I am a long time consistent voter – one of the ones that even shows up for primaries in off year local elections! Perhaps that is not surprising since I am a political science professor. But what might surprise you is that I had never volunteered for any “on the ground” election activities like poll greeting, poll watching, or poll assistance. This year I decided to do that, in part because I was expecting my students to engage in some kind of political activity for class and I thought I ought to do what I was expecting them to do, and in part because I was concerned about claims that the election system was” rigged” in some way (I heard this claim from both sides of the aisle). This blog post is a reflection on what I learned and experienced when I left the “ivory tower” and volunteered as a poll observer on election day.
It wasn’t a grand setting for a groundbreaking announcement – the basketball court of the South Estes public housing community in Chapel Hill. Eager volunteers stood at folding tables under the hoops ready to sign up residents for digital literacy classes and announce the Town’s new effort to bring free internet to all public housing residents. Trays of sausage and chicken biscuits, and jugs of sweet tea sat ready for an estimated 100 people.
Here’s the question: is there a way to capture the passion of sports fans for the work of community engagement?
Put another way: are the goals and interactions of people who care about – and even are passionate – about their neighborhood or other community fundamentally different from the commitments of fans to their sports team?
So, the Cubs winning the World Series is a big deal to me. There was the history of failure and near misses. The legends of curses. The hope of building a good team. And the excitement – and relief – of triumphing in the tenth inning of the 7th game of the World Series. All wonderful stuff (Sorry, Cleveland Indians fans).
This seems a long way from a stream clean-up, a neighborhood crime watch or a recreation league. Most community engagement is pretty local. The “sports heroes” are your fellow neighbors, not some highly paid athlete who jets across time zones. And the wins and losses on community challenges can sometimes be a lot fuzzier than for a baseball game of “Three Strikes and You’re OUT!”
On a similar track about community, big events, and emotions, I want to note a connection to communal grief related to mass violence, as blogged by Melody Warnick. Melody focuses on the other end of community emotion and commemoration: Have you ever participated in a candlelight vigil in your town or another kind of community mourning ritual? Did it help?
I will focus on the passion around sports: striving, hope and happiness. Is there a way to transfer or “inject” some of that kind of passion into community engagement?
Two ideas to help start a conversation: Continue Reading
Charlotte’s West End is among the oldest and most culturally rich areas of the city. With neighborhoods dating back to the late 1800’s, this area has served as a hub for the African-American community for generations. From long standing community service organizations to educational institutions such as Johnson C. Smith University to more than 330 acres of greenspace, there is a strong community built on Charlotte’s west side and many people invested in its future.
Would you tell your children there is no food because you gave all your money to the slumlord? Or would you buy groceries and risk another eviction, knowing that each time the money doesn’t stretch far enough to pay the full rent, that it is harder and harder to get housing?
That is the agonizing dilemma of thousands of mothers and fathers and grandparents raising grandchildren as they experience the “persistent shortage of safe affordable housing”. Eviction, if they don’t give every penny to the landlord. Homelessness, because they can’t find anything else when wages are low and rents are rising and eviction records are counted against them. Plus, landlords may not want families with children; that is illegal discrimination but common practice. Substandard, because that may be all someone will finally agree to rent to them.
If our community had more housing, in decent condition, with rents affordable for families, then children could eat and not change schools four times a year and not go to the hospital in asthma crisis. And parents could smile instead of being depressed and stressed as they have to choose food OR roof OR health but not all three.
I am a sixty years old black man who has been fighting for social justice and fairness for low- income communities here in Durham North Carolina for the last 27 years. I have seen a lot of changes come into our communities that at the time I felt good about, housing has been improved, we have more and better parks and playgrounds, downtown Durham has come back to life and there are more things to do, access to main highways are being improve and a lot of different jobs are coming into the area. The problem I see now is that with all of these good things happening in Durham, not many poor blacks are benefiting, in fact we are being forced out of our neighborhoods, are young blacks men and women aren’t getting the good paying jobs and the black owned businesses are dying out. Try as I can, I don’t know how to turn this around or where to start, Any ideals?
At a formative stage in my career, I was a secondary school Peace Corps teacher in northern Benin. My community lies along the Niger River. After class, teachers wearing cool, bright cotton poured three rounds of tea from a small, blue pot, while sitting on a braided plastic mat in the shade at the edge of the road. Motorcycle taxi-men napped on their “motos” in the shade of a billboard, feet propped up on the handbars, green and yellow uniform shirts buttoned once near the top. In the stiff air, goats pressed firmly against the whitewashed walls of the nearby mosque.
During my English classes, I would ask my students complex questions in basic vocabulary: Who attends school in your home? What do you know about the scars on your cheeks? What do you grow in your fields? Why is it this way? We read from a handful of textbooks – 70 students under a corrugated roof. We held debates about ideas that emerged during these lessons and then created skits to illustrate what these ideas looked like in our own lives. Finally, we acted these skits in the open-air courtyard, to classmates and relatives under the neem canopy.
I recently moved to the Town of Cary from a rural area in Western North Carolina. To say that things are different would likely be the understatement of the year; Cary has over 155,000 people at last count, and my hometown had about 2,500.
My family and I shifted from one of the smallest towns in the state to the seventh largest. That’s a process that will make you pay attention to the differences between where you’re coming from, and where you’re going.
It highlights the need for advocates of citizen engagement to provide more nuanced and custom approaches to citizen engagement that can work for both rural and urban communities – where there are often different cultural norms, values, and lifestyles. Continue Reading
I don’t think I’ve ever been on a vacation where I didn’t say to myself, “Would I live here? I would live here,” followed by some surreptitious investigation of the local real estate market.
Case in point: this summer’s Alaskan cruise. With no more than eight hours in each of the four port towns on the itinerary, I trundled down the gangway with a fierce sense of purpose and possibility. What would delight me here? In Ketchikan, it was the rivers rippling with salmon, and a meal of the world’s best fried halibut. In Juneau, it was the compact downtown so easily navigable that a twenty-minute walk encompassed a host of shops and museums.
We welcome Dr. David Campt to the CELE blog. David lives near Eden, NC and works across the U.S. on many community engagement projects.