Relativity is a Matter of Perspective

There’s something that seems soft or overgenerous in saying that everyone’s perspective is valid.

It is, I suspect, the kind of thing that everyone feels they’re supposed to say but which nobody actually believes. Perhaps everyone should get a trophy for participation, but at the end of the day, there is only one Truth. There is still Right and Wrong.

And while I am as struck as anyone by the impulse to define an absolute Truth, the answer is clearly elusive. And, indeed, relative.

In physics terms, for example, the relationship between an observer and an object is critical.

Existence doesn’t happen in vacuum, after all, and understanding Relativity is all about understanding how objects appear relative to each other. This, incidentally, is totally different from the Observer Effect, which demonstrates that observing an object can cause it to change.

If one person is moving near the speed of light and the another person is moving at so-called “normal” speeds, they will see some strange things occurring.

Time will appear to move at different speeds for each party. The faster moving object will appear shorter from the perspective of the slower moving observer.

The beauty about this effect from is that it is far more complex than a trick of the eye. Indeed, you can see the effect foundationally in the mathematics of the universe.

The equation for length contraction, for example, looks like this: L is the observed length, L0 is the length at rest, v is the relative velocity between the observer and object, and c is the speed of light.

What you can see here is that there is nothing special about the speed of light per se. That is, there’s not some “normal world” and some crazy “speed of light” world.

Rather, there is a continuous change in length which is entirely dependent on the relative velocity, v.

When an object is moving at the same velocity as an observer, v=0, then the observed length, L, converges to the length at rest, L0. When an object is moving at the speed of light relative to a stationary observer, v=c, then the observed length converges to 0.

It is nonsensical to ask the object’s True length.

There is no such thing as its True length. Only the length as measured by an outside observer moving relative to the object at velocity v.

All lengths, 0 to L0 are equally True.

For every day purposes, we may choose to declare an object’s rest length as its True length. But that is essentially an arbitrary decision. It is the same as declaring that an object’s True length is the length I most typically observe it to be – even if someone else might typically observe a different length.

And here we get back to the challenge of different perspectives in a social science context.

If my observations tell me that one thing is True, and your observations tell you that something else is True, there is nothing at all soft about declaring both perspectives equally valid.

Just like the length of an object, the truth is relative.

Of course, just because the length of an object is variable, doesn’t mean there are no constants to grab hold of.

The speed of light, c, is a constant (in a vacuum) as you may well know.

But c is not a just constant because there is something special about light. It’s not just that there is a maximum speed at which a mass-less object can hurl through space.

Rather, there is a fixed ratio between distance and time. What happens to one effects the other.

If you and I are moving a different speeds and observing some third object, we may see different things. We may observe the object to have different lengths or see time to be passing differently.

But we can understand the difference in perspectives. We can discover the underlying constant and definite the continuum on which both our realities are equally True.


Faircoin as the First Global Commons Currency?

It’s hard to find many co-operatives with the kind of practical sophistication and visionary ambitions as CIC – the Catalan Integral Cooperative -- in Spain.  CIC describes itself as a “transitional initiative for social transformation from below, through self-management, self-organization, and networking.”  It considers the state unable to advance the public good because of its deep entanglements with market capitalism -- so it has set about building its own working alternatives to the banking system and state. 

Since its founding in May 2010, CIC has developed some 300 cooperative projects with 30 local nodes, involving some 4,000 to 5,000 participants.  You can get an idea of the impressive scope of CIC’s work through this interview with Enric Duran by Shareable magazine in March 2014. It’s fairly clear that CIC is serious about building a new global economic system – and not just as a rhetorical statement.  CIC builds real, working alternatives, showing great sophistication about politics, law, economics and digital platforms. 

CIC has now started Fair.Coop to help build a set of free economic tools that will “promote cooperation, ethics, solidarity and justice in our economic relations.” A key element of the Fair-Coop vision is a cryptocurrency, Faircoin, which has been designed to adapt the block-chain technology of Bitcoin with a more socially constructive design. (Faircoin relies less on "mining" new coins than on "minting" them in a more ecologically responsible, equitable ways.)

Many skeptics might scoff at the brash, utopian feel of this initiative.  But in many respects, Faircoin is the ultimate realism. CIC correctly recognizes that the existing monetary system and private banks pose insuperable barriers to reducing inequality and ensuring productive work and wealth for all. The only "realistic" alternative to existing fiat currencies and foreign exchange is to invent a new monetary system!  Fortunately, thanks to the pioneering examples of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and the evolving powers of software, that idea is actually within reach these days.

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engaging citizens in cities

(Los Angeles) At CityLab 2014, I’m on a panel called “Beyond the Buzz: What Citizen Engagement Strategies are Really Working.”

I think mayors and the people who work for them tend to think of engaged citizens as potential suppliers of:

  1. votes
  2. taxes
  3. input/opinion
  4. voluntary work

The first two won’t be strictly relevant to our panel, because taxes are required by law and voting is a “political” concern, officially separate from public administration (except insofar as the voting process itself should be convenient and reliable).

Input and volunteering are valuable, but we need to push them to the next level. Both  tend to be individual and disconnected from other aspects of life. For example, a private citizen may contact the city to complain about an immediate problem, like a broken light, or to express an opinion about a community problem, like police bias. She may separately sign up to clean a park or tutor a child.

Individuals give their best input when they discuss their ideas with other people, checking their biases and values, holding themselves and others accountable, and learning from collective experience. They do their best volunteer work when they have decided with others what is needed and how to address those needs, and when they can reflect on the results of their efforts. That means that both input and volunteer labor are best when they are connected to citizens’ discussions.

What’s more, both talk and volunteer work are best when they are connected to paid work (presuming that the individual is employed). We learn a great deal on the job, and we have the potential to improve a city through our paid employment. If our civic engagement is limited to free contributions–input and/or volunteer service–it is not nearly as serious, informed, or potentially effective as it is if it also influences our paid work.

So instead of imagining an individual complaining about her children’s school or volunteering to chaperone students, picture her engaging in a discussion with diverse people about how to improve the school for all kids. That conversation should involve parents, other residents, students themselves, and also professional teachers and administrators. Some of the adults will have jobs that affect the welfare of children, from ministering to a religious congregation to operating a local grocery store. They should bring their experience from work into the discussions and hold themselves accountable to their fellow citizens as they go about their jobs. They may also volunteer and express individual opinions, but those acts will be informed by their discussion and their work.

(See also “the rise of urban citizenship” “youth Participatory Budgeting in Boston” and “civic responses to Newtown“)

The post engaging citizens in cities appeared first on Peter Levine.

An Anti-Social Willfulness

We should expect a deluge of theories about what has gone wrong with American life and why the public is growing ever more distressed. The only reason we haven't heard many of these theories yet is the widespread expectation that economic recovery will cure whatever ails us, including the public’s current dark mood.

Regardless of the direction our economy takes, however, I believe we can no longer ignore how dysfunctional our institutions are becoming. These include our political, economic, health care, criminal justice and education systems. None are functioning as well as they can and should.

Exactly what has gone wrong? The answer points to our national psychology and culture rather than to our economics or politics. Our exuberant embrace of individualism has inadvertently brought to the surface several negative trends.

One is an anti-social willfulness (“I can do whatever I want and you can’t stop me.”) Aggressive drivers, cell phone addicts, stock traders and officious cops manifest this trend most vividly, but it affects almost everyone. Much of the time, it is merely disagreeable but otherwise harmless. But some clashes of wills lead to violence and stubborn refusals to seek the common ground that democracy requires.

A closely related trend has been documented by Public Agenda research. Public Agenda reports that “a marked deterioration of courtesy and respectfulness has become a daily assault on Americans’ sensibilities…Americans are particularly concerned about the discourteous and disrespectful conduct of children and they hold parents primarily responsible.”

Some clashes of wills lead to stubborn refusals to seek the common ground that democracy requires.

People clustering together in like-minded groups and communities is another negative cultural trend. Increasingly, Americans are becoming isolated from people with different worldviews. Ever more specialization reinforces this isolation as each profession develops its own proprietary frameworks, increasing the difficulty of communicating across sectors.

The upside of greater individualism is that it enhances agency and freedom. The downside is that it reinforces self-centeredness, self-righteousness and arbitrary opinions.

These tendencies are unintended consequences of the great transformation in American values that has taken place in recent decades. As a result, irrationalities are cropping up in virtually all of our important institutions.

Collectively, they are badly damaging our society. Unless they are addressed, the public mood will grow even more unstable, angry and resentful, leading to destructive political consequences.

Rebooting Democracy is a blog authored by Public Agenda co-founder Dan Yankelovich. While the views that Dan shares in his blog should not be interpreted as representing official Public Agenda positions, the purpose behind the blog and the spirit in which it is presented resonate powerfully with our values and the work that we do. To receive Rebooting Democracy in your inbox, subscribe here.

Hosting Former Congressmen

I’m excited today and tomorrow to be hosting a bi-partisan delegation of two former Congresspeople through a partnership between Tisch College and the Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership.

The Congresspeople we are hosting are Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY 2011-2013) and Bob Carr (D-MI, 1975-1995).

Congresswoman Buerkle was elected to represent New York’s 25th congressional district in 2010, which she served through 2012. She was a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as well as the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. During her time in Congress, Congresswoman Buerkle was chosen to be the U.S. Congressional Representative to the United Nations.

Congressman Carr currently serves as an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management where he teaches Ethics in Congress. For nearly two decades, Mr. Carr stood out as a principled, thoughtful advocate in Congress where he focused his energies on the intersection of technology and public policy, including fighting for arms control in foreign policy.

You can read more about their visit in today’s Tufts Daily.


Philosophy and Normal Science: The Rankings Debate

There has been much discussion lately about the ranking of graduate programs in philosophy: Ed Kazarian writes “Maybe the Best Rankings are No Rankings at All,” and Eric Schliesser replies with “Yes, but, we do need rankings.”Noelle McAfee suggests a search engine that allows prospective students and administrators to create their own rankings based on whatever critera are important to them.

“Only when they must choose between competing theories do scientists behave like philosophers.” -Thomas Kuhn

When you think about rankings, you should worry about pluralism. When you think about the pluralism debate in philosophy, I think it makes sense to start with a conception of what paradigmatic research or “normal science” looks like. How much pluralism can there be within a discipline? Here’s Thomas Kuhn’s formulation:

“‘Normal science’ means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice.”

“Normal” science is paradigmatic, non-revolutionary research: plodding, accretionist, and useful. It assumes that a basic disciplinary picture of the world is true and tries to get the details into sharper focus like an art restorer cleaning off the muck of ages. In practice, this means that there’s wide-spread agreement on what’s known and what’s unknown, and widespread agreement about which things it’s okay to disagree about! It doesn’t really make sense to be a “pluralist” about the natural sciences: the disagreements among professional scientists should necessarily be pretty small and well-understood. You can’t stage a debate or frame research questions on climate change if some of the participants are still arguing about phlogiston.vlcsnap-2009-10-02-20h20m11s4

This also means that under conditions of normal science, important research results are often discarded as irrelevant. Later, these results may prove more interesting, but for the purposes of normal scientists they’re just noise. Innovation may be an important philosophical goal, but it’s anathema in normal science. Perhaps, then, we are not normal scientists? Here’s Kuhn again:

“Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend most all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like. Normal science often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments. As a puzzle-solving activity, normal science does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none.”

Kuhn’s theory of “normal science” has always seemed like a refreshing bit of sociology for philosophers. I suspect many philosophers believe that the discipline of philosophy doesn’t have a “normal science” problem, perhaps because it is constantly revolutionizing itself or because it is characterized by disagreement. This is largely what is at stake in arguments about whether philosophers “make progress.” Kuhn’s account of the role of textbooks captures this conception of revolutionary non-progress pretty clearly:

“An increasing reliance on textbooks or their equivalent was an invariable concomitant of the emergence of a first paradigm in any field of science. …The domination of a mature science by such texts significantly differentiates its developmental pattern from that of other fields. For the moment let us simply take it for granted that, to an extent unprecedented in other fields, both the layman’s and the practitioner’s knowledge of science is based on textbooks and a few other types of literature derived from them. Textbooks, however, being pedagogic vehicles for the perpetuation of normal science, have to be rewritten in whole or in part whenever the language, problem-structure, or standards of normal science change. In short, they have to be rewritten in the aftermath of each scientific revolution….”

But serious reflection points up many fields where paradigmatic research rules: analytic logic, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind all have relatively circumscribed projects. Developments in continental ontology and phenomenology follow a fairly well-recognized pattern. Political philosophy has pretty clear set of questions and concerns and progress on these issues proceeds exactly the kind of plodding, accretive manner as normal science. There is widespread agreement among our textbooks about what counts and doesn’t count as an important philosophical text, and challenges to this canonicity follow predictable (you might say paradigmatic) forms. This is largely true within the sub-disciplines and within the major “camps” of philosophy as well. In that sense, I’d claim that normal science predominates quite a bit, and that there are sub-disciplinary standards of quality that percolate among the major camps. If there were not such standards, there could not be textbooks.

Those groups already agree on what counts as a good contribution to continental political philosophy, or critical race theory of aesthetics, or American pragmatism-inflected history of philosophy or feminist philosophy or language. We don’t have to decide, up front or really ever, which of these approaches ought to rule the discipline: that was the flaw in the analytic takeover by Metaphysics & Epistemology, to think that analytic M&E should trump value theory and continental M&E and American pragmatism and feminist philosophy and the history of philosophy. The people doing the best work in any sub-field seemed to run roughshod over those divisions, so it was obvious to most that this dominance was (is) unsustainable.

The bigger challenge, I think, comes from folks like Kristie Dotson, Tommie Curry, the bloggers at xcphilosophy, etc. These folks argue that “normal science” views of philosophical research will always be exclusive. Even my claim that the folks doing the best work tend to bridge divides is itself a claim that there is a consensus about what it means to do the “best” work and about “what the world is like.” If this kind of research is discovering novelties that can and ought to disrupt the whole way our textbooks are written, then clearly the old standards are in need of constant revision and the rankings must be continually re-written, right? So you might as well give up on rankings completely.

I think those critiques are important, but I think they can be included within a normal science view of philosophy, My claim would be the following: we don’t all share anything like a foundational sense of past philosophical achievements, and so in that sense we are not a part of a discipline. Yet we do have a fairly narrow sense of how these disagreements should be articulated, how claims about inclusions and exclusion are best adjudicated, and about the goals of our research. It’s common to claim otherwise, but I think these protestations are mostly performances in the name of those shared goals. Folks who really don’t want to do philosophy stop; they leave the discipline entirely. (And that happens.) What it means to still consider oneself a philosopher seems to involve a very loose shared methodology. As I’ve said before: I don’t know any philosophers who ignore and avoid interlocutors and dissenters. (Perhaps they avoid me?) In our profession, a good disagreement is the greatest gift we have to give to each other, and that’s what keeps us together.

Now, I say all that despite the fact that I once saw someone dance a critique of Derrida. I’ve seen scholars end their papers with a song. But still, these were meant to be arguments and in the best sense both the dance and the song acted as an argument. These are perfomative refutations, little different in function than the analytic philosopher Syndey Morgenbesser’s reply to the other analytic philosopher J.L. Austin’s claim that while a double negative is a positive, a double positive is not a negative: “Yeah, Yeah.” We already have the tools within the discipline to allow for challenges to the canon, for challenges to the strict methodology of proofs and counterexamples. We even have shared standards for evaluating research contributions. The question is whether that makes ratings and rankings possible.

On my view, there will almost certainly be some sort of rankings, so the best we can hope for is that they’re governed in a way that includes diverse practitioners and values justice. I’m mindful of the conservatism of my “there is no alternative” concerns, here: it’s a willingness to accept a second-best institution for fear of how the pursuit of a perfect institution will lead to something worse, another version of the seemingly eternal debate over meliorism and abolition

I think of the rankings issue in classical liberal terms: will the proposed remedies succeed in the first place? Will they have unintended consequences? On those grounds it seems preferable to improve the existing rankings and proliferate the ranking criteria rather than to leave a void for an even less sympathetic force to fill.

But maybe we must risk the vaccuum for pluralism to proliferate.

Other disciplines have rankings, tacit or explicit. Prospective students have a right to know whether the program they’re considering can give them a good education and place them in a job. I think it’s best to separate a program’s research ratings from its placement ratings. (So what we need are robust placement data like Carolyn Dicey Jennings tried to put together.) But they’re likely to be linked, in most cases, because productive scholars will have their pick of students, and this choosiness, itself, will introduce considerations of merit and exclusivity.

The best argument I’ve heard against rankings is that they play into the logic of exclusivity and and competition for finite resources that plagues the university. As evidence, we see that the ranked departments are a subset of graduate programs, and that the best-ranked departments tend to be strong in M&E, specifically philosophy mind and language. This is intimately tied to the depoliticization of Anglo-American philosophy, the creation of programs of research meant to suck every last possible scintilla of communist propaganda out of our methods.

Still, there are many possibilities. Perhaps we should only rank sub-specialties on the basis of faculty research quality and leave generalized ranking alone. Perhaps we should rank graduate programs on another basis, like placement. Perhaps we should just put all these statistics into a centralized database and let students and administrators decide what to do with the numbers. Notice that this will disempower philosophy practitioners compared to the administrations that govern us and the market for labor. It’s surprising, then, that the most progressive members of the profession seem to prefer the rule of bureaucrats and markets to measures that could be democratic, simply because the current measures are not democratic. Rhetorically, the argument seems to be a Luddite demand to smash the esteem machines rather than a Marxist strategy to seize the means of meritocratic production.

“My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad.  If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism.  I think that the ethico-political choice we have to make very day is to determine which is the main danger.” -Michel Foucault

assessing the sharing economy

(Los Angeles) I’m here for CityLab 2014 (which is being live-streamed):

Hosted by The Atlantic in partnership with The Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies, CityLabis one of our most innovative programs of the year, bringing together 300+ of the world’s top mayors, urban experts, city planners, writers, technologists, economists, and designers.

The current panel is entitled “What’s Mine is Yours? The New Dynamics of the Sharing City.” I am struck by an ideological disagreement that may not be as evident to the Moderator (James Bennet, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic).

Two participants–Brian Chesky, the CEO and founder of Airbnb, and NYU professor Arun Sundararajan–are enthusiastic about new market mechanisms for pairing individual sellers with buyers, firms like Uber and Airbnb. They see these innovations as not only economically efficient and good for both parties (Sundararajan has found positive impacts on wages) but also as signs of a “profound” shift to a greater degree of interpersonal trust and community. Chesky argues that firms like Airbnb are restoring some of the social bonds that existed before mass manufacturing estranged individuals from one another.

In contrast, David Sheard, the Council Leader in Kirklees (UK) is a Labour politician. He opened his remarks by telling a story of a Council decision to close a public facility. Citizens objected that  the facility was “theirs,” not the city’s. Now the Kirklees Council engages the public in deliberative processes. It may be that Kirlklees also supports new  sharing markets; panelist April Rinne suggested that was the case. Nevertheless, I hear two very different ideas of “community”–one in which people form voluntary relationships in order to exchange services and develop trust, and the other in which people talk together about public goods and make binding decisions for the community as a whole. Sheard said, “It is not about sharing assets, it is about sharing ideas.”

The post assessing the sharing economy appeared first on Peter Levine.

Field trip sign-ups are open for 2014 NCDD conference!

Members of our local planning team for NCDD 2014 have organized four amazing field trips for conference participants on Saturday evening. We left time in the schedule for you to enjoy what the DC area has to offer on Saturday starting at 4pm, and though you’re free to do whatever you’d like that night, you can’t go wrong with these four options.

There’s something for everybody in these four field trips:  music, history, performance, monuments, yummy food, and of course, lots of great discussion and networking!

Sign up today to secure your spot on the field trip of your choice.

Trekking through Generations of Democratic Participation in DC

Hosted by the Close Up Foundation

CloseUp-Image2Join us for this stimulating and exciting tour of Washington DC as a place of historic struggles over citizen participation and current debates over changing neighborhoods. This tour will feature three rounds of discussion at iconic spots around town: At Lincoln Park, A Tale of Two Statues; over dinner in a neighborhood restaurant, a conversation about sustainability and/or gentrification; and after we eat, a discussion of the Three Faces of Democracy.

We’ll examine the history of our democracy through the protective lens at the Jefferson Memorial, the progressive lens at the FDR Memorial and the participatory lens at the MLK memorial (with a drive by or stop at the Lincoln Memorial if there is time).

We’re renting a 50-seat bus for this fun and professionally-run tour, which is presented by our friends at the Close Up Foundation. Close Up has years of experience giving high-quality educational tours in DC. Transportation is covered by the $15 fee, but you’ll need to cover the costs of your own dinner. For more info, contact Rachel Talbert at

Cost: $15

Stage Performance of Toast

by dog & pony dc

ToastVideoImageEnjoy an evening of participatory theater on Capitol Hill in DC! Presented by dog & pony dc, Toast is about “a secret society of inventors [that] invites the audience to collaboratively push the boundaries of our current technology and explore the awesome potential of group innovation.” dog & pony dc is a respected Washington, DC company that explores new ways for audiences to experience theatre. The troupe will also be playing a role during the conference, leading us through a lively exploration of our aspirations for D&D in Saturday afternoon’s plenary.

NCDD has purchased a block of 15 tickets for this performance, so sign up soon while we still have spots! The theatre is a block away from Barracks Row, a lovely neighborhood with tons of great eating options. Tickets are $15 per person, and you’ll cover your own transportation and dinner costs.

The performance is at 7:30pm at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (545 7th St. SE in DC). You’ll take the metro from Reston into the city. For more info, contact NCDD Board member Marla Crockett at

Cost:  $15

Field Trip to Historic Morven Park

Hosted by Morven Park staff

MorvenParkMansion2Join us for a special evening at Morven Park focused on the theme “Rural to Suburban to Urban: The Role of D&D in Changing Neighborhood Environments.” Morven Park is a gorgeous historic site in Leesburg, Virginia that was home of former Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis. It was once in the countryside, but today the park sits on the border between rural traditions and suburban sprawl. On this field trip, we will look at the implications of changing from a rural to urban setting now and a century ago.

A tour of the historic Davis mansion will be followed by wine and light refreshments from a local vineyard. Over drinks we’ll discuss the social changes that occur as an area moves from rural to suburban/urban and what role dialogue and deliberation can play in engaging the local community through these transitions.

You’ll also hear about Morven Park’s Center for Civic Impact, and discuss how educators are increasingly turning to non-traditional centers of learning, like historic sites, to promote civic learning and democratic engagement and help restore public faith in our democracy. We’re chartering a van to take the group to Morven Park. For more info, contact NCDD member Abby Pfisterer at

Cost: $25

U Street Food & Jazz Tour (Sorry – this field trip is already at capacity!)

GoGoLiveHosted by Natalie Hopkinson, author of Go-Go Live

Duke Ellington, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Brown—all are Washington, D.C. native musicians who have helped to shape the history of Washington’s U Street, once the heart of the all-black segregated entertainment district. The strip was devastated by the 1968 riots that followed Martin Luther King’s assassination, but in the past decade it has experienced a revival and is now home to a vibrant mix of people, music, and restaurants. Join author Natalie Hopkinson, Ph.D., fellow of the Interactivity Foundation’s Arts & Society initiative, and resident of Greater U Street, as she guides a 2-hour food and jazz tour. Come hungry, and fee free to check out some shows after the tour!

Natalie frequently publishes essays on culture and education in the Washington Post, The Root, the New York Times and Essence magazine and has authored two books, most recently Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City.

The cost is $40 per person, including food. Participation is limited to 15 people. You’ll take the metro from Reston into the city. Contact Natalie at if you have questions.

Cost: $40

NIF & Kettering Host Online Immigration Conversation Monday

We encourage NCDD members to join our partners with the National Issues Forums of Northern Virginia and the Kettering Foundation for a webinar conversation on immigration tomorrow, Sept. 29th. The conversation will use KF’s new online deliberation tool, Common Ground for Action, so make sure to join us and check it out! You can read the invitation from Bill Corbett of NIFNVA below or find the original here.

NIF-logoI’m writing invite you to an upcoming online National Issues Forum, a small, moderated, chat-based deliberation on a critical issue facing America.

It takes place on Monday, September 29 at 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm EDT. All you need to participate is a web browser and the willingness to use chat for conversation.

The topic is “Immigration in America — How Do We Fix a System in Crisis?” The issue guide is at this link. The issue guide provides the road map for our discussion and essential background. If you’d like to watch a three-minute video that previews the topic, you can view it on our website by clicking here.

You can register by reply to this message or by completing the online form at the new website of National Issues Forums of Northern Virginia. The forum is limited to twelve people…first-come, first-served…but more forums are coming.

The forum uses a new software tool from the Kettering Foundation that brings moderated deliberation on national issues to a wider audience.

Below is a screen shot of a Common Ground graphic produced by an online National Issues Forum earlier this month. It is the product of ten people working through the issues together in a discussion about how to fix American politics.

I hope you are as interested as I am in helping to develop this new tool for more people to participate in political life.


Bill Corbett National Issues Forums of Northern Virginia

Adventures on the Bus

I watched a man get on the bus yesterday and give a nonchalant, “Hey mom” to one of the other passengers.

She didn’t respond.

I assumed I’d misheard.

He turned to me and said hey something, so I said hey back.

You’re going to be my sister, now. He told me.

Okay. I said.

Hi, sister! He said.

Hey! I said.

Then he started quizzing me.

Who am I? He asked.

You’re my brother, I told him.

(This answer took a little while because questions like who am I? and who are you? Always throw me off. Who am I? I don’t expect to answer that with a name or a title.)

Who is she? He asked, gesturing to the woman he’d first woman greeted.

She’s your mother, I said.

Sigh. She’s your mother, too, you know.

Okay, I said.

Who is she to you?

She’s my mother, I said.

Yes! We’re one big family, he said.

Our mother was not amused.

She remained silent, but if she had chosen to speak at this time, I imagine she would have said something like, Why is there talking now?

Who is the bus driver? The man asked me.

I wasn’t sure, but a quick look to the front of the bus told me the driver was an African American man about my age.

He’s my brother, I said.

Right! The man said. We’re one big family.

Yeah, I’d gotten that.

And there’s our family dog! The man added, pointing out the window to a Golden Retriever.

Oh good, I said. I’m glad our family has a dog.

And then it was time for me to get off the bus.

I wished the man a good day and he wished me a good day.

I said thank you to bus driver.

The driver smiled and nodded – Have a good day, sister! He said.

Yeah, you too, brother!