The Center for Civic Engagement Facilitates Issue Discussions around Long Island
Political institutions in this society are suffering a deep legitimacy crisis. According to a USA Today poll (12/21/11), only 8% of the American public approve of the work Congress is doing. Part of this legitimacy crisis extends from a combination of a declining level of civic literacy coupled with a declining level of civility among those who do participate in candidate and town hall forums. Hofstra University took advantage of the excitement generated by our hosting a Presidential debate in 2012 to promote civic literacy on Long Island (home to the country's oldest suburbs) through facilitating a series of public deliberations. Between the Spring and Fall of 2012, the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) sponsored a series of town hall meeting-style forums on issues facing the nation, particularly in light of the 2012 Presidential, Congressional and State elections. The issues addressed include immigration, America's role in the world, the debt, the economy, education, energy, the internet, and youth violence. The deliberations were conducted in a scrupulously nonpartisan manner by trained moderators who worked to involve participants in a manner similar to members of a jury: weighing carefully the pros and cons of policy proposals, clarifying what additional data is needed to make informed judgments, seeking common ground, and exploring whether or not agreement can be reached on policy directions (all the while eschewing partisan/political party-identified debate).
One hundred forums were held at a diverse array of local middle and high schools, public libraries, and Hofstra University. Preliminary results of the deliberations were presented as part of CCE's annual Day of Dialogue, which took place on the Wednesday before the debate. In addition to printing and posting the results online, we conducted surveys to evaluate the effects of the forums upon participants.
The forums were facilitated by students affiliated with the Center for Civic Engagement. Participating students received extensive training through a course offered by a professor with years of facilitation experience.
It is our expectation that this ongoing project will continue to build stronger communities of active citizens capable of both recognizing and working through complexities to identify policies that address multiple interests. It is our hope that, in meeting this expectation, we will strengthen the grassroots basis of an effectively functioning democracy.
For more information about recent forums, to meet the facilitators, or to schedule a forum in your community, please visit http://lideepensdemocracy.wordpress.com