communication public outreach

Public Engagement and the Unpaid Labor of Citizens of Color

As people continue to figure out how to engage apathetic populations, there will be lots of study on methodology. Some will engage technology, but that may include entities with more funding, thus alienating some grassroots groups and small cities. Others will work on establishing consistent boots on the ground, but that may be inefficient for larger organizations. Ironically, as entities work to reach the marginalized, there are those who may suggest mailing information, like the census, but in a nation of increased homelessness — either chronic or incidental — that dismisses those who are already intensively stigmatized, whether monetarily or due to mental illness.

However, the challenge for all entities striving for engagement is to change methods that are already in place that have effectively failed.

All public events seeking responses should be in locations that are accessible to all, not just those who enjoy the curiosity of public engagement. The entities seeking input need to focus less on how pleasant the events will be, and more on whether the purpose of the event it fulfilled. If the city is large — roughly 500,000 or more — all the locations need to be close to transit, particularly routes that are frequent. In car dependent cities, i.e. those which have been structured around private vehicles, sufficient parking is essential. Also, in a nation where more people are concerned about climate change, there needs to be safe place for bicycles to circulate and for pedestrians to approach. By not considering all of these classes, one is suggesting that any one of these groups is irrelevant.

If local governments or third-party consultants want effective feedback from communities of color, they need to start paying people of color to work for/with them. It is insufficient to grab the select few and offer limited time for them to volunteer information for which the government staff and consultants will be paid. Financial investment in areas of color is a large bone of contention, and if those entities are unwilling to pay those willing to work with/for them, people are color are being told that their opinions are worthless. Constituents of color are learning that even if they are trained in working with government, no government entity will value their expertise.

Ageism should not be condoned, but inefficacy should absolutely be condemned. If people are not being trained to responsibly engage with the public, those people should not be allowed to work in public offices. Citizens are fatigued of endless meetings and procedures with antiquated policies that restrain public voices, and they are frustrated and angry with the unaccountability of those who maintain those systems. If the same people are coming to the same meetings, and the same “experts” are being called to produce the same results, the public has the right to expect that those people will no longer be in positions of influence and/or authority.

The obfuscation of government is designed to negate public input, and is currently out of control. If officials are interested in what people think, they should consider what people think, not manipulate them out of their autonomy.

Becky at the Community Meeting. 

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