Types of Action Taken by Dialogue Groups
After participating in a dialogue on race, many people are inspired to learn more about the subjects they discussed, renting videos on the Civil Rights Movement, reading books about slavery, or making an effort to learn about race issues that are in the news. Some participants begin journaling about their feelings and frustrations when they listen to others talking about race during the dialogues. Increasing your own knowledge of race-related issues and, perhaps more importantly, exploring your own racial identity and personal views on these issues are forms of what we call personal action.
Participants in most dialogue groups are expected and encouraged to take some sort of personal action beyond participation in the dialogues. Race dialogue groups usually discuss personal action that individuals can take or have already taken, and this kind of discussion is often encouraged by the facilitator. Many dialogue organizations take participants through a process of deciding which forms of personal (and other) action they are willing to take, some going as far as having participants write and sign pledges that they will take those steps.
Making an effort to befriend people of different racial groups, interrupting racist remarks and jokes made by friends and family, and sharing some of the new perspectives one hears about controversial racial issues are all forms of interpersonal action which dialogue participants frequently take.
Tutoring children in math, cleaning up litter-strewn streets, and mentoring a struggling teen are all examples of direct service. When people think of volunteer work, they usually think of the kind of one-on-one work that is known as direct service. Although direct service is sometimes considered Band-Aid workattacking the visible problem, but ignoring the rootperforming direct service can have a great impact on the person who is serving, as well as the person or community being served.
Interracial teams of dialogue participants in Springfield, Massachusetts illustrated this when they decided to travel to South Carolina to help rebuild a church that had been burned down, presumably by a hate group. While they rebuilt the church with local residents over several months, they engaged the residents in study circles on race relations, turning an opportunity for vital, team-building direct service into much more ("Study Circles on Race Connect Talk with Action" 1997).
Awareness-building activities are one very visible type of action that often results from race dialogue groups. Diversity appreciation events have been organized across the country as a result of dialogue efforts of all sizes. Utica, New Yorks Cultural Heritage Week and Springfield, Illinois Culture Fest ("Dialogue, Action, and Deliberation" 1998), and Lima, Ohios annual community-wide Diversity Day (Study Circles on Race Connect Talk With Action 1997) are good examples of this type of action.
Other dialogue groups have organized film festivals which feature ethnically diverse films, run speaking teams which visit inner-city high schools, or served on panels at public lectures and meetings (Norman 1994). Although this kind of action is sometimes seen as fluffy or even as avoiding the real steps that need to be taken to fight racism and injustice, increasing understanding and celebrating diversity are important.
One of the most common action ideas voiced by dialogue participants is the need for more dialogues (Leighninger and Flavin-McDonald 1998). Although the decision to focus on getting more people involved in dialogue groups may sound like passing the buck or taking the easy way out, it is anything but. Large dialogue efforts are not easy to run, but the more people who are involved in dialogue on any issue in a particular community, the more effective eventual change is likely to be.
Getting people involved in dialogue can also be an effective solution to some problems. In Lansing, Michigan, nearly 400 members of the police department participated in dialogues on race, which were organized by the Lansing Coalition for Community Concerns. The Michigan Law Enforcement Officer Training Council approved study circles on race as a method for improving race relations within the police departments and between police and community members throughout the state.
As a strategy for improving race relations in their city, dialogue participants in Springfield, Illinois decided to start with young people. They enrolled their Department of Human Relations, Housing, and Neighborhood Services to help the school system organize dialogues for nearly 1000 high school students, training over 100 of them as facilitators. The dialogue groups have initiated calls for action from school administrators and students, and other ideas coming from the groups are relayed directly to City Hall ("Study Circles on Race Connect Talk with Action" 1997).
Race dialogues in Los Angeles uncovered a serious need for dialogues on domestic violence, which were then held the following year ("Dialogue, Action, and Deliberation" 1998), and urban dialogue groups involving conflicting African Americans and Koreans organized public meetings and discussions on peace and social justice in response to their experiences with dialogue (Norman 1994).
Many activities organized by dialogue groups (including the dialogues themselves) manage to get people of different cultural backgrounds together, to deliberate, discuss, work, or just socialize. Although many of the other types of action listed here reduce prejudice and build relationships indirectly, some types of action attempt to do this directly. Holding prejudice-reduction workshops are an obvious example, but so is getting youth from different neighborhoods together for arts activities at a local museum (Leighninger 1996) and forming a multi-racial community choir (Leighninger 1995).
Many dialogue groups have initiated conflict resolution and conflict prevention initiatives in their schools, neighborhoods, and communities. Portland, Maines dialogue participants decided to hold a conference on how to prevent and respond to youth violence ("Dialogue, Action, and Deliberation" 1998), and others have organized city-wide planning processes for violence prevention (Leighninger 1995).
The Ohio Bureau of Justice Services awarded a grant to Lima, Ohios well-known study circle effort for its new Violence Prevention Center, which supports the 11 task forces which arose from the dialogue program (Leighninger and Flavin-McDonald 1998). Many other dialogue efforts have initiated in-school mediation programs, workshops in conflict transformation skills, and anger-management programs.
Communities which engage in dialogue on race or other important subjects often initiate programs which create a feeling of community, invite residents to participate more in community events and decision-making, or increase the ability of the community as a whole to make well-informed decisions for itself.
Dialogue efforts empowered citizens in Highland Park, New Jersey, by organizing voter registration drives ("Study Circles on Race Connect Talk with Action" 1997) and in Pomfret, Connecticut, by having the Board of Selectmen use study circle records to create a report on citizens views on the towns future (Leighninger and Flavin-McDonald 1998). The dialogue program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, led to "Operation Takedown," a joint resident/police initiative to identify and close down drug houses ("Dialogue, Action, and Deliberation" 1998).
Dialogue efforts have found many creative ways to increase peoples knowledge about what is happeningboth good and badin their local communities. In Lonoke, Arkansas, dialogue groups printed announcements about upcoming school events on the back of local department store receipts ("Big Wheel, Keep on Turning" 1999), a town meeting was held in Lima, Ohio, to help citizens learn about local crime and violence, and a community fairattended by 18,000 peoplewas held in Tampa, Florida, to help connect residents with community resources ("Dialogue, Action, and Deliberation" 1998).
Americans from all walks of life tend to either strongly support or strongly oppose forms of what we call symbolic action. Official apologies, acknowledgements of wrong-doing and suffering, and any form of reparations (financial and other settlements) receive mixed reviews from people of all backgrounds. It cannot be said that "all whites oppose reparations" for African Americans who descended from slaves or "all Asian Americans want an official apology" for the suffering which occurred in internment camps during World War II.
It can be said, though, that such events can help communitiesand even entire countriesheal long-festering wounds. South Africas Truth and Reconciliation Commission has taught the rest of the world that public acknowledgement and apology can be powerful ways to educate the masses about past wrongdoings, prevent violence and other expressions or anger and hurt, and help build trust among conflicting groups (Henderson 1996).
Wilmington, North Carolina responded to the one hundredth anniversary of the towns fear- and hate-inspired "White Declaration of Independence" by issuing a Peoples Declaration of Racial Interdependence ("An Evening of Remembrance and Reconciliation" 1998). Hundreds of people lined up in front of the same historical building where its counterpart had been endorsed a century before.
The following segment of the Declaration illustrates the power of such a symbolic action: "We, the undersigned citizens of the city of Wilmington and county of New Hanover, do hereby declare that we will no longer be ruled, and will never again be ruled, by the racist prejudices of the past, but instead we shall commit ourselves and the education of our children to the principle of racial equality and interdependence and the goal of racial harmony."
Acknowledging wrongdoing and declaring changed values does not only help historically oppressed groups. Healing is just as necessary for groups which have oppressed. As Cherie Brown and George Mazza (1997) explain, "Its hard to be an ally when you arent feeling proud about yourself&. Guilt and shame do not create good allies. Reclaiming pride in the things we tend to feel ashamed about is one way to become an excellent ally and a leader in welcoming diversity."
Portlands Hope in the Cities affiliate, Oregon Uniting, deserves special attention for initiating a powerful Day of Acknowledgement event, which brought nearly 800 people to the states House of Representatives. That morning, state legislators passed resolutions spelling out the abuses of the past, acknowledging Oregons racist history, and citing bills such as the one that excluded "Negroes and mulattoes" from the region for fear that they would give the Native Americans "ideas."
The Speaker of the House invited the very diverse public to come in and occupy seats on the floor of the House and it seemed to one legislator as if she were watching the people of Oregon take possession of their house for the first time. Japanese-American Peggy Nagae was cheered when she said, "This is what the Oregon Legislature is going to look like." But the power of this event is best illustrated by the words chosen for the resolution itself:
"We, the members of the House of Representatives of Seventieth Legislative Assembly, recognize Oregons discriminatory history, acknowledge people of all races and ethnic backgrounds who have worked for positive change and celebrate the progress made and encourage participation in honest interracial dialogue essential to positive social change; and be it further Resolved, That we, the members of the House of Representatives of the Seventieth Legislative Assembly, resolve to increase public awareness of racial discrimination and work toward the full participation of racial minorities in all aspects of Oregon life, and that this Day of Acknowledgment provides focus for planning constructive dialogues and actions as we work toward a future of racial equality."
Oregon Uniting followed up on the event by publishing the proceedings, developing more intergroup dialogues, having counties endorse the resolution, and marking significant places which are associated with the states racist history ("Oregon Looks Backand Moves Forward" 1999). For Oregons Legislature to endorse this Day of Acknowledgement and to proclaim that Oregon will no longer tolerate injustice, hatred, and racism is an example to the rest of the nation about what can be done to seek racial reconciliation and equality at the state level.
Dialogue efforts have inspired communities to publicly affirmed other shared values as well. Residents of Charlotte, North Carolina, issued a list of shared core values for education; North Olmsted, Ohio, created a guide on community values; and Orford, New Hampshire, developed an informal resolution stating that the economic problems of their town would not be solved by sacrificing educational quality or accessibility (Leighninger 2000). All of the initiatives described above serve their communities well by declaring, highlighting, promoting, and celebrating such values as justice, respect, equality, integrity, and compassion.
One of the most influential ways dialogue groups can make improvements in their communities is by changing governmental and organizational policies. Change in policy is often a precursor to changes in mainstream attitudes and behavior, and policy advocacy can be a powerful partner to the more personal changes that dialogue fosters in its participants and that dialogue participants encourage in their friends, families and co-workers.
One of the ways that dialogue effects policy is simply through sharing participants ideas with decision-makers. Sometimes public officials and other leaders participate in the dialogues themselves, but other times dialogue organizers find ways to communicate directly with them. Dialogue has, in fact, become a way of informing officials in government and in the schools of the views and values of the people they serve and represent (Leighninger 1995).
Dialogue groups often advocate for specific changes directly, such as when Springfield, Illinois dialogue participants worked to get local hiring ordinances changed so that the citys employees better reflect the backgrounds of the citizens they serve ("Big Wheel, Keep on Turning" 1999), and when Syracuse, New York, participants lobbied their Representatives to consider living wage legislation ("Dialogue, Action, and Deliberation" 1998). Dialogue participants in Decatur, Georgia, also advocated directly to create a new process that brings architects, developers, and residents together to make zoning decisions (Leighninger 2000).
Sometimes dialogue programs manage to break the political stagnation around a controversial issue, as when a North Carolina towns Human Relations Commission decided to expand to include the surrounding county, and when a bill was finally passed to reform the use of prisons and parole in Oklahoma (Leighninger 2000).
Dialogue groups also effect policy by changing the way local institutions connect to the larger community. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police department illustrates how institutions can even take this one step further by changing the way they operate internally. The police department now uses dialogue "as a mechanism by which community police officers can interact with residents on their beats, as a way for police officials to communicate with neighborhood associations, and as a process by which all department employees can devise more effective methods" (Leighninger 1996).
Many dialogue efforts result in initiatives which seek to change realities within institutions, without necessarily changing policy. Efforts to get more non-white teachers hired in an elementary school, collaborative school-business efforts, and non-policy improvements to community policing programs are all examples of institutional changes that dialogue groups have made in their communities.
The dialogue process often reveals unmet societal needs, and action efforts sometimes attempt to fill these needs directly. Dialogue groups have organized clothing drives for low-income people who need professional clothes for interviews, have provided nutritious meals for families in neighborhoods which needed them, have built new playgrounds to replace old, unsafe play areas, and have initiated mentoring programs for youth. The dialogue effort in Fort Myers, Florida actually initiated the construction of a shopping center in a low-income area which had no place to buy groceries ("Big Wheel, Keep on Turning" 1999).
Dialogue participants often work together to create new institutions in their communities. Many non-profit organizations, official coalitions, human relations commissions, and formal programs have been created as a result of dialogue efforts. This is how Auburn, Maines teen drop-in center was established, and a new drug court was initiated in Madill, Oklahoma ("Dialogue, Action, and Deliberation" 1998).
The dialogue efforts in Orford, New Hampshire, kept the schools functioning in four rural New Hampshire and Vermont towns by establishing the nations first two-state Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade School District ("Big Wheel, Keep on Turning" 1999). And the Alread, Arkansas, dialogue program created a school technology center to help both children and adults learn twenty-first century job skills.
According to Matt Leighninger, a common result of dialogue "is the creation of new organizations whose primary purpose is to mobilize citizens and build bridges between residents, community organizations, and government." Miama, Floridas Citizens Accountability Network, the Decatur (Georgia) Neighborhood Alliance, the Pfugerville (Texas) Community Council, and the Faith Communities Forum of North Olmsted, Ohio, are excellent examples (2000).
|The Dialogue to Action Initiative and www.Thataway.org are ?2001 by Sandy Heierbacher and Andy Fluke.||?|
|Last changes added on Sunday, December 30, 2001 9:47 PM||?|