Speakers from National Institute of Civil Discourse's Reviving Civility in Politics event

This post is written by our intern, Sarah Dunn

Our interns, Sarah Dunn and Rosa Oyarzabal, attended an event hosted by the National Institute of Civil Discourse (NICD) on Reviving Civility in Politics. The panel consisted of the following speakers: NICD Executive Director, Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer; Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ); Former Congressman Mickey Edwards (R-OK); and Ohio State Representative Stephanie Howse (D).

Despite any differing political views, the Reviving Civility in Politics event hosted by the National Institute of Civil Discourse (NICD) lived up to its mission. The speakers’ comments on the importance of restoring civility in politics revealed a deeper bond that goes beyond partisan divides.

Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer opened up the panel by introducing the urgency in changing political rhetoric and debate, stating “we need to bring civility back to our discourse more than ever.” As explained by Dr. Lukensmeyer, the National Institute for Civil Discourse‘s mission is to set a standard by which “America, campaigns and the media hold each other to higher accountability. This idea came from the people’s response to [political discourse] that ‘This is not right.’” The NICD strives to support their cause with research and practice so that candidates will “focus on policy issues and not character issues and be held accountable by the media on statements that aren’t factual.” The organization rallies behind the mantra “Revive Civility” because Dr. Lukensmeyer predicts that without any improvements the people will disengage and that “uncivil language also leads to violent behavior. NICD’s recommendations aren’t only targeted at elected officials and candidates, but also at the public and the media.

Former Congresswomen Giffords, who was severely impacted by the Tucson shooting in May 2011, stands as a fully committed role model dedicated to the seriousness of civility in politics. The NICD prides itself in continuing Giffords’ legacy of valuing friendship across party lines and civil, issue-focused debate. During the press conference, she proudly sat next to Dr. Lukensmeyer and her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, as he shared that “in light of horrible events, positives can come from it. [Giffords] had the courage to compromise because it was the right thing to do for her constituents.” He referenced the example of Giffords’ close friendship with Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) and how, despite their conflicting views, “found things they had in common.”

The two other panelists, former Representative Mickey Edwards (R-OK) and Ohio State Representative Stephanie Howse (D), also spoke on how organizations such as the NICD inspire commitment to civil governance and what steps lawmakers and voters should take towards engaging in issue-based discussions.  Rep. Edwards’ perspective is that “the issues we face as Americans aren’t partisan, but barriers have come up, causing anger and rage because people have different points of view.” For Rep. Howse, the NICD program network for state legislatures “helps you to be a responsible legislature.” The program emphasized “I’m still accountable to the people who don’t agree with me.” Howe hit upon a key tenet of the work of the League of Women Voters: “people can make their own choices. Give voters the information so they can come to their own conclusions.”

Every day the League works to encourage voters to participate civilly in our democratic process. In addition to providing voters with information on voting and elections to help voters learn about the issues in their communities, League members also often attend and observe a variety of community and government meetings to ensure the proceedings are civil and to share takeaways with members of their communities.

According to Dr. Lukensmeyer, the best thing you can do to encourage civil discourse is to “reach out to people just to understand their differences.” As we learn and share ideas within our communities, we hope that Dr. Lukensmeyer’s advice to “speak to what you believe, but hold the same commitment to others beliefs” holds true meaning for you.