2012 Live it! Project Report
Eric Goldfisher: Voter Engagement and Advocacy at Peace House (Minneapolis)
Political participation, civic engagement, and the acquisition of power in American society are all closely tied to community strength. Ultimately, my project attempted to strengthen or bring about these aspects of engagement within the unique Peace House community, a drop-in center for people experiencing homelessness and poverty in the Philips neighborhood of Minneapolis. Peace House provides a safe and welcoming space with a particular focus on listening to the stories and ideas of the oppressed; hence, a perfect setting for an advocacy effort focused on the experiences of disenfranchised individuals. My project set out to create a sustainable conversation about citizenship and empowerment within the community, framed specifically around this election’s voter ID referendum, which would make voting nearly impossible for many people experiencing homelessness.
From the start, I was very clear that this project needed to incorporate the ideas and views of community members, first and foremost. In late May, I realized that Peace House needed a stronger democratic structure if the voices of community members were to be heard on an organizational level in conversations about voter empowerment and citizenship. So my first steps (which were not originally in the plan) related to internal change; I revamped the process of determining meditation facilitators within Peace House, setting up a public calendar and successfully encouraging community members to become regular meditation facilitators. Another unexpected (but happy) change to my original plan came in late July, when I assisted community members in starting an advocacy council, now known as the PEACE Connection (People Empowering And Creating Equality). The conversations started about voter ID in the normal course of the project led to a sustained conversation on segregation and police harassment/brutality, a conversation that now has an integrated home in the PEACE Connection group that continues to meet weekly.
The main accomplishments of my project to date: countless conversations about citizenship, voting, and voter ID, which have taken on a life of their own beyond any that I could have imagined. 75% of the community (counted on a day in late August) registered to vote this November, with preparations underway to ensure that everyone who needs any assistance receives it on Election Day. Connecting Peace House with the Our Vote, Our Future campaign (leading the fight against Voter ID), as well as sitting on two tables based at St Stephen’s Human Services on get-out-the-vote efforts and fighting the voter ID amendment from an anti-homelessness advocate’s perspective. The conversations, registration, and advocacy efforts will continue unabated through the election and beyond; ultimately, these efforts are sustainable, both in partnership with Macalester students and in the community itself.
My work this summer, particularly in the advocacy group, showed me once again the power of people who work together to understand and address injustice. I see this project as fitting a model of global citizenship, in which the power comes from people rather than from institutions. Thus, I came to see the “citizenship” part of the equation as ultimately determining how “global” these movements are; in other words, global citizenship must spring from local people and not global institutions.
For the opportunity and financial resources to begin building something new and exciting at Peace House this summer, I remain deeply grateful to the IGC and to Macalester at large for the many ways in which they have supported my work and evolution over the years. The most valuable growth that I experienced this summer came from being present in the Peace House community on a daily basis and contributing, in a small way, to a community that is rock solid for people whose lives are anything but. Living with questions of citizenship, power inequities, and holistic solutions to these disparities takes patience, love, and a strong sense of place in community; the Live It grant that I received made all of these experiences possible, and opened doors for future Macalester students to take similar yet diverging paths through the essential and life-changing work of building a more caring world.