We All Have a Role to Play

Earlier this month, Neighborhood Partnerships held the third session of the Advocacy College with Patrick Bresette of Demos and Larry Wallack of Portland State University. Thirty-five advocates joined the Advocacy College in September. We’ve learned some of the basics of framing and messaging, we’ve begun to digest Demos’ research on government and the economy, we’ve learned to use social math, and we now know that frames trump facts.

In the most recent session, in November, we talked about developing and using message boxes—a tool to help create, deliver and stay on message when talking to legislators, the media, and other audiences. During this conversation, our attention kept turning back to the looming state budget deficit, now projected at over $3.2 billion for 2011–2013. We assume that budget issues will dominate the conversation over the next several years. At the Advocacy College, we realized that our view of what Oregon needs isn’t being heard as part of the budget conversation. We want that to change.

We here at Neighborhood Partnerships have a vision of Oregon as a place which offers its diversity of residents opportunities to thrive, pathways out of poverty and disenfranchisement, and adequately supported public systems and structures as shared tools for these goals. We also believe that we are all in this together, and we all have a stake and a role in addressing the problems we’re facing. We’re not on our own and we will either succeed or fail at solving this budget crisis together. The good news is that we know how to solve these problems—we’ve had tough times before, and we’ve gotten through them. We also know that how we make decisions will impact how we recover from this recession. Now is the time to have the conversation about the state we want to live in.

We live in the wealthiest country in the world. We don’t need to ground our discourse in a false sense of scarcity and fear. Scarcity limits our ability to be creative and make choices about our future. Fear keeps us from seeing that we really are all in this together—that none of us is truly independent. We rely on each other every day, and we depend on the community systems and structures put in place by past generations to go about our lives and work and contribute to Oregon’s vitality.

Our government and each of us have a critical role to play as we work to solve the problems we’re facing. It will take hard work and good ideas to start solving these problems, and it’s time to start talking about the choices we need to make and the steps we need to take to be the kind of state we want to be. The decisions we make now, in this time and this recession and this budget year will impact how we recover from this recession and what kind of state we leave for our children. I believe that we want to leave them a state where there is enough to go around. A state that makes sure the least among us can have opportunities for a better future. The budget is a tool for building the future that we want—not an obstacle between us and our collective vision.

First things first—let’s agree that we’re all in this together, and start there. Next let’s understand that in this time when the state budget deficit is significant and real and looming, we need to put all of our options on the table—cutting the budget while protecting those hardest hit by the economic downturn, implementing new or raising existing taxes, and examining tax-side spending. So let’s start talking to our elected officials, and tell them that we want to have a conversation about our priorities and our future as a state.