President's Perspective

The Drum Beat Gets Louder

Denise Fairchild

The drums are beating louder than ever.  At last.   A growing interest in ‘community and equity inclusion’ seems palpable, especially in the world of sustainable and economic development.  I have spoken and participated in a half dozen conferences and meetings on this topic in just the past three months. The discussions and growing recognition of ‘equity’ and ‘inclusion’ are as diverse as the factors driving the concern.  And while a growing number understands its importance, they also understand that they don’t know how to do it.
The Building Trades are part of this drumbeat. The standing room only workshop on labor-community partnerships at this month’s Building Trades legislative conference highlights a genuine interest in effective ways to do this. After 4 years of the Great Recession, the ‘benches” are finally clearing.  Construction jobs are picking up and many parts of the country will soon face critical labor shortages in this sector.  Community inclusion is critical to filling the workforce pipelines with young people from largely communities of color.  And effective community partnerships are needed to help recruit, train, and retain participants, as well as advocate for and support union construction jobs.
The business community is part of the drumbeat.  The “local hire” movement continues to grow among city and county officials. It has become a critical tool in their local economic toolbox.  This, however, requires businesses to change their hiring and other business practices if they want to do business with local government.  Even minority contractors are learning responsible contracting through, for example, our E-Contractor Academy.  
PolicyLink, an ECC Board member, has been the most resolute and consistent in beating the drums for equity.  They empirically document  “equity as the superior growth model”.   It is not only the right thing to do, but also businesses and regions do better if no one, especially historically marginalized groups, are left out of regional economic strategies. 
Finally, government officials are joining the growing drumbeat as they query how to best build resilient cities with equity as a centerpiece. It is clear that communities vulnerable to extreme weather conditions need to participate in the planning and implementation of plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change.    Putting the ‘public’ back into public spaces is part of the theme of ICLEA’s upcoming international conference on Building Resilient Cities in Vancouver, B.C.  This was also the topic of HUD’s recent Sustainable Communities Leadership Academy.  Teams from 18 cities participated in this 2-day workshop facilitated by PolicyLink and the Institute for Sustainable Communities.
It was at the HUD conference, however, that it became clear that making the case for inclusion is less important as learning “how to do it”.   After all, it is not easy.  The challenges are layered by denial, cynicism, lack of efficacy, power dynamics and sense of powerlessness, anger and more that come from generations of exclusion and tokenism.  
While the process is not easy, there are simple answers.  It takes, first and foremost, a level of comfort and confidence in the capacity of people to fully and effectively engage. It requires grassroots organizing.  And, lastly, it takes institutional structures to allow for that full participation. Arnstein (1969) identified 8 rungs on the ladder of participation.  What rung are you on?  Steps 6-8 require new ways of doing business.  I hope we can keep the drum beat growing. Equity and inclusion is the way forward for everyone. 

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