Building Bridges, Practicing Democracy

“Democracy must be reborn in every generation and education is its midwife.”  John Dewey

How does one learn to be a citizen?  Often by learning from those who have gone before. Both good and bad habits can be passed on. September 21-24 the League of Women Voters will sponsoring the performance of a new play written to help us review, think about, and share what it takes to practice democracy.  Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. on September 21-23, and 2:00 p.m. on September 24.  All performances will be held at Missouri United Methodist Church and the League of Women Voters of Columbia-Boone County plan to host post-performance discussions.

The play is titled “Practicing Democracy” and we interviewed its author, David Webber, to find out more.

1C1C: Tell us briefly what your play is about.
DW:  Practicing Democracy” is a tale of two ambitious young candidates aspiring for the state legislature who meet an elder statesman aspiring to restore democracy. The mix of campaign practices and information technology provide challenges and opportunities affecting the election result.  There are five characters (two candidate, a wise old man, a campaign consultant, and a TV reporter). The play is set in a party primary to make it non-partisan so that it focuses on bigger issues relating to democracy.
1C1C:  Why did you write it?
DW:   I wrote the play to stimulate discussion of the state of American campaigns and to focus attention on how our individual decisions affect our political system. The play is informed by my 40 years of  observations of both campaigns and the college students working on them, as well as and my conversations with long-tome political observers.
1C1C: Can you tell us about some of the observers who influenced you?
DW: The main character, a Mr. Adams, is influenced by my recollections of several of my heroes, particularly Missourian Lt. Governor Harriet Woods and Pachyderm founder George Parker.
1C1C: What do you hope people will take from from the play?
 DW: My hope is that younger citizens will find a Mr or Ms. Adams who they converse with and that us older citizens become a Mr. or Ms. Adams and engage each other in meaningful conversations about our democracy.  I am looking forward to reactions and comments.
1C1C:  Tell us more about how you came to write this play.
DW:  In addition to my academic writing,  I have written op ed essays in the Columbia Missourian and Columbia Daily Tribune since 1994. I like to write essays. In 2015, my first play “A Night at the Shelter” was performed in Columbia (directed by Caryl Bryan).  I had the original idea for the play back in 2001.  I tried to write it in 2010 but the draft was too partisan. In 2016 I realized I could write it about a party primary and so focus on democracy and elections without partisan rancor.
1C1C:  Where can people purchase tickets?
DW:  Tickets can be purchased at our website and we are hoping for a good turn out.
1C1C:  Thank you for your work!
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Our Infrastructure: Why So Little Energy For Moving Forward?

Despite the release last month of the Ameren report on the proposed alternate transmission line route known as Option E, we are far from resolving the problems with our electric infrastructure.  Despite some public comments to the contrary, the Ameren report does not suggest that “Option E” is a viable alternative to the transmission line route which was previously approved by both the Council and voters, and then “paused” late in 2015.   The Ameren report did not analyze Columbia’s electric service needs, nor the cost of the alternatives. It simply reviewed whether Columbia could build a line adjacent to one owned by Ameren on the north side of town rather than on the south where load growth is occurring.  That growth has led to overloading of the the existing substations.  This overloading affects service in the south and also in the central city. As representatives of the citizen led Water & Light Advisory Board recently noted, the alternate option does not address that overloading, although the original, now paused route, did.

As city leaders struggle to find the political will to move forward,  we received an email, quoted below, from a resident of Columbia who has lived here for several years and has now decided to leave.  Why?  Frustration with inadequate electric service:

I have lived in Columbia for a number of years and I live in the first ward. I have lived within a few miles of downtown most of my life. I have owned by home for about ten years and, until recently, I was strongly dedicated to this city.

I was excited to see downtown growing, with more options and more people starting to make it really vibrant. I was excited to see housing growth because vacancy rates in the area are so low that renters pay more than they should. 2,000 people a year have been moving into Columbia for several years now. We knew this was coming! Meeting after meeting touched on concerns about impending growth. We knew our infrastructure wasn’t ready and it still isn’t.

I have never had sewer problems as I am far enough uphill from the creek, my problems are electrical. I now experience full power outages once or twice a month and experience brownouts on really hot days. The City of Columbia is incapable of delivering me electricity, so I am leaving the city behind and I may very well never return.

I thought our power problem was going to get fixed when I voted on a bond issue years ago. I thought it was going to get fixed when they started building the lines that I voted for them to build. Instead, this project was scuttled by the complaints of a small group of wealthy people. City Council is more concerned about the complaints of a few rich people than they are with delivering power to my entire neighborhood.

Does the city even plan to fix the problem? I don’t think they do.

Our city leaders have not provided much information since pausing the planned line on the costs and consequences of delay.  We need to have an open and honest discussion, informed by all of the facts on the options before us. We also need to talk about the equities. More than one member of the public has asked why the council would cite health concerns when looking at putting a 161 kv transmission line in a wealthy area that is driving electric demand, but not express much concern about placing an additional 161 kv line next to an existing 345 kv line through residential areas in a less affluent part of town.

We can do better than we have to date on this issue in furthering the city’s stated mission:  “To serve the public through democratic, transparent, and efficient government.”

More Dialogue On Safety And Justice

Twenty-nine people, including two police officers, joined us at Battle on May 4, and you can review the notes of the discussion here. As with our prior dialogue, the National Issue Forum guide on Safety and Justice was used to spark conversation, and the dialogue was one of the ones reported for this year’s national “A Public Voice” initiative.  Although there were divergent views on strategies and how to best proceed, some clear and common themes emerged throughout the discussion.  These included the importance of building a sense of community; the need for mutual respect, empathy and compassion; and the importance of clear, ongoing education and dialogue. In the closing portion of the session one of the youth expressed appreciation for the officers sharing their perspective and stated next time he saw an officer in the coffee shop or at a gas station he was going to try saying hi. Several of the adults who were present expressed appreciation for the leadership showed by the youth in arranging for these dialogues. At the end of the evening two of the youth raised with one of the officers the possibility of a joint youth-officer training session on Youth Mental Health First Aid, using a curriculum supported by MU Extension. Winter break was identified as a time that might be possible. We are recording that idea here so it can be picked up and planned for next semester, and not lost over the summer!

Safety And Justice: Join The Dialogue

Next dialogue online:  April 24 from 5 to 6 pm. Link to join will be posted Monday on the Trib’s website.

We continued our dialogue  on April 18, using the “Safety and Justice” dialogue guide created by the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forum for this year’s “A Public Voice” effort. We were joined by a very thoughtful group of students from Battle High, who will be leading their own dialogue on May 4 from 4:30 to 7 pm.  The public is welcome.

Several areas of agreement emerged from our inter-generational, economically and racially diverse group.  The primary theme was that everyone wants to feel safe in their own neighborhood. With regard to the “working together” option in the dialogue guide, the key sentiment was that police and citizens need to first come together as fellow human-beings and get to know each other. Besides future dialogues, ideas for “coming together” included barbecues, sports, ride-a-longs, and mentoring opportunities. Another emphasis was the need to build bridges between poorer and wealthier neighborhoods.

To address inequities in the system, another option in the guide, the observation was made that in order to do that people need to first know what is going on and that means having citizens who are willing to ask the hard questions and knowing where to report.  It also means having leaders who are willing to answer those questions as the Supreme Court is now trying to do with municipal court reform.  We generated several ideas – including simply posting an 800 number for comments and concerns on courtroom doors — that might help in this effort.  As with the prior on-line discussion, there was also support within the group for focusing police resources on serious and violent crime rather than minor drug or traffic offenses.

The third option,  providing training in de-escalating violence to police and citizens, was supported by the group, which also wondered how to establish a community culture that rewards de-escalation.  A final theme was mutual respect, both in the sharing of experiences and being willing to listen and accept another’s perspective on their own experience.

This dialogue will continue on-line on April 24th from 5 to 6 pm – the link for joining will be posted Monday on the Trib website.  You can review the “Safety and Justice” dialogue guide or watch this video or simply join in.

Your voice matters!  Join us on-line on April 24th from 5 to 6 pm or on May 4 at Battle High from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Safety and Justice; Inequities and Bridges

This month you can join in both a local and national conversation on public safety beginning with our monthly Community Commons. We will use the recently released “Safety & Justice” guide produced for this year’s “A Public Voice” effort to focus our dialogue. A Public Voice is a collaboration between the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forums to engage citizens from across the country in deliberative forums on a current issue. It occurs annually, and insights from the forums are presented to policymakers in Washington, D.C.

In addition to our monthly Community Commons on April 18 from 7 to 9 pm, there will be an on-line dialogue on April 24 from 5 to 6 pm, and another in person dialogue using the “World Cafe” format at Battle High School on May 4 from 4 to 7 pm. Details of how to join those will appear in the Trib and on this blog. After each forum you also will have an opportunity to send your thoughts to the Foundation through an on-line survey.

This last Monday we had a diverse, inter-generational group participate in an on-line pilot dialogue using the Common Ground platform.  Of the 15 actions listed in the guide, the group initially gravitated towards community policing as their top option. As the discussion unfolded, however, although community policing remained in the top 5, this  group identified 4 other options where ultimately there was an even stronger consensus to act.  These were

  • limiting the use of traffic stops and “stop and frisk” by police officers and review other practices where racial profiling might come into play;
  • increasing investment in mental health programs;
  • reducing rates of arrest for minor drug and other nonviolent crimes, and address disparities in sentencing for people of color; and
  • requiring implicit bias training for police and court officers.

These actions align with the themes of Addressing Inequities and Building Bridges identified in our community dialogue guide “Are We An Us?”.

How do we build a stronger community with safety and justice for all?  Join us in one of the upcoming dialogues and share your views.

Join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, April 18, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune.

More Dialogue Tomorrow, March 21.

This month started with the coming together of the community through the True/False festival. And tomorrow we will continue to discuss thoughts on community at this month’s Community Commons. Whether you want to share the joy of celebration, the need to work together to strengthen community, or concerns re infrastructure, we invite you to join your neighbors and share what’s on your mind.

Community Commons
Tuesday, March 21, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.