The Kettering Foundation and China-US Relations (Connections 2016)

The six-page article, “The Kettering Foundation and China-US Relations” by Wang Jisi was published in Kettering Foundation‘s 2016 edition of their annual newsletter, Connections – Kettering’s Multinational Research. In the eight article of the newsletter, Jisi shares his experience with Kettering’s consistent engagement with China for over three decades, by bringing together people from both the US and China to learn from each other and maintain relations. Below is an excerpt from the article and Connections 2016 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

From the article…

Since 1986, the Kettering Foundation has maintained a close and fruitful relationship with China, especially with China’s scholarly community. As a participant in this relationship from the beginning, I am both humbled at Kettering’s brave and strenuous efforts to strengthen US-China ties and proud of being a small part of them.

In 1986, when I was a junior lecturer in Peking University’s Department of International Politics, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) cosponsored with the Kettering Foundation a group visit to the United States. The Chinese delegation was headed by Li Shenzhi, vice president of CASS, and consisted of several senior Chinese individuals and four “young observers,” including Yuan Ming of Peking University and myself. We toured Racine, Wisconsin, where we joined the US delegation headed by Kettering president David Mathews and attended a conference together, which covered world politics in general and China-US relations in particular. We were also entertained by local officials and celebrities in Racine. In fact, what impressed me most was not anything related to China-US relations, but a special session conducted by David Mathews, in which he vividly introduced Kettering’s political philosophy and approach to conducting its projects.

It was the first time I had ever heard a representative of an American NGO explain to us how it worked. During the Racine conference, we had interesting conversations with our US counterparts, some of whom had no China connection at all. Racine was a perfect location that allowed Chinese and American public citizens to get to know each other personally.

I confess, although I had spent 18 months at the University of California at Berkeley in 1984-1985 and toured other American cities and towns during that period, my personal contacts in the United States had been confined almost exclusively to Americans who were interested in China, East Asia, or international politics. It was Kettering that widened my horizon by bringing me to Racine and, later, to Dayton, Ohio, where its headquarters is located. This helped me become familiar with grassroots America. In this sense, Kettering opened a window for me—and presumably for many other Chinese colleagues who have participated in the Kettering programs—to observe and understand American society and domestic politics by way of knowing some “real” Americans who live in “typical” US cities like Dayton.

As one of the so-called “US watchers” in China, I used to make the analogy that the relationship between China and the United States is like a state-society relationship. In the China-US relationship, China acts as a state, a hierarchical structure of organizations like CASS and Peking University with individuals in them as a subordinating part, whereas America acts as a society, in which horizontal networks like the Kettering Foundation coexist with governmental organizations but are not subordinated to them. With my experience at Kettering, I have developed a strong belief that we will not be able to catch the essence of US foreign policy and US-China relations unless we understand how civil society functions in America. It will take more time for me, or other Chinese, to fully grasp the meaning of such concepts as “framing public deliberation.” Still, Kettering’s numerous programs have greatly benefited dozens of Chinese citizens and enriched our knowledge about the United States beyond government-to-government connections.

Indeed, it is my own observation that the greatest contribution Kettering has made to the ChinaUS relationship is to bring together social elites from the two societies, making friends between us, letting us know that we share the same purposes of life—happiness, love, family, harmony, and unity. To be sure, political and cultural differences, as well as geographical spans, divide the two peoples, but these differences are secondary if compared to our shared purposes of life as human beings.

This is just an excerpt, you can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2016 issue of Connections, edited by KF program officer and senior writer/editor Melinda Gilmore; KF senior associate Philip Stewart; and KF vice president, secretary, and general counsel Maxine Thomas, focuses on our year-long review of our multinational research.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Jisi-Connections-2016.pdf

A Comparative Study of Coastal Communities in Cuba and the United States (Connections 2016)

The nine-page article, “A Comparative Study of Coastal Communities in Cuba and the United States” by Paloma Dallas, Penny Dendy, Terry Jack, Esther Velis, Virginia York, was published in Kettering Foundation‘s 2016 edition of their annual newsletter, Connections – Kettering’s Multinational Research. In the seventh article of the newsletter, the authors talk about the collaboration between Kettering and the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation, on how each organization worked with communities in the US and Cuba, respectively, on addressing important issues that impact both areas. Below is an excerpt from the article and Connections 2016 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

From the article…

This article tells the story of two organizations—one in Cuba and the other in the United States—and the community-based networks they collaborate with to learn how to make a difference on issues that affect both nations.

Nearly two decades ago, the Kettering Foundation began a series of ongoing exchanges with the Havana-based Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity, a nongovernmental environmental organization founded by Antonio Núñez Jiménez, a renowned Cuban geographer, archeologist, and speleologist.

As part of these exchanges, the Núñez Foundation was interested in exploring ways citizens can play an active role in responding to the challenges their communities face. Kettering has long studied how people come together to make progress on difficult problems and do the work of creating resilient communities. Both foundations saw potential in comparing the experiences of communities facing related problems in different contexts.

An obvious opportunity for such an exchange seemed to be their shared geography: the Gulf of Mexico. Communities along the Gulf in both countries face some of the very same challenges, namely a vulnerability to hurricanes, as well as other human-made disasters. These dangers are not going away, so the challenge was, how could they respond? How might people living in those communities begin to work together to protect their communities and strengthen their capacity to bounce back from disasters?

Both foundations reached out to communities that they thought would be interested in taking up this challenge. Because the Kettering Foundation doesn’t work directly in communities, they contacted colleagues in Panama City, Florida, and Mobile, Alabama, who have long worked to encourage public deliberation on pressing issues. The Núñez Foundation initially identified the community of Cárdenas, also on the Gulf Coast, but since the foundation would be leading the work themselves, they decided to select a community in which they were already working. So, after further consideration, they chose Playa Larga in Ciénaga de Zapata, on Cuba’s southern Caribbean coast.

What follows draws from two essays authored by those who led the work: Esther Velis, director of international relations for the Núñez Foundation; Frances “Penny” Dendy, organizational consultant and community volunteer in Mobile, Alabama; Virginia York, retired professor, consultant, and community volunteer in Panama City, Florida; and Terry Jack, professor emeritus, Gulf Coast State College.

This is just an excerpt, you can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2016 issue of Connections, edited by KF program officer and senior writer/editor Melinda Gilmore; KF senior associate Philip Stewart; and KF vice president, secretary, and general counsel Maxine Thomas, focuses on our year-long review of our multinational research.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Dallas-Connections-2016.pdf

from I to we: an outline of a theory

These are the main ideas that I’ve defended (or plan to develop) in my theoretical scholarship. They are organized from micro to macro and from ethics to politics. As always, I put this draft online to welcome critical feedback.

  1. Each individual holds a changing set of opinions about moral and political matters. These ideas are connected by various kinds of logical relationships (e.g., inference, causation, or resemblance). Thus each person’s moral opinions at a given moment can be modeled as a network composed of ideas, plus links. In a conference paper, Nick Beauchamp, Sarah Shugars and I have derived network diagrams for 100 individuals and provide evidence that these are valid models of their reasoning about healthcare, abortion, and child-rearing. This approach challenges theories that depict moral reasoning as implicit, unconscious, and unreflective.
  2. A culture, religion, or ideology is best modeled as a cluster of roughly similar idea-networks held by many individuals. Human beings are not divided into groups that are defined by foundational beliefs that imply all their other beliefs. Rather each person holds a unique and often flat and loose network of ideas that overlaps in part with others’ networks. This model avoids radical cultural relativism, as I already argued in my Nietzsche book (1995).
  3. This model of culture also challenges John Rawls’ argument for liberalism as tolerance and neutrality. Rawls presumes that most citizens hold incompatible but highly organized and consistent “comprehensive doctrines.” As a result, they must largely leave one another alone to live according to their various conceptions of the good. If, instead, we understand worldviews as loose and dynamic idea-networks, we find support for a liberalism of mutual interaction instead of distant toleration.
  4. We are not morally responsible for the ideas that we happen to learn as we grow up. That is a matter of luck. But we are responsible for interacting with other people who hold different opinions from ours. Such dialogues can be modeled as the interactions of people who hold different idea-networks. As they disclose and revise ideas and make connections, the discussants produce a shared network. In a paper now being revised and resubmitted, David Williamson Shaffer, Brendan Eagan, and I model Tufts students’ discussions of controversial issues as dynamic idea-networks.
  5. A person can organize her beliefs in ways that either enable or block dialogue. For instance, an individual whose network is centralized around one nonnegotiable idea cannot deliberate; neither can a person whose ideas are disconnected. Thus discursive virtues can be defined in network terms, deliberations can be evaluated using network metrics, and we can strive to organize our own ideas in ways that facilitate discussion.
  6. If people talk, it implies that they were willing to sacrifice time and attention to a conversation. If they have something significant to talk about, they must hold a good in common that they can control or influence. Thus we cannot have the kinds of discussions that improve our own values unless we are organized into functional groups. But creating and sustaining groups requires more than talk. Groups also need rules and practices that coordinate individuals’ action, as well as relationships marked by trust, loyalty, and other interpersonal virtues. In short, civic life depends on a combination of deliberation, collaboration (solving collective action problems), and relationships.
  7. To enable deliberation, collaboration, and relationships requires favorable institutions, such as appropriate legal rights, widespread education in these virtues, and a robust civil society composed of associations that offer opportunities for self-governance. Since these institutions are inadequate in the USA, we need reform.
  8. To change constitutional rights, school systems, and other large institutions, political actors must employ leverage. They must move strangers and impersonal organizations at a distance. Making effective use of leverage is an ethical obligation but also a threat to the relational values implied by points 1-7 (above), which are prized by certain political theorists, such as John Dewey and Hannah Arendt. We must understand how to use impersonal leverage at large scales without undermining or displacing relational politics.

The Mediated Town Halls of the Eastern Cape (Connections 2016)

The eight-page article, “The Mediated Town Halls of the Eastern Cape” by Rod Amner was published in Kettering Foundation‘s 2016 edition of their annual newsletter, Connections – Kettering’s Multinational Research. In the fourth article of the newsletter, Amner discusses the ways in which public engagement has been transforming in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, focusing on the ways in which journalism outlets have facilitated engagement spaces with the community to better amplify the voices of the people. Below is an excerpt from the article and Connections 2016 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

From the article…

The town hall meeting is a simple, old-fashioned idea: an informal public space in which community members come together to discuss issues, to voice opinions, or to engage with public figures.

But, despite 22 years of democracy, it is a relative rarity in South Africa.

So, it is significant that in recent years, a number of “legacy” and “emerging” community news organizations in the Eastern Cape province of the country have hosted scores of town hall meetings in a range of formats, all ostensibly aimed at re-engineering in some way relationships with and between the people they formerly knew as their audiences.

It is also surprising because the Eastern Cape does not immediately suggest itself as a promising incubator of journalistic, civic, or any other kind of innovation. It is South Africa’s poorest province—beset with stagnating industries in the urban areas and the frustrating persistence of sub-subsistence agriculture in most of the countryside. Just 26 percent of its citizens have jobs, and its schools produce the worst educational outcomes in the country— and by most benchmarks, the entire world.

On the other hand, despite its apparent marginality, this province has always been an important fulcrum of South African politics. It is a traditional stronghold of the African National Congress (ANC), producing the bulk of its struggle icons (Mandela, Tambo, Biko, and Hani) and nurturing decades of peaceful, mass-based protest.

So, when the hitherto unassailable ANC lost political control of Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth) to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in the August 3, 2016, local government elections, the resulting shock waves convulsed the region’s post-apartheid political landscape.

But, many of the region’s journalists were not shocked. Mainstream media houses like Nelson Mandela Bay’s Eastern Province Herald and Buffalo City’s Daily Dispatch, along with community outlets like Grahamstown’s Grocott’s Mail, Skawara News in the rural hamlet of Cofimvaba, and radio stations like ZQKM, had for years been convening public platforms for engaging citizens in political discourse. Many of their journalists had therefore been in unusually close and deep dialogue with local citizens and communities and had seen the writing on the wall. The Kettering Foundation has a longstanding interest in how journalists go about the work of reporting in a way that encourages greater citizen engagement in the democratic politics of a given community. The examples in this article reveal how journalism practice and community agency can be transformed by a citizen-centered approach to reporting.

This is just an excerpt, you can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2016 issue of Connections, edited by KF program officer and senior writer/editor Melinda Gilmore; KF senior associate Philip Stewart; and KF vice president, secretary, and general counsel Maxine Thomas, focuses on our year-long review of our multinational research.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Amner-Connections-2016.pdf

From Skepticism to Engagement: Building Deliberative Faith among Israeli College Students (Connections 2016)

The seven-page article, “From Skepticism to Engagement: Building Deliberative Faith among Israeli College Students” by Idit Manosevitch was published in Kettering Foundation‘s 2016 edition of their annual newsletter, Connections – Kettering’s Multinational Research. In the third article of the newsletter, Manosevitch shares the story of when he initiated the first student-led deliberation conference in Israel and the profound effect it had on the students, staff, and school community. Below is an excerpt from the article and Connections 2016 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

From the article…

One of the spaces that seems appropriate for educating people for citizenship is academia. As an educational arena with a public mission and young citizens as key players, it may—and some would argue ought—to be a hub of civic education for deliberative public skills and values. This captures the essence of deliberative pedagogy, an area of ongoing research at the Kettering Foundation.

In what follows, I tell the story of what inspired me to get involved in deliberative pedagogy and share some insights from experimentation with Israeli students in recent years.

On January 16, 2013, six days prior to the Israeli general elections, I initiated the first student-led deliberative issue conference at the School of Communication in Netanya Academic College in Israel. The event was tagged “Students say NO to the horse race: Elections Conference 2013.”

The conference was a peak event in an intensive three-month process with my undergraduate seminar students, which combined theory and practice. Theoretical readings and discussions served as a baseline for understanding the essence of deliberative theory and the role of public deliberation in democratic societies. The hands-on process of preparing for and facilitating a deliberative, student-led issue conference complemented the theory and helped students internalize the idea of public deliberation, the norms and values associated with it, and the challenges of pursuing such ideals in practice.

Faculty had cautioned me not to expect more than 50 participants because students—as I should well know—are uninterested, unengaged, and unwilling to make extra efforts beyond the mandatory degree requirements. My students were also wary, and rightly so. A week prior to our deliberative election conference, a political panel took place in the same conference hall, with representatives from 12 different parties running for office. The event was stopped in the middle due to a political dispute, in which the audience began shouting and booing one of the representatives. It was a very disappointing and embarrassing experience for the college community. My students were concerned about moderating group discussions—What if participants don’t talk? What if they get violent and we cannot control them? Some suggested we hire security guards.

But the concerns turned out to be unwarranted. The conference outcomes exceeded everyone’s expectations—students and faculty alike. We had an unexpected turnout of 127 student participants, which surpassed my goal of 100 students. After the opening plenary, students broke up into 10 groups that engaged in lively discussions of the selected election issues. Faculty members were startled to see students actively participating in civilized discussions led by their fellow classmates. So were the student-moderators. I cannot help smiling when I recall that beautiful moment when I stood humbled in the middle of the conference hall immediately after the end of the discussions, and numerous students approached me, excited to share their reflections. Group moderators were thrilled about their experience, and first-year students were anxious to find out how they could sign up to serve as moderators next year. Before I knew it, a new tradition was born.

This is just an excerpt, you can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2016 issue of Connections, edited by KF program officer and senior writer/editor Melinda Gilmore; KF senior associate Philip Stewart; and KF vice president, secretary, and general counsel Maxine Thomas, focuses on our year-long review of our multinational research.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Manosevitch-Connections-2016.pdf

Nicole Doerr, Political Translation: How Social Movement Democracies Survive

A century ago, Robert Michels observed what he called the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” at work in the socialist and revolutionary labor parties and movements of Europe. He argued that these groups provided “the best field of observation” for the problem of oligarchy, because they were committed in principle to equality and democracy (p. 11). If even they turned into oligarchies, it was “probable that this cruel game will continue without end” (p. 408).

This was the pattern he observed:

Democracy is inconceivable without organization. [But] Organization implies the tendency to oligarchy. In every organization, whether it be a political party, a professional union, or any other association of the kind, the aristocratic tendency manifests itself very clearly. … As a result of organization, every party or professional union becomes divided into a minority of directors and a majority of directed. … All power thus proceeds in a natural cycle: issuing from the people, it ends by raising itself above the people (pp. 21, 32, 38).

Since about 2003, the University of Copenhagen Sociologist Nicole Doerr has been observing the successors of Michels’ socialist and revolutionary movements–the heterogeneous leftist organizations that have come together in contexts like the European Social Forum, the US Social Forum, and a low-income city in California. She observes many of the same specific dynamics that struck Michels, and she adds new ones.

For example, experienced, professional organizers tend to know one another and give each other much more attention than they give to newcomers (pp. 33-34). Representatives of “New Left” organizations that demand loose, horizontal interactions appear to union organizers to be “arrogant and upper-class” (p. 32). Questions that matter to marginalized people–such as whether the location of the next meeting will be accessible to them–get tabled as irrelevant (p. 56). Despite strong leftist convictions, leaders reveal unconscious bias against people unlike them, such as women from Turkey and Eastern Europe (pp. 54-5). Decisions laboriously reached in earlier meetings become sacrosanct, even though newcomers have reasons to object to them. The need to translate for–or to speak more slowly to–linguistic minorities is perceived as a mere nuisance (p. 39). Gatherings tend to grow more “ideologically homogeneous” over time (p. 54), as those who don’t agree drop out.

But Doerr also contributes a fascinating positive finding. She first noticed that a multilingual meeting was more equitable and deliberative than meetings in which translation was unnecessary (p. 25). That seemed paradoxical. One would assume that if some participants require simultaneous translation, a layer of inequality will be added.

But then she started noticing the translators. Although they were easily dismissed as providing a mere technical support service–and one that inconvenienced the speakers of the dominant languages–they also became involved in advocating for inclusion. They were professionally resistant to entering the discussion of substance, since their job was to translate for others. But they were also professionally committed to making sure that the people they served could be heard. Thus they often intervened on matters of process.

The translators suddenly took center stage when they went on strike during a Paris gathering, with the terse announcement, “we translators now collectively interrupt our linguistic service” (p. 42). Their demand was to change the list of official speakers so that more immigrants were included. They quickly prevailed, thanks to their leverage over the entire meeting.

At the US Social Forum in Atlanta, there were again linguistic translators. But by now, Doerr had begun using the term more broadly. Translators are people who enter a discussion without having substantive views of their own but with the goal of making sure that certain specific people, vulnerable to being ignored, are heard and understood. One of the activists in Atlanta “often intervened when established NGO staffers working on immigration reform had trouble not only understanding the language but also the content and importance of demands by undocumented immigrants.” She told Doerr, “What we did for the US Social Forum was translation … But it’s not just about linguistic translation. It’s also about emotion. It’s a translation of space, of class, of gender” (p. 59).

These translators–linguistic or otherwise–emerge for Doerr as a “third voice within deliberation” (p. 10), neither participants nor facilitators.

She recognizes that they have the power to advance their own interests (pp. 47-9). In the words of the old Italian pun, “traduttore, traditore” (translator = traitor). Their value is dependent on their motivations.  Doerr devotes a chapter to a California example in which bilingual elected officials favored their self-interests: “translation had turned into representation and domination” (p. 97). In meetings at city hall, these officials “repeatedly interrupted, disciplined, marginalized, and implicitly stigmatized residents,” especially those who spoke in Spanish.

But then a grassroots organizing group created community forums and invited the same city leaders to participate on its turf. Volunteer translators played essential roles in designing these forums, in preparing the city officials to be respectful at the meetings (pp. 102-3), and then intervening to demand that specific questions be answered (p. 110). While literally translating between Spanish and English, the organizers also explained technical matters in understandable terms. Although the votes at these community forums had no legal force, the city council made some concessions in response.

I’d like to emphasize four larger themes:

First, we are used to a dichotomy between direct and representative democracy. But translators (linguistic or otherwise) complicate that. They represent individuals in order to permit direct participation.

Second, the beneficial cases in Doer’s book depend on organized power. The translators in Paris struck, withholding their services all at once. The community organizers in the US case engaged sufficient numbers of voters that they could compel city officials to attend their meetings. It’s not just the act of translating that matters; it’s the translators’ connection to organizations. (At this point, Michels would ask how organized translators can avoid becoming a new oligarchy.)

Third, translators sometimes escape notice; their influence is unseen because all they seem to be doing is translating someone else’s words (p. 126). I imagine that listeners literally look at the original speakers, not the translators. This invisibility can be problematic if translators misuse their power. But it’s also a strategic asset, because they can get away with influencing the powerful when others would fail.

Finally, these acts of translation are classic examples of “public work,” in my friend Harry Boyte’s sense: “self-organized efforts by a mix of people who create goods, material or symbolic, whose civic value is determined through an ongoing process of deliberation” (Boyte and Scarnatti, p. 78.). Thinking of political translation as a form of work is helpful because it brings out the translators’ professional commitments and values and the craft-like skills that they contribute to make democracy work better.

References

  • Boyte, Harry C. & Scarnati, Blase. 2014. “Transforming Higher Education in a Larger Context: The Civic Politics of Public Work,” in Peter Levine and Karol Edward Soltan, eds., Civic Studies: Approaches to the Emerging Field. American Association of Colleges & Universities, 2014
  • Doerr, Nicole. 2018. Political Translation: How Social Movement Democracies Survive Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Michels, Robert. 1915. Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy, trans. Eden and Cedar Paul. New York: Heart’s International Library

Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do? (NIFI Issue Guide)

The 23-page issue guide, Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do? was published in January 2018 from National Issues Forums Institute and Kettering Foundation. The issue guide offers participants three options to use during deliberation on how to address current immigration to the US. The issue guide is available to download for free on NIFI’s site here and is also available in Spanish here, and there is a post-forum questionnaire for both languages.

From NIFI…

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 here 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.

The issue raises a number of difficult questions, and there are no easy answers:

Should we strictly enforce the law and deport people who are here without permission, or would deporting millions of people outweigh their crime?

Should we welcome more newcomers to build a more vibrant and diverse society, or does this pose too great a threat to national unity?

Should we accept more of the growing numbers of refugees from war-torn regions, or should we avoid the risk of allowing in people whose backgrounds may not have been fully checked?

Should our priority be to help immigrants assimilate into our distinctively American way of life, including learning English, or should we instead celebrate a growing mosaic of different peoples?

The concerns that underlie this issue are not confined to party affiliation, nor are they captured by labels like “conservative” or “liberal.”

The research involved in developing the guide included interviews and conversations with Americans from all walks of life, as well as surveys of nonpartisan public-opinion research, subject-matter scans, and reviews of initial drafts by people with direct experience with the subject.

This issue guide placemat presents three options for deliberation:

Option 1: Welcome Immigrants, Be a Beacon of Freedom
This option says that immigration has helped make America what it is today- a dynamic and diverse culture, an engine of the global economy, and a beacon of freedom around the world.  It says that part of what defines America as a nation is the opportunity for all to pursue the American dream. We should develop an immigration policy that builds on that tradition by welcoming newcomers, helping immigrant families stay together, and protecting those fleeing from war and oppression.

Option 2: Enforce the Law, Be Fair to Those Who Follow the Rules
This option says we need a fair system, where the rules are clear and, above all, enforced. With an estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally, our current system is unjust and uncontrolled. In fairness to the long lines of people who are waiting to come to America legally, we must strengthen our commitment to border security, crack down on visa overstays, and introduce more stringent measures to deal with immigrants living here without authorization.

Option 3: Slow Down and Rebuild Our Common Bonds
This option recognizes that newcomers have strengthened American culture in the past. But the current levels of immigration are so high, and the country is now so diverse, that we must regain our sense of national purpose and identity. We should have a measured immigration policy—one that reduces the rate of immigration and assists newcomers as they become part of the American community. We need to find ways to accommodate newcomers without compromising our sense of national unity.

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NIF-Logo2014About NIFI Issue Guides
NIFI’s Issue Guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. By intention, Issue Guides do not identify individuals or organizations with partisan labels, such as Democratic, Republican, conservative, or liberal. The goal is to present ideas in a fresh way that encourages readers to judge them on their merit.

Follow on Twitter: @NIForums

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/en/issue-guide/coming-america