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Institute for Civility in Government

The Institute for Civility in Government is a grassroots, non-partisan, nonprofit organization which works to reduce polarization in society by focusing on the very public civility (or lack of it!) in the governing process. The Institute facilitates dialogue, teaches respect, and promotes civility. A membership organization, the Institute holds Congressional Student Forums and offers trainings in civility and advocacy. Not a think tank, and not a watch dog organization, we serve as a catalyst for change – an absolutely unique citizen movement.

The Institute has two priorities:

  1. We educate people about their role in government and equip them to participate effecively in it.
  2. We help Government officials, staff, and constituents understand that the manner in which we govern ourselves is often as important as the positions that we take.

What is Civility?

Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.

History of the Institute

From 1991 to 1998, Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath led legislative conferences to Washington, DC on behalf of the Presbytery of New Covenant. These conferences, open to Presbyterians from 35 counties in Southeast Texas, drew a mixed crowd. Some participants had well formed positions on issues, while some had never followed issues before. Some had volunteered in political campaigns and/or participated in demonstrations, while others had never even voted. Some were politically conservative, while others were liberal. Some were sure of the connection between their faith and legislative politics, while others were less convinced.

One of the challenges in these conferences quickly became learning how to listen and learn from one another in the midst of this diversity. It is out of the experiences of those who participated in these trips and from a general concern about our society today that the Institute was born.

Incorporated in September 1997, the Institute began functioning as an organization in April, 1998. Since that time, people from across the nation have joined this grassroots movement.

Through our membership, participation in events, Congressional Student Forums, speaking engagements, workshops, direct mailings, exhibits and personal contacts, members of the Institute have affected thousands of people to date. We have reached thousands more through articles published in the Houston Chronicle, the Leader newspaper, The Huntsville Item, The St. Augustine Record, The TCU Magazine, The Daily Cougar, postings at various schools, and our website, which has seen visits from across the country and around the world.

Congressional Student Forums

Congressional Student Forums are events designed by the Institute to provide high school and college students a personal experience of civility in the governing process. Forums are held on university/college campuses, and last about 1½ hours. There is no admission fee, but the forums are usually not open to the general public. The Institute invites students and teachers, members of the Institute and their guests to participate. Voter Registration is also made available at these events.

The first portion of the program is spent examining the importance of civility to the governing process and to life in community. The Forums include two members of Congress, one Republican and one Democrat, who dialogue (not debate!) about current issues. This is an opportunity for students to interact directly with their elected officials as the students set the agenda through their questions to the members of Congress. At the conclusion of the forum, each U.S. Representatives makes a closing statement.

The Institute believes that offering students a personal experience in the governing process that is grounded in civility sets an important precedent for their future involvement in the civic process. We all benefit when more voices come to the table. The more civil we are as we talk to one another, the more we can learn together, and the easier we can reach solutions that work for everyone.

Geographic Focus: Texas

Resource Link: www.instituteforcivility.org

info@instituteforcivility.org / 713-444-1254 / P.O. Box 41804, Houston, TX 77241-1804

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