“We will not always agree—not all of us, not all of the time. But we should not hide our disagreements. We should embrace them. We have nothing to fear from honest differences honestly stated. If you have ideas, let’s hear them. I believe a greater clarity between us can lead to a greater charity among us…
“A lot is on our shoulders. So if you ever pray, pray for each other— Republicans for Democrats, Democrats for Republicans. And I don’t mean pray for a conversion. Pray for a deeper understanding, because—when you’re up here, you see it so clearly—wherever you come from, whatever you believe, we are all in the same boat.”
The Village Square in Tallahassee hosted humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson on October 15th for a live audience taping of the nationally syndicated show The Thomas Jefferson Hour. To learn more about our program and listen to an audio of the program CLICK HERE. To look at pictures of the program CLICK HERE. The below piece by Mr. Jenkinson ran in ” Context Florida and the print edition of the Tallahassee Democrat.
As the 21st century finds its rhythm, and the 2016 presidential contest begins to take up most of our public space, it seems clear to me that we have two political parties in the United States, but they are both thoroughly Hamiltonian.We have what might be called the “greater Hamiltonian Party” and the “lesser Hamiltonian party.” The obscene dominance of money, political action committees, lobbyists, fundraisers, and unrestrained attack ads has essentially disenfranchised the vast majority of American citizens.
In a world where there is no longer any real accountability, our political discourse has spiraled down into the gutter. A citizen from Jupiter, or any rational American, forced to watch nothing but Fox and MSNBC 24 hours per day, would soon despair of the American experiment.
What is to be done?
My view is that we need a Jeffersonian party or (better yet) a Jeffersonian movement in America. Jefferson believed that a republic could not survive without a high level of civility. In his first inaugural address, after a hotly contested election, Jefferson wrote two passages that every American should stop to consider.
First he said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”
In other words, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, there are more things about which you agree than disagree. Stop exaggerating your differences – to raise money from your most virulent supporters, to appease the most extreme elements in your caucus, to erect a pedestal of righteousness in your name.
Jefferson’s second passage is even more important. “Let us,” he wrote, “restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.”
Think about what Jefferson is saying here. The ideal of a republic is social “harmony and affection.” We live in the freest country in history, on what Jefferson called a “wide and fruitful land” with “room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation.” We have every reason to rejoice, almost no reason to lament.
Who would not agree that the rancorous partisanship and political paralysis of the past dozen years have made our public life (the res-publica, as the Romans put it) dreary, tedious, dispiriting, degrading, demoralizing, and exceedingly frustrating?
National renewal begins with a new commitment to civility. The style of our national debates should be serious, at times pointed, but always respectful and civil. The whole spirit of the Enlightenment can be summed up in a statement attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire:
“Madam, I disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.
We need to bring down the temperature of our national debates. We need to listen more carefully to each other. We need to try to understand not only what the opposition is saying, but the set of American principles that underlie what they say. We need to refine our debates so that they begin again to be evidence-based, rational, sensible, and helpful. Demagoguery is telling people what you think they want to hear even if you know what you are saying could never be instituted in law.
Demagoguery is playing on the fears, the darker energies, the prejudices, and the uncivil desires of the people. Demagoguery is deliberately saying things that you know actually degrade the possibility of true resolution of our problems. By those definitions, the United States in 2015 is awash in demagoguery.
Jefferson believed we would only be a republic if we had a well-educated and well-informed public – a nation of people who could see beyond narrow self-interest to the health and happiness of the entire commonwealth. Jefferson famously said that in our system the will of the majority ought always to prevail, but “that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”
Here’s what we desperately need. More civil public discourse. A willingness to compromise. The ability to see the virtue of the opposition, and to realize that they feel passionately about what is good for America. A willingness to read – books, articles, websites, the classics, the Founding Fathers – and to inform ourselves before trotting out the usual talking points (from Rush or Rachel or Sean or Glenn).
We need more Village Square events. I’m so excited to be coming to Tallahassee in the persona of the third U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson. I do the work that I do, portraying Jefferson (and other historical characters) across the country, and playing Jefferson 52 weeks per year on the Thomas Jefferson Hour, because I believe something vital is missing at the core of American life, and that Jefferson’s view of republican democracy is the answer to what has gone wrong in American life.
Not everything about Thomas Jefferson is admirable, but his understanding of how a republic works is as important today as it was when he first penned these thoughts two centuries ago.
If I can play a small role in restoring Jeffersonian values to our national discourse, I will say, to use one of Jefferson’s allusions, like the character in the Bible, nunc dimittis, now you may dismiss me, for my work is done.
Clay S. Jenkinson is a humanities scholar, Rhodes Scholar, author and social commentator. He has lectured about and portrayed Thomas Jefferson in 49 states over a period of 15 years, before U.S. Supreme Court justices, presidents, 18 state legislatures, and countless public, corporate, student and television audiences. Column courtesy of Context Florida.
The Village Square will host Jenkinson for a special live audience taping of the The Thomas Jefferson Hour at 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Goodwood Museum & Gardens. “Founding Ideals: A Conversation with President Thomas Jefferson” is a fundraiser for The Village Square. You may purchase tickets by clicking here. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 850-590-6646.
The communal hall in the elegantly appointed First Baptist Church in downtown Tallahassee is packed with noontime listeners this mid-September Friday. They are also lunchers, filling their plastic plates with tacos as they prepare to listen to ‘The God Squad’, five Tallahassee faith leaders perched on stools, who, as they have monthly for the last five years will talk about those places where religion, politics and societal issues bounce against each other like so many boats on a stormy sea. For this Faith.Food.Friday program, the crowd of nearly 200 people seems ready to eat it up. Today’s program (Friday, Oct. 9) is on Religious Freedom and will be held at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church. Tickets for food are $8 with reservations and $10 at the door.
Read the full article in the Tallahassee Democrat.
Under the sweeping canopy of live oaks, the 350-feet long table, bridging two downtown blocks, was filled with trays of brownies, berries piled atop cheesecake squares and powdered snow-white desserts. Sweet tea, Southern barbecue and conversation were plentiful.
The Longest Table, Tallahassee’s first community-wide dinner party of sorts, asked nearly 500 local politicians, faith leaders, educators, agency representatives and residents from all neighborhoods and backgrounds to go beyond small talk and discuss what was most at stake in their city.
A reel of paper rolled the entire length of the table, filled with tough conversation-starters, questions like, “What’s the biggest challenge facing our community?” and the fill-in-the blank, “Race relations in our community are ___.” to spark honest dialogue.
For many attendees, the event offered an opportunity to examine how Tallahassee has evolved in the last decade.
Read the entire article at Tallahassee.com.
“[Pope Francis] is operating on a different axis than the rest of us. We’re on a horizontal axis – left/right; he’s up and down. And so what he is doing is to defeat polarization in the right way by lifting hearts and uplifting souls.”
–David Brooks on Meet the Press
There was a time in our nation’s not too distant past when meeting with the President of the United States or even the Pope himself would be seen – without question – as an honor and a true privilege.
Yet, as I made the humbling journey to our nation’s capital to attend a meeting of both Pope Francis and President Obama, I felt somewhat uneasy and, frankly, a little worried about how this visit would be received by those in the body politic.
It shouldn’t be that way.
Read the entire editorial at Tallahassee.com.
‘FAITH, FOOD, FRIDAY’ LAUCHES NEW SEASON LINEUP WITH NEW VENUES
Local clergy join The Village Square in hosting lunch series on hot topics
(TALLAHASSEE, FL) – September 14, 2015 – This Friday, September 18, a diverse group of local clergy – affectionately known as “The God Squad” – will begin its fifth year of talking about the topics your mother warned you to never discuss in polite company: politics and religion. This season, “Faith, Food, Friday” programs will be crossing thresholds, sharing food with those outside of our usual circles, and welcoming the stranger – whether we don’t know him because of color, class or politics – as a new friend. The season will include several programs focused on racial and economic divides, and will move among new locations in order to broaden accessibility and participation.
The series began in 2011 with the hope that neighbors breaking bread together could begin to heal the civic division that has so paralyzed our nation, our states and our hometowns. Four years and many meals later, everyone is still speaking to each other. People from across the community, no matter what their background, are invited to participate in these improbable conversations “for people of faith and no faith at all.”
“The God Squad” includes Dr. Bill Shiell of First Baptist Church, Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel, Pastor Darrick McGhee of Bible Based Church, Rev. Betsy Ouellette-Zierden of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church, and Fr. Tim Holeda, Parochial Vicar at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. The series is hosted by local nonprofit The Village Square, dedicated to building community across the partisan divide in order to improve the quality of the civic conversation in America. Organized in Tallahassee in 2006, The Village Square is expanding nationwide with locations in Fort Lauderdale; Sacramento, CA; and Salt Lake City, UT.
The first program this season is titled “Food, Food, Food” and will be held on Friday, September 18 from noon to 1 pm at First Baptist Church (108 W. College Avenue) with lunch available beginning at 11:30. Rev. Betsy Ouellette-Zierden of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church will moderate. From the American South to the Middle East to the African plains, in all cultures, hospitality around food is a central principle of civil society. And at The Village Square, food is considered one of the most essential elements to the effort to seek reconciliation across the partisan divide.
Other topics this season include Religious Liberty; Income Disparity, Poverty, Race and Our Children; The Hidden Wound; Police and Community; Rights of Passage: Raising our Children; and An Inconvenient Truth: End of Life Issues. The April 2016 program is currently a Wild Card, with the public invited to submit topic ideas. The location and lunch menu vary for each program and are posted online.
All Faith, Food, Friday forums are free and open to the public. Lunch is available for $8 for those who RSVP by the Tuesday ahead of the program and $10 with a late reservation or at the door. All lunches are paid cash or check at the door. Guests may also bring their own lunch. For menus, more information or to reserve your seat, go online to wiki.tothevillagesquare.org/x/BwGvAQ, call 590-6646 or email email@example.com.
Here’s a little preview of Part 2 of a smart piece written by the Director of our newest Salt Lake City Village Square Director, Jacob Hess (find Part 1 here):
So why would anyone be crazy enough to spend significant time with someone on the other side of the political fence? Why funny you should ask…
1. To Hear it from the Horse’s Mouth. While some people seem increasingly satisfied with a daily download about what-those-dumb-people-are-up-to-now, others are hungry for something more.
“When my like-minded friends all share the same talking points,” our colleague Debilyn Molineaux writes, “I start wondering if there isn’t more to the story…”
Is there? Well, there’s one sure-fire way to find out.
2. To (Really) Be Heard Yourself. In addition to deeply hearing out your political opposite, it’s also surprisingly refreshing to have someone do that for you too – especially one of ‘those people.’ This starts, ironically, by making a shared commitment to seeking to understand each other as the first priority.
Read the entire article at Huffington Post.
The Director of our newest Salt Lake City Village Square Director, Jacob Hess, has written a smart and thoughtful piece posted at the Huffington Post. Here’s a sneak peak:
In discussions of political polarization in America, it’s often widely assumed that ‘most Americans’ want to see the hostility change.
Do they? On the one hand, a 2013 American survey found 70% of respondents believing that incivility had reached crisis proportions in the country.
On the other hand, when these same Americans are offered a chance of hearing out their own political opposite in a generous and productive setting, we have observed a striking level of resistance.
One woman told us just yesterday, “I cannot even begin to imagine trying something like that…” Another person insisted, “Most people don’t want to sit and have a real conversation with their political opposite…They just don’t!”
Could that be true? That even though (most of us) are worried about political tensions, for different reasons (most of us) don’t feel able or willing or interested in doing anything about it?
Read Jacob’s entire article at Huffington Post.
Photo credit: New Yorker Magazine
As we work toward launching our 9th season at the Village Square in Tallahassee, we’re recapping this summer’s cool news (that happened while we were – uh – fishing). Here’s some of it:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 16, 2015
Jon D. Brown, Director
Community and Media Relations
Leon County Recognized as Model Local Government with Eleven National Awards
Recently, Leon County Government received eleven national awards recognizing outstanding county programs and services. In addition, one of these awards was designated “Best in Category” as the most outstanding program nationwide in its award category. The National Association of Counties (NACo) presented Achievement Awards to Leon County in categories ranging from Civic Education to Information Technology. NACo’s awards recognize how Leon County provides the most cost-effective, high-quality service to citizens.
“We are so proud to see our Leon County local services and programs recognized as national benchmarks for effectiveness and innovation,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Mary Ann Lindley.
This year, the following Leon County Government programs and services received awards:
9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, winning best of category in Volunteer,
Club of Honest Citizens in the category of Civic Education and Public Information,
Community Legislative Dialogue in the category of Civic Education and Public Information,
Domi Station, Leon County’s Startup Business Incubator in the category of Community and Economic Development,
Leon LEADS: ‘People Focused. Performance Driven.’ in the category of County Administration and Management,
Penny Sales Tax Public Education Effort in the category of County Administration and Management,
Leon County Sustainable Communities Summit in the category of County Resilience: Infrastructure, Energy & Sustainability,
Leon County Veterans Resource Center in the category of Employment and Training for County Residents,
Procurement Connect in the category of Financial Management,
Trailahassee.com in the category of Information Technology, and
Leon County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Policy in the category of Personnel Management, Employee Training and Employee Benefits.
“These national awards reflect the effort and commitment of talented and dedicated County employees who actively engage our citizens on the most important challenges and opportunities facing our community,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long.
One award that stood out recognized Leon County’s 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, which received highest honors as Best in Category. Through this annual program, Leon County encourages citizens to remember and honor the sacrifices of 9/11 by volunteering locally and giving back to the community. Since the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the program has consisted of a remembrance ceremony and day of service. Over the past four years, 976 volunteers have contributed over 4,400 hours of volunteer service to veterans, low-income seniors, disabled individuals and families of active-duty military personnel in the Leon County community through service projects ranging from creating “garden buckets” for growing vegetables at home to housing rehabilitation for disabled veterans.
Many of the NACo awards highlight programs, services and initiatives that have been in place for years. Such awards recognize how Leon County Government listens to citizens’ needs, anticipates challenges and engages citizens to collaboratively shape the community for future generations. One such example was the multi-year penny sales tax education effort that involved hundreds of hours of citizen input to determine infrastructure projects that County residents not only need, but want. Moreover, Leon County was nationally recognized for programs such as the Sustainable Communities Summit, Community Legislative Dialogue and the Veterans Resource Center, all of which are programs or initiatives that engage many different County departments and divisions to succeed.
These national awards recognize not only effective services, but highlight the successes of Leon County Government during the slow economic recovery. Since the Great Recession, the County has managed to reduce its budget while at the same time exceeding expectations with key infrastructure projects and citizen engagement. Leon County remains committed to strengthening what works, abandoning what does not, receiving citizen feedback, leveraging partnerships and listening to changing needs.
Founded in 1970, the annual NACo Achievement Award Program is an award series that recognizes innovative county government programs that increase services to county residents. Leon County will be recognized at NACo’s 80th Annual Conference in July in Charlotte, North Carolina.
For more information, contact Shington Lamy, Assistant to the County Administrator, at (850) 606-5300 / LamyS@LeonCountyFL.gov or Jon D. Brown, Director of Leon County Community and Media Relations, at (850) 606-5300 / cmr@LeonCountyFL.gov .
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
850-521-1220 ext 103
Leadership Florida® honors The Village Square
with the Florida Impact Award
Tallahassee, Fla. — On June 14, at its annual meeting in St. Petersburg, Leadership Florida presented the The Village Square Tallahassee with its 2015 Florida Impact Award, recognizing the organization’s efforts to bring together those with opposing viewpoints by using civil, respectful, fact-based discourse.
Leadership Florida established the Florida Impact Award to recognize a business or non-profit organization that has created a body of work whose impact is currently transforming the future of its region and has the potential to impact Florida as a whole. It was created to promote a heightened sense of appreciation for the possibilities available when Floridians work together as a single statewide community.
The Village Square was founded by Tallahassee leaders with differing political affiliations, but united in the belief that education and civil discourse on topics of public policy among our diverse citizenry is vitally important, particularly in a society that has become increasingly polarized. In a non-partisan fashion, The Village Square convenes discussions on matters of local, state and national importance, which create a myriad of opportunities for constructive conversations that build understanding and trust among those with disparate views.
The Village Square idea of differing perspectives leading to united goals is growing throughout the state and beyond. Already, it has “franchised” its model by establishing a Village Square in the Florida cities of St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale, as well as the out of state cities of Sacramento, Kansas City and Salt Lake City.
Leadership Florida is proud to honor The Village Square as its 2015 Florida Impact Award winner.
About Leadership Florida
For thirty-four years, Leadership Florida has developed a reputation as a builder of a stronger, diverse statewide sense of community. A respected non-partisan convener of committed individuals, Leadership Florida enhances the knowledge and leadership abilities of Florida’s leaders through educational programs and by encouraging collaborative work for the betterment of our state. Leadership Florida provides Floridians essential information and a meaningful forum for their opinions, and creates opportunities for shared experiences that are inviting, inspiring and of lasting value. Leadership Florida is a federally registered trademark.
Find Leadership Florida online at leadershipflorida.org
Founder of MoveOn.org and Living Room Conversations Joan Blades shares how she arrived at her decision to step away from partisanship and work on bridging the divide. Her Living Room Conversations initiative partners with Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler to support real conversations you can host in your very own living room. Joan writes:
As a founder of MoveOn.org I have seen partisan fight rage back and forth for better than 15 years. I don’t see that either side is decisively winning in the near term. In fact I’ve concluded that we are losing too much. We are losing treasured relationships. We are losing goodwill toward our fellow citizen. We are losing our recognition that we are one country — so many of us see red states and blue states rather than the United States.
Read Joan’s entire article online at Huffington Post. Living Room Conversations is now a Village Square partner – check out how we partner here.
Hunger in the Farm-to-Fork Capital
Co-hosted by Village Square Sacramento and Capital Public Radio
The statistics are staggering. In Sacramento County, hunger affects more than 245,000 households, including 88,000 children. Everyday more than 50,000 people struggle to find their next meal. These numbers hold true throughout the region.
“I had a heart attack and lost my job. Having diabetes, you have to be on a pretty strict diet. I can’t afford the food I need. I don’t qualify for food stamps and carbs are what are cheap. You know, the churches can only give so much, and they give to the families that have kids, not to the husband and wife that don’t have kids.” – LaVone O’Leary, recorded at Capital Public Radio’s Hidden Hunger: Storybooth.
Photo credit: Fischphoto.com
This story and other personal testimonies of residents coping with hunger in the Sacramento region were shared at the Hunger in the Farm-to-Fork Capital events on May 13 and June 3, 2015, hosted by the Village Square and Capital Public Radio. Participants – including people directly impacted by hunger, advocates, policymakers, business people and community leaders – gathered to deepen their understanding of the causes and impacts of hunger, hear new perspectives, and be inspired to take action.
What is the value in this type of community conversation? If there’s a problem that needs to be solved, do you get involved? When you hear staggering statistics that seem like they belong more to a country ravaged by war than your own community, what do you do about it? When your neighbors stop talking about important issues that affect your community, where do you turn?
Photo credit: Fischphoto.com
We must be willing to take action. To turn people on to action, we need to feel a connection to the issue, to each other and to our community. Dialogue and understanding are essential first steps to any long-term solution and one of the shared values of the Village Square and Capital Public Radio’s Community Engagement efforts.
Through the Hunger in the Farm-to-Fork Capital conversation series, Village Square and Capital Public Radio created a welcoming space and the opportunity for honest conversation about the tough topic of hunger. We discovered there is a strong desire for this type of community conversation (both events sold out). We also found that residents are eager to deepen their understanding about the causes and impacts of important topics like hunger, and to hear new perspectives and consider solutions that include mobilizing for action.
These were not your average community conversations; it was civic storytelling at its best. This was thoughtful content, open-mindedness, diverse viewpoints and powerful real life stories, many that were told by those experiencing hunger themselves and recorded at Capital Public Radio’s Hidden Hunger: Storybooth.
This is just what Village Square and Capital Public Radio’s Community Engagement efforts are uniquely positioned to do.
Photo credit: Fischphoto.com
“People living with hunger and poverty are truly just ordinary people.”
“Many that are hungry also have medical issues.”
“We talked at our table about how shocked many people were regarding senior hunger. The face of hunger is often that of a child, but seniors are very at-risk.”
“The middle class is not what it was. We sign a ‘social contract’ early on to get an education, to get trained, to work hard. But even then, we sometimes find ourselves not able to make ends meet to feed our families or ourselves. The social paradigm as we see it is changing.”
“I loved the sense of community fostered at this event, bringing together people from all sectors of the population with different life experiences, beliefs and opinions.”
We were thrilled to hear that attendees gained a sense of community in a whole new way. That people felt more informed, with a deeper personal understanding, and inspired by what transpired. What we saw was participants building relationships and getting motivated to engage in true community problem solving—exactly what these community conversations are designed to do. We hope you will join us next time!
Click here for the May 13 and June 3, 2015 event flyer.
Graphic Recordings of Lightning Talks at June 3, 2015 event.