Looking for Civics Stories from Florida

Good evening, friends in civics! Are you a civics teacher in Florida? Recently, your students took the Civics EOCA, and likely did well, because you are good at what you do. Your kids know the content. But you also taught them the skills and dispositions necessary for participation in civic life. What we would love to hear from you are the stories of student engagement or action.  What did your students do to bring civics to life?  How did they engage with their peers, their communities, their leaders? How did they participate in civic life?

We want the story of your kids! Please email me a few lines (or more) about how your kids took what you taught them and practiced what we preached! We look forward to hearing from you!


New Videos Explore the Political Potential of the Commons

Just released:  a terrific 25-minute video overview of the commons as seen by frontline activists from around the world, “The Commons in Political Spaces: For a Post-capitalist Transition,” along with more than a dozen separate interviews with activists on the frontlines of commons work around the globe. The videos were shot at the World Social Forum in Montreal last August, capturing the flavor of discussion and organizing there.

A big thanks to Remix the Commons and Commons Spaces – two groups in Montreal, and to Alain Ambrosi, Frédéric Sultan and Stépanie Lessard-Bérubé -- for pulling together this wonderful snapshot of the commons world.  The overview video is no introduction to the commons, but a wonderfully insightful set of advanced commentaries about the political and strategic promise of the commons paradigm today.Frédéric Sultan of Remix the Commons

The overview video (“Les communs dans l’espace politique,” with English subtitles as needed) is striking in its focus on frontier developments: the emerging political alliances of commoners with conventional movements, ideas about how commons should interact with state power, and ways in which commons thinking is entering policy debate and the general culture. 

The video features commentary by people like Frédéric Sultan, Gaelle Krikorian, Alain Ambrosi, Ianik Marcil, Matthew Rhéaume, Silke Helfrich, Chantal Delmas, Pablo Solon, Christian Iaione, and Jason Nardi, among others. 

The individual interviews with each of these people are quite absorbing. (See the full listing of videos here.) Six of these interviews are in English, nine are in French, and three are in Spanish.  They range in length from ten minutes to twenty-seven minutes.

To give you a sense of the interviews, here is a sampling:

Christian Iaione, an Italian law scholar and commoner, heads the Laboratory for the Governance of the Commons in Italy. The project, established five years ago, is attempting to change the governance of commons in Italian cities such as Rome, Bologna, Milan and Messina. More recently, it began a collaboration with Fordham University headed by Professor Sheila Foster, and  experiments in Amsterdam and New York City.

In his interview, “Urban Commons Charters in Italy,” Iaione warns that the Bologna Charter for the Care and Regeneration of Urban commons is not a cut-and-paste tool for bringing about commons; it requires diverse and localized experimentation. “There must be a project architecture working to change city governance and commons-enabling institutions,” said Iaione. “Regulation can’t be simply copied in south of Italy, such as Naples, because they don’t have the same civic institutions and public ethics as other parts of Italy….. You need different tools,” which must be co-designed by people in those cities, he said.

Jason Nardi, in his interview, “The Rise of the Commons in Italy” (27 minutes), credits the commons paradigm with providing “a renewed paradigm useful to unite and aggregate many different movements emerging today,” such as degrowth, cooperatives, the solidarity economy, ecologists, NGOs, development movements, and various rights movements. He credited the World Social Forum for helping to unite diverse factions to fight the privatization of everything by the big financial powers. 

Charles Lenchner of Democrats.com spoke about “The Commons in the USA” (11 minutes), citing the important movement in NYC to converted community gardens into urban commons.  He also cited the rise of participatory budgeting movement in New York City today, in which a majority of city council districts use that process.  The City of New York is also encouraging greater investment in co-operatives, in part as a way to deal with precarity and income disparities.  

Silke Helfrich, a German commons activist, discussed “Commons as a new political subject” (27 minutes).  She said that “it’s impossible today to know what’s going on about the commons because so many things are popping up or converging that it’s hard to keep up with them all.”  She said that there are three distinct ways of approaching the commons:  the commons as pools of shared resources to be managed collectively; the commons as social processes that bring commoning into being; and the commons as an attitude and way of thinking about a broader paradigm shift going on.  

Kevin Flanagan gave an interview, “Transition according to P2P” (19 minutes), in which he speaks of the “growing political maturity within the commons world, particularly within digital commons, peer production and collaborative economy.”  Flanagan said that there has always been a politics to the commons, but that politics is moving from being a cultural politics towards a broader politics that is engaging hacker culture, maker spaces, and open design and hardware movements.   Commoners are also beginning to work with more traditional political movements such as the cooperative and the Social and Solidarity Economy movements. 

Lots of nutritious food for thought in this well-produced collection of videos!

Addressing the Problem of Separation through Dialogue

In these divided times, we wanted to share an encouraging piece that NCDD member organization Public Agenda recently posted on their blog. It summarizes insights gained from focus groups PA convened which demonstrated something our field knows – when people from different perspectives engage in dialogue, they realize they aren’t so different or separate after all. We encourage you to read PA’s piece below or find the original version here.


What Discussing Polarizing Topics Like Inequality Exposes

After a divisive election season we continue to see stark evidence of polarization and conflict in our society. But also – and this is less frequently reported on – we see a desire to bridge gaps and find common ground.

Polarization is about more than simply holding differing or even opposing views. These days, it is also about how people with a certain view are, by choice or circumstance, increasingly isolated from those who think differently. The interaction of diverse views is valuable, but the trend of increasing separation of and decreasing interaction between those who hold opposing views is troubling and potentially consequential. The less we interact with those who think differently, the more hardened our views tend to become, and the more apt we are to vilify one another and rely on stereotypes, which in turn further divide us.

Such political polarization is on the rise. While this is much more extreme among political leaders, there are also troubling signs that it is becoming more true among the public. According to a 2014 Pew survey of over 10,000 Americans, Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines than at any point in the past two decades. And, among those who hold “consistently liberal” or “consistently conservative” views, the majority of each group report that most of their close friends hold their same views.

However, it is important to not gloss over the rest of the story. According to the same study:

These sentiments are not shared by all – or even most – Americans. The majority do not have uniformly conservative or liberal views. Most do not see either party as a threat to the nation. And more believe their representatives in government should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want.

And while those with more “consistently held” ideological views are more likely than others to say it is important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views, still only 28% of Americans overall say this is important to them. Growing numbers of Americans also say racial diversity in the United States is important to them: in another Pew survey from this month, 64% of Americans said an increasing number of people from different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in the U.S. makes the country a better place to live, an increase from 56% who said so in August 2016.

When we convened groups of ideologically, racially, and socioeconomically diverse Americans in six large and small urban centers across the country to discuss the economy, inequality, and opportunity, people were clearly grateful for the exposure to different viewpoints and people.

Sitting in on each of these groups, I knew that the participants were a diverse yet accurate cross-section of their surrounding community. I knew there were Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; wealthy and unemployed people; and people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds sitting together at the table. Some of these differences were evident to our participants, others less so.

This meant that participants had many valuable moments of listening to, and learning from, people with very different backgrounds and experiences from their own. And it meant that when consensus emerged within the group, despite the diversity of views, it could be revelatory and important.

One example of learning from others’ experiences involved conversations about race and prejudice. In our Cincinnati group, there was an exchange about whether racial prejudice that limited people’s job prospects was more problematic than other forms of prejudice, such as gender or age discrimination. While there was no clear resolution to the discussion, white respondents were clearly deeply affected by the following story told by a black woman:

Female: My first name is [considered typically black], and I got out of my master’s program and I looked for a job for months, and months, and months…. I redid my résumé and instead of putting my full name, I just put my first initial, then my last name. Voilà.

Moderator: How do you feel about that?

Female: It’s sad. It’s sad. I personally named my daughter a white-sounding name so that in the future, when she gets old enough to get a job, she can get a job because her name sounds white.

Male: Wow.

Female: I considered that when I named her. It’s sad.

Cincinnati-area resident; in her 30s; black; upper-income; Democrat

In our follow-up interviews with respondents several days after the group, a number of people said this story stayed with them, including two white males. To me, it seemed that if they had not been brought together for this research focus group, they might not have ever had such exposure to an experience like the one this woman shared.

A good example of the importance of finding consensus also came from a participant in our Cincinnati group, who was surprised to find he had common ground with another participant who was different from him on numerous counts:

Now, you know, she’s a young African American female and I’m a more senior white male and she’s working and I’m retired, and we still came out thinking the same way. I think that’s kinda cool. That doesn’t mean her and I were right or wrong it just means we thought the same on that. I tend to be a conservative person and this made me think other ways, you know, whether I agreed or not but it made me come up with other ways to look at things. And I liked that.

Cincinnati-area resident; in his 70s; white; upper-income; Republican

Diversity of viewpoints and experience is not the problem we are faced with, but rather the separation we have between those who hold those different views and have had those different experiences, and the lack of ways to bring people of differing views together to gain perspective from one another. You can read more about these focus groups and the conversations between participants in the research report, The Fix We’re In.

You can find the original version of this Public Agenda blog piece at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/what-discussing-polarizing-topics-like-inequality-exposes.

is everyone religious?

In the perennial debate about the place of religion in politics and public life, one available stance is: “Everyone is religious.” This position has weaknesses, which I will mention below, but here are three points in its favor:

  1. Ethical people hold beliefs that are hard, if not impossible, to justify with empirical evidence. For example, I believe that all human beings are equal. That is not a scientifically demonstrable claim. Science finds all kinds of inequalities of capacity, potential, and importance among actual human beings, who include speechless infants and late-stage Alzheimer’s patients. Equality is instead a moral premise. I don’t happen to take it directly from an overtly religious source, but it could be viewed as similar to a religious statement, such as “God loves the world.”
  2. Everyone should recognize that the universe exceeds our capacity to understand it, even by means of cumulative empirical research. I know things that our dog just can’t. I know, for example, that he and I live in the United States, which is a republic. Perhaps he knows some things that I can’t. With appropriate tools, I could collect the same information that he takes in with his remarkable nose, but I wouldn’t know what it feels like to sense that a cat crossed “his” yard five hours ago. A creature with a much different brain from either my dog’s or mine could know things that neither of us can. One needn’t believe in God, then, to acknowledge the likelihood that the universe is permanently unknowable by us and a place of mystery.
  3. Religions do not have foundational articles of faith from which all their other beliefs flow. Sometimes they present themselves that way. Some Jews say that the whole Law follows logically from the revelation on Sinai; some Christians, that everything is implied by God’s sacrifice of His Son on the cross; some Muslims, that everything results inevitably from believing in God and His last prophet. But I don’t think these claims do justice to their respective traditions. Religions are actually large webs of metaphysical beliefs, stories, characters, rules, examples, traditions, rituals, and hopes. Everyone has such a web, whether we see ourselves as religious or not. In fact, many items in the idea-network of a religious person are also present in my network.

In the end, it’s probably a mistake to lose the category of religion or to view religious worldviews as completely parallel to secular ones. The main reason is sociological. Since (I think) the Babylonian Captivity, the Abrahamic religions have organized themselves in a certain way within larger societies. They treat membership in the religious community as an identity: something you are, not just a set of ideas you endorse. They view certain texts as canonical. They emphasize beliefs that are matters of faith (“things hoped for, evidence of things not seen”) over memories or observations. And they gather their believers in groups that form larger networks or structures. The original meaning of the words “congregation,” “synagogue,” and ecclesia (Greek for “church”) is coming-together, a tangible social act. I think the great Asian traditions have been influenced by these sociological forms and have begun to look somewhat like Abrahamic faiths, as a result of isomorphism.

Such religions operate as identity groups and convene in organized structures. They can thus be oppressed and persecuted but can also dictate to others when they control power. That means that a liberal state is wise to identify religions for protection but also to make the government and law neutral among religions. The reason is not metaphysical or epistemological–it’s not that religious people fundamentally believe in different kinds of truths or think in different ways from secular people–but sociological. Religions function differently from other clusters of beliefs and practices.

However, if we adopt this position, then we should at least inquire into whether certain secular belief-communities have also taken forms parallel to those of the Abrahamic faiths, again perhaps due to isomorphism. Doesn’t, for instance, medical science offer its own bounded identities, canonical texts, hierarchies, moral premises, rituals, heroes, and exemplary cases? If it does, then possibly it should be viewed as similar to a religion–which is an idea as old as Durkheim.

I would be reluctant to draw radical implications for US constitutional law. Our traditional ways of defining and protecting religions reflect some pragmatic experience and help to constitute our political culture. I wouldn’t necessarily rock that boat. But if the question is not “How should the Supreme Court interpret the Establishment Clause?” but rather, “What distinguishes religious thinking?” then I am inclined to suspect that everyone is religious and that religion is everywhere.

See also a typology of denominationsare religions comprehensive doctrines? and is all truth scientific truth?

the Hollowing Out of US Democracy

In lieu of an original post here today, I’ll link to a new post of mine on The Evidence Base, a group blog from CESR, the Center for Economic and Social Research at University of Southern California.  I argue that the decline of certain types of associations has left many Americans, especially White working-class citizens, in what my colleagues at the Tisch College of Civic Life and I call “Civic Deserts.” This trend does not explain why a Republican president won in 2016 or why he has taken certain views of policy and ideology. But it does explain the appeal of his leadership style. Citizens who have never belonged to everyday local associations with responsible and accountable leaders do not expect such leadership from their president.

I also explain my SPUD framework, which stands for Scale, Pluralism, Unity, and Depth. SPUD, I propose, is the recipe for effective civic and political organizations, but it is difficult to achieve and is much scarcer today than decades ago.

Key Lessons on Community-Police Relations from APV2017

Last week, NCDD member orgs the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute hosted the 2017 “A Public Voice” forum that convened D&D practitioners with congressionl staff to talk about how to improve community-police relations. For those of you who couldn’t tune in to the livestream of the event, we wanted to share this insightful write up of the event’s highlights from our friends at Everyday Democracy below. We encourage you to read their piece below or find the original here. And if you’d like to watch the whole 90-minute recording of APV 2017, you can find links to it here.


A Public Voice 2017: Safety & Justice

EvDem LogoHighly-publicized police shootings, especially of unarmed black boys and men, have highlighted a national crisis of public safety and justice. These devastations lead us to ask how we can reduce crime as well as police violence, and how we can balance security and liberty. The National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) recently published a Safety & Justice guide and is moderating forums throughout the country to help people grapple with these issues and work towards solutions.

“A Public Voice,” the Kettering Foundation and NIFI’s “annual exploration of public thinking on key issues,” held on May 9 in Washington, D.C., provided the opportunity for Kettering to share with policymakers their insights from the 150 Safety & Justice forums held so far. Senior Associate Leslie King represented Everyday Democracy.

In his opening address, David Mathews, President of the Kettering Foundation, declared “There is no one in this city, no matter how important they are, that can answer questions of judgement – we have to do that.” He characterized the event as part of the work to bridge divides between the people and the government of America.

At tabletop discussions, NIFI moderators, deliberative practitioners, Congressional staffers and federal officials discussed how people are thinking and talking about issues of safety and justice. Those watching the livestream of the event had the chance to listen in to one of those discussions. Read on for insights from the conversation.

A policing perspective

“We in policing have to demystify policing,” one participant remarked, and went on to describe a 70 year-old woman who only just learned about the concept of community policing after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown. Part of demystifying the profession, according to him, requires acknowledging when someone has done wrong – otherwise, he said, the public assumes what police are thinking.

Talking about Safety & Justice leads to conversations about, and capacity to address, other issues

Leslie King pointed out that in dialogues about community-police relations, participants invariably end up talking about related issues such as employment, housing, and education. Having dialogues and organizing around community-police relations, she added, ends up building community capacity to deal with other issues. Community members realize they have agency and that government officials can’t simply dictate solutions.

People want to address root causes

In an online Safety & Justice forum, a representative from Kettering shared that the most-agreed-upon point was the need to invest more in education in communities with high rates of crime. He saw this as evidence of people’s desire to address root causes of violence and crime.

Gail Kitch, who serves on the NIFI’s board, reported on common themes from the initial Safety & Justice forums. These included:

  • People feel we urgently need to increase understanding and mutual respect between police and people of color. Popular suggestions for achieving this included police making connections with youth, and police going through cultural and racial bias trainings.
  • Participants took responsibility for the issue. Many identified community building and improving relationships within the community as tools to reduce crime.
  • Many expressed the belief that it is unsustainable for police to deal with mental illness and drug-related issues.
  • People expressed a desire to address root problems such as unemployment, poverty, and inequality.

In closing, Mathews described Kettering’s work as “awakening the capacities of people to deliberate with one another.” He left participants and viewers with a challenge he called daunting, but not hopeless: “to build on what grows” – a quote he credited to J. Herman Blake. Every person has the capacity for good judgement, he said — the job of people in the deliberative field, then, must be to nurture that ability.

You can find the original version of this Everyday Democracy blog post at www.everyday-democracy.org/news/public-voice-2017-safety-justice.