The Hastings Democracy Project
The Hastings Democracy Project is an example of what is at the heart of the Minnesota Works Together intiative: citizens and government working together to tackle issues in cities and communities.
Located 30 minutes south of St. Paul, Hastings is a small city on the Mississippi River with a historic downtown. The city is experiencing rapid growth on its periphery as more people seek a small-town way of life and housing that is less expensive than in the nearby metropolitan area. Like most people, Hastings residents want to have a say and a role in making their community the best it can be.
Dave Schwinghamer, a participant in the first Hastings Democracy Project meeting, wrote a reflection that illustrates both the importance of community discussion and citizen action.
The global ferment to recreate grassroots democratic institutions has bubbled up in Hastings. On October 24, responding to suggestions from local citizens, Mayor Paul Hicks convoked an informal meeting to launch the Hastings Democracy Project. Thirty-four residents responded to the mayor’s invitation.
Mayor Hicks opened with a short explanation of the origin and purpose of the project. He welcomed Dennis Donovan of the Humphrey Institute’s Center for Democracy and Citizenship to facilitate a discussion aimed at explaining the purpose of the Democracy Project. Donovan spoke about Hubert Humphrey’s vision of citizen involvement in democracy and the Center for Democracy and Citizenship's role in promoting this vision. He then led the participants through a values house meeting designed to elicit answers to three questions: What is it about the city of Hastings that you value? What concerns do you have for the city? What actions would you propose in light of your concerns?
Group members identified strengths of the Hastings community, areas where there are tensions, and then suggested several courses of action, including communicating about this meeting to the wider community. They then evaluated the event, commenting on what worked well and what could be done differently next time.
Mayor Hicks volunteered to schedule a second meeting sometime in November and agreed to look for volunteers for a steering committee to help plan that meeting. The focus of the November meeting will be to plan the future direction of the Hastings Democracy project.
After the initial meeting, we are challenged to clarify our purpose: are we trying to form a new civic organization that responds to a particular set of issues, or are we attempting to foster the open, public exchange of ideas about community life and governance that is wider and deeper than the partisan political discourse we see in much of our society? Regardless, it seems that all agree: it is an important starting point for a more active citizenry.