Our Responsibility to Safeguard Our Democracy

NCDD member org, the Bridge Alliance, recently shared this article on their blog from Dr. Thom Little of the State Legislative Leaders Foundation (SLLF). In the article, he speaks on the tenets at the core of our democracy and the need for the people and the representatives to protect and uphold these principles if this nation is to be able to continue. You can read the article below and find the original on the Bridge Alliance site here.


Protecting Our Democracy: The Obligation of Leadership

More than two centuries ago, fifty-five men from across thirteen American colonies established a government like none other before, a government where power was bestowed not by birth right or by armed might, but by consent. A democracy. The governed had, by the power of their voice and their vote, the right to determine who would govern them and accordingly, the right to remove them as necessary. Thus began what Alexis de Tocqueville described as “the great experiment” to see if man was truly capable of self government.

With a lot of hard work, good leadership and not a little bit of luck, this government has endured- it has survived some less than competent and noble leaders and irrational decisions made out of fear, racism, sexism, partisanship and just plain ignorance. It has survived wars internal and external. It has, although not without pain, hardship and some serious missteps, integrated peoples of different races, ethnicities, identities and philosophies. The nation has moved forward in fits and starts, but it has moved forward.

And yet, the success of America’s democracy is not preordained, based on destiny or providence. What has been so long maintained can easily be lost if we as a people and our leaders lose sight of the institutions that have allowed it to prosper and served us well for so long: free and fair elections; an independent press; three autonomous branches of government and strong and effective state governments. While not perfect, these four institutions have been the bedrock of democracy and must be maintained if this experiment is to continue.

Free and Fair Elections. A government that derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed can only stand if the governed have faith in the process by which they lend that consent: the elections. That faith has been tested from time to time, especially when no candidate for the US Presidency earned a majority of the electoral votes. Further, electoral reforms such as voter registration, primary elections, campaign finance regulations and limitations and the elimination of numerous obstacles to voting have been implemented to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. In addition, the right to vote has been extended to Americans of all races, genders over the age of seventeen fulfilling the revolutionary vision of the founders that indeed all are created equal.

An Independent and Trusted Press. While the relationship between public officials and the press has always been a tense one, the authors of the United States Constitution understood that for the infant government to thrive, freedom of the press, even the very partisan papers, pamphlets and fliers of the time, would have to be protected. The founders so valued freedom of the press that they codified it in the very first amendment to the new Constitution. Ideologically driven journalism is nothing new, but the rise of electronic media, cable news, talk radio and social media have made it so difficult to determine what sources are to be trusted that faith in the press is being severely tested.

Autonomous Branches of Government. Separation of powers. Checks and balances. Power spread across three independent units of government? Preposterous- at least to most in the eighteenth century when power was given by God or taken by might. Kings or dictators made the laws, administered the laws and interpreted the laws. In America, each of those decisions are to be made by an independent branch (legislative, judicial and executive), with some oversight from each of the others to keep any one branch from getting out of hand. However, for this system to work, each independently elected branch must be strong enough to do their jobs and willing to stand against the others when they step beyond their bounds.

Strong and Capable State Governments. Perhaps the most unique contribution to the American system of the governed is federalism, a system by which power is shared. While the thirteen states were all part of a larger nation, each also retained significant rights by which they would govern themselves and, perhaps more importantly, address important issues when the national government is unwilling or incapable of doing so. Strong, capable state governments, led by informed and independent legislatures are as critical today (maybe even moreso in light of the gridlock and bitterness that has gripped Washington, DC) as it was more than two hundred years ago.

The responsibility to maintain this gift of democracy has, and always will be, in the hands of the people and the representatives they elect to serve and govern them. If we do not protect and honor these institutions, the government that has for so long been a beacon to the world could easily be lost like others before it. So, I challenge you and all of us to work diligently to make sure that the democracy that has served us so well for so long will stand for our children and their children and their children’s children. And SLLF stands ready, willing and able to help in any way we can!

You can find the original version of this article on the Bridge Alliance site at www.bridgealliance.us/protecting_our_democracy_the_obligation_of_leadership.

The Modern Revival of Democracy in Municipalities

While democracy on the national level has gone through some serious upheaval in the last years, it’s inspiring to see many cities across the country come together and nurture localized democracy. NCDD member org, Public Agenda, shared this article on how cities are returning to being spaces of civic engagement for the community and some cities have even adopted deliberative democratic practices. We encourage you to read this piece that elevates the work of several NCDD member organizations in the post below (thanks for mentioning us too!) and find the original on Public Agenda’s site here.


Cities as Centers for Deliberative Democracy

Whether dealing with climate change, immigration or even trade, cities and metropolitan areas have for some time now taken initiatives and formed networks to address pressing social and economic issues.

The New Role for Cities

The late Benjamin Barber, a political theorist, wrote that the dysfunction of democracy that we see at the national, and even state level, has caused us to return to the origins of democracy in metropolitan areas because it is in cities that we can get things done on a manageable scale. Consequently, cities are taking on a role once played by states. Barber’s book, “If Mayors Ruled the World,” has turned out to be prescient, especially in light of our federal government’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord.

Whether dealing with climate change, immigration or even trade, cities and metropolitan areas have for some time now taken initiatives and formed networks to address pressing social and economic issues. In light of the prevailing headwinds democracy itself faces today it is not surprising to look to cities as the place for innovations as well. One example of a city leading innovation in democracy is Pittsburgh, where under the mayor, Bill Peduto, the city has adopted “deliberative democracy.”

Deliberative Democracy

Under the ideals of deliberative democracy, political decisions are the product of fair and reasonable discussions and debate among the public.

In one sense, the principles and practice of deliberative democracy are straightforward: Create conditions for inclusive, informed and well-structured conversations; ensure that the results of these deliberations are taken seriously by stakeholders; and hope that those participating in these conversations leave with a positive attitude and a heightened sense of civic engagement.

In today’s political climate, this may seem Pollyannaish, but it is important to see how this situation came to be. Here, proponents of deliberative democracy are in a good position: its principles can help analyze the problem and its practices can help address the problem.

Today’s Political Climate: How did we get here?

Since the 18th century, the concept of democracy came to embody the ideas of the Enlightenment (basic rights including freedom of speech and thought). These ideals were expressed in our written constitution as amendments to an essentially mechanistic set of procedures that comprise the way our government works. Recently, this model of a “thin, liberal constitution” was seen as sufficient to create democracies abroad. Granted that there was a lot more to be done on the ground (establishing a rule of law, courts, districting for representatives, etc.), but essentially there was a belief that a constitution was like an algorithm – turn it on and democracy happens.

But we need to add the virtues of citizenship to the freedoms granted by our constitution. Such civic virtues include political toleration, a willingness to listen to other points of view, and the ability to give public reasons for one’s own view. A willingness, if you will, to engage in open and informed conversations with those who are different from us and our circle of friends. A society that has failed to instill these civic virtues will easily collapse into warring tribes — as we have seen with the Sunni and Shia groups in the Middle East and the Red and Blue counties of America.

A second problem arises when democracies are seen as “‘vote centric”’ and the game of democracy becomes that of winning the most votes. Getting the most votes has evolved into a science these days and political consultants can use a whole array of strategies that involve framing, agenda setting, and manipulation to do whatever it takes to influence voters. Politics becomes a kind advertising campaign where winner takes all.

Deliberative Democracy Today

One could argue that a Madisonian interpretation of our Constitution envisions a deliberative democracy as its original intent. But contemporary interpretations of deliberative democracy go back to philosopher Jürgen Habermas’s view of democracy in the 1980s. For Habermas, those affected by a policy should participate in a rational conversation of that policy, allowing the force of the better argument to determine the outcome of the deliberative process.

Since the beginning of this Century, the field rapidly expanded as practitioners in mediation and group facilitation connected with theoreticians. As a result, deliberation is now aligned with a set of procedures designed to provide the basic requirements for informed, well-structured conversations linked to outcomes of some sort. Today, organizations like the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation have over 3,000 followers and many universities have programs in the field of deliberative democracy.

In essence, a deliberative democracy is not a society that ‘talks’ but a model of democracy that is instantiated in a set of explicit protocols that I call Deliberative Loops. One can adjust these protocols as the situation requires. Everyday Democracy, for instance, uses multiple learning circles spread out over a period of weeks.

Despite expansion through the integration of theory and practice, the link between this practice and the functioning of government was limited to ad hoc funding opportunities and both large and small scale projects. These activities were not insignificant and many were quite successful in fulfilling the desiderata of deliberative democracy. A great deal of empirical data was also compiled, leading to rigorous assessment studies of actual real-world protocol driven citizen deliberative forums. But the crucial link between the principles and practices of deliberative democracy and the everyday functioning of government had not been established.

Institutionalizing Deliberative Democracy at the Level of Local Government

In 2013 a Civic Health Index sponsored by the National Conference on Citizenship recommended that the City of Pittsburgh become a national center for deliberative democracy. Mayor Peduto endorsed this recommendation and in 2014 the city ran six “Community Deliberative Forums” to assist in the hiring of a new Police Chief. In light of the quality of the feedback and the degree to which the public expressed its appreciation of the process, the city began to develop its own in-house capacity to run these forums. The city chose to do so in areas that meet the regulatory requirements for Public Comment. To

date

there have been three City Budgets (2016, 2017 and 2018) using Community Deliberative Forums as well as special Community Deliberative Forums on topics like affordable housing. The City has even published its own handbook on Community Deliberative Forums and made it available for use by the National League of Cities and other organizations here and abroad (http://hss.cmu.edu/pdd/cities/).

This model of deliberative democracy is working in Pittsburgh and can work in other cities as well. But it is hard to see how it can work its way up to state legislatures and the federal government, given our political climate. Mickey Edwards’ book, “The Parties vs The People,” offers suggestions by which we can “‘move the furniture around”’ in Washington to help those bodies live up to their potential. The subtitle is telling: “How to Turn Democrats and Republicans into Americans.” But it’s a daunting task. Better to see how cities can do it. There’s even a handbook.

Robert Cavalier, PhD is Emeritus Teaching Professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Philosophy Department and Director of the Program for Deliberative Democracy, which won a 2008 Good Government Award from the Pittsburgh League of Women Voters. He is author of Democracy for Beginners (For Beginners LLC, 2009) and Editor of Approaching Deliberative Democracy: Theory and Practice (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2011).

You can read the original version of this article on Public Agenda’s site at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/cities-as-centers-for-deliberative-democracy.

CitizenFEST Coming to Dallas and Memphis This Fall

Mover and shaker org, Citizen University is holding two more of their exciting CitizenFEST events this coming fall and we encourage you to them check out! For folks in Texas, there will be one coming to you next week in Dallas on September 8th and for folks in Tennessee, you can catch the final one on October 13th in Memphis. CitizenFEST is a free and entertaining learning summit on strengthening civic power. You can read about the upcoming events, learn about what the May CitizenFEST was like, and check it all out on Citizen University’s site here.


Upcoming CitizenFESTs

Power + Character = Citizenship

CitizenFEST is a festive learning summit on how to exercise civic power, held in three communities across the country. Activists, artists, and everyday citizens come together for a unique blend of art, creativity, and the concrete skills of effective change-making. Our country needs more people to show up in more places to practice power in more ways. Join us!

How do you get your voice heard? How do you change a rigged system? How do you stir others out of apathy or connect with those with whom you disagree? We’ll tackle these questions and more in a day of skill-building workshops, artistic performances, and deep community conversations. Participants will leave with practical strategies of civic power to apply in their own work, new connections with community members, and new ideas and inspiration for the work at hand.

Our goal is to make registration as accessible and inclusive as possible, which is why it’s free to attend CitizenFEST!

September 8: Dallas, TX

in partnership with the Embrey Family Foundation and Ignite/Arts Dallas
Learn more and register here.

Agenda
8:30 Registration & Breakfast

9:00 MORNING PLENARY SESSION
Welcome & Opening Performance
Keynote: Power + Character | Eric Liu, Citizen University
Panel: “Creating the Dallas We Need” | Giovanni Valderas, Assistant Director at Kirk Hopper Fine Art and visual artist; Brianna Brown, Texas Organizing Project; Vicki Meek, independent curator and artist; moderated by Kayla DeMonte, Citizen University

11:00 MORNING BREAKOUT
Power + Character Workshop – Citizen University

12:30 LUNCH
Music by S’anah Ras and DJ RonAmber. Tabling from local organizations

1:45 AFTERNOON BREAKOUTS
Workshops:
-Dr. Njoki McElroy
-Dallas Community Innovation Lab
-Panel: Texas Freedom Network, Creating Our Future, Dallas Area Interfaith, JOLT, moderated by Mercedes Fulbright

3:00 CLOSING PLENARY
Yoga N Da Hood, Mutual Aid Circles, performance, closing remarks by Eric Liu

4:30-5:30 Happy Hour Reception, music from DJ RonAmber

———-

Gilley’s Dallas is ADA accessible. Please contact us if you would like further accommodations.
Parking will be free and available.

Learn more about Citizen University: citizenuniversity.us
Learn more about Embrey Family Foundation: embreyfdn.org
Learn more about Ignite/Arts Dallas: igniteartsdallas.com

———-

October 13: Memphis, TN

in partnership with The Fourth Bluff
Learn more and register here.

May 11-12: New Orleans, LA

in partnership with the Family Independence Initiative
Learn more about this past event here.

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/.

NCDD Teams Up for Bridging the Divides Workshop in CO

Several weeks back, I was invited by Colorado Common Cause to give a workshop at their monthly membership meeting in Denver, Colorado, on Bridging the Divide: or How to Have a “Productive” Political Conversation. This was an exciting opportunity to connect with this fantastic organization and share some of the best practices from the NCDD network on how to navigate emotionally-heated conversations.

Huge thank you to all the participants who attended the event and made it an engaging experience! Another big thank you to Caroline Fry from Colorado Common Cause for inviting NCDD to come speak with their members and share some of the tools and wisdom from our network to help better bridge divides.

Caroline kicked off the meeting with a brief intro to Colorado Common Cause –  an org that has been working for over four decades to improve democratic processes by reducing barriers to voting, working to ensure that elections are run fairly, reducing the influence of money in politics, and that our government is being held accountable through more transparent practices.

During the workshop, I shared the transformative work being done in the NCDD network to enable people to connect more authentically with each other, build deeper relationships, and engage in challenging conversations- specifically around heated political issues. I spoke on the importance of humanizing each other and finding common ground by connecting to our shared values; and how this work is possible in even the most painful conflicts (though it is by no means easy). I lifted up examples from our NCDD members of tools that help facilitate having challenging conversations and shared some deliberative processes that hold space for these conversations while contributing toward policy-making.

Finally, I shared a couple of upcoming events with participants, that I encourage you to join in!

  • National Week of Conversation is going on right now until this Saturday, April 28th – join this national movement to improve listening, deepen our connections through conversation, and better heal the divisiveness in our society. Join an event already planned on the National Week of Conversation site here or create your own, maybe using the resources provided on NWOC or right here on the NCDD Resource Center.
  • Our upcoming National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation is being held this November 2-4 in Downtown Denver. Our conferences are an exciting mingling of enthusiasts and practitioners in dialogue, deliberation, and engagement work and we encourage you to learn more here.
    • “Super Early Bird” tickets are now available for a limited time, so make sure you act fast to utilize this great low rate by clicking here.
    • The theme for this year’s conference is “Connecting and Strengthening Civic Innovators”, and our intention is to focus on how we can further uplift dialogue, deliberation, and engagement work; learn more details on the theme here.
    • For folks interested in presenting a session at NCDD2018, the call for proposals is currently open for concurrent sessions – learn more here.

You can watch the full live stream of the workshop in the video below. I’ve also included a link to the resource doc I shared which has the exercises we did, as well as, the resources I referenced – which you can find here.

If you like what you see – NCDD staff would love to come hold a workshop with your group, organization, or event!  We are happy to tailor the workshop to your needs for navigating challenging conversations. I am located in Denver, Managing Director Courtney Breese is in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Co-Founder Sandy Heierbacher is in Boston; all of us can travel to our respective surrounding areas to hold workshops. For folks that are located outside of these places, contact us and let’s see if we can coordinate logistics with travel or technology to make a workshop happen for you! Please contact me at keiva[at]ncdd[dot]org for workshop inquiries. 

About Colorado Common Cause
Colorado Common Cause is a non-profit organization fighting for open, honest and accountable government. We work to strengthen public participation and to ensure that government and the political process serve the public interest, rather than the special interests.

We believe the serious issues that confront our society – problems like lack of affordable health care and quality education, poverty, discrimination, and global warming – will only be solved when government is responsive to the needs and the voices of its citizens, and not to the pressures of special interests. Partnering with groups representing diverse constituencies, we campaign to break down barriers to voting, ensure every vote is counted as cast, reduce the impact of special interest money in the political process, and promote open government and high ethical standards.

Follow on Twitter at @CommonCauseCO
Connect on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ColoradoCommonCause

Unrig the System Summit in NOLA Next Week

If you’re tired of political corruption and looking to improve our democracy, then check out what’s being convened next week! If you hadn’t heard already, Debilyn Molineaux, Co-Founder and Director of the Bridge Alliance – an NCDD member org – will be speaking at the upcoming Unrig the System Summit. The summit is February 2-4 in New Orleans, and is being hosted by BA member, Represent.Us. Convening folks from across the political spectrum, this conference will be an excellent opportunity to network and collaborate on next steps to improving our democratic environment. You can read the announcement in post below or find more information on BA’s site here.


Join us at Unrig The System Summit in NOLA!

We are thrilled to announce that Debilyn Molineaux, our Co-Founder & Director, will be a speaker at the Unrig The System Summit hosted by Bridge Alliance member Represent.Us in New Orleans on February 2-4.

Convening the Brightest Minds from the Right and Left to Fix American Politics…and Party in New Orleans

Unrig The System Summit is no ordinary conference. No endless panels and speeches. It’s fast-paced and fun, with plenty of time to self-organize as you mingle with top advocacy leaders, academics, comedians, musicians, celebrities, activists, philanthropists and journalists. This is about crossing partisan and ideological divides and working together on concrete solutions to unrig America’s political system…. with plenty of New Orleans fun mixed in. The Summit runs from Friday, February 2nd, 1pm through Sunday, February 4th, 2pm CT. Key programming will take place all 3 days, so plan on being in attendance for the entire event.

Click here to register – We hope to see you there!

Program tracks for Advocacy, Policy and One Helluva Good Time 
Shape the future of: Money in Politics, Gerrymandering, Citizens United, Voting Reform, Transparency and more. See the hour-by-hour agenda here, or get the Unrig Summit App to plan your personal agenda.

Advocacy Track Sneak Peek:

  • The Power of Storytelling – Learn the narrative skills that power winning campaigns from the experts who have organized some of the best. From gaining new recruits to getting press coverage, so much of what we do relies on our ability to tell a compelling story about our work and ourselves.
  • Fighting Big Money While Running for Office – If you’re running for office, thinking about running for office, supporting a candidate, or just interested in any of the above, come learn about how candidates can embrace a pro-democracy agenda on the campaign trail. You will learn about how to use the right language, how to raise money, how to run a winning campaign and build the next generation of elected champions who will fight to end the influence of big money.
  • Campaign Design Lab – In this interactive training, you’ll join a team to create a campaign live at the summit. You will be guided through a campaign planning 0simulation, and walk away with the recipe for designing and building groundbreaking new campaigns! After the workshop you may continue by participating in one of several follow-up workshops during the Summit. Build something great and it may even be showcased live from stage on Sunday!

Policy Track Sneak Peek:

  • At Our Whit(ford)’s End With Gerrymandering? – Join the lawyer who argued on behalf of Wisconsin’s voters in the Supreme Court’s recent Gill v. Whitford gerrymandering case and other redistricting experts to find out how the Court might rule, and how to prepare for next steps in each possible scenario. Gill v. Whitford is a potential blockbuster case to decide whether partisan gerrymandering is constitutional — and we expect a decision soon after the Summit.
  • From Russia, with Facebook: Foreign Influence in American Elections – Join leading experts in a discussion on how we can limit the influence of people who are beyond the reach of our laws — and if we should. The 2016 presidential cycle showed how vulnerable our elections are to foreign influence.
  • What to Do About Citizens United? – Hear from the best legal minds in the country about how we can fight Citizens United, super PACs, dark money, and more. What are the most promising avenues for legal reform, and where should we be focusing our efforts? What’s the near- and long-term game?

Entertainment

  • Friday Night Welcome Party – Join us for a night on the town, and meet the movement at one of New Orleans’ most prolific venues: The Howlin’ Wolf, featuring local live music from Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, and Brass-A-Holics. Make sure to arrive on time to catch the open bar happy hour sponsored by Center for Secure and Modern Elections. This mixer is designed to help you meet new allies. Don’t be shy! 
  • Saturday Night Live Performance – Saturday night is the marquee event of the Summit: an inspiring evening of live music, stand-up comedy, and short speeches in a 1,800-seat historic New Orleans theater. The evening will be hosted by Jennifer Lawrence and Adam McKay and will be livestreamed on multiple platforms. Speakers include Represent.Us Director Josh Silver; Professor Richard Painter; comedians Nikki Glaser, and Adam Yenser; astronaut Ron Garan; former State Senator and Our Revolution President Nina Turner and more, with live music from HoneyHoney, and the legendary New Orleans-based Preservation All-Stars. 

Remember to follow the #UnrigTheSystem hashtag on Twitter for more in-the-moment happenings!

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

Connecting Outside of our Filter Bubbles

Have you seen the recent Ted talk featuring two prominent folks from the NCDD network? NCDD member Joan Blades of Living Room Conversations and John Gable of AllSides, recently did the Ted talk at the TEDWomen 2017 conference in November. The two talk about the power of breaking outside of your filter bubbles by holding authentic conversations with people that are different than yourself and that by building relationships with people we tend to “listen differently to people we care about”. They share how their friendship has formed despite coming from very different ideological backgrounds and experiences, and how that has transformed the work they do. You can listen to their Ted talk below or find the original here.


Free Yourself from your Filter Bubbles

Joan Blades and John Gable want you to make friends with people who vote differently than you do. A pair of political opposites, the two longtime pals know the value of engaging in honest conversations with people you don’t immediately agree with. Join them as they explain how to bridge the gaps in understanding between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum — and create opportunities for mutual listening and consideration (and, maybe, lasting friendships).

You can find this Ted talk at www.ted.com/talks/joan_blades_and_john_gable_free_yourself_from_your_filter_bubbles.

2017 Civvy Award Winners Announced

We are excited to share NCDD member org, the Bridge Alliance, recently announced the winners for the 2017 Civvy Awards! Congratulations to all the awardees and special shout-out to the fellow NCDD member orgs, New Hampshire Listens and National Institute for Civil Discourse! The American Civic Collaboration Awards (aka the Civvys), co-sponsored with Big Tent Nation, are the first ever national awards that honor individuals and organizations doing work around collective action to improve communities, beyond partisanship and divisive ideology. We invite you to join us in celebrating the winners of the Civvys and learn more about their important work in the post below or find the original on the Bridge Alliance’s blog here.


Announcing The 2017 Civvys Winners!

This last Friday at the National Conference on Citizenship the winners of The 2017 American Civic Collaboration Awards were announced!

New Hampshire Listens is a winner in the regional category for their work facilitating civil conversation in the state of New Hampshire on controversial public challenges. They also train others to facilitate such productive dialogues. Bruce Mallory and Michele Holt-Shannon have developed programs to elevate the state’s problem-solving capabilities, modeling a respectful and inclusive approach that many hope will be replicated nationwide. As the person who nominated them put it, “People feel relieved and respected when Bruce and Michele enter the room.”

Nationally, a partnership between the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, the National Institute for Civil Discourse and the National Foundation for Women Legislators has resulted in a new leadership program designed to deliver insight, inspiration and techniques to legislative leaders working to improve public policy discussion in their states. With NICD’s expertise in training community leaders and legislatures, SLLF’s success in providing state legislators with nonpartisan information and a forum for discussion, and NFWL’s work in empowering leaders, this partnership aims to replace gridlock with progress and criticism with compassion. In the words of their nominator, “since many of our federal leaders begIn their political service in state legislatures, success in this program will eventually improve our federal government.”

In the youth category, the Student Public Interest Research Groups from several college campuses were nominated for their work supporting voter education, voter registration and creating safe spaces for dialogue between students with diverse perspectives. Student PIRGs promote learning and understanding about a host of current issues, while providing a forum for students to become politically active and effective. As one elected official put it, “the work PIRGs do is vitally important in a democracy and serves as such a great role model as a set of engaged citizens so necessary to building effective public policy.”

Thank you to all those who submitted nominations and helped take part in recognizing organizations doing great collaborative work. A special thanks to our judges Peter Levine, Betsy Wright Hawkins and David Sawyer as well as our co-sponsor Big Tent Nation.

Here is to another year of innovation and collaboration!

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

Don’t Miss the Sept. 20th Nevins Fellowship Confab Call

As we announced last month, NCDD is hosting a special Confab Call with the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and Healthy Democracy next Wednesday, September 20th from 1-2pm Eastern / 10-11am Pacific. The call is the best place to learn more about this incredible opportunity to have a D&D trained student come work with your organization at no-cost, so we strongly encourage the NCDD network to register today!

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During the call, NCDD Member and McCourtney’s Managing Director Christopher Beem will provide an overview of the Nevins Democracy Leaders Program and its aims, discuss the training that the future fellows are going through, and share more about how your organization can take advantage of this great chance to help cultivate the next generation of D&D leaders while getting more support for your work – all for FREE! We’ll also be joined by NCDD Member Robin Teater of Healthy Democracy, who will share her experiences hosting a fellow this summer.

NCDD is proud to have partnered the last couple years with the McCourtney Institute to help identify organizations in the field that can host Nevins fellows, and we’re continuing the exciting partnership this year. You can get a better sense of what the program experience is like by checking out this blog post from a 2017 Nevins Fellow about their summer fellowship with NCDD Sponsoring Member The Jefferson Center.

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

Using Thick and Thin Engagement to Improve Politics

The NCDD network specializes in structures and processes for better civic engagement, which is why we wanted to share an insightful piece written by Matt Leighninger from Public Agenda, an NCDD member org. In the article, he gives concrete ways to improve politics from the ground up, by strengthening networks using both thin and thick ways of engagement. We encourage you to read Leighninger’s article below or find the original on Public Agenda’s blog here.


Fixing Politics by Strengthening Networks for Engagement

As David Brooks pointed out in his column on “How to Fix Politics,” our political system has reached a perilous state of dysfunction and distrust, and it is unlikely that any solutions to this crisis will come from the political parties or their presidential candidates.

Brooks is also right that the partisanship and incivility that plague our politics are not just due to poor manners or bad process skills. They are based in much deeper structural flaws in how leaders and communities engage each other around important issues and resulting strains in the relationship between citizens and government.

Brooks argues that strong community networks are essential for successful politics, and uses a 1981 quote from one of our founders, Daniel Yankelovich, to illustrate how long the weakening of those networks has been going on. “If we’re going to salvage our politics,” Brooks says, we’ll have to “nurture the thick local membership web that politics rests within.”

This kind of argument is often dismissed as a sentimental notion, or a lament over our lack of civic virtue, but it shouldn’t be. There are specific proposals and measures that can accomplish it.

Strengthening networks for engagement should be one of our top public priorities, and there are in fact a number of concrete ways to move forward on it. Much of our work at Public Agenda centers on these challenges, and we are part of a field of other organizations and leaders – from neighborhood organizers to innovative public officials – who have pioneered more productive formats and structures for democratic politics.

There are two kinds of communication that need to be happening for those networks to strengthen and grow. One kind, as Brooks references, is “thick” engagement that is intensive, informed and deliberative. In these kinds of settings, people are able to share their experiences, learn more about public problems, consider a range of solutions or policy options and decide how they want to act.

Other tactics produce “thin” engagement, which is faster, easier and potentially viral. It encompasses a range of activities that allow people to express their opinions, learn about other people’s views and affiliate themselves with a particular group or cause.

When thick and thin engagement activities are common and interwoven in community life, they can:

  • Facilitate faster, more far-reaching dissemination of information from governments, school systems and other public bodies.
  • Allow citizens to provide information back to the institutions, in ways that are convenient for people.
  • Foster discussion and connection, and the strengthening of personal relationships, among different groups of citizens, and among citizens, public officials and public employees.
  • Provide choices for people to make at the level of the family and neighborhood;
  • Create deliberative processes in which people can make informed public policy choices;
  • Encourage and support citizens to contribute their energy, ideas and volunteer time to improving their communities.

By understanding what thick and thin engagement look like, and what they can accomplish, communities can assess and improve their systems of engagement, or “civic infrastructure,” defined as “the laws, processes, institutions, and associations that support regular opportunities for people to connect with each other, solve problems, make decisions and celebrate community.”

Stronger civic infrastructure could include more productive and participatory public meetings, revitalized neighborhood and school associations, and vibrant local online forums. Overall, it should establish a better “ground floor of democracy” that fosters new leaders, creates social connections and helps people work together on common concerns like ensuring public safety and improving the quality of education for our young people.

The structural elements that support these activities can include:

  • new laws and ordinances on public engagement;
  • tools for engaging residents for neighborhoods and schools;
  • annual participatory budgeting processes;
  • public engagement commissions;
  • tools for measuring engagement and the strength of networks;
  • citizen advisory boards that engage rather than just trying to represent residents; and
  • protocols, job descriptions and professional development that help public employees understand how to support productive engagement.

While some of these elements are clearly the province of governments and school systems, many other components are ones that should be supported by neighborhood groups, nonprofits, businesses, faith communities, universities, foundations and other stakeholders.

David Brooks is right that strengthening the web of community networks can help fix politics, at every level of government. There are practical ways to do this – this is a matter for policy, law, cross-sector collaboration, and long-term planning. We should be proactive, and think constructively, about how we want our democracy to work.

You can find the original version of this article on Public Agenda’s blog at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/fixing-politics-by-strengthening-networks-for-engagement.