Town Hall Meetings
March 2012: “Town Hall Conversations;” Dialogue with De Paul University and City of Chicago Cultural Planning Committee
Modern Democracy and Aristocracy: Observations of Neighborhood
Conversations at Du Paul
“Meetings like this should be included in the curriculum as a required activity,” suggested the Finance and Economic senior from De Paul.
You Are NOT Supposed to be HERE!
Photo by RJ Molyneux-Davis, February 2012
I arrived late, damning my sense of direction and the error message, “The application Maps has stopped unexpectedly. Please try again.” Turning east from the Fullerton Red line, I had at least discovered Lincoln Park Zoo, knowing I had gone the wrong direction when I spotted the lake beyond. Xoe’s correction, “Or at least it is about naming” echoed in my consciousness, reminding me of the single criticism I had received as a professor, “She uses big words sometimes that I don’t understand. I have learned to bring a dictionary to class.”
Taxonomy, classification, division, naming, labeling. Gay, straight, lesbian, bi, queer. Latina, Black, white, male, female. How do we define ourselves? How do others define us?
We were responding to the questions projected onto the large screen, one of ten or twelve issues identified earlier at the town hall meetings in the fall, a grassroots project that will hold neighborhood “Conversations” to collect data. For what? As the facilitators were thanked for their participation, I turned to the person beside me, middleagedafricanamericanfemalewoman beside me and asked, “How did you earn the title of facilitator?”
I am a mediator by profession. Trained in law and business, then, usually a paralegal who has stepped into a more profitable position, a person with a few years of education who probably wrote a grant a few years ago, received recognition that was added to a resume used to promptly apply for a higher-paying job, a “highly qualified professional” whose position is that of compiling data and writing a cogent, concise report that will be placed in a file and never looked at again until the next press release.
Two Starlings converse with one another as they perch on the tree above me, overlooking the flock of humans gathered around the Bean. No wonder I don’t have the high paying job of a professional. Cogent and concise have never been my forte. Poetic flashes of iridescent feathers in the budding trees easily distract me. I brush the dirt from my white capri pants, chiding myself, “No wonder you can’t get the attention of a yachter! You really aren’t much of a typical middle-class white woman sitting on the ground distracted by beauty, are you?” I glance at the middle-aged overweight couple kissing (posing) in front of the Bean and again experience the wash of gratitude that often sweeps over me in moments like this.
BFA show this week. The model poses near the balustrade as people walk slowly past, barely noticing the purple and pink drapery. Three years ago the model’s dress appeared in Depp’s Alice. The photographer was much more creative, shooting her against the backdrop of an alley below Michigan Ave. The photo shoot was less of a spectacle, less of an exhibit itself. The designer this year, rather than hiring a professional, has a photography student from the Institute shooting. The glaring afternoon light is harsh, natural, and the photographer tries to use a breeze to create a natural effect with the yards of tulle trailing behind the model, an effort she attempts repeatedly, each time dissatisfied with the outcome. The model, bored, leans further into the balustrade, watching the traffic below while tourists snap pictures.
“What cultural experience in Chicago has been meaningful to you?”
“Going to the Siskel and Ebert Theater,” responds a freshman from Du Paul who lives in the Lakeview area as she praised the University’s orientation week that introduced incoming students to the various cultural activities across the city.
I noted I had been lost since my arrival, explaining that was why I was a few minutes late to the meeting even though I started out two hours before it began. Orientation to the city? Yeah. Right. They didn’t even have me on the MAAE mailing list until I noted the error in November.
“Going to the Art Institute,” noted the senior art student from De Paul. “But,” she hastily added, “it is expensive.”
A week ago in class, one of my second semester peers in the MAAE program had confessed she hadn’t yet gone to the Institute, noting, “I guess I really should sometime since it is, after all, free.”
“Enjoying the public art,” responded the senior.
“Authentic cultural experiences, including the troupe of Peruvian Dancers.”
When I first read the question upon entering the nearly empty hall in where ten round tables were scattered in front of the screen, all but two of them unoccupied, I had noted the double entendre of the word “culture,” wondering whether or not they were addressing “high culture, art, entertainment” or “culture” as it is defined by House as “shared motives, values, beliefs, identities, and interpretations or meanings of significant events that result from common experiences of members of collectives that are transmitted across generations” (House et al., 2004, p. 15).
The last student, a younglatinawithlongblackhairandatraceofanaccent, had interpreted it as House had, but had made certain she included an example that could easily fit into the other students’ definition.
“Let’s move onto the next question,” the facilitator noted, after a cursory glance at her watch.
“What needs to be in place to increase your participation in culture?”
The replies came quickly, “Convenient and affordable transportation.”
“Reduced cost and increased accessibility.”
Finally the senior’s input, followed by “Or at least offering attendance at meetings like this for extra credit.”
Credit/No Credit. Who needs extra credit when the filed is so level, based usually upon attendance only with the warning repeated emphatically at the beginning of class, “If you miss three classes, you will fail.”
“I must confess,” I added, “that is why I am here. It is in fulfillment of required observation hours for one of my classes.”
The same awkward silence that followed my identifying which neighborhood I was from, “The Loop,” and which school I attended.
They were there by choice, taking an active part in Democracy and city planning, expressing desire to have free transportation and cheaper access to “cultural events,” and I was there only because I was fulfilling a required assignment, having ridden to the event with the CTA pass provided by SAIC (included in tuition) with a scheduler marked to hell with free lectures and film screenings that I get to access by flashing a card.
D. Stovall’s argument from the reading in class that morning echoes through the vertigo that always accompanies my riding the train, “Whites should be included in the focus on White privilege in that the responsibility in educating other Whites rests heavily with them.” Ze adds, “Their experiential knowledge of the construct enables them to unpack the intricate and subtle functions of White privilege and its various rationales.” Stovall subtly points at that Whites are responsible for unpacking “White privilege;” they remain the ones who must provide the interpretation of culture because of their own experiences. Stovall adds, “They should not be excluded from the larger context of class struggle because such recognition is integral in any analysis of racialized social systems,” reasserting the position, if you will, as the primary gatekeeper to the cultural experiences of the majority.
Division, classification: encyclopedic possession of supremacy built by and for aristocracy. Diderot, birth of the Modern. No longer being printed, yet traces of taxonomy by some other of definition still remains.