New group promotes civic awarenessResidents Nan Lambert and Julie Coates-Draves first described the Awareness Project, which just moved into an office space at 208 S. Main St., as: “Two women with a big space trying to make a difference for democracy.”
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Residents Nan Lambert and Julie Coates-Draves first described the Awareness Project, which just moved into an office space at 208 S. Main St., as: “Two women with a big space trying to make a difference for democracy.”
They say the effort involves many people and the overall goal of educating and helping people in a non-partisan environment.
The Awareness Project does not have a political affiliation and is not a political action committee (pac), according to its organizers.
It does have 2,800 square feet of space and ideas of how to help.
Coates-Draves said she’s spent lots of time checking with Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board to make sure the group conforms to its boundaries.
For example, it can take a position on an issue but can’t financially support candidates and can’t do certain things during an election.
Both women say they didn’t want to put up a partisan wall between them and the community.
“We really want the door to be open,” Lambert said.
Coates-Draves said about the project, “We’re hoping this will become a kind of community education center.”
She and Lambert say the idea was born about six months ago during recall-election efforts.
Both women noticed people saying they wanted more opportunities to understand the issues -- to get past the media’s spin and tunnel vision on the contentious labor issue -- and get a more objective look.
Lambert said people asked her many civic-process questions as she gathered recall signatures, “I found myself doing a ton of education on the street.”
The women agree they want the Awareness Project to be broader than the things happening in the current political arena.
Coates-Draves said, “Our intent is to be here for the long term, whether there’s an election going on or not.”
While they agree that the collective bargaining issue may have sparked the concept, Lambert and Coates-Draves list a few of the many issues that state legislation affects: Health care, education, agriculture, the environment, women’s health, public safety, infrastructure, transportation and others.
People told the women they didn’t want to be affiliated with either party and they wanted help understanding the legal changes affecting voting. Coates-Draves and Lambert fielded such questions as: “Can I vote if I’m a felon?” “How do I obtain a voter ID?” and “Does redistricting affect me?”
The women noticed and heard in the post-recall period that different groups working together had no place to gather, meet and talk.
A series of small-group meetings and online conversations told the women there was overwhelming enthusiasm for starting the Awareness Project as well as a place to have it.
Lambert and Coates-Draves say they negotiated the lease agreement in August and moved in about two weeks ago.
“The idea there was to be aware of the issues that affect us and our lives,” said Coates-Draves.
The women say responses have been favorable to the project and its website.
Coates-Draves said the point is to focus on helping citizens become educated and informed about the issues affecting them.
They’ve hung voting-district maps on the wall and started a small library. They have a couple of spacious meeting places, which they say are also open to other community groups.
Both women recently became deputized to register voters and held the project’s first-ever event -- a candlelight vigil at Veterans Park on Friday.
Awareness Project might show movies, host educational speakers, and offer both resources and a place for dialogue.
Lambert said people seem to have forgotten how to agree to disagree. She said there’s a general need for society to realize its shared goals -- and says the project presents an opportunity for people to participate in a non-partisan way.
“We’re so much more alike than different,” she said.
She and Coates-Draves said the Awareness Project does not have set office hours but does have a phone number, a web site, and social media connections: 715-781-2790 and www.tapowwi.org.