Discouraged by the presidential election results but determined to work toward progress and community engagement, Ald. Maurice Cheeks, District 10, hosted a “popup summit” on Saturday to help the community determine a path forward.
“It’s natural to have despair,” Cheeks told the crowd gathered for the event at downtown co-working space 100state. “We’re trying to figure out how to get out of it. Lacking hope is a tragic place for a community to be.”
The summit, titled “Leading Locally: How We In Madison Can Shape An Uncertain Future" and organized by Cheeks on Facebook, emphasized the need to move beyond talking and take action on behalf of progressive issues.
Locals came seeking connection and encouragement.
“After the election I was sort of depressed, but looking for ways to network with other folks in the community,” said attendee Kate Forbes.
The day started with Cheeks explaining his motivation for creating the event.
“Our community needs you to get back in the game of hope and determination and lead locally, because that’s what we can control,” he said. “You guys alright with figuring out how we’re going to look out for each other today?”
Groups broke out in to groups to discuss topics such as criminal justice, education, women’s rights, youth vote, climate and hate speech. There was a dedicated session time to brainstorm potential “inward,” or personal, ideas for action in these areas, followed by a session discussing “outward,” or public community actions.
After each session, tables shared their takeaways. The discussion about inward action prompted suggestions to cultivate mentorships, speak up for women’s rights in casual conversation and be conscious of consumer choices.
The table discussing climate change emphasized the interconnectedness of the issues: “If your initiative succeeds, but ours fails, we’re all going to suffocate together,” the table spokesman said, and was met with laughs.
Jenni Dye, Dane County Board Supervisor and One Wisconsin Now representative, encouraged the crowd to think about the daily actions they aren’t currently taking. She specifically asked people to consider whether they were cultivating relationships with people different than themselves.
“There are people of color who live in our communities, who live in our neighborhoods. What is our relationship with them?" said Dye, who is white. "What does that say about us and what is that saying to our kids?”
Dye challenged the room to more intentionally and frequently patronize black- and women-owned and progressive businesses outside of special events like Black Restaurant Week. She also talked about the simple power of "speaking humanity to hate.” She referenced the cast of the musical "Hamilton," which recently addressed Vice President-elect Mike Pence after a performance, entreating him to “work on behalf of all of us.”
“They called on somebody who has a history of not seeing the humanity in others, to see that,” she said.
Discussion about outward-focused action led to suggestions to invest in diverse youth leadership, utilize social media to start a campaign against hate speech, analyze election results to see the effects of voter ID and observe other communities that are creating effective change.
Cheeks pointed out that a recurring point in the discussion was Madison’s propensity to talk and discuss, rather than do.
“We’re super good at talking,” Cheeks said. “What’s next?”
Cheeks had everyone write down one action they would take as a result of the day. Some tweeted their resolutions using the meeting hashtag #leadinglocally.
Those gathered decided to create a Facebook group and were enthusiastic about organizing another similar event in the future. Everyone in the room was encouraged to bring one friend to the next event and to find an accountability partner to hold them to their commitment to action.
Cheeks said notes form the various tables would be collected and distributed. He then asked everyone who felt a little more hopeful than they had at the beginning of the day to raise their hand. Almost everyone did.
Melanie Conklin, who works for U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, was encouraged by the wide variety of attendees.
“(Usually) it’s a lot of elected officials, a lot of the same community leaders. Looking around the room, seeing a lot of new faces is really exciting,” Conklin said. “If, as a result of the election, if we can actually get more people involved ... that’s the thing we can hope for.”
Some people expressed gratitude for a place to discuss the issues that were important to them.
“(For these events) you walk away inspired, you walk away frustrated sometimes,” said Carl Fields, a leader at ExPrisoners Organizing. “But you always walk away with something you didn’t have when you came in.”