Our regular guest panelist Dr. Parvez Ahmed writes this powerful piece with Village Square’s board member and “Faith, Food, Friday” co-founder Rabbi Jack Romberg:
We write this as two friends, a Jew and a Muslim, both with leadership roles in our respective communities. Together we have broken bread, facilitated interfaith dialogue, and come to the realization that we have the same goal of peace, understanding and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds. The recent spate of violence between Hamas and Israel presents a new test for us. Yet, in the end, even as we might have some disagreement on the details, or in parsing the conflict, we find that we share the same hopes, ideals and values. We both must wrestle with some inconvenient truths.
What grew out of a contentious 2006 coal-plant debate, is now being embraced elsewhere as a model for fostering civil discourse.
The Village Square, a Tallahassee-based civic and social-engagement organization now in its eighth year, is expanding to Fort Lauderdale, Sacramento and Kansas City, which will serve as the nonprofit’s national hub.
The organization hosts about 20 local programs a year, from the quirky “Speed Date Your Local Leaders” to more serious discussions on public corruption, immigration and Florida’s future. Its purpose is to engage the community in a civil debate on divisive issues in a factual and nonpartisan way.
This month, University of Missouri at Kansas City is launching the national headquarters for the Village Square and our Kansas City Village Square location. Special guest panelists at the founding members event were Kansas Republican U.S. Representative Kevin Yoder and Missouri Democratic U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver.
Village Square co-founder Liz Joyner in The Christian Science Monitor:
From TALLAHASSEE, FLA. — In the early 1800s, things weren’t looking particularly good for the American experiment in self-governance. Coming to Washington with differences of opinion natural to a vast new land, early legislators lived and ate in boarding houses that became entrenched voting blocs. Thomas Jefferson wrote that these men came to work “in a spirit of avowed misunderstanding, without the smallest wish to agree.”
Apparently neither human nature nor legislatures have changed much since.
“The more men of good hearts associate, the better they think of each other.”
–Unnamed Federalist Senator, during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (from The Washington Community, James Sterling Young)
This is a topic near and dear to our hearts at the Village Square, as the notion of the Village Square was philosophically drawn from the Jeffersonian dinners hosted by the third president, partly in an effort to get the early “tribal” legislators to interact with each other. Our motive at the Village Square is to engage liberals and conservatives. Here’s a fabulous description of the events written by newly-created Washington Intelligencer Publisher Margaret Bayard Smith, a frequent dinner guest of Jefferson:
At his usual dinner parties the company seldom or ever exceeded fourteen, including himself and his secretary. The invitations were not given promiscuously, or as has been done of late years, alphabetically, but his guests were generally selected in reference to their tastes, habits and suitability in all respects, which attention had a wonderful effect in making his parties more agreeable, than dinner parties usually are; this limited number prevented the company’s forming little knots and carrying on in undertones separate conversations, a custom so common and almost unavoidable in a large party. At Mr. Jefferson’s table the conversation was general; every guest was entertained and interested in whatever topic was discussed.
One circumstance, though minute in itself, had certainly a great influence on the conversational powers of Mr. Jefferson’s guests. Instead of being arrayed in strait parallel lines, where they could not see the countenances of those who sat on the same side, they encircled a round, or oval table where all could see each others faces, and feel the animating influence of looks as well as of words. Let any dinner giver try the experiment and he will certainly be convinced of the truth of this fact. A small, well assorted company, seated around a circular table will ensure more social enjoyment, than any of the appliances of wealth and splendor, without these concomitants.
A baby born in 1900 in the United States had a life expectancy of 47.3 years. For male babies, the number was slightly lower: 46.3 years. For females, it was 48.3 years.
Flash forward 110 years. A U.S. baby born in 2010 has a life expectancy of 78.7 years. Again, somewhat less for males, 76.2 years, and a bit more for females, 81 years.
What accounts for that amazing increase in longevity between our grandparents’ generation and today’s? Credit modern science and updated sensitivity to health threats that in grandpa’s day went largely ignored.
The big factor is advances in medicine – pharmaceuticals, medical procedures and devices like pacemakers – that help patients survive what formerly would have been fatal ailments. Eradication of diseases that often proved fatal to children boosted the number, as did progress in obstetrics, childbirth and childhood immunizations.
Too, more awareness of workplace hazards and a proactive approach to risk management in recent decades made life safer for those who survived to adulthood. Machinery is safer, work environments healthier, and smoking has been demonized. Better understanding of healthy living habits has enabled many born after 1900 stay alive longer and to stay healthier than previous generations.
As a result, for the first time, Americans are experiencing a historic demographic shift: Four full generations in relatively good health living side by side. I wish those advances had happened sooner. I lost my grandparents in their mid- to late 60s. But it was better for my parents’ generation. They lived into their 80s. I wonder what it would have been like having them all together, with my own children constituting the fourth generation?
I’ll never know. But I hope to experience it from the other end. With my oldest granddaughter having just turned 15, I expect to live to bounce her and her brothers’ children on my knee and teach them to play Pick-Up-Stix and Monopoly. Mine is among the first of the four-generation families. But we are far from alone. With expanded life spans, a four-generation family increasingly is becoming the norm.
The number of U.S. persons age 65 and over has increased from 4 million in 1900 to 40 million in 2010. The number of people living to 85 and over went from near-zero in 1900 to 600,000 at the turn of the century. In 2010, there were 55,000 Americans age 100 or more, and by 2050, demographers project that there will be half a million centenarians in the U.S.
In fact, Florida already is a model of the demographic reality the nation will face in 40 years. There are currently 3.3 million Floridians age 65-plus living in the Sunshine State – 18 percent of the population, and over 500,000 of them are over 85. Pinellas County’s age demographics are even more tilted to graying: 21.5 percent of its population is 65 or older, and 4 percent is over 85-plus.
We’ll be exploring how those four generations – children, parents, grandparents and super-elders – can live in harmony and mutual support at a Community Conversation on June 17. The program, titled “Our Families’ Four Generations: Ready or Not, Here We Are!” is sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times and jointly hosted by this Institute and the 4Generations Institute of Tallahassee.
The program will be from 7-9 p.m. in the Digitorium of the SPC Seminole Campus, 9200 113th Street N. Advance registration is requested at http://solutions.spcollege.edu/ .
My long-time friend, Jack Levine, will lead the conversation, directing questions to a panel of six local experts from organizations that serve the four generational groups. Jack, who spent 25 years advocating for children as head of Voices for Florida’s Children, began to realize that needs in each group are going unmet while potential resources are going to waste. Younger children are struggling with reading and math.
Retirees who realize they can play only so much golf and tennis become bored. Teens are looking for opportunities to gain public service credits. Young singles have time – and the desire – to give back. The elderly waste away in assisted living facilities with no one looking out for them. Working adults find themselves sandwiched between raising children and caring for elderly parents.
“The needs for health care, education, family services, employment, public safety and environmental protection are best addressed through the lens of our four major age groups,” says Jack. “How we address the needs of the four generations is among the most critical economic and public policy challenges for the next decade.”
I am excited by the potential for inter-generational cooperation that could come from this initiative. If all of the unused resources of time and energy among the generations were channeled into assisting the needy, lonely and imperiled, it would represent a seismic shift in societal well-being. Let the conversation begin!
Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions
(L-R) Ben Pollara, United for care, Dr. Carlton Turner, Former Director of White House Drug Abuse Policy Office, Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Sheriff
I was correct in my previous blog on this topic: Medical marijuana is hot. In fact, if you thought the furor over the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, was super-heated, just wait until this fall. In Florida, Obamacare will take a back seat to the debate over legalizing marijuana for medical use, which Floridians will be asked to decide in the Nov. 4 election.
That was confirmed at the Institute’s Village Square forum on medical marijuana, held at the Seminole campus Conference Center on April 17th. The question of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, the subject of a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution, is loaded with emotion, ideology and a great deal of conflicting information. That came through loud and clear at our debate, which featured proponents from the two major organizations in the battle for the hearts and minds of voters: Ben Pollara of United for Care, who supports the referendum, and Dr. Carlton Turner, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Ronald Reagan and spokesman for Save Our Society From Drugs, who opposes it. Also weighing in with the view of law enforcement officers was Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
Much like fencers with foils, the speakers parried with statistics and assertions. Pollara tugged at heartstrings with references to sick people who benefit from the medicinal effects of marijuana, a number of whom were in the audience. Turner countered with warnings of out-of-control marijuana accessibility by teenagers and children, whose developing brains can be damaged by pot use. Sheriff Gualtieri worried that the reference in the referendum summary to “debilitating conditions” is so broad that it will lead to widespread abuse of the drug by unscrupulous doctors looking to make a fast buck, much as they did in setting up “pill mills” to hand out prescription pain pills a few years ago.
“It’s all about money, making money,” said the sheriff. And, he added, “It’s a segue to recreational use” of the drug, a point also made by Turner.
The debate can be boiled down to a relatively few points of contention – wide, gaping differences of opinion, to be sure, but not all that difficult to understand. Here are the essential arguments of the two sides:
On the con side:
That smoking marijuana is harmful to the human body.
That teens with developing brains will have easier access to it.
That it is a gateway to experimentation with other, more dangerous drugs
That legalization for medical purposes will lower society’s inhibitions against illegal drugs in general.
That this referendum on medical use is just a prelude to legalizing it for recreational use
That it is untested by science and not approved by the FDA
That unscrupulous doctors will write certifications for use to anyone for any ailment, just as they did with pain pills
That marijuana users are less productive, absent from work more often, and more prone to accidents than non-users.
That it will put more impaired drivers on the road, causing injuries, deaths and property damage.
That there is no consistency to the plant itself nor in the medical products made from it, so how are doctors supposed to prescribe it?
That it is essentially snake oil.
On the pro side:
That it provides relief to a great many ailments, especially: nausea and appetite loss associated with cancer and AIDS; muscle spasms; chronic pain, and intraocular pressure (of the eyes).
That people should not have to move to states where it is legal to get access to it, nor to risk arrest at home
That it is not harmful in medical form or in smoked form if in limited quantities
That no one has ever died from an overdose
That it would be tightly regulated and taxed by the state, shutting down the black market
That legal substances like alcohol, tobacco and pain pails have adverse health consequences far more dangerous to society than pot
That it once was perfectly legal and in widespread use for these kinds of ailments but was demonized in the 1930s due to racist attitudes toward Mexicans and African Americans
That it is a natural plant created by God and the government has no right to impose an outright ban on its use to help people feel better
That there is no scientific proof that it is a dangerous, addictive Schedule 1 drug.
During the forum, the Institute staff invited audience members to take part in three separate “straw votes” via cellphone texting to measure attitudes toward medical marijuana. In the first survey, before hearing any arguments, the survey breakdown was: For legalization, 39 percent; against legalization, 18 percent; undecided, 44 percent.
In mid-program, after the audience had heard the opening presentations by the three panel members, the results had changed significantly. The number for legalization had jumped to 74 percent, while the number of undecided dropped to 9 percent. Those against legalization dipped just slightly, to 17 percent. Apparently, Pollara’s arguments for approving legalization of marijuana for medical purposes were persuasive.
In the final survey, audience members were not offered a choice of being undecided. Instead, they were asked their view of medical marijuana in one of four scenarios:
-Not in any form: 9 percent
-In non-smokable form for medical use only: 11 percent
-In any form, for medical use only: 43 percent
-For medical use and recreational use: 36 percent
So, those opposed to legalizing marijuana for medical use dropped into the single digits. Those who think it should be legalized in some form total 54 percent, with 11 percent of those favoring its use in non-smokable form only. And a surprising 36 percent are in favor of legalizing it for recreational as well as medical use – a segment I found surprising in a conservative state like Florida.
Where all this will end in November is anyone’s guess. As we emphasized in instructions for participating in the polling, these were straw votes only – since it was not a random audience, it bears no scientific validity. Yet is provides interesting fodder for speculation as the campaign heats up – and perhaps a sense of direction for the opposing campaigns.
–David Klement, Executive Director
Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions
St. Petersburg College
A recent article by Ezra Klein at Vox.com eloquently makes an argument that we at CivilPolitics have also done a lot of research in support of – specifically, that if you want to affect many behaviors, you cannot just appeal to individuals’ sense of reason. The article is well worth a complete read and is excerpted below, but the gist of it details a simple clear study by Dan Kahan and colleagues, showing that individuals who are good at math stop using their rational skills when the use of those skills would threaten their values.
At the Village Square’s final meeting of the year, a crowd of several hundred addressed common community problems, moral character and the rise of public corruption.
Members of The Asteroid Club, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lucy Morgan and Bill Shiell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Tallahassee, welcomed a conversation on the staples of democracy and how they fit into our ever-changing society.
Taking into account political, religious and socio-economic differences is all part of the equation said Village Square Board of Directors member and moderator Steve Seibert.
“Public corruption, public morality, these are things that are almost impossible things to talk about,” Seibert said. “We dance around this subject a lot, and we dance with it in our tribes where people agree with us, but it’s very hard to talk about those things.”
“All politics is local.” – former House Speaker Tip O’Neill
The Village Square is about as local and as grassroots as an organization can get, taking a very bottom-up approach to problem-solving. They serve as brokers of conversation with the goal of setting a friendly tone in civic debate. They are about agreeing to disagree, but doing so in a manner where opposing views are respected and listened to. They are about discussing facts, not distortions, and reaching conclusions after the facts are understood. They are about celebrating what unites us, and engaging in civil, open discussions of what may divide us.
From the Tallahassee Democrat, Friday March 28, by Karl Etters: (Photo credit: Amanda Rodriguez, Leon County)
In the pub-centric style of town hall gatherings in the 1700s, Tallahassee-area residents, dubbed The Club of Honest Citizens, met Thursday night to discuss issues that affect the capital city.
But there were no powdered wigs or declarations, just a host of ideas on how to better the community based on four topics — economic development, library services, growth and health care with the theme “What is the proper role of government?”
Part of a formal partnership between the Village Square and the Leon County Commission, the first of three meetings is meant to be a place for open social discourse and engagement about the community.
Village Square Executive Director Liz Joyner said the old way of civil engagement surrounding formal meetings needed a revamp and a more positive way to bring people who differ together.