It is hard to get around in the city. Distances are long and public transport is unreliable, expensive, and not available in the evenings. Many people are unemployed or only have money to get to work and back with little left over to pay for transport to meetings. Walking to and from bus stops and taxi ranks, waiting outside and riding public transport can be dangerous for everyone – especially women.
It is hard to bring people together in these circumstances and it is not fair or inclusive if the only people who can organise and meet are those who have their own transport or can travel. At the same time it is also not sustainable to fundraise for transport for everyone each and every time we want to get together. So how do we effectively organise community assemblies and other meetings?
Days and Time
- Day time – The majority of people who work may not be able to attend meetings during working hours. People may be more flexible in the late afternoon but often have to rush to catch public transport home before it is too dark. But morning and afternoons may be good times for stay-at-home parents; elderly people who can’t come out at night; people who work from home, people who do shift work or whose working hours are flexible or who are unemployed.
- Evenings – People, especially women, who feed and care for elderly parents or children may not be able to attend meetings in the early evenings. It may help to schedule meetings a little later to ensure everyone is able to attend to their obligations. If the meeting is at night, make sure everybody has a way to get home or is able to walk home with someone they trust, especially in communities where it is not safe to walk around in the dark.
- Muslims may not be able to attend meetings on Fridays, especially around prayer time. Jews may not be able to attend meetings on a Friday evening or Saturday. Christians may not be able to attend meetings on Sunday mornings.
- Many people, especially women, are responsible for shopping, washing and other weekly household chores on the Weekend in the morning.
Transport and location
- Develop a culture where paying for your own transport is publicly acknowledged as a valued contribution to the collective.
- Encourage everyone to partner up. People with resources could regularly sponsor the transport costs of someone else without money having to be managed centrally. Encourage those who do have cars to give lifts.
- Take collective responsibility. Make a list of everyone who needs transport money home and pass a tin around at the meeting to try and raise the funds there and then.
- Organise locally. If we are organising where we live, then nobody has to travel too far. It may just be a short taxi ride or walk. Host smaller satellite meetings rather than one large meeting.
- Sometimes a meeting is the only way to bring people together. Especially when most people don’t have access to the internet, email or data on their phones. But we can use digital tools to help us beat distance and save time. Digital tools may be especially useful for women who want to participate but may have other obligations preventing them from taking the time.
- Not everyone always has to participate in a meeting for it to have standing. It more important for everyone to know what will be discussed, have the opportunity to join in if they wish, and know what the outcome is.
- Decide what actually needs a meeting. Meetings are best for resolving issues or making complicated decisions. Announcements, updates and administrative decision making doesn’t always need a meeting. These can often be communicated digitally.
- Do group calls. We can make better use of our time if we use group calls and online meeting platforms more often. It’s possible to listen in to a meeting while travelling home or while doing chores.
- You don’t always have to be in a meeting to participate in the meeting. Digital polls and ways to contribute ideas can help everyone participate and share their experiences. You can also share suggested decisions digitally and gather support or votes to choose final outcomes or ratify decisions that have been made.
- Many people, especially women, care for children and can only attend meetings and events if they have someone who can look after the children or are able to bring children with. Let’s create environments where children are welcome.
- Let everyone know when advertising meetings and events that children are welcome. Ask parents to look after their own children and where possible include children in the activities that are taking place. If it’s appropriate, children should be welcome to sit with adults in the meetings. Older children should be able to listen and join in.
- Alternatively set up alternative activities for children. If it is feasible then ask for volunteers to help care for children and rotate this duty. Men should be welcome and included in child care activities. We have a duty of care to children. Ensure their safety comes first.
- Often moms and dads feel more comfortable if they can see their children. Moving in and out of a conversation as child management requires should be encouraged but we should avoid a culture where parents sit outside the circle or at the back.
- Often children come in and out of meetings and events and parents may need to take a few minutes out to settle children or redirect their attention. Others may be more comfortable reading or working close to their parents.
- Fidgeting and moving about is normal behaviour for a child and we only need to intervene if we can’t work together to do what we need to do. Within reason expect a fair amount of noise and distraction as inevitable. Expecting absolute silence can mean the space is not inclusive for parents and they stop coming.