In today’s divisive political comment can we move beyond snarky Twitter exchanges and engage in civil conversation? League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County thinks so and has engaged in a year-long process and increasing number of partners to move toward action, while encouraging civility and demonstrating the power of conversation.
We've already highlighted the results but for those of you who want to know what process led to those results, read on!
In early 2017 LWVT-PC joined with community partners NAACP, AAUW, and RAD (Restoring the American Dream) to hold a series of three public forums on the topic of civility.
The three forums, “Civility, Incivility and Civil Disobedience,” were:
- Civility in Public Discourse—Whose Job Is It, Anyway?
- Maintaining Civility at Home, at Work and on the Street
- Political Civility
This award-winning series was popular not just because of the topics but because of the format, which gave audience members the opportunity to discuss topics in small groups for one hour. While some initially declared that a three-hour forum was too long, evaluations later suggested participants could have used even more time! A favorite part of each forum was the small group conversation.
Based on that feedback, the four sponsoring organizations decided to initiate public Conversation Cafes in the Fall of 2017. These have been held twice a month, one in the Tacoma/Lakewood area and one in Puyallup each month. These provide an opportunity for the public to discuss a wide variety of controversial topics within the safety of the Conversation Café model.
Ground rules include use of a talking stick, requiring the group to listen as each speaker talks, and other rules of civil discourse. The topics have been:
- Can Democrats and Republicans Actually Talk to Each Other?
- What effect is the media having on civility in our conversations? If this effect is not something we value, how might we get the media to change?
- What is the state of public education in Washington? Is financial support of public schools sufficient? Are there changes that should be made in the public education system?
- Bring Your Own Topic. What would you really love to discuss with people of different persuasions?
- What are...or should be...American values?
- Homelessness: What is our individual or collective responsibility to work on and solve it? Whose responsibility is it?
- What are the things we value in the community we live in? How can those features be preserved in the face of significant growth change?
- How Can We Assure a Free Press?
It was these initial successful endeavors that inspired and gave the participants the confidence to move from conversation and discussion into this actual problem solving, all while maintaining the civility that seems so elusive in so much of our current public discourse.
The next step was to move from conversation and discussion into this actual problem solving, all while maintaining the civility that seems so elusive in so much of our current public discourse. The success here was detailed in a previous post,
Follow Up Action
Following the successful forums and community recommendations, LWVT-PC sent a letter to the Pierce County Council outlining the recommendations stemming from the public feedback at the event.
LWVT-PC presented to the results of their work to the Pierce County Council's Human Services Committee. You can see their presentation online (starts about 20 minutes in).
For more info on the process or the outcomes of this work, contact Cynthia Stewart, President, LWVT-PC.