More than 400 Oregonians
gave up their Saturday to talk politics and budgets as part of a nonpartisan national town hall called AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our Economy
The June 26 foundation-funded
event gathered thousands of people from across the country for simultaneous meetings in 20 cities – including Portland
– to discuss the nation's economic priorities.
Many participants in Portland felt the questions or answers they could choose from were too narrow and didn't give them the opportunity to accurately express their views on tough topics. At one point during questions about defense spending, someone asked the rest of her group, “How many people think this is a bullshit question?” Everyone else raised their hands – one of the few times they all agreed on something.
But for that many opinionated people in one room, the discussions were surprisingly polite. Voices were rarely raised. And, as far as I could tell, not one coffee mug was hurled. The day was broken down into themed discussions as participants went through their workbooks one section at a time with others at their table on everything from how much should be cut from our health care spending to similar discussions about Social Security and defense spending.
After all the discussion periods, each group had a chance to review its choices and how those choices reflected (or didn't reflect) the deeper values the group held. It seemed pretty difficult for even the six people at a table to agree on any values they had in common. “I have a compromise,” one participant said, “how about we say we don't have any
will present the results from the day's discussions and polling to Congress, President Obama, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and the Bi-Partisan Policy Center's Debt Reduction Task Force. The idea is that those decision-makers in Washington will take our priorities into account.
Who knows if that will happen. But regardless of whether any group actually came to an agreement regarding our country's economy, the event provided an opportunity and a civil environment for people to speak to and question one another. It also gave people a chance to find out why
there is disagreement. “We have core values in conflict,” said one participant. “Everyone wants to leave the world better for their kids and grandkids, we just disagree on how to do it.”