05 September, 2014

My Thoughts On The What's Next, WV? Workshop

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead


Last Wednesday, a small group of about 70 thoughtful, committed citizens gathered at the John XXIII Pastoral Center for a What’s Next, WV workshop where we learned how to convene and facilitate similar workshops but my thoughts were with the people who weren’t there.

In many ways, the participant list looks like a Who’s Who of the usual civic engagement suspects, people who get paid to attend meetings, seminars and workshops. But what about the people WV Center for Civic Life Board President, Paul Gilmer, called the “disenfranchised?” Gilmer described these as the people who feel so powerless and so excluded that when they hear of an event or a program that may empower and activate them they say “That’s for them, not for me.”

Perhaps we’ve been mislabeling some of these disenfranchised as “complacent” or “apathetic.”

You’d never know it by looking at the participant list but What’s Next, WV is not just for the people WV Center for Civic Life Director, Betty Knighton, lauded, extolled and introduced to the crowd. All but a few of the What’s Next, WV attendees are professional civic engagers. I met people who may as well have been wearing a sign that said “I’m here for the free lunch and because my boss sent me.” But a visioning project where citizens of all ages, ideologies, social strata and races can come together and dream out loud about a better West Virginia and how to realize that dream is not just for people who are lucky enough to be among the self-actualized few who are paid to attend meetings but also for the self-conscious, disenfranchised people who don’t have business cards, “the right clothes” and who can’t afford to take a day off from work to hobnob with “them.”
I want to encourage my fellow conveners and facilitators to hold some What’s Next meetings at night and on weekends when more and different people can attend.

And while I absolutely love West Virginia Public Radio, let’s use every form of media we can to reach a broader, bigger audience. Yes, I know that people who listen to public broadcasting tend to be well informed but good ideas can even come from people who didn’t hear about What’s Next via WV Public Broadcasting. As we go forth to convene and facilitate let us not pretend we don’t know how to send media releases to all media outlets. And let’s not pretend that we’re still living in a time when you have to own an FCC broadcast license or a printing press to get your message out. Let’s use Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and anything else we can think of to get as many people as possible in a room together to dream big and organize for action to make West Virginia better.

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