Non-partisan group organizes meetings to find solutions to local problems
RONAN – People gathered to learn how to bring individuals with different points of view together on Tuesday evening in an effort to create positive outcomes for the community.
Mission Valley Rises: Democracy Engaged! hosted the event at the Ronan Senior Citizen Center. The group is centered on the idea that solutions to problems can be found if people with differing and similar opinions come together to find common goals.
“We are a local, non-partisan, community-led group, committed to exploring issues that affect the lives of our community,” the group notes. “We believe that active listening and civil dialogue will bring us together to solve the problems that face us all.”
Member Gail Trenfield said people can have different opinions, but letting those ideas divide the community isn’t productive. “We can’t stand as a divided community,” she said.
During their first community gathering in October 2017, they brought local leaders and government representatives from different political parties together with the public to talk about how Montana’s budget cuts would impact local and state programs.
Mission Valley Rises invited Svein Neuman to lead a discussion on bringing people together during the second meeting. He is the director of a group organizing for the Northern Plains Resource Council.
He helped organize a project that brought ranchers, tribal members and others together in southeastern Montana to prevent a coal mine from putting a railroad through their land. “It would have condemned farmland and cultural sites,” he said. The permit needed to develop the railroad was denied after people found common ground and worked together.
Neuman stood in front of about 40 people from across Lake County, wearing a flannel shirt and what he called his signature glasses. He was born in Norway and raised on farmland in Billings, Montana. He started his presentation by saying that people can take control of their communities. “I believe in people power,” he said.
He explained that people often expect his organization to be about liberals fighting for environmental causes and other issues, and it is to a point, but it’s also about republicans fighting with them for things like water quality.
The idea is that people with differing ideas find common ground and come together to create positive change for the community, which is what the Mission Valley Rises group hopes to do locally.
Neuman outlined an action plan a group can take to collaborate on an issue that includes the need for people to organize, address conflict, analyze power structures and determine procedural tactics. He addressed each element during the meeting by sharing information and asking the crowd for opinions.
He said organizing was the first step needed for people to come together to discuss an issue. People in the room said organizing helps focus an issue toward workable solutions. It also helps people gather to share ideas and feel less isolated.
Neuman suggested that people look for advocacy groups to help them find resources that can help support their cause. One woman at the meeting said: “organizing can help people find their voice.”
Conflict is something that the group will have to figure out how to deal with. “Often or not, change creates conflict,” Neuman said. He added that swearing profanities at neighbors probably isn’t the way to deal with conflict but shying away from it also isn’t helpful.
Groups need to build support for their cause with people power and money. He said problems are more likely to be solved when more people support the solutions, and money is often needed for funding legal fights that might mean doing things like taking a company to court to get their building permit denied. He said change could also be done with little funding and a few well-organized people.
He also said that people can help fight issues by doing a power analysis. “Follow the money,” he said to find out who supports a problem and who is funding it.
Neuman said people should also find out who is most impacted by a problem to prevent harm and find support for their cause. “The people that matter most could help solve the problem.”
Mission Valley Rises member Gail Trenfield added that people need to research their cause and talk to others: “It doesn’t do any good to destroy your community to get what you want.”
Knocking on doors was mentioned as the best way to find out how people feel about an issue. “Knock on a door and talk to a person, then knock on another door and talk to another person.
“Even in this digital age, the most transformative work is done in our communities one conversation at a time. The most important tool we have is to talk one-on-one to challenge people and get them to engage.”
Another person at the meeting said she would like to see the community come together: “I don’t feel our federal or state governments are serving us and we are at a dead end. We have to figure out our problems locally.”
Neuman said groups can use any number of tactics to get their message out to gain support including phone calls, emails, surveys, letters to newspapers, and marching together. He said people can work on issues with wide ranging impact or with smaller local results. “The sky is the limit,” he said.
Mission Valley Rises is in the organizing stage of their work. They are still working to bring people together with the hopes of hearing what issues people want to work on. They seek to share what they learn with the community at large. More information about the group can be found at: www.missionvalleyrises.com or by calling 406-745-3001.