Fieldwork II: Equal Voices for America (Town Hall) #1

Sun. August 26, 2007
Categories: Research

The question for my second project became “how can I include voices from New Orleans to Los Angeles.”  The answer was a national conversation between January and June of 2008. Over 10,000 families in town hall meetings across America gathered to be inspired and engaged to address poverty, which they themselves identified as a lack of access to living-wage jobs, affordable housing, quality healthcare and education.  This year’s fieldwork involved working with the Marguerite Casey Foundation and AmericaSpeaks to support people to change difficult circumstances for themselves through a process called deliberative democracy.

Horizon, according to Gadamer (1975), is “the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point” be it expansive or narrow. I do not want to disregard myself in empathizing with other individuals nor do I want “to subordinate another person to our [my] own standards”…of living, you might say. The goal “involves rising to a higher universality that overcomes not only our own particularity but also that of the other” (Gadamer, 1975).

“The concept of horizon suggests itself because it expresses the superior breadth of vision that the person who is trying to understand must have.”

The public conversation after the training brought my prejudices and understandings to the test, and I was there to learn, not to agree nor disagree. It was hard.

AmericaSpeaks coordinated an event between the cities of L.A., Chicago, and Birmingham called Equal Voice for America’s Families (EVAF) which was sponsored by the Marguerite Casey Foundation. The venue was the Los Angeles Convention Center. It was a ‘call to action’ for families to send a message to the newly-elected Administration that no family should live in poverty, that everyone who works hard should be able to advance and participate fully in the economic, political, and cultural life of the nation, whether they are an immigrant or a natural born citizen. It was to show our government that families are willing to take responsibility to contribute to a better society and hold everyone in their communities accountable. EVAF asked for a national dialogue on family policy and for policy makers to listen to the voices of families. The goal is for our government to adopt a family platform across-the-board as our lives are not “single issue” for example, not just healthcare reform. The solution for all involved is comprehensive and includes all issues universally such as child care, criminal justice reform, education, employment, healthcare, housing, and immigration reform. The Marguerite Casey Foundation mission is as follows:

Diversity and Anti-Racism We courageously confront racism and discrimination. We reflect the voices, experiences and interests of diverse cultural and social groups.

Equity We believe in a bottom-up approach to social change, one that treats everyone fairly and equitably. We strive to share information and best practices broadly with all grantees and with the field as a whole.

Learning and Growing We foster a driven learning community, where we learn from experience, each other, and the communities we serve. We believe that knowledge is powerful and that learning never ends.

Mutual Respect and Trust We create an environment of teamwork and trust where acceptance and dignity are experienced by all. We are responsible for our actions, words and attitudes and are accountable to always follow through.

Stewardship We are thoughtful, thorough and strategic in our grant making decisions. We make sound business decisions regarding the use of our resources, and we are committed to good results.

Sustained Connections We seek to develop and strive to preserve permanent community connections for families. We believe in the power of strong relationships to effect community change. Transparency We are open and honest in all we do. We strive to conduct our business with the utmost clarity and directness, so that others will always know where we stand.

Methodology Used:

The event was simulcast on Saturday, September 6, 2008 in Birmingham, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Fifteen thousand families were present from across the three locations, and 5,250 were watching the streaming webcast. As the day progressed, I digitally recorded the statistics that were projected onto the large screens at the front of the hall. My responsibility was to be a good host and support the participants at my table, and most importantly, to stay neutral on the issues. The people who supported the table facilitators included the emcees, the tech support people, and the area facilitators. Each table had a laptop recorder and polling keypads. The discussions were timed by the emcees. The responses that were typed into the laptop along with the polling results from the keypad responses from all three locations across the U.S. were collated by a separate team and compiled between discussions while inspirational speeches and musical performances were given.

My Table:

The first discussion was to identify ourselves and answer the question, “What is your greatest hope for this convention?” I shared a table with Marissa (Hercules) a child care worker; Claudia, who was looking for resources for families in her area; Elsa, a teacher who wanted to take information back to her own profession; another Elsa, a facilitator of health education who wanted to take information back to the kids she works with; Catalina, who helps students get to college; Nazareth (Inyo) who is interested in immigration and naturalization, Shihin (Inyo) who wants to encourage involvement in her community to bring change.

Demographic Statistics:

The demographic questions identified Los Angeles as having the largest number of participants at approximately 48%, while Birmingham had approximately 27% and Chicago had approximately 25% participation.

The largest percentage of participants made an income under $10,000 annually while 9% made greater that $75,000 and everyone else was somewhere in between, with a small number of people not even sure what their annual income was.

Additional demographic answers indicated that there were 70% females present and 30% males, of which 23% were 18 or younger, 9% were 19-24 years of age, 14% were 25-34 years of age, 19% were 35-44 years of age, 17% were 45-54 years of age, 11% were 55 to 64 years of age, and 6% were 65 or older.

Twenty seven percent self-identified as African American or Black, 4% as Asian or Pacific Islanders, 6% as Caucasians or White, a large majority at 53% self-identified as Hispanic / Latino, while Native American or Alaskan Natives were represented by 5% participation, and Native Hawaiian had no representation. Mixed racial heritage was represented by 3% participation, and Other as 1%.

Fifty-four percent were registered voters and 14% were not registered voters. Thirty percent of participants were not eligible to vote (indicating 7% undocumented to me because 23% reported they were of legal age to vote or younger). Two percent were unsure of their registration status.

The Platform:

The platform that people discussed included the issues of child care, criminal justice reform and opportunities for ex-offenders to rebuild, education, employment/job training, healthcare, housing, immigration reform, and safe and thriving communities with the underlying beliefs that no family should live in poverty, that prosperity and security begin with every person’s right to work in a well-paid job, be healthy, educated and live in a safe community, that equal opportunity should lead to equal outcomes, that public policies should promote everyone’s ability to reach their fullest potential and advance the common good, that families should have an equal voice in shaping policies and the future of their communities, that society should support family unity, encourage the healthy development of children and youth and foster respect for all people, and that strong families make America stronger.

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