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Liz Joyner: Reviving the town hall meeting

Published in the Tallahassee Democrat, February 15, 2012 There’s nothing more quintessentially American than a town hall meeting. It’s how the business of American community has gotten done from just about the moment the first disaffected European foot hit ground in the New World.

Even if you’ve never attended one, the town meeting is buried so deep in our country’s psyche that you can probably immediately call up its intimate details – rows of folding chairs, town council up front with only a school lunch table to define their status, a charmless but functional meeting room. Someone probably saw to it that there would be coffee and cookies. Overachievers might organize a potluck. Read all »

Liz Joyner: Down the rabbit hole in 12 months (or less)

alice in wonderland

A new NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll asked if 2009 was a period of unity or division. The only surprise in the result is that 12% of respondents actually said unity. (Perhaps the percentage of Americans without a TV set?) Even more disturbing is that at the beginning of the year, a full half of us thought it was a time of unity. What a year.

Plus “division” is a vanilla description of 2009.

Croquet balls turned hedgehogs and hookah-smoking caterpillars have nothing on the year we’ve just spent in the good ole US of A. Speaking as someone who was adequately alarmed about the sump-pump depths of our civic dialog waaay back in the spring of 2006 to go to all the trouble to form The Village Square, where we stand now is nearly unfathomable.

We kicked off the year with a run on ammo given the impending presidency of Barack Obama, despite the utter and complete absence of any indication that Obama had any intention of taking anyone’s guns.

We moved directly from there into the full-force swing of the birther movement, with duly elected and previously apparently sane representatives giving winks and nods to the idea that our president was actually some sort of Muslim Manchurian candidate, verified birth certificate and fact-be-damned.

Somewhere along the way we passed the White Rabbit late to the Mad Hatter’s tea party to find that we actually have an elected president looking to take down America, capitalism, our whole way of life and probably apple pie to boot.

It’s no wonder that with all this hoo-hah about, when it was time to debate the daunting national issue of health care, we just couldn’t manage. When it was time to bring our A-game, instead we flunked out.

Civil discourse is a muscle and 2009 found it atrophied from lack of use.

Is it possible to revive a conservative party ready to make a cogent argument that has a possibility of reaching people who don’t already agree with them? Because while it appears that President Obama isn’t trying to take your guns, isn’t secretly foreign-born, isn’t trying to bring America to its knees, it is entirely possible that he is one thing that needs serious discussion: Wrong. But the opposition party, too busy poisoning the well with arguments that make them look like 60’s hippies on an acid trip haven’t really cohesively made that argument in a way that the rest of us can hear.

And while we’re at it, before liberals build a hermetically sealed media environment to rival the Fox News and talk radio empires they might want to pause to rethink. Picture Keith Olbermann’s special comments with about 15 years to percolate, and then decide if that’s ultimately good or bad for America. If the amen chorus of conservatism hasn’t really advanced a good conservative argument you’re apt to listen to, why in the world do you think that a conservative will ever listen to a liberal one wrapped in a different flavor of the same indignant fury?

In our current Adventure through Wonderland, we’ve reached the part in the story where the feuding self-righteous and uninformed are playing the role of the Queen of Hearts with her hair trigger “off with their heads” impulse. Its hard not to wonder how far real violence is behind.

It’s well past time we wake from our yearlong dream and put away childish behavior and fantasy.

Because in 2010, we’ve got a country to run.

Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. Contact her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.

Liz Joyner: The Seesaw

tree-small.jpgNeither of my kids spent much time on the seesaw at the park in their younger days. If I had to guess why, it would be that it was a little too much work for a day at the park. It was rare when they got a seesaw partner who didn’t require serious weight and momentum adjustment—sliding forward or backward, pushing hard at the bottom to get your end back up in the air, or, as was more often the case with my slender little girls, perched suspended three feet up, pretty much unable to control a thing.

As my sixteen-year-old has grown into a young woman, she’s been exposed to many a political dinner table conversation from the perspective of my side of the political seesaw. But as much as she’s heard me yammer, I’ve only now just noticed that she’s suspended in mid air with her feet dangling, no where near solid ground. I’m afraid I’ve been responsible for providing her only half the argument in a country that requires citizens to understand the whole one.

Trying to give her a shove back down to terra firma, I’ve had a series of conversations with her about—ultimately—what I deeply believe. There’s been a bit of personal political archeology involved here, as, in the daily shuffle, there are times when I’m too immersed in the veneer to reach for the foundation. Here’s where I found my foundation: What lasts, what matters from all of our daily political struggles is what keeps America who we are. What matters is the two-party system that creates a tension of opposites, the left keeping the right from marching into fascism, the right keeping the left from slipping into communism. What lasts is the best ideas that rise to the top, the product of our endless, sometimes painfully difficult dialog. Were it not for the tension, the struggle, we wouldn’t be America.

When power concentrates on one side of this non-stop American seesaw, it’s time for the grown-ups to give it a firm shove on one side. I sense the American public is ready to give a firm parental shove right about now too. But there is risk in this weight adjustment when we’ve been so used to pushing hard and having nothing happen… we risk that we’ll send the other guy miles into the air. Okay, so I’ll admit it, right now that may not seem so bad, but pause for a moment to consider what happens after the other guy’s fanny lands back on the seesaw. I never took physics but I’m fairly sure that all that energy has to go someplace and it may not be pretty when it does.

So, here’s to keeping the big picture in mind as each “side” shoves to get more momentum… hoping there are enough grownups to keep the traffic on the seesaw well-behaved.


Liz Joyner is the cofounder of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.

**This post represents the genesis of the thinking that would ultimately become The Village Square. I first wrote “The Seesaw” in March of 2006, when the Democrats had no political power. Now they control both Congress and the presidency.

The seesaw works both ways, folks.