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  • Begin Here

    Over on our Facebook page, Cathie, a fellow Oregonian, shared a poem by Joy Harjo, which we think beautifully describes our goals here.  “Perhaps the World Ends Here” opens with the lines “The world begins at a kitchen table.  No matter what, we must eat to live. ”  We’ve set up this table as a place of beginning, too.  This is a place to nourish our views and ideas so we can begin to work together to improve the state we all inhabit.

    One of my favorite parts of this poem comes in the middle, when Harjo writes,

    Babies teethe
    at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
    It is here that children are given instructions on what
    it means to be human. We make men at it,
    we make women.

    I love the line “It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human.” For me, this is why the image of the kitchen table serves our purposes so well; it is at the table where we begin to learn how to interact with one another, to hold our forks and keep our cups upright. We learn manners and begin to civilly ask one another to please pass the butter. The kitchen table is an instrument of civilization, and so it makes perfect sense to me to think about what we’re doing here – trying out a tool for engagement – as a kitchen table.

    In some ways, we’re all the babies teething at the corner of Oregon’s Kitchen Table.  When we sign up and take our seat, we’ve all become part of this big experiment in trying, together, to help Oregon “put ourselves back together once again at the table.”

    Read all of Joy Harjo’s poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” and thanks to Cathie for sharing it

  • The Power of Questions

    Living here in Oregon, I’m a continent away from my dad, but we manage to keep really good conversations going about the issues affecting us in our different states. And he’s always sending me clips from his local paper or links to news articles.  Then we exchange long emails or phone calls about what we’re thinking. These exchanges remind me of the kitchen during dinnertime when I was growing up. More than anything else, I hear the noise of the six of us simply talking and discussing the things that mattered in our house, our family, our neighborhood, our town and beyond.  Even now, when we get together for a holiday meal, we come around to the really important issues in the public square. We shove our chairs back, pound the table, argue a little, get up for another helping, and keep talking.

    This week, my dad sent me an article he thought I’d like from the Boston Globe about how questions could drive learning, innovation, business strategy, and creativity and even help in our relationships with decisions makers.

    In “Are We Asking the Right Questions?” Leon Neyfahk writes, “Wielded with purpose and care, a question can become a sophisticated and potent tool to expand minds, inspire new ideas, and give us surprising power at moments when we might not believe we have any.”

    And it got me to thinking about what we’re doing here with Oregon’s Kitchen Table. This experiment relies on decision makers and our advisory board – a fantastic, dedicated group of civic leaders – working hard to make sure they’re asking questions that will inspire new ideas from all of you.

    Soon, we’ll be sending all of you who have signed up and taken a seat a series of questions (what we’re calling a “consultation”) about an important issue in our state. And even beyond that, we think that Oregon’s Kitchen Table will itself become a potent tool to inspire you to become interested in participating in public issues at the local, regional, and statewide levels.  We hope you will think about the kinds of questions we all need to be asking each other to get to the innovative ideas that will lead to good solutions in our state. And we hope you’ll take your questions back to the conversations you’re having at your kitchen table.

    As Dan Rothstein, who heads up the Right Question Institute, says:  “It’s essential to democracy. . . .You want citizens to be able to ask good questions.”

    Sarah Giles

  • Exercise Your Citizen Muscles

    Everywhere I look these days, that smart northern neighbor of ours, Eric Liu seems to be saying something provocative and wise, but his article in last week’s Atlantic, “Democracy is for Amateurs: Why We Need More Citizen Citizens,” was right over the plate in terms of what we are trying to achieve here at Oregon’s Kitchen Table.

    He lays it right out there—arguing that the work of democracy has become professionalized and that the majority of us have conceded our role as citizen to the practiced, the motivated, and the highly compensated. And, he argues –rightly so, in my opinion—that we need to redevelop our “citizen muscles.” As he puts it: “Citizenship is too important to be left to professionals . . . It’s time to democratize democracy again.”

    And, we’re trying to do some democratizing around here. Every Oregonian has something special to offer, no matter who we are or whether we’re regulars at town halls, seasoned PTA volunteers, new immigrants, or students recently turned on to public issues. The fact is, Oregon needs each of us, and we all need each other.

    As the German poet and playwright Gunter Grass put it: “The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.” And, I might add, her ears. Ours are open for what you have to say.

    So, check out Eric’s article. Leave a comment on our Facebook page. Send us a picture of your kitchen table (to info@oregonskitchentable.org or join our Flickr group). And, take a seat at the table!

    Wendy Willis

  • We want to hear from (and see!) you at the table

    As people across the state start to gather around Oregon’s Kitchen Table, we’d like to thank you! If you sign up by May 31, you’ll have a chance to win one of four collectible, mint condition 1959 Oregon Statehood U.S. Postage Stamps, donated by an anonymous Oregonian committed to bringing us together on the issues we care about most.

    On June 1, we’ll draw the names of four lucky people who’ve taken a seat at the table. Make sure to give us your address when you sign up – we’ll need to be able to mail the stamp to you if you win.

    We also want to get to know you! Send us a photo of you and your household, your friends, colleagues or neighbors at your own kitchen table. Send them to us by email (info@oregonskitchentable.org), post on our Facebook wall, or join our Flickr Group, Oregon’s Kitchen Tables, and submit there. Oregonians are a hospitable lot! We’re getting pictures of kids (what inspires you to make decisions about our state’s future?) and pets (what are the things that make you feel most at home?) and, of course, the tables where we all gather to talk things over.

    Here’s mine. In my household, we like to come armed with a recipe or two when we hash things out!

    Sarah Giles
    Recipe Reviewer (and PCI Special Projects Manager)

  • Bring your kitchen table wisdom to the public square

    Thanks for stopping by — pull up a chair and take a seat at the table!  It’s a rough world out there, and we have some serious things to talk about — Oregonians still need jobs, counties are going out of business, and we hear there’s more than a little mistrust of government.  But we know — and you know — that Oregonians are wise and compassionate and want to help out.  When we see that something needs to be done, we’re pretty good at coming up with an idea or two to tackle the problem. We want to talk over the issues and give some good advice to our decision makers.  And, guess what?  They want to hear it!

    We’re lucky to be here at this time, when we have the tools to take our dinner table conversations and smarts out of our kitchens and into the public square. During the month of May, we’re going to try to get as many Oregonians as possible to sign up for a seat at Oregon’s Kitchen Table. (Tell your friends! Call the neighbors!) Over the coming months, we’ll have a chance to weigh in on some of the issues facing our state.

    And if together we can make this experiment work, we’ll keep going.  We’ll bring the common sense wisdom of Oregonians to all kinds of issues facing our state.  Take a seat at the table.  And stay in touch.

    Wendy Willis
    Cook & chief dishwasher
    (and Director of the Policy Consensus Initiative)

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