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Attracting More Conservatives to the NCDD Conference

Progressives seem to “get” dialogue and deliberation more than conservatives do, and our conference participants definitely tend to lean to the left. We want make NCDD a more welcoming network/conference for conservatives not only because their perspectives will make our gatherings richer, but also because we need to learn how to appeal to more people if D&D are ever to spread to the mainstream.

Conference planning team members Susan Clark and Jacob Hess have taken on this challenge, and here are some notes from their first conversation on December 28, 2007…

Goals for NCDD Conference relative to increasing attendance by conservatives

  • make NCDD a welcoming network/organization for conservatives as well as liberals, and begin to balance what appears to be a skew in the current membership
  • seek ways of supporting facilitation of liberal-conservative dialogue by and among NCDD members
  • among current NCDD membership, invite greater attention to meaningful differences in how dialogue itself may be “framed”—with specific attention to how these different frames may encourage or repel particular communities from participating in NCDD (i.e., conservatives and any other group deserving outreach)
  • launch what could become an ongoing discussion about how dialogue can be used to bridge the partisan divides that create unnecessary barriers to strengthening our democracy’s ability to address major challenges we all face

DRAFT Strategies to achieve these goals:

1) Identify and make visible dialogue projects that include conservative leadership – and/or explicit bi-partisan leadership – with these preliminary examples:

Bi-partisan:

  • Reuniting America
  • Concord Coalition
  • Interfaith Rountable—A longstanding interfaith dialogue effort in Utah

Conservative:

  • Mormon-Evangelical Dialogue—Robert Millet (BYU religion professor) & Rev. Gregory C.V. Johnson (Baptist preacher); others.
  • Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue?

These or other projects can be recognized in a variety of ways: their leaders could be in workshops, on panels; the projects could receive an NCDD award; poster sessions, etc.

2) Plan a specific plenary that provides a forum to address the increasing polarization and need for dialogue between traditionally “liberal” and “conservatives” views. The session could seek greater mutual understanding among our own membership as to the actual nature of meaningful differences and the identification of whether there are some shared core values. (Given that the conference is right before the Pres election, we could potentially choose one of the “hot” election issues and deconstruct the oversimplification usually provided by the media as their way of keeping things “blue” and “red.” We could have some fun with the blue/red angle with some kind of kinesthetic add-on to help with the mutual discovery. We could draw on the recent American Psychologist 2006 article about “Purple America”. See abstract below).

3) Plan a workshop coordinated by Jacob Hess that uses evaluation findings from the liberal/conservative dialogue course at Univ. of Illinois as a stepping off point for a discussion of how to “frame” dialogue in a way that avoids inadvertent cues that would turn off conservatives (e.g., dialogue as inherently relativistic or somehow incompatible with a desire to seek (or share) truth; dialogue as inherently liberal; dialogue as about reaching agreement or ultimately convincing/converting you to a new view, etc.). See excerpt from evaluation below.

4) Invite the NCDD network – via the discussion list – to help identify conservative/bi-partisan projects (see #1 above) and also attendees to reach out to. (SANDY – do NCDD’ers who refer the most projects/new names also get some recognition for being master outreach people – we might want some angle to incent people to help us.)

FYI, below are a few excerpts from Univ. of Illinois course evaluation.

Initial student perceptions of the opposing political camp had often been harsh and stereotypical. Conservatives, for instance, were initially described in student journals as “uneducated, fanatically religious”; tending to “impose religious values on the lives of others”; “when they disagree or agree about something, they really do not have a reason”; “it is just because that is what they were taught when they were younger”; “Liberals,” on the other hand, were initially described as “easily swayed with the times”; “destroying what the American society was based on”; “not religious” and “people with no values.”

It was remarkable to find many students experiencing dialogue as a new and innovative experience in relation to social-political issues.

Our class last week was a very first for me. It was maybe the second time I saw people discuss gay marriage in a respectful way. More than that, it was the first time I saw a wide range of views represented. Previously it had been people [saying] “yes or no” and that’s it.

Speaking of his experience in a liberal-conservative dialogue undergraduate course,

This was the single most productive hour I have had in my college career. I don’t know why everyone is not forced to take it. Before this class, I went through the logic of conservatives and would think, “They have to be crazy!” From this experience, it’s great to know half of the world is not nuts. You don’t get this on TV—they’re goofy on both sides there. But from this class, I better understand now the conservative logic; I may not agree, but it makes more sense. This class was not just about politics; we talked about so much more. It is mind boggling how much you can get out of it!

Perhaps the greatest benefit observed was a “humanization” of the other side–happening for both liberal and conservative leaning students (see opening quote). While no student “switched sides” most people reported significant changes in viewpoints.

–Did you learn to value new viewpoints because of this course?

79% (22/28) “Yes or definitely yes”

–Did this course help you understand yourself better?

79% (22/28) “Yes, helped or helped greatly”

A House Divided? The Psychology of Red and Blue America

D. Conor Seyle, The University of Texas at AustinMatthew L. Newman, Bard College

Recently it has become commonplace in America for commentators and the public to use the terms “red” and “blue” to refer to perceived cultural differences in America and American politics. Although a political divide may exist in America today, these particular terms are inaccurate and reductive. This article presents research from social psychology demonstrating that the increased use of these terms is likely to increase the conflict between political groups in America by making political conflict salient in nonpolitical contexts, reducing the ability of Americans to form multifaceted complex identities, pushing Americans to misperceive political in-groups and out-groups, and contributing to a “spiral of silence.” An alternative model for discussing cultural differences is proposed.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Sharon Almerigi says:

    Regarding attracting more conservatives – and others – to the conference. It might be worth a note to Bill Moyers (PBS Bill Moyers Journal) who is from Texas and would be of the right consciousness for NCDD. If you can’t contact him directly through his website, you can at least leave a blog.

    good luck!

  2. Jacob Hess says:

    Thanks for the feedback! We're taking notes and will follow up on the suggestions. –Jacob

  3. Ken Bausch says:

    Dialogue among people on one side of an issue creates a form of groupthink that creates a hard divide between opposing camps. In other words, dialogue without discipline can make situations worse and impede mutual understanding.

  4. Ken Bausch says:

    How can we assure conservatives that they will get a fair hearing? What structures do we need to work out collaborative solutions with them?

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