The roundtable cynic:
I often have a kneejerk reaction to the word dialogue. I’ve got a bone to pick with community. Too often, these words get bandied about in flimsy and placating ways. So it’s a little ironic that my role has been to facilitate over ten hours of “community conversations” in the past month, in the form of Roundtable discussions for CCEC credit union.
It’s not that I’m completed jaded. I’m sure when the Community Congress for Economic Change named itself back in 1976, “community” wasn’t yet the relatively empty buzzword that it is today. What I mean is just that CCEC, in spite of its name, can’t take “community” for granted.
The Roundtables, which wrapped up last week, have been a step in the right direction. After locking up at Watari last Monday, I joined Ross Gentleman, Steve Kisby and Tammy Lea Meyer—CCEC’s manager and two directors--at Pat’s Pub for celebratory beers (cider for me). Amid plentiful jests, in true CCEC fashion, we reflected on questions like, How do we build coalitions to improve banking access for low-income people? How do we create more racial diversity on our Board and among our membership? How does CCEC build more meaningful relationships with Indigenous people and organizations?
These questions have become more tangible thanks to feedback from Roundtable participants. In all, twenty-seven invitees attended the Roundtables. If you count Board members, that means more than thirty people have spent over ten hours dishing with us about economic justice, generating an archive of wisdom about this economic and cultural moment. That’s wealth, right there.
We didn’t just talk about money; we also waxed philosophical about trust, shame, time, and knowledge. Participants offered myriad concrete ideas for projects and collaborations, some of which are already being pursued by CCEC’s Board and management. What’s more, it was a refreshingly cross-generational dialogue, with nearly a third of the participants under thirty, an age group that’s typically underrepresented at CCEC.
In the words of director Jan Berman: “I’ve watched a lot of organizations become kind of wishy washy.... As you get older, I think you get more disillusioned and less driven for change. I think CCEC fell into that as well, but now we’re really trying very hard to connect with new visions. And it comes from youth, I believe.”
Next up: questioning the internet!
Nat Marshik is a writer, sauerkraut maker, and visual artist currently working for CCEC as a community engagement organizer. Stay tuned for more blog posts over the coming weeks. You can find Nat’s blogs all in one place at: http://ccecroundtable.tumblr.com/