Neighborhood Theatre, a music venue in NoDa, is usually where you go to listen to nationally-known recording artists. Wednesday night was a little bit different.

Approximately 200 people did show up to listen, but not to music. “We Are Listening: Gathering to Understand Issues and How to Work Together” was a community discussion focused on “activating causes that we care about.”

If that sounds vague it’s because those causes were up for discussion. Beau Willimon, creator of “House of Cards,” started the organization Action Group Network after the election as a way to facilitate action groups across the country. He’s led programs like this one in St. Louis, Los Angeles and San Francisco. By the end of 2017, he expects to have led sessions in all 50 states.

After an introduction to the process, members of the community had the chance to speak for a couple minutes about causes they were passionate about, and about the actions they’d like to take.

One skill that Willimon brought to the gathering was the ability to cut to the chase — that is, draw out the actionable item. In several cases, community members discussed their concerns but thought there was no action plan, until Willimon pointed out that they had mentioned a “to do” item, but just hadn’t realized it.

The idea that there are things we can do to effect change is powerful and necessary right now.

Then, based on the issues that had been addressed, Willimon grouped those issues into several categories and found a volunteer to lead each one. Attendees found the groups that they were most interested in, and that’s when the work started. The goal was to connect with each other and to come up with a first step — what they wanted to accomplish before meeting again.

The resulting categories:

  • Education.
  • Women’s health and reproductive rights.
  • Environment and climate, including factory farming reform.
  • South Carolina issues.
  • Government and politics, especially gerrymandering and the upcoming North Carolina congressional redistricting.
  • Small businesses.
  • Community conversation — for example, connecting people with different perspectives, and facilitating dialogue between police and youth.
  • Health and wellness, including access to healthy food.

Although Willimon’s political leanings are to the left, Action Group Network doesn’t dictate the agenda of any group, as long as it is not racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic or in any way bigoted.

The Action Group Network’s website is in its infancy, but eventually it will include a list of action groups that have join the network. The best way to stay informed right now is to sign up for the email list on the website. If you sign up, you’ll receive an email with a list of the different action groups that were formed, and learn how to get involved.

And that’s a start.

Photo: Jody Mace

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