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VanCoug American Democracy Project takes aim at discussing civil discourse

Political polarization in America is as high as it has ever been, and the issue of healthcare is at the eye of that storm. On Thursday, Feb. 27, the VanCoug American Democracy Project will host an event regarding that topic. Their goal is not to lobby for one side or another, but to bring people together regardless of alignment and get people talking to each other in a constructive, civil fashion.

The VanCoug American Democracy Project Day was introduced to the Washington State University Vancouver campus two years ago by then-Chancellor Mel Netzhammer. The American Democracy Project is a nationwide umbrella organization that is adopted and run by individual campuses. Mostly student leaders run the WSU Vancouver program, but it has enlisted additional support from a committee that includes faculty, staff and administration in addition to students. The original student lead on the project was Audrey Miller, a WSU Vancouver graduate student, who described the project’s overall goal as one improving civic engagement through education and motivation. As a public affairs graduate student, Miller saw the American Democracy Project as a way to get involved by showing others how to get involved for themselves.

Miller, leader of one of the three breakout sessions at the Feb. 27 workshop, described her aim as getting past barriers and polarization, and for everyone involved to gain tools for civil discourse with highly salient issues. “Students will be given the opportunity to gain tools maybe not offered in classrooms,” Miller said, “it’s an opportunity for students to gain new insight into the debate on universal health care.” She then described the event’s aim as “bridging the gap between what we ourselves know and what others know.” The idea was not to run people down or build a single side up at the expense of others, but show how to form thoughtful and well-reasoned answers for whatever an attendee’s beliefs are.

Their aim is to facilitate learning and discussion between disparate views through workshops aimed at building the skills required for civil discourse on sensitive issues, such as how to participate in an actual civil discourse, how to recognize when it goes awry and why and understanding logical fallacies that are often used in arguments. Miller added that the one thing she hoped all attendees would take away was “the ability to participate in discourse productively.” She hoped that everyone attending would leave the event with a clearer idea of what they know about the health care debate, and how to be an active and civil participant.

With questions about government and civic engagement swirling around, the project members aim to try and get people talking about it in good faith, directly and constructively instead of simply shouting talking points over each other. Anyone interested is strongly encouraged to attend, Thursday, Feb. 27 at 1 p.m. in VDEN 110.  The event runs until 5:30, and a free meal is included. For more information on this and other American Democracy Project events, visit facebook.com/VanCougDemocracyProject and RSVP for the event at admin.vancouver.wsu.edu/adp.

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