Inspiring Our Best Selves Through Franklin’s Virtues

As part of our partnership with NCDD member org, Ben Franklin Circles (BFC), we have been connecting the stories coming from the Circles here on the blog. The most recent article, written by Sarah Goodwin Thiel of the Harwood Institute – also an NCDD member org – makes note of how Franklin’s 13 virtues can inspire us to live closer to our higher selves. You can read the article below and find the original on BFC’s site here.


Calling Our Best Selves

When one lives in the DC Metro area, the founding fathers are never far away. You see them everywhere – universities and institutes are named after them; books by and about them grace shop windows; they are memorialized at every turn – their likenesses found in statues, their words engraved on walls and plaques. And now, as in the case of Ben Franklin, groups of people are gathering monthly to discuss their ideas. Ben Franklin Circles are not unique to Washington DC but I was unaware of them before arriving here. Following the book club format, with good food and lively conversation, these circles bring people together to discuss BF’s 13 Virtues, considered and documented by Franklin when he was just 20 years old. At this writing, I have engaged with only four of Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues. My friend and I joined another friend’s neighborhood Ben Franklin Circle on month #5 where we had a rousing discussion of frugality and were left looking at the concept in new and different ways.

Since then, in our monthly discussions of the virtues, we have each shared and discussed our varied views of the concepts and we have done our best to make sense of BF’s definitions. Our conversations cover a lot of ground, we move between confidence and vulnerability as BF calls us to live purposefully and responsibly. His focus is not on doing the “right” thing but on doing all things thoughtfully and with intention. He asks us to be mindful of our own gifts, our own privilege and to make sound decisions that do no harm to others – or to ourselves. Each month, Ben Franklin slips into our lives to remind us
to be our best selves.

Imagine if we were all to do that. It stands to reason that together our efforts would be strengthened and our impact far greater. But that kind of intentionality begs for brutal honesty, discipline, self-awareness and a sincere belief in personal responsibility. And that’s the catch, right? How many of us have all these things? Or the wherewithal to practice them, if we do? Ben Franklin surely knew this. He knew from his own experience that living a “virtuous” life, as he defined it, would not come as second nature but would require practice. Franklin’s virtues must be repeated, they need to be considered regularly and practiced daily.

I have to say that in just four months, I find myself looking at things very differently. I am determined, with BF’s virtues in mind, and with lots of practice, to put my best self forward. To use my resources and my privilege to benefit others as well as myself. I will soon be leaving the Metro area and will no longer see the founding fathers every day but I go with a new aspiration to live thoughtfully and with intention – and I have Ben Franklin to thank for that.

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues

  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness. Drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e., Waste nothing.
  6. Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Sarah Goodwin Thiel is a Studio Associate at the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in DC, where she is a member of a Ben Franklin Circle. Post originally published by the Harwood Institute https://theharwoodinstitute.org/news/2018/7/5/calling-our-best-selves

You can find this version of the article on the Ben Franklin Circles’ blog at www.benfranklincircles.org/virtues/calling-our-best-selves.

Ensuring Engagement is Inclusive and Fair

In order to have engagement that is fair and equitable to all members of society, it is vital to be intentional when designing and facilitating those processes by asking, “who shows up?”. NCDD member org the Participatory Budgeting Project recently shared this article on how to make PB inclusive and fair, and there are some great tips to keep in mind for all our work. We encourage you to read the post below and find the original on PBP’s site here.


Making PB Inclusive and Fair

Typically, when we want to know how inclusive and fair a Participatory Budgeting (PB) process is, we ask “Who shows up?” While this is a good starting point, it’s not enough. To meaningfully assess equity, we need to dig deeper.

Celina Su, Chair of Urban Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY) and Frankie Mercedes, former Communications Strategist with the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP), joined forces to lead a stellar PBP Network Study Session, which addressed issues of equity and fairness in PB.

This blog post reviews the main points of their conversation, identifies common barriers to equal participation in PB, and suggests how to make PB more accessible to people with low incomes and to people of color.

“Who shows up?”

Public Agenda’s report on PB in North America found that during the PB vote, “In nearly all communities, black residents were overrepresented or represented proportionally to the local census among voter survey respondents.” In contrast, PBP’s internal evaluation data shows that white people, people with high or moderate incomes, and people with advanced degrees tend to be overrepresented in the steering committee and budget delegate role. The populations in the second group tend to have more time, flexibility, and financial security—factors that make them more likely to participate in more intensive aspects of PB.

To create truly inclusive PB processes, low-income residents and people of color must be well represented on the steering committee and as budget delegates. The steering committee sets the rules for a PB process, and these rules ensure an inclusive and fair process. When low-income people and people of color are not in the room, steering committees miss valuable ideas on how to create a fair process.

Here’s how you can make sure everyone shows up:

  • Publicize and do outreach for all phases of the PB process—not just for idea collection and the vote.
  • Provide 2-way transit fare for people who’ve identified need.
  • Offer free, on-site childcare and food at PB events to boost engagement of women, parents, and low-income residents.
  • Consider the location of PB events—Fancy venues or gentrified areas in a city may feel unwelcoming to some. Switch up the location of PB events to make sure that everyone feels welcome and feels ownership of their PB process.

“Who gets heard?”

Celina Su interviewed several PB participants about their experience in PBNYC, and she saw a pattern. People of color and people with low incomes felt that the PB process was frustrating and unfair. Highly organized groups, like parent-teacher associations from high-income neighborhoods, had a set agenda and dominated the budget delegate process.

The budget delegate stage is a very important part of PB. As volunteers, budget delegates select ideas from the idea collection phase and turn them into proposals that PB participants vote on. While residents can voice any priority during the idea collection phase, budget delegates work with staff to determine which ideas are eligible for PB funding.

In many cases, PB funding comes from an elected official’s capital budget. This means that a PB proposal has to be a capital project in order it to be eligible for funding. A capital project is a physical purchase (e.g. computer), construction, or renovation (e.g. a building).

When residents think about what their community needs, they may not think of physical infrastructure; they might think of training, programs, or other non-physical investments. Residents may struggle to think of physical changes that can address their community’s most pressing needs—like quality education and job access. And, because low-income residents and people of color are often underrepresented as budget delegates, they don’t have the same opportunities to pick ideas and tweak non-eligible ideas so that they fit into PB’s rules. This is why projects that benefit marginalized communities can fall off the table during the budget delegate phase.

During Celina’s interviews, residents also said it was intimidating to talk with elected officials and city staff. Many people don’t have experience talking with elected officials or speaking in the language of government and law. Without sufficient support mechanisms, this imbalance fosters an environment that privileges those with more education and knowledge of government and law.

Here’s how you can make sure that everyone’s voice is heard:

  • Pay budget delegates and steering committee members

People who have the time and extra cash to volunteer tend to be of mid to high socioeconomic status. Paying residents for their time will incentivize people of all income backgrounds to participate in the time and energy intensive aspects of the PB process.

  • Provide space for in-group deliberation

In-group deliberation gives residents from similar backgrounds (e.g. public housing, immigrant, age group, etc.) the opportunity to discuss, solidify and agree on priorities. For example, non-English single language meetings have been very successful.

  • Offer training for government representatives

Government representatives should make themselves open and available to their community. Simple changes in tone and body language can mean the difference between intimidating residents and engaging them.

  • Bring in facilitators

Facilitators can help participants shape and develop their ideas and to ensure that certain groups don’t dominate speaking time.

“How does PB interact with society and government institutions?”

In her research on inclusion and PB in New York City, Celina notes that surveillance cameras are among the most popular projects in PBNYC. According to her report, they have “won funding every year so far.”

Celina sought to find out why cameras were so popular among NYC residents. She found that residents who wanted security cameras envisioned the cameras as part of a much broader program of public safety. Some residents’ vision of community safety included “greater police accountability and economic support as well as surveillance, and they crucially included bottom-up accountability and access to… [the video footage] captured by cameras.” But some residents were not aware that the New York City Police Department does not routinely make surveillance footage available to the public. On top of that, the economic and jobs programs that residents wanted did not qualify as capital projects and were therefore ineligible for PB funding. By the time PB voting began, NYPD-controlled surveillance cameras were the only thing left of residents’ vision for community safety.

Here’s some tips to equalize benefits from PB:

  • Make equity and inclusion an explicit goal of the PB process

PB is about making communities stronger and more civically engaged. PB participants want to help make that goal a reality. When PB leaders encourage participants to center equity, they create an environment where participants actively consider the needs of other residents.

  • Find or create a district profile

A district profile should describe the most important aspects of a community (e.g. educational achievement, income, ethnic composition). This will help residents identify what is going well in the district and locate areas for improvement. PBP’s list of community resources called Data for the People is a great starting point for gathering information about your community, as is the new tool developed by PBP, myPB.community.

  • Let participants know how government agencies implement PB projects

Some residents told Celina that they would not have voted for surveillance cameras had they known that the community would not have had control over the footage. It’s critical that PB participants understand the ramifications of what they are voting for so that they can make an informed decision.

As a tool, PB is susceptible to the same challenges faced by any other civic process. However, because it’s flexible and includes community involvement at high levels, PB leaders and residents have the opportunity to design a PB process that’s both inclusive and fair.

Want more info on PB and Inclusion? You can find more resources below:

Report: Celina Su’s Research on Inclusion in PB

PB Study Session: Equity and Inclusion in PB (Video)

PB Community Tools: Data for the People

PB Tool: Outreach Toolkit

PB Study Session: Budget Delegates (Video)

Report: Celina Su’s Research on PB

Blog Post: Black Power through Participatory Budgeting

You can find the original version of this post on the Participatory Budgeting Project’s site at www.participatorybudgeting.org/making-pb-inclusive-and-fair/.

DMC Hosts Third Annual Civic Institute on August 17th

The third annual Civic Institute is happening Friday, August 17th, hosted by NCDD member org the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. This will be one of the premier events dedicated to strengthening civic life in Alabama and will be a fantastic opportunity for those doing civic engagement work throughout the state.  DMC recently announced the session line up which you can read more below and on the DMC’s site here.


2018 Civic Institute: Be Together Differently

We’ve added new sessions to our third annual Civic Institute! Please join us Friday, August 17, for some deep conversations on strengthening civic life in Alabama – not for a day, but for the duration.

Each year, our hope at the Civic Institute is that Alabamians doing good, sustainable work in their neighborhoods and hometowns connect with each other in new ways. Every place has a unique story and faces a distinct set of challenges, yet across the state, the Mathews Center sees increasingly that Alabama residents and civic leaders often face similar issues. Through Alabama Issues Forums we see that when people desire to address an issue they all face – rather than politics or personalities – deliberative conversations can be especially suited for the uncommon and transformative experience of working together across difference. Wicked problems don’t tend to disappear overnight, and so the everyday habit of talking with each other as citizens – not circling issues, but working towards creating solutions we can all live with – often proves to be, simultaneously, one of the most effective and the most accessible approaches to sustainable community development.

At this year’s Civic Institute, we hope to find deeper ways to support Alabamians practicing such fundamental aspects of democracy as having sustained conversations on difficult issues, practicing innovations in journalism, bringing underrepresented groups to the table, and recognizing the potential each individual holds to make their communities better for everyone. More than ever, this year, we seek to continue modeling our call to listen first and to “pass the mic” by highlighting the following speakers and topics:

The Elephant in the Room: Talking About Difficult Issues: Talking about challenging issues in a divided political climate is hard. Listening to those we disagree with is difficult. Finding opportunities to bridge divides and discuss the “elephants in the room” in a productive, civil manner that prioritizes understanding over consensus is even more challenging. During this interactive session, learn from Alabama communities that are engaging citizens in deliberation on some of the most divisive public issues facing communities today. Discover tools and resources you can use to tackle the issues facing your community. Chris McCauley of Markstein will moderate; additional speaker details are forthcoming. This session is made possible by a generous donation from The Blackburn Institute at the University of Alabama.

“Public life is bigger than political life. We have narrowly equated the two in recent years, and we’ve impoverished ourselves in the process. Public life includes all of our disciplines and endeavors, including ourselves as citizens and professional people and neighbors and parents and friends. The places we’ve looked for leadership and modeling have become some of the most broken in our midst. And so it is up to us, where we live, to start having the conversations we want to be hearing and creating the realities we want to inhabit.”

– Krista Tippet, On Being

Who Remembers? Collective Memory and Public Life: The issue of monuments and memorials in public spaces divides communities around the nation, and people of goodwill on all sides of the issue struggle to hear each other productively.  In this facilitated discussion, participants will discuss what concerns them the most regarding this issue and whether they can imagine opportunities for deliberation within their communities and networks. This session will be moderated by Dr. Mark Wilson, Director of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities at Auburn University. Our thanks to the Alabama Bicentennial Commission for generously sponsoring this session.

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”

– Wendell Berry

The Front Doors of Fellowship: Engaging with Difference Through Faith: What is the role of faith communities in public life? What do we find at the intersection of faith and civic engagement? How can we cultivate the physical and conceptual spaces that houses of worship occupy, in order to bring people together in new ways that connect our individual experiences and our rich inner lives with the work that we must all do, collectively, as a public? Faith communities, for many Alabamians, not only feed the spiritual life, they also serve as a hub of community life. This session will focus on stories, challenges, and opportunities in bringing faith communities together across divides to address key issues and challenges facing our hometowns and our state.

“The power of belonging creates and undoes us both; if spirituality does not speak to this power, then it speaks to little.”

-Pádraig Ó Tuama, Irish Theologian

Urban Perspectives on Civic Engagement in Alabama: The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Woodlawn Project and Spring Hill College’s Foley Fellowship in Civic Leadership are experiential learning opportunities that seek to work alongside neighboring communities to better understand and address the complex effects that poverty and other related disparities have on their quality of life. The effectiveness of each project is rooted in its being tailored to fit the particular contexts in which each institution operates. Attendees of this session will take part in a dialogue that compares and contrasts the unique challenges, approaches, and learning outcomes that these programs have yielded working with community partners in urban contexts on opposite sides of the state.

“As we internalize the view of others, we change. And as our perception of others changes, we see possibilities for acting together that we didn’t see before.”

-Dr. David Mathews

Who’s Not At the Table? Engaging Youth in Civic Deserts: Over the past decade, civic engagement and volunteering rates among young Americans have declined across race, income, and education levels. However, youth and young adults living in “civic deserts” are disproportionately represented among the disengaged.  Civic deserts are communities that lack adequate opportunities for young people to learn about and participate in civic and political life. Over 40% of American youth and young adults live in “civic deserts.” In rural areas, the percentage of young people living in civic deserts climbs to nearly 60%. Youth in civic deserts are less engaged in politics, are less likely to vote in elections, and are less likely to believe in the influence of their own voice and the collective potential of their community. While the statistics can be harrowing, there are leaders, educators, and organizers across Alabama who are working to revive youth engagement within rural and urban civic deserts. By capitalizing on the assets within their community to create leadership opportunities, mentorship programs, career training, and youth programming, the guest speakers in our Engaging the Disengaged: Youth in Civic Deserts session are creating innovative avenues for youth engagement. This session is made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of Alabama Public Television.

Passing the Mic: Representation & Empathy in Civic Media: The digital disruption of traditional news and media outlets has become an accepted, albeit cliche, archetype for the twenty-first century. The fourth estate that so many Americans revered throughout our history has been faced with growing distrust, diminished resources, and has struggled to translate its traditional structure and function into an increasingly viral model of news and journalism. At the same time, digital technologies have enabled millions to tell their own stories in a way that is diffuse, yet direct.

The rise of citizen journalism and social media has emerged as a critical component of what we today characterize as “civic media.” The centuries-long interpolation of citizen and journalist is newly-malleable, and calls for a radical reconceptualization of the citizen-journalist relationship. “I just want to be a voice for the voiceless,” is a refrain that is increasingly unable to bear the complex weight of citizens ready to speak for themselves. Why be a voice for the voiceless when you could just pass the mic?

This session will explore ways of passing the mic and equipping others to tell their own story through digital media as well as traditional journalistic outlets. From Twitter to the town square, we will consider examples of intergenerational cooperation amongst communities, local professors, and their students, as they reimagine what community journalism and self-representation can accomplish in our time.

To register, visit 2018civicinstitute.eventbrite.com. Please contact Rebecca Cleveland at rcleveland@mathewscenter.org if the cost of attending presents a burden; we have some scholarships available. To become a sponsor, contact Cristin Brawner at cfoster@mathewscenter.org. 

 You can find the original version of this announcement on the David Mathews Center blog at www.mathewscenter.org/2018-civic-institute-sessions/.

Recap of our NCDD Confab Featuring Undivided Nation

We had great Confab call last week featuring NCDD members David and Erin Leaverton of Undivided Nation – and you missed an excellent call if weren’t able to join! The Leavertons shared with the 40 participants on the call, about their experience traveling to every state in the US to listen to folks throughout the country and find ways where people can be united. We strongly encourage you to check out the recording to hear about their transformative adventure and learn of the powerful takeaways.

With the beautiful Lake Champlain in the background, David and Erin joined us via video call during their stop in Vermont, to share about their journey so far and some of the humbling learning opportunities they ‘ve experienced. Just before the beginning of the year, the Leavertons sold their house, bought an RV, and have been traveling state-to-state with their three children. Spurred by the fierce partisanship David experienced while working in politics, they sought to talk with folks from all parts of the US and better understand the roots of this country, in order to hopefully find ways to unify the deep divisions. Initially, they began their journey thinking people would be focused on the political divisions in this country, and yet they found that most have shared about the deep racial and socio-economic divisions they experience.

Halfway through their trip, the Leavertons have already had profound learning and said that every person they’ve connected with has impacted them. With humility, they shared how their understanding of the racial realities in this country has shifted and recognized how much more complex the issues in the US are than they previously believed. As their understanding has grown of the deep inequities some folks in this country experience, they noted the need to genuinely address these inequalities in order to work toward a country that is just and provides the constitutional ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – to all people.

We were live tweeting during the call and here are some of our favorites from the Confab:

  • “We wanted to help bring unity…My heart was breaking about what was going on in the country and I had a desire to be part of the change I wanted to see, that’s what set off this journey.”
  • “We asked ourselves – how can you begin to bring unity to people you’ve never met before? So we sold our house, got an RV to travel to every state and talk to people.”
  • “We invite people to come along with us and share what we’re learning, it’s too good not to share. It’s radically changed our understanding of our county and it was important for us to do it this way.”
  • “We’re traveling to a new state every Mon, we started the journey thinking ppl would focus on political divisions, but people have been more focused on racial and social-economic divisions.”
  • “Many people have a fear of other people… on some level… and have to get past this fear of people to be able to listen. You don’t have to sacrifice your truth to understand another.”
  • “To tell people who have experienced violence to forgive or be civil, it’s not just civility and while forgiveness is a part of it, we need to understand the reality before we preach forgiveness.”
  • “We need a candid conversation about the history of this country and when we come to terms with our true story, there’ll be a day of mourning – we need to come clean and acknowledge, before we, as a country, can move forward.”
  • “You can’t force people to interact… but you can invite people. Curiosity is the key ingredient, and it will help get you through the face of fear”

We recorded the whole presentation in case you weren’t able to join us, which you can access on the archives page by clicking here. We had several insightful contributions to the chat, which you can find the transcript of here. Access to the archives is a benefit of being an NCDD member, so make sure your membership is up-to-date (or click here to join).

Confab bubble image

We want to thank David, Erin, and all the Confab participants for contributing to this informative conversation! To learn more about NCDD’s Confab Calls and hear recordings of others, visit www.ncdd.org/events/confabs.

Finally, we love holding these events and we want to continue to elevate the work of our field with Confab Calls and Tech Tuesdays. It is through your generous contributions to NCDD that we can keep doing this work! That’s why we want to encourage you to support NCDD by making a donation or becoming an NCDD member today (you can also renew your membership by clicking here). Thank you!

Exploring Civility in America through Ben Franklin’s Wisdom

As part of our partnership with NCDD member org, Ben Franklin Circles (BFC), we have been sharing stories from BFC. Because of the vitriol of the US political climate these last few years, there has been an increased call for civility. The article offers the views of Ben Franklin and Dale Carnegie as thought fodder for bringing more civility to America. You can read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.


Ben Franklin & Civility

“The only way to win an argument is to avoid it.”

Dale Carnegie’s famous remark was preceded by Benjamin Franklin’s own formulation of this axiom, which he describes in his Autobiography as the “habit of modest diffidence.” Franklin explains that this practice banishes the categorical from his vocabulary, ascribing to this habit much of his success “when [he] had occasion to inculcate [his] opinion and persuade men into measures.”

Gone were words such as “Certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give air to the positives to an opinion,” and welcomed were such phrases as “I conceived,” “I apprehend,” and “I imagine it to be so.”

At bottom, Carnegie and Franklin offer the same bit of advice: to persuade people to your point of view, you must appear to not disagree with them at all.

If you are now thinking, “How are you supposed to have a conversation without appearing to say anything different from one’s interlocutor?” I know what you mean. It is also fair to ask whether it is patronizing—or even dishonest—to smile and nod at your conversation partner for the sake of personal gain or social ease.

Indeed, Carnegie and Franklin may well be accused by one Tom Scocca of being purveyors of “smarm,” a disposition he scathingly condemned in a 4,000 word treatise.

“Smarm,” says Scocca, “is a kind of performance — an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance.” Smarm, he says, is the tool of self-aggrandizers and the death of public discourse and intellectual honesty. It was when BuzzFeed assumed Thumper’s motto, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”—which sounds vaguely reminiscent of Carnegie’s and Franklin’s advice—that Scocca could no longer stay silent. “The evasion of disputes is a defining tactic of smarm. Smarm, whether political or literary, insists that the audience accept the priors it has been given. Debate begins where the important parts of the debate have ended.” Smarm refuses to engage with ideas by instead “smoothing over” disagreement for the sake of social comfort or personal gain. This, for Scocca, is what makes smarm dishonest and worthy of contempt.

Writer Leon Wieseltier concurs: “In intellectual and literary life, where the stakes may be quite high, manners must never be the primary consideration. People who advance controversial notions should be prepared for controversy. Questions of truth, meaning, goodness, justice and beauty are bigger than Bambi.”

I quite agree.

But that does not mean we should wholly discard Carnegie’s and Franklin’s admonitions. It is possible to disagree with someone without permanently rupturing the relationship, and they point us how to do that.

By encouraging us to be sensitive to how our interlocutor will hear our words, Carnegie and Franklin direct us toward true civility, a mode that respects the inherent dignity of each person with whom one interacts

By placing people at the center, true civility provides a framework for understanding not just when to criticize and when to focus on social ease but, perhaps more importantly, how.

True civility is more than “niceness” because it respects people enough to take them and their ideas seriously. The truly civil person is one who is teachable, who is willing to be wrong, and willing to place a relationship before being right.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “A gentleman is one who never gives offense… unintentionally.” There is, contrary to Carnegie and Franklin’s position, a time to take a strong stance that perhaps even gives offense. We also are not always in control of when others are offended by us. But by plumbing with reinvigorated rigor the foundation to our souls, examining if our values and priorities are reflected in our words and deeds, and be part of re claiming a more authentic, and truly civil, America.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circles’ site at www.benfranklincircles.org/virtues/ben-franklin-civility.

Evdem with Undivided Nation & Join NCDD Confab Tomo

Leading up to our NCDD Confab call tomorrow featuring NCDD member org Undivided Nation, we wanted to share this piece from fellow NCDD member org, Everyday Democracy. Written by Sandy Rodriguez, the piece shares the story of the Leavertons’ journey to every state across the US to listen to folks’ stories, better understand our Nation’s history, and ultimately help bring people together across divides.

We are thrilled to talk with the Leavertons’ on our Confab call tomorrow, Thursday, June 28th from 2-3pm Eastern/11am-Noon Pacific. Register to join us for this free call by clicking here! You can read the post below and find the original on EvDem’s site here.


The Road to an Undivided Nation—Discovering How Race Divides Us

EvDem LogoImagine quitting your job, selling your home and taking your three small children on the road for a year in an RV to visit all 50 states in our nation, with the goal of understanding our current divides and finding ways to bridge them toward an undivided nation.

This is the Leaverton’s American Dream and they are living it, state by state, from south, to north, east to west, community by community on a yearlong, enlightening and heartfelt listening tour. Since January 2018, the family of five has embarked on a cross-country tour, meeting with American people, from all walks of life in the nation’s cities and towns. The purpose of their meetings is three-fold: First, it is to listen to them to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges in each community. Second, it is to collectively explore the roots of the nation’s divides. And last, it is to search for ways that can connect us all, across the many divides. They were 18 states into their journey, when they visited, learned from and shared their story with the Everyday Democracy team in Hartford, Connecticut.

“We were led to take on this journey after the 2016 Presidential election,” said David Leaverton when the issues that were dividing our country became front and center. “We started in Tulsa, Oklahoma expecting to hear about and talk about the political divisions that exist between liberals and conservatives. It was then, that we began to discover a deeper division, more foundational than our political differences that run along racial lines. Injustice and inequality was the key issue that so many people wanted to talk about. Conversations with people across the country have taught us so many things that we weren’t taught in our history books. We got more than we bargained for in these conversations, and that continued as a theme as we moved into Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania before landing in Connecticut.

In almost every community we have visited, when we opened the conversation on what is dividing our nation, unilaterally, people often wanted to talk about racism. They wanted to share stories related to justice and inequality relating to skin color. They wanted to talk about race.”

“The challenge is,” said David Leaverton, “reaching the white moderates like us. White moderates who believe more in order than in justice, as so poignantly put by Martin Luther King in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

Here is an excerpt:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Martin Luther King, Letter From a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf

Erin and David provided many examples of how racism is alive and well in our country, gathered from their listening sessions so far. Erin talked about Mechelle, a pregnant black woman in her early 20s who was ignored and mistreated when she went to the local hospital to deliver her baby. Mechelle lost her baby and almost lost her own life. You can read more about Mechelle and her story here.

You can read many more stories on the Leaverton’s blog:
https://undividednation.us/road-trip/.

In the intimate community conversation in Hartford, Connecticut hosted by Everyday Democracy one person asked, “Why can’t we just all be one race, and get past this? Just take the race and ethnicity question off the census?” David Leaverton responded. “I believe that before we “get past” the racial labels that have divided our population, we first need to acknowledge what has happened historically and what is still going on today.” Only after recognition and a true effort for reconciliation has occurred, can we, as a people, move forward in a way that will transform our culture to one of inclusion and equity for all.

The Leavertons are hoping that through the simple act of listening and sharing stories, that diverse opinions, backgrounds and viewpoints that have kept Americans so deeply divided can give way to cross-cultural understanding, authentic forgiveness, and an unprecedented level of justice and unity in America. They are inspired by the people they are meeting and organizations, like Everyday Democracy, that are working tirelessly to bridge the divides, toward a truly united nation.

Don’t Miss Out on Undivided Nation Confab Call Thurs 6/28

Remember to register for our upcoming June Confab Call featuring Undivided Nation happening this Thursday, June 28th! This free call will be from 2-3pm Eastern/11am-Noon Pacific. Make sure you register today to secure your spot for this exciting call!

David and Erin Leaverton are the founders of Undivided Nation, which aims to serve as a catalyst for reconciliation and unity in America. David, following a career in partisan politics, felt a calling to work to repair the divides in our nation, and to connect with people who he has seen as an opponent, or as a stereotype. David and Erin decided to sell their house, quit their jobs, and spend 2018 traveling the country with their three children, spending a week in each state and learning more about those they once recognized as “other,” as well as exploring what divides us, and what can bring us together.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out their road trip blog and their Facebook page for updates on their journey and reflections on the experience and the people they’ve met so far. David also wrote a piece for NCDD’s blog, which we highly recommend. You can also check out the video of their story below!

David and Erin will join us to discuss their journey, and what they have been learning along the way. They are two wonderful people and they have some powerful stories to tell, so this is sure to be a great call to learn more about their journey and connect with them! You may even have some ideas for them about folks to connect with when they come to your state!

Don’t miss out – register for our call today!

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. Confabs are free and open to all. Register today if you’d like to join us!

Democracy Fund Revamps Their Engaged Journalism Lab

Over the last couple years, NCDD has been working to grow and strengthen the partnership between the D&D and journalism fields (which you can learn about from our NCDD2016 conf panel, our D&D-journalism podcast, and Confab call).  Journalism is vital to both a functioning democracy and the engagement field – because without journalists, the important stories from the community don’t get shared in the same way and thus have a less powerful impact. We have been especially excited for efforts around engaged journalism, which is why we wanted to share the recent announcement from the Democracy Fund – an NCDD2018 conference sponsor org, about their Engaged Journalism Lab, a resource for audience-driven journalism. You can read the article written by Josh Stearns below and find the original on the Democracy Fund’s site here.


Welcome to the Democracy Fund Engaged Journalism Lab

The Engaged Journalism Lab is a resource for building and supporting trusted, inclusive, and audience-driven journalism.

The ability of journalism to serve as our Fourth Estate — to be a check and balance on government and powerful interests — is under increasing threat. Journalism today faces multiple challenges: a faltering business model with shrinking resources; a political environment in which they find themselves under attack; and a climate of deep distrust by the American people.

In a 2017 survey, the Poynter Institute, a Democracy Fund grantee, found that only 49% of Americans have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the media. We believe this distrust is connected to another problem: journalism’s lack of deep engagement with its audiences, exacerbated by news organizations whose staff and coverage do not represent the communities they serve.

At Democracy Fund, one of our goals is to ensure that every American citizen has access to audience-centered, trusted, resilient journalism. To meet this goal, we are working to build a media landscape that truly serves the public interest.Through our Public Square Program, we support projects and organizations that enable newsrooms to build meaningful, trusted relationships with their communities through audience-driven storytelling, inclusion, and transparency. We call this work “Engaged Journalism,” and have seen firsthand how practical investments in these organizations and ideas can have a transformative effect on newsrooms.

As a part of this effort, we’re re-launching this Medium publication as the Democracy Fund Engaged Journalism Lab. The Engaged Journalism Lab will focus, not on how to get a grant from Democracy Fund, but rather on what our grantees and partners are doing and learning. We’ll also discuss the big ideas shaping the field and shine a spotlight on the people helping to make journalism more inclusive and engaged with its community. We hope it will serve as a resource for those working at the intersection of media and democracy.

The Local News Lab’s work exploring bold ideas for the future of local news continues at LocalNewsLab.org and through the weekly Local Fix newsletter. And you can find out more about Democracy Fund, a bipartisan foundation created by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to ensure our political system is able to withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people, at democracyfund.org.

Managed by Paul Waters and Lea Trusty, the Engaged Journalism Lab will feature content on a variety of subjects, including how newsrooms can better:

  • Engage their communities in content generation, production, dissemination, and discussion;
  • Address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion within journalism through inclusive newsroom policies and practices, including recruiting, retaining, and promoting diverse staff and supporting minority ownership of independent media properties;
  • Experiment with new tools and technology that aim to help the public and news distribution platforms identify quality, trusted news; and
  • Rebuild and fortify trust between the media and Americans.

We recognize that these are not small goals — and we know we can’t do it alone. Democracy Fund believes that collaboration is the only way we can begin to solve journalism’s most pressing challenges, and as a systems change organization, we are committed to learning, iterating, and partnering in ways that strengthen both our work and the field at large.

It is our hope the Democracy Fund Engaged Journalism Lab becomes a place to highlight new ideas and uncover new solutions that we haven’t thought of yet. If you have a question or a thought, please share it. If there’s an idea or project that we should know about, please let us know. You can reach us at EJLab[at]democracyfund[dot]org. We don’t pretend to have all answers to journalism’s problems, but we hope this will be a place where we can work through some of the questions together.

You can find the original version on the Democracy Fund site at www.democracyfund.org/blog/entry/introducing-the-engaged-journalism-lab.

NCDD Member with Tips to Expand Your Information Bubble

The engagement field knows the value of folks being able to reach outside of their usual information bubble in order to understand other perspectives, build empathy, and expand your mind. Which is why we wanted to share this piece by Annie Pottorff of The Jefferson Center – an NCDD member organization, which shared some excellent tips for bursting your info bubble. We encourage you to share your additional ideas in the comments section below. You can read the article below and find the original on The Jefferson Center’s site here.


How to Burst Your Information Bubble

If you’re reading this, we’d bet that you care about the future of democracy, the forces that damage it, and the work that strengthens it. If you do, then chances are also good that you’ve heard the phrases “information bubble” and/or “filter bubble” as topics of concern. To provide a (very) brief overview: as humans in the digital age, we tend to seek out people and publications with similar opinions to ours, which is a pretty good way to avoid conflict. When we can get our news feed tailored exactly to our tastes, providing only information we’ll appreciate and relate to, why would we want anything else?

These bubbles can also be dangerous: when we remain inside, we don’t interact with those who disagree with us or with the information they consume. That may sound great on the surface, but this makes it easier for us to dismiss opposing opinions as being in the minority (even though that may not be the case), since we aren’t seeing them on a daily basis. Making things worse, actually escaping the bubble is pretty difficult. Our social media algorithms have been programmed specifically to show us stories we’ll generally like and agree with. Plus, we’ve all seen (or maybe even gotten involved with), political Facebook fights with distant relatives, or stumbled down the rabbit hole of our local newspaper comments section. Seeing these extreme views from people on the internet can make it difficult to even want to listen to anyone who may have different thoughts than us.

But at the Jefferson Center, we’ve found that when people have their beliefs challenged, it can be a good thing. We host Citizens Juries–deliberative events where a group of randomly-selected citizens are given the knowledge, resources, and time they need to create solutions to community issues. People often find themselves sitting across from complete strangers, and quickly realize that not everyone from “the other side” is as extreme as the pundits we see on TV and the trolls in the comment section. Instead, many people have a spectrum of beliefs, shaped by their own experiences, and aren’t easily labelled. Especially when it comes to local issues, participants find that partisan politics disappear when it comes to things like improving city government communication. As one citizen said “It’s really refreshing to sit down with a bunch of community members and realize you share the same core values and are united.”

If we choose to burst our information bubbles and listen to each other, we will let in not only new information, but new people, ideas, and experiences. Here are a few easy ways you can start:

1. Visit websites that present different takes

On allsides.com, you’ll find today’s biggest headlines and coverage from the left, center, and right. They also provide media bias ratings and a “balanced dictionary”, because certain news terms have come to mean different things to different people.

If you’re a reddit user, you can also submit and post in r/change my view. It’s pretty much what it sounds like–you submit an opinion, and ask people to present other viewpoints. The page is focused on having respectful, engaged discourse, rather than fighting.

2. Sign up for a well-rounded news digest

The Echo Chamber Club newsletter delivers a variety of viewpoints and contrary opinions on relevant news. Their goal is to offer an alternative to the personalized articles we see via social media algorithms, and instead showcase the nuances in today’s tough issues.

3. Curate a well-rounded list of reputable news sources

Here’s a great starter list of well-regarded news sites across the political spectrum, curated by Patrick Kulp at Mashable:

Conservative-leaning prestige media:

  • The National Review
  • The Weekly Standard
  • The American Conservative

Conservative-leaning new media:

  • Independent Journal Review
  • Heat Street
  • The Daily Caller

Liberal-leaning prestige media:

  • The New Yorker
  • The Nation
  • Mother Jones

Liberal-leaning new media:

  • Salon
  • AlterNet
  • Talking Points Memo

International Perspective:

  • Al Jazeera
  • The Economist
  • Der Spiegel

4. Analyze your social media and browsing settings

Did you know you can adjust your news feed preferences on Facebook? Just click on the drop down arrow in the upper right corner of your homepage, select “news feed preferences”, and choose a variety of news sources to appear at the top of your feed.

There are also browser extensions you can download that pop your information bubble for you! Escape Your Bubble, available on Chrome, automatically inserts articles and issues that may challenge your current political views into your feed, after taking time to learn your personal news consumption habits and preferences.

5. Read your local newspaper, including the editorials!

Checking out your local op-ed section will give you good insight into what your neighbors are thinking about local and national issues. Plus, if you disagree, you can shake things up and provide a few counterpoints in the next edition.

6. Be critical

Learn how to identify fake news sites and bots before you share, like, or comment. Sometimes these fake articles can travel around Facebook or Twitter for days, because people don’t investigate beyond the headline. Here are a few ways to root them out:

  • Fake articles usually use all caps, and are hyperbolic. Most legitimate news sites don’t write headlines like this.
  • Actually click the article–if the page doesn’t exist or is unavailable, it’s probably fake.
  • Double check the URL. Fake news sites thrive off of having almost legitimate names, like cnn-news.com.co
  • Skim the article. If it seems unprofessional, is riddled with errors, or presents information on a topic completely different from what the headline promised, you should move on.
  • It’s also important to be critical of your favorite news sources. Recognize when your go-to sites use clickbait tactics or present their partisan opinions as fact.

7. Attend community meetings

Because of TV shows like Parks & Rec, we’re inclined to picture community meetings as full of impassioned people yelling about pretty mundane issues.
But what if more and more people began to show up? We’d probably have a more diverse approach to many community issues and understand our neighbors a little better.

8. Have a few uncomfortable conversations

On Mismatch.org, you answer a few questions about yourself and your views, and they automatically match you with someone across the country with different views for a guided video conversation.

Living Room Conversations provides a local model for respectful discourse: you find someone to act as your co-host that has a different perspective than you on a given topic. Both of you find two other people to join. Then you meet for a guided conversation in a living room, church, school, or other community meeting place.

Did you notice anything missing from this list? Let us know so we can add it!

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center’s site at www.jefferson-center.org/how-to-burst-your-information-bubble/.

Announcing NCDD June Confab Call with Undivided Nation!

NCDD is excited to announce our June Confab Call featuring Undivided Nation! This FREE call will take place Thursday, June 28th from 2-3pm Eastern/11am-Noon Pacific. Make sure you register today to secure your spot!

David and Erin Leaverton are the founders of Undivided Nation, which aims to serve as a catalyst for reconciliation and unity in America. David, following a career in partisan politics, felt a calling to work to repair the divides in our nation, and to connect with people who he has seen as an opponent, or as a stereotype. David and Erin decided to sell their house, quit their jobs, and spend 2018 traveling the country with their three children, spending a week in each state and learning more about those they once recognized as “other,” as well as exploring what divides us, and what can bring us together.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out their road trip blog and their Facebook page for updates on their journey and reflections on the experience and the people they’ve met so far. David also wrote a piece for NCDD’s blog, which we highly recommend. You can also check out the video of their story below!

David and Erin will join us to discuss their journey, and what they have been learning along the way. They are two wonderful people and they have some powerful stories to tell, so this is sure to be a great call to learn more about their journey and connect with them! You may even have some ideas for them about folks to connect with when they come to your state!

Don’t miss out – register for our call today!

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. Confabs are free and open to all. Register today if you’d like to join us!