Peter Levine and CIRCLE just released a white paper entitled “Civic Engagement and Community Information: Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication.” The full report can be found here. In a time of well-publicized political incivility, Levine calls for the civil and deliberate use of the knowledge, data, and information that is around us to better our democracies. Among the five strategies, he recommends the creation of a ‘civic information corps’ as a national service program, along with heavy reliance and responsibility on universities and colleges to be, minimally, forums for public deliberation. My favorite among the 5 strategies, however, is an “investment in face-to-face public deliberation,” in part by legislating deliberative summits at the community level. As he notes, “…the disclosure of real names and faces encourages civility.” This era of anonymous blogging and online comment-posting seems to have resulted in a loss of manners, hence turning people off from participating in politics and even shaping their votes, as shown in this recent poll.
Levine is not alone in his efforts to make democratic deliberation more civil. Washington state’s Secretary of State Sam Reed recently announced his retirement and used the platform to urge civility in politics. 2012 Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has pledged to run a “civil campaign” and respect his political adversaries.
Civility and deliberative discourse are not easy, and not cheap. They take time, investment, and patience with others whose political opinions differ from ours. Yet with efforts from universities, foundations, local governments, and citizens, creating a political culture that does not tolerate incivility is possible.