Lessons from our Confab Call with Community Rights US

Last week we held our April Confab call about the Community Rights movement here in the US and its implications for our democracy. We were joined by two dozen participants to learn more about how this movement has helped people to be more participatory, exercise truer democratic practices, and work to protect the well-being of communities. It was an informative call and we encourage you to check out the recording!

On the call, NCDD member Linda Ellinor interviewed Paul Cienfuegos who works in the Community Rights movement. Paul set the stage for how things are the way they currently are, by sharing the history of corporate influence in the US, how it has taken sovereignty away from the American people, and some of its effect on the way our democracy operates. He emphasized how, “we the people need to rediscover who we are and this history of corporate influence, in order for us to have the legal authority to create the society we want”.

We learned that the Community Rights movement has passed ordinances in 200 communities, over 9 states; and that by doing so makes it possible for a municipality to push back on laws that protect corporations and violate the welfare of the community. The Community Rights movement offers an important reflection on how to have civic engagement that doesn’t just pay lip-service to reinforce the current structures and corporate rule but instead empowers people to take back our democratic republic. Paul provided a resource doc for those interested in learning more about the Community Rights movement, which you can find here.

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 Paul, Linda, and all the Confab participants for contributing to this important 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!

Undivided Nation Bridging Divides One State at a Time

Have you been keeping up with the travels of NCDD member Undivided Nation? David and Erin Leaverton and their family are traveling to every state in the US in order to listen to peoples’ stories and bring folks together over dinner to dialogue with “the other”; all to explore the myriad of experiences in our country and to find our connection points despite differences. They have shared with us a powerful learning opportunity they experienced in their journey about the way divisions manifest in peoples’ lives and emphasized the need to address the oppressive realities that exist only for certain groups of people.

On their journey, they would like to develop a film, Know Thy Other, to share their experiences of this important work of listening and bridging divides  The film will document their travels and powerful conversations; in hopes of better understanding what divides us and address the bigotry that comes from not recognizing the humanity of “the other”. Help amplify the impact of their work by donating to the film’s Kickstarter! You can read the post below and we encourage you to donate to their tax-deductible Kickstarter here.


It’s Hard to Reconcile with Someone Who Has a Boot on Your Neck

By David Leaverton

The 2016 Presidential election was a turning point in my life. Before my eyes, I saw many of my fellow countrymen treat each other not as political opponents, but as mortal enemies. Fear and division had gripped this land and I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer.

As a newcomer to the NCDD community, I had a desire to help bridge these divides and see our nation united, but I knew I first needed to gain a deeper understanding of the problem before I could offer up any real solutions to the discussion.

To find the answers we were looking for, my wife and I sold our house, quit our jobs and set out on a 50-state road trip with our three kids. As I write this, I am looking out from our RV over the spectacular Greenbrier River in West Virginia, state number 12 on our journey. To say we have been transformed by this experience so far would be an understatement.

As we enter each new state, we often go into a community knowing no one and cold calling or emailing leaders and organizations who represent different groups within in the community. I was recently on the phone with a leading African-American individual in Savannah, GA, sharing our journey and our mission for reconciliation and unity in America.

As I shared the purpose of our trip, which is often met with interest or curiosity, this gentleman sounded almost offended at my goal to seek reconciliation and common ground. While he was neither hateful nor rude, he still gave it to me straight when he said, “It’s hard to reconcile with someone who has a boot on your neck.”

That one line changed me.

One thing I have come to realize on our journey is that there are a number of Americans who wake up every day with a feeling of oppression in an America that I didn’t know existed. This was so disappointing to me as a proud patriot who believes in the America where all men are touted as being equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.

Thinking of this situation in literal terms, it is woefully insensitive for me to walk up to the individual on the ground with the boot on their neck to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation without first addressing the boot, and doing everything in my power to remove it.

I was never able to meet with this gentleman, but what I gained through his refusal to meet with me was probably more valuable.

I learned some important lessons about reconciliation from this brief but poignant conversation.

When we hope for reconciliation between two parties, we must first address and try to eliminate the cause of oppression or pain being experienced either party before the discussion can get too far. No one knows the boot better than the one whose neck it is on and they must be part of the process of understanding the situation. We may not have the ability to quickly remove the boot, but we can begin by acknowledging and addressing the situation as best we can.

I began this journey focused on our political divisions, but haven’t been able to get away from the racial divisions in our nation as I’ve begun to explore it. Many of the people we have spoken with, and this is by no means a scientific representative sample of the country, have been impacted more by our racial divides than the infighting in Congress.

Our history of oppression of Americans with deeper pigmentation in this country is extensive. Our journey across the country so far has taught us that slavery in America didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil War. Oppression has continued under different names such as convict leasing, sharecropping, peonage, lynching, segregation, Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, among others. Although the current situation in our nation regarding racial and ethnic disparities is extremely complex beyond skin pigmentation, learning these truths about our history has been vital in our quest for reconciliation and unity.

While I still have more questions than answers on the subject of division in our country, I do know that at the end of our year-long journey, I can’t go back to being a silent bystander.

David Leaverton and his wife, Erin, are the founders of Undivided Nation, an organization focused on serving as a catalyst for reconciliation and unity in America. They live with their three children on an RV somewhere in America. Follow their journey at http://undividednation.us.

Co-Creating a Shared Future and Funding the Vision

Those in the NCDD network can attest that while there is a lot of enthusiasm and effort around engagement work; what many in our field continue to struggle with is having funding to do said work and operating in silos. That’s why we wanted to share this excellent article posted on the Bridge Alliance site from NCDD member, Debilyn Molineaux, that articulates this vital need for co-creating a shared future and getting this shared vision funded.

Like the article states and our community knows, it takes conversation in order to build a shared future, and there’s a longing for many in this country to be able to bridge divides and work better together. NCDD stemmed from this need to bridge the D&D field and we’ll continue to share the important work being done to engaged people – like the National Week of Conversation on April 20-28, a collaborative effort to build relationships and heal our divisions. You can read Debilyn’s post below and find the original version on BA’s site here.


We Need To Talk: It’s Time to Create and Fund Our Future

Collectively, there are thousands of organizations and funders already working to improve our country. So why does our country appear to be a mess?

The weakest part of our country is our willingness to live in a narrative/news stream that confirms our own bias and demonizes others. We could make our collective work exponentially more effective by fostering strong relationships among people of different viewpoints.

Our current frayed social fabric is the result of “winner take all” politics, party loyalty over patriotism and is exacerbated by attacks from foreign influencers who manipulate us through social media and propaganda. Only We the People can change our attitudes and behavior to stop it.

Foundations have spent or committed $4.1 billion since 2011 to strengthen our democratic republic. And yet, the results are not recognizable to the average American. What will it take to continue to progress the ideals of our country and the future we want to create in this environment of turmoil and chaos?

Some of the most well-known movements in the last decade have started in a seemingly spontaneous manner following years of build-up. Think of the Tea Party in 2009, Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and #MeToo in 2017.

Collectively, the citizens and organizations that comprise our current post or cross-partisan movement are very energetic, and we are not yet coalesced. Largely because our biology is focused on what we DON’T want instead of what we DO want.

Creating and funding our shared future requires a shared vision of what we want — beyond avoiding the crisis of the current moment. It is our dreams, goals, and visions combined with a solid strategy and certain resources that will sustain us, long-term.

To determine this, we need to talk with each other to determine a vision for our shared future. We often hear people express how tired they are of talking — especially when they’ve been talking with friends and strangers for decades about what doesn’t work.

And that’s exactly the point —  focusing on problems is exhausting. Some among us are inclined to move straight to action — just fix it. But how will we know it’s “fixed” without checking in? This is why we need to engage in conversations, debates, and deliberation — it’s the fastest way forward to consciously create a shared vision.

We are constantly creating our future. I suggest we upgrade our visioning and planning to develop new social systems. As with anything new, extra communication is needed to establish systems, experiment with different approaches, and say what is working or not. Extra communication enables us to move forward, together.

Once new systems are in place, we can talk less and “just do it.” But when the systems are broken, unknown, ineffective or corrupt, then increasing our communication processes is an important FIRST ACTION.

So here is a prescription for creating and funding our future:

  1. Talk, debate and deliberate to create a future vision we WANT to share. (Maybe sign up for the National Week of ConversationApril 20-28, 2018).
  2. Talk, debate and deliberate the tactics needed to support the shared vision.
  3. Fund the leaders, programs and organizations who have the skills and capacities to turn deliberation into shared action.

“We deliberate not about ends,” said Aristotle, “but about the means to attain ends.”

In the end, it all starts with conversation.

You can find the original version of this post on the Bridge Alliance’s site at www.bridgealliance.us/we_need_to_talk_it_s_time_to_create_and_fund_our_future.

Kick off NWOC at Listen First in Charlottesville April 20-22

The National Week of Conversation (NWOC) is coming up this month from April 20-28th! It will be an unprecedented week of conversations throughout the Nation designed to bring folks from across divides to build relationships and provide opportunities to work more effectively together in addressing the divisions in this country. NCDD is a proud organizing partner for this effort, joined by over 50 partner organizations, all working to help Americans have better conversations with each other.

One of the first major events to kick off this exciting week is Listen First in Charlottesville (LFC), which will be from Friday, April 20th – Sunday, April 22nd. This event will convene several heavy hitters from the NCDD network, including our own Sandy Heierbacher -We strongly encourage folks to attend! Sandy will be moderating the final panel at the Saturday session, Bridging Divides Across America, with NCDD member David Leaverton of Undivided Nation, as well as, David Blankenhorn of Better Angels, Malka Fenyvesi of On Being’s Civil Conversations Project, and Joseph Pinion of Conservative Color Coalition.

LFC will also feature many influential people in the D&D field, including NCDDers Pearce Godwin of Listen First Project (a major convener of this event!), Parisa Parsa of Essential Partners, Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer of National Institute for Civil Discourse, Debilyn Molineaux of Bridge Alliance and Living Room Conversation Project, Liz Joyner of Village Square, John Gable of Allsides, John Steiner of Mediators Foundation, and Erin Leaverton of Undivided Nation. Check out the incredible line-up hereWe are thrilled to see so many exciting and engaging leaders in the field at one event, we hope you can make it!

Below is the agenda for the weekend with events beginning on Friday evening and concluding on Sunday. For those from the NCDD network that will be attending, Sandy would love to connect with you, so let her know that you will be there by emailing her sandy[at]ncdd[dot]org. To learn more about other exciting events happening during the National Week of Conversation, to start up your own event, or to join as a partner – click here to learn more!


Listen First in Charlottesville

Presented by Bridge Alliance Education Fund
April 20-28, 2018

  • To support the progress of healing and reconciliation in Charlottesville.
  • To inspire America toward mending the frayed fabric of society by bridging divides with conversations that prioritize understanding the other.

Friday, April 20th, 6pm, various locations
Village Square & Connect Cville Challenge invite you to host or attend diverse Charlottesville Dinners. Register at ConnectCville.org or contact liz@villagesquare.us.

Friday, April 20th, 8:30pm, The Haven
Free concert by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Saturday, April 21st, 1-5:30pm, Sprint Pavilion
Listen First Conversations which prioritize understanding the other among panels of local and national influencers as well as personal conversations amongst all attendees that both enhance understanding and spark ideas for action, followed by inspiring keynotes. Conversation topics will include:

  • Charlottesville’s Historical Divisions and Fresh Wounds
  • Charlottesville Working to Heal and Progress
  • A Nation Divided
  • Bridging Divides Across America

Sunday, April 22nd, various times and locations
Programming by Listen First Coalition partners Living Room Conversations, Montpelier, Common Ground Committee, Better Angels, Converge UVA, United Citizen Power, AllSides, and Charlottesville’s Playback Theater. Details at the Saturday event.

National Week of Conversation
This event is part of the first National Week of Conversation (April 20-28) in which Americans come together coast to coast and #ListenFirst to understand the other in conversation. At a moment in history in which we’re increasingly isolating ourselves from our fellow Americans, especially those with whom we disagree, NWOC is an opportunity to mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time. Learn more at NationalWeekofConversation.org and share your experience using #ListenFirst & #NWOC!

You can find the original version of this announcement on Listen First Project’s site at www.listenfirstproject.org/listen-first-in-charlottesville-event/.

The Importance of Civics Education in our Country

While NCDD member org, Everyday Democracy, shared this article on the importance of civics education a while back, we wanted to lift it up because it is still so relevant. The article talks about how education in this country has shifted from preparing students to be more civically engaged, to training students for the workforce. While the latter is important, our democracy suffers when the people are not trained on how to be civic agents. The article stresses that in order for our democracy to thrive and for our communities to be stronger, people needed to have civics a part of modern education. You can read the article below or find the original on Everyday Democracy’s site here.


The Decline of Civic Education and the Effect on our Democracy

EvDem LogoWhen I was five years old, my parents dropped me off at Radnor Elementary School for my first day of Kindergarten. This was the first day of many years of public education for me.

My high school, like so many in our country, steers students towards science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Personally, I was lucky enough to have great teachers who encouraged me to look beyond this narrow focus and find subjects that interested me, but my story is the exception rather than the rule.

In the past few decades, the focus of our public education system has turned sharply toward STEM as part of a broader reconceptualization of the role of public education. Whereas education was once seen as a public good designed to prepare students to participate in our democratic system, it is now seen as a primarily individual pursuit intended to help people develop employable skills and prepare to contribute to the workforce.

A little bit of history on the public education system

To better understand this monumental shift, it is important to understand where our public education system comes from. The history of public education in the U.S. is inseparable from the history of our nation, and I believe that their futures are intertwined as well.

Before the American Revolution, school was primarily for the lower and middle classes. Wealthy families hired tutors for their children, so only parents who could not afford tutors sent their children to school. A few colonies had experimented with state-supported education in the 17th century, but these early public education systems had mostly died out by the middle of the 18th century.

Under British rule, colonists had no reason to care whether or not their neighbors were sufficiently educated. There were plenty of ways for people with very little education to support their families and average colonists had very little political power.

The Revolution changed that: we fought a war for the idea of republican government, and now we needed citizens who could sustain it. In a letter discussing the soon-to-be-held Constitutional Convention, John Adams wrote that “the Whole People must take upon themselves the education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expenses of it.” This belief was widely shared amongst the founding fathers, who recognized that a people transitioning from subjects to citizens would need to be educated in order to serve the many functions required of them in the new republic.

After the Revolution, American citizens would need to decide who would represent them, know when their representatives had violated their trust, serve on juries, and possibly decide on Constitutional Amendments. Education had to reflect this reality by teaching history, rhetoric, and government in addition to literacy and arithmetic.

While some states headed the call of the founding fathers and created state-supported public education systems, most states needed more persuading. This persuading came in the form of widespread demographic changes.

From 1820 to 1860, the percentage of Americans living in cities nearly tripled. Caring for the poor residents of these cities was expensive, and the fact that many of them were Irish and German immigrants bred resentment. To cities looking to reduce poverty, assimilate immigrants into American culture, and keep people out of trouble, institutionalized education systems made a lot of sense. In 1918, Mississippi became the last state to embrace compulsory education; and no state has abolished its public school system since.

Civic education

The rise of public education was motivated by the need to prepare students to participate in American life as citizens, workers, and community members. While the early public education system took all three dimensions of their mandate very seriously, the rhetoric surrounding public education today has a very different focus.

You have probably heard some variation of the argument that American students are falling behind the rest of the world and we need to invest in science and math education so that our economy can stay competitive. You may have seen college majors ranked by post-graduation earning potential, or read about how educational attainment is a “signaling device” to employers, or heard some of the arguments for and against the “Common Core Standards.” These opinions are well-intentioned, but they all focus on a single educational outcome: career success.

To be clear, I believe that education ought to prepare students to participate in the workforce. I recognize that the increased economic opportunity that comes with educational attainment is a primary motivator for many students to attend school, and I am not suggesting that career success is not an important focus of our public education system. Instead, my argument is that our obsession with the economics of education comes at a substantial cost in terms of civic health, which in turn introduces new risks to our economic stability.

According to a 2015 study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, only 31% of Americans can name the three branches of government (and 32% cannot name a single branch). In 2011, when Newsweek administered the United States Citizenship Test to over 1000 American citizens, 38% of Americans failed. This widespread civic illiteracy is not just shameful, it is dangerous.

How can we expect people to hold their representatives accountable when 61% don’t know which party controls the House and 77% can’t name either of their state’s senators? How can we expect Americans to exercise their rights when over one third can’t name any of the five rights protected by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, the press, protest, and petition)?

Our democratic system depends on citizens to take an active interest in the affairs of our government, develop informed opinions about how our government should act, and chose representatives who share their beliefs about the direction our country should take. When legislators know that their constituents do not know or care what they are doing, it gives them an incentive to cater to the lobbyists and special interest groups who are scrutinizing the legislators’ actions. From 1964 to 2012, the percentage of Americans who believed that government is “pretty much run by a few big interests” increased from 29% to 79%, while the percentage of Americans who believed that it was run “for the benefit of the people” decreased from 64% to 19%.

Citizens of a Democracy do not have the luxury of refusing to care about their government. We the People are ultimately responsible for what our representatives do on our behalf using our collective power. Willful ignorance does not absolve us of this responsibility.

Civics education teaches students how to fulfill this essential responsibility, which is why the public pays for it. If education were all about training people for jobs, we would expect employers to pay for the basics and individual students to pay to train for more advanced jobs. Instead, we recognize that citizens need a certain amount of education to carry on our democratic traditions and that it is in the public’s interest to ensure the future stability of our country. Part of that stability is preparing people to get jobs and contribute back to society financially, but the main part is ensuring that people understand the role they play in our system and are able to play that role.

Strong civic health means stronger communities

There is also a growing body of research that suggests that communities with strong civic health have stronger economies, were more resilient during the financial crisis, and have higher rates of employment. When people come together with their neighbors to identify, discuss, and solve community problems, they build relationships and develop skills that ultimately help all of them economically as well as personally.

Nobody will make us be citizens. If we do not want to understand how government works or what it is doing, we can give our political power to someone else. There are plenty of countries who have vested that power in a monarch, party, oligarchy, aristocracy, technocracy, emperor, etc. Subjects in these countries have no need to trouble themselves with public affairs, and we could be like them; but, as Plato once wrote, “the heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”

In the United States, we the people have decided to take responsibility for governing, and we temporarily delegate some of that responsibility to our elected representatives and the unelected officers they select. We benefit tremendously from living in a democratic republic, but these benefits are not without cost.

For the last several decades, the focus of our education system as shifted from civics to job training, and we have all paid a steep cost. Special interest and lobbying groups have unprecedented power over our political system. A lack of knowledge about public affairs has made citizens more susceptible to political advertising, which has given the wealthy tremendous power to shape politics through campaign contributions and ad spending.  So few Americans trust the political system that nearly half of 2016 primary votes went to candidates promising anti-establishment revolutions.

If we really care about preserving our democracy for future generations, we will stop treating civics education as secondary to math and science instruction and put it back at the core of our school curricula.

You can find the original version of this article on Everyday Democracy’s site at www.everyday-democracy.org/news/decline-civic-education-and-effect-our-democracy.

Opportunity to Host a Jefferson Dinner!

We are excited to announce NCDD is working with NCDD member organization The Village Square to support dialogues across the country using the format of the Jefferson Dinner, which invites people with differences of opinion to discuss an important topic over dinner.  These dinners are compelling experiences that The Village Square wants you to experience firsthand, and so we are letting you all know about an exciting opportunity!

Because they are particularly interested in making this surprisingly powerful tool available to NCDD members, they are offering stipends to at least 15 moderators to organize and facilitate a Jefferson Dinner. And the best part is that you can pick the topic for your dinner from any current political or civic topic around which there is substantial disagreement in the public square.

Some history about this tradition: Jefferson hosted his dinners at a time when prospects weren’t good that our new republic would hold together. Early legislators were described as coming to work “in the spirit of avowed misunderstanding, without the smallest wish to agree.” Sound familiar? Jefferson hosted dinners that were profoundly humanizing for these angry opponents. One dinner – with guests Alexander Hamilton and James Madison – resulted in the Dinner Table Bargain of 1790, widely credited with saving the American experiment.

In the same way that Jefferson mastered the art of these dinners as a way to make things happen that mattered to him, The Village Square would like you to experience how you can do the same.  Your dinner is about what’s in your heart  – whether that’s starting a civic project, running for office, contemplating solutions to a problem that deeply concerns you or imagining the future. By intentionally gathering people with diverse opinions – something that doesn’t happen enough these days – you’re harnessing incredible power toward whatever matters to you.

All that’s really required: 8-12 diverse guests, 1 dinner table and a welcoming environment. Could be your home, a private room at a restaurant, or a picnic table at a park. If you’re feeling inspired, put a modern twist on it & make it a brunch. Live a little!

The Village Square also hosts group Jefferson Dinners (a number of conversations in the same room, as part of a public event) and is delighted to support you in offering this format as well.

Find the Village Square’s Jefferson Dinner project online: www.jeffersondinner.org.  Read a feature piece about a dinner here.

This is a great opportunity for members to use this model to connect people who normally wouldn’t share a meal together and experience its potential to form the basis of unique alliances. NCDD would love to see a whole bunch of our members get involved with Dinners across the country. It’s another great way we can work to strengthen community connections and help people bridge divides, at this particularly divisive time in our nation.

If you are interested and would like to connect with organizers to learn more about how the dinner format can be used to achieve your goals, please fill out this quick form here and they will contact you directly!

For more information about The Village Square please visit https://tlh.villagesquare.us/. The Jefferson Dinner project is funded by a grant from the Bridge Alliance and in partnership with the 92Y’s Ben Franklin Circles project (all NCDD Members!).

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. ”  — Thomas Jefferson

TheChisel Releases the American Dream Survey Results

We are excited to lift up this article from Deborah Devedjian, Founder of TheChisel.com, on the recent results from their “What’s Your American Dream?” survey – and the results might surprise you! One of the biggest highlights they found is that of the 34 issues surveyed, Americans agreed on their #1 goal for 53% of those issues. NCDD was proud to be part of this coalition, in addition to many other organizations, including fellow NCDDers – Living Room ConversationsAllSides, and the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. We encourage you to read the announcement below or find the original version on PR Newswire’s site here.


Bipartisan Survey Shows Right, Left, and Center Agree on #1 Goal for 53% of 34 Issues

In an era of political divide and confusion, a bipartisan coalition has announced surprising results from its nationwide survey What’s Your American Dream?

“The results demonstrate that despite different vocabularies, favorite news channels, local customs, or professions, Americans maintain many shared values,” said Deborah Devedjian, Founder of TheChisel.com which spearheaded the survey.

Right, Left, and Center agreed on their #1 goal for 53% of 34 issues surveyed. For a further 21% of issues, they shared the same top 2 or 3 goals in varying order.

The survey addressed 7 themes: Economy; Social Justice; Liberty & Regulation; Health, Education & Care; Infrastructure & Services; Foreign Affairs; and Governance.

TheChisel.com’s survey grew out of discussions with former Members of Congress and everyday Americans. All are frustrated with being out of touch with one another. The coalition—30 universities, media outlets, and policy organizations across the political spectrum and the nation—reaches 58 million Americans.

The survey was hosted on TheChisel.com, a unique bipartisan public discussion platform.

“Given partisan stereotypes and soundbites, many commonalities will surprise readers, especially in Employment, Mental Health, Foreign Aid, Campaign Finance, and Elections,” said Erik Fogg, Editor of ReConsider Media.

“The widest divergences were in Guns, Environment, and Police. But even there, we see common ground among pragmatic, compassionate people who want to move the nation forward on American ideals of freedom, prosperity, equality, and security for all,” said Fogg.

Findings will be shared with the media. TheChisel will deliver the report to the President, Cabinet, Members of Congress, Supreme Court, federal agencies, and state governors.

“As a nation, we are frustrated and face uncertainties. We expect this effort will help guide our nation’s leaders to understand Americans’ goals and devise tactics to achieve those goals. It’s time for a new playbook,” said Devedjian.

The book will be released at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on February 27, 2018. Press and lawmakers are invited www.YesWeAgree.Eventbrite.com

The 100-page book features visually-stimulating infographics, is easy to understand, and appeals to a wide audience. Insights from American figures on liberty and freedom and personal comments from respondents add a human voice to the data. To order: www.YesWeAgree.com

Based on 1,318 voting-age Americans reflecting 2016 Census by gender, age, race, geography, income. Respondents self-identified for political affiliation and provided numerical rankings and 5,000+ personal comments.

TheChisel.com is the first and only online civic platform based on 100% bipartisan facts and proposals. No bias. No jargon. And fun, easy-to-understand graphics. Content is developed with recognized experts from both sides of the aisle working together. Our board, advisors, investors, and team reflect America’s full political spectrum. Voice your thoughts, engage with experts, and give your feedback to TheChisel community to realize America’s aspirations.

Universities: Pepperdine School of Public Policy, University of Georgia College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Mary Government and Political Philosophy Department, University of Missouri School of Journalism, University of the Pacific Political Science Department, Williams College Forum.

Media: Associated Collegiate Press, The Citizen’s Story, Exchange Nation, Independent Voter Network, ReConsider.

Organizations: ALL-IN Campus Democracy Challenge, AllSides, Diplomat Books, Future 500, Heartfelt Leadership Institute, Hope Street Group, Inyo County Clerk-Recorder, Living Room Conversations, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, National Speech and Debate Association, ProCon.org, Take Back Our Republic, The Democracy Commitment, The Policy Circle, Wellville, The Women’s Debate.

Sponsors: Gold: Ziggeo. Silver: Collen IP Law; The TAI Group. Bronze: AquaThority Pools & Spas; JGArchitects.

You can find the original version of this article on PR Newswire’s site at www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/bipartisan-survey-shows-right-left-and-center-agree-on-1-goal-for-53-of-34-issues-300602892.html.

Practicing Democracy from the Inside-out

Democracy is a living entity that requires diligent work both in our external world, as well as, in our inner selves. One of the ways to heal our democracy, NCDD member Mark Gerzon, president of the Mediator’s Foundation offered is, the need to focus on our inner work of engaging democracy with humility, the courage of curiosity, and a commitment to integrity. Many of us in the NCDD network have excellent processes and tools to facilitate good civic practices, and yet ultimately require this inner discipline. You can read the article below or find the original here.


Democracy is an inside job

If you take the medicine prescribed by your doctor and your condition only worsens, you know you need a new prescription — and perhaps a different doctor and diagnosis as well.

The same is true when democracy gets sick. I should know: my colleagues and I are part of a field called by different names including “civic discourse,” “citizen engagement” and “public dialogue.” We are some of the “doctors” who have prescribed cures that have not healed what ails America.

Ever since I co-designed and facilitated the Bipartisan Congressional Retreats in the late 1990s, intended to improved civility and collaboration across the aisle, I have been part of a community of practitioners who advocated a variety of communication techniques and public participation strategies designed to lift the level of public discourse in America. You don’t need a medical degree to know that our medicine hasn’t worked. The disease of incivility and dysfunction is worse now than when we started.

Like a lot of doctors whose treatments fail, we like to point fingers and say it’s not our fault. In our defense, it is true there are many other factors at work. We can blame gerrymandered congressional districts, increasingly toxic social media and talk radio, hyper-partisan primaries or a host of other structural problems that need to be fixed.

But even though there are challenges on the outside, I have come to the conclusion that there are equally serious challenges on the inside — within ourselves. Polishing our communication style or trying out some cutting-edge facilitation strategies simply do not go deep enough. Ultimately, healing our precious democracy is not just about institutions and legislation. It’s also an inside job.

The first shift we all need to make is no secret to the ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams who intimately know the spiritual challenges facing most of their followers. Every faith cautions against the same sin: pride; and every faith preaches the same virtue: humility. In fact, from my perspective, developing a spirit of humility is the first step towards recovering our civic health.

Humility means that no one owns the whole truth; each of us has a piece of it. So bringing our left hand and right hand together, as we do in prayer, is ultimately the attitude we need.

We can’t depend primarily on our elected officials for this quality. Arrogance is almost always part of their personalities. Running for office these days seems to require having a very high opinion of oneself, often bordering on narcissism. Indeed, some highly respected psychiatrists now argue that the problem has become so serious today that they are publicly questioning the mental health of prominent politicians at the national level. So if the spirit of humility is to emerge at all, it must be grounded in the grassroots. We must recognize we are the fertilizer on which the harvest of democracy depends.

The inner job of democracy also requires a second quality that depends on the first: the courage of curiosity. Almost every issue we face today— nuclear threats from North Korea, health care reform, immigrants from Latin America and the Middle East, cybersecurity threats from Russia, climate change controversies — requires innovative solutions that transcend “Left” or “Right.” Most of these did not even exist when the Founding Fathers wrote our Constitution. We must be lifelong learners who have the courage to be curious — even if it means discovering we are in some ways misinformed, misguided, and sometimes simply mistaken.

I call it the courage of curiosity because those who are frozen in either fear or rigidity cannot be truly inquisitive. We are not truly free when we hide behind the barricades of their cast-iron certainties. We are not learners if we only dare to discover information that reinforces our positions. We are not citizens of a democracy if we are trapped in the prisons of our pre-fabricated ideologies. To be truly curious depends on having the guts to talk — and to listen! — to neighbors who oppose our cause, to read writers who disagree with our position, and listen closely to politicians who make us mad. It takes the courage to put our own perspective on the line and learn something that may inspire us to change.

Both of these inner shifts — from arrogance to humility, and from certainty to curiosity — make possible the third aspect of our inner work: a commitment to integrity. By this, I mean something far more than just being honest. Although telling the truth is in itself is of tremendous value, “integrity” here means an inner awareness that makes us seek to understand the whole picture. A major part of disagreement on controversial public issues stems from a failure to look systematically at a problem.

Pointing to an undocumented Mexican in California who commits murder, or to another [undocumented person] in Indiana who creates a thriving business and is a pillar of his community, makes for a moving vignette. But neither provides the grounds for a comprehensive, viable immigration policy. Whatever the hot-button issue be — gun rights, Planned Parenthood, the opioid epidemic, NAFTA —partial views and simplistic anecdotes lead inevitably to partisan dead-ends.

Just as curiosity requires courage, integrity requires commitment. Understanding any of these issues systemically is hard work. But no one, certainly not our Founding Fathers, ever told us that democracy would be easy. A descent into dictatorship, or kneejerk two-party polarization, demands much less from the public than genuine public education, deliberation, and decision-making. Unless we foster in ourselves and in our communities a serious commitment to this kind of integrity, we will continue to behave like the proverbial dog chasing his tail. The left hand will attack the right hand, or vice versa. Nothing will get done. Democracy will flounder. The political arms race will accelerate. And the American dream will slowly but surely die.

So by all means let’s do the outside work. We need to focus on the structural fixes that democracy requires, and also develop communication and civic engagement strategies that are participatory and innovative. But let’s not forget our inner lives and our own personal responsibility. Democracy won’t grow unless we do. That means recognizing that just criticizing the President or our other elected representatives misses the point.

When it comes to this inside job, each of us is commander-in-chief.

You can read the original version of this article on the Mediator’s Foundation site at www.mediatorsfoundation.org/2017/11/14/democracy-is-an-inside-job/.

Free NIFI Issue Guides and Save the Date for APV 2018

The National Issues Forums Institute, an NCDD member org, recently sent out an announcement via their newsletter offering free copies of their Coming to America issue guide on immigration, if requested by April 2nd. These guides are to be used for deliberation and then the results are given back to NIFI for analysis, so that they can share at the upcoming event, A Public Voice 2018 (#APV2018) on May 8th. APV is an opportunity for NIFI to talk with policymakers and their staffers about early feedback from the deliberative forums on immigration and the role of deliberation in democracy. You can learn more about this offer below and sign up to receive updates from the NIFI newsletter here.


FREE Materials Offer!

It’s not too late to request your free issue materials

Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do?

Please join us and help your community be heard.

In partnership with the Kettering Foundation, the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) is making the digital version of the new issue guide about immigration,  Coming to America, FREE to download.

Also, for a limited time, FREE printed copies are available to forum conveners who sign up – REQUEST YOURS NOW.

All you have to do is plan to hold a forum on or before April 2, 2018 and agree to make sure participant questionnaires (also provided) get back to us for analysis and reporting.

About the issue guide
The immigration issue affects virtually every American, directly or indirectly, often in deeply personal ways. This guide is designed to help people deliberate together about how we should approach the issue. The three options presented in the issue guide reflect different ways of understanding what is at stake and force us to think about what matters most to us when we face difficult problems that involve all of us and that do not have perfect solutions.

How Information from Forums Will Be Used
Scheduled for May 9, 2018, this year’s A Public Voice event in Washington, DC, will present early insights from National Issues Forums (NIF) immigration forums around the country, giving policymakers the chance to learn more about citizen deliberation and its role in our democracy.

In early 2019, the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forums Institute will publish a final report on the 2018 NIF immigration forums, followed by briefings for individual elected officials, Capitol Hill staffers, and other policymakers.

We hope you’ll join us in this important work by signing up for your free Coming to America issue guides by clicking here:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2018APV

You can find the original announcement of this on NIFI’s newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

Addressing Safety in Schools by Turning to Each Other

In the wake of the current gun violence, NCDD sponsoring organization Essential Partners recently shared this piece written by their executive director Parisa Parsa, on the urgency for people to come together and address how do we keep our schools and communities safer. She talks about the need to come in conversation with each other from a place of creativity and with the purpose of recognizing our shared values, and rise above the current polarization. These conversational practices are vital in order to deepen relationships and ultimately work towards preventing another mass shooting from happening again. You can read the Essential Partner’s article below or find the original version here.


…As if our lives depend on it

The question was: what is at the heart of the matter for you when you think about the question of whether guns should be allowed in schools?

Seven people ranging in age from their 20’s to their 60’s, 4 women and 3 men, leaned in to listen closely to one another’s responses. They had many different views on the question of guns in schools, and guns in American life in general.

When it came time for him to speak, one man’s eyes welled with tears. After a long pause he said:

“Here is what is at the heart of the matter for me: I don’t want to be talking about this at all. I don’t want to live in a world where kids are not safe going to school. So when someone asks me what I think, all I can think is how can we make this stop?”

The simple recognition of our shared grief and anger brought more of the group to tears, and began a shift in the conversation. Person after person had already shared the values they learned growing up about guns, and now enriched by one anothers’ stories the sense of companionship led to a new entry point to thinking together. What would it take for our town prevent mass shootings?

The conversation later turned to social isolation and the need for folks to really look out for each other, to know each other’s’ children. And to offer services for those in need who might escape other attempts at outreach. And support for concerned parents.

The community still needed to talk about the issue at hand: the question of arming school personnel. But this small group was now also armed with the beginnings of a conversation that could help them work together on many of the other known contributing factors to preserve safety in schools. Perhaps, I thought, working on some of those other things together would help them deepen their relationship so that the continuing conversation about guns could have more creativity than the zero-sum perception both sides have been diving into. And which we dive into again and again.

Most recently, we’ve watched it in the wake of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Social media has been awash, as ever, with people’s grief and anguish, fear and outrage. This time, the young people who survived the shooting almost immediately made a very pointed ask of our nation’s leaders. They asked the grown-ups in charge to sort out whatever needs sorting out to keep this from happening again.

The initial message they shared in the days immediately after the shooting was simple: as a nation we have to sort this out together. Their initial leadership was their refusal to accept that the current polarization in our conversation on guns is inevitable and permanent. And they are absolutely right to refuse the current story that this is an issue we cannot touch as a nation.

The students weren’t all, or even mostly, activists before the incident. Some were gun rights advocates, some gun control advocates, many more neutral and uninvolved. As the media conversation has continued, a predictable pattern has emerged: the loudest and most extreme voices have been amplified, put into debate mode with politicians at a Town Hall, lashed out on Twitter. And then came the responses: the kids are paid actors, being manipulated by left-wing interests, their Tweets analyzed and criticized for their violence and perceived extremism.

When the shouts begin, the door of possibility closes and we can’t figure anything out together. There is no listening, no further understanding, just suspicion and accusation. One “side’s” gains in activism get a counter-attack or build greater cynicism, driving the other “side” to feel justified in nasty rhetoric. So the win of one side becomes the rallying cry for the other, locking us in a battle few of us would have chosen. And the din leaves no space for the many folks who find themselves somewhere in the middle between the two defined “sides.”

The thing is, we can have sensible conversations with our neighbors who don’t agree. In our conversations about guns in Montana, Massachusetts, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Wyoming we have found some trends that are worth considering and also cause for hope.

  1. Taking the time as a community to work toward building trust and understanding (even when we don’t agree, and won’t agree) can in itself be a factor in reducing gun violence. A Yale study in 2014 found a correlation between high social cohesion and reduced gun violence. Dialogue about guns can actually be a preliminary preventative measure, reducing alienation and isolation; building trust and understanding.
  2. Neither gun rights advocates nor gun control advocates feel heard or understood by the other side, but when invited to share their values and beliefs without trying to persuade or convince, 97% of participants felt heard and understood. And 94% of participants believed they could use the dialogue process in other settings where there is a conflict over diverse views.
  3. When we spoke with focus groups about this issue, we heard shared values across the spectrum of belief on this issue: a desire to live in safe communities, a belief in the importance of education, and a sense of responsibility for others.

Friends, there is no one but us, no time but now, and no way forward without turning to one another. Let’s start engaging in deep, honest, conversations about this violence in our nation. Our communities, and our lives, depend on it.

Here are three things you can do today to change the conversation:

  1. Invite a friend or family member with different viewpoints into conversation, and propose these agreements to get you started.
  2. Share a reflection on how you came to your own position on the Constitutional right to firearms, gun control, based on your own experience. Let it open up a conversation that asks others to share their own.
  3. When you encounter someone with a view you don’t share, try asking a question that invites them to speak about their experience that led them to that view. Try: Tell me a story from your life that has shaped your thinking about this.

You can find the original version of this Essential Partner’s blog piece at www.whatisessential.org/blog/if-our-lives-depend-it.