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October 2020

At a summer strategic planning session with League leaders, I asked via a Zoom poll what issue they thought is the most important one facing people in the U.S. The question was: What issue would you love to see get ‘solved’? What would most improve the life of people in our country or community?

Participants were provided with multiple choices and asked to pick one of the following:

  • Affordable, effective health care for all

  • Stop the partisan divide so we can work together

  • Solve the root cause of the homeless problem

  • Reduce carbon emissions

  • Other

Eight of the 13 people (62%) chose “Stop the partisan divide….” over the other options. This seems to be a clear choice of identifying a big problem, but how do we approach finding a solution?

Recently a League in Illinois hosted a virtual meeting with Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Director Emerita of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and founder of America Speaks. It was a conversation about the power each of us has to make a positive change in our society.

This is available online and I urge you to watch the whole meeting.

She talks about what we can do individually, in our community, and as a League, to rebuild our civic trust to save our democracy. While our national leaders could help a lot by modeling good civic discourse, perhaps the real healing in our country must happen locally. With your uncle? Your neighbor? Members of a book club? Can we reach outside of our comfort bubbles and have difficult, but positive, conversations even if we disagree? What could we do together as a League?

There are several organizations looking at this challenge. Another virtual meeting I attended on 9/23 was a conversation between Katherine Knobloch and John Gastil on their book "Hope for Democracy: How Citizens Can Bring Reason Back Into Politics." This event was sponsored by Braver Angels and National Institute for Civil Discourse. The authors discussed how they started the “Citizens’ Initiative Review” which were meetings with people of differing political viewpoints to analyze a measure on the Oregon ballot. It gives hope -- and even a small criticism of the League’s traditional approach to Pros & Cons!

The Leagues of Women Voters of Santa Clara County has a committee working on Civil Discourse. It meets periodically (now via Zoom). If you would like to join this committee, please contact me and I’ll get you on the distribution list. I’ve been attending many of their meetings in the last year or two and found them educational and thoughtful.

I would love to have a conversation with you about how we can take these ideas and use them in our community. We must find hope in these times!


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