Another person commented that sometimes choir directors ask members to participate and guess at how many will be able to and that may be where the confusion was--they all came! Several commented on how much we enjoyed their set.

For the Future, it is a good idea to have performance acts submit a stage diagram with details of their setup, including microphone placement etc. It is also a sign of the importance of rehearsals—many people were not informed of what was going on at which rehearsal activity. Some participants discussed the wisdom of clearly designating some of these responsibilities. If we don’t do that, then when things come up they just get piled on the one or two people that are handling organization details.

Accolades to Steve Philbrook, the sound man, who adapted.

There was apparently little cooperation among the local mainstream media, although there was a notification in one of the Seattle papers in their list of MLK events, and one participant talked to a couple of people who came from Seattle just for the event. The News Tribune ran a January 19 story, a day late, about MLK celebrations in the areas. There was a story in the News Tribune, as well as one of their photo slideshows available online. See the photos here. To see the TNT story, go here. There was some speculation that the story of the little boy who was killed at the monster truck event might have preempted an earlier commitment to run a story prior to the MLK event.

We also discussed several issues connected to the public face of the event—is it religious news, is it entertainment news, is it part of the arts—How should we promote it? We have limited control over the TNT’s placement.

The estimate of attendance: something like 250 to 275, although some felt there must have been more.

Many participants mentioned the high quality of the signers’ work.

A couple of the honorees asked if they could say something, and asked our Host for the microphone. Though there had been no requirement to do so, Eve chose to allow them to speak.

We discussed the tables in the basement. There wasn’t much attendance. One suggestion: have them upstairs in the anteroom at people exit.

Other very positive accolades were shared over the introduction for Dexter, done by Callista; by Steve & Kristi’s set; by Eve’s work as host; for the co-chairs of the planning effort, Callista and Mona; for Rosalind’s dramatic piece that was part of the program.

There was some discussion of what the event actually is. It is entertainment, in several senses. It is ritual. It is church. It is part of what the Conversation does. One participant used the metaphor of a full meal being served to the community. Another way to see it is by examining the many facets of the Civil Rights Movement—some of it was pulpit, some of it was SNCC, some of it was Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, etc. It wasn’t one thing, beyond the unifying core of social justice.

Perhaps the news media needs a regular section on social justice.

If the church was packed, the dynamic for many things would be different. How to do that? One way to think about it—what are our communities, and how can we each link them to the MLK event next year? Perhaps we all have opportunities to do this. Another idea is to assign sections to members of the Conversation—have each sign up for finding 20 audience members, something like that. One participant asked people to come, and about 80% of the invited folks showed up.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

MLK Redeeming the Vision 2009

Photobucket Album