Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Gainesville community forum, prejudice is still well

I was honored to take part in the "dismantling prejudice' community forum organized by the City of Gainesville Equal Opportunity Office on Monday. It was apparently their first attempt to include different minorities and types of discrimination and expand the discussion beyond race and color, and for that the organizers deserve praises, but the event itself could've been thought through and put together better. it was ironic that here we were, all focused and talking about equal opportunity, yet I had to be carried up the stage  by strangers, because the lift that was supposed to take me up was shut off with a key. I guess you can say, things didn't start off very well for me. It was a very long night, the event was three hours long. I liked that the panelists were picked from different walks of life, all having a different take on discrimination, because of their race and gender, religion, sexual orientation. The problem was I didn't get to hear much about it. If you get such an interesting and diverse panel you need to find a format that allows everyone to draw from their own experiences and relates to their own lives in Gainesville. We were talking about the poverty division in Gainesville that touches mostly the black community [as it was phrased in the question], the institution of gay marriage generally, the perception of Americans in the Middle East on which as you can guess everybody had an opinion but not all had a personal investment in. What I wanted to hear is what were some of those people's views and experiences with discrimination, rather than review of national and local politics. What is it like to spend a day in your shoes. 

I also think that in stead of questions that every panelist could jump in an answer there should've been broader area topics. The follow up questions should flow from the things said on stage organically, so we could actually comment, challenge, ask and discuss issues as they come up.  More of a conversation, less of a statement making opportunity. There also needs to be a way to integrate the audience into the process better. Some people where genuinely upset that they didn't get to say their peace and leave. Few got upset, because they were hoping for a town hall  meeting type of a scenario, where they could just bring up their own problems, often having very little to do with what is going on on stage.
Media were present, with TV cameras rolling and Gainesville Sun's Chad Smith vigorously typing. The attendance was low, but it's what you can expect from a 6-9 pm event on a weekday set up in a middle school. Perhaps doing it in the plaza auditorium downtown  and having the UF Student Affairs office involved to bring out students as they live here too, would draw a bigger crowd. You could see by what the panelists have prepared, notes, poems, stories, that they were expecting a different type of set up. But what I wanted to hear is if they thought Gainesville is a "mean city", because some polls indicate that it climbs up in there- in relation to their fields, how they relate to the transient student community that felt left out of the conversation and for the moderators to offer some kind of conclusion and pull some of the things said together


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