Think of the Village Square as a Southern front porch or a small town’s diner counter — a place where folks can come together and talk civilly about community and world issues.
That’s what Allan Katz, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, intends to bring back across the country with the launch of Village Square events. Katz is a co-founder of Village Square, a national organization started seven years ago in Tallahassee, Fla., as a way to restore civil discourse to national politics. The organization’s headquarters are at UMKC.
On Thursday, Katz, a UMKC alum and a former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, and Kansas City’s newly formed chapter of Village Square will have its first local event — Dinner at the Square at 6 p.m. at Kansas City’s Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
It’s slated to be the first of a series of dinner gatherings with a panel of three speakers. Tickets for the event, themed “The Price of Incivility,” are $25. Katz said Tuesday that the event was nearly sold out.
Once the conversation in launched, Katz said, the audience will be allowed to join the discourse in a controlled format. The goal is to engage in dialogue, build connections and seek understanding, even while disagreeing.
“Our job is to have a conversation not formed by advocates but by people who don’t have skin in the game,” he said. “People don’t do that anymore. Today the political dialogue is being controlled by the people on the extremes. They dominate the conversation.”
U.S. Reps. Kevin Yoder, a Republican, and Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat, helped launch the Kansas City chapter in June.
“I haven’t talked to anyone here in Kansas City about this who has said, ‘We don’t need this,’” Katz said. “I think there is a real hunger out there for this. People are unhappy. We are just trying to get people to pay attention.”