Community Decision Making: Voice

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Tompkins Weekly     12-24-18

By Cathleen Banford

In September, I attended the “Local Economic Development Conference,” organized by Veronica Johnson and the Civil Advocacy Project. Guest speaker Bruce Seifer, with the support of Bernie Sanders, began the work of promoting progressive entrepreneurship in Burlington, VT. Small businesses grew in the wake of Seifer’s advocacy. I’m very grateful for the conference as it helped me think more clearly about individuals as community, engaging their voice with purpose.

As I observe how organizations and governance function here in Ithaca, to better understand how relatable their activities are to most people, it becomes apparent that our community is ready for more participatory models on all fronts. Many recognize that it’s often the same group of people driving change. How do we encourage more inclusivity and inspired participation with our collaborative community building efforts?

The second day of the economic conference was also the day of the Indigenous Peoples Festival, and I find it interesting how the culture of the festival right outside the conference related profoundly to creating participatory communities. Namely, through collectively honoring the deep connections we all have with each other and the Earth. Seeing this example empowers the core values for so many within our community. I sense a feeling of lightness and potential abundance, as I hear their perspective.

We are all now recognizing the need to get in tune with universal truths and a much deeper sense of self. With our technical capabilities, we have the capacity for sharing information, networking, and essentially redesigning what isn’t working. Our physical infrastructures are overdue for an ecologically sound overhaul, but so are our relational systems. Reclaiming our collective agency means engaging insights from lived experiences and from this, reimagining how best to relate as a community.

Living with collective voice requires that we look more closely at our relational experiences. Individually, it requires that more of us learn to share our voice and listen deeply; to do this we must first create more space for sharing our perspectives and co-create just systems that support compassionate expression. Each moment that we share in this way, we transform our human vulnerabilities into strengths.

We have not fully adopted healthy communication practices, we have yet to engage enough open collaborative systems, and not enough of us understand how best to value our Earth. We do have a strong sense of self-preservation. This simple yet profoundly unifying truth is expansive enough to hold us all. Our times call for us to change in ways that nurture and encourage trusting relationships, inclusivity, and justice.

Bringing business and governance to a place where they support people as whole beings within a community, rather than as consumers, is an immense undertaking. Our community organizations are showing up for the work of creating wellness, but the voice that needs to be heard most is the one that has not yet arrived. The effectiveness of any solutions related to governance, business, and community needs, depends on people feeling valued enough to bring their authenticity to the table. A future characterized by justice requires that each of us be willing to learn from one another.

Engaging our agency in order to develop healthy social environments requires strength and commitment. If we live in a culture that is oppressive for many and enables destructive behaviors and habits, where do we learn to be strong self-aware individuals? How do we begin to adapt the changes that will prioritize inclusivity within the systems of our community?

We listen. We learn to value the experience of becoming fully self-aware, we reconnect with the natural world. We bring more value to the foundational work of building healthy relationships and allow time and space for people to discover their common interests. We value creative expression because of the joy we feel as we create, and as we create we deepen and expand our understanding, which is essential to wellness.

Valuing ourselves this way, we build a solid foundation for bringing about consensus. Compassionate communication and deep listening are essential, these abilities have the power to help us generate a common vision. Awareness mentor and outdoor youth programming director Dale Bryner once said, “Truly listening is respect.” Respect opens the path for healing and the ability to effectively face change. There is more to being inclusive than offering an invitation, there is more to the mutual experience of people sharing their voices than being allowed to talk. It’s what we bring to the act of listening and relationship that provides enough quietude for a single voice to be heard. With so many voices to hear, I humbly request that we find the courage to learn to live together with more relational wellness, love, and gratitude.

Cathleen Banford is a board member of Sustainable Tompkins

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