By Josh Ferguson, Social Strategy & Content Manager, Common Good
Americans of all political stripes are frustrated. Over 70% are not satisfied with the way the U.S. is governed. Congress’ approval numbers are near record lows. According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans cited the U.S. government itself as the most important problem facing the nation.
President Trump was ostensibly sent to Washington on the back of this growing dissatisfaction to “drain the swamp,” just as Obama promised “Change We Can Believe In” -- but what does either slogan mean in practice?
Neither political party is offering a coherent vision for reforming a federal government that virtually every political observer agrees is fundamentally broken. What’s needed, what Americans are hungry for, goes far beyond tax reform or new social programs. What’s needed, in the view of Common Good, is a new governing philosophy.
By Erik Fogg, Chief, ReConsider
You know arguing with people doesn't really work. Presenting people with facts that contradict their beliefs actually backfires and causes them to dig in more.
After hearing this, most people throw up their hands. They assume this means not only that changing people's minds is impossible, but that this "backfire" effect totally-only-happens-to-people-who-disagree-with-me.
But there are people outside of politics whose well-being and next meal depend on opening people's minds: they're in sales. Their job, over and over, requires getting people to open their minds to the idea of parting with their hard-earned money in exchange for a thing... often, a thing they didn't know existed until just now!
More than Bill O'Reilly or John Stewart, these salespeople have a lot to teach us about how to get folks to listen and put themselves in a mindset where they're ready to disagree. We've applied each of these in political discussions to great effect, too.
The crux behind each of these is that people tend to agree with people they identify with. You see it in politics; you also see it in sales. That's why salespeople ask you about yourself and chat you up before asking you to part with your cash.Read more
By Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D.
Lots of attention is going today to physical habitat under siege (and for good reason): without more attention, many of these beautiful areas might go away, or be irreparably damaged. For that reason, many believe that energy invested in this protection and preservation is well spent.
Far less attention, however, goes to the way our civic ecosystem remains under increasing siege. What began as occasional concern for the hostility in the U.S. media and elected leaders, has become widespread trepidation regarding public animosities deepening in every direction, on nearly every issue.
Some believe that without more attention, this precious civic ecosystem could go away or likewise become irreparably damaged, thus prompting similar calls for additional investment to protect and preserve this fragile democratic habitat.
A case study in Utah. Starting in 2014, I had the opportunity to work for Living Room Conversations in a Utah experiment to help cultivate the civic ecosystem there. Rather than plowing up the roots already in place (or riding into town with the “newfangled solutions”), it felt important to build upon and leverage whatever rich habitat already existed.Read more
By Parisa Parsa, Executive Director, Essential Partners
In 1989, a group of therapists engaged in some commiseration at their shared Cambridge practice. They discussed a concern about what had become of sane discourse about weighty issues of policy in the United States. At that time one of the therapists, Laura Chasin was a doctoral student of government with a special interest in the philosophy of John Dewey, who in the late 1800’s expressed his profound belief in expressing how democracy and ethical ideals of humanity were synonymous.
In the office with the others, Laura shared how she was particularly distressed by the chaos and ineffectiveness of public debates about abortion. Her colleagues Corky Becker, Dick Chasin and Sallyann Roth, along with researcher and editor Maggie Herzig, puzzled at how much was lost in the public shouting matches that passed for debate. The mutual understanding, restoration of trust and sheer humanity that was the bedrock of effective family therapy were utterly absent from the publicly televised conversations about some of our most critical social and political issues. What was common however, were disjointed policies, stalemate and a devolution of the social fabric in communities around the country, just when our democracy needed solutions most.
From the confines of those pivotal hours of discourse, the question the group considered was, “Could the practices of family therapy be engaged to build relationship and understanding, and restore trust among folks who were deeply divided on issues that were rooted in their core values?” That question motivated years of research and the development of the practices at the core of the Public Conversations Project, now Essential Partners.Read more
By Debilyn Molineaux, Co-Director & Secretary, Bridge Alliance
I cry every time I watch the six minute opening scene from The Newsroom, an HBO series from 2012. Yes, it’s well produced, written and acted. But that’s not why I cry. I cry because the words spoken call to the longing in my heart of what I want our country to be. Of what I thought our country was as I grew up. It echoes my belief before I learned that the America referenced was a myth -- that some Americans never thought this dream was possible for them and actively excluded them. The America described is the American dream I was promised and may never see. I cry for the loss of honor and trust in human beings and our institutions, as witnessed on news and social media stories. I cry because I know that the American dream, expressed in just a few sentences, may never be a reality. After all, it’s up to us -- each one of us and all of us -- to choose what our country is and what it will be.Read more
By David Nevins, President & Co-Director, Bridge Alliance
The U.S. Constitution sets up a system of checks and balances in governance to prevent tyranny in our republic. The functioning of our checks and balances is now in doubt, largely due to the erosion of the democratic virtues of civility and compromise. We’ve been in a downward spiral for most of the last 20 years.
Now is time for thoughtful Americans to come together and support the rebuilding of the infrastructure to strengthen our democracy morally, intellectually and in practice.
The speech delivered by Jeff Flake Senator from Arizona a couple of weeks ago, will be thought by some as a political attack on our President but I believe it is not. If read carefully liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and independents will see the speech as a call to all citizens and leaders to reclaim the American virtues of democracy that define us as a people and as a nation.
As you read his speech ask yourself whether you are complicit in not speaking out against unacceptable behavior from your elected representatives.Read more
By Eric Allen, Curriculum Development and Research, State Legislative Leaders Foundation
Monticello’s east facade is one of the most-recognized home elevations in America. Beneath it lies the town of Charlottesville; not far away is Monroe’s house; a little further is Madison’s mansion, with the second-floor study in which our Constitution was largely penned. Ink stains still mark the pine floor, there. A day’s ride further by horse and you’re at Washington’s home, perched over the Potomac.
It’s hard not to think about government, and particularly about democracy, when you’re in central Virginia’s horse country.
And the Emerging Leaders Program gathers here every summer, at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. The campus echoes Jefferson’s main quadrangle at UVa: Georgian brick buildings flanking a courtyard. Each classroom contains the latest technologies for presentation, and from the terraced seats everyone can see everyone else, and the instructor. At the University of Virginia the word “instructor” is taken seriously, and differently: last names and the word “professor” are nearly prohibited; the instructor asks questions, and the whole room discusses.
This works well among 20 year-olds, but works spectacularly when the students have families, careers, and up to 75 years of living under their belts (remember, newish legislators may have recently retired from an accomplished career, or be just starting their first one. They could be currently-serving soldiers or sailors; they might be grandparents, or new parents; they can certainly be from wide-open cropland, from the mountains, or from a city.)Read more
New Hampshire Listens is a winner in the regional category for their work facilitating civil conversation in the state of New Hampshire on controversial public challenges. They also train others to facilitate such productive dialogues. Bruce Mallory and Michele Holt-Shannon have developed programs to elevate the state’s problem-solving capabilities, modeling a respectful and inclusive approach that many hope will be replicated nationwide. As the person who nominated them put it, “People feel relieved and respected when Bruce and Michele enter the room.”
Nationally, a partnership between the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, the National Institute for Civil Discourse and the National Foundation for Women Legislators has resulted in a new leadership program designed to deliver insight, inspiration and techniques to legislative leaders working to improve public policy discussion in their states. With NICD’s expertise in training community leaders and legislatures, SLLF’s success in providing state legislators with nonpartisan information and a forum for discussion, and NFWL’s work in empowering leaders, this partnership aims to replace gridlock with progress and criticism with compassion. In the words of their nominator, “since many of our federal leaders begIn their political service in state legislatures, success in this program will eventually improve our federal government.”
In the youth category, the Student Public Interest Research Groups from several college campuses were nominated for their work supporting voter education, voter registration and creating safe spaces for dialogue between students with diverse perspectives. Student PIRGs promote learning and understanding about a host of current issues, while providing a forum for students to become politically active and effective. As one elected official put it, “the work PIRGs do is vitally important in a democracy and serves as such a great role model as a set of engaged citizens so necessary to building effective public policy.”
Thank you to all those who submitted nominations and helped take part in recognizing organizations doing great collaborative work. A special thanks to our judges Peter Levine, Betsy Wright Hawkins and David Sawyer as well as our co-sponsor Big Tent Nation.
Here is to another year of innovation and collaboration!
By Kyle Bozentko & Annie Pottorff, Jefferson Center
There’s a dire need to rebuild relationships, restore trust, and strengthen the capacity of local news organizations.
If you’re a regular visitor to Medium, you likely recognize the power of accessible and democratic storytelling. Medium’s approach hints at a possible future for local journalism, a future where the divide between producer and consumer narrows, where newsrooms prioritize two-way relationships with their communities, and where local news serves the interests of the whole community, not just advertisers. In short, a future of where journalists and citizens are engaged together to create, collaborate, and improve their communities.
Looking at the state of our news, there’s a dire need to rebuild relationships, restore trust, and strengthen the capacity of local news organizations. In 2016, the Jefferson Center dove into the issues we’re experiencing daily (polarization, misinformation, clickbait, and attack ads, to name just a few) in our projects Your Vote Ohio and Informed Citizen Akron. Our expertise is in civic engagement — bringing community voices together to address shared problems and identify creative solutions. We tasked citizens with the question, “How can local news media shift their coverage to help voters better evaluate candidates and make more informed electoral decisions during the 2016 election?” Specifically, what voters wanted and needed to know, and what they weren’t getting from candidates and from national news outlets. The results were telling.Read more