Witnessing Deliberative Democracy Up Close

We are glad to share the reflections of Billi Jo Maynard, who worked at Public Agenda this past summer. Public Agenda is a national, non-partisan group which seeks to forge common ground and improve dialogue and collaboration among leaders and communities. They focus on critical issues, including education, health care and community engagement. The post originally appeared here.

Here is Billi Jo’s Post:

Throughout my undergraduate studies as a political science major, I have come across the subjects of community engagement and public deliberation before. However, until this meeting in Canarsie, I had never had the privilege to witness them firsthand.

Late on a Monday evening in July, roughly 30 people gathered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church to discuss the Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie. Canarsie is a culturally vibrant community that for decades has welcomed many immigrants from the Caribbean. The participants at the meeting had come together to address a range of environmental and economic challenges facing their neighborhood, especially the long-term impacts of Superstorm Sandy and attempts to prepare for future disasters. Throughout my undergraduate studies as a political science major, I have come across the subjects of community engagement and public deliberation before. However, until this meeting in Canarsie, I had never had the privilege to witness them firsthand. Continue Reading

Finding Common Ground During a Divided Time

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton, April 22, 1800

If you’re involved in community engagement in any way, thank you. Your commitment to dialogue and pragmatism is perhaps more important today than it has been in decades. Whether you serve as a volunteer, board member, advocate, whatever, please know that your work is helpful and appreciated.

After the most recent presidential election, a Gallup poll found that a large majority of Americans, 77%, felt the country was divided; that’s the highest percentage the company has ever recorded. Only one in five said they felt that Americans were unified.

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The Dialogue/Action Dilemma

Over the years I have been involved with a number of deliberative dialogues in both the community and on campus. It is also a subject about which I teach and write. Since the purpose of this blog is to share our experiences and to learn from each other, I thought I would write about one of the biggest challenges I have encountered in doing dialogue work – it is what I call “The Dialogue/Action Dilemma.” Recent efforts at my university to engage students, faculty and administrators in dialogues about campus climate have raised again the issue for me.

Here is the dilemma as I have experienced it.

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