Listen, and learn, to bridge the political divide | The Seattle Times

The Seattle Times editorial board followed up on reporter Nina Shapiro’s recent article with an opinion piece spotlighting the importance of political depolarization work underway in Washington state.  

The editors called attention to three organizations working in this area – including our Project for Civic Health – and suggested that readers utilize these entities’ resources to learn how to effectively engage with each other. 

To learn more and get involved, visit the Project for Civic Health Website

How WA Republicans, Democrats are trying to bridge political divides | The Seattle Times

By Nina Shapiro

In this piece from The Seattle Times, reporter Nina Shapiro highlights rewards and challenges as Washingtonians seek to build bridges across partisan divides – starting with how to find people with differing viewpoints who want to engage. Her article mentions the Project for Civic Health and several organizations featured on our Civic Health Efforts in Washington webpage, including Braver Angels and the co-chair of their Washington state chapter, Sue Lani Madsen. The article also highlights Monica Guzmán, a Jackson Leadership Fellow and changemaker, who gave the keynote address at our Civic Health Summit last October.

Mirroring Shapiro’s article, the Project for Civic Health calls attention to ways that Washingtonians are working to understand each other and find common ground.

Our Op-Ed for the Project for Civic Health

Two years ago, our Leadership Strategy Team, made up of Board members, Jackson Leadership Fellows and staff, brainstormed about how we could complement our current activities and increase our impact. The team identified political depolarization as an area to explore, particularly as it connects to the Jackson values and values-based leadership. This small but mighty team began to engage with other organizations and experts in this arena. Meanwhile, breakdowns in our civil institutions escalated. 

Through our outreach, we connected with Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck, and began a fruitful collaboration to address Washington state’s civic health. The Lt. Governor gathered a group of people from across the state to discuss the depth of the problem; participants agreed on the need to act.   

In response, the Jackson Foundation, Office of Lieutenant Governor of Washington State, UW Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, and The William D. Ruckelshaus Center, created the Project for Civic Health.

To collectively problem solve how to strengthen our state’s civic health, the partners recently gathered over 175 people for a day-long summit, including local and state elected officials, community leaders, journalists – and numerous Jackson Leadership Fellows and Board Members. Jackson Fellow and author Mónica Guzmán was key, kicking off the conversation and moderating a panel of changemakers.

We just published an Op-Ed in The Seattle Times highlighting this effort together with our partners.

The day tapped into something bigger, and we heard a thirst for continuing this activity.

Please join us! See the Project for Civic Health webpage to learn more.

I Never Thought of It That Way

Mónica Guzmán is the Director of Digital & Storytelling at Braver Angels, co-founder at The Evergrey, a 2019 Jackson Leadership Fellow, and author of the book, I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times, released on March 8. We sat down with Mónica to ask her a few questions and came away inspired and curious for more.

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What sparked the idea for this book?

There were several threads. The first was connected to my Jackson Fellowship. When I came into the Jackson Fellowship Program, I was already obsessed with the political divide manifesting in the world. Not from a policy perspective but a communications perspective. As a journalist, I think of it as my mission to help people understand each other. And I could tell that something about this particular divide was becoming so toxic that, in my view, it was getting in the way of people understanding each other, even hearing what others were saying, getting past their assumptions. So, when I came into the Jackson program, I knew I wanted to do something around that.

I will never forget that I was sitting with Tim Burgess, one of my mentors through the program, at a coffee shop, and I showed him the binder for my project. On the front, I had written, “I never thought of it that way.” Something about that phrase just felt like it captured what I wanted to explore. And Tim looked at that and said, “Oh that’s it, that’s it, you got it! When people can say ‘Wow, I never saw it that way,’ something magical happened, something a bit rare these days.” So Tim validated what would eventually become the book’s title.

Another deep thread is my relationship with my parents and family. I am a Mexican immigrant and came to the US in 1988. I grew up thinking that my parents and I were probably politically aligned. Then they became citizens in 2000, and a lawn sign for Bush/Cheney appeared on the office wall. I thought, “This is interesting, but really guys?” I was a liberal democrat. That started 20 years of arguments, as our politics became more intense. They were very clear in their support for Trump, and I was very clear in my lack of support for him.

What did it for me on that thread was talking to my fellow liberal friends in Seattle, who would talk about people who voted for Trump as if they were complete scum. And I knew that wasn’t true. I understood why they believed that, but I started thinking something is wrong with the way we look at each other, and it is something that we need to fix.

What would you hope that people would take away having read this book?

I have had people come up and say, “Look, some people are not that curious. I have tried building bridges with my family members. They didn’t walk over the bridge to me, so I burned the bridge and will never do it again.” I hear that this can’t happen; we can’t wake up suddenly and be curious. What I tell them is: good, that is not what I expect.

I am hoping – and I think it is possible – for each of us to be one step more curious than we are already. That’s what I hope people will take away from the book. If I am in a conversation where I disagree with them, all I want to do is tell them my opinion right now. Instead of jumping in with my opinion, I will ask one more question. If that’s the takeaway, then great. You could just push the boundary a bit, ask one more question, have one more conversation. If we are all just a bit more curious, it adds up and impacts our society.

Start with “How did you come to believe what you believe?” Or a version of that question. We are often tempted to ask, “How could you believe what you believe?” or “Why do you believe this?” At that point, understanding stops becoming the goal. And if we don’t make understanding the first goal, at a time that we are this blind to each other’s true perspectives, we will never have arguments that make progress. The second most important question is, “What are your concerns?” When they answer, then ask, “What else?” There is always something else. These are the most fruitful questions for understanding people without falling into the temptation of judging them.

Which of the Jackson values spoke to you as you developed this book?

The four that resonated the most with me were inquisitive, pragmatic, open, and honest. I have a chapter on honesty. The interesting one for me is pragmatic. I have been thinking about that a lot because one of the reasons to say no to these ideas is that it will ultimately do some harm. People believe that they need to do what our side believes in, but that isn’t pragmatic. When do you become creative, build together, and engage in the public good? When we look at the long game, if we don’t restore some civic trust from the ground up, and we don’t do some hard things at the bottom to start working on that in our own lives, how do we expect our politicians to model that behavior for us. They reflect us.

Senator Jackson was pragmatic. I loved reading about him before I applied to the Fellowship. Through the program, we met people who knew and worked with him. I was so touched by how they said he made them feel. Senator Jackson made people who worked for him feel that he was there to help them meet their goals and made sure that they were heard—pushing them forward. What a fantastic way to do politics. I look around now and wonder what it would be like to have more Jacksons who were inquisitive, open, never believing that they had all the answers, learning, respectful, and not condescending.

What’s next? What gives you hope?

We are turning things around already, both on a small scale and large scale. Because of my work with Braver Angels, I am in a place if there are signals, I can see them. There is a movement afoot. Driven by exhaustion of the status quo, people are more open to openness and curiosity. Seeing voices come up and ideas circulate. That gives me hope.

If you would like to hear more from Mónica Guzmán, take a look at her recent TEDx Seattle talk, or look at her book. The Foundation is pleased to be an event host at Town Hall Seattle on March 22, 2022, for a discussion between Mónica and political satirist, David Horsey. You can learn more about her work at https://reclaimcuriousity.com.

 

A Jackson Fellow’s Project Reflection: From Zoomers to Boomers, Civics Engagement For All

2020 Leadership Fellows 4
Jenny Cooper

The elections earlier this month—from local to national—were arguably the most important of our lifetimes. The outcomes will disproportionately affect young people who can’t yet vote, but whose lives and futures are impacted by climate change, racial justice, public health, and beyond.

How might we engage young people in this election and in civic life more generally, when they can’t vote or make campaign contributions? How might we make civic engagement captivating, community oriented, and fun for people of all ages?

As a 2019-2020 Jackson Fellow and someone committed to effective, equitable systems-level action to address climate change and racial injustice, I felt inspired to take on these questions through both my Fellowship project and my role as Director of Environmental Education & Sustainability at The Northwest School.

In spring 2020, I developed Civics & Swing States, a free 4-week program aimed at mobilizing young people to meaningfully engage in the 2020 elections. To design the program, I began with the questions:

  • What would compel someone to care about government?
  • What might inspire a high school student to devote their free time to civic engagement?
  • What was my motivation for better understanding policy making processes, and how did my journey evolve to include working on climate policy for seven years?

Civics & Swing States Program

This led to designing the Civics & Swing States program from the inside out. I began with personal identity and family history by asking, “How might your identities and family history impact your perception of government and your engagement in elections?” Then I asked participants to identify what issues they care about and why, which segued into how government and policy impact these issues. From there, we could easily find the interest to examine the demographics of elected officials, the structure of government, voter turnout and voter suppression, the Electoral College, campaign finance, and communications and rhetorical framing.

In addition to laying the groundwork for examining personal identity and the issues one cares about, I also framed the program with two overarching existential questions: “What does it mean to have a democracy on stolen land?” and “What does it mean to have a democracy built on the backs of enslaved people?” I wanted to encourage participants to jump back and forth between their personal scales and the national and global scales, as well as current and historical time periods.

But I wondered, would anyone even show up for such a program? And would people stick it out through all eight sessions? I wasn’t entirely sure….

Yes! I ended up facilitating four sections of Civics & Swing States, two during the summer and two during the fall, to roughly 130 people. While designed for high school students, I opened the program up to anyone who was interested. The groups I facilitated had participants ranging in age from 12-79 years old, including students, faculty, parents, and friends from The Northwest School, the greater Seattle area, and across the country.

Unanticipated Outcomes

The Civics & Swing States program has resulted in all sorts of beautiful unanticipated outcomes: high school and middle school students have organized phone banking sessions among their peers for months (they’ve called over 3,000 voters in swing states!) and shared their experiences with their communities; parents felt inspired by their children to take action; and faculty have built relationships across departments and roles. It’s also enabled people to transcend age and employment status, and to develop relationships with organizations and fellow humans beyond their immediate circles.

As evidenced not only by participation in the program, but in phone banking and campaign volunteering nationally, people are hungry for avenues to take action and shape their futures. At the same time, they seek cross-generational engagement, understanding, and to peel back the layers of themselves, their family history, and their government.

Available to the Public

With this interest in mind, I made all the Civics & Swing States materials free and publicly available on the program website. I encourage you to pull a group of family or friends together (virtually or physically distanced, of course) to learn and engage.

The 2020 election has been a rallying call for civic engagement across demographics. We must sustain our efforts far beyond Election Day. When people of all ages engage civically, we strengthen our communities, our understanding, and our commitment to take action for a present and future in which we can all thrive.

I found inspiration to create this program with the support of the Jackson Fellows Program and the Jackson Foundation, to whom I am immensely grateful. The community of Fellows, Foundation staff, and board members has been invaluable for bouncing around ideas, supporting me throughout the process, and joining as guest speakers during the Civics & Swing States program itself. Thank you!

Jenny Cooper, 2019-2020 Jackson Fellow and Director of Environmental Education & Sustainability, The Northwest School (Seattle, WA)

Opposing the Rollback of NEPA Regulations: Why the Jackson Foundation is Speaking Up

Yesterday the Jackson Foundation raised its voice in support of Senator Jackson’s crowning achievement in environmental policy, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Shortly after the legislation’s 50th anniversary on January 1, 2020, the Administration put forward a proposed rule that would fundamentally alter the implementation of NEPA, known as the “Magna Carta” of the nation’s environmental laws. If adopted, the sweeping changes would significantly weaken it.

The federal government takes public comments as part of its rule-changing process and the Jackson Foundation took that opportunity to submit a comment letter to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The Foundation’s comment letter follows the recent Op-Ed published in the Seattle Times by Craig Gannett and Peter Jackson on behalf of the Foundation, in which they emphasized the need to preserve the robust application of NEPA.

The Jackson Foundation has never before weighed in on proposed federal rule changes. We took this step into the public policy sphere for two reasons. First, we can offer a unique perspective as the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, an organization steeped in Senator Jackson’s legislative accomplishments, and one that has furthered the work and ideas of the Senator.

Second, the Foundation has for several years called attention to the impact of climate change on our national security. Amplifying the voices of military leaders, we have highlighted how climate change is impacting national and global security, and will continue to do so until greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced. We believe that the proposed changes to NEPA’s implementation would undermine the consideration of climate change in federal decision making, which our nation and world simply cannot afford.

In our letter, we call upon the CEQ to withdraw the proposed rule and substantially revise it for further public comment. The changes would have a number of potentially harmful impacts, including the distortion of NEPA’s basic purposes; the elimination of essential elements of analysis, such as the consideration of cumulative impacts and reasonable alternatives; and the constraints placed on public participation. All of these would significantly weaken our efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

NEPA provides that “each person should enjoy a healthful environment and that each person has a responsibility to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the environment.” In this spirit, the Jackson Foundation has a responsibility to speak out when such sweeping and detrimental changes are being proposed to the implementation of legislation that has long protected our shared natural environment. We join forces with the many other voices opposing these changes.

-Maura Sullivan, Program Officer

Leadership Insights from Washington State’s Attorney General

As part of the Jackson Fellows program, the Foundation was fortunate recently to host a discussion with the Fellows and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on leadership.  The Attorney General is a valued member of the Foundation’s Honorary Council of Advisors.  Ferguson, whose parents deeply admired Senator Jackson and instilled Jackson values in their son, made time for a one-on-one dialogue with the Fellows.

Linda Mason Wilgis, Foundation Vice President, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and Michele Frix, 2016 Fellow
Linda Mason Wilgis, Foundation Vice President, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and Michele Frix, 2016 Fellow

In a thought-provoking, memorable session, Ferguson couched his lessons of leadership in terms of his former hobby of chess, a sport he dedicated himself to for several formative years before embracing the law and politics as a career.  “If you lose, you have no one to blame but yourself,” he began.  “You were outplayed.  You made a mistake.  Take responsibility for your actions,” he advised.  Mistakes will happen:  what is important is taking ownership of them and being accountable to others.  He also suggested analyzing one’s losses carefully.  “The path to improvement is a careful scrutiny of the games that you have lost,” he stressed.

IMG_1234Continuing the chess analogy, Ferguson told the young Fellows to “imagine a position in the future and think of the possible moves to get there.”  It is important to take calculated risks, he said.  “As a leader, you should be willing to go to that position and accept the consequences.”

Turning to leadership and team-building, Ferguson believes that: “Your team watches you closely.   If you have a leadership role, they are watching you.”  This engenders in him a sense of responsibility and the importance of modeling ethical behavior.  “You set the tone,” he reminded the group.  “True leadership also means true listening,” he counseled.

The Fellows peppered Ferguson for advice and input that stems from their own professional dilemmas.  When faced with complex situations, Ferguson told them:  “Be true to yourself.  Don’t compromise.”

IMG_1244The Fellows deeply appreciated the opportunity to engage with a leader like Attorney General Ferguson.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Youth Town Hall

Senator Jackson believed deeply in the importance of good government.  For him, that meant being prepared, well-informed, and ready to work with others – from either political party – to get major legislation passed.  One part of the Foundation’s work is to encourage civic and political engagement, particularly among young people.  We recently found a new partner in the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate to do just that.  The Kennedy Institute, only a year old, and the Jackson Foundation, together sponsored a Youth Town Hall at the Institute’s home base in Boston, Massachusetts.  The timing, in the midst of the 2016 presidential election, could not have been better and enthusiasm for the event was high.

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One of the special aspects of the Kennedy Institute is its full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber.  It’s a wonderful place to hold events and to bring in young people to learn about political life, the legislative process, the art of compromise, and the history of the Senate.  We chose to hold the Youth Town Hall in the Senate Chamber and it was packed with millennials from colleges and programs throughout the Boston area.  The session opened with a sense of history from both Mrs. Vicki Kennedy, President of the Institute’s Board and the Senator’s widow, and John Hempelmann, the Foundation’s president.  Both highlighted the special relationship between Scoop and Ted and the manner in which each man valued colleagues and worked to pass important legislation during their years in the Senate.  As John Hempelmann put it, “These men shared some important values that made them both great leaders – their desire to reach across the aisle for new perspectives, their ability to negotiate and compromise, and their keen understanding of the institution of the Senate. “

John Hempelmann, Foundation President
John Hempelmann, Foundation President

The Youth Town Hall had two excellent young moderators in Lauren Dezenski, from Politico, and Mike Deehan, of WGBH News.  They deftly got the crowd to discuss the interactive survey of views of the political process – How can we get you more involved in political life?  How likely are you to volunteer for a campaign? How important are the issues discussed in the presidential election to your life?  Are the candidates talking about your issues? What can be improved in the civic education of our country?

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Mike Deehan, WGBH News, and Co-Moderator

The diverse crowd, filled with the children of immigrants and immigrants themselves, as well as the full spectrum of young people from the region, had strong opinions.  At times, they seemed to reflect some of the well-known stereotypes of the millennial generation – they want their voices to be valued and heard.  They are optimistic about the future, but cynical about politics.  They have a fresh, unadulterated take on society and are not afraid to speak up.  The room held Bernie Sanders supporters  – lots of them – but also Trump and Clinton advocates.  A 15-year old spoke up:  “We need to make sure that students know that their voices be heard.”  A young African American woman declared her interest in running for political office to offset the lack of women of color in the U.S. political life.  An immigrant from Nigeria made an enthusiastic defense of Trump.  One person made a plea for young people to “talk about ourselves as those who have a right to participate in society, rather than seeing ourselves as someone ‘less than’ equal to others.”  “Our view of how we see the world is legitimate – we are not just an age group.”

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As the youngest member of the Massachusetts State Senate, Senator Eric P. Lesser reminded the crowd at the end,  “Take on and challenge cynicism rather than embrace it.  Real change comes from the community up.”

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Massachusetts State Senator Eric P. Lesser

This was the first Youth Town Hall sponsored by the Kennedy Institute and the Jackson Foundation.  It was inspiring and can be watched in full here.

Lara Iglitzin

Executive Director

Photos courtesy of Eric Haynes Photography

Engaging Citizens in Seattle’s Civic Life

In early August, the Jackson Foundation will partner with Seattle CityClub for the second time this year to present its latest Civic Boot Camp series. The day-long program targets young adults and new arrivals to the city and is a fast-paced course into local history, culture, and politics. The Jackson Foundation supported the program to help CityClub engage new populations into the civic life of our community, and, in so doing, to promote some of the values that Senator Jackson embodied.

May Boot Camp Participants
May Boot Camp Participants

During the day, Civic Boot Camp visit​s​ key historical and civic institutions​, hears from civic leaders in the region, networks, ​develops participants’ civic skills, and gives them tools to design their own personal plan for civic engagement. Diane Douglas, Executive Director of Seattle CityClub, says “the partnership with the Jackson Foundation is a natural fit; Civic Boot Camp was envisioned to start conversations, build knowledge, and ignite civic action. This program has done just that.”

In the spirit of Senator Jackson, Boot Campers gain an in-depth appreciation of the history around an issue in our region and have the chance to practice civic leadership skills. CityClub provided the historical curricula and the Jackson Foundation provided the civic tools to activate people’s inspiration into action.

A Visit to a South King County Nonprofit
A Visit to a South Seattle Nonprofit

While the core curricula of each Civic Boot Camp program is to instill in its participants the knowledge of how civic leadership and participation shapes our community, ​CityClub narrows down the discussion around a chosen theme. In May, Civic Boot Camp focused on​”Local/Global Seattle” and highlighted the history of the “American dream” across King County as it relates to equity and demographic change. As part of a panel luncheon discussion, participants listened to  ​civic leaders in South King County working to support civic health in immigrant communities and answered difficult questions about how to achieve equity across our community.

In two separate days in August, Civic Boot Camp will take place along Seattle’s downtown waterfront and will focus on the history and politics surrounding the downtown waterfront development plans. Participants will get a guided tour of waterfront sites from a local historian from the nonprofit HistoryLink, visiting the Pike Place Market, Olympic Sculpture Park and the Port of Seattle, and as at all Boot Camps, learn about philanthropy, social services, and opportunities for civic engagement in the region. A panel discussion will feature representatives from the Mayor’s Office, the Pike Place Market Foundation, and the Port of Seattle.

Throughout each day, the Foundation’s publication The Nature of Leadership  ​helps Boot Campers identify ideal civic leadership traits in the leaders with whom they interact, and importantly, in themselves as public citizens. Participants wrestle with hard questions to evaluate their own civic engagement strategies: “How do you seek out partnerships to solve problems? How do you learn from others? What do you do in your community to build trust and motivate others?” With the Senator Jackson leadership story before them, participants have a valuable resource to explore their own civic engagement goals.

Sharing civic stories and learning about our community’s past is integral to the Civic Boot Camp mission. Christina Billingsley, CityClub’s coordinator for the Civic Boot Camp program, notes “The partnership with the Jackson Foundation and CityClub has provided an innovative platform for newcomers to the region and young people to get connected, appreciate our past, and become better informed about their own political choices and civic involvement.” The Foundation and CityClub hope Boot Campers will continue the conversations started here and translate this knowledge to improve civic health across King County. The Jackson Foundation is proud to be part of this effort to engage young people, new immigrants, and diverse populations into the heart of civic life in the Seattle community.

Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director

Why We Care About Civil Discourse

Our legacy compels us to honor the idea of crossing the political aisle to get things done, whether it be in Washington, DC or in any of the states of this nation.  The Jackson Foundation has held a number of sessions promoting civil discourse, with a particular emphasis on bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress and civic engagement and respectful dialogue here at home in Seattle, Washington.  Earlier this week we held a packed, public forum with Seattle CityClub where we combined our two target areas, featuring U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-Washington State) and Dave Reichert (R-Washington State) in conversation with long-time political journalist Robert Mak. Enjoy the full dialogue below:

Congressmen Kilmer and Reichert reflected on the obstacles to political progress on issues from solving the budget deficit to finding common ground on affordable health care.  Both stressed that voting for what is right – rather than just blindly following party allegiances – helps to center them in their work on the Hill.  “I’m a thinker,” Reichert stressed, “and I use my skills learned from when I was a detective to figure out the facts on an issue.  That helps lead me to where I can take a stand.”  Kilmer, who has only been on the Hill for a few years, meets monthly with a bipartisan group of his peers to seek consensus, and, presumably, friendship that allows bonds to form beyond political ideologies and interests.  “When people ask me if I am frustrated by gridlock on the Hill, I tell them that I don’t think that’s an acceptable reaction,” Kilmer explained.  “I am motivated.  I intend to accomplish something.  I am not interested in wasting time.”

Both lawmakers impressed the crowd.  The gathering was intended to highlight how the Washington State delegation can serve as a model for civil discourse in today’s fractured political environment.

Lara Iglitzin