Contributed by Guest Blogger, Dora Leland:
On Thursday, March 9th, a truly amazing thing happened- I watched my community come together: not to protest, or to complain, or even to convince each other of a certain perspective. Rather, the community came together to learn. There were well over 200 concerned citizens that attended a community gathering at the Elk’s Club in Elmira. Some came to learn about issues facing the environment, others were concerned about healthcare. Whatever the motivation for attending, one thing was obvious- there is an activist movement growing in the Southern Tier.
The community gathering was sponsored by the Chemung County Democratic Committee. The issues presented included Healthcare, the Environment, Education & the Arts, Diversity, Governmental Powers, Veteran’s Affairs, Women’s Issues and Worker’s Rights. Local experts were invited to facilitate discussion on each issue by providing resources, contact people as well as to answer questions.
The event began with an introduction and welcome from Chemung County Democratic Chair Jim Carr. He set a positive tone by emphasizing the goal for the evening- to get to know one another and to discuss issues that matter. Leslie Danks Burke inspired the crowd by urging attendees to continue to be informed and involved.
I spent most of the evening heading the Worker’s Rights table with fellow unionists, Steve Panton, Bob Holden, Brian Batrowny and Jack Schamel. Each of these people have long term experience working with unions and fighting for rights for workers. We provided attendees with information critical to the labor movement. I was so inspired by each and every person I spoke with. Each had a genuine interest and concern for workers and the challenges facing unions today. We discussed issues such as the threat of growing Right to Work legislation, the harmful impact a NYS Constitutional Convention could have on New Yorkers, and ways labor can reach out to the community. It was apparent that there was widespread support within the room for workers and protecting their rights.
Although I spent a great deal of time discussing Worker’s Rights with participants, I was able to visit each table to meet the facilitators. I was immensely impressed by the knowledge and passion each had for his/her respective issue. Each group of facilitators had a wealth of information as well as contacts and resources for further study.
Overall, I felt this Community Gathering was a huge success and just the beginning of a growing movement within the Southern Tier. I was moved by the passion with which people asked how they could become involved, and how they could make a difference. People came to this event with a genuine concern and desire to be a part of the change they want to see in their community. This gives me hope.