E-Democracy News: Stories from the Sidewalk, September 2013 – Minnesota Edition

Stories from the Sidewalk


Stories from the Forums
—Dayton’s Bluff Home Repairs

In June, Olga, an elderly and disabled woman living alone in the Dayton’s Bluff had water leaking into her basement due to faulty gutters, but she had no money to hire someone to take care of the problems. On June 11th, her neighbor, Lorri Barnett, posted to the Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Forum asking for assistance locating community resources that might help Olga with the repairs. Ben Greiling, a fellow forum member with experience in rehabilitating houses, offered to stop by to see what he could do. Within a few days, Ben, along with another E-Democracy forum member, spent four hours realigning the gutters to stop water from leaking into the basement. They also patched Olga’s front step, tightened a sink faucet, fixed a handrail, and repaired a dryer vent.

This story is a great example of how E-Democracy’s Neighbors Forums impact communities and connect neighbors for the common good.

All across our forums, stories like this are being shared and we’d love to hear yours. Share your story by emailing it to stories@e-democracy.org. You can also support your forum by making a donation on our GiveMN page.

Becoming a Community

Cirien Saadeh, Communications & Outreach Coordinator

Forum Engagement Leader Pastor Devin Miller connects online to help the neighborhood move forward in a positive direction.

On August 4th, 2013, Ray Widstrand, 26, was brutally beaten by a group of young people who had gathered outside to watch a fight between two girls near midnight. Ray was walking through the group of approximately 50 young people when he was randomly attacked, almost beaten to death.

After the story on Ray Widstrand hit the press, the Payne Phalen Neighbors Forum was buzzing about the assault. Neighbors used the forum as a way to discuss what had happened, to share concerns about the neighborhood’s ongoing safety, and to exchange ideas on how to stimulate change. This organic exchange was different than what was being presented elsewhere online. From vitriolic online news commenting on regional newspaper websites, to seeing the story used as a foil globally on racially charged websites, even local journalists took notice of the dramatic difference in what the most local people were doing online. There weren’t over the top outcries of panic, blame, or hatred, nor using the story to further some political agenda, but collaborative dialogue among residents searching for answers from within. Forum posts encouraged people to attend a community meeting held on Thursday, August 15th, at Arlington Hills Lutheran Church and offered suggestions on how best to come prepared with questions for the panel.

It’s empowering to think about how our neighborhoods use the forums to meet, discuss and plan, and communicate about our shared responsibilities to each other. I say this because I want to leave you with one last thought: the BeNeighbors Forums provide shared opportunities, what are you going to do with them?

Learn more about the Payne Phalen response on our blog.

Digital Inclusion Update—Open Twin Cities is Gaining Momentum

Bill Bushey, E-Democracy Technology Coordinator and Open Twin Cities Co-Founder

Formed October 2012, Open Twin Cities is coming up on its one-year anniversary …and it’s been a busy year!

Monthly Meetups started in January. In February, Open Twin Cities organized the Twin Cities Open Data Day. In April, co-founder Bill Bushey presented at Minnebar and GovDelivery sponsored his participation in CityCamp Kansas City. In May, thanks to sponsorship by the Sunlight Foundation, Bill presented at TransparencyCamp in Washington, D.C. and Open Twin Cities promoted and participated in CURA’s data visualization and neighborhood-focused hackathon event, Visualizing Neighborhoods. June was a big month, with Open Twin Cities organizing HackforMN, which gathered 75 participants at DevJam and resulted in 13 projects.

See the energy at HackforMN!(Thank you Knight Foundation)

In the Works

Open Twin Cities recently announced the distribution of an Open Data questionnaire to Minneapolis Mayoral and City Council candidates and launched the Eventbrite page for CityCampMN – November 9, 2013 (location to be determined).

Come one, come all!

Open Twin Cities strives to develop inclusive solutions to open government by:

  1. Strengthening collaboration with the local government deepening government connections to the local civic technology community, and
  2. Tapping into the local talent of diverse populations for inclusive technology development to address community needs.

Sample OTC Projects

Too often, civic projects are undertaken without inviting the community—the people the projects are intended to serve. CityCamps are unconferences focused on issues at the intersection of technology, government, and community. CityCampMN is an opportunity for you to have your voice heard. Come join us!

E-Democracy seeks to demonstrate that all communities, regardless of income and diversity, can be part of an integrated neighbors online revolution. We focus on less represented groups within our most highly diverse neighborhoods to create inclusive online spaces where neighbors can collaborate to improve neighborhoods, spark community problem solving, and build healthy communities.

Watch for a forthcoming announcement about OTC becoming an official CfA Brigade!

How to Get Involved

Corrine Bruning, Outreach Manager

A key component that sets E-Democracy apart from others doing online neighbor connecting is our intensive outreach. “Outreach” can be defined as “an activity of providing services to populations who might not otherwise have access to those services” (Wikipedia). Our services are for everyone in a community. The main service E-Democracy strives to provide is online neighborhood level forums/listservs for neighbors to connect with each other, help inform each other about local issues or events, share resources, and work together to build stronger communities. We do our outreach work because we feel the whole community deserves access to this resource that we truly believe has the ability to empower people to be local changemakers.

We invite you and everyone in the community to use this service as your own local changemaking tool. We’ll be sharing posts of the day from our network via Twitter and sharing stories in this newsletter to help everyone see examples of how the forums can be used. Here’s some ideas on how to use these spaces:

  1. Did your cat sneak past you at the door again? Post to the forum and you’ll have a local group of people to help you find your pet.
  2. Start a gardening group or neighborhood kickball team for the kids
  3. Let neighbors know about your small business and invite them to check it out
  4. Discuss a local issue
Get to know Outreach Manager, Corrine Bruning


Donor Spotlight

E-Democracy would like to thank the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative for their $20,000 grant to support our BeNeighbors program in Central Corridor neighborhoods.

Through this grant support E-Democracy will:

  • Grow our forum membership directly along the Central Corridor to at least 4,000 members
  • Stimulate Central Corridor-related exchange on our Cedar Riverside forum (with over 600 members already), with hundreds of East African participants
  • Help ensure that all communities in the Central Corridor are able to benefit from online neighborhood engagement playing a vital role in shaping their area’s future and civic agenda

The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative is a group of local and national funders that strongly supports the Central Corridor Light Rail Line because it offers opportunities to strengthen the regional economy and make the adjacent neighborhoods better places to live, work and access opportunity. They work with local resident organizations, community groups, nonprofit and business coalitions, and public agencies to create and implement corridor-wide strategies aimed at ensuring the adjoining neighborhoods, residents, and businesses broadly share in the benefits of public and private investment in the Central Corridor Light Rail Line.

On the Blog

Upcoming Events

  • October 16: Virtual Roundtable on New Voices and Civic Engagement in the Digital Age, 1:00 PM (EDT) (RSVP here)
  • November 9: City Camp MN, 9:00AM-8:00PM (Register here)
  • December 10-12: MN IT Symposium – Open Twin Cities member Colin Lee and co-founder Bill Bushey will be presenting on The Future of Grassroots Innovation. (Sneak preview)

Nuts & Bolts

Many of our forum members are new to technology—and that’s okay!

You will get so much more from your participation in your Neighbors Forum if you post a message to ask a question, share some information, or reply to a neighbor.

How to post a message:

To post, simply send an email to your forum’s email address from the email account you used when you registered with E-Democracy.org. Your forum’s email address can be found at the bottom of every email message or at the top of the Topics column on the right side of your forum’s home page. You can find your forum here.

To reply, simply use the “Reply to All” option on any email message from your forum.

Check here for more details on how to post using the website.

How to check, change, or update your email address:

  1. Log in to E-Democracy.org at http://forums.e-democracy.org/login.html
  2. Click on your profile link in the upper right-hand corner
  3. Click on “Change Email Settings” to the left

If you have difficulty logging in or resetting your password or you are not getting messages from your forum, or for any other help, contact our support staff at support@e-democracy.org

Message from E-Democracy

Steven Clift, Executive Director and Cirien Saadeh, Communications & Outreach Assistant

Much has happened since our first newsletter last month. National Night Out 2013 was a huge highlight, with almost 200 new members joining our BeNeighbors forums in Saint Paul. Our outreach continues this fall with some extended door knocking along the Central Corridor thanks to the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.

Community Partners CornerWelcome St. Paul Public Schools!
Saint Paul Public Schools

We are pleased to announce that we are now an official partner of the St. Paul Public Schools. The City of St. Paul and St. Paul Neighborhood Network are official BeNeighbors.org partners. (Learn more about partnering.)

This month’s newsletter theme is “Back to Fall, Back to School, Back to E-Democracy.” We’ve worked hard all summer to build a stronger community and participation. As our fall routines settle down, we hope that engagement on the forums, this community newsletter, our upcoming, easier-to-use website design (sample), and our Digital Inclusion Resource Guide will make your fall that much more community-based and connected.

The Neighbors Forums are your tools to use, so whether it’s a community event to promote, a neighborhood news update, or a local issue to discuss, we would love to see you join your fellow neighbors in creating even more empowered community through open and inclusive communication.

In the last 12 months compared to the previous year, posts to our St. Paul Neighbors Forums are up 252% to 5,722.

Watch out Minneapolis, here comes Saint Paul!

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