Message from E-Democracy

E-Democracy spends a lot of time talking about community. It turns out that even the White House is listening.

Our entire team was very proud of Executive Director Steven Clift this past week when he was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Civic Engagement. Check out the blog post and press release here.

Steven headed to Washington, D.C. and the White House because efforts like E-Democracy’s project are changing the way your neighbor and you are engaging in your communities. Our country is only just starting to realize just how important the Internet is to engaging individuals in their community. When you use the forums, you are engaging with your neighbor in what may seem like a whole new way, but in reality is just a new incarnation of what community has always been.

Back in the day, I worked with a wonderful woman named Susan who ran the blog Poultry & Prose. She spent a lot of time defining community without ever mentioning the word “community.” Community was the small town laundromat, the no address post office, the gravel pit/pond that’s been in the family for a generation but nobody in town remembers it, the not-so-local drug store, the bus ride to school, the tips for reusing everyday goods. Susan lived in what I fondly call “the Middle of Nowhere, MN.”

I, however, am a suburban girl with the adopted homes of Highland Park, Saint Paul and Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis (yes, I willingly crossed the river). To me, community happens when we experience the corner coffee shop, the cafe a few blocks away, the familiar face on the street, and yes, the strangers too, and when we miss the old willow tree that’s not there anymore.

If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that community is one thing—us together and alone doing our thing, respecting each other, crying, laughing, arguing, barbecuing, discussing the serious issues—that looks like a million different things.

You may have joined the E-Democracy forums at an event. You may have joined because one of our summer outreach staff knocked at your door and asked you to join. Whatever the reason, when you joined the forums three great things happened:

First, you joined an extension of your community.

Second, you connected with those on the forums and those that make the forums happen from Steven Clift and Corrine Bruning to Chia Lor and Donna Evans.

Third, you made a new and powerful commitment to engaging in your community in a whole new way.

If you’re in St. Paul, that same summer outreach staff went to your door with the express intent of getting you engaged via our project. We know that in order to fully engage communities, we have to include the whole community. The disappointing truth is those who use the Internet and forums like these tend to be middle-class, white, and middle-age or younger. That means the communities of color and low-income communities, who help make Saint Paul such a fabulous city, are less represented. We’re trying our best to make sure that our forums truly engage everyone that calls Saint Paul home.

With over 3,600 new St. Paul forum memberships in 2012 and at least 3,000 more expected by the end of the year, well over half will be signed up in-person by summer outreach team members. They are awesome, and combined with the new forum engagement team working to build online conversation exchanges in St. Paul’s lowest income and most diverse neighborhoods, together we are building the nation’s (if not the world’s) most inclusive local online community engagement network.

Our e-newsletter reaches up to 20,000 folks in 100+ countries and the highlighted work in St. Paul is meant for everyone as we seek to buck the trend that the Internet is pretty much for the same folks who’ve shown up in civic and political life in the past with those same new and less-represented voices under heard or ignored. We know that if we can change that trend in St. Paul, together we can raise new voices in neighborhoods everywhere.

We named the newsletter “Stories from the Sidewalk” because the sidewalk-literal or digital-is an oft-used space for neighbors to connect with each other and talk about their lives. We’re hoping that you’ll take a moment to check in with us on our sidewalk and let us know your thoughts.

We also hope that you enjoy this newsletter and newsletters to come. And we want to thank our funders. This year, thanks to funding from the Knight Foundation, the Bush Foundation, and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, as well as essential forum member donations and new forum sponsorships from local businesses, we are doing more than ever. We look forward to communicating with you more frequently.

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