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'Giving people as a community a voice': Red Wing selected for Citizens Assemblies events

File photo

What needs to change in Red Wing's local government?

David Schultz, political science professor at Hamline University, wants residents to think about this question when Citizens Assemblies gets started on June 9.

When making the decision on where to host Citizens Assemblies, his team selected Red Wing for being a classic Minnesota community.

"It's a community that's not overly divided and this is a way of doing it at a local level of residents talking to each other," Schultz said.

On June 9, Citizens Assemblies will begin hosting events for community members to become more involved with local government. The idea behind the project, Schultz said, is to get people more involved in government and think of ways to overcome polarization.

"Let's get citizens together on some project, provide them education and training and bring in speakers," he said. "Then, give them the opportunity after education to deliberate and reach some conclusions."

Hamline University was awarded a grant from Joyce Foundation and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation equating $500,000. Money will be spent for residents to debate and discuss issues in an informed and non-partisan fashion.

"At the most narrow level, it will be giving people as a community a voice, including people who don't traditionally speak up, (and) express their thoughts regarding what they would like to actually see from Red Wing," Schultz said.

Red Wing and Willmar have been selected as the first two of three uniquely demographic and political Minnesota cities to be featured in the program.

With an emphasis on structure, the conversations will be geared toward overcoming polarization.

"This is a time when we know that the national government is polarized, unable to get anything done," Schultz said. "Increasingly we're seeing at the state level, we're polarized there too."

The hope is to help create stronger local government in Red Wing, better communication process, and a better dialogue between residents and public officials, he said. "Each community is at different phases and can reflect what the country looks like. We figure out across three communities are there common practices," Schultz said.

Around 40 participants will be selected to listen to one another in terms of making decisions and working out common interests. The group will consist of demographically-representative residents. Citizens Assemblies hopes to accomplish a first-hand insight into what underrepresented citizens believe would enact real change.

A lot of materials used at meetings will be available for the community to utilize as well.

"It's not the problem that too many people talk," Schultz said. "It's that too many people don't have a chance to listen and deliberate."

For more information about the program and how to get involved, visit mncitizens.org or email hello@mncitizens.org.

Kit Murray

Kit Murray joined Red Wing Republican Eagle in Aug. 2016, covering government, transportation and public safety. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in photojournalism and philosophy. 

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