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The Worst of Cleveland: 'Summits'

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Everyone knows that summits are worthless publicity stunts favored by folks who call themselves thought leaders. The dictionary is noncommittal on the etymology, but the word itself — "summit" def. #2 — was probably hatched at Aspen or some vacation ski-resort, where rich people have been known to convene over beers after invigorating afternoons on the slopes, finding themselves discussing issues like "poverty" and "ways to make the world a better place."

Yuck. Summits are the worst.

In Cleveland, they illustrate not only the ineptitude of our leaders, but their inalterable managerial hardwiring, which suggests that meeting and talking about problems constitutes doing something about them. (A note, for the record: Meeting and talking about problems are crucially important, provided they are a precedent to policy-making, or action of one kind or another. Around here, that's not how it works.)

Look no further than this big "Economic Inclusion Summit" that's supposedly taking place in September. What the hell is that bullshit supposed to be?

If you look at the committees, you'll see that nearly half of them are concerned with momentum. One committee is about building momentum. Another is tasked with maintaining momentum.

The summit was planned — honest to god — at another summit, held in December. The planning summit was organized by a committee of 15 business leaders which, several other leaders took pains to note, didn't seem very inclusive at all. Nevertheless, a group of about 75 folks gathered at cleveland.com headquarters to talk about the region's strengths. (Note: not its weaknesses!) They were using a method called "appreciative inquiry," developed at Case, which is all about looking on the bright side. Outside the building, protesters chanted that while being invited to a summit on economic inclusion was nice, having input in the planning of said summit would be much more meaningful.

The lead crisis is another great example. While the local activist group CLASH has been hitting the streets collecting signatures to put lead-safe legislation on the ballot, leaders have assembled a public-private coalition, one of the primary aims of which is planning a lead summit. That's the ticket! Just what we need to hold negligent and/or predatory landlords accountable! A cup of coffee and a group brainstorm session about our strengths!  

Summits are for leaders. If and when actual citizens are invited to the table, they can expect to have their voices heard ... and promptly ignored. — Sam Allard

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