The Bipartisan Policy Center has launched an initiative called Citizens for Political Reform to empower regular people to do something about the current political environment (other than scream and throw objects at your television set). Sign up to get information from them here. Also tune in next Tuesday, June 24th from 10am to noon as the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform presents a “Bipartisan Blueprint.” Click here for livestream and registration information.
Village Square co-founder Liz Joyner in The Christian Science Monitor:
From TALLAHASSEE, FLA. — In the early 1800s, things weren’t looking particularly good for the American experiment in self-governance. Coming to Washington with differences of opinion natural to a vast new land, early legislators lived and ate in boarding houses that became entrenched voting blocs. Thomas Jefferson wrote that these men came to work “in a spirit of avowed misunderstanding, without the smallest wish to agree.”
Apparently neither human nature nor legislatures have changed much since.
“The more men of good hearts associate, the better they think of each other.”
–Unnamed Federalist Senator, during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (from The Washington Community, James Sterling Young)
This is a topic near and dear to our hearts at the Village Square, as the notion of the Village Square was philosophically drawn from the Jeffersonian dinners hosted by the third president, partly in an effort to get the early “tribal” legislators to interact with each other. Our motive at the Village Square is to engage liberals and conservatives. Here’s a fabulous description of the events written by newly-created Washington Intelligencer Publisher Margaret Bayard Smith, a frequent dinner guest of Jefferson:
At his usual dinner parties the company seldom or ever exceeded fourteen, including himself and his secretary. The invitations were not given promiscuously, or as has been done of late years, alphabetically, but his guests were generally selected in reference to their tastes, habits and suitability in all respects, which attention had a wonderful effect in making his parties more agreeable, than dinner parties usually are; this limited number prevented the company’s forming little knots and carrying on in undertones separate conversations, a custom so common and almost unavoidable in a large party. At Mr. Jefferson’s table the conversation was general; every guest was entertained and interested in whatever topic was discussed.
One circumstance, though minute in itself, had certainly a great influence on the conversational powers of Mr. Jefferson’s guests. Instead of being arrayed in strait parallel lines, where they could not see the countenances of those who sat on the same side, they encircled a round, or oval table where all could see each others faces, and feel the animating influence of looks as well as of words. Let any dinner giver try the experiment and he will certainly be convinced of the truth of this fact. A small, well assorted company, seated around a circular table will ensure more social enjoyment, than any of the appliances of wealth and splendor, without these concomitants.
YES. We say, yes.
A recent article by Ezra Klein at Vox.com eloquently makes an argument that we at CivilPolitics have also done a lot of research in support of – specifically, that if you want to affect many behaviors, you cannot just appeal to individuals’ sense of reason. The article is well worth a complete read and is excerpted below, but the gist of it details a simple clear study by Dan Kahan and colleagues, showing that individuals who are good at math stop using their rational skills when the use of those skills would threaten their values.
By Karl Etters:
At the Village Square’s final meeting of the year, a crowd of several hundred addressed common community problems, moral character and the rise of public corruption.
Members of The Asteroid Club, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lucy Morgan and Bill Shiell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Tallahassee, welcomed a conversation on the staples of democracy and how they fit into our ever-changing society.
Taking into account political, religious and socio-economic differences is all part of the equation said Village Square Board of Directors member and moderator Steve Seibert.
“Public corruption, public morality, these are things that are almost impossible things to talk about,” Seibert said. “We dance around this subject a lot, and we dance with it in our tribes where people agree with us, but it’s very hard to talk about those things.”
A profile of the Village Square by Glenn Davis published by Independent Voter Network:
“All politics is local.” – former House Speaker Tip O’Neill
The Village Square is about as local and as grassroots as an organization can get, taking a very bottom-up approach to problem-solving. They serve as brokers of conversation with the goal of setting a friendly tone in civic debate. They are about agreeing to disagree, but doing so in a manner where opposing views are respected and listened to. They are about discussing facts, not distortions, and reaching conclusions after the facts are understood. They are about celebrating what unites us, and engaging in civil, open discussions of what may divide us.
Read the entire article at IVN.us
From the Tallahassee Democrat, Friday March 28, by Karl Etters: (Photo credit: Amanda Rodriguez, Leon County)
In the pub-centric style of town hall gatherings in the 1700s, Tallahassee-area residents, dubbed The Club of Honest Citizens, met Thursday night to discuss issues that affect the capital city.
But there were no powdered wigs or declarations, just a host of ideas on how to better the community based on four topics — economic development, library services, growth and health care with the theme “What is the proper role of government?”
Part of a formal partnership between the Village Square and the Leon County Commission, the first of three meetings is meant to be a place for open social discourse and engagement about the community.
Village Square Executive Director Liz Joyner said the old way of civil engagement surrounding formal meetings needed a revamp and a more positive way to bring people who differ together.
From the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board:
“In the hubbub over the mute button with which the mayor can silence citizens speaking at City Commission meetings, there is a point that may be overlooked: Citizens should feel engaged with their government long before arguing over who has control of a microphone.
“That’s why city and county commissioners, as well as other officials, take part in the town hall forums and “Speed Date Your Local Leaders” events sponsored by The Village Square. It’s why the county offered its Citizen Engagement Series in 2012 and 2013. And it’s why the county and The Village Square now are teaming up for a new series called “The Club of Honest Citizens.”
Morality is the theme for Tuesday, April 8th program “7 Deadly Sins” – political corruption is one of the topics. To learn more or to reserve your seat CLICK HERE.
Editor Lenore Devore thinks reporters should look at the wheat to be found in public records, and not the chaff of press releases peddled by taxpayer-supported ministers of disinformation.
So when the Lakeland Police Department’s “public information officer” stonewalled a young police reporter looking to flesh out details of a local shooting, Devore did what good editors do. She refused to let her newsroom take “no” for an answer.
That was in the fall of 2012, when the community and its newspaper had high hopes for Lakeland’s new police chief, Lisa Womack. But Womack quickly proved to be Lakeland’s worst enemy, and her own, as The Ledger uncovered instances of the Department falsely claiming that records did not exist or could not be found, Womack candidly if stupidly admitted she plays a “cat-and-mouse” game with the press regarding Florida’s hundred-plus-year-old public records law.
The State Attorney asked the grand jury to take a look, and The Ledger took the unusual step of allowing Devore and five of her reporters to testify under oath and behind closed doors. Journalists usually resist being “part of the story,” and for good reason. A newspaper’s credibility rests entirely upon the public’s belief that the newsroom is working for readers, and not for the powers that be.
But The Ledger didn’t report anything to the grand jury that it had not already reported to its readers.
The grand jury issued a scathing report, expressing doubt as to Womack’s fitness to serve as police chief given her hostility toward her legal duty of candor with the press and public. The report remained secret for 10 months, as the city fought tooth-and-taxpayer dollar to keep it secret.
Meanwhile, honest people who knew things and trusted their newspaper to report them began to come out of the woodwork. The more The Ledger dug, the more “new sources provided information from right under the chief’s nose,” said Devore.
The Ledger’s front page was awash in stories of sex scandal cover-ups by higher-ups. A police captain, a city human resources chief, and 28 others were fired or forced to resign. There were reports of frat-boy “bra searches” designed to frighten and humiliate rather than to serve and protect.
One officer was arrested on charges of sexual battery and stalking. Another officer admitted to requiring DUI suspects to sign forms he had not yet filled out. The State Attorney was forced to drop dozens of that officer’s cases, and later concluded that “public safety is at risk in Lakeland.”
A year after The Ledger wrote its first story detailing problems with public records at the police department, the city lost its $220,000 fight to keep the grand jury report secret. A month later, the police chief resigned.
Lakeland’s credibility is in a mighty big hole, but the city fathers won’t stop digging. And neither will The Ledger, which recently reported that the city secretly hired a public relations firm and paid it $130,000 for fruitless and futile damage control. You don’t have to live and pay taxes in Lakeland to appreciate this kind of dogged, persistent, meat-and-potatoes local reporting. Every community deserves an editor like Devore, but far too few communities have one.
Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo Credit: Lakeland Local)