Heeding the clarion call to civil conversation

The process of really being with other people in a safe, supportive situation can actually change who we think we are . . .. And as we grow closer to the essence of who we are, we tend to take more responsibility for our neighbors and our planet. ~ Bill Kauth

We’ve heard the clarion call. We have wounds to heal – the healing process demands civil conversation, open exchange of ideas, values, differences and fissures in our community. Now what?

A priority must be to locate or create safe gathering places for community members to gather, share opposing opinions, to listen, to share life experiences, to own our strengths and admit our weaknesses. We need spaces in which Individuals feel safe to be honest about their values, needs, hopes, fears and innermost struggles. And we need “prompts” that create common ground for civil discourse.

Minnesotans share a proud legacy of lively discourse. Our forebears believed in – and seemingly enjoyed – dialogue. We can learn them — from our American Indian ancestors who shared their thoughts around the community fire, from immigrants gathered in country school houses, church basements, the Grange, the firehouse or Main Street eatery.

Today many of us live in urban neighborhoods, high rises, far-flung suburbs. We commute to work, learn, shop or connect with distant friends and family members. We communicate by email, text, twitter, even by POTS. We exchange information and ideas not face-to-face but by “devices” with no relationship to place or neighborhood or physical community.

And yet, as social beings, we have not lost our need for tangible space in which human beings who may not know each other gather, learn, share, discuss, debate. As Bill Kauth writes, that’s how change – even progress – happens. The supportive environment Kauth describes frees us to think, grow and “take on the responsibility for our neighbors and our planet.”

And so I asked myself, what and where are the gathering places? Because we are told to “write what we know” I have looked to my Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood, not as a neighborhood booster but to offer examples of how one unique community gathers and shares in some of the safe spaces that foster open dialog.

Like every neighborhood, Northeast Minneapolis is unique. The character of Northeast is founded by generations of immigrants, strengthened now by artists who share with ethnic minorities a propensity to “see life steadily and see it whole.”   Creative, committed visionaries who live and work in Northeast have felt both a need and great possibilities. They have dared to create those safe havens – and that has made all the difference.

My passion for the past few years has been to identify and shine a light on leaders – often unsung – who have built a community rich with oases that answer the people’s thirst to communicate. I’ve shared many of the stories on this blog and, more recently, in my work on the Voices of Northeast video project. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/voices-of-northeast-minneapolis-captured-and-shared-on-video/

The joy of it all is that, through Poking and Voices it’s been possible to share some, not yet all, of the gathering places that provide the fertile ground in which healing discourse thrives.

Eat My Words Bookstore (http://eatmywords.com) hosts a rich program of speakers and events on a wide range of topics; the unique bookstore also publishes a great email newsletter. Learn more here https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/hungry-for-a-good-read-try-eat-my-words/ or view this interview with bookstore proprietor Scott VomKorghnett https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tumRr08qkrc (sound quality not good)

The story of Poken Sword (www.poken.sword.org) is best told by those who provide the space and plan the programs. Christine Jaspers, the mind behind Poken Sword, (http://www.pokensword.com) and Dean Hawthorne, proprietor of 2001: A Space (http://2001aspace.com) share the story of their collaboration in this recent Voices interview – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6by48NS1V4&feature=youtu.be)

Coffeehouse Northeast (http://www.thecoffeeshopne.com) comes alive on “Open Mic” night – Don’t miss the post-election conversation next Sunday, November 13, 5:45-8:30 p.m. The Coffeehouse also hosts “Writers Read”, a series of readings by local authors organized by local poet Janaya Martin (http://www.mynortheaster.com/wp-content/news-archives/161102Northeaster/ – see page 6)

The American Craft Council Library Salon Series offers another opportunity for open discussion. This post from last year’s series describes the nature and purpose of the series. The Fall 2016 series is just completed with a conversation on the “Art of Participation” led by Peter Haakon Thompson and Sam Gould. (https://craftcouncil.org/post/five-questions-sam-gould-and-peter-haakon-thompson)

The Water Bar (water-bar.org) on Central Avenue was temporarily morphed into a pop-up poll during the election; they’re returned this week to offer safe space for public discussion of environmental issues. Next on the schedule is “Serve water”, two days of storytelling set for next week, November 14-15. Learn more about the Water Bar here: https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/drinking-and-thinking-water-in-northeast-minneapolis/ or in this more recent article in the TC Daily Planet http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/place-based-art-project-water-bar-addresses-disparities-in-drinking-water-access/

This is but a sample of Northeast Minneapolis settings in which neighbors who may not know each other can feel free to exchange ideas and opinions, including opposing opinions. Watch for more unique hot spots in future blogs or in postings or cablecasts of Voices videos. You’re welcome to drop in to any of these conversations – check the websites for updates.

If you think more clearly or just feel more at home in St. Paul, you’ll want to check out the East Side Freedom Library, the phoenix-like model of creating a supportive gathering spot in what was once a proud Carnegie Library in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/east-side-freedom-library-gives-new-life-to-carnegie-library-st-paul-neighborhood/

News flash  from East Side Freedom Library: http://us8.campaign-archive2.com/?u=f55ad6b17cb0d2b50ad86b2ce&id=6e9a158e8d&e=

Most important, start seeing your own neighborhood, building or complex through the safe haven lens. No doubt you will discover pockets of conversation on issues ranging from social justice to climate change to GMO’s. Dare to join the conversation. Should your community lack spaces that foster discourse, spot the spots that show promise, pair up with an activist neighbor or local organization to create a convivial gathering spot tailored to your unique setting.

We’ve heard the clarion call – it’s  time to get up and do what needs to be done.

* * *

The difficulty of carrying on a leisure-oriented tradition of culture in a work-oriented society is enough in itself  to keep the present crisis in our culture unresolved. ~ Clement Greenberg   

 

 

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