The Village Square originated in Tallahassee a decade ago as a unique model of civic engagement that regularly draws packed crowds for civic discussions on the most contentious issues of our time. We’ve since expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Salt Lake City and California and are increasingly seen by thought leaders as a model for communities nationwide. Last fall we were invited to speak at Harvard Law School and we advised the New York Times on a series of dialogues between Trump and Clinton supporters.
In many ways our work is a direct expression of the organizational spirit inspired by Leadership Tallahassee, embracing diverse perspectives from all demographics as critical to building a strong community capable of tackling the inevitable challenges.
Over the past five years, we’ve been fortunate to work with Leadership Tallahassee, the Tallahassee Democrat and local governments in bringing community events like the annual Tallahassee Town Hall, Speed Date Your Local Leaders and Fast Forward Tallahassee to our citizens. We also work with the City of Tallahassee and Leon County to offer innovative engagement projects like The Longest Table and The Club of Honest Citizens (hosting the “Created Equal” event at The Moon). Other series reach diverse populations with programs like “Faith, Food, Friday,” “Race to the Movies,” and our “Dinner at the Square” programs. We’re about to launch a race project called “Local Color: Conversations in the Fray of Democracy.”
We think it’s now mandatory for communities to intentionally build civic “glue” between diverse citizens and political ideas. With the rapid societal changes of the digital age, institutions and relationships in society that are fundamental to a functioning democracy have weakened or disappeared. As citizens easily find opinions that support their pre-existing views online, we have increasingly less contact with people who disagree with us. Likeminded groups are on the rise.
This results in a hyperpartisan environment in which even local decisions become nationalized – too often viewed simplistically as new fronts in an ideological battle to control the future of America. The public debate can often run off the rails, having little to do with the local decision to be made and sometimes simply factually wrong. We’ve essentially formed “tribes” that show up already angry, impervious to reason and uninspired by a sense of the greater good. This dysfunction has serious consequences, as democratic institutions – at all levels of governance – are supported by uneasy relationships of trust between people with profound disagreement.
Too many of our fellow citizens have forgotten what every LT class knows well: left or right politically, black, white or brown – we need each other, because diverse perspectives strengthen problem solving and make us a more vibrant community. Both Leadership Tallahassee and the Village Square are critical community assets at times like these. We’re honored to keep the spirit of American democracy alive and well with good company like yours.