Thursday, May 5, 2011

When voices make a difference in engaging structures

One of the concepts that we have continually discussed in the culture-centered approach is the vitality of communication as the gateway to social change. The idea built into the culture-centered approach is fairly simple: that when communities at the margins that have been historically erased from the dominant structures find a space in mainstream platforms, their wishes and desires no longer remain the sites of erasure. Rather, the articulations of agendas of community members working individually as well as in communities as collectives become the reference points for structural transformations. Voices of community members when engaged in dialogue with policymakers, program planners, and mainstream audiences, offer entry points to change through the creation of nodes of listening in these policy and program platforms.

This concept of listening to the voices of subaltern communities as an entry point to achieving change was beautifully elucidated at the PhotoVoice exhibit today that brought together the clients of Food Finders and local food pantries in conversation with food pantries (we had one area pantry represented) as well as with the staff and volunteers of Food Finders. Issues and problem configurations articulated by the food insecure participants in our project, both as individuals as well as collectives, were shared with the Food Finders staff and volunteers. Through the sharing of these issues, the leadership of Food Finders developed insights into the everyday problems of hungry community members who interact with the food pantries. In doing so, the leadership discussed strategies of addressing these problems, as well as discussed the possibilities of additional dialogues that brought Food Finders, the food pantries, and the food insecure into dialogues through group discussions.

Personally, the most gratifying part of this work for me was the viability of communication as a conduit for structural transformations. In the articulations of the Food Finders leadership, I heard articulations of changes in specific policies that marginalized the food insecure. That sualtern communities at the margins know and understand best their own experiences and therefore are the most insightful partners in developing solutions that are meaningnful them was once again reiterated through the project. The tremendous capacity of individuals facing food insecurity to throw deep-rooted insights into the everyday problems of structural injustices offers hope into the promise of CCA to create spaces for structural transformations through acts of listening that foreground the agency of communities at the margins. The stories that we had listened to as a team were also stories that were now starting to create avenues of change. Change that albeit looks small in the beginning, but change that I also believe is big in its fundamental acknowledgment of the fundametal dignity of the food insecure as active meaning-making agents.

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