In the era of increasingly polarized politics, Americans from different communities don’t often share their experiences and their points of view with one another.
Enter On the Table Philly. The new initiative offers a simple proposal: to invite people to sit down for a meal together and talk about finding solutions for our shared social ills.
“Talk and food are things we’re pretty good at in Philly,” said Pedro Ramos, president and CEO of The Philadelphia Foundation and former School Reform Commission chairman. “A very powerful way of creating intimacy and room for us to share our experiences and aspirations is by breaking bread or sharing coffee.”
The Philadelphia Foundation is joining with the Knight Foundation to spearhead On The Table Philly on May 23. The Knight Foundation has already held On The Table events in several other cities around the nation, and it will be held in 10 cities this year.
“It’s a way of taking a time-tested social method we have of getting together over food and drink when we are relaxed and by nature at ease with the folks around us,” Ramos explained. “Increasingly, there is a thirst for and appreciation for people taking time to speak with and listen to each other.”
While it may sound simple, On the Table has had notable success in cities like Chicago, where in 2015, more than 20,000 people participated.
Anyone can sign up to host a table for eight to 12 people at any point in the day. Lavish food is not required, just a willingness to converse with strangers.
Once together, participants will be asked to talk about one question: "What can we do together to create a stronger and more engaged community?" Hosts are then asked to report the ideas and potential solutions that come out of those conversations.
To be clear, this is an event for ordinary people, not VIPs, Ramos said.
“Elected officials tend to dominate a room,” he said. “The idea is for those of us who spend a lot of our adults lives talking to spend some time listening.”
The widening political division under President Donald Trump wasn't a factor in organizing On the Table, which was in the works before the election. But the event’s goals include strengthening democracy by helping build a better informed and connected citizenry, Ramos said.
“Individuals are becoming more detached from communities,” he said. “This is one small way of giving people an opportunity to consciously take a step in the other direction, towards other people, and to not just talk with each other, but listen to each other.”
Want to participate?
Anyone can host an On the Table Philly conversation at any time on May 23.
Visit www.onthetablephl.org to learn about becoming a host or joining a table.
More than a hundred tables are expected around Philly.