I’m especially proud to be a member of the board of AmericaSpeaks at this moment, when the organization has completed two remarkable projects.
In Northeast Ohio, deep in the Rust Belt, there is an urgent need for vision, coordination, and civic participation to reverse decades of economic decline. (I know that general scene from my own experience growing up in Syracuse, NY.) AmericaSpeaks recently convened 21,000 citizens of 16 northeastern Ohio counties to deliberate about their region’s future. “Voices and Choices” was an intricate project with numerous components and partners. The final report is here.
In New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina, profound controversies about values, tradeoffs, and cultural identities immediately arose. There was a crucial need for public deliberation, or else decisions would be made by elites–or mere inertia would prevail. As it turned out, the various layers of government did little to engage citizens. But AmericaSpeaks planned and launched an elaborate series of public deliberations involving 2,500 citizens. It took courage to begin this project without firm funding or commitments from local institutions. No one else was ready to step into the breach, and AmericaSpeaks succeeded. The organization produced an overall report from “Community Congress II.” Readers of this blog may be especially interested in the work with youth; see the video report of deliberations among New Orleans high school students. See also Joe Goldman’s personal report on “The Democracy Movement.”
This work can be filed under “deliberation” and “reflective public opinion,” but it is at least as valuable as community organizing and civic education.