After the 2012 Election: An Election Like No Other-More Democracy or Less?

30 Nov

Rejena Carmichael, a junior at Hofstra University working towards a double major in English and Political Science,  reports on a panel our fellows sat on this month.

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Michael D’Innocenzo, one of the project leaders and History professor at Hofstra University, was joined by four of our Democracy Fellows, Etana Jacobi, Ariel Flajnik, Jesse Crosson, and Mishiana Joseph, to speak on a post election panel at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Shelter Rock this month.  The talk was titled, After the 2012 Election: An Election Like No Other-More Democracy or Less?, and the various panelists spoke to their individual experiences with the election and conducted an overall analysis of what this election means for the future.  The panel concluded with in an active Q&A session with the audience, followed by a reception.

D’Innocenzo started the discussion with an evaluation of how politics has become more of a “moneyball” type game, where the winner can be predicted by statistics rather than events. He referenced blog-writer, Nate Silver, who predicted the correct outcome of every state in the past election. D’Innocenzo argued that because this campaigning strategy has been adopted, the candidates must now shape their campaigns around its principles. President Obama was able to mobilize young voters and (surprisingly) slightly increased their turnout from the 2008 election, despite expectations of voter turnout decline among young people in the 2012 election. He further argued that Obama rallied his base together, while Romney was not as effective in getting his party out to vote. In order to increase the voter turnout for both parties, the media and news outlets need to find a way to better inform the public. D’Innocenzo persuasively outlined the problem with reliable knowledge-with a combination of facts and a distortion of facts disseminated by media outlets and the public’s newfound responsibility to discern what knowledge is and what it really means.

He also spoke to the dynamic and changing voter demographics in this election, suggesting the Republican party’s potential need to realign its core ideology to encompass more people and garner wider support from a broader base. In the current Congress, there is only one African-American Republican and one Jewish Republican. D’Innocenzo argued that for this party to prosper in future years, they must find a way to represent the diverse population and expand their ideals to more groups. In the deliberation project, the forums outline options that represent several groups’ opinions on a single issue, and try to reach common ground on various views. This type of nonpartisan deliberation could be utilized in Congress to eliminate the downsides of a lame duck session. D’Innocenzo concluded with a belief that Obama has the opportunity to be a transformational president with his reelection, but he must shift his focus from anticipation for the future and a vision, to a real plan of action.

Jacobi highlighted how the deliberation project engages community members to participate in politics and feel ownership over the issues they discuss. This civically engaged attitude is imperative for mobilizing voters and making people feel that their vote matters. She also spoke to the climate silence that occurred in this election cycle, with the first set of debates making no mention of climate change since 1988. In a multitude of forums, the issue of money and politics was raised, and Jacobi commented on the importance of intersectionality in issues arising from delberative discussion.  She argued that if the public continues to discuss these problems in the deliberative format and demand they are more productively discussed on a national level, candidates would then be forced to make necessary public policy changes to move the country forward.

Crosson elaborated on D’Innocenzo’s point about the Republican party’s need to broaden its base, arguing this flaw in the party was Romney’s major weakness in his 2012 campaign. He further explained how the drastic difference between Obama and Romney’s ability to connect with voters was what lost Romney the election. Crosson aptly pointed out that exit polls indicated that by and large, voters believed Romney would be more effective at fixing the current state of the economy and they ranked the economy as the most pressing issue in this election.  Unfortunately for Romney, by a landslide, voters felt Obama better understood and could relate to “people like them,” winning him the election. Crosson wrapped up with an explanation of how the Republican party needs to appear less elitist and angry to appeal to a wider conservative base in an analysis of the future of the party.

Joseph discussed the influential nature of the deliberation project on her peers and family members. When members of the community engage in and talk about politics, they feel personally responsible for the future of issues and candidates. Joseph fully supported the project’s attempt to facilitate intergenerational discussions, not only to hear as many opinions and voices as possible, but to mobilize them to action together.  She also highlighted her own experiences on various campaigns and how this experience has affected her as a citizen.  

Flajnik spoke to the faults of the two-party system by disempowering those who do not align with major political platforms, and credited the deliberation project for reengaging those citizens in a non-partisan fashion.  She explained how she herself felt empowered while working as a fellow, arguing that the discussions force people to stop thinking in a binary way, and instead enable participants to work through a plethora of options in the hopes of creating a comprehensive solution. The project strengthens democracy by hearing the voices of the people and motivating them to speak out in a civil manner.  It is not about partisan politics, but policy solutions.

A question and answer session followed the panel discussion and then everyone had an opportunity to chat at the reception.  Several audience members approached our deliberation fellows afterward, sharing their inspiration after hearing young people in the community who are active, articulate, and engaged.  The panelists did an excellent job of explaining how the group’s nonpartisan discussions encourage a deepening of our democracy!

 

Deepening Democracy Through The Schools

27 Nov

Check out this awesome write up on the great work our fellows are doing throughout Long Island in the Merrick Herald!

By: Scott Brinton

The seniors in Kara McManus’s Advanced Placement government class at Kennedy High School in Bellmore were seated in a giant circle, just talking. No arguing, just talking.

The emphasis on talking is important. The students had gathered on Oct. 22, nine hours before President Obama and Governor Romney were set to spar on foreign policy, in order to discuss national security, free trade and climate change. But, unlike the presidential debate, with its emphasis on the divisions between the two candidates, these young people had to work in earnest to reach consensus on the most critical issues affecting the United States today.

And, after more than an hour and a half, the dozen and a half students came to agreement on a number of issues, while on others, they respectfully agreed to disagree.

The forum was one of dozens that Hofstra University is hosting at schools across Long Island in a program that is running in tandem with Hofstra’s town-hall presidential debate, which was held on the Hempstead campus on Oct. 16. The project is called Long Island Deepens Democracy Through Deliberation, and is administered by the university’s Public Policy Institute, of which former Mepham High School social studies teacher Bernie Stein, of Merrick, serves as associate director.

Karen McGuiness, Kennedy’s social studies chairwoman, said Hofstra has held a number of issues forums at the school in recent weeks, and she said, “We’ve been really pleased with the deliberative process.”

Stein said he is working with Hofstra history professor Michael D’Innocenzo, the Harry H. Wachtel distinguished teaching professor for the study of nonviolent change, and Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement on the L.I. Deepens Democracy project, which is grant-funded. The Kettering Foundation developed the deliberative format employed during the forums, and the National Issues Forum supplied the nonpartisan research material that students use to help formulate their opinions on the issues.

Etana Jacobi, 22, of Hooksett, N.H., who is the Harry H. Wachtel Leadership Scholar at the Center for Civic Engagement, and Kayla Rivara, 21, of Shoreham in Suffolk County, a Hofstra senior majoring in political science, led the Oct. 22 forum at Kennedy High.

And, while the discussion got heated at times, it never became overheated.

Kennedy senior Marc Tawfik, 17, said government must protect citizens from terrorism, but must do so without impinging on their civil liberties, and that, he noted, is not always possible. “In protecting itself against threats,” he said of the U.S., the country “became more constricted.”

Classmate Cory Azmon, 17, said that the more than $750 billion the U.S. spends annually on the military may be too great a price to pay. Military spending, he said, “is a little excessive when we have allies that will protect us.”

Senior Kaela Feit wondered whether the U.S. has too many weapons. To a number of other nations, she said, “It looks like we’re stockpiling weapons for some action against them.

“We’re not a police force,” Feit later added. “We’re a democracy.”

A number of students said the U.S. should work through the United Nations in a multilateral approach to world peacekeeping. “Diplomacy should always be the first option,” said Sara Bigman, 17.

Feit said she believes “there is never going to be an end to the war on terror.” Containment is the only real possibility. By working together with other nations, she said, keeping the terrorists at bay is made far easier than if the U.S. were to go it alone.

Perhaps the presidential candidates could take a lesson or two from the students in the L.I. Deepens Democracy project.

For more on the project, check out lideepensdemocracy.wordpress.com.

What We Are Thankful For

24 Nov

In spirit of the holiday season, we would like to take the time to say thank you to our incredible sponsors who have enabled us to do this amazing work in our community.  Without their generous contributions, this project simply would not have been possible.  Please check out our sponsor page to learn more about these organizations and individuals who have helped Long Island deepen democracy through deliberation!thank-you

Polydoros Sassos on the DDD Project

5 Nov

Polydoros will be graduating from Hofstra Univeristy with a BA in History in 2013 after only two and a half years of study.  In addition to his rigorous curriculum, he is a competitive athlete and defines his three pillars of life as his pursuits in academia, physical athleticism, and Christianity.

My experience as a Democracy Fellow at Hofstra University has been one of, if not the most, beneficial experiences in my life. Getting the chance to work with active students and professors has taught me the skills to address and observe the issues that are plaguing our nation with an open mind and an open heart. I have not only learned to interact with people of all ages and backgrounds,  but I have learned to engage them and the values they hold most sacred in life. The rhetoric and engagement skills that I have learned as a Democracy Fellow have been incomparable to anything else I have experienced at Hofstra University.

After I graduate, I plan on furthering my education in pursuit of a PhD in History.  But no matter where my career takes me, I am positive that the skills I have obtained as a Democracy Fellow will be used to the fullest extent, be it in the classroom, the political arena, or the private sector. My experiences with this project have broadened my knowledge of society, increased my love for knowledge and academia, and has made me a more active citizen.

Debt Talks in Mepham

3 Nov

Last Thursday Mepham High School hosted our Democracy Fellows for three forums on A Nation in Debt: How Can We Pay the Bills?.  Below are some excerpts from the three discussions!

Moderator: “Who thinks that everyone should make sacrifices to solve the debt crisis?”

All 21 hands went up.

Moderator: “What kinds of cuts should be made?”

Participant: “Just about eveyone is against cutting social security; taking care of the elderly is something you can’t be against.”

Moderator: “But can you reform it?” 

12 of 21 respond affirmatively.

Moderator: Consider life expectancy since the 1935 adoption of Social Security.

Participant: “When I’m older, I’d rather work a few more years and have full benefits.”

Participant: “We have to reform.  It is not going to last by the time we are ready to retire the way it is now.”

 

Reflections:

Participant: “It is not easy to deal with debt; we need long term ideas to get out of it.”

Participant: “In the past, I gave this topic the cold shoulder.  Now, I want to see what can be done.  If we don’t pay it off, we’re doomed.”

Participant: “In this forum, everyone’s voice is heard.  You hear more than only Republicans and Democrats’ views.”

Participant: “I came in definitely for option two, but people convinced me that option 3 could work–maybe.”

Participant: “If everyone could have these kinds of communications without partisanship, we’d have a better chance of dealing with tough issues like this one.”

Participant: “This has definitely been a learning experience – especially sitting in a circle with open-minded people.  I liked taking it away from Democrats and Republicans to “We The People.”

Rita-Marie Murphy on Immigration Forum

2 Nov

Rita-Marie Murphy graciously invited our Democracy Fellows into her classroom at Patchogue High School to moderate a forum on immigration earlier this month.  Below are her thoughts on the forum and importance of deliberation in the classroom.

Participating in the National Issues Forum was a wonderfully rewarding experience for me and my Advanced Placement Government and Politics students.  Students were introduced to the very valuable skill of deliberation.  Students were taught how to listen to the viewpoints of others, summarize them, and consider the needs of all when deciding public policy matters.  Such a skill is vital to the success of a democracy.  Students were introduced to the public policy issue of immigration and were able to summarize the various viewpoints by reading the National Issues Forum guide on “Immigration-How to fix a system in crisis.”  The issues guide were well-written, concise and contained reader friendly graphs and charts.  As a result, students came to the forum prepared to discuss this issue with true merit.  They were able to weigh to costs and the benefits, consider tradeoffs and compromises.  By participating in the National Issues Forum on Immigration, I am confident that students gained a well-rounded view of an important American public policy issue.  The National Issues Forum gave students the ability to identify and discuss a pressing matter to their community and country with respect to the needs and concerns of others.  Participating in the National Issues Forum was both enriching and educational.   I would highly recommend this program to other teachers!

Julia Chappell on Deliberative Discussions

31 Oct

A junior at Hofstra University, Julia Chappell is currently pursuing a BA in Public Relations.  In the spirit of Debate 2012, many academic departments at Hofstra offered special courses that study issues, the media, history, current affairs and political science relevant in the current election cycle.  Taking advantage of this unique opportunity, Julia enrolled in Professor Andrea Libresco’s Honors College seminar, Analyzing the 2012 Election.  Professor Libresco has incorporated three NIF forums into her syllabus, and has invited our Democracy Fellows into her classroom twice so far.  Below is Julia’s take on the two forums she has participated in, and is eager for our Fellows to return for the third forum this week!

I cannot speak highly enough about my experience with the two forums in which I participated. The forums were held in one of my classes at Hofstra University, and we discussed the topics of the national debt crisis and national security. These forums were unlike any other conversation I have had in the past, without partisan politics or pushy personal opinions. For this conversation, no matter what the participants’ knowledge was about each topic starting the conversation, everyone came out with a better understanding and appreciation of different aspects involved.

The National Issues Forums booklet lays out the issue in a way that is easy for people to understand, which I think helps ensure a successful conversation. I liked this conversation because no one had to be an expert about the issues. We were all speaking to the same material, while bringing our own personal examples and knowledge of subject.

Hearing different opinions about the topics helped me solidify my own views, while making me more open to others. Having these discussions made me feel more like an educated citizen and more prepared to vote. These short discussions informed me more about the issues than hours of watching the news.

I hope more people continue to participate in these forums and leave feeling aware and engaged about the issues currently facing our nation. Framing the issues without partisan ties allows people to develop their own understanding while finding common ground with others, which is what democracy is all about.