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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Tomorrow, Feb. 7! Dialogue At Battle HS

The “Wake-Up” campaign at Battle High School will host a Neighbor2Neighbor dialogue on February 7.  Doors open at 4:30, and the program starts right at 5.  Those of us attending the community commons have really enjoyed getting to know the Battle High students who have come and participated in other community dialogues.  Now they have planned their own dialogue on community. Come out and support the youth who are  leading this event!

What:  Neighbor2Neighbor Dialogue at Battle High School
When: February 7, 4:30 to 7 pm
Where:  Battle High School Performing Arts Center

Host A Conversation – Report Back In

Last week we held a training on how to host a “Conversation Cafe“.  This is a simple process for promoting civil dialogue with friends and neighbors.  What is dialogue?  It’s different than many of the conversations we have. It is deeper than the polite discussion that avoids the hard topics. It is the opposite of debate.  Dialogue skills include asking open-ended questions and “listening to understand”.

One participant asked, how do you get started?  That can be as simple as setting a time and place and walking an invitation around your neighborhood. Then download and print the following “Conversation Cafe” cards. Once people arrive, welcome them, give them a card. When you are ready to start, first briefly review the values and process for the Conversation Cafe, and invite comments on the topic at hand.  This can be as simple as saying “we are talking about community, let us know what matters most to you.”  Or you might start with a summary from one of our mini-guides.  Make sure you end on time so everyone can plan their day (although you can always invite those who want to to  continue the conversation following the fourth round in the process for as long as you are willing to host!)

On nice feature of the Conversation Cafe process is that the host is able to share his or her own thoughts as the conversation unfolds. If you are the host though, try not to be the first to speak to the topic! Instead you might try using your turn to summarize the range of thoughts offered in each round and provide an invitation into the next.  Take the lead in avoiding right/wrong debate-oriented statements.  From time to time you may need to offer a gentle reminder that in a dialogue everyone is welcome and you are listening to understand.  You may also need to remind those who are anxious to talk that in the first two rounds, and in the last round,  everyone talks once before anyone talks twice! You can read more about hosting Conversation Cafes in this guide.

Whether you host a Conversation Cafe or host another more informal discussion, remember to report in.  We will weave together the conversations you have at our third Tuesday Community Commons.  Note that the next Community Commons is scheduled for February 21 from 7 to 9 pm.

You don’t have to wait until the next Community Commons for community dialogue though!  The “Wake-Up” campaign at Battle High School will host a Neighbor2Neighbor dialogue on February 7.  Doors open at 4:30, and the program starts right at 5.  Come out and support the youth who are planning and leading this event!

What:  Neighbor2Neighbor Dialogue at Battle High School
When: February 7, 4:30 to 7 pm
Where:  Battle High School Performing Arts Center

Many Conversations, One Community! Join Us, January 17 For The Next Community Commons

The idea that resonated most with those attending the December 20 (Third Tuesday) Community Commons, was bringing dialogue into the community – in homes, in service clubs, through the Neighbor2Neighbor platform, and through “intentional intersectionality” of diverse groups and individuals.

At our January 17 Community Commons, we will provide a free training on how to host a “Conversation Cafe” on your own.  This easy to use format helps to keep even difficult conversations civil, promotes listening and connection, and works well even when people don’t know each other before joining in the conversation.

At today’s Columbia Values Diversity celebration breakfast, keynote speaker Nonombi Naomi Tutu urged all to do more than celebrate diversity.  She urged all to actively work to “build a beloved community.”  We do that work when we connect, listen to one another, and talk together.

Three banners decorated the breakfast hall. As the program explained, these illustrated “a few ways inclusion can be fostered:  in our city’s infrastructure (Build banner), through activism (Inclusive banner), and in our daily lives and hobbies (Community banner).”  These three themes echo those in our community dialogue guide, “Are We An Us?” — collaboration (Citizen-centered planning), care (Addressing Inequities), and connection (Building Bridges).

Download a guide, start a conversation, build a beloved community, join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, January 17, 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.

Building Bridges: What Ideas Will We Commit To?

Determine that the thing can and shall be done and then we shall find the way.”
– Abraham Lincoln

At our December 20 forum we will be looking at what can we do and how we might do it. Whether something is done will depend on what participants are willing to commit to doing.

Since our very first forums, participants have identified loss of a sense of community as a key issue for Columbia.  Building bridges between groups has been a key theme for how we might move forward. The “Are We An Us?” dialogue guide that emerged from our first round of conversations summarized that theme this way:

Rapid growth and increasing diversity have made it harder for us to know our neighbors and communicate about the things that matter.  We need to be intentional about providing spaces and places for people to interact with those anything they don’t know.  The sense of community will naturally grow as people connect.

Several ideas have been generated and can be grouped into 4 categories: celebrations, intentional dialogue, personal invitation, and connecting through media. Below we summarize ideas that have been shared in each of these categories.

Celebrations.  Art, music, and food all bring people together.  This has been observed at several sessions, including our November 15 community commons.  Various ideas have been suggested for community events that could be affordable and of interest to many.  These have included

  • a “Columbia Small World cup” soccer tournament;
  • a series of concerts featuring local talent and picnics hosted by various neighborhood associations and open to the entire community;
  • a “Trib Fest” featuring a range of local artists downtown or in Douglass Park;
  • an International Fair.

Any event requires focus, partners, funding and planning.  Is there an event you want to help develop? If so who can partner, and how might we reach out?  Bring your thoughts on December 20!

Intentional Dialogue. Those attending the Community Commons have suggested “taking this out in the community”.  Places suggested included Battle High, the Chamber, St. Luke’s church and neighborhood associations.  A dialogue will be hosted at Battle High School by the student-run Wake Up! Campaign on February 7.  The Tribune has offered a Neighbor2Neighbor guide for hosting dialogues, although few have occurred (why?).  At our January 17 Community Commons, we will host a training on the “Conversation Cafe” format which will help you take this dialogue on community into the community – – at block parties, dinner parties, or coffee shops, and report back in. Come on December 20 and share your ideas and connections as we talk further about how to build more intentional dialogue.

Invitations.  Participants have noted that although Columbia has various celebrations, including the “Columbia Celebrates Diversity” celebration, often those attending stay in their small groups and there is no planned follow-up. As one participant observed, after such events “people go back to their respective enclaves, which most are already in during [the event].” Can we commit to personally inviting someone from a different “enclave” to such an event (and sitting with them)? to our service clubs? to our places of worship? to a dialogue?

Connecting Through Media. One great thing about these forums has been the range of ages that shows up (participants have ranged from teens to 80+).  And it is clear that we have people who like their news in print and those who rely on electronic forms of communications.  The range of platforms participants are using to communicate include Twitter, Facebook, blogs, other forms of social media, news feeds, in person and of course print. How do we best share the topics we are discussing and combine these various platforms into one overall community conversation?  We look forward to hearing your ideas on December 20!

Join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, December 20, 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.

Continue The Conversation – December 20!

We had energized conversations at our November 15 Community Commons.   You can read the notes taken during those conversations here.  These conversations will continue as we focus on how to move forward with specific actions during our 4th Community Commons,  December 20, 2016 from 7 to 9 pm at the offices of the Tribune.

The conversations on November 15 centered around two themes, Building Bridges and Citizen Centered Planning.  The group discussing how to build bridges among Columbia’s diverse groups reviewed progress made on ideas shared in prior conversations that related to how media coverage of minority communities might be improved. Student reporters, assisted by community mentors will soon be contributing stories to the Tribune. Other comments emphasized that although there is an interest in building bridges, there has to be a plan for doing so.  In December we will focus on how to follow-through with several ideas that have come up relating to fostering intentional gatherings of diverse people.  Those ideas will be listed for ease of review in the next post.

The group focusing on Citizen Centered Planning continued to address the themes of accountability and communication.  Several additional ideas for improving our processes for planning, maintaining, and building needed infrastructure were raised and will also be summarized in a future post. A group member who was new to the Community Commons commented that he was fascinated by the idea that we could have “a civil conversation on a difficult topic.”  It is those civil conversations between citizens that will help us move forward!

What were some take-aways from both conversations as expressed by the group?  These might be summarized as follows:  Listening is key, talk leads to action, and we will need ongoing engagement, creativity and follow-through to make change.

Working together, we can make a difference.

Join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, December 20, 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.