Village Square in the news

  • The Daily Beast
  • Kathleen Parker
  • The Tallahassee Democrat


John Avlon mentions Village Square | The Daily Beast

Professional partisans present a vision of American politics where everything is divided between the far left and the far right. Lately, they seem to be dominating the nation’s political debate. But there’s a powerful backlash brewing—a movement of voices from the vital center who are declaring….Continue Reading

…their independence from play-to-the-base politics. In fact, the center does not only have the numbers, it has the intellectual coherence and strong advocates. There are academics like the Hoover Institution’s Morris Fiorina, author of Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America and McGill’s Gil Troy, author of Leading From the Center. There are centrist think tanks, like Will Marshall’s Progressive Policy Institute and The Third Way associated with the Democratic side of the aisle and the Main Street Partnership for the GOP. There are centrist radio-show hosts like Michael Smerconish, Ronn Owens, and Alan Nathan. There are centrist Web sites like, and—as well as aggregators like that skewer absurdities on both sides. Most important are the grassroots groups that are growing up on their own, like the Village Square movement based out of Florida, the Transpartisan Alliance, or the newly formed Pragmatic Center, which announced its presence in the wake of Kathleen Parker’s column.

The purpose of this list is to show that there is a coherent and strong centrist movement growing in America right now. It is principled and civil. It is independent of the two parties’ influential, entrenched special interests. And it is on the rise. Read the whole article…

Originally published March 31, 2010 in The Daily Beast


Peaceful village | Tallahassee Democrat

Remember the fracas surrounding the town hall meetings on health care? The founders of The Village Square do. Their efforts to bring together diametrically opposed ideological groups has earned a $72,000 slice of $24 million offered through the Knight Foundation’s Community………Continue Reading

Information Challenge. The money will be used to support programs that help concerned individuals follow Albert Einstein’s charge: “To the village square we must carry the facts … from there must come America’s voice.”

The Village Square is the type of resource citizens of this country, and more distinctly, area residents will need as we consider opposing points of view with a mind toward strengthening our republic.

Through conversations over group dinners, political discussions over a pint of beer, and soon, online tools that will allow community members to post, read and edit information on locally focused topics, Executive Director Liz Joyner and members of the board are striving to “bring communities back together again as neighbors taking care of what neighbors used to handle.”

Round-table and panel discussions sponsored by The Village Square, through the use of the Knight grant, could serve as the antithesis of the well-intentioned — but easily maligned — local “town hall” meetings.

A good example was the one held on health care reforms Aug. 25 at City Hall. Though it was attended by U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd, it quickly fell victim to an ideological shouting match because it was sponsored by some community agencies that stood to benefit from federal stimulus dollars. An opportunity to meet with our congressman was drowned out by rhetoric from both sides, and an opportunity to truly hear and understand opposing views was crushed.

By contrast, Village Square forums would primarily focus on the local issues, including topics such as the great biomass debate, coal plants and constitutional amendments. The group’s outreach efforts encourage individuals to read, think and opine for themselves rather than allowing their talking points to come from nationally focused partisan agendas.

The first test of bringing the community together in such a down-home fashion is to raise matching funds for the Knight grant. The group is halfway to its goal, but it’s important that donations (and participation) come from throughout the community.

“Knight wants to see that the community supports the idea,” Ms. Joyner said.

Input is sought on how The Village Square can best use its grant money to unify the community in the exchange of ideas.

“There is a way for anyone who’s interested to get involved, whatever their abilities are,” she said.

Whether residents of this area support The Village Square with their dollars, their attendance, contribution to an online Wiki of information pertinent to local topics or in some other form, Ms. Joyner and members of the board march forward with a charge by writer Patricia Nelson Limerick: “Let friendship redeem the republic.”

We hope that it can, and will.

Originally published January 28, 2010 in The Tallahassee Democrat


Bipartisanship on the Hustings | Kathleen Parker

Americans say they’re sick of partisan politics, and some of them really mean it. In Norman, Okla., and Tallahassee, Fla. – two university towns where football usually matters more than governance – local leaders weary of blood sport have begun taking matters into their own hands…….Continue Reading

…Next week in Norman as the media hordes forget they ever heard of Iowa and descend on New Hampshire for the nation’s first primary, a dozen or so renegades from the major parties are convening a forum to develop Plan C. A third way. A bipartisan solution to business as usual. Their immodest goal: To end divisive partisan polarization, create bipartisanship and bring the country together after the 2008 election.

Leading the charge are David Boren, Oklahoma University president and a former U.S. senator, along with former Democratic Sens. Sam Nunn of Georgia, Charles Robb of Virginia and Gary Hart of Colorado, also a former presidential candidate.

Republican sponsors include former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former Sens. Bill Brock of Tennessee and John Danforth of Missouri, and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

And yes, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be there, but he’s not running for president.

Other formers expected to participate include Bill Cohen, former secretary of defense, and former U.S. Sens. Alan Dixon of Illinois and Bob Graham of Florida. Also, Jim Leach, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa, and Edward Perkins, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Yes, this is primarily a forum of formers. In fact, only Hagel and Bloomberg are politically current, from which one may draw one’s own conclusions. Then again, former politicians may be the best kind. With hindsight comes wisdom and, having been there, done that, people formerly known as politicians have little to gain from speaking out except the rare reward of doing something for the greater good.

While these reform-minded formers are tackling national problems, their bipartisan counterparts in Tallahassee are acting locally through a relatively new Web-based creation called “To The Village Square.” The square is the brainchild of attorney and City Commissioner Allan Katz, a Barack Obama Democrat who used leftover money from his recent re-election campaign to create the project.

He tapped as his partner Liz Joyner, a social worker and stay-at-home mom, (who also ran his last campaign), and recruited a bipartisan board whose members agree with two simple premises: facts matter; solutions should be bipartisan.

“If you say you’re nonpartisan, nobody believes you,” says Katz.

With that reality in mind, The Village Square aims to remind citizens of “The Big Idea” for which our ancestors spilled their blood – that Americans should be self-governing. The Web site,, explains that history in the context of today’s political dialogue, which “wouldn’t be tolerated between 5-year-olds at recess.”

“We’ve turned ‘talking’ over to professional polarizers on television who make seven-digit careers surfing this wave of hostility,” reads the Web site. “They warp what were once perfectly useful ideas, when understood in moderation, into black-and-white caricatures of ideas, so oversimplified they become effectively useless in solving real problems.

“These entrepreneurial yellers build for us such a fundamental misunderstanding of (and contempt for) people who think differently than we do, we’ve stopped bothering to listen to each other. … We’re spoon-fed slick (and expensive) commercials that sell us snake oil rather than provide the facts so basic to building the informed citizenry envisioned by our Founding Fathers.”

To that end, Katz and friends sponsor topical dinners ($25/person) to air local issues. Next week, while Boren and Co. are figuring out how to advance civil discourse at the national level, participants in Tallahassee’s Village Square will be dining with experts to discuss: “Energy Alternatives À la carte: Fossils and Sunshine and Garbage, oh my!”

OK, so you’re rewinding your videos that night, but somebody has to take this stuff seriously.

It’s not quite a movement, but both Boren’s initiative and the Katz/Joyner project suggest the stirrings of a necessary political backlash. Just as an unhappily married couple nevertheless manages to produce a lovely and beloved child, the ugly divorce of politics from the people may yet birth a very American revolution.

If Washington won’t lead the way, then Americans will simply lead themselves.

Born-again Americans. Now there’s a concept. Syndicated by The Washington Post Writers Group


USA Today: Residents Make a Date with City Leaders

Screen shot 2013-04-14 at 11.20.49 AM

The event, co-sponsored by The Village Square and Leadership Tallahassee, was designed to create conversation as participants nibbled on pizza and sipped lemonade and sweet tea. Tallahassee-based Village Square calls itself a unique model for civic engagement in America, attempting to bridge partisan divides to solve local problems. Last year, it expanded to St. Petersburg, Fla., and hopes its ideas will catch on. “A lot of times, they wanted to know about projects in the community,” Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge said about the constituents he met… Read the whole article at USA Today.


Knight Foundation: Expanding civic engagement in Tallahassee with help from LocalWiki (and an enterprising retiree)

Knight Foundation K

When The Village Square embarked on our hyper-local community engagement project called “Get Local” – funded by Knight Foundation through the Community Foundation of North Florida – we wanted to appeal to people who weren’t the usual ones who show up for local civic events. With deepening national partisanship increasingly playing out in local politics, hometown civic discussions have become angrier and therefore less attractive to the average nonpartisan citizen. And we think Tallahassee can hardly afford to lose what they have to offer. [Read more at}


Jonathan Haidt writes about The Village Square in the New York Times

Screen shot 2012-10-10 at 12.25.04 PM

We are particularly interested in organizations that try to create a sense of community and camaraderie as a precondition for political discussions. For example, a group called To the Village Square holds bipartisan events for citizens and community leaders in Tallahassee, Fla. They usually eat together before talking about politics — an effort to push a primitive cooperation button by breaking bread together. They talk a lot about their common identity as Tallahasseans. These are all efforts to manipulate participants — to change the warp of the epistemological table… Read the entire article in The New York Times.


Tallahassee Democrat: Village Square nonprofit expands to St. Pete


After six years in operation, The Village Square — a Tallahassee-based nonprofit that pushes for community engagement — is expanding Tuesday with the help of former Gov. Bob Graham. The plan, which has developed over the past year, will make the St. Petersburg College in Pinellas County the location for the first offshoot of The Village Square. The organization draws from community members and aims to open dialogue about local, state and national matters that affect communities. Liz Joyner, executive director of The Village Square Tallahassee, said she is excited about seeing the original idea expand… [Read the article]


Liz Joyner: Reviving the town hall meeting


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 [Read the article]


Tallahassee Democrat: Liz Joyner, “On Jefferson and Adams”


“You and I ought not to die until we have explained ourselves to each other.” So began the late-life correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the founding fathers described in the epic HBO mini-series “John Adams” as “the north and south poles of our revolution.” Once friends, differences in opinion and political competition had taken a toll. They, like others in the founders’ generation, had deep philosophical disagreements. But as they went about the business of building a country, an endeavor that if unsuccessful would surely lead to their hanging, they hardly had the luxury to stop talking [Read the article]


Village Square wins highly competitive national Knight Community Information Challenge Grant


The Community Foundation of North Florida in partnership with The Village Square, recently received a $72,000 challenge grant to revitalize the dialogue among the city’s diverse residents around community issues. The project entitled “We the People” will create a 21st Century virtual and face-to-face public square by offering unique town hall forums, in addition to constructive online engagement through a community problem-solving Wiki. The project’s goal is to renew Tallahassee’s marketplace of ideas where good solutions rise from an informed citizenship, and where abundant information can be channeled into [Read the article]


Kathleen Parker thinks Village Square when Tom Brokaw asks her about a modern day John Wayne


Kathleen Parker: I would say this: The people out there who are doing important work are not known to us because they’re not celebrities and they’re not famous and they are doing very important work in their communities. And I’ll throw out just one name: A lawyer in Tallahassee Florida named Allan Katz has done something that I think is aimed at what we’re trying to accomplish here. He and another person formed this group called “To The Village Square” and they put together a board of half Republicans and half Democrats and they get together and have civil discourse about issues of importance. They have meetings, they have dinners, the public is invited and they’re actually moving forward with actually doing substantive things in their communities. But American character is a grassroots operation. It starts there.” Read the whole post here.