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Wrapping up Our Second Year of Monitor Notes

Welcome to Monitor Notes, a weekly roundup of news items, event announcements, and updates on past Bay Area Monitor articles.


Seeing What Resonates: On Connection and Engagement


In May, I did something I’ve talked about doing but always found excuses to play hooky. I attended my community’s school board meeting to hear about budget cuts and ideas for how classes may run in the fall — topics that made me, and nearly 100 other parents signed into Zoom that night, a captive audience. Turnout for this virtual summit apparently crushed that of in-person gatherings that were the norm before the pandemic blustered in.

This wasn’t just newfound interest in school matters. I’ve served on parent-teacher organizations and volunteered in classrooms. But a 6 p.m. school-night meeting in a pre-pandemic world never made the grade. It always competed with dinner or sports practice pick-ups.

I wasn’t the only one feeling challenged. Advocates at SPUR summed up participation barriers in a June 8 piece about public outreach: “Even before COVID-19, public engagement was typically not that engaging, often failing to reach the public it was meant to engage.”

But as local government and community organizations try Zoom and other new approaches to connect safely with residents, they’re also getting a chance to re-think lines of communication and see what resonates.

California state Senator Scott Weiner, who’s been hosting virtual town halls during shelter-in-place, acknowledged in a May 4 Medium article that it’s not ideal to hold town hall meetings virtually. But they reach “far more people than live town halls and engage many people who likely wouldn’t attend a live town hall. So, that’s a silver lining in terms of connecting with and engaging more and more people I have the honor of representing.”

For weekly email newsletters like Monitor Notes, individuals’ heightened need for connection this spring reinforced our mission: helping people get involved in local and regional policy decisions affecting air quality, open space, water, housing, and transportation. These issues are often considered with respect to equity, and the urgency is even more pressing now amid growing calls for social justice. As we all sheltered in place, there were numerous educational webinars, feedback-seeking surveys, and informative articles to share.  

So, as we approach Monitor Notes’ two-year anniversary, we’re happy to see that our subscriber base is climbing. However, we have our work cut out to continue growing.

While the future of our Bay Area Monitor print magazine remains hazy due to funding constraints detailed in recent editions, the Monitor Notes email newsletter will continue to provide news and announcements. About this same time last year, I wrote that my editor Alec MacDonald and I treat the newsletter as a work in progress. The same holds true today. As a publication, we’ll work to strengthen our network over the next year so we’re connecting with more local leaders, groups, and organizations that are building community and awareness.

The ways in which you choose to act can take a variety of forms. Maybe it’s attending a virtual meeting and asking questions in comment boxes, or emailing a public official with feedback on a draft proposal? We’re about to mark Independence Day. So you also may be choosing to participate in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest to help ensure a more unified future in your community.   

Emails I’ve received recently from Notes readers are a testament to the ways in which people are rising to the challenges that need attention and creative solutions. One reader asked if she could volunteer at League of Women Voters’ voter registration booth stationed at a recent protest. Another said she is planning to read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and was interested in finding others to discuss the book with her.  

Later this summer, Alec and I will spend time talking about goals for Notes as the email newsletter begins its third year of publication. Do you have suggestions? Are you involved in a group that should be on our radar? We really appreciate reader feedback and hearing about what you’re doing in your community.

I’m taking this month off to spend time with my family, but am including some articles and participation ideas below that may interest you. See you in August!


Monitor Notes is produced by Cecily O’Connor. To receive it by email, scroll to the bottom of this page, enter your email address in the box under “RECEIVE EMAIL UPDATES,” and click the red “SIGN UP” button.


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