Monday, March 21, 2011

Equality NC Takes Back the Town Hall Meeting

The town hall meeting concept has taken a hit of late, evolving from simple public meetings to scenes of violent scuffles, most recently witnessed during the vitriolic health care debates of 2009. Night after night, in town after town, media outlets projected images of Congressional members placed in the proverbial firing lines of embittered constituents, changing the face of these public forums from havens of dialogue to hotbeds of anger.

But last week, Equality North Carolina “took back” the town hall meeting concept when representatives from the statewide LGBT rights organization hit the road to harness the energy of citizen engagement...this time “for good.”

Productive Dialogue on the Proposed Constitutional Amendment
The EQUALITY IN ACTION Tour—a series of statewide town hall meetings devoted to civil discourse surrounding the proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, among other issues from the General Assembly—kicked off March 17, from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem.

Instead of harkening back to the more polarizing town halls of old, in this fair-minded forum from the Triad, Equality NC began responding to the public’s desire for answers and action against the amendment, and, in the process, enlisted help from a packed room representing the majority of North Carolinians supportive of legal recognition for the state’s gay and lesbian couples.

Equality NC Executive Director Ian Palmquist and Director of Community Organizing and Outreach Rebecca Mann led dozens of statewide LGBT supporters through the ins and outs of the proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, as well as other local legislation that could potentially impact all who care about equal rights.

Engaging Grassroots and Grasstops
Following an informative presentation and Q&A on pertinent legislative issues such as the
anti-LGBT amendment, participants broke into smaller brainstorming sessions devoted to the many ways that local communities can become more involved in Equality NC’s grassroots and grasstops efforts.

From the grasstops, concerned citizens participated in group discussions on the best ways to address concerns and seek support from prominent political, business, and civic leaders in their local communities. Supporters were also encouraged to “get back to their grassroots” by “writing” anti-LGBT wrongs in the EQUALITY IN ACTION postcard campaign—a powerful way to bring the anti-LGBT amendment issue to light while also letting local legislators know that fair-minded voters in their district care about equal rights.

The EQUALITY IN ACTION Tour Comes to You

Following the success of the Winston-Salem kick-off, the EQUALITY IN ACTION Tour will take off across the state in separate town halls in Durham (March 22), Charlotte (March 24), and Greenville (April 6), as well as future events slated for Asheville, Raleigh, and Wilmington.

New Ways of Engaging
Can’t make a town hall meeting but still want to get involved? The power and principles of EQUALITY IN ACTION are also available in online advocacy, including:

Supporters can recruit friends and family to join the Equality North Carolina Action Network so they too can receive important local alerts and updates on legislative affairs affecting them.

Help us fund this important fight. Join our statewide movement against LGBT discrimination with a donation to Equality North Carolina today.

To quickly and easily share news and information with friends, fans and followers, supporters can join Equality North Carolina where they already are—on Facebook ( and Twitter (@equalitync).

The ENC social media mobilization extends to the town hall meetings themselves as supporters who cannot join us at each event can follow the @equalitync action on Twitter at the hashtag: #equalityaction. Share resources, ask questions, get answers, and make your voice heard—however virtually.

Because, in the end, the goal of these meetings is not simply to reframe town hall rhetoric, but rather to speak civilly to the rights and respect at stake—for all.

-Jen Jones, Equality North Carolina

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