At the NIFI link, there is also available an “issue advisory” for free download – such advisories are the core “name” and “frame” of the issue in an easy to use format, and are suitable to use in a deliberative forum setting on their own.
The immigration issue affects virtually every American, directly or indirectly, often in deeply personal ways. The issue guide is designed for people to use to deliberate together about how we should approach the issue as a society. It presents three options that reflect different ways of understanding what is at stake and that force us to think about what matters most when we face difficult problems that involve all of us — and that do not have perfect solutions.
The concerns that underlie this issue are not confined to party affiliation, nor are they captured by labels like “conservative” or “liberal.”
Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do?
Option 1: Welcome Immigrants, Be a Beacon of Freedom
This option says that immigration has helped make America what it is today — a dynamic and diverse culture, an engine of the global economy, and a beacon of freedom around the world.
Option 2: Enforce the Law, Be Fair to Those Who Follow the Rules
This option says we need a fair system, where the rules are clear and, above all, enforced. With an estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally, our current system is unjust and uncontrolled.
Option 3: Slow Down and Rebuild Our Common Bonds
This option recognizes that newcomers have strengthened American culture in the past. But the current levels of immigration are so high, and the country is now so diverse, that we must regain our sense of national purpose and identity.
The Kettering Foundation researches and develops issue guides like this one and makes them available to NIFI to publish.
Follow the link for more information and to order or download your own.
The National Conference on Citizenship today released a new report, “Civic Deserts: America’s Civic Health Challenges,” by Matthew N. Atwell, John Bridgeland, and Peter Levine. It is an important, and wide-in-scope, analysis of the long decline in a range of civic health indicators across years and decades. To learn of this decline will not be a surprise to many, but this is a comprehensive look and it is sobering.
One aspect of the research, from which the piece takes its title, is that there are increasing numbers of places that can be characterized as “civic deserts:” where the formal opportunities to take part in public life are few and disappearing. The work of citizens solving problems in community is necessarily driven by people, and in another piece I have cautioned against stopping at simply identifying such deserts. But it is true that the structures that used to foster a connected citizenship are dwindling, and their lack makes any movement towards civic renewal more difficult.
The analogy is to “food deserts”–geographical communities where there is little or no nutritious food for sale. You can still be an active citizen in a civic desert, just as you can grow vegetables in your back yard; it’s just that the whole burden falls on you.
This is an important report for anyone who cares about the civic health of this nation.
I am pleased to announce a new “issue advisory” that is available as a free download (or fold-out hard copy) from the National Issues Forums Institute titled What Should We Do About the Opioid Epidemic? I am proud of my role in helping develop this resource. The Kettering Foundation researches and develops issue frameworks like this one and makes them available to NIFI to publish.
My friend and longtime colleague Tony Wharton wrote the text. Drafts of this advisory have been tested all throughout the U.S. and it has proven to spark a useful conversation.
The issue advisory is meant to support broad-based community conversation about what we, in our communities, should do in response to the drastically rising epidemic of opioid use, abuse, and deaths.
This difficult conversation involves tensions between compassion, personal responsibility, and freedom of choice. The advisory presents three options for people to talk about together:
We should extend and provide treatment for all, get people the medical help they need
We should crack down, people should take responsibility for their choices and actions
We should allow people freedom to do as they want, if they are not hurting anyone it is their business
Early reviews of the book, titled, I’m the One Who Got Away, have been hugely positive: a starred Kirkus review proclaiming “stunning;” author Dani Shapiro saying it is “brave, clear-eyed, compelling, and powerful;” author and Washingtonian editor William O’Sullivan calling it “as riveting as a mystery and as filling as a feast.”
Andrea was kind enough to allow me to read the full work ahead of time, and I am telling you it is terrific. I can’t wait for it to hit the shelves. Order it here on Amazon.
When Andrea Jarrell was a girl, her mother often told her of their escape from Jarrell’s dangerous, cunning father as if it was a bedtime story. In this real-life Gilmore Girls story, mother and daughter develop an unusual bond, complicated by a cautionary tale of sexual desire and betrayal. Once grown, Jarrell thinks she’s put that chapter of her life behind her—until a woman she knows is murdered, and she suddenly sees how her mother’s captivating story has also held her captive, influencing her choices in lovers and friends. Set in motion by this murder, Jarrell’s compact memoir is about the difficulty that daughters have separating from—while still honoring—their mothers, and about the perils of breaking the hereditary cycle of addiction. It’s also about Jarrell’s quest to make a successful marriage and family of her own—a journey first chronicled in her “Modern Love” essay for The New York Times. Without preaching or prescribing, I’m the One Who Got Away is a life-affirming story of having the courage to become both safe enough and vulnerable enough to love and be loved.
September through November, Andrea will go on a book tour that will hit many of the major places in the book (like New York, Los Angeles, Maine) as well as other key cities (like Philadelphia, San Francisco, Portland) — go here to see the full, up-to-date list of events. These will be fun events, typically featuring Andrea in conversation with another author as well as reading excerpts.
Andrea has set up an email newsletter that will contain exclusive material. I urge you to sign up here for the newsletter. It is easy and free, and aside from buying the book is one of the best ways for you to show support.
A friend tells the story of a time he was seriously injured and ended up in the hospital. He was bedridden for a long time and was going to have to work very hard just to walk again. At one point, his doctors cleared him to try to move around. But they were concerned he might overdo it, or hurt himself. They gave him a pushbutton and said: “Use this to call someone if you want to try to walk.”
My friend is a grandparent, and the grandchild was learning to walk. My friend thought about the pushbutton and instructions he had been given, and compared his own situation to that of his grandchild — nothing was going to stop the child from learning to walk, and nor were his parents hovering over him to “support” him in this natural human endeavor.
The story came to mind when I read about recent research exploring a new concept, “civic deserts,” especially in rural America. The concept refers to “places characterized by a dearth of opportunities for civic and political learning and engagement, and without institutions that typically provide opportunities like youth programming, culture and arts organizations and religious congregations.”
Underlying this concept, citizens are seen to need opportunities to learn and engage politically . . . which leads to a need for (often institution-delivered) programming. Such opportunities and programs are important and more are needed.
But there is another way to look at the kind of politics that takes place on a neighborhood, local level. This kind of politics is already happening, as people recognize shared problems and act. In thinking about improving the way politics in some local place functions, we might ask this question: How is it that people come to see themselves and act as citizens? It is the citizens doing the acting here. And about the worthy programs, we might ask to what extent such “opportunities” foster the insight in people that I am a citizen. (By “citizen,” of course, I do not mean “someone with documents,” but instead “someone who recognizes their shared role in solving local problems.”)
Of course, it stands to reason that if there are more such opportunities around, people in a community (youth and others) may potentially be more likely to act as citizens. But existence of such programs does not guarantee it, nor are such programs required. Many of the communities in whom one can see a robust community politics might in fact end up on the “desert” list.
I think of the difference between my bedridden friend, awaiting the delivery of “walking services.” What if he ignored the button, and got up and walked? That is what he did. “No one was going to stop me from walking,” he told me.
This, then, would be a study of citizenship: What spurs people to get up and start walking — and how is it that people come to see all the ways they already are and have been doing so all along?
There is a memorable scene in Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom. It is the culmination of an ongoing argument between Jim Harper and Hallie Shea: Harper is a national network TV news producer and Shea is a correspondent-turned-blogger. In the 3rd season episode “Contempt,” Harper and Shea are arguing over whether Shea was right to publish (on the blog, “Carnivore”) an account of a personal fight between them.
“Your problem isn’t with me and with the site, it’s with the audience,” says Shea. “You don’t like that they like what they like because you need them to like you. . . . I think you’re threatened by technology. . . . I want to be part of the digital revolution.”
“I’m not talking about the apparatus!” Harper interrupts, exasperated.
This is a remarkable moment, not least because it is such an odd thing to exclaim. I think of this scene often when trying to describe the way I think about political systems. To me, politics is ecological, emergent.
Especially when I am talking about what community politics consists of, and what it might mean to foster a more deliberative politics. I think about the ways “the apparatus” can intrude and occlude what I am really trying to talk about.
For instance, when I describe efforts to encourage deliberative discussions on community issues — it seems that often people hear “I am promoting NIF forums.” When I describe the idea of framing issues so that the things held valuable that are in tension are made clear — people often seem to hear “writing NIF issue guides.” When I describe framing an issue so that things commonly held valuable are made clear — people hear “three strategies.” When I describe strengthening civic capacity — people hear “civic infrastructure.” When I describe institutions aligning their routines with how citizens do their work — people hear “promoting participation.”
All of these share a common feature. They mistake the apparatus for the the concept.
This is not to say it is wrong to talk about the apparatus. It is important and a worthwhile discussion. But this is also a challenge, because talking about the apparatus can get in the way of talking about the underlying ideas. I have come to believe it is not surmountable simply by “saying it the right way.” There is something, I believe, about the element of mechanics that short circuits the ability to see and talk about the underlying ideas.
Indeed, the very word, “system,” can become problematic. While it is the correct term to describe the ecology, dynamics and interrelationships of all the disparate actors that make up a “community,” it is easy to mishear. By “system” I mean that set of interrelationships described above. But often, the term is taken to mean something built, mechanical. It’s the same with “network.” To me, that term means a disparate and interlocking set of relationships between and among people and other entities. Networks, in this understanding, emerge. But when the term is commonly used, it is often understood in the way computer networks are understood: as built artifacts.
As I try to explain what an ecology of political life in a community might look like and consist of, people will nod and affirm, “You are talking about systems. Networks. Yes. I get it.” But as we talk, it becomes clear that they think of systems and networks as built things. (They are thinking in machinebrain terms.)
And thus the conversation turns to the apparatus, which pushes out the concept I am trying to get at.
This is an area of research for me where I work. We often talk about it as a linguistic or technical problem: “How can we talk about these ideas in such a way that they are understood?” But even these articulations let the apparatus (of language) get in the way of the idea.
It is really a fundamental question. How is it that the insights of deliberative politics can come to be understood? What blocks this? What encourages it? (Note the passive construction, which is on purpose. Not how can I say them. But how can others understand them.)
This question is articulated throughout our research program and its strategic basis in more and less direct ways. The challenges we face in this area, though, are persistent.