Group plans FAIR chapter launch
If you believe you treat everyone equally, that you have an open mind, and that everyone has a unique identity, then you might be FAIR – or at least, be a member of FAIR.
“We’re hoping to bring a more common culture where we look at fairness, understanding, and humanity,” said Phil Clubb. “Those things mean we look at each individual as an individual – not as a part of a collective group.”
Clubb leads the newly-formed Owatonna chapter of FAIR – or the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, “a non-partisan group with a focus on advocating for civil rights for all Americans,” he said.
The local group will launch Oct. 30 with a presentation about advocating for children in public education.
The impetus to start a local FAIR chapter arose from another local initiative involving Clubb and education.
“About three years ago, several parents got together and started talking about things that were happening in Owatonna,” he said.
Blowups at school board meetings, disagreements about how COVID was handled with the Owatonna School District, and more started to appear on social media and in talk around town.
“The tone and tenor of the conversation was not what we thought was appropriate to get any sort of discussion moving,” Clubb said. “It was just words being thrown back and forth.”
He and others formed OPEN – Owatonnans Partnering for Education iNtegrity – and began meeting with not only school district officials and the school board, but with parents and other groups in town.
The goal was to “start developing some better dialogue,” Clubb said, “respectful dialogue about those topics.”
In the course of their work, OPEN members came across FAIR, he said, “and their pro-human approach, and found their message really resonated with us.”
Members of the organization came to Owatonna and gave a message during an OPEN event in April.
It was well received, Clubb said, with nearly 30 people from all walks of life having “an open, civil discourse” and conversations with people who were decidedly not like-minded.
“It was good to see people that you know wouldn’t agree on every single issue, sitting in the same room,” he said. “We’re hoping to continue that, to bring people together to talk about topical issues, where they may not agree with everyone in the room, but at least there can be the beginning of discussion.”
The creation of a FAIR chapter is to move beyond the topic of education.
“OPEN is very much focused on our local school district,” Clubb said. “And sometimes, when you focus on (a single issue), there are other topics that come up” that are out of that wheelhouse.
“FAIR has been a source of information and different ideas on other topics,” he said. “It opens up a network to communicating to people outside our (school) district, with different experiences, different points of view and different approaches.”
Intolerance and racism – heavy words in today’s society – aren’t exclusive.
“Those two terms can coincide with skin color, with political ideology, whatever,” Clubb said. “We aren’t all the same; groups (of people) aren’t all homogenous.”
He’s hopeful that OPEN has “set the groundwork that it will be a civil conversation, and as even-handed as we can be.”
That group, he said, wants to maintain the credibility it has built, “but we can benefit from FAIR, because not everyone is passionate about the education system. They may be looking at other issues.”
In addition to civil rights and liberties, the topics addressed by FAIR include human rights; free speech; issues in education, gender and medicine; hiring and admissions practices.
“A lot of those come into play in our community,” Clubb said. “FAIR has people who specialize in those topics, and look at it in the least partisan way, with the most common sense – in a way that can appeal to people on both sides of an issue.
“We view it as a way to start those conversations … in a ‘pro-human’ approach,” he said. “We bring it down to the issue, instead of making it about the person.”
The first topic FAIR will address – advocating for your child in public education – could be challenging and divisive, he said, because advocacy can take many forms.
“People may see the title and say, ‘I don’t want to go because I disagree with where it’s going to go,’ and we don’t want that,” Clubb said.
Instead, the introduction of FAIR to Owatonna will address “what advocacy for our kids looks like,” he explained. “Who can do it, what is it, what would be some possible needs for advocacy for our kids?”
The goal is simple, he said:
“Bring civil discourse to Owatonna, between groups of people that may have different views. That’s kind of the takeaway.”
IF YOU GO:
What: Launch of Owatonna Chapter of FAIR
When: 6:30-7:30 p.m. Oct. 30
Where: Owatonna Public Library
Why: Advocating for Your Child in Public Education
More info: fairforall.org