Friday, August 15, 2008

You Have a Voice in Your Community

Sometimes in small communities it seems like the same people tend do almost everything. They are tapped for committees. They run for office. They speak for the community. They hold the power. It’s hard for anyone outside of “the usual suspects” to break in, even though everyone knows broader input and representation would help solve problems and make people feel part of things.

This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault. Across the country, people are noting a decrease in public participation in civic events. Lives are busy. Time is scarce.

Luckily, as public participation decreases, there is a rising ability of the Internet to facilitate participation. As Steven Clift from e-Democracy says, it’s still a smoke-filled back room but everyone can be invited and it can be in your living room.

KAXE just co-hosted two meetings to help bring e-Democracy forums to northern Minnesota communities. E-Democracy has funding to start 3 local issues forums in rural Minnesota.

E-Democracy local issues forums are email discussions where people talk about their communities. Everyone is limited to two posts per day (so the discussion can’t be dominated by any one person). Participants must also use their real names and be responsible for what they say. The discussion stays local—these aren’t the place for speaking up about national-level politics, for example. The forums stick to community issues and don’t allow personal attacks. They give voice to people who aren’t necessarily included otherwise.

A handful of people in Bemidji and Cass Lake have volunteered to be on steering committees to start forums in those communities. They will help suggest topics and monitor the discussion to make sure it stays useful and civil. More steering committee members are needed and, before a community can start a forum, 100 people have to agree to participate.

KAXE is helping and encouraging this process. Northern Community Radio is supporting many ideas that will help people use the Internet to build community, as part of the Northern Community Internet project. If you would like more information about e-Democracy in northern Minnesota, and if you’d like to sign up for forums in Bemidji or Cass Lake, call Ross Williams, Scott Hall, Heidi Holtan or Maggie Montgomery 218/326-1234.

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