We’ve added new sessions to our third annual Civic Institute! Please join us Friday, August 17, for some deep conversations on strengthening civic life in Alabama – not for a day, but for the duration.
Each year, our hope at the Civic Institute is that Alabamians doing good, sustainable work in their neighborhoods and hometowns connect with each other in new ways. Every place has a unique story and faces a distinct set of challenges, yet across the state, the Mathews Center sees increasingly that Alabama residents and civic leaders often face similar issues. Through Alabama Issues Forums we see that when people desire to address an issue they all face – rather than politics or personalities – deliberative conversations can be especially suited for the uncommon and transformative experience of working together across difference. Wicked problems don’t tend to disappear overnight, and so the everyday habit of talking with each other as citizens – not circling issues, but working towards creating solutions we can all live with – often proves to be, simultaneously, one of the most effective and the most accessible approaches to sustainable community development.
At this year’s Civic Institute, we hope to find deeper ways to support Alabamians practicing such fundamental aspects of democracy as having sustained conversations on difficult issues, practicing innovations in journalism, bringing underrepresented groups to the table, and recognizing the potential each individual holds to make their communities better for everyone. More than ever, this year, we seek to continue modeling our call to listen first and to “pass the mic” by highlighting the following speakers and topics:
The Elephant in the Room: Talking About Difficult Issues: Talking about challenging issues in a divided political climate is hard. Listening to those we disagree with is difficult. Finding opportunities to bridge divides and discuss the “elephants in the room” in a productive, civil manner that prioritizes understanding over consensus is even more challenging. During this interactive session, learn from Alabama communities that are engaging citizens in deliberation on some of the most divisive public issues facing communities today. Discover tools and resources you can use to tackle the issues facing your community. Chris McCauley of Markstein will moderate; additional speaker details are forthcoming. This session is made possible by a generous donation from The Blackburn Institute at the University of Alabama.
“Public life is bigger than political life. We have narrowly equated the two in recent years, and we’ve impoverished ourselves in the process. Public life includes all of our disciplines and endeavors, including ourselves as citizens and professional people and neighbors and parents and friends. The places we’ve looked for leadership and modeling have become some of the most broken in our midst. And so it is up to us, where we live, to start having the conversations we want to be hearing and creating the realities we want to inhabit.”
– Krista Tippet, On Being
Who Remembers? Collective Memory and Public Life: The issue of monuments and memorials in public spaces divides communities around the nation, and people of goodwill on all sides of the issue struggle to hear each other productively. In this facilitated discussion, participants will discuss what concerns them the most regarding this issue and whether they can imagine opportunities for deliberation within their communities and networks. This session will be moderated by Dr. Mark Wilson, Director of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities at Auburn University. Our thanks to the Alabama Bicentennial Commission for generously sponsoring this session.
“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”
– Wendell Berry
The Front Doors of Fellowship: Engaging with Difference Through Faith: What is the role of faith communities in public life? What do we find at the intersection of faith and civic engagement? How can we cultivate the physical and conceptual spaces that houses of worship occupy, in order to bring people together in new ways that connect our individual experiences and our rich inner lives with the work that we must all do, collectively, as a public? Faith communities, for many Alabamians, not only feed the spiritual life, they also serve as a hub of community life. This session will focus on stories, challenges, and opportunities in bringing faith communities together across divides to address key issues and challenges facing our hometowns and our state.
“The power of belonging creates and undoes us both; if spirituality does not speak to this power, then it speaks to little.”
-Pádraig Ó Tuama, Irish Theologian
Urban Perspectives on Civic Engagement in Alabama:The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Woodlawn Project and Spring Hill College’s Foley Fellowship in Civic Leadership are experiential learning opportunities that seek to work alongside neighboring communities to better understand and address the complex effects that poverty and other related disparities have on their quality of life. The effectiveness of each project is rooted in its being tailored to fit the particular contexts in which each institution operates. Attendees of this session will take part in a dialogue that compares and contrasts the unique challenges, approaches, and learning outcomes that these programs have yielded working with community partners in urban contexts on opposite sides of the state.
“As we internalize the view of others, we change. And as our perception of others changes, we see possibilities for acting together that we didn’t see before.”
-Dr. David Mathews
Who’s Not At the Table? Engaging Youth in Civic Deserts: Over the past decade, civic engagement and volunteering rates among young Americans have declined across race, income, and education levels. However, youth and young adults living in “civic deserts” are disproportionately represented among the disengaged. Civic deserts are communities that lack adequate opportunities for young people to learn about and participate in civic and political life. Over 40% of American youth and young adults live in “civic deserts.” In rural areas, the percentage of young people living in civic deserts climbs to nearly 60%. Youth in civic deserts are less engaged in politics, are less likely to vote in elections, and are less likely to believe in the influence of their own voice and the collective potential of their community. While the statistics can be harrowing, there are leaders, educators, and organizers across Alabama who are working to revive youth engagement within rural and urban civic deserts. By capitalizing on the assets within their community to create leadership opportunities, mentorship programs, career training, and youth programming, the guest speakers in our Engaging the Disengaged: Youth in Civic Deserts session are creating innovative avenues for youth engagement. This session is made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of Alabama Public Television.
Passing the Mic: Representation & Empathy in Civic Media: The digital disruption of traditional news and media outlets has become an accepted, albeit cliche, archetype for the twenty-first century. The fourth estate that so many Americans revered throughout our history has been faced with growing distrust, diminished resources, and has struggled to translate its traditional structure and function into an increasingly viral model of news and journalism. At the same time, digital technologies have enabled millions to tell their own stories in a way that is diffuse, yet direct.
The rise of citizen journalism and social media has emerged as a critical component of what we today characterize as “civic media.” The centuries-long interpolation of citizen and journalist is newly-malleable, and calls for a radical reconceptualization of the citizen-journalist relationship. “I just want to be a voice for the voiceless,” is a refrain that is increasingly unable to bear the complex weight of citizens ready to speak for themselves. Why be a voice for the voiceless when you could just pass the mic?
This session will explore ways of passing the mic and equipping others to tell their own story through digital media as well as traditional journalistic outlets. From Twitter to the town square, we will consider examples of intergenerational cooperation amongst communities, local professors, and their students, as they reimagine what community journalism and self-representation can accomplish in our time.
To register, visit 2018civicinstitute.eventbrite.com. Please contact Rebecca Cleveland at firstname.lastname@example.org if the cost of attending presents a burden; we have some scholarships available. To become a sponsor, contact Cristin Brawner at email@example.com.