In today’s political climate, is it still possible to engage in a civil, fact-based debate?
At American Public Square, we’re determined to prove that it is. And our organization is partnering with The Kansas City Star to lead what we hope will be a productive community conversation about political, economic and social issues.
Three years ago, I founded American Public Square, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization at UMKC that is changing the tone and quality of public discourse. We bring together non-like-minded people from across the community to create a forum for fact-based, civil conversation about potentially controversial national, regional and local issues. We have covered topics ranging from civic engagement to community matters to education to health care to faith. Most events include panel discussions and commentary from speakers on all sides of an issue.
As we enter our newest season, themed “Our Town, Our Country, Our World,” we will again offer a variety of programs, including “Conversations at the Square” and “Dinners at the Square,” which encourage people of varying viewpoints to break bread together prior to digging into tough topics.
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One of our primary goals is to engage people and organizations from across the metropolitan area, so we are pleased to forge a new partnership with The Kansas City Star. Watch this space for guest columns written by renowned panelists who are participating in American Public Square events. The Star also will livestream many of our events on Facebook.
While The Star has an editorial voice as a newspaper, we at American Public Square do not. We have different roles, but we hope to work together to ensure that more community members have access to diverse ideas and perspectives — regardless of whether they are able to attend our events in person. American Public Square will aim to reach every corner of the metro area, with events from Kansas City, Kan., to Independence, Johnson County and beyond.
Our first joint event with The Star, “The Elephant and Donkey in the Room: The Future of American Political Parties,” is set for Oct. 16 at the National World War I Museum and Monument and will feature a lively discussion with prominent individuals from the left, right and middle. Our lineup includes Howard Dean, former Democratic National Committee chair; Danny Diaz, campaign manager for Jeb Bush; Greg Orman, former independent U.S. Senate candidate in Kansas; Jackie Salit, president of Independent Voting; and Elizabeth Vonnahme, UMKC associate professor of political science.
As always, American Public Square’s moderated conversations will remain truthful and civil. Every program will feature objective, real-time fact checkers to confirm the validity of the comments made using credible, library-grade, online resources. Plus, event attendees will again be invited to submit specific fact-check requests during the discussion.
Additionally, sprinkled throughout the audience will be “civility bells.” As soon as one of the speakers wades into false, overly dramatic, hyper-emotional territory, the holder of a bell may ring it, and the speaker must stop talking. It’s a rule speakers agree to adhere to in advance and, so far, without exception, even the most passionate of experts has honored the code.
We do not expect that all attendees or panelists will leave any event as a convert. It’s not likely that they will somehow see the error of their prior thinking and exit enlightened. However, with certainty, I promise this: 1) that which we agree on as American citizens outpaces that on which we disagree and 2) with fact-based, civil discourse, perhaps we will leave conversations with a fresh perspective or at least a better understanding of our neighbors’ points of view.
Join us. Most of our programming is free and open to the general community. You can learn more about the work of American Public Square at AmericanPublicSquare.org.
Allan J. Katz is former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Portugal and Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science at UMKC.