Democracy at its best in Peekskill Community Congress convenings

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead would be proud of the 150 Peekskill residents who showed up last Thursday at the second Community Congress because they were putting into action one of her most well known observations:

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Designed by Jenn Giachinta

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The change Peekskill Community Congress participants are looking for involves preserving and promoting a strong Peekskill. The concept behind the congress involves ordinary people having more say over the decisions that affect their lives. The non-partisan initiative gives people the opportunity to say what they care most about, to identify shared priorities through a community-wide vote, and to engage in becoming part of the solution.  

“The Peekskill Community Congress is the 21st century way of doing democracy,” said Jason Angell who moderated the event that was free and open to the public. Each person received a coupon for a beer from Peekskill Brewery or a cup of coffee when they signed in. After the formal part of the evening was completed people were invited to sample food from the Brewery and other local restaurants and talk to each other about the ideas put forth. 

Such a format started in Philllipstown where residents voted in 2017 for the top ideas presented by citizens. Those ideas are now becoming a reality.  

The desire is the same for Peekskill according to Angell and Jocelyn Apicello of the Ecological Citizens’s Project, a non-profit based at Longhaul Farm in Garrison. They believe that problems of the scale our society is confronted with require widespread cultural change such as deep shifts in values and the way the world is viewed.  There also needs to be individual changes in living along with growing participation to push for responsible, systemic change.

Angell and Apicello work with two categories of people: young people bringing their idealism, intelligence, and innovation to the task of winning progress and citizen-leaders bringing wisdom, experience and power to their work for community, regional and societal change. They believe these are the leaders that will serve as a bridge to a more sustainable future.

The couple started meeting Peekskill community leaders in the spring of 2018 and began planning the three Community Congress events. The first Community Congress was at  the United Methodist Church in December with about 100 people in attendance. That event yielded 12 ideas. Eleven more priorities were presented at the Peekskill Brewery Congress last week. The third and final community congress is set for  Saturday, February 9 at Peekskill Middle School at 10 am.  Sign up at www.peekskillcommunitycongress.com to rsvp to the event. Residents with ideas to present at the Feb. 9 Congress can also sign up at the website. 

“We need innovative ideas to move forward,” Angell told the crowd at Peekskill Brewery. “It’s very easy for people to complain, but it takes courage to step up and offer a solution,” he said.

Every person that presented had three minutes to pitch their idea. Ideas presented at the first Community Congress included: Keep Peekskill Walkable, Keep Peekskill Informed, Peekskill Comprehensive Plan, One Plan and We Train, Resident Code Enforcement Committee, Non partisan Peekskill Elections, Community Arts Space, Commercial Storefronts in Downtown, Peekskill Music Center, Renter’s Insurance Education, Peekskill City for the Arts, Redevelopment of Lower South Street. 

Priorities presented at the second congress were: Cherry Blossom Festival, Clean Up the Street Garbage, Paramount Community Advisory Board, Safer Intersections, Peekskill 2030,Youth Center, Volunteer Ambulance Corps Recruitment, Bus Transportation, Intercultural Inclusion Committee, Protect our Immigrant Community, Crisis Intervention Team. 

After the third congress, each person that put forth an idea will be asked to write a paragraph about their proposal that will be put on a ballot. Ballot’s will be mailed to every household in Peekskill and any Peekskill resident age 13 or older  has the opportunity to vote via the mailed ballot or online. 

Results will be announced at another Congress in the spring.