Monday, December 11, 2017

Institute for Civil Discourse launches Grassroots Initiative in Ohio, Talks Civility at CMC

The National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) announced a new grassroots civility initiative in Ohio and three other states to help train citizens to learn the skills to improve public and political discourse.

The announcement came as NICD Executive Director Carolyn Lukensmeyer joined a panel on civility at the Columbus Metropolitan Club, along with former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ).

The Ohio campaign will be chaired by former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Yvette McGee Brown and former Attorney General Jim Petro. Along with grassroots initiatives in Arizona, Iowa and Maine, the Ohio effort will aim to proactively train 100,000 citizens on skills to improve discourse. NICD said civility experts will work to engage 100 partner organizations to build civility and communities in each state.

NICD noted a number of incidents which it said were part of a “volatile stretch of incivility,” including threats and shoving between Texas state lawmakers, newly-elected U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) assaulting a reporter the day before the election and the shooting of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise  (R-LA), the U.S. House majority whip.

At the Columbus Metropolitan Club, Lukensmeyer said the shooting of Scalise was the first time the NICD effort received national attention. She said while there have been successful stories about civility efforts on the local level, there has not been a national story of success, and said it was sad that it took a tragedy to bring a national spotlight to the effort.

She said incivility “is like a virus among the American people.”

“We’re holding an emotional space where we feel morally superior over people who think differently,” she said.

Daschle and Kolbe, both advisory board members of NICD, said there have been periods of incivility in the nation’s history. But Lukensmeyer said she was surprised at how uncivil the 2016 campaign had become. She said there had not been vicious rhetoric being absorbed into government since World War II, and said one critical difference between now and previous years is that eight months past the election, people who voted for one candidate are still vilifying and even hating those who voted for the other candidate.

Daschle said there needs to be “good, constructive leadership” from the president and public officials to set the example for civility, and said that is not being done now. But he also said that social media platforms did not exist when he was Senate Majority Leader. Kolbe said that while the president does need to set the tone, it also starts with the grassroots, with civil conversations happening within families, schools, churches and with neighbors.

Kolbe also said one of the biggest differences between now and 20 years ago is that members don’t socialize with each other. Members used to live in Washington, D.C. with their families during session and would socialize with each other on weekends. Now they fly to Washington on Tuesday morning, attend a fundraiser Tuesday evening, spend time in a small room calling to fundraising when not attending sessions on Wednesday, and fly home on Thursday, he said. Kolbe said there has to be a substitute for those social events from previous years and a push for lawmakers to have more social interactions with each other.

Kolbe’s comments on fundraising were later expanded on by the panelists, with the panel citing it as one of the many reasons for the increasing lack of civility in political discourse. Daschle said a typical U.S. senator now has to raise $15,000 a day for a campaign. He said in his last re-election race in 2004, $15 million was spent. In the last cycle, the most expensive U.S. Senate race cost more than $100 million. It is common for senators to serve on six or seven committees to tap into a fundraising base, he said. Kolbe also said that many of the same limits of fundraising exist, so lawmakers have to expand their base and find more sources of fund to keep up.

The panel also said the fundraising demands of members of Congress have led the public at large to view the process as being controlled by the wealthy and special interests. Lukensmeyer said NICD did a focus group with people who did not vote in the 2016 election and found that money in politics was the most cited reason that drove people to tune out and not participate, followed by incivility. She said most viewed the amount of money in politics as immoral, with many pointing out other things that could be funded with the more than $7 billion spent on the presidential election last year.

When asked what regular citizens can do to address incivility, Lukesmeyer said there are three things that NICD suggests. She said NICD distributes a pledge to civility, and said they were happy to see the number of freshmen members of Congress that signed the pledge. She said people should engage in conversations with those who think differently, but said they can start small with those who are open to such conversations. Finally, she said they can organize larger discussions in the community, and added that NICD has materials to support those conversations. While many may disagree on certain issues, even strongly, what Americans care most about is a core set of ideas about what it is to be an American, she said. Those ideals and goals are viewed by most Americans as more important “than the mess we are in now.” 
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on July 12, 2017.  Copyright 2017 Hannah News Service, Inc.


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