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A Community Listener at Work – August 12, 2014
So what would a community listening system entail and accomplish? Can someone really ask about concerns in a non-partisan way? Will people really tell a stranger their concerns? (See why I believe we need a community listening system).
This spring I did what I want our elected officials (or my proposed community listening system) to do – I grabbed my clipboard and pen, put on my sneakers and went door-to-door to ask people, “What are your concerns?” Then I documented those concerns, took as many as I practically could to the appropriate elected officials, and reported back the results to the neighbors I had interviewed.
I knocked on 54 doors in two days and discovered firsthand what concerned a sample of ordinary people. Would you believe that 15 people had 52 unique concerns they wanted resolved? Out went the old adage that voters (and non-voters) are apathetic. I found that people care very deeply about a myriad of concerns and want our elected officials to address them instead of wasting time on partisan bickering.
Residents were concerned about transportation, taxes, human relations, education, pay equity, city operations (Tacoma, WA), health care, prison/felons, and environment.
I asked “What are your concerns?” because I wanted to know people's true concerns and not some pollster's idea of what they should be. If people couldn't think of any, I asked: “Are you concerned about the wage inequality between women and men (assuming women get those jobs in the first place)?” That released a flood of concerns.
I waded through a few partisan talking points to uncover any kernels of truth people were spouting. Do we have to ask who needs cleaner air or cleaner water. Democrats or Republicans? Who wants a better education for their children. Republicans or Democrats? Don't we all need healthy air and water and want a great education for our children regardless of party affiliation?
I found that we need to have a better understanding of how our government levels work (such as city, parks, schools, county, state, federal, and so on). Many wanted to know why and how electeds made the decisions they made.
Although beyond the scope of this project, each of these concerns should be identified and addressed in depth. (Click here to read the steps I took hunting for answers to peoples' questions (as I imagine community listeners would do)).
To facilitate communication, I gave respondents the contact information for their 48 elected officials (not including judges) should they decide to directly contact them.
I envision additional steps should be taken:
-- Once concerns are collected and confirmed with residents (and confirmed/denied by additional research), then deliberative dialogue opportunities should be provided for others who share those concerns.
-- The stage is then set for community members to take further action, if so desired.
-- I imagine that community listeners and/or participants who become more informed on residents' concerns would generate a good pool of candidates who should be encouraged to run for elected offices - they already have a relationship with residents and know their concerns. (In King County's 2015 local elections, 62% of races were run unopposed. That's a problem.)
Could more of our problems be resolved, and equitably, if a trained community listener visited each home once a year to listen and find out firsthand what the real grassroots problems are?
Steps I took hunting for answers to peoples' transportation questions.
Steps I took hunting for answers to peoples' health care questions.
Copyright 2016 Deb Blakeslee