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Describing D&D: what can make our message compelling?

This short thread is an archive of a discussion on the NCDD forum started on July 9, 2004 by Matt Leighninger.

Describing D&D: what can make our message compelling?

Postby mattleighninger » Fri Jul 09, 2004 10:55 am

I don’t think the advocates of dialogue and deliberation at the national level have done a very good job promoting this kind of work. Most of the messages we send seem to say that D & D is worth doing because it is a Good Idea that will make the world a Better Place. That isn’t a very compelling message – not just because some people disagree, but because it doesn’t give the people who do agree an immediate reason to start doing D & D. There are all kinds of ways to make the world a Better Place, but how many of them does a person have time for, given the demands of work and family?

The people who are making real headway in promoting D&D are the local leaders who have shown how this work can make an impact on pressing public problems like crime, racism, failing schools, growth and sprawl, etc. Many of these local organizers deal with these kinds of problems as part of their jobs – they are school superintendents, police chiefs, public officials, neighborhood activists, planners, directors of nonprofits. For them, D&D is a practical solution to an immediate problem, and they recruit people for their projects by making that case (rather than talking about the quality of the dialogue or other kinds of process claims – participants only come to value those things once they’ve had a chance to experience them firsthand).

One challenge is that the people in these different fields don’t necessarily realize that the core problem they are facing is, for lack of a better term, a “lack of democracy.” In other words, schools may be failing and crime may be rising for the same basic reason: the sad state of the relationship between citizens and their public institutions.

I’ve been working on a passage that describes this “lack of democracy” problem and how it affects various policy issues – I’ve pasted it below (the term “democratic organizer” is my shorthand for “local practitioner of dialogue and deliberation”). If anyone has any comments or suggestions on it, I’d love to hear them. Of course, I’d also be interested in any thoughts you have on the basic premise I started with: that local-level practitioners are describing D&D in a much more compelling and successful ways than the national-level people have.

[beginning of passage]
When the absence of good citizenship is defined as a statistic like low voter turnout, it is easy miss the full implications of the problem. Most democratic organizers are not, in fact, inspired by grave concerns about the state of democracy: they are motivated by the immediate community challenges that have been created or exacerbated by the disconnection between citizens and government.

Democratic organizers working at the neighborhood level are responding to residents’ inability to work together. Most citizens don’t know their neighbors, and don’t feel a sense of attachment and belonging to the place where they live. They feel hard-pressed to affect even the most basic quality-of-life issues on their street, problems like excessive noise, dogs without leashes, graffiti, littering, and inadequate trash pick-up. They feel powerless about most land use decisions, fearful that the empty lot down the block will soon be occupied by a housing development or a landfill or a drug treatment center. They compare the places they live now to the neighborhoods they grew up in, where everyone knew everyone else, and they worry about their own kids growing up without any of those support networks.

When people don’t feel attached to their current neighborhoods, and don’t think they have the power to make improvements, they are much more likely to move somewhere else. Usually they move somewhere that is less populated – they have had to put up with all the drawbacks of living near other people, and have reaped few of the advantages, so more suburban or rural areas seem more appealing. In the suburban or rural communities they are moving to, the current residents don’t have enough control of land use, public works, and economic development to adequately plan for population growth. The subdivisions enlarge and strip malls extend, but the residents’ sense of community and capacity diminishes, and so people begin to move out once again. Democratic organizers working on issues of growth and sprawl are trying to deal with these problems in urban neighborhoods, in the suburbs, and on a region-wide basis.

Other democratic organizers are dealing with the effects of limited citizenship on our public schools. Without networks of adult relatives, role models, and mentors for young people, the burden of raising children shifts entirely to parents and schools. With less buy-in from parents and other community members, schools receive less funding and other kinds of support. Parents and teachers fail to cooperate effectively to encourage student learning. The way in which schools and teachers operate does not change, since reform ideas aren’t adequately analyzed, understood, adopted, or adapted. Schools do not adequately address the achievement gap or other race-related education issues. The school climate is tense, and deep rifts exist between students of different races and classes.

Most democratic organizers working on crime are responding to the lack of connections between citizens and police officers. When that relationship is weak, it becomes more difficult to prevent crime and enforce the law: officers don’t respond to citizen requests, citizens don’t give officers the information they need, and there is less support for youth programs and other shared endeavors. When the relationship is marked by mistrust, the forces of crime prevention end up fighting each other in the courts. Residents start to feel that the justice system no longer reflects and upholds community values. Without that sense of fairness, criminals aren’t held accountable (judged, sentenced, punished, rehabilitated) by the community, but by the abstraction of “the law.”

Finally, many democratic organizers are responding to the breakdown of communities along lines of cultural difference. Racism and other kinds of cultural conflict reflect the lack of good citizenship in a variety of ways. People don’t understand, are unsure how to interact with, and are more likely to stereotype people who are unlike themselves. Simmering, longstanding resentments and injustices aren’t brought into the open until they explode in a crisis. People haven’t had chances to think about how racism affects policy, society, and institutions – and they don’t know how (or that they can) take action against racism, bias, and prejudice.

Matt Leighninger
Deliberative Democracy Consortium

Different messages are compelling to different folks

Postby TomAtlee » Sat Jul 10, 2004 2:52 pm

I like your writeup, Matt, and I think it can succeed on its own merits without needing to knock the efforts of national D&D advocates. Naturally I would feel that way, since I’m a national D&D advocate who doesn’t take a lot of time for local D&D organizing.

The main reason I focus on the big picture is that I think all the community work could be brilliantly done and we could still wipe ourselves out as a civilization (taking all communities — both human and eco — with us) thanks to collective stupidity at national and international levels (global warming, nuclear war, self-replicating bio- or nano-entities, etc.). And I think national and international D&D have a critical role to play in reversing that collective stupidity. This D&D project is a compelling one for me and the people I write for, if not for all the police and school superintendents who are focused on their local problems.

I also explore and write a lot about the quality of D&D because if we were to actually institutionalize citizen deliberations at the national level (such as with Consensus Conferences or Wisdom Councils), it would make a TREMENDOUS difference how those institutions were designed, what processes were used, how good the facilitation was, and the quality of the conversations. The choices made in that realm could spell the difference between success and failure in terms of whether the Big Issues I’m concerned about were handled well or horribly, or whether the institutions themselves were manipulated or coopted to only serve the interests of status quo powers rather than the long-term common good. I don’t think the D&D movement is yet sophisticated enough to navigate this realm successfully. I do think that NCDD offers a forum for us to grow up and learn, as a movement, to do this job well.

I figure we need new D&D-based institutions and advocates at ALL levels of human activity and governance. I think I see far more people focusing on community D&D than on national D&D (although that could be biased by my sense of what is needed), so I do my best to promote the big D&D picture without invalidating the work being done locally.

What plans do you have for your writeup? I’d love to see it expanded into an article. It captures a number of important trends in modern society into one coherent narrative.

Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute
co-intelligence.org, taoofdemocracy.com
The Tao of Democracy

local /global

Postby shiva » Wed Jul 14, 2004 4:23 pm

Matt and Tom:

I just read through your posts with a lot of interest….as someone who has come into the practice of D&D via community activism around women’s issues, here in the US and in India –particulary around issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and women’s rights to self governance, education and so on–I find this debate so far away from my own experience and understanding of this process.

While I fully understand how participatory citizenry emerges–both at the local grassroots level and the national level–I think what is elided here is that DIFFERENT cultures and communities value dialogue for reasons quite different from what we seem to do in the US. For example, I often get the feeling while participating in dialogues here..including this current one, that the purpose is to “listen to each other attentively” and then say what we have to say, and then have someone else listen to us, and so on. This is why the enormous value and stress we place on “let me finish; don’t interrupt” iterations we have!

In India at least people constantly interrupt one another, and we are arguing back and forth, and throwing verbal balls up in the air. The purpose of dialogue is not necessarily a kind of self rehearsed attempt to find ways to talk about issues, but often the only forum that is available to bring up grievances, issue challenges to power structures, and to combat other insitutional structures.

I don’t know if I am being very clear or articulate on this….while I understand Matt how and why you feel that many local groups are doing dialogue in a way that seems far removed from those talking about it as National Advocates (a kind of analysis/meta analysis split), and I do understand Tom’s analysis of the different strokes for different needs, I still think both models are fairly US -centric…and take little account of cultural, social, and ethnic variations even within the US.

This was also in fact my experience at the first conference. Don’t get me wrong: I loved every moment of it; but it was so unabashedly US-centric and quite “eurocentric” that I was left feeling quite isolated…until I met and interacted with Ratnesh Nagda from the U of Washington who shared my disquiet….

Just my thoughts….

Shiva
Assistant Director, Multicultural Education
Research & Technology
University of Maryland
&
Coordinator, Outreach & Special Projects
Office of LGBT Equity

College Park, MD 20742

Describing D&D: what can make our message compelling?

by Stevem123 » Tue Sep 13, 2005 9:50 am

How about talking about the utter breakdown of our economic soundess, and the utter breakdown of ouir political system’s ability to address this? Just a thought. This seems to me like a good topic for deliberation to address. Hope we can look at this in the weeks and months ahead. Thanks.

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