Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.
I was a few minutes early as I walked into the Ohev Sholom Synagogue far up 16th Street in our nation’s capital. The empty chairs and hollow corridors would soon be filled with voices of community members, politicians and developers passionately discussing the future of the land that has been the home to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the past 102 years.
My friend Kim was there to facilitate – each table has a trained facilitator that helps capture the key thoughts and ideas shared. When I tried to sign up it seemed that I would not be needed but I thought I would tag along and observe. With a standing room only turn-out they ended up needing me to facilitate my own table.
AmericaSpeaks is the organizer of the meeting. Their mission is to reinvigorate democracy by engaging citizens in the public decision-making process. Sometimes we feel like we have no voice and AmericaSpeaks works to ensure that all segments of our community are listened to.
As one of a dozen facilitators, I took my seat at table 11 and waited for people to arrive. All the other tables were filling up but mine. “Maybe they wouldn’t need me after all,” I thought. Finally a man sat down across from me. I pushed my hand toward him and greeted him only to hear him say, “Oh, I’m not at this table, I just wanted to eat quickly before heading over to my table,” he said inhaling a good-sized golden cookie.
He finished up, brushed the crumbs off of the front of his shirt and headed over to table 3 leaving me all alone once again – but not for long. I was soon greeted by eight men and women who were assigned to my little discussion area. We introduced ourselves – most of them were concerned residents, but some were also involved in local businesses and government. We listened to the presenters and digested the information as a group at our table. As a facilitator, there are not right or wrong opinions. My focus was on making sure the group stayed on task and that everyone had a voice. I was honored to take part in this civic engagement.
To learn more about AmericaSpeaks or to volunteer with them, visit their website.