By Jeffrey Potter, Biodiversity Project
Imagine what it would be like if you could gather everyone concerned about the future of the Great Lakes into one room. You’d not only need a really big room, you’d also be certain to hear a lot of diverse opinions. Yet this was the vision of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Biodiversity Project who announced their online Great Lakes Town Hall this week.
The Great Lakes Town Hall is a Web-based resource that seeks to provide a forum for the rich diversity of residents of the Great Lakes region. Together, the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces are home to more than 42 million people. The Great Lakes are at the heart of this community and Biodiversity Project’s new interactive Web site,www.greatlakestownhall.org, was designed to connect the many voices, opinions, ideas and experiences that shape our regional identity.
Biodiversity Project is launching the Great Lakes Town Hall as governments and citizens across the region debate major new proposals to promote water conservation and ban water exports, and provide billions of dollars in new public funds for restoring the health of the ecosystem. It also comes at a time when the lakes are under renewed threat from invasive species, sewage overflows, habitat loss, chemical pollutants, climate change and other problems.
“The Lakes are both magnificent and vulnerable,” said Jeffrey Potter, Biodiversity Project’s Director of Communications. “It’s more important than ever to engage our community in the future of our Great Lakes,” he added.
According to Potter, the Web was the most logical meeting place for a population living in an area roughly the size of France. “The size of the Great Lakes region makes it difficult to assemble citizens for meetings and action that could protect these treasures,” said Potter. “One way to span the great distances among communities is with electronic communication.”
Noted author and Great Lakes expert, David Dempsey, who served as an advisor to Michigan Governor Blanchard’s administration and was appointed by Bill Clinton to the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, is co-moderator of the Great Lakes Town Hall. Dempsey noted that, “Without leaving your home or business,you can join thousands of residents across the Great Lakes Basin and beyond to participate in the Town Hall community, creating and amplifying the public voice on Great Lakes protection and policy.”
The Great Lakes Town Hall includes a variety of resources, opportunities for interactive discussions, networking, and more. The site also includes lighter fare in its “Celebrate the Lakes” sections, including Great Lakes arts news, photos, tourism suggestions, and more.
Paige Wilder, manager for the Great Lakes Town Hall, explained the guest speaker role like this, “Each week we invite grassroots activists, artists, officials, physicians, parents, young people and others to offer insightful commentary on their Great Lakes experiences and views. Of course, we also invite site visitors to comment on their thoughts.
“We’re just getting started,” noted Potter who expects to build the audience over the next year. The site seeks inclusive engagement by valuing every voice, by promoting the site beyond traditional political circles, and by inviting anyone who has a stake in the Lakes from hunters and environmentalists, to conservatives and liberals, and First Nations, Canadians and U.S. Americans, to share their views.
Biodiversity Project hopes that their Web-based town hall will help Canadian and U.S. residents and grassroots groups showcase their achievements, broadcast their views, connect with each other, and reach the decision-makers whom they seek to educate on Great Lakes matters. “The best town hall traditions are inclusive and facilitate the expression of all perspectives,” concluded Potter. “Our only agenda is increasing public engagement in the future of our remarkable, yet vulnerable, Great Lakes.”
The Great Lakes Town Hall is funded by a grant from the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network & Fund. Dave Dempsey, serves as Town Hall co-moderator, inviting guest speakers, introducing the weekly featured issue, and otherwise facilitating discussion and information exchange between participants. The site is managed by Paige Wilder, Great Lakes Forever Program Assistant, with technical assistance from Tamara Tsurkan. Jeffrey Potter, Director of Communications Programs, oversees the project and contributes content as needed.
If you’re interested in visiting the Great Lakes Town Hall, simply log ontowww.greatlakestownhall.org on the internet.
For more information:
Jeffrey Potter, Biodiversity Project firstname.lastname@example.org