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An evening with the Citizens League of Minnesota

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Wide White: An evening with the Citizens League of Minnesota

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An evening with the Citizens League of Minnesota

Last night Jamie and I attended our first Citizens League annual meeting.

If you aren't familiar with the Citizens League's, their identity statement offers details on their mission. In a nutshell, the organization serves as a nonpartisan group seeking common ground solutions to issues facing the state of Minnesota.

Jamie and I got involved after my CEO and his wife partnered with the Citizens League to pay for one-year memberships for people interested in joining. I've been looking for ways to get plugged in with civic and community engagement and this seemed like a great option. It didn't take much convincing from my CEO to get me on board and Jamie was all in favor too.

We arrived at the Minneapolis Hilton and I quickly saw the one face I knew, my CEO. He was talking to Rick Kupchella so we briefly said hello and moved on. As we headed into the meeting room (or was it a ballroom?) I spotted and was finally able to say hello to Tom Horner, who I supported for Governor. We found a table and started listening to the opening presentations.

10-15 minutes into the program we had a moment for everyone at the table to introduce ourselves and speak for a few minutes. When the person running the event began speaking again, Jamie got my attention and whispered, "Who's the woman sitting next to you?" I told her I had no idea. She had just asked if the seat was open, I said it was, and that was that. Jamie insisted, "She's a big deal. I think she was the mayor of Minneapolis."

I couldn't see her name tag at the moment, but I remembered that her first name was Sharon. I pulled out my phone and googled "Sharon Minneapolis mayor." Sure enough, up came a Wikipedia entry for Sharon Sayles Belton, the first woman and first African-American to become the mayor of Minneapolis. She ran the city for 8 years before losing to current mayor R.T. Rybak.

This just illustrates the kind of people who are involved in this organization. We had one woman at our table who is jobless and appeared to be homeless as well. We had a middle-age couple with their elementary-age child. We had a professor with a Ph.D. We had a stay-at-home-mom (Jamie). We had the former mayor of Minneapolis. We had people from all over the political, age, career, and racial spectrum.

And this disjointed group discussed a number of issues in the short hour and 15 minutes we were at that table together. I know very little about Sayles Belton other than what's in her Wikipedia entry and I'm sure we have significant policy disagreements, but she was funny, engaging, smart, and down to earth. In fact, at one point, she whispered to me, "Why hasn't your wife jumped in? She looks like she has something to say." I told her she should tell her to speak up and a couple of minutes later, she did and Jamie jumped right in.

I learned a few things last night. I learned that my wife knew a politician that I didn't. I learned that in spite of the differences we have, we can discuss them in a civil manner that isn't reflected in much of what's seen in the media. I learned that when a group sits down, they can generally find something to agree on. I learned that the former mayor of Minneapolis is pretty darn cool.

And ultimately, I had fun and was energized to get involved in finding solutions to the challenges we face. It provided a forum that no political party can hope to offer, which is probably why a number of prominent politicians are involved in the organization. They know that beyond the rhetoric, real solutions exist. It just takes some hard work with a group of smart people to put it on paper and get the word out.

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Blogger Kara Jo declared,

That's cool, Joey. Glad you guys went.

11/11/2010 4:41 PM  
Blogger watchman declared,

I'll just what everyone else is wondering:

Drinks on the house or Cash bar?

Seriously, community engagement and networking across the political spectrum is a powerful thing in these polarized times.

11/11/2010 5:21 PM  
Blogger Joey declared,

I think it was a cash bar, though I didn't give it a whirl myself. I tend to stay away from the bar unless I'm positive it's on the house.

11/11/2010 9:24 PM  

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