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Help Us Identify Conservatives who Support D&D

Susan Clark and Jacob Hess are working to make the Austin conference more balanced in terms of political ideology. They are also looking for ways to facilitate and highlight liberal-conservative dialogue at the conference. Given our (not great) track record for attracting conservatives to past conferences, we are asking the greater D&D community to help us think of new ways to involve and identify conservatives who are committed to public engagement and conflict transformation.

Here are some of Susan and Jacob’s ideas…

  • Identify and make visible dialogue projects that include conservative leadership – and/or explicit bi-partisan leadership.
  • Plan a plenary session at the conference that provides a forum to address increasing polarization in the media and the need for dialogue between people with traditionally “liberal” and “conservatives” views.
  • Identify and reach out to specific conservatives who are or could be interested in the work of NCDD.

One workshop idea is to use evaluation findings from the liberal/conservative dialogue course at the University 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. And we thought you might enjoy reading this student’s quote about the class:

“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.”

Please share your suggestions on specific projects to highlight (in workshops, or as something to receive an NCDD award) and/or practitioners or community leaders who should be invited to the conference. We’d especially like to know aout dialogue projects that have conservative leadership – and/or explicit bi-partisan leadership. Plus we welcome any other suggestions you have on this issue.

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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. Sandy says:

    FYI – Jacob and Susan have already been in touch with Joseph and Ana at Reuniting America – a network of organizations, associations, and individuals engaged in transpartisan dialogue. http://www.reunitingamerica.org

  2. Sandy says:

    They also know about these efforts: Concord Coalition; Interfaith Rountable (A longstanding interfaith dialogue effort in Utah); Mormon-Evangelical Dialogue—Robert Millet (BYU religion professor) & Rev. Gregory C.V. Johnson (Baptist preacher).

  3. Landon Shultz says:

    We are presently building a Dialog Team at our local high school, to design and implement a process for increasing information flow between public school classrooms and state and national legislatures. We have highlighted the importance of including both liberals and conservatives on our team, since meaningful dialog thrives on diversity of perspectives. One of students helping to build our team is a member of the Conservatives Club at the school. Depending on how this process plays out over the next few months, perhaps some of our Dialog Team members may want to attend the conference in October.

  4. DeAnna Martin says:

    To attract conservative participants – We have a conservative board member on our board and I will ask him about networks or organizations who's mission might fit NCDD's. The Federalist Society might be one – they engage in dialogue and thought from the conservative perspective. And, the Junior Statesmen Association would be a youth group in every state that has a cross-section of political perspectives represented. Churches seem like a good way to go to, too… I'm not familiar enough with the networks though…

  5. i would recommend being in touch with the Unity’08 people – while they are scaling back their efforts after finding it difficult to get on the ballot in all 50 states, I believe they have a strong bi-partisan constituency and may be looking for ways to work with others. Perhaps you could invite one of the co-chairs, Angus King, to speak…? http://www.unity08.org

    I also wonder whether Ron Paul might have some time freed up in the near future and be interested…?

  6. Justin T. Sampson says:

    Maybe I’m conservative. Not sure. Depends on what you mean by it. I’ve been on the executive committee of my local Libertarian Party for the past couple of years. I even voted for a Republican for Congress once. But that was Jen DePalma running against Nancy Pelosi, and when I think of them I can hardly describe Pelosi as more “liberal” than DePalma if I can maintain any integrity of meaning in the word. Pelosi’s certainly more wealthy, more powerful, more of an establishment character. DePalma is friendly, laid-back, and easy to talk to. Once a group of students came to one of our local Libertarian Party meetings, and they remarked how warm and welcoming we were — compared to the Greens, whom they had visited earlier, and who treated the students with suspicion and kept them physically outside of their inner circle. Are Greens “liberal”? Are Libertarians “conservative”? Most people seem to think so. But if so, my own experience certainly doesn’t point to “liberals” being more open to dialogue.

    I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this. Maybe I’m just offering to be a friendly “conservative” at the conference. Maybe I’m trying to bust some assumptions. Also in the back of my mind I’m trying to expand the notion of “dialogue” itself… Just what are we “dialoging” about? What kind of dialogue is the conference about? I had a great time at the conference because I’m interested in dialogue fairly abstractly, as a facilitator myself. But I also got the sense that most people there are thinking about dialogue for a particular purpose — “public discourse”, or “social change”, or somesuch. Those may very well be “liberal” notions themselves. If you invite me “dialogue” about, say, improving public education, I’m not going to be very interested, because I might rather get rid of public education. But if you invite me to dialogue about lifelong learning, I’ll be intrigued.

    So a question arises… Is this conference about dialogue itself — that is, facilitation techniques, theories of communication, and so forth — or is it about advocating dialogue around particular topics? And might those topics be expanded or modified to attract different folks? Or might the conference stay as it is, and not worry so much about vague undefined notions such as “liberal” and “conservative”?

  7. Jacob Hess says:

    Thank you for your input, all! I'm excited to read it.

    Keep us updated on the highschool/legislative dialogue Landon & certainly let them know about the conference. I was especially excited to read the Unity08 website, Lars & would like to see what Sandy & Susan think about inviting one of their leaders to participate? Do you have any personal connections that would allow you to act as a liason?

    And we'll wait to hear more from you Deanna regarding the board member's input. In the meantime, you've mentioned some good leads–same question as Lars–any personal connections to the Federalist Society or Junior Statesmen Association?

    Lastly, I would love to hear others' input on Justin's comments. Interrogating vague/stereotypical definitions is one of our big emphases in our UIUC liberal-conservative dialogue course. While real and meaningful differences exist, they so often get obscured by funky/simplistic portrayals.

    For purposes of that undergraduate class, we came to focus on issues at the crux of the social conservative/social liberal divide (primarily because they seem to be generating the most public division). I think we'd all agree that our NCDD efforts can/do certainly go beyond this; it may be worth keeping in mind, however, where our dialogue efforts might have an especially powerful impact.

    I had a wonderful time at the last conference as well, and certainly don't see these liberal/conservative dialogue efforts as requiring any kind of a change to conference fundamentals–especially the authentic spirit of welcome that I felt in San Francisco. Rather, I think we're just interested in ways to further extend and elaborate the application of D/D to the partisan divide, which will likely worsen between now and October.

    As for your larger question of conference scope, I also imagine others would agree that the work of the coalition is not constrained to a set of certain purposes, per say–except perhaps certain fundamental values I suspect most citizens drawn to this coalition would endorse? (A question I'd love to hear others' thoughts on!) Having said this, I admit to a similar worry, Justin, that some portrayals of dialogue purposes may inadvertently repell certain groups. For instance, while I'm sympathetic with the idea that dialogue can serve as a "social justice pedagogy" (a popular portrayal in our university program)–I'm fairly sure that, if not openly explicated, this notion immediately dissuades many conservatives from participating.

    I've personally come to believe that dialogue may successfully cultivate both liberal and conservative impulses (i.e., "Let's talk about what needs to be changed! Let's talk about what needs to stay the same!"). Most people I know have substantive interest in both questions. Do others agree/disagree?

    This leads me to excitement about the Reunite America/Unity efforts. And I have to confess, even as a social conservative leaning citizen, the more I hear from Obama about the partisan divide, the more I hope he's for real! (:

  8. Tina Nabatchi says:

    This might be shooting a bit high, but what about Lou Dobbs, the CNN anchor? He is a fiscal conservative and straddles the fence on many social issues. I am not sure where he stands on D&D, he might not have a firm position, but I saw an interview with him the other night and implicit in his argument was the need for Americans to learn more about and discuss various policy issues.

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