Our first activity all-together as delegates was dinner. There was no pressure to discuss politics just getting to know one another. One of the first students I talked to was actively involved in the American Democracy Project at her school and I was able to share with her ideas and programs, what worked and what didn’t work. From the very first hours I was already learning and had something I could bring back to my university and make a positive impact. That night all of the delegates watched a documentary entitled, Bring it to the Table. It was an incredibly moving documentary about how partisanship has effected the United States and subtly implored the audience to try their hardest to overcome partisanship in an effort to understand and further dialogue, not shut it down. This documentary really set the tone for the next 24 hours of thought provoking and motivating sessions.
The next morning the delegates were spoiled with incredible speakers including Dr. Syb Brown, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and Alexander Heffner. Each speaker, though their speeches were vastly different, had a core focus of civility. Dr. Syb Brown explored how an advancing technological age is effecting our ability to have civil dialogue in regards to politics. “The screens are effecting your ability to be civil because they are effecting your ability to reflect. Scanning is not processing.” Dr. Syb Brown said to us. She continued on saying, “We don’t have to agree but we have to hear.” Listening to Dr. Syb Brown speak was extremely eye opening for me as I closely examined my own prejudices and incivility when it comes to discussing politics with those who have differing opinions from mine. She ended by motivating us to engage our peers in wanting to be just as interested in politics as we are saying, “We, as citizens, have the right to participate in democracy. If we are not questioning, challenging, voting, and engaged in democracy it does not work. You are the leaders. The torch has been passed. So, that’s why bringing you all together is so important to figure out what is going to be the common ground, how are you going to impact this election, because you have the power and numbers to sway this election.”
I also found Alex Heffner’s speech to be of great interest as he discussed how the media has impacted our civility. Alex Heffner explained how gerrymandering is not just a problem when it comes to districts but also when it comes to the media. Certain news stations have begun to cater to specific audiences, candidates change their talking points when in different areas, and the voters are being catered to not spoken honestly to. Alex Heffner explained how this in combination with the economic disparity we see today is a dangerous combination, “The dumbing down of the discourse and a dwindling middle class is a lethal combination,” he said. He also pointed out that not only have politicians stopped doing their jobs, but so has the media. The problem is that voters stopped doing their jobs as well. “There has been a vast media conglomerate that has been profiting off of the vitriol that has been expressed and given an endless microphone. News coverage has become infotainment not information,” Alex Heffner warned.
Mari, CEEP Wisconsin Organizer Jacque Moss, and friends. Check back Friday for more from Mari!