Education for Engagement: Judges as Teachers

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts highlighted the educational role of judges and other federal judiciary officials in his 2019 year-end report “State of the Judiciary.”

I’m glad to connect the educational efforts cited by Chief Justice Roberts with parallel work by UNC-Chapel Hill in general, and the School of Government in particular.

While there should never be a “knowledge test” for residents to influence their local governments, there can be positive steps to prepare everyone with solid, neutral information. Continue Reading

Hurricane Recovery: the Power of Strong Communities before the Storm

With Hurricane Dorian moving toward the Bahamas and Florida, I found this article from The Atlantic of interest.

Some snippets, (lightly edited) to encourage you to read further: Continue Reading

Durham Red and Blue Participants at the June 2019 Better Angels National Convention – Reflections on Polarization and Steps to Bridge the Gap

How does a group that focuses on local dialogue of 12-25 people create a meaningful national convention of 300 delegates? Made up of people who deeply disagree with each other’s ideologies? Well, Better Angels did so June 20-23 in St. Louis.

Delegates register in pairs, one “Red” (a conservative viewpoint) and one “Blue” (a liberal viewpoint) from the same community. The rule insures balance of participants. I spoke with two Durham, NC participants.

Establishing Credibility

Better Angels aims to keep its integrity through balancing the Red/Blue in their work. That extends to:

  1. Board of Directors – balance by affiliation
  2. Funding sources: this really is the difference between commitment and talk.
  3. Not endorsing candidates or ballot measures (However, local affiliates of Better Angels might work on policy, which could lead to endorsing a policy created in a Red + Blue way).

Immanuel:  I listened carefully as the described the structure of Better Angels nationally. They were clear about their money sources, reasons to keep membership inexpensive and their foundations connections. Their commitment to only receive money to maintain a 50/50 balance from liberal and conservative sources is admirable. Money is the real test. Their team has taken that vow. That means a lot to me.  Integrity must permeate an enterprise such as Better Angels. Continue Reading

More Observations about the Red/Blue Better Angels Workshop in Pittsboro

I have been a facilitator for many years now and have been particularly interested in conversations that help bridge the political divide. I have attended several annual meetings organized by the National Council of Dialogue and Deliberation and there are more and more groups rising to try and address ways to bridge the political divide.

I have been working with a small group of politically diverse women for six years now. We meet once a month over lunch. We have various projects, including talking to the North Carolina legislature and how to end gerrymandering. The legislators were impressed when we came in as nonpartisan group with representatives from both sides.  I  realized for a while now that we have a lot of untapped power available if we could create groups that bridge the divide and make demands from a unified space.

So I was very interested to hear about the work that Better Angels is doing. I took a half day workshop in Durham in 2018 and was eager to see what the full-day workshop would be like because the half-day seemed to short. So I signed up for the full-day workshop in Pittsboro and then attended it on May 18th with about twelve other Red and Blue participants. (Click here for the previous blog post about this workshop).

Differences between the Half-Day and the Full-Day Workshops 

The half-day workshop seemed too short to really establish strong relationships or even examine similarities and differences very deeply. On the Better Angels website they recommend a full day over a half day experience and now I can see why. Continue Reading

Civic Conversations – Building Relationships one Conversation at a Time

A civic conversation led by NC State students Provided by Maggie Woods, IEI, NCSU

By Maggie Woods, NC State University.

North Carolinians are feeling more disconnected than ever. And in this increasingly polarized time, we are less able to talk to each other. That’s a problem.

Historically, we have been socialized NOT to talk about issues that may be divisive. We are told we shouldn’t talk about politics and religion, so we don’t, and we avoid conflict at all costs.

And now we find ourselves unable to engage with coworkers, unable to talk with friends, and certainly unable to have a conversation with our uncle at Thanksgiving dinner (yes, everyone has that uncle).

At the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University, we are trying to address this disconnection through the ReCONNECT NC series, and through a newly launched initiative called Civic Conversations.

What do we mean by ‘civic conversation’?

Continue Reading

A Civic Index – Measuring Civic Capital through a Self-Assessment Tool

I am glad to highlight the release of the National Civic League’s Civic Index.

What makes some communities better able than others to solve the tough social, political, economic or physical challenges they face?

On-the-ground research revealed a set of factors that we call civic capital — the formal and informal relationships, networks and capacities that communities use to make decisions collaboratively and solve problems.

To help communities understand where they are on civic capital, the National Civic League (NCL) released the fourth edition of its Civic Index. It is a self-assessment tool consisting of a set of questions that provide a framework for discussing and measuring a community’s civic capital.

Among the Seven Components of Civic Capital, are:

  1. Engaged Residents: Residents play an active role in making decisions and civic affairs.
  2. Inclusive Community Leadership: The community actively cultivates and supports leaders from diverse backgrounds and with diverse perspectives
  3. Embracing Diversity and Equity: Communities with healthy civic capital recognize and celebrate their diversity. They strive for equity in services, support and engagement.  and
  4. A Culture of Engagement: Involvement by residents, businesses, nonprofits and other stakeholders in every aspect of civic affairs should be part of local culture—an expectation, not an afterthought

The above is an excerpt from NCL President Doug Linkhart’s announcement of the new Civic Index.  Click here to access a free copy of the Civic Index.

Rutherfordton NC Outreach and Involvement – Downtown WIFI, Citizen Needs, Civic Tech Opportunities

I have volunteered and researched how open data from government is used by community volunteers. This kind of work is termed civic tech.

Can this positive community/government relationship extend to smaller communities? North Carolina has seven local groups, called “brigades,” in the spirit of volunteer fire brigades. I have blogged about a few NC communities and the interests and barriers they face for civic tech.

Rutherfordton – Downtown WIFI, public data, connecting conversations?

I spoke with town manager Doug Barrick, town manager, and Stephanie Rzonca, Community Development Director. Rutherfordton (population 4200) is a town in the NC foothills that has a robust, free downtown WIFI service. They also have a fiber backbone that reaches throughout town. The town government sponsored the fiber installation, which is now run by a for-profit business. Rutherfordton is the county seat for Rutherford County, population 66,000.

How does Rutherfordton handle its data? Continue Reading

Bridging Political Polarization: a Red/Blue Dialogue in Pittsboro, NC

Participants in May 18, 2019 Better Angels Red-Blue Dialogue, Pittsboro, NC Bonnie Gilliom

Why would about 15 citizens devote a Saturday to talking about political values when they know there are deep disagreements with half the people around the table? Because they want to explore and address negative stereotypes, practice respectful conversation and seek to understand more than to persuade.

Although community engagement often stays away from hot national political topics, we are glad to share this effort at local-level de-polarization.

The nonprofit group Better Angels has been organizing such dialogues across the U.S. since 2016. There were similar gatherings in 2018 in the Research Triangle (Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh), the Triad, Western NC, and the Gastonia/Charlotte area. A Raleigh dialogue was held Saturday, May 25th.

For the May 18th Pittsboro workshop, we were observers.  In Part One, we offer our thoughts. In Part Two, one of the participants – Ruth Backstrom – offers her reflections.

Continue Reading