When I Say “Community,” You Say “Space!”

Canvassing can either be great or incredibly discouraging.

Generally those two reactions are interspersed throughout any time period spent canvassing.

One good interaction, one awful, a few mediocre.

Wednesday I had the pleasure of enjoying myself while canvassing, and feeling like I was canvassing for something actually meaningful.

Summer of Solutions Pioneer Valley has been working on a community space project, so dubbed because we are interested in creating drive behind a community space in Greenfield.

We have talked about the idea a lot and pulled together some materials, but this was our first time really pounding the pavement and talking to people about the idea.

I had the pleasure of pairing up with my buddy Duncan for this adventure.

C’mon, who wouldn’t want to canvass with this guy?

One reason I’m interested in creating a community space for Greenfield is the stark divisions I see between different parts of the local population.  It’s a town of 18,000.  As someone from the city, it definitely has that small town vibe which makes me think everyone should know each other.  In some ways that’s true, and it can start to feel like a very small place.   In other ways however people of differing class or race backgrounds rarely interact.

Many aspects of life here are really wonderful and desirable, like the beautiful natural surroundings, the accessible downtown area, the strong local businesses.  In a way, I think that makes people hesitant to acknowledge the issues which do exist for the community.  Just as other places across the country, unemployment and poverty rates are high.  Addiction and homelessness are deeply engrained cycles many people in the community are struggling to break out of.  Youth finish (or don’t) public school and have few local options for employment.

Look, it’s really pretty. All our societal ills have gone away!

These realities don’t fit into the picture a lot of people hold in their mind about this place, so they often are overlooked.

These attributes have made it difficult for me to find a place in the local mix.  While I am an environmentalist, I view environmental issues through an intersectional lens.  I don’t just want to talk about carbon emissions, but also inequality and hierarchy in our communities.

I haven’t found that in the somewhat siloed aspects of local politics.

So that’s just why I want a community space, a place where people can get together to talk about these things,and  have musical and cultural events.

Duncan and I started walking east down Main Street, with some flyers and surveys in hand (longboard too).

We first stopped to talk to a group of guys standing on the sidewalk.  Duncan bummed a cigarette and we asked them what they thought of the community space idea.  They all took a survey and wrote in their ideas.  A few gave us their numbers so we could be in touch about future activities.

We then headed down to Greenfield Community TV to borrow a camera to document some of the day.  We talked awhile with one of the directors and got set up with a camera, tripod and boom mic to film on the street. Back outside, the first woman we talked to, pushing a stroller down the street, seemed particularly excited about the idea. She is a teacher at the closest elementary school and said she’d be happy to help.

If at any point we had started to wonder about the importance or utility of this project idea, we were certainly reassured yesterday.  It’s clear when you ask someone a question that strikes at their own desires.  Whether it’s because they feel targeted by police on the street, or want a place which offers free programs for kids, or they want to share their music more with their neighbors, we’re talking about an idea that rings true to many people.

Some assorted characters at our first community space potluck.

That was exciting to see, and while we only have a few weeks left in Summer of Solutions to move this project along, I can see it has real potential to carry on past our program and be taken on by others around us.

The SoS crew at a recent community event.

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