After more than six months of silence, the Chippewa Valley Transformation Project finally spoke up this week. It was not the clear statement of intent and focus the community should have expected.
Created in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, the project was first envisioned as a city-led task force. That morphed along the way into a different coalition that now has four co-chairs.
We’ve been asking for updates for a while. We were stonewalled. The co-chairs said they agreed among themselves not to speak until a press conference this week, a conference announced only after our reporter began asking where things stood with this initiative.
The co-chairs have unimpeachable credentials for this effort. Berlye Middleton, Ed Manydeeds, Dang Yang and MaiVue Xiong are familiar names to many, and have all been deeply involved in the community for decades. That is a good start.
But what we didn’t hear from Wednesday’s press conference was absolutely as important as what we did. We heard no specific goals. We heard no timeline, aside from hopes to launch a website in March. We heard no criteria by which the project can measure itself or be measured by others.
We understand many of the steps that might be taken in normal times are impossible, or at least inadvisable, due to the need to suppress the COVID-19 pandemic. But surely the elapsed time between last summer’s announcement and Wednesday’s press conference was enough to come up with targets, ambitions. Yet those were not provided.
Our concern comes down in large part to momentum. On Wednesday, Yang said the “narrative and interest in having these conversations have gotten to the forefront of people’s minds.” That was most certainly the case last summer, when Floyd’s death was fresh in people’s minds and the nation was focused on the outcry it prompted. But that attention has indisputably faded, along with much of the momentum.
That’s not surprising. It takes a phenomenal amount of work and effort to move American society when day-to-day concerns have crept back in for most people. It takes visibility, something this project denied itself with six months of silence.
Our frustrations with the current situation are born of the very importance of the issues this effort seeks to address. The holistic approach advocated by the chairs is a smart approach, but it is also more difficult. Addressing outdated ordinances or codes that can be changed with the stroke of a pen and a council vote is one thing. Addressing how people think and interact with each other is quite another. But lasting change inevitably depends far more heavily on the latter than the former.
Manydeeds made an important point on Wednesday. He said society has changed over the past several generations. It has indeed made progress. But the depth of that progress falls short of what society should hope for.
“Things changed, and then they stop,” he said.
He’s right. Improving society, improving ourselves, is a hard process. It takes work and dedication. It requires a willingness to be introspective and to confront hard truths. It’s never easy, but it becomes far more difficult when momentum is established only to be squandered.
We would encourage the project’s leaders to embrace accountability. Establish clear goals and when they hope to achieve them. It could be as simple as a timeline for getting the website up and running followed by community meetings, whether in-person or virtual. It could include dates by which the chairs hope to crystallize a mission statement that can guide their efforts or announce a set of guiding principles. Those steps don’t change the world, but they do offer opportunities for this group to remind the public of its ongoing work and the importance of that work.
Success depends on visibility. That’s why we asked for updates weeks ago and covered Wednesday’s press conference. But we cannot quote those who do not speak. We cannot cover a nonexistent event.
A tardy beginning need not doom the project’s efforts. But it does mean there’s some work to do catching up with where things need to be.
Fading into the background again cannot be an option.