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Tuesday
Apr142015

POLITICS AS PERSONAL AS POSSIBLE

 


THEYRE BAAAACK!!  Rand Paul, Hilary Clinton, and Marco Rubio have launched the next national political season by announcing that they're runnning for President.  On the street, you hear, "Omigod!" "Not already!" and "Here we go again!"  Most Americans are afraid that this campaign will cost even more, feel more endless, create more hostility, and lower the public's trust in government even more than the last ones did.  

If you're not a rabid True Believer, is there any reason for hope?  "The political process" in the U.S. is supposed to involve discussing and deciding on important political issues and then designing and implementing solutions. But what we mainly get is shouting, polarizing half-truths.  Is there any way healthy politics can actually operate?

Sadly, the national-level answer is "Probably not."  The system is too divided, too fear-, hate-, and money-driven, and too entrenched to expect much change.  Greed, power hunger, and ego-gratification will continue to drive most of what both parties do between now and election day.

AND there's real hope behind the scenes, out of the eye of the mainstream media.  The people who make up dozens of local, regional, and national organizations continue to practice the politics of civil conversations, substantive problem-solving, positive possibilities, and successful programs.  With just a few clicks, you can start participating in, and contributing to healthy U.S. governing.

For example, check out the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation ncdd.org/.  This is a network of over 1600 people who bring citizens together across political divides to discuss, decide, and take action together on issues like immigration, abortion, money in politics, and same-sex marriage.  They have groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter, and provide a Resource Guide on Public Engagement to support local efforts.  They also sponsor regional and national conferences and connect people with listservs.

Another group offering rich resources is the Public Conversations Project www.publicconversations.org.  This group explains itself this way:

"In this world of polarizing conflicts, we have glimpsed a new possibility:  a way in which people can disagree frankly and passionately; become clearer in heart and mind about their activism; and, at the same time, contribute to a more civil and compassionate society."

The PCP has lived out this commitment in successful projects with teams of people from the U.N., city and county governments, relgious and legal organizations, universities, and citizens groups in the U.S., England, Mexico, Iceland,Norway, Finland, and New Zealand.  

Currently, their staff offers a "Facilitating Public Meetings" workshop grounded in the realization that, as they put it, "Our highly polarized society contributes to a 'win-lose' mentality, and tight economic times heighten the stakes when people come together to tackle public policy issues. Lack of confidentiality, the role of the media, and evolving technology further complicate the process. Designing and facilitating effective public meetings requires coolness, clarity, courage and skill. This workshop will help participants address the challenges of engaging an impassioned and deeply involved public in constructive conversation."

As I explain in Chapter 8 of U&ME: Communicating in Moments that Matter, facilitation is the main communication skill for building social capital, and social capital builds power.  So, whatever group you're working with or interested in--a neighborhood, issue-based political organization, cultural group (NAACP, LULAC), social justice group--can increase its power base by strengthening the connections among the people who make up the organization.  And since politics is fundamentally about the practice of power, facilitation can help enable your group to achieve its political goals.

There are dozens of other groups where you can find like-minded people, including the National Institute for Civil Discourse nicd.arizona.edu/; the Bernard Wolfman Civil Discourse Project www.civildiscourseproject.org/; and The Public Dialogue Consortium publicdialogue.org/.  All these organizations offer alternatives to the polarized, sound-bite-based ranting that is national politics, and they position the people in them to make real political differences.

 

They do this by rejecting the practices of #objectification and oversimplification and embracing ways to make political communicating as personal as possible.  Obviously, "personal" in politics doesn't mean what it does in families and learning situations.  But it still points to the five qualities that make us persons--Choices, ESP (emotions-spirit-psyche), Reflectiveness, Mindfulness, all of which make each of us Unique.  And it still reminds us that communication that "takes in" and "gives out" relevant parts of these personal features is more powerful than communication that doesn't.

As the national campaign heats up and you get frustrated because nobody is addressing your political concerns in helpful, collaborative ways, join with an organization that does and build your own political power.

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