Building an Inclusive Civic Discourse

Global Detroit and The Center for Michigan team up to insure immigrant voices are part of important civic conversation.

Global Detroit’s Welcome Mat Initiative hosted two Community Conversations in May in Detroit and Hamtramck with a very diverse group of more than 30 participants whose journey to Michigan was from as far away as Uganda and Yemen, as well as a number of U.S.-born residents, to share their opinions in discussions on how to make Michigan’s government work better for the people of Michigan. Community Conversations are a project of the nonpartisan, nonprofit The Center for Michigan, publishers of Bridge Magazine, working throughout the state to amplify the voices of ordinary citizens and find common ground solutions for a more prosperous future. The Center will release a final report with the findings of the conversations and share the ideas and views of the participants with state leaders.

Topics explored during this year’s Community Conversations included state government services, management of the public purse, and oversight of Michigan’s political system. “These sessions were fantastic,” said Center for Michigan facilitator Dwayne Barnes. “The participation of immigrants in the conversation added a whole new dimension to the answers and comments which are vital to ensuring that we include everyone’s views in these meetings.”

Discussion around the election process brought out some interesting comments, especially from those who emigrated from countries governed by a dictator. 30 percent rated a high level of trust in the fairness of Michigan’s state elections. 90 percent voted to allow easier access to voting, with one participant suggesting we have too many elections and should consolidate them. Term limits had mixed results. Again, those who had experience living within a dictatorship felt that term limits were important to prevent corruption and the environment that fosters dictatorship. A number of people suggested keeping term limits but lengthening the actual term. Most did not trust in Michigan’s campaign finance system to balance the free speech right to financially support candidates while protecting elections from undue influence by special interest groups. More than 60 percent agreed we should require greater transparency.

Overall the participants in both sessions were grateful to have the opportunity to express their opinions on such an important topic and look forward to receiving a copy of The Center for Michigan’s report when it is completed within the next year. Before Global Detroit and Welcome Mat began scheduling specific meetings with immigrant groups, few immigrants participated among the estimated 10,000 residents who The Center for Michigan routinely engages on important Michigan policy issues each year. Last month’s Community Conversations represented the second year in a row that Global Detroit and the Welcome Mat sought to host such events. They represent a small, but important component of our ongoing efforts to build a more global region.

Missed the conversation but would like to share your insights? Participate in an online Community Conversation and make sure your voice is heard.


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