• Palma Joy Strand

It’s the Relationships! #WeaveThePeople

Updated: May 22, 2019

Photo Courtesy: Lena Yarinkura

My Civity co-founder Malka Kopell and I had the opportunity last week to be part of the #WeaveThePpl gathering in Washington, DC. We joined with people who are also “healing America’s social fragmentation by weaving deep connections across difference in their communities.”

People came from rural Nebraska, from a forgotten corner of Ohio, from eastern Oregon, from small-town North Carolina. People came from New Orleans, Houston, Chicago, Seattle, Baltimore…

We heard from and met people who are pouring their time and energy into their communities –

  • to keep their neighborhoods alive…

  • to connect a range of people to the experience of migration…

  • to enlist the power of low-income parents in their kids’ education…

  • to save people from suicide…

  • to empower women who have been sexually assaulted…

  • to throw a lifeline to kids in the juvenile justice system…

  • to engage people in conversations about race…

  • to spin a thread between people living in urban blue and people living in rural red…

  • to create the space for kids and others to simply play….

And more, much more.

Each of the people doing this work was inspiring. All of these people saw a need, rolled up their sleeves, and pitched in.

Even more inspiring was the common, acknowledged, explicit thread of relationship.

In our culture, relationships are generally not taken particularly seriously. Writing with our friend and colleague John Esterle of The Whitman Institute a few years ago, we speculated on why that is:

  • Relationships are “heart” – and we live in a “head” culture.

  • Relationships call to interdependence – while our culture highlights individualism.

  • Relationships are hard to measure– perhaps because our reductive culture doesn’t really know how to get its head around the non-concrete.

  • Relationships take time – and our culture is impatient and focuses on the short term.

Despite De Toqueville’s famous lifting up of the “associations” of America – and what are associations but dense clusters of relationships? – relationships are given especially short shrift when we’re talking about civic or public life. Relationships with the fellow-travelers in our extended communities do not call for the intimacy of relationships with our families and friends. And they are unlike business networking in that they are about advancing the common good rather than simply one’s own self-interest.

#WeaveThePeople brought together a group of people for whom relationship-building is at the heart – yes, the heart – of the work they do to build and strengthen their communities. Some came to relationship through pain and trauma; others from simply being in community and allowing ourselves to feel and experience the webs that are the very essence of community, of civic and public life.

By putting relationships and relationality front-and-center, #WeaveThePeople affirmed that relationships are essential.

In our Civity work, we support people to intentionally enter into and strengthen relationships with people who are Other. An important aspect of the work is giving people permission to be relational in civic and public life. Many people are already relational or are hungry for relationality, yet they hold back or refrain from naming what they do. Because the messages of our culture shunt relationships to the margins, people are reticent about bringing them in – to a one-on-one conversation, to a round-table discussion, to a large public meeting.

And yet relationships, especially bridging relationships across and through difference, are the “weak-tie” threads that hold our diverse communities together.

Once we acknowledge the foundational importance of relationships in community/civic/public life as in other spheres – it’s the relationships! – we are on the path to understanding and naming what it means to be in relationship with our fellow citizens, with our fellow community members.

It’s great that De Tocqueville highlighted the associational, relational core of democracy more than a century and a half ago.

But what does a robust civic web of relationships look like in today’s multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-gendered world? What are healthy civic relationships between people who are very, very rich and people who have negative net worth? What are healthy civic relationships between people who live on farms and in small towns and people who live in cities, suburbs, and ex-urbs?

And – our current imperative – how do we build those relationships? How do we weave that web?

This challenge of creating power through relationships with people outside of our tried-and-true reach is just that – a challenge. All relationships take time, thought, care, goodwill, openness, and risk. Relationships that renegotiate power dynamics take even more.

The good news is that a transformational shift is already underway. By affirming the work of even a handful of the many, many people who are already creating Civity in their own spheres of influence, #WeaveThePeople is moving it forward.

#weave #weavethepeople #socialfabric

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