The Center For Cooperative Media at Montclair State University is in the midst of its latest Voting Block initative which is designed to amplify the voices of people who live in various cities. This time Voting Block is focusing on Paterson, Newark and Camden.
Voting Block's Manya Brachear Pashman came into the WBGO studios to talk to WBGO News Director Doug Doyle about the project and WBGO's News Voices Fellow Brit Harley's role as a facilitator in the Newark part of the grant-funded initiative.
Voting Block is recruiting 10 people in each city to have dinner together three times this fall, to discuss politics in a civil setting and to speak directly to legislators who are making decisions that impact their lives. Local media, including WBGO, will partner with each dinner group to tell their stories.
Manya Brachear Pashman says her group has already had the dinners in Paterson.
"We learned a lot. We rolled it out in Paterson first to just focus on one city. The initial objective was to roll it out across the state in all the cities simultaneously but each city is different and really requires focus and concentration on the issues and priorities in that city. So we recruited people. We actually reached out the community organizations and partners in Paterson and really they spread the word for us. Here's this opportunity to come to dinner, three dinners once a month through the Fall and sit across from people that you don't normally dine with, people who perhaps have different political views and different ethnicities and have a conversation about what matters to you. People jumped at the opportunity. We had ten people, that was our goal, to talk about the issues, be it education, the environment, employment, and underemployment. We also saw a lot of friendship form around the table that I don't think would have happened if we had not held these dinners. It was great."
Next up is Newark, starting February 9. Manya Brachear Pashman is excited to have WBGO's Brit Harley as the facilitator for the three dinners.
"Brit is really a great hybrid. She is not only a journalist, a budding journalist at WBGO, but she's also a community organizer. That's her background and so she is accustomed to engaging with these communities and really facilitating some hard tough topics and that's what we need. In Camden, for example, which we'll be rolling out later in the month, that Voting Block by a local journalist as well, but she has a real rapport and trust with the community there. She's been covering it for a very long time. In Paterson, we used a professional facilitator, someone who works for a non-profit organization who very is enmeshed in education issues there and has a lot of trust from the community. We also invite journalists to the table. The goal there is so the journalists hear these tough conversations. The point of Voting Block is to amplify underrepresented voices in the community. To amplify voices it helps to have the media there."
For more information about Voting Block and the dinners, you can visit their website.
The News Voices Engagement Fellowship is joint pilot project between WBGO and Free Press.
Click above to hear the entire conversation with Manya Brachear Pashman.