Friday, October 12, 2012

Civility in Thurston County Conversations

Civility in Thurston County Conversations

By Janine Unsoeld

The League of Women Voters, an organization that supports voter rights and voter education, is acting to address the increasing apparent lack of civility in various political processes. 
The Thurston County chapter of the League has chosen this topic for a series of upcoming discussions in hopes of generating new ideas about how we can all contribute to civility within our democratic processes.

The definition of “civility” that has been adopted for the League of Washington State is: “Being civil does not mean being silent.  It does not mean avoiding contentious public issues.  On the contrary, healthy disagreement is central to a robust, flourishing democracy. Civil dialogue strengthens policy.  Only by considering all sides is it possible for us to make progress while keeping everyone’s dignity and democratic rights intact.”

Civility discussion meetings will be held Wednesday, October 17, 1:30 – 3:30 p.m., at The Evergreen State College, Seminar Building II, A2107, and later that evening, October 17, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., at the Olympia Community Center, Room 200, 222 Columbia St. NW. 
A discussion meeting is also scheduled for the afternoon of October 16 in a League member's private home, and the home cannot accommodate a large group. Given the amount of interest already generated, a request was made by the League to just publish the location of the two Wednesday meetings.  

Cynthia Stewart, a local League board member, will facilitate the discussions.  In an interview today, Stewart expressed excitement in getting back to these in-person focus group conversations that the League used to sponsor in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

She will lead participants in discussions exploring the following questions:

1.      How important is civility to you in assuring that we continue to have a democracy?  How would you describe the degree of civility that you feel is important?  To what extent does the definition above describe your own attitudes about civility in democracy?

2.      How would you describe current national, state and local processes (e.g., campaigns and elections, legislative processes, regulatory processes, etc.) in terms of the extent to which they are conducted civilly?  What would you change, if you could?

3.      What are the boundaries of civility?  When is civil disobedience appropriate?  When is some other form of protest or engagement appropriate?  When are they inappropriate?

4.      To what extent does information or lack of information affect our ability to act and react civilly in our democracy?
5.      What could/should the League of Women Voters and individuals do to enhance civility in our democracy?

Stewart, a trained dispute resolution mediator, says she has learned that, when parties are in conflict, “the intensity of their anger is a reflection of the extent that they have needs that are not being met. It’s better to stop and ask what do they need and deliberate, acknowledge that, and try to address that need.”

In an effort to increase League membership and garner interest in a younger population, an intern from The Evergreen State College will work with the League starting in January to help with future focus groups and broaden membership.

The League of Women Voters is not just for women - it is open to men and women alike and tackles other topics such as health care, quality of government, education, transportation, and alternative energy. The League also researches and publishes detailed position papers on these topics.

Future focus group topics will be announced in the local League newsletter and on their web site each month. The League is also training moderators who can be available across the state to facilitate discussions of controversial topics. 

For more information and directions to meetings, go to the League web site,
Above: Disputing ducks earlier this week in Olympia near Percival Landing. They worked it out.

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