A Night Out For Democracy

Saturday, August 10, 2013

By Alex Esparza

I had never been to a National Night Out (NNO) and I barely knew anything about it. My first exposure to NNO was when I heard that Justice for Families and Ella Baker Center were launching a campaign to reclaim this night for community by the community, choosing instead to call it “#NightOut4Democracy”.

These amazing organizations took it upon themselves to created a toolkit which included: an email invitation you could send to your friends and family, social media messaging to post to your Facebook and Twitter, and conversation starting points. 

I signed up for one of these toolkits to see what it was about and to figure out if I wanted to attend a local NNO. I realized the materials all held the idea that it was time to reclaim this event as something for the community by the community. We were being asked to transform our neighborhoods into communities, places where we see, not watch, one another.

I decided that I would attend an NNO event and found one just five blocks down from me. As the handy toolkit suggested, I was totally going to implement some of those amazing ideas and conversation topics and start some conversations with people I didn't yet know. 

When I arrived, I found that it was an event that very much mirrored the sentiment that Justice for Families and Ella Baker Center were trying to change. The police presence was extremely heavy with half of the booths being sponsored in some way by the Portland Police Bureau. 

The Portland Police had also been joined by the U.S. Army who were attempting to recruit people. I could only assume that both of these organizations were there to present some semblance of safety, but it left me feeling uneasy. Not to mention their presence lent the scene a kind of surreal amidst the music, playing children, and Zumba dancers. I realized that I didn’t know anyone there. I stayed for about an hour and then decided to leave, all the while wondering if maybe next year I could start my own #NightOut4Democracy.

Back at home, I was struck by a thought; I realized that it takes more than living in a house in some neighborhood to be part of a community . . . Maybe it was time that I got to know my neighbors in a meaningful way. It was time for a change and the toolkit that Justice for Families and Ella Baker Center offered was only an agent of change. A #NightOut4Democracy was just the beginning. 

Alex joined the Forward Together family in July 2013 as the Program Coordinator. He has spent majority of this life in the incredible state of Oregon, but originally hails from Tucson Arizona. He has worked in social justice, mostly through grassroots organizing, for over a decade. He graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in Sociocultural Anthropology, and also dabbled in getting a MA before deciding that school just wasn’t his bag. At the UO he was able to really enforce his commitment to Queer and racial justice; he also picked up the very useful abilities to navigate database systems, engage in social media pushout, and run office systems. He enjoys living in Portland, eating vegan foods of all varieties, and spending time with his partner. 

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