Archive for the ‘Civility’ Category

Getting together on prison reform

June 10, 2013 Comments off
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Richard Viguerie writes a very interesting piece in the New York Times today, entitled “A Conservative Case for Prison Reform.” An excerpt:

But it’s not just the excessive and unwise spending that offends conservative values. Prisons, for example, are harmful to prisoners and their families. Reform is therefore also an issue of compassion. The current system often turns out prisoners who are more harmful to society than when they went in, so prison and re-entry reform are issues of public safety as well.

These three principles — public safety, compassion and controlled government spending — lie at the core of conservative philosophy. Politically speaking, conservatives will have more credibility than liberals in addressing prison reform.

Not to say that those who do not identify as “conservative” and are in the prison reform movement would necessarily agree with everything that Viguerie writes here, which does not yet go into addressing specifically private prisons, ex-felon voting rights and prison gerrymandering. What the article does, however, is that it does set up a conversation about prison reform in which both sides could very well participate.

I would argue, however, that it’s not necessarily about which side has more credibility when discussing the issue, but rather, whether all sides can come to the table and work together on a solution that will be of mutual benefit (and not just political benefit, either).


More on bipartisanship

May 22, 2013 Comments off

Some more interesting thoughts on bipartisanship, this time from Robert Kaiser of the Washington Post, who got near unprecedented access to the staffs of Senator Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank leading up to the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. Here’s some insight, though the whole article is worth a read:

The lesson, sadly, is that something like Dodd-Frank can only happen when the stars align in an almost magical way, something that rarely happens. This required a national catastrophe, big Democratic majorities in both houses plus a like-minded president, and two highly talented legislators, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. And even then the bill barely scraped through. So this example of Congress working also illuminated why it works so rarely.

I think what should concern us is the fact that so few of our senators and congressmen are policy experts or good legislators. The people who run for Congress now are much more likely to be political warriors for whom partisan warfare is the name of the game. Too few members know or even care about the details of policy, which of course empowers staff.

Does this mean all hope is gone for bipartisan solutions in Congress? Time will tell, but it doesn’t paint a very rosy picture. There is a group of Congressmen who have teamed up with No Labels who want to do something about that, though:

Maybe there is hope.

Thoughts on liberal-conservative dialogue

May 15, 2013 3 comments

debate pointingHad a great time listening in to NCDD’s confab call this month on liberal-conservative dialogue. Unfortunately I had to jump off a little early, but there was still plenty of great conversation to be had. Here are some takeaways and other thoughts from the call:

  • So much of cross-ideology participation has to do with how conversations and issues are framed. Folks from both sides have a tendency to incorporate their own viewpoints when advertising a discussion, or encouraging others to come in (IE: Everyone can participation in conversations about “social justice,” but some are turned off by the mere mention of the term “social justice.”). How can we be more open with how we discuss discussions?
  • Just like we must consider the language we use in trying to be inclusive of those with other views, we must also consider who is moderating as well. If a trusted emissary brings the group together, the conversation will likely be more robust than if the conveners are one-sided in their stances. Here is a timeline of major liberal-conservative collaborations, via NCDD.
  • People can spend at least some of their lives sheltered from others who share different viewpoints. When folks start to interact and have conversations with people who have seemingly opposing views, people find out that they actually like eachother. This is huge, and it prevents people from thinking that others are the essence of pure evil.
  • Living Room Conversations is one model that allows people to have these sort of cross-ideology talks.
  • The two speakers on the call, Jacob Hess and Phil Neisser collaborated on a book discussing their, at one time, unlikely friendship — You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong)
  • Check out NCDD’s hackpad for the confab, which contains questions, thoughts, and links to other resources discussed on the call.
  • Keep an eye on NCDD’s news page for other media from today’s confab as well

We’ve been discussing civility in many contexts, not just “red-blue” dialogue  between regular folks, but also with regard to race and the media (such as the use of the “I-word”), and how a lack of civility inhibits the work of Congress. This sort of cross-ideological conversation needs to happen in order for us to have a strong democracy, because as everyone remains in their own silos, no discussion actually happens.

A HUGE thank you goes out to NCDD to making this conversation happen! We’re looking forward to thinking and talking and acting on this further.


NCDD Confab on Liberal-Conservative Dialogue

April 30, 2013 Comments off

NCDDOur friends at NCDD will be hosting their next confab call on Wednesday, May 15 at 2:00pm. Their guests this month will be Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess, who will be discussing bringing liberals and conservatives together in dialogue. Deliberation and discussion, particularly amongst those who hold different viewpoints on an issue, remains a cornerstone of our democracy. It will be great to hear what these Neisser and Hess have to say on the issue. We’ll be tuning in.

Read more below, which includes information on how to sign up —

Join us for our next NCDD Confab call on Wednesday, May 15th from 2:00 to 3:30 EST.  May’s featured NCDDers are Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess, who will lead a discussion on the current status of liberal-conservative and transpartisan dialogue, and how we might work together to expand this area of dialogue and deliberation further.

Jacob is a Mormon, a community psychologist, and a devoted conservative, while Phil is an atheist, a leftist, and a college professor. Yet in 2009, after meeting at an NCDD conference, they embarked on a two-year conversation about the issues that divide them. The result is the book “You’re not as Crazy as I Thought,” an entertaining dialogue about power, government, media, religion, morality, gender roles, sexual orientation, race, and more.

Jacob Hess, Ph.D. is now co-founder of All of Life.  Phil Neisser, Ph.D., is Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Department of Politics at SUNY Potsdam.

NCDD’s “Confab calls” are opportunities for members of the NCDD community to connect with each other, hear about exciting projects in our field, and explore our field’s most pressing challenges. We hope all NCDDers with an interest in how dialogue and deliberation can bridge the partisan divide will join us for this confab!

Register for the May 15th confab today to secure your spot.

Immigration: A Democracy Issue

April 5, 2013 1 comment

may day march“This is what democracy looks like!”

So spoke one of the hosts of a gathering of African Diasporan immigrants on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. last week. Participants gathered from near and far to raise their voices and be heard. Representatives from the halls of Congress came too, heard, and, of course, spoke. Not surprisingly, they encouraged the gathering to continue to raise their voices and remind legislators of their identity and their issues.

Two lessons about democracy arise. First, government does not do well without good and constant communication with its citizenry. That communication comes in many shapes and sizes, and while ideally it should be two-way, it often is not. This is somewhat problematic: One-way communication falls far short of guaranteeing understanding, and even farther short of producing agreement or consensus.

Worse, it often does not feel successful as communication, and many organizations spend lots of time trying to figure out how to be heard. In a nation of 300 million, getting heard is no easy task. I felt a sense of pride that hundreds of folks got themselves organized to make a loud statement outside, and then head indoors for more communication. As we Americans like to say, this is indeed what democracy looks like.

The second lesson is that many of those gathered a week ago are not, in fact, citizens. They may have visas or not. They may have work permits or not. They may not even want to be citizens, for a variety of good and fine reasons. In spite of all that, they felt compelled and privileged to communicate with the government about their issues and concerns. One does not have to look far to find many citizens discouraged about government and reluctant to put some travelling boots on and head to Washington to speak their minds. So, kudos to the immigrant community for lifting their voices, and kudos to our society for creating and safeguarding the space for their voices.

Legislative immigration reform is a complicated set of democracy issues, including the courts, prisons, police, and laws, and an array of social and cultural attitudes and ideas about citizenship and nationhood, not all friendly and fuzzy as the inscription on Miss Liberty in New York harbor. But if voice is not something that we deny any inside our borders, then fixing immigration should ensure that voice, free from intimidation, free from fear of deportation, free from repercussion. We need the voices of all people in the formulation of law and the management of our nation’s assets. Police chiefs around the country have made this case: people who fear deportation are unlikely to report crime or to cooperate with the police. Immigrants living in the shadows are likely to become victims of economic exploitation and theft of their wages. Law and order breaks down without their voices, while human and social service systems don’t function well without.

Our decennial census counts everyone, citizens and residents, for good cause. To the extent that government sees the well-being of the nation, knowing who we are is important and vital. Immigration reform is not just the interest of immigrants, past and future. It is the interest of democracy. All have voice. And we like it that way.


**This particular group comprised Africans and Caribbean immigrants, making the case that not all immigrants came into the country illegally

*** Image via Wikimedia Commons

The AP drops the I-word

April 3, 2013 Comments off

ap drop i word

Yesterday the Associated Press announced that it would be changing its style guide to remove the term “illegal immigrant.” From the AP’s announcement:

The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.

Change is a part of AP Style because the English language is constantly evolving, enriched by new words, phrases and uses. Our goal always is to use the most precise and accurate words so that the meaning is clear to any reader anywhere. has been pushing for news outlets, including AP, to change their style guides via the Drop the I-Word campaign. Rinku Sen wrote about this great victory for immigrant communities:

This decision is a victory for immigrant communities. We took a word that has been normalized by anti-immigrant forces and revealed it as unfit to print because it is both inaccurate and dehumanizing. We started Drop the I-Word in 2010 because we could see the harm that it was doing to our readers and community. In the early days, many people told us it didn’t matter, that the policy was all-important. But the word itself has blocked any reasonable discussion of policy issues, and we have been unable to move forward as a nation while its use has remained common.

On his blog, Roberto Lovato explores some of the history behind dropping the I-word, that dates back to the Salvadoran fight for legal status in the 1980s:

In support of the right of Salvadorans in the 1980′s to legal status in the U.S. under international political asylum statutes, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Elie Wiesel gave the Salvadoran sanctuary movement the now storied phrase, “No Human Being is Illegal.” “Yes, I gave that term to the Sanctuary movement, Wiesel told me some years ago. “It was wrong to deny them (Salvadorans and Guatemalans) (legal) status. I was happy to support the cause.” And there, in the marriage of Jewish and Salvadoran dignities, was born the beginning of the end of the ignoble term “illegal immigrant.”

Civil discussion remains a critical part of creating a stronger democracy. Dropping the I-word is merely a first step in creating such spaces for discussion, but it’s difficult to move on to the rest until we have the basics.

Read more:

Drop the I-word campaign

Rinku Sen: Why the AP’s Choice to Drop the I-Word Is a Crucial Victory

Associated Press: ‘Illegal Immigrant’ no more

Of América: Thoughts On the Decline and Fall Of That Most Ignoble of Terms “Illegal Immigrant”

Image via

UPDATE: Here’s a video from Define American

Fix the Senate Now

November 30, 2012 Comments off

What’s one way to fix democracy? Well, one coalition says that a key to making our government work for us is to make sure our elected officials actually do work, debate legislation in front of them, and thoughtfully consider it for passage. What a novel idea! Thanks to the Senate rules on the filibuster, legislation has been increasingly stalled in the chamber, often thought to be dead-on-arrival if it didn’t have 60 votes worth of support.


The Fix the Senate Now coalition has presented a proposal, in four parts, to reform the filibuster and fix the Senate:

1. Those objecting to legislation should only have one opportunity to filibuster legislation. Specifically, the ability to bring up a bill for simple debate (the motion to proceed) should not be subjected to a filibuster.

2. Those wishing to filibuster legislation must actually hold the floor and be required to actually debate the legislation. It would end “silent” filibusters where one Senator quietly objects and is not required to take the Senate floor.

3. Instead of the burden required to break a filibuster being on the majority to deliver 60 votes, those objecting to the legislation and wishing to filibuster must produce 41 votes to sustain a filibuster.

4. The process for approving nominations should be streamlined, including shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.

All seems pretty reasonable. Filibuster abuse has resulted in an increasing number of bills and nominations blocked in the Senate, and requiring 60 votes to move on any piece of legislation (or nomination). Are there any other legislative bodies in the world where a proposal could have as many as 59 out of 100 supporters (the DREAM Act had 55 votes in 2010, for example) and still not pass? These measures will make filibusters “real.” Force Senators to debate on the floor and speak their objections rather than just hiding silently behind chamber rules.

The coalition is a broad group of advocates from different sectors of the democracy movement, including the Communications Workers of America, the Sierra Club, United Auto Workers, Common Cause, the Alliance for Justice, and the Brennan Center.

The movement to reform the Senate is starting to gain some traction, and even President Obama (a former Senator himself) is supportive of changing some of the rules, while Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell…not as much. However, reports this morning say that in order to make rules change happen in the Senate, Democrats are going to need 51 votes and right now it seems as though they’re falling slightly short of that mark, with some in their caucus unwilling to change the rule.

It’s going to be an uphill battle to win filibuster reform. Sign the Fix the Senate Now petition and let’s make this happen. 

Read more:

Brennan Center for Justice report: Curbing filibuster abuse

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand: Needed reform for the US Senate

Here’s a clip of the West Wing episode The Stackhouse Filibuster because awesome.