After a couple months of following the Transform Rockford calendar, I was finally able to attend their meeting tonight, at the RVC Woodward Technology Center. I almost didn’t go (there is a chemistry final looming over me this week…) but figured I better go now or I’d never make it.
It was a good choice because as it turns out, this was the last community visioning session that they are holding, so I was glad to participate in that. A little background for those who aren’t familiar with Transform Rockford. I was not aware of the organization until February…I think they launched some time in late 2013. I don’t recall hearing a specific date tonight, and I don’t see any additional info on their site. So, late 2013 is my best guess. Anyways, this group has a 6 step “transformation process” for Rockford and the surrounding region. The 6 steps are:
1. Analysis and case for change
2. Develop the vision
3. Define the strategy
4. Develop the implementation plan
5. Implement initiatives and measure
6. Review and update
They are currently in the second of these steps, although technically after tonight they are moving into the third phase. To develop the vision, Transform Rockford has been holding “community visioning sessions” around the area. As a subscriber to their calendar, I’ve been noting the different locations at which they have meetings. The diversity and span of their meetings has been quite interesting. From a country club to a church to a school on the south side, even making it out to Winnebago. They didn’t only have meetings at the typical Rockford locations, but genuinely seemed to be reaching broad demographics.
Prior to this evening, I didn’t know much else about Transform Rockford. I knew they wanted to change the community, but that was about it. I was just really curious about the whole organization and what they are doing.
I walked into the building and there were nice signs directing everyone towards the conference room for the event. As a socially awkward person, this was a great relief, since I didn’t have to guess what direction to go. I was given a handout and pen by a very friendly person. Again, introverted/awkward me was glad to feel welcomed. I got there a few minutes early, so I had time to look over the handout and begin taking notes. The handout addressed the need for change, the 6 step transformation outline, and shared values. The need for change was compelling, but definitely not surprising. I think most people in the Rockford area are all too aware of our situation. I already mentioned the 6 step transformation process. I had an intellectual heyday with the shared values, honestly. You can’t expect to make statements so broad everyone can agree without frustrating those who of us with a bent towards logic and precision. I’ll probably make that a blog post in itself, knowing my propensity for elucidation. Anyways, in this handout there was also a piece of paper with the words, “My transformed region (is, has, will, looks like….)” and then lines below for someone to fill in the rest. Guessing that we’d be asked to complete the sentence, I took the extra time to start brainstorming on this. I ended up just writing a libertarian manifesto for individual liberty and non-aggression, haha.
Then the meeting officially began, and there were a few introductory remarks from the organization leaders. And then we were asked to take 10 minutes to think about what we would envision for a transformed area. Since I’d already written this, I started thinking about the format and strategy of the group. It is really quite powerful to ask people to give a concrete description of their ideal future. The question was basically, “what do you want?” and that’s something most people don’t mind being asked. Also, putting an imagined world into words is very inspiring. It seems so much more real when you express the idea. People want to create a dream they can actually picture and describe. This is why, I think, so often a response to anarcho-capitalism is something like, “but what about the roads?” or “what will we do with criminals?” Because our minds immediately go to the functioning and practicality of the world. So at this meeting, people were being asked to write down all those things they wanted to see in Rockford’s future, whether it be improved public transportation or a revitalized economy, and that seems to be very motivating.
After the 10 minutes, we broke up into groups of 5 to discuss our ideas and visions, half the groups went to another room and those remaining split up into different areas of the room. Everyone in the small group read their vision statements, and then we were asked to condense all of our ideas (or at least the main ones) into 5 short statements. So we had maybe 10-15 minutes to discuss our visions and combine (or as we were told, “coalesce”) them into 5 statements. This was an interesting, and challenging, goal. I guess I have weird ways of thinking about things because we developed the ideas in ways that I didn’t really understand. For one thing, my vision was very abstract (“my transformed region will give every individual the liberty to do anything they want as long as they don’t harm other individuals or their property”) and the other statements tended to be a lot more concrete, like, “make the downtown/Riverfront area accessible to everyone.” But it was a good exercise in collaboration and we eventually ended up with 5 statements we all agreed on. After this, we were asked to pick our top 2 vision statements from the 5. That was fairly easy, thankfully.
When the groups in our room had finished this (4 groups of 5 people), we gathered together again. Each group’s top 2 vision statements were posted on the wall (we’d written them on large yellow cards). And then we went through the remaining statements from each group. So we had a total of 20 vision statements/cards, and ended up condensing those down into 8 categories or themes. There were several statements that touched on education, community involvement, jobs & employment, safety, and so forth. This was also an interesting process because everyone could discuss where they felt their statement belonged and the categories evolved as we went through each card. After the discussion was over, the other half of the group joined us again. They had gone through the same process too, so they had maybe 5 or 6 categories as well. They read through their categories and either combined them with ones we had, or started new categories.
At this point, we were each handed a stack of “Transform Dollars” which one could compare to Monopoly money…or the U.S. dollar, depending on your view of our currency right now. And then we were asked to vote with our money on how much we’d contribute to each of the categories we had created. I got really confused at this point, taking things way too seriously as usual, and had to find out if we were supposed to imagine this money was our money, or government funds. It basically didn’t matter, as we were just supposed to demonstrate how much we cared about these different issues by “voting with money.” The funds we “donated” to each category were then counted and announced. It was, indeed, interesting to see the support for different issues. If I remember right, education and jobs got the most money. There were a few closing comments after this, but that was pretty much everything.
And that’s pretty much everything my brain can muster tonight. So, there’ll be another post coming with my reflections on Transform Rockford, as I don’t think this post contained many of my customary strong opinions, and this post is plenty long as it is. So, stay tuned!