Connecting Community through Civic Partnerships
How El Tímpano is strengthening a web of community connections
No one word better summarizes what El Tímpano heard from the hundreds of immigrants who contributed to our information ecosystem assessment four years ago.
In community meetings, surveys, and conversations, Oakland’s Spanish-speaking residents repeatedly brought up their desires to get involved, take action, raise their concerns to elected officials, or access local resources, and their frustrations that they did not know where to start.
“I want to sign my kid up for summer programs, but by the time I find out it’s too late.”
“I want to prepare for an earthquake, but I don’t know how.”
“WE know what our issues are; we want our stories to go farther.”
With the notable exceptions of a church, library, or grassroots organization, many immigrant Oaklanders felt disconnected from local news, resources, and opportunities. They knew the information that could improve their lives was out there, but they didn’t know where or how to access it.
And immigrants weren’t the only ones who expressed a feeling of disconnection. As part of our information ecosystem assessment, I sat down with editors of local news outlets who recognized that their newsrooms lacked relationships with immigrant communities. Because of that, they acknowledged, their coverage suffered from critical blindspots. Municipal workers and community advocates shared similar concerns. They made efforts to reach non-English-speaking residents, such as translating their newsletters or offering interpretation at community forums, but they knew that those steps fell short of effectively reaching and authentically engaging the vast majority of immigrant residents.
Meeting with stakeholders, it was clear that there was a shared desire to bridge cultural, linguistic, and digital divides. What was missing was a blueprint and dedicated capacity to make that happen.
Creating a web of connections
These insights directed El Tímpano to focus on building relationships — not only with audience members, but with a constellation of community resources. Community members made it clear that one of the most important roles of local media is to facilitate connections. To create or strengthen the infrastructure that connects residents to local resources, events, and opportunities to take action. And that facilitates ways for residents to not only receive information, but to raise their voices and be heard by neighbors, community leaders, and elected officials.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored just how critical such connections are. Scholars of community resilience point to social connections as a critical factor in allowing communities to respond to and recover from a crisis.
For this reason, El Tímpano has invested in building relationships with and fostering connections between community members, non-profit service providers, government agencies, civic leaders, and other media outlets. Below are a few examples of what those partnerships and connections have looked like this past year:
- In response to calls to defund the police, the Oakland City Council formed a task force to reimagine public safety. El Tímpano was one of several community partners that helped surface the experiences and ideas of residents from communities most impacted by public safety and policing to contribute to the task force’s work.
- When the Native American Health Center partnered with FEMA to open a community vaccination site in the Fruitvale neighborhood, El Tímpano, along with other members of Resilient Fruitvale, helped raise awareness and sign up East Oakland residents. Unlike other vaccination sites that served primarily white residents who learned about them first, the NAHC site was a successful example of community-based organizations coming together to address inequities in COVID-19 vaccinations.
- When local health reporter Sara Kassabian reported on household toxins for The Oaklandside, we partnered to surface questions and stories from Latino and Mayan immigrants, and share practical resources and information with our audience.
- We used our SMS platform to spread the word among parents about Trybe’s online youth art classes, resulting in enough new signups for the community organization to hold a class designed specifically for Spanish-speaking parents and their kids.
- Many of our SMS subscribers lack home internet or digital skills, which is why, when sharing information or resources, we always look for alternatives to websites and emails. Throughout the next year, as a partner of the Town Link program, El Tímpano will connect Latino and Mayan immigrants with organizations and resources that provide technology, internet access, and digital literacy training.
Beyond such partnerships, every week in response to questions from our SMS subscribers, we direct people to legal aid organizations, food distribution sites, city council members’ offices, mental health resources, and other organizations where they can receive the services or information they seek, or share their concerns with civic leaders.
Audience members have told us that these connections are among the most valuable aspects of El Tímpano’s work. Just last week, a subscriber wrote in to tell us that, thanks to information we provided, she received assistance to pay her rent and utility bills. Another recently texted us to describe the impact of these connections:
“I no longer feel so alone. You inform me of what is happening around us. Thank you.”
For our part, we offer our thanks to all of the community members whose wisdom and insights have shaped our approach, and to all of our civic, community, and media partners who have collaborated with us this year.
NOTE: If you are passionate about creating connections to advance equitable information access and civic engagement, El Tímpano is searching for our first Civic Partnerships Manager to expand this area of our work. Check out the posting here, and submit your application by November 14.
Madeleine Bair is the Founding Director of El Tímpano.