Civility and Democracy

As the country examines the tone of political dialogue, the National Constitution Center hosted an interactive, interdisciplinary forum titled Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America. The forum explored the current state of public discourse and the issue of civility in the context of the roles that dissent and protest play in American politics.

Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy

On March 25 – 27, 2011, participants drawn from such fields as history, political philosophy, political science, law, sociology, journalism, and communications, convened at the National Constitution Center for Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy, to guide public discussion of key themes such as the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, the concept of civic virtue, the importance of dissent and deliberation in America’s constitutional democracy, and the ways in which political actors and the media can contribute to or detract from productive public discourse.

The goals of the forum were, first, to generate a deeper and more nuanced understanding of dissent and civility throughout the American experience, and second, to generate ideas about what kinds of tools, systems, best practices, or other frameworks might contribute to greater civility without impeding the vibrancy of our democracy.

The symposium is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Bridging Cultures program, which awarded grants in August 2010 for a series of national conversations on civility. The Center’s conference is the culminating event of the series. PBS is the official media partner.

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Prohibition Screening

6:30 p.m., F.M. Kirby Auditorium

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Public Session

10 a.m., F.M. Kirby Auditorium

Opening Remarks

  • Alison Young, VP of Public Engagement, National Constitution Center
  • Jim Leach, Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities

Public Panel

  • Keli A. Carender, political activist and blogger
  • David Eisner, President & CEO, National Constitution Center
  • Lee Hamilton, former U.S. Representative (D-IN); Director, Center on Congress at Indiana University
  • John G. Palfrey, Jr., Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law; Vice Dean, Library and Information Resources; Faculty Co-Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School

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Keynote Address

12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

  • Amy Gutmann, President and Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

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Breakout Sessions

1:45 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.

During five concurrent breakout sessions, educators, journalists, community leaders, public service workers, and scholarly participants will discuss how to establish civic dialogue that simultaneously advances the common good and respects the voices of protest that often contribute to social progress.

Breakout Session 1: History

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Breakout Session 2: Ethics & Political Philosophy

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Breakout Session 3: Media & Communications

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Breakout Session 4: Religion

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Breakout Session 5: Civics & Social Entrepreneurs

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Public Town Hall

4:30  p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Following the discussion sessions, all participants will come together for a public town hall exchange, moderated by PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan. The exchange also will include an audience Q&A session.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011: Brainstorm

Forum participants will brainstorm ways to create and disseminate subsequent programming to engage people in communities nationwide in reflection on, and discussion about, the themes of civility, democracy, and dissent.