Hot in New York

Hot in New York

Hot in New York

Talkin’ Equity on a Brooklyn Roof

By Niki Davis-Fainbloom of The Iceberg Initiative

What is really missing in our society is a venue where those who have different ideologies can discuss issues in a relaxed and open atmosphere. I’m talking about an honest discussion where people come with a genuine desire to find the truth – rather than as advocates for their specific agenda.

With these ideals in mind my friend Andrew Tripodo and some buddies started working on a project with the easily achievable goal of ending political polarization. The concept was that we would engage in philosophical conversation about political issues in a casual environment. We thought that focusing on the assumptions and the questions that underlie political decisions, we could move away from party ideology (which in America is inherently and increasingly polarized) to the essence of the ideas themselves, dampening the emotional responses often experienced when we speak about heated topics.

Example. What does this actually look like? Well instead of talking about “the way Trump has treated the Mexican population” – a topic that people generally have firmly established and vastly polarized opinions about – the discussion could alternatively focus on the questions Trump’s actions have caused us to ask, like “Hey! What are the obligations of our government towards non- citizens?” or perhaps, “what does the ideal relationship between a country and its neighbors look like?”.

Alright then. To set the scene of the first of these events – in true millennial form – we meet on my Brooklyn Rooftop around sunset. I come armed with two blankets (one to sit on and one to keep us warm), a twenty-four pack of PBR and a few cookies that managed to make it to my roof without me getting to them in the interim. I invited a few people interested in engaging in “lively conversation in a laid back environment about equity vs. equality”

This is how people make change, right? Right?

It’s a pretty obvious little fact that each of us definitely does not come into this world with equal opportunity – what comes to mind is the YouTube video that just went viral of a race where the starting point for each participant is different so that even if everyone’s speed is the same the race is basically rigged to make it much easier for some folks, kind of like life. Here’s the vid:

The goal of this conversation was to discuss “what, if anything, should be the role of government in combating this inherent inequality.” Should we step back and passively accept the lottery of existence or should the government help those that have been dealt a bad hand get a leg up?

I posed this question to the group of people enjoying PBR and cookies on my rooftop and it was enough to keep them actively engaged – one thing that clearly came up, was that whether people see themselves as politicos or not, they are desperately craving venues to have these types of conversations. I did notice, though, much to my chagrin that the whole thing felt a bit like we were warming each other’s weiners (is that an expression?).

“Should we step back and accept the lottery of existence or should the government help those that have been dealt a rough hand get a leg up?”

Some context. I work for a not-for-profit and have a lot of buddies who are educated, urbanite vegetarians who volunteer and make sure to compost. Despite all the great ideas that were brought up regarding how to work towards equity we were definitely missing something really important in our group – a traditionally conservative voice.

I think that the problem with this event, and the vast majority of events is that they often attract a specific audience that have had similar experiences and generally agree with each other –leading to a room full of weiner-warmers (I really think this needs to be an expression).

There are very few events where those of different levels of privilege, political ideology, education etc. can come together with the goal of understanding one another and making positive change (or maybe I just haven’t been invited to them!? If they are happening please hit me up!).

“…we were definitely missing something really important in our group – a traditionally conservative voice.”

The organizations that I know that are involved in political change seem to operate under a model where a select few people – experts – will go to a low income area and teach those poor underprivileged people about issue X, not understanding that, perhaps the experts have much to learn from the people they’re trying to help. This old way of sharing knowledge reinforces the power differential – as it is the person that already has power in life that is controlling the group and whose voice is therefore given even more power.

Instead of having one facilitator – I think these events should involve an equal number of people with different levels of privilege and different political ideologies – and the goal would be for everybody to engage in an honest and respectful discussion about what’s fucked up in the world. And perhaps discuss what those that have more resources could to do help those with less – as they are experts in their own experience.

“…perhaps the experts have much to learn from the people they’re trying to help.”

Specifically for younger folks, part of this will involve finding a way to make politics hip so that those who wouldn’t traditionally consider themselves politically active are interested in showing up to events. Perhaps free PBR is a good first step?

If readers have any ideas regarding any of the words I’ve said, even the best ones, or would like to get involved please comment below or hit us up on Twitter.

Niki Davis is a native of Toronto Canada, she now works as a sexual health educator in New York City and contributes to A Strong Canada as a writer and organizer.
Niki Davis-Fainbloom is a native of Toronto Canada, she now works as a Community Educator Educator/Assault Preventionist in New York City and contributes to A Strong Canada as a writer and organizer.

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