by Paula Reynolds-Eblacas

Chris Majer was right when he wrote in The Inlander ("Of Cynics and Strawberries," 7/10/03) that the local press and the general public has demonstrated "a profound lack of understanding about the purpose, process, status and results of One Spokane."

Majer was wrong, however, in writing that One Spokane is not about poverty.

Like Majer, I helped organize the One Spokane Summit. Though my involvement on the "event design subcommittee" was only for a few intense months, it preceded Majer's by several. Along with Cathy McGinty, the VOICES program coordinator, I represented low-income viewpoints.

Mayor John Powers explained to the committee that in campaigning and in the first few months after taking office, he met with hundreds of individuals and groups, asked them what they wanted him to focus his term upon, and received a consistent response: poverty.

Rather than reinvent broken wheels or propose additional Band-Aid solutions, the mayor pursued the idea of bringing the community together to arrive at better and long-lasting solutions.

One Spokane was designed to be the first step in the creation of a culture for dialogue and inclusive, relationship-driven decision-making. The intent is to address the long-term abatement of poverty.

The May 2002 summit did not directly focus on poverty, but poverty received prominent play. The Spokane Regional Health District distributed to delegates its report, "Facing Spokane Poverty," produced in conjunction with One Spokane. McGinty, still a One Spokane co-chair, spoke at the summit. Let 'em Rip, the actors' troupe from VOICES (Voices for Opportunity, Income, Childcare, Education, and Support -- a grassroots organization of low-income people who advocate on their own behalf) gave a powerful debut performance at the summit's opening night -- for free, and to a standing ovation. Low-income delegates were at the summit, specifically to represent the low-income community.

Introducing the non-poor and the poor to one another so that education and relationship-building could begin to occur was one summit purpose. Within the work of the summit -- the creation of a vision for our future Spokane -- the non-poor and the poor were to begin dialogue that would begin bridging perspectives, chipping away at negative stereotypes and moving us closer together as a community. Again, the summit was to be a first step.

Majer's explanation of the basic elements of community transformation contains one flaw: That a small group should disregard what others have to say and should plan our community's future is counter to the idea of One Spokane.

Constructive criticism -- feedback -- is imperative in producing the results One Spokane desires. Thinking that we cannot be wrong, that the critics are unproductive cynics and that we have nothing we need to stop and think about, to improve upon, to reassess and redo, is not a mindset that will allow for transformational change.

Majer also errs in blaming the "alms for the poor crowd" for the elitism charge at One Spokane. The elitism charge actually emerged out of a front-page Sunday article in the Spokesman-Review ("One Spokane hasn't spent much on poor," 6/1/03).

The charge, not attributed to a source, appeared to have no specific relevance other than to two young single moms' complaint that One Spokane had failed to deliver immediate prosperity to their doorsteps.

In addition, the story failed to mention the involvement of VOICES, failed to quote McGinty or mention her involvement as a co-chair or a summit speaker, failed to quote any other low-income or poor person who actually attended and failed to point out that the poor were represented by delegates at the summit.

Not only should normal research have revealed the involvement of low-income people at the summit and in its design process, but editors should have also recognized problems regarding fairness, accuracy and credibility and that the article's significant omissions could influence public perception of the project as well as other matters.

The silver lining is renewed interest in and dialogue surrounding One Spokane. If we can move past the controversy, we can move ahead to a closer look at the Summit Delegate Report.

Three hundred-plus Spokanites -- representing an impressive cross section of the community, including poor people -- took their roles as summit delegates seriously and spent an exhausting day producing the genesis of a design for a beautiful, compassionate, inviting, friendly, sustainable and comforting place for us all to call home.

A cynic would say we cannot make their vision reality. As for that mindset, I agree with Majer: We have no use for it. Will McDonough demonstrated that neither ability nor technology is holding us back. It is only our will that is in question.

Paula Reynolds-Eblacas was raised in poverty. A combination of the social services safety net, personal responsibility and good fortune allowed her to advance to doctoral candidacy at the UW, where she has taught journalism and other communications courses. As an AmeriCorps/VISTA worker, she served Spokane for nearly three years as a poverty-fighter and is now a consultant.

Publication date: 07/31/03

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