The following is a summary of the first meeting of the Somerville Coffee Party which I attended on April 22nd. These notes were sent by the event’s organizer and host, Jack.
We had about 8 people including myself, Clara, Joe, Judy, Jack, and Anna, and two of Jack’s housemates. We enjoyed a small set of tasty desserts and Clara’s wonderful home-baked Portuguese Hors d’œuvres.
Personally, I was very impressed with the quality and civility of the conversation we had and the enthusiasm we developed around our idea for organizing a community-wide event. Please keep reading for more details and feel free to comment with your own response…
I am so excited about the meeting we had tonight. I want to recap what we talked about, and in particular the plans we were coming up with at the end and where we’ll be going from here.
We started by talking about what brought us into the room. The central themes I heard involved dysfunctional government and dysfunctional civil society: politicians who can’t live up to their potential, or their promises. Gerrymandered districts. The overwhelming influence of corporations, contributions, and swing states in national elections. Extreme factions that can’t seem to talk to each other anymore — on TV, and in Congress, and at Boston Common.
The other thing I heard strongly from several of you is (1) we have to start locally and (2) we have to make sure that we’re adding energy to the established, effective local groups, rather than taking it away.
A Big Idea
All of that led into Clara’s phenomenal idea (which unfortunately came after Anna and Judy had to leave): what if we held a giant forum to introduce all of the great Somerville grassroots organizations to each other, and to the community? Reserve the Somerville Theater for an evening, and give each organization five minutes to present what they’re doing. Call it something like, The Coffee Party Toasts Somerville.
After that, the ideas started coming fast…
- We can aim for September, so the students are back around and we have plenty of time to plan.
- We can invite local businesses to sponsor the event, and give out coupons and raffle items for places that aren’t well known, so we help introduce various parts of the community to each other. (Or even set up a local food court in Davis Square?)
- We can invite all kinds of community groups, so there aren’t just slide shows, there are plays and performances and personal stories — whatever will best introduce each organization.
- We can connect the groups with high school filmmaking courses to help make their presentations.
- We can provide student translators, who will go on to pass the ideas from the event into their bilingual communities.
- We can give each organization a bunch of tickets, so the constituency for each group gets to learn about all the others. Joe’s “townies, yuppies, and new immigrants” will all get to finally meet each other.
- We can hold a reception at the Armory, which will be another chance for everyone to meet each other.
- We can practice by inviting organizers to come give five minute talks at our meetings, which will plug us even more into the community.
- We can also get practice at community organizing in general — Joe recommends Rules for Radicals as the place to start studying.
I’m barely capturing half of what we talked about, so I’ll be setting up a wiki soon to try to get all of our ideas organized and written down.
I hope those of you who weren’t here the whole time can see how exciting this is: we have a chance to do a great service for Somerville, weaving countless threads together and producing all kinds of wonderful connections we’ll never even know about; to learn how to do community organizing right; and to weave our own organization into Somerville’s fabric, giving us the perfect platform to promote our message of sound, effective, cooperative government at the local level and beyond.
So, what happens next: we’re going to have another meeting in about two weeks, which we’ll advertise as a Coffee Party, but specifically devoted to this kind of local cross-organizational engagement. We’ll also try to bring in some specific long-time organizers who will have great ideas to contribute. We’ll try to stay in a brainstorming mode for the next meeting or two, to make sure we’re seeing all the possibilities. Then in the medium term (starting in about a month?) we’ll buckle down to forming an organization that can get this project done (kudos to Barry for emphasizing this part). In the long term (over the next five months) we’ll actually make it happen.
As I said, I’m super excited. I hope you all are too. Thanks so much for coming.