Uncategorized — November 15, 2011 at 8:03 am

Jocelyn Benson responds to my criticism of the Engage Michigan conference


I received this very thoughtful response from Jocelyn Benson on my post criticizing the Engage Michigan conference. I thought it should be seen by a wider audience.

Thank you for your feedback on the Engage Michigan Convention. I’m sorry that your experience was not what you had hoped. Allow me to offer my own reflections on your post.

The question of the day for Engage Michigan attendees was this: What will you do in your communities to engage your peers in your work to improve Michigan? We sought to develop a day that would provide you with the tools to do Engage your friends, family, networks, etc. We developed information and exercises on how to talk about your values, ideas for policy solutions that your fellow democrats were sharing and working on in their local communities, and suggestions about methods to engage certain communities. I hope that you came away with some of that information. I know from the hundreds of feedback forms that I’ve received and dialogue that I witnessed throughout the day that many of your fellow Democrats did.

The interaction you spoke of actually occurred on two levels – one of which occurred prior to the convention, when we invited anyone and everyone to submit proposals to share their ideas. Did you submit a solution to speak about? We selected over 100 people to speak about their work and ideas – the vast majority of whom were grassroots activists who had never spoken at a MDP event before. We had roughly 10-15 people in each breakout session speak for 5 minutes each on their idea. This is one of the elements of the convention that I am most proud of, as I got to know (and I hope you did as well) many smart, eloquent individuals who had great, creative solutions for solving many problems in our state. It was also inspiring to me to see so much positive dialogue around solutions, from such a wide range of individuals throughout the state. A second level of interaction occurred in the breakout sessions. We structured each segment to allow for feedback after each panelist had shared their ideas. I can only speak for the session I moderated, in which the first hour was devoted to a sharing of ideas from the panelists (ranging from creating a state bank to investing in our natural resources) and the second hour was entirely based on questions, dialogue and discussion. As I visited the second round of panels, I was particularly energized by the “faith” and “communities of color” outreach panels, which were full of engaging and lively dialogue. Finally, I am curious as to whether you stayed for the last segment, when – just before Rev. Anthony’s rousing speech and benediction – I asked everyone in attendance to commit to performing 2-3 actions in the days following the convention. We collected over 900 “commits” through that exercise and will be passing them on to the local party chairs for follow up and accountability. I was so thrilled at the range of responses and the sheer number of people who, based on this feedback alone, left energized and committed to the work ahead. Thank you again for sharing your comments. I look forward to any suggestions you might have for future Engage Michigan programming.

Jocelyn Benson
Chair,Engage Michigan 2011

I have responded to her by email and don’t wish to have a public back-and-forth but I will excerpt one part:

To answer your questions, no, I did not submit a solution to speak about. I considered doing so but by the time I realized it was something I should consider doing, the time was passed. Frankly, I didn’t realize that was going to be pretty much my only option for being heard. I did stay through the end of the event and am aware of the “ask” for commits from the crowd. Again, I would argue that’s not really “dialogue”, “conversation” or “interactive”.

All of that being said, I did find the quality of the speakers to be excellent and, at the end of the day, here I am, still a member of the MDP, still Vice-Chair of Precinct Organizing for the Washtenaw County Democratic Party and still engaged. If I push back when I don’t like what is going on, it’s because I do give a damn and want our state-level party to be the best that it can be.

Thanks again for engaging with me. Frankly, it’s a far cry from Mark Brewer’s approach. The last time I publicly criticized the MDP, he had a staff member call me who spent five minutes screaming at me on the phone while I was a work for having the audacity to question them. It’s things like that that have turned me off from the leadership at the MDP at the moment and it’s encouraging to me that you take such a dramatically different approach.