CommUNITY for Public Issues Forum

Flowers 0052

Like a butterfly who wiggles out of its cocoon and then dries its wings in the wind and sun, so too does a good conversation stimulate the brains of those who have it, and new neural pathways are our reward.  The butterfly is the symbol of rebirth in many cultures, and a good conversation is considered an art in countries I have long respected.  Today I am going to introduce you to my new project and I hope that you will enjoy the journey.  If you can fly, please do.

Americans are going to vote in November.  Democrats are expecting a “blue wave” and Republicans are throwing good money after a lost cause when we talk about Trumpian candidates. They are deeply concerned about losing seats for the first time since 1992.  During the early stages of Texan voting about who would face off against which candidate mid-term, an elderly woman at the polling station told me that Texans were not turning out much anymore. When I asked her what she thought the numbers were during 2018, she said succinctly, “the lowest I’ve ever seen.”

So the polling office is the starting gate of our journey today. It bothered me that what she said was a repeat of the numbers I had seen before leaving Oklahoma. There the numbers pertained to rural women, the lowest voting percentage of them all.  It only took me 24 hours to decide what I needed to do back then. I knew I had to spearhead a gathering of women from the college women at A.A.U.W., both Democratic and Republican Federations of  Women and my group: Talk of the Town Community Dialogue plus a few wonderful friends from NSU and the Cherokee Nation.  We were an interesting collage, and we all began to ask for the donations we would need to have to host a 3-day event over the August 26th through August 28th weekend of celebrations honoring Woman’s Equality Day in Tahlequah, OK.

The only thing I had done prior to this event, which I spearheaded with absolutely no trepidation simply because I was clueless, was a series of Talk of the Town Community Dialogue events in Tahlequah.  For this, I had trained a handful of people I respected to be the facilitators, we set up the tables, had an old-fashioned eat and greet and asked those who attended what issues they were most bothered by in our town, and what solutions did they think might make our town better.  As I said, it was a simple format, but very effective. 

If you want to know what a citizen thinks, be prepared to wander through a labyrinth of preferences instead of a maze.  People can be quite articulate if you respect them and give them the time they need to gather their thoughts.  A few helpful rules for community dialogue are no cross-talking; everyone gets a fair hearing; seek first to understand, then be understood; share air time so you do not monopolize our time together; and, you can disagree but don’t personalize it.  We have to expect there will be differences of opinion, but we do not condone socially offensive dialogue and name calling. There are other “rules” but these are the essential bare bones of what is commonly called a “roundtable discussion”.  

I ran a series of Talk of the Town open dialogues and wrote a report to our local government as the issues applied to them for the most part.  Our press coverage was gratifying and by the time I got around to thinking about the 3-day event people in town knew me and my husband, John. O.K. mostly they knew me.  I’ve become very opinionated with each decade I’ve left behind me.  But, on my behalf, I am always polite.

Our motto was Women Who Vote Change Lives!  Let me tell you that women who organize together get the job done simply because we are used to running a household and working a paying job.  We know how to, and have perfected the art of  balancing our duties. I was so proud of each group who delivered what we needed and even exceeded some of our plans.  That I’m sure came from the rivalry between the Democratic and Republican women’s groups.  I’m not sure who got us the high school band to accompany the Suffragette Parade March around Cherokee Square to kick our event off in style, but the band was wonderful!  The Republicans looked beautiful in their costumes and this woman can tell you that I really do understand how uncomfortable women’s dressing was in the 19th century.  The Dems also had wonderful costumes by the way. The photo below has one woman sticking out because she is carrying a sign as to the decade of suffragettes she was representing.  I know her party affiliation, Republican, but how she got so close to the camera surprised me.  The majority of us had on costumes, ha! 

The Dems provided fans we could decorate, cases and cases of water, (have you ever spent a summer in Tahlequah, OK)? In good old competitive spirit, their costumes were quite wonderful.  Of course, I’m a Democrat.  Did you notice that I praised the Republicans first?  Like I said, I am always polite.

The second event was an Issues & Political Party Forum featuring Rep. Jim Wilson (D) and Sen. Randy Brogdon (R).  A lawyer from the Cherokee Nation acted as the moderator for this event.  Our personal effort was to model what could be created by bringing people who usually don’t work together into an opportunity to benefit the whole town, and the rural women of Cherokee County, who I’m sorry to say did not turn out in great numbers.  We did try.  If Poli-Gen continued (the Political Gender) after I left I am confident there were more registrations and more good times had by all.

We had two events prior to the finale and the Cherokee high school professional cooking course class fed us at the third event, called the  “Women’s Political Forum”. All of the women were prominent Oklahoma legislators and leaders from both Tahlequah city and Cherokee County.  Both of the Senators congratulated our team for our effort and encouraged us to keep up the good work.  I loved that the Muskogee newspaper let me guess at how many people attended our events, and the reporter didn’t seem upset when I fudged a bit.  All in all, we had a good turn out for all three events and the women who worked together modeled for others that women who vote do change lives in their communities.

Aug 26 Ribbon Cutting

Political Gender Parade

We build upon what we know.  This is what I am already trained to do and in addition to my independent New Thought Minister services and writing on this blog, if I want to impact my community in a positive way, this is how I will do it.

I’m going to be contacting local governments along the 190 Hwy corridor and do my best to get each city along the route to hold a CommUNITY Public Issues Forum with me as their coach.  I will happily act as both facilitator and moderator, but I hope each city will be able to volunteer at least one person I can train who wants to be trained as a professional facilitator for this unique style of community dialogue.

I am sure that if you were to poll a room full of strangers the one thing they could all agree upon is this:  2018 is going to be a mid-term election for the history books.

By the way, have you planned to vote?

I hope that by sharing this little sliver of my past I have inspired you to go for the impossibly big projects instead of the small ones.  Not only do those who attend learn something about themselves, we as their mentors learn more about ourselves.  I would love you to send me some positive energy during the rest of Sept – November.  I am ready to receive all the loving goodwill that comes my way because I’ve learned one lesson in this life that matters:  nobody does anything worthwhile alone.

Peace and loving good will back to you, my dear friends and readers.  Rev. Cassandra