NEWARK, NJ - A local media organization is bringing a community project to Newark this fall meant to make underrepresented urban voices heard, connecting people from diverse backgrounds and providing new perspectives to their political leaders. 

The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University is offering Voting Block,  a dialogue journalism project intended to amplify the voices, concerns and opinions of residents regarding political issues in four New Jersey cities: Newark, Camden, Paterson and Trenton. 

Over the next three months, 10 residents in each city will share three meals where they will discuss the issues that matter to them. The goal is to connect people of diverse ages, ethnicities, religion, political leanings and priorities -- people who otherwise might never connect in an often fragmented social landscape. 

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This bonding experiment also hopes to achieve practical goals. Participants will invite a policymaker of their choice to attend one of the meals to participate and discuss politics in a civil setting. This experience will allow participants to speak directly to legislators who are making decisions that impact their lives. 

Tapinto Newark will partner with each dinner group to tell their stories. Participants will be encouraged to record videos after each dinner documenting their reactions to the conversation. After the third dinner, the Voting Block project will work each participant to help them write an essay about the project and the political issues that most impact their lives, with the essays then being published. At the end of the project, a "People's Agenda" will be compiled based on the needs identified by residents during the dinners and send those agendas to local legislators. 

TAPinto Newark participated in the 2017 Voting Block initiative. 

"For journalists, this series of dinners is intended to serve as a grand experiment in dialogue journalism -- the art of covering an issue by generating and participating in thoughtful and informed conversations among diverse viewpoints," said Manya Brachear Pashman, the Voting Block coordinator. "It is based on the simple notion that inspired me to become a journalist in the first place -- dialogue across difference is central to democracy. It's up to journalists to foster that."

Three dinners (one a month) will take place on a Sunday or Monday evening in October, November and December, with the first to take place in the second half of next month. 

Voting Block is supported by a grant from the New Jersey Community News + Information Fund of the Community Foundation of New Jersey, a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

Voting Block will also provide stipends of $100 each to community groups in fall 2019 who want to host their own Voting Block-style Political Potluck. 

Please click here if you'd like to participate.