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Notes from 8/10 Call About Conservatives Panel

We are putting together a panel of conservative leaders who support public engagement for a sub-plenary session at NCDD Austin on Saturday afternoon. The dialogue and deliberation community and related communities of practice like the deliberative democracy community and the conflict resolution community struggle with the fact that this kind of work attracts many more progressives than conservatives. The vast majority of D&D practitioners are politically progressive, and it’s often more challenging to recruit people with more traditional or conservative views as D&D participants. This is a major problem for a field that embraces inclusion as a core principle, and we want to address this challenge head-on at NCDD Austin.

The session, which is still being designed, will begin with a panel of conservatives who have been involved in dialogue and deliberation efforts to various degrees. The panelists will share why they support public engagement, and will touch upon all of the things that make conservatives wary of this field and what can be done about that. Following the panel, we will most likely engage all conference participants who are in the room in small-group dialogue about what they just heard and how we, as a community of practice, should respond.

The session will take place from 2:15 to 4:00 pm on Saturday, October 4th, and there will be two other sub-plenaries held at the same time as this session.

The panelists we have lined up so far for the session are:

  1. Joseph McCormick, Co-Founder of Reuniting America (www.reunitingamerica.org)
  2. Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform (www.atr.org)
  3. Michael Ostrolenk, President of the American Conservative Defense Alliance (acdalliance.org) and Co-Founder and National Director of the Liberty Coalition (www.libertycoalition.net)
  4. Pete Peterson, E.D. of Common Sense California (www.commonsenseca.org) and adjunct professor at Pepperdine University School of Public Policy (publicpolicy.pepperdine.edu)

We had our first conference call on August 12th, and Sandy’s notes from the call follow. Carrie Hale was on the call in lieu of Grover Norquist, and four other conference planning team members were on the call: Susan Clark, Sandy Heierbacher, Jacob Hess, and Dave Joseph.

On the call: Pete, Michael, Carrie, Joseph, Susan, Dave and Jacob

Michael:

  • part of the problem is our framing
  • why conservatives aren’t more involved (left and right divide doesn’t acknowledge complexity on the right or the left)
  • for conservatives, the problem might be political vs. social. In social realm, you can leave; you can disagree. In political realm, you could lose rights, money, liberties, economic options.
  • understand difference between activities in political and activities in social realm (consensual and cooperative as opposed to force) (fewer winners and losers in social realm)

Susan:

  • I’m hungry for exposure to conservatives’ perspectives about this, and suspect many others in the field feel the same
  • our field has a preponderance of people from the left (not balanced)
  • we need a give and take so we can do exploration; is it the language? the way we position it? is it fundamental to the purpose of dialogue? real or perceived barriers?

Pete:

  • everyday democracy conference – he was one of only a few people who self-identified as being on the right of the spectrum; felt like an oddity
  • need to focus on general subject of dialogue between conservatives and liberals, and understanding that there is a field of D&D and it isn’t balanced
  • two things I want to discuss: is this language or something inherent to D&D?
  • people see dialogue as a means to an end (a progressive end); he frames it as strengthening civil society – not necessarily building a conservative or progressive gov’t; it’s about citizens practicing their governance and offering opptys for people to do what they should in a democracy
  • word “dialogue” is embraced more by left
  • need to look at what are the options on the table for citizens to select? If all the solutions are gov’t-based, you are predisposing your deliberation to only discuss things coming out of the government; civil society solutions need to be put forth as possible solutions as well; practice their responsibilities in self-government vs. relying on big government

Joseph:

  • small gov’t is a motivator for a lot of conservatives: keep gov’t small and out of my life; I need to take personal responsibility

Jacob:

  • conservatives have many misconceptions about D&D…
  • hidden agenda worries
  • dialogue is just a diversity thing; educate them about diversity and get them to change their views
  • everything is relative; is it okay to just listen and talk and not change or be converted?
  • his colleagues would rather do missionary work; preach and share; not give up the idea of truth
  • Question: panel needs some kind of pastor or clergy – religious view on how they see truth; should we add someone like that?

Joseph:

  • want to add – we need to drill down underneath; not stay on surface; what are the underlying values of the christian conservative, the libertarian conservative, the liberal? Jacob – conservativism means don’t change. I don’t want to change (love my heritage and traditions) but can see the value in those who want to move forward and improve things.

Pete:

  • overarching question is what are we actually dialoguing about? abortion law or gay marriage, vs. whether we’re going to close 5 schools (different values and ideological implications)
  • important to define the scope of subject matter for D&D

Dave:

  • at Reuniting America meeting – asking us to physically identify where we are on the political continuum was very meaningful to me; idea of liberals and conservatives is the kind of oversimplification that contributes to polarization and stereotypes/demonizing
  • different ideas about how to think about what a political spectrum might look like
  • opening exercise – asking people to think about what their core values are
  • gigantic challenge to the D&D community to walk the walk; look inside and be curious, and try to understand people who have different points of view rather than challenging them
  • one concern – what we’re conceptualizing is kind of the flip side of diversity education; need to acknowledge legitimate areas of difference, as well as shared concerns
  • issue about means to an end – or about the process itself – is important

Pete:

  • important to define our terms; frame it as “there can be a more creative way to get to policy decisions”

Joseph:

  • conservatives are task oriented; progressives more focused on process
  • part of panel, frame D&D as making a difference
  • there is a clear level of frustration with broken political process at all levels; we need to communicate to conservatives that these people in D&D have some skills that can addres the broken process

Sandy:

  • communicate it, but in a way that conservatives won’t be wary of

Michael:

  • political correctness is a concern among conservatives; manners are always nice, but people need to know how to have conversations where they can put out their truth yet still be in conversation with the other person over time

Joseph:

  • the word “respect” – re-spect: look again, see again

Michael:

  • important to have the space open for debate and allow disagreement in debate; not 10-second sound bites that stop the conversation

Dave:

  • there is a role for debate, and a role for dialogue which allows people to advocate, share their beliefs, explore at a deeper level what are their values that are so important to them; dialogue not about converting or persuading, or singing kumbaya
  • certain core values we all share and can embrace – respect, not attacking each other, open to hearing feedback about how your words affect others

Pete:

  • we’re talking about this in a couple of ways – HOW conversation and dialogue can occur (civility, respect); WHAT is being discussed (interfaith, racial, civic frame)
  • is there a way of organizing this that tries to take in those elements?

Joseph:

  • balancing the value of creating solutions (head) and process that goes into values (heart); success if integrating both head and heart
  • one possibility for a process for the panel is Theory U – yes, no, yes – positive introductions and how we support D&D, followed by things that divide us and explore conflict and disagreement, then move into what are some of the policy areas, strategies for creating collaborative policy solutions

Jacob:

  • Dave Joseph could be moderator; skilled facilitator, plus liberal perspective to ask questions of the panelists and clarify things progressives might not understand at first

Dave:

  • we should have all panelists think about “what are some questions that you would really like to be asked?”
  • moderator’s goal would not be to spring any surprises or trap anybody

Pete:

  • questions along the line of language and philosophy are important; when he started at Common Sense CA: “if I can’t support this philosophically, I’m out”
  • answer in stories; stories connect people

Next Steps…

Dave, Pete, Joseph and Michael will schedule a conference call within the next week to draw up several potential content-and-process scenarios for the session. The larger group will use those scenarios for fodder for our next call.

In the meantime, feel free to add a comment here if I missed something, you have a new idea, etc.

Sandy Heierbacher on FacebookSandy Heierbacher on LinkedinSandy Heierbacher on Twitter
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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