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Arsalyn's 2007 Conference Focuses on Deliberation

Each year the Arsalyn Program sponsors a national conference designed to serve as a respectful, neutral forum where diverse individuals promoting youth civic and political engagement can meet as collegues. In addition to opportunities for networking, Arsalyn’s national conferences enable participants to look at ways to get involved in the democratic process and develop a sense of common purpose in working toward their goals.

Arsalyn’s national conferences are open to individuals and organizations that identify with Arsalyn’s mission and are working to promote youth civic and political engagement. Arsalyn will invite approximately 120 young people ages 16-20 to each conference for an intensive day-long program devoted to learning the art of political deliberation. Arsalyn will provide food, lodging, conference materials and a travel award to help defray travel expenses.

This year’s national conference will take place in Washington DC the 9th through 12th of August and will be entitled “Bridging the Partisan Divide: Rediscovering Deliberation.” The goal is to bring young people together so they can discuss how people with differing opinions can deliberate to solve common problems through the political process.

This series of conferences is geared toward helping young people – especially politically active youth – develop skills that will help them communicate effectively with those of opposing views or with more lukewarm potential allies without alienating them or poisoning the wells of deliberation and common action. The aim of these conferences is to explore of the art of political deliberation, and to apply this art in “bridging the partisan divide.”

What “Partisan Divide”?

Passionate devotion to a political cause is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it must be admitted that, in their passion, political activists sometimes close off lines of communication with those not already in agreement, or even with potential allies. Looking at our past two Presidential elections we seem to be witnessing what could be described as a “deepening” of the “partisan divide.” Public discourse seems to consist less and less of communication between political camps or deliberation, i.e., reasoning together about political issues. Instead we find the various camps busy constructing their own communication networks, increasingly isolated from the pressures of a common “marketplace of ideas.” It seems that the camps are more interested in “mobilizing existing constituencies” than in responding to the “cool and deliberate sense of the community.”

The increasing insularity of both sides of the political spectrum and the prevalent tendency to demonize opponents is simply not conducive to public deliberation, which has traditionally been seen as the cornerstone of American democracy. It was the hope of our founders that public deliberation on issues related to the common good would help us identify the best path to follow as a country.

But deliberation is hardly possible where enmity between political partisans is so great as to prevent constructive dialogue.

The Connection To Voting

Too often, especially in recent years, partisan rancor has choked off constructive dialogue, and doctrinaire political zealotry has alienated average citizens from the political process. If we are to reap the benefits of deliberative democracy and engage people in political participation, we must foster the conditions that allow for a respectful, reasonable exchange of ideas while reasoning together on the merits of these ideas.

For young people, these problems are often particularly acute. While youthful impatience and energy can often serve as a tonic accelerating necessary change, at the same time, impatience and energy can endanger deliberation where they lead to a doctrinaire insistence on having one’s way in every case with no consideration of opposing viewpoints or reasonable caveats. All too often, youth political activism degenerates from respectful, reasonable deliberation about the common good to crude sloganeering and the abrasive assertion of poorly-thought-out prejudices. This, in turn, tends to further polarize opposing political camps, making it difficult for citizens and their representatives to arrive at reasonable solutions to social problems, and depriving us all of the benefits of constructive criticism.

The rancor of “Crossfire Politics” turns both young and old off to political participation in general, including voting.

What Must Be Done?

If we are to reap the benefits of deliberative democracy and engage young people in political participation, we must foster the conditions that allow for a respectful exchange of ideas while reasoning together on the merits of those ideas.

What Will It Cost?

Short answer: very little. Arsalyn will provide successful applicants with food, lodging, conference materials and reimbursement for documented travel expenses up to $300.00. Some additional funds are available for participants who demonstrate financial need. Please contact us for more information.

How Do I Apply?

To apply for the conference, you must be between the ages of 16 and 20 on August 9, 2007. You can fill out our application at www.arsalyn.org/onlineApp.asp. The application deadline is June 1, 2007.

Successful applicants will be notified via e-mail by June 11, 2007. Selected applicants and/or their guardians will be asked to sign a release limiting the liability of Arsalyn Program – Ludwick Family Foundation with regard to conference participants.

Planning for Participation

Successful applicants should plan to arrive at the Westin Washington City Center on the afternoon of Thursday, August 9, 2007. Conference activities will begin Thursday evening at 7:00 pm and continue through the weekend. In addition to the conference deliberation sessions there will be two tours of important sites in Washington DC. Check out and departure will be Monday, August 13, 2007 at noon.

Participants will be required to attend all conference activities.

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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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