Town Listening Projects: Listening to People’s Thoughts and Experiences on Gas Development
The Listening Project is a powerful organizing tool for nonviolent social change, especially useful in communities where conflict and disempowerment weakens efforts toward community development, justice, peace or protecting the environment. A listening project is an ambitious yet rewarding form of activism. It is rewarding because it is more about the process than the result, and there is much to be learned in the process, by both the listeners and the listened-to. One of the powerful qualities about the listening project is that is can be for something, not just against something. This makes it a positive, sustainable form of community engagement that strengthens communities making them more resistant to future threats and promotes the exercise of democracy at the most grassroots level.
The Listeners are citizens concerned about ways the natural gas extraction industry might impact our community but don’t want to force their ideas on others, and want to leave doors open. They want to understand their neighbors and explore issues in ways that offer new ideas and solutions. Using non violent communication and active listening skills, they ask questions that are a non-threatening invitation to people to share their views on gas drilling and their community. If people’s opinions are listened to with respect, their suspicion of talking to someone who may have a differing viewpoint quickly evaporates. In a trusting environment, people can explore how they feel about issues in ways they might not have before. In addition, a Listening Project can promote honest dialogue in a community about a controversial issue such as Gas Development. It can help construct a sense of solidarity between neighbors and help people feel that they aren’t alone in their concerns over gas development.
There are no real “results” to a Listening Project, since it is focused on process rather than an outcome. However, during the course of a Listening Project, some interesting and important things can result, out of an organic process which combines the specific needs and values of the community. Some possible results are:
- Identification of problems and issues that people care about.
- Inclusion of often unheard or unheeded voices.
- Fostering the emergence and development of new community leaders.
- Generation of creative solutions for community needs and problems.
- Dissemination of issue-related information and determination of needs for additional information.
- Encouragement of personal growth as all involved consider new viewpoints and information.
- Formation of uncommon coalitions and alliances through which diverse viewpoints can resolve – rather than clash over – difficult issues.
- Promotion of insight, empathy, and understanding among people with conflicting views.
- Creation of long-term capacity for grassroots community building.
The Listening Project can lay the groundwork for future projects, actions, and communication around the gas drilling issue, depending on the needs and desires of the community that is listened to. For example:
- A Community Rights Forum. Article 9 of the NYS constitution guarantees citizens the right to protect their health, safety and well being. Hold a forum in your community and motivate people to take back their democratic right to decide what kind of community they want to live in.
- A baseline water testing coalition. Collective water testing can be significantly cheaper. Larger groups can work with pollution monitoring organizations and county health departments to write grants for streams, wetlands and wells.
- Creation of a video documentary project with themes like energy and environment, corporations versus citizens, rural voices etc.
- Town forums, educational events and community petitions.
For the last couple years, the Van Etten Listening Project has gone door to door in Van Etten talking to people about their thoughts on Gas Drilling and development. We visited over 350 households and trained over 80 people in active listening and Listening Projects. Out of this experience, other listening projects are now sprouting up in the region.
The Listening Project Dispersal Program
Goal: To spread the model of the Listening Project in the Marcellus Shale area so as to provide a useful tool to organizers across the area and to help promote resilient communities that are inter-connected and better equipped to respond to crises such as the natural gas exploitation crisis. Our vision is to one day have a net-work of listening projects throughout the region, in every community that is facing drilling impacts.
Start a listening project in your community! We can provide the following assistance for starting your own project: curriculum, e-mail consultation, model questionnaires and other tools (to be modified to fit your community’s needs), and ideas/consulting for logistics and organizing.
In January 2009 we held 3 trainings in Van Etten and trained over 50 people from the Southern Tier, Northern PA and the Fingerlakes Region.
In November 2010, The Listening Project Dispersal Project trained 30 people in Binghamton, NY. Folks came from Vestal, Endicott, Sayre, PA, and elsewhere in Broome County, to be trained in how to have a LP in their community.
For help coordinating a Listening Project training in your community, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Help spread the Listening Project! With your support, we can reach many more communities with this important tool for rural and urban organizing around environmental justice issues, particularly the issue of hydro-fracking. If you would like to donate to this work, please contact us at: email@example.com
To receive PDFs of materials used for the Van Etten Listening Project, that can be edited and used for your own Listening Project, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For background information on the Listening Project concept visit Rural Southern Voices for Peace
For background information on Non Violent Communication techniques
An interesting video project using the LP concept
Why A Listening Project?
Why not just do a Canvass? A LP is just one tool in the toolbox of movement building, but it is perhaps one of the most important ones as it builds trust and interconnectedness between neighbors, while helping to identify community values (which are important for all future organizing work) and also identifying potential allies for LP organizers for future projects. It empowers marginalized voices by the simple act of truly and respectfully listening to people.
LP Actively Challenging “Divide and Conquer” corporate tactics: Through the process of respectfully and actively listening to people, regardless of their stance on the “gas drilling issue”, Listening Project organizers are actively challenging the gas companies’ and main stream media’s tactics of dividing and conquering low-income rural communities which pit people against each other on issues that affect their entire communities.
While canvassing can often be interpreted as invasive, Listening Projects can open doors and help the listener and listened-to learn and grow. It is challenging but very important & rewarding work.