The Problem with the Table

If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.
— Shirley Chisholm

I have seen a lot of under-represented groups hold this quote up as a rallying cry, and it receives a lot of love. I admit that I was inspired by this quote. It said to me that I deserved to be heard in places where decisions were going to be made, and I would probably have to insert myself into that space. The sentiment is laudable, but the people who have their folding chairs in hand are only a small segment of that under-represented community, and it fails to put responsibility on leaders.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, as the League of Women Voters struggles to broaden our diversity and overcome the perception that we comprise middle-aged white women who register voters. We have to meet people where they are. We have to examine our venues, our accessibility, our messaging, our outreach efforts. We have to consciously take ourselves out of our immediate networks and actively listen to people who have different viewpoints from us. And, I truly believe we are working to do all these things. 

I want to use this online space to call upon local leaders to reflect on how successful they are at representing their full constituency. Have you opened up an online forum for honest and sometimes critical conversations about local issues, or have you created an echo chamber, where your fans and supporters can laud your every decision? Are you engaging your consitutents at real-life forums, since many people are not online and there is value in face-to-face discussion? Have you collaborated with groups to reach new demographics? Have you examined the recommendations you make or the positions you take to ensure that you have considered every side of an issue? 

I will be hovering around the table, chair in hand, because that is who I am, but I would prefer to take an axe to the table fully, compel the leadership to bring out more chairs, and widen the circle so every citizen has access and information. That is a true democracy, and that will make Salem a stronger city.