THE COMMONS CAFE

An Experiment in Fundamental Dialog

The Need for the Commons Cafe

There are two complementary trends in America: our issues are becoming more complex, while our avenues for meaningful dialog are becoming more superficial.

We do not encounter “The Other”: people who are not like “us”:
· ethnic/cultural differences
· class/economic differences
· generational differences
· ideological differences

We wind up talking to ourselves, or participating in staged events that polarize and enhance our differences.

The Commons Cafe provides an opportunity to participate in a dialog around fundamental issues in a safe environment. (The first round of the Commons Cafe is limited in size and group participation.)

The goal of Commons Cafe is not agreement, but honest communication across the barriers that separate us.

The goal is not convincing others, but building a stronger, more inclusive community.

The goal is not stump speeches or sound bites, but an honest quest for real solutions.

The Commons Cafe is an experiment. We do not have a pre-determined destination or point of view. We are “The Advocates of the Whole”: we do not advocate for any particular position - other than the position of inclusive community and a world that works for all.

The Vision: A few friends gather at a crowded coffee house. Conversation deepens. Fundamental issues are discussed. People at another table overhear and join the conversation, presenting a different point of view. The conversation is furious, but friendly. Everyone is focused on finding solutions, not trying to “win”.

The Format: Up to 40 cafe participants, from all walks of life, will gather at a pre-determined time and place.

In a relaxed, cafe-style environment, participants will gather in groups of 4 or 5 to talk about pre-selected issues (participants will not know the particular issue of the day in advance).

The issues will include:
· race/ethnicity issues
· class/money issues
· politics/citizenship/leadership issues
· values/morals issues

There may be a scribe at the table, but the goal is not to get “solutions” in writing, but to engage each other in dialog.

THE BENEFITS TO PARTICIPANTS

· Participating in an honest exploration of some of our fundamental social issues.
· An opportunity to build community in a safe environment.
· Communicating with “The Other” across barriers that separate us.
· To stimulate the conversation, a coupon worth up to $5.00 for Coffee People drinks and desserts (good the nights of the cafe only).

THE RISKS TO PARTICPANTS

The biggest risk is to a narrow point of view; the risk of expanding to a new reality. In the Commons Cafe, we all will learn something new.

THE POSSIBILITIES

It is possible the participants will develop new ideas and new solutions to old problems.

It is possible that the dialogs will lead to actions that will create a better world.

The First Commons Cafe

In the Fall of 1996, we invited sixty people from diverse backgrounds to attend the Commons Cafe. They met in cafe style, over coffee, tea and desserts. The tone of the conversations was friends/acquaintances meeting at a cafe to discuss issues.

Participants knew in advance that the Commons Cafe would discuss fundamental/essential issues like race/ethnicity; class; violence; power and other issues. They did not know in advance the particular issue on any given day.

The Cafe took place on a series of Tuesday evenings in November. Participants were seated at tables for 4 or 5, and had a stack of questions on cards in front of them. They were able to follow the cards, change the order, get up and have another cup of coffee, indulge in side conversations, and in many other ways be an organic part of an organic process.