American Founders’ Month in Florida!

Sept 1 Intro Picture

Click here to download the above image as a powerpoint slide with an active link to share with your students and friends!

Friends, as you may or may not be aware, the Florida Legislature recently designated September as ‘American Founders’ Month’. While covering material related to Founders’ Month is, at this point, encouraged rather than required (though Freedom Week is still something of a mandate later this month), we will be providing you with some ‘quick-hit resources’ that can serve as either a warm up for your class or as a jumping off point for a deeper exploration. Throughout the month, we will be sharing images/slides featuring a person or group from the Founding Era. Currently, we are planning 2 or 3 a week, on a staggered schedule. And for September 1st, we are happy to introduce the resources about the Founding Fathers available at the National Constitution Center!

Jonathan Strange, Mr Norrell, and the Industrial Revolution

I read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell a decade ago (blog post here) and recently watched the BBC adaptation. I’d agree with Kate Nepveu that the miniseries is worth watching even though the changes in plot make it less compelling and less politically trenchant than the book. The two main women and the major character of color, Stephen Black, become more passive and less impressive in the miniseries than they are in the novel.

I still have’t seen anyone else draw the parallel that struck me as obvious when I read the book in 2007. I shouldn’t have called it an “allegory” of the Industrial Revolution because that would imply a mechanical, one-to-one correspondence between magic in Jonathan Strange and industrialization in Britain ca. 1800. But I think that Clarke is playing with the similarities.

Essential components of the industrial economy, such as the spinning jenny (1770), the modern steam engine (1778), iron-rolling (1783), and the manufacture of sodium carbonate (1791) were typically invented by gentlemen-amateurs in Northern England or Lowland Scotland. These men won patents and drew attention for their small miracles of automation: making devices that moved on their own. They often formed clubs and societies. The Napoleonic Wars promoted industrialization: the first mass-produced components were pulley blocks for Royal Navy ships. But it was only as these wars ended that many small inventions came together to transform the world. Latent power was unleashed from under the earth, blackening the skies. New roads (made of iron rails) suddenly crisscrossed the land, allowing rapid movement. The people who understood and controlled these new powers and resources became the rulers of Britain, supplanting the old owners of ordinary land. And it all depended ultimately on the slave trade and the labor of Africans.

I won’t give away the plot, but it seems to me that magic follows the same trajectory in the world of Jonathan Strange. Northern gentlemen experimenters, the revelation of powers dormant underground, the influence of the Napoleonic Wars, rapid movement on the king’s new roads, a key role for a former slave, and the resulting social upheaval all resemble the Industrial Revolution. The main contrast is that magic in Clarke’s world is a medieval power rediscovered or revived by Mr Strange and Mr Norrell. Notwithstanding a scattered heritage of cottage industries and Cornish mining, industrial manufacturing was something truly new after 1770. The medieval background gives Clarke’s world an appealing spookiness, but I still think that industrial history is what interests her.

Join NCDD Confab on Nevins Fellowship Program Sept. 20th

We encourage our NCDD member organizations to register to join us for a special Confab Call on Wednesday, September 20th from 1-2pm Eastern / 10-11am Pacific that can help your organization build capacity while helping the emerging student leaders of our field gain skills and experience in D&D work!mccourtney-logo

NCDD is hosting an exciting presentation and discussion with the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, who will be sharing about the incredible opportunity for organizations to host a D&D-trained student fellow at no cost next summer through their Nevins Democracy Leaders Program! You won’t want to miss it!

This is a rare and competitive opportunity for leading organizations in our field, and this Confab Call will be one of the best ways to find out more about how your group can take advantage of this program, so make sure to register today to save your spot on the call!

The Nevins Democracy Leaders Program was founded in 2014 after a gift from David Nevins, President and Co-Director of NCDD Organizational Member the Bridge Alliance. The program provides Penn State students with education and ­training in transpartisan leadership skills by exposing them to a variety of viewpoints and philosophies, as well as teaching critical thinking along with the tools of dialogue and deliberation.

But the flagship work of fostering the next generation of democracy leaders centers on the yearly initiative to place Nevins Program students in unique fellowship position with organizations focused on D&D, transpartisan dialogue, and civic renewal – that means organizations like yours! Stipends and living expenses are provided to the students through the program so that organizations can bring these bright, motivated students into their work for a summer at no cost to them. It’s an amazing opportunity for everyone involved! You can get a better sense of what the program experience is like by checking out this blog post from a 2017 Nevins Fellow about their summer fellowship with NCDD Sponsoring Member The Jefferson Center.

NCDD is proud to have partnered the last couple years with the McCourtney Institute to help identify organizations in the field that can host Nevins fellows, and we’re continuing the partnership this year. This Confab Call is the best way to get your organization plugged into the process, so be sure to register today to learn more about the program and how to apply!

On this Confab, NCDD Member and McCourtney’s Managing Director Christopher Beem will provide an overview of the Nevins program and its aims, discuss the training that the future fellows are going through, and share more about how your organization can take advantage of this great chance to help cultivate the next generation of D&D leaders while getting more support for your work – all for FREE! We’ll also be joined by NCDD Member Robin Teater of Healthy Democracy, who will share her experiences hosting a fellow this summer. We can’t wait to talk more with you on the call!

About NCDD’s Confab Calls…

Confab bubble imageNCDD’s Confab Calls are opportunities for members (and potential members) of NCDD to talk with and hear from innovators in our field about the work they’re doing, and to connect with fellow members around shared interests. Membership in NCDD is encouraged but not required for participation. Register today if you’d like to join us.

Arma il tuo riscatto- Progetto di allestimento partecipato per la stazione di Piscinola – Scampia (Napoli) [Arm your redemption - Participatory outfitting for Piscinola underground train station]

Dall’idea di un giovane studente di architettura (Mariano Marmo) nasce un progetto di coinvolgimento dei giovani alla realizzazione di opere artistiche con una tecnica originale (anamorfosi) per la riappropriazione simbolica di luoghi degradati e la comunicazione di messaggi pubblici di riscatto sociale.

Submit Your Nominations for the 2017 Civvys Awards

It’s important to recognize the work people are already doing in civic engagement to make strides toward improving the world around them. Which is why we are excited to announce the first-ever American Civic Collaboration Awards which honor the individuals and organizations who work in collaboration to improve their community and their nation. The Civvys are presented by NCDD member org, The Bridge Alliance and Big Tent Nation, and will be determined by a panel of civic engagement experts. Submit your nominations by Sept 15, 2017 and the winner will be announced October 20, 2017 at the National Conference on Citizenship in Washington DC.

We encourage you to read the details on The Civvys below or read the original version here.

The 2017 Civvys American Civic Collaboration Awards

In a nation awash in divisiveness, there’s a profound need to recognize individuals and organizations who work together across differences for the best of their communities and this nation.

That’s why the Bridge Alliance and Big Tent Nation, organizations committed to the grapple against partisan rancor and division, have joined forces to announce the first annual American Civic Collaboration Awards, or the Civvys.


Do you know people or organizations working together to address what divides us? Does their work:

  • Have a direct impact on America at a local, state or national level?
  • Use collaboration, community input and other collective action principles to make a difference?
  • Embody civility and mutual respect?

The Civvy Awards are thefirst national awards program designed to highlight organizations and individuals that leverage collaboration as a key strength in building initiatives that improve communities.

Whether it’s a grassroots neighborhood group working to bring people together, a nonprofit program to improve educational outcomes, a city government outreach initiative, or a corporation working with local leaders – we’re looking forward to celebrating projects of all sizes and types that utilize collective action best practices.


Driven by a panel of civic engagement experts, including former members of Congress, senior managers from top foundations and political thought leaders, the Civvys will highlight best practices in collective action that put community and nation before party, ideology, and narrow interests.

In an era of division and gridlock, it’s more important than ever to celebrate and support organizations that work together to improve America.

By recognizing projects and processes that emphasize collaboration, civility and on-the-ground impact, the Civvys are a powerful means to honor this work and inspire more of it.

The awardees will be celebrated in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on October 20, 2017 at the National Conference on Citizenship, a distinguished event that brings together the best minds in civic engagement

Distinguished review committee members include:

Mickey Edwards, Aspen Institute
Betsy Hawkings, Democracy Fund
Peter Levine, Tufts University
David Sawyer, Converge for Impact

You can find the original version of the Bridge Alliance and Big Tent Nation announcement at

Jato Spazio Idee [Jato Ideas Room]

“Jato Spazio Idee. Centro di coordinamento e di progettazione come spazio della democrazia e della legalità” è un progetto cofinanziato con risorse del Piano di Azione e Coesione (PAC), nell’ambito dell’Avviso pubblico “Giovani del no-profit per lo sviluppo del Mezzogiorno - Giovani per il sociale”, promosso dal Dipartimento della Gioventù...

what is polarization and when is it bad?

We might say that people are polarized when …

  1. They hold opposing positions on issues that matter to them.
  2. They hold contrasting core values that drive their opinions about issues.
  3. They identify strongly and stably with parties or ideological groups or movements that compete.
  4. As a principle or guideline, they oppose compromise with the other side.
  5. They use partisan labels as heuristics to judge candidates or issues.
  6. They use partisan heuristics to make decisions not directly related to politics, e.g., which community to live in or whom to date.
  7. They don’t actually interact with people who disagree or with people who identify differently.
  8. They don’t want to interact with people who disagree or with people who identify differently.
  9. They select or filter news and opinion to match their partisan opinions.
  10. They hold different factual beliefs that support their values.

These are separate issues, and we may feel differently about each one. For instance, I think that #1 and #2 (disagreeing about issues and about underlying principles) are completely fine. It’s even possible that we should cultivate a wider range of views and air them more openly and extensively. If that means more “polarization,” so be it. Also, #3 (identifying stably with an ideology) seems fine as long as you are thoughtful about it.

Surveys ask people about #4: Do you want politicians to compromise or to stand on principle? I find this a somewhat frustrating question, because it typically mentions only two options. A person can refuse to budge in a negotiation, give ground in the face of an opposing power, choose to compromise in the interest of moving forward, favor compromise because it is fair for interests to be balanced, or actually learn from an opposing argument and change her mind. I’m for changing one’s mind when (but only when) the opposing arguments are good. I’m not necessarily for compromising or holding firm in a negotiation: that depends on the circumstances. I’m not sure how I would answer the standard survey questions about willingness to compromise.

Partisan heuristics (#5 and #6) are problematic. Indeed, heuristics of any kind are problematic; they are shortcuts that evade harder thinking. On the other hand, heuristics are necessary because our brains are limited and we have other things to think about besides politics. People who have strong partisan identifications are more likely to vote and otherwise participate than people who don’t know how to identify themselves politically. This suggests that partisan heuristics are resources that enable political action. As long as the available party labels stand for reasonably valuable options, and the major options are available, I am not overly worried about partisan heuristics.

Here’s a thought-provoking example: Between 2011 and the revelation of the “Access Hollywood” tape, White Evangelicals changed their minds about whether political leaders who act immorally in private can nevertheless “behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life.” In 2011, White Evangelicals were the group least likely to agree with that; now they are the most likely to agree–a rapid, 42-point change. It would seem that their support for Donald Trump (81% of them voted for him) drove their opinions about a broader and deeper issue. But was this a case of partisan heuristics overwhelming people’s judgments or of people learning from experience? Perhaps their assessment of Trump caused them to revise and complicate a prior assumption about private morality.

It seems worse to choose neighborhoods and friends based on party labels (#6) than to vote on the basis of partisan heuristics (#5). To be sure, it’s good to take politics seriously, and if you do, your political judgments may affect your everyday choices. But using party labels to choose friends and neighbors prevents exposure to a broader range of perspectives (#7 and #8).

Problems #7-9 are all about living in separate bubbles, whether by accident (#7) or by choice (#8); whether in real life (#7 and #8) or in the media environment (#9). The last issue, #10 (holding different factual beliefs) follows from #7-9. I am not certain these problems are worse than they were when the entire South was “solid” for the Democrats and the whole small-town North “waved the bloody flag” for the GOP. However, we have lost large mediating institutions, such as grassroots-based political parties and metropolitan daily newspapers, that once exposed people to alternative views. The trend has been toward massively disaggregated choice. You used to decide whether or not to subscribe to a daily newspaper. Now you decide which paragraph of which article to send to whom. Massively disaggregated choice has promoted balkanization, which manifests in #7-10.

See also: the hollowing out of US democracycivic education in a time of inequality and polarization; and don’t let the behavioral revolution make you fatalistic.

Reclaiming Public Control of Money-Creation

Most people don’t really understand how money is created and what political choices are embedded in that process. As a result, the privatization of money-creation is largely invisible to public view, and the anti-social, anti-ecological effects of privately created, debt-based money go unchallenged. 

Mary Mellor, professor emerita at Northumbira University in the UK, wants to change this reality, as she explains in a recent essay, “Money for the People,” at the Great Transition Initiative website. Mellor, the author of Debt or Democracy and an expert on the development of alternative economies, writes that we must create new public circuits for money-creation so that we can direct money toward socially and ecologically needed activities, and not just the types of debt-driven loans that banks deem profitable. In other words, money-creation need not be controlled by private creditors in the course of creating debt.  

The average citizen knows that banks are too powerful and often predatory, but they may not realize that the state has largely ceded its power to create new money ("seignorage") to banks. Banks create new money out of thin air when they make loans. That money is not something they otherwise hold in a vault. It is literally created when a loan is approved. That is how banks make profits. 

The power to create new money is something that the government could feasibly control and administer itself, for the benefit of all.  But governments have surrendered their power of seignorage to the private banking system and its investors.

This has far-reaching, negative impact because, as Mellor explains, “It is the private, bank-issued money system that leaves us with a pernicious cycle of debt and growth. Money could encourage socially and ecologically sustainable production and consumption, but only if it ceases to be a creature of the market and is reclaimed as a social and public representation of value.”

I highly recommend Mellor’s essay because it deconstructs some of the basic, unquestioned premises of modern banking and money-creation while opening up new vistas for progressive action.  Even Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and their followers have not gotten their heads around the idea that the public could credibly reclaim its power to create debt-free, socially useful money.  But this would require the creation of new types of public institutions and processes for creating money for public purposes, and avoiding the pitfalls of political capture and inflation. 

Mellor writes:

“Neoliberalism, which has influenced so much of the conventional thinking about money, is adamant that the public sector must not create (‘print’) money, and so public expenditure must be limited to what the market can ‘afford.’ Money, in this view, is a limited resource that the market ensures will be used efficiently. Is public money, then, a pipe dream? No, for the financial crisis and the response to it undermined this neoliberal dogma. The financial sector mismanaged its role as a source of money so badly that the state had to step in and provide unlimited monetary backing to rescue it. The creation of money out of thin air by public authorities revealed the inherently political nature of money. But why, then, was the power to create money ceded to the private sector in the first place—and with so little public accountability? And if money can be created to serve the banks, why not to benefit people and the environment?”

In other writings, Mellor has pointed out the remarkable fact that “quantitative easing” carried out by the US Government to bail out banks is not regarded as public debt. QE gave away the game. It conspicuously demonstrated that the government itself (and not just banks) could create money out of thin air, and do so without it being considered public debt. The trillions of dollars created to prop up banks following the 2008 financial crisis, after all, was a case of the sovereign state creating debt-free money. (The banks are not going to repay those trillions.)

Mellor insists that “states can and do ‘print money.’ First, it is produced ex nihilo by central banks to provide cash and support for the money-creating activities of the banking sector. Second, money is created and circulated as the government spends, in the same way that banks create money as they lend. States spend money and then offset their expenditures against tax revenue and other income received.”

“All modern currencies are “fiat money,” created out of nothing, their value sustained by public trust and state authority," write Mellor.  "So why are states and their citizens shackled in debt? Why can’t the people simply create the money they need free of debt? Why can’t that money be circulated in a not-for-profit social or public sector?"

She answer:  “….if money is created and circulated initially by the public sector, then there is no need to ‘raise’ money through taxation. Rather than preceding public expenditure, taxation would follow it, retrieving publicly created money from circulation in amounts sufficient to keep inflation in check. If the public sector is much larger than the private sector, taxes might have to be quite high.”  But these "expenditures" of new money would serve social and environmental needs without having to meet the profit-making criteria of banks.

In the rest of her essay, Mellor outlines how a new public circuit of money could be responsibly administered by new public institutions without creating inflation or resulting in special-interest abuses of the money-creation power (as if that does not already occur right now, via banks!).  She envisions “a shift from profits to provisioning would put the main focus of the economy where it belongs: on the sustainable meeting of needs. That goal would be met through a combination of a basic income (that is, a monetary allocation to each individual as matter of right) and a budget for collective expenditures on public services and infrastructure.” 

To work well, a robust democratic process would be needed to ensure an effective form of participatory budgeting and strong oversight of monetary decisionmaking and implementation. But with such a system, money-creation would not just finance “development” that can no longer be sustained by the planet’s finite resources, it could facilitate the provision of economic security and sustainable livelihoods for all.

It’s time for commoners to open up a new debate about the politics of money-creation. The rise of blockchain-ledger software (the engine behind Bitcoin) is already doing this. Digital currencies are showing how voluntary collectives can create their own functional currencies that let communities (and not banks) capture the value that communities create. That represents a potentially huge shift of political power. It’s also time to bring the politics of fiat currency (conventional money) into this discussion, as Mary Mellor's fascinating essay does.  

Edmonton Citizens’ Jury on Internet Voting

The Citizens' Jury on Internet voting was convened November 23 to 25, 2012 in Edmonton, Canada. This event engaged 17 Edmonton citizens to deliberate on whether to introduce Internet voting as an alternative voting method in future municipal elections. The citizens' jury process was modeled by the Centre for Public...

Join Call on Bridging Divides Using Civil Discourse

As part of our #BridgingOurDivides and desire to lift up this important work, we wanted to share this upcoming call with the Orton Family Foundation, which will feature practical tips on bridging divides using civil discourse. This free event on Sept 28th will feature long-time NCDD member Carolyn Lukensmeyer of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and Thom Harnett the mayor of Gardiner, Maine. We encourage you to read the post from Orton Family Foundation and register for the call below or read the original here.

Heart & Soul Talks: Bridge Divides with Discourse that’s Civil

Orton LogoTaking on controversial issues is a challenge that every community faces. How those issues are approached can make the difference between a community that thrives and one where divides erode a community’s vitality.

Join us for insight and practical ideas and tools for advancing civil discourse from nationally-recognized expert in the field, Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, and Thom Harnett, mayor of Gardiner, Maine, who has led the way in welcoming new residents, embracing the value they bring to the town, sometimes in the face of protest.


Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director, National Institute for Civil Discourse

As a leader in the field of deliberative democracy, Dr. Lukensmeyer works to restore our democracy to reflect the intended vision of our founding fathers. She previously served as Founder and President of AmericaSpeaks, an award-winning nonprofit organization that promoted nonpartisan initiatives to engage citizens and leaders through the development of innovative public policy tools and strategies.

Thom Harnett, mayor, Gardiner, Maine.

Thom, now serving his third term as mayor of Gardiner, Maine, recently retired from the state Office of the Attorney General where he had served as an assistant attorney general, and established Civil Rights Teams in more than 220 schools statewide. Thom was active in Gardiner’s Community Heart & Soul® project.

Fran Stoddard, moderator

A national award-winning producer of video programs, Fran produced and hosted Vermont Public Television’s weekly “Profile” interview program for more than a decade. She frequently serves as moderator for community events and has served on numerous non-profit boards.

This FREE event is 2-3 p.m. Eastern, Thursday, September 28. Can’t join us live? Register and we’ll send the call recording.

Heart & Soul Talks features stories and insight from Community Heart & Soul®, a community development model that builds stronger, healthier, and more economically vibrant small cities and towns. Learn more at

You can find the original version of this announcement at