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A Weekend of Advocacy, Placemaking, and Music

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On Saturday evening, June 23, we went to the Metzenbaum Center on Cedar Road in Chesterland for the annual dinner of the Geauga County Democratic Party. Over 200 people attended, which was almost double the attendees of the 2017 dinner.

Ms. Janet Carson, Geauga County Democratic Chairperson, attributed the high turnout to great concern over the policies of the Trump administration and the fact that the Ohio Democratic Party is running an excellent slate of prospective office holders in the November election on all levels: local, state, and federal.

Accordingly, the speakers for the evening were gubernatorial candidate Mr. Richard Cordray, 14th U.S. Congressional district candidate, Ms. Betsy Rader, and 8th District Ohio Court of Appeals Judge Melody J. Stewart, who also is a candidate for Ohio Supreme Court.

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Judge Stewart and Ms. Rader spoke about how their backgrounds have qualified them to serve in the positions they seek, while Mr. Cordray mostly focused on kitchen table issues like affordable health care, consumer rights, education, and the economy as they affect Ohio's citizenry in their day-to-day lives.

Each speaker only had three minutes to speak, so the only time immigration was mentioned was when Mr. Cordray noted that it was a key issue in the Republican gubernatorial primary between Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Mary Taylor.

Nevertheless, immigration was certainly discussed by those attending the dinner throughout the course of the evening. Along these lines, we dialogued with Ohio State Rep. John Patterson (99th District), who told us he and several other Democratic party state legislators had signed a letter to Governor John Kasich to thank him for constructively challenging certain immigration polices of the Trump administration and to urge him to be even more actively contentious in a productive manner.

Ms. Rader more than made up for not speaking about immigration on Saturday night (we understand she wanted to but was hampered by time constraints) at a vigil organized by her campaign on Sunday night, June 24, at Riverside Park in Chagrin Falls. At least 50 people attended. 

At the vigil, Ms. Rader said she couldn't imagine the struggles of people who have undergone hardship to come to the United States (in some cases fleeing for their lives) only to be confronted by the currently brutal policies of the Trump administration. She said she wanted this vigil to be a time for reflection and the creation of positive energy for all of its participants so that they do not succumb to emotional exhaustion and are able to devote themselves to what needs to be done to address this problem and find a solution.

Also speaking was Pastor John Werner from the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Jefferson. Pastor Werner displayed quiet strength and wisdom, along with justifiable outrage, as he noted that the young people who worked so hard and endured dangers to come to the United States had enough to contend with being "strangers in a strange land," thus they should have been welcomed with open arms. Instead our government placed them in cages he appropriately likened to dog kennels. He believed that Lady Liberty would be crying over this and urged us to continue to challenge the Trump administration on its immigration policies and do what we can to ensure that all families are properly reunited.

Ms. Rader encouraged other people who were present to say a few words so we spoke out about the need to enact a progressive package of immigration reforms which we think is long overdue, since genuine immigration reform hasn't taken place since the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, and we noticed that several people were nodding their heads in agreement.

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Earlier in the day on Sunday, we attended two other events, starting with a Common Ground 2018 conversation titled "Global Perspectives with Cleveland Shapers" that took place at Cleveland Co-Labs on Perkins Avenue from 10am until approximately noon. The theme/question to be explored in this conversation was "Why does place matter?"

Before we go further, we believe some explanations are in order along with links that explain things even further. Accordingly:

  • Common Ground 2018 is a program sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation consisting of approximately 20 community conversations held in various venues. As is featured on the Cleveland Foundation's website: "On June 24th community members, neighbors, families, and organizations across the region will host mealtime conversation about the future of our region. United by a common question, all Common Ground conversations have the same goal: to create spaces where meaningful connections are made and purposeful actions begin.
  • The Global Shapers Community is an international network of young leaders founded by the World Economic Forum. The mission of the Global Shapers Community is to empower youth to self-organize for impact and to amplify the voice of young leaders. With over 350 hubs world-wide, the Shapers Community is a network full of change-makers looking to positively impact the world. Here in Cleveland we believe there are hundreds of energetic citizens looking for a way to positively impact our city. Our hub's goal is to level the passion of this diverse group of young leaders to created local change through a local lens." 
  • Cleveland Co-Labs, short for Collaborative Laboratory, is a non-profit organization dedicated to social impact. Its mission is "to provide a platform for citizens, businesses and government to collaborate, solve problems, grow and positively impact their local communities."

Concerning our subject of conversation, Wikipedia defines placemaking as "a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspirations, and potential with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being."

All of the above purposes/missions/intents certainly came into play at this event, which was hosted by Ms. Anastasia Rokisky and Mr. Adam Dunn, both concerned young people who work with the above organizations to better serve their communities.    

First, we enjoyed some coffee, fruit, and vegan donuts (!) provided by the Vegan Donut Company before we got to business, which started with Mr. Kwame Botchway who immigrated to the United States from Ghana. He shared with us his own experiences regarding placemaking in his native land, which enjoys a more communal, less money-oriented culture than what we have here in the United States.

We then divided into groups and explored questions regarding "place" that we believe could be summed up as:
What particular places are important to you personally?
What makes it so special, taking into consideration their social, physical, and spiritual aspects?

In the course of the conversation, we talked about places here in the Cleveland area as well as our experiences with placemaking in different countries of the world, such as Italy, Canada, Japan, and Spain. For us, a common thread seemed to be that a memorable "place" was one that preserves tradition without been stuck in a time warp and has qualities that make us feel comfortable during our stay there.

We also talked about building bridges between different communities and/or places and how shared commonalities such as a love for a certain type of food and even hairstyles can be significant. We felt relaxed and were encouraged to say whatever we wanted as long as we followed the civility rules of Common Ground 2018, which included active listening, speaking from personal experience, and showing respect for the other participants and their points of view.

At the end of the morning, we were all asked to provide a word that could define our Common Ground 2018 experience. The one that we didn't provide (but someone else did) that really summed it up for us was "interconnectivity." We look forward to Common Ground 2019.

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The qualities/attributes of respect for one's community and the wish to preserve one's history/culture while moving forward were very evident at another event we attended on Sunday—the Liszt Concert at the Hungarian Cultural Garden, which was celebrating its 80th year of existence.

As a special treat, Ms. Carolyn Balough acknowledged that several people were present on this day who were also there as "kindergarteners" when the Hungarian Garden was dedicated back in 1938. These included Mr. Ernie Mihaly, Ms. Jeanette Gecsyi Brown, Mr. Richard Fleischman, and Mr. Theodore Horvath.

Dr. Zita Bencsik, the Hungarian Consul General stationed in Chicago, spoke for a moment and termed the Hungarian Cultural Garden to be a wonderful "jewel box" as well as a sanctuary for Hungarian culture and music. Likewise, Mr. Lel Somogyi, the Garden historian, gave a very informed presentation about the various architectural styles that contributed to making the Garden the lovely place it is today.

We have attended several concerts at the Hungarian Garden over the years, and once more, we appreciated the talents of Ms. Vera Holczer, Founder and Director of the Aurora School of Music and other talented musicians that included several who have studied with her. What stood out to us was the international nature of those beautifully performing the works of such composers as Liszt, Brahams, and Bartok, which included musicians of Dominican, Mexican, and African-American backgrounds.

As Ms. Holczer said with a smile, "Music is the language that connects us all."

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC

 

Aimee Jannsohn