I like the concept of it as a safe space as well.
I hope the Civic Commons will spend some time being intentional about overcoming the things inherently built into this space, the perceptions about this space, and the deliberate choices which make it less safe for too many members of Northeast Ohio.
At the Civility conversation earlier this week one of the speakers mentioned that we keep trying to solve problems and then expect a sense of community to follow - and that he had begun to think the order was reversed: Community first then solutions to the problems will follow. I have always intuitively known that a sense of community comes first.
But what I also know is that there is a layer before becoming a community which is even more critical. Many people treat this step as problem solving. I see it, rather, as preparing the soil for community. We don't just randomly choose a patch of the yard and throw down any old seeds and expect much of a garden. We think about what we want to grow, we think about whether those plants need sun or shade, moist feet or dry, whether they can share space with another crop during a season - or whether there are other compatible or symbiotic relationships, and so on.
Any safe space (an intentional community of sorts) needs to do the same kind of soil preparation.
Some things are just inherent in the Civic Commons - for example participating on the website requires access to a computer. There are lots of people for whom that is not a safe (or possible) option - people who do not know how to use a computer, people with physical access issues (blindness, and the cost/difficulty of using adaptive services), people who do not have access to a computer, people who choose not to use a computer for ethical reasons (environmental concerns, concerns for workers who make the computers, or the inability to find computers made in the USA), and so on. We can't necessarily do anything about all of those - but we can think about them and consider if there are ways the Civic Commons could be made more inviting. Are there non-electronic means to reach them? Is the Civic Commons site accessible using assistive technologies?
Others are not inherent - but are perhaps perceived to be inherent. The Civic Commons is fairly widely perceived as a place where primarily left of center folks gather. That isn't its intent - so what can be done to battle the perception that it isn't safe here for those right of center? The debate conversation last night was fun and, as Mike Shafarenko pointed out, involved people from both parties. How did that happen? Did the right of center folks feel safe/welcomed? Can we make it happen again? More regularly?
Finally, deliberate choices the Civic Commons has made make the Civic Commons a less safe space for some of us. Disclosing personal information, including names, on an open website is something pretty much every guide to safe internet use discourages. For some of us there are additional real dangers. Rather than repeat myself, I'll just point here and here.
The Civic Commons invested significant time and resources looking at this issue - and there is a lot more sensitivity to it than when I first raised the issue (and I am grateful for the investment!). But despite looking as if there would be a workable solution, the sensitivity is still mostly reactive rather than proactive. When I bring up the issue in the context of intentionally involving minors, for example, the team responded prompltly by providing an opening to use a pseudonym here. But perhaps it is time to dust off the solution it looked as if we were heading toward and proactively make the Civic Commons a safer (or more inviting) place for people we want in our garden - members of the LGBT community, members of groups who disproportionately use pseudonyms (women, minorities, minors), victims of domestic violence, rape, or bullies, undocumented immigrants, and so on.
So - to Peter's point - I like the idea of the Civic Commons as the verb of (more) actively and intentionally becoming a safe space for conversations - or to use the metaphor of a garden, of preparing the soil for a diverse community from which the solutions will follow - and carrying that kind of thinking about how we invite (or discourage) conversations with each other wherever we are.
Posted Oct 04, 2012