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Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement

by Larry A. Rosenthal

The work of GSPP's Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement (CCDE), founded by Cal’s centennial Class of ’68, has never been more important. The 2016 election season has made our precious democracy’s vulnerabilities plain for all to see. Basic political tenets—like campaigning for votes on the merits of one’s positions and leadership—rather than insults and media-blitz feints—no longer hold the steady attention of the American public. For many, the health and legitimacy of the core institutions public policy relies on most seem at greater risk than ever before. CCDE provides the School and its community a platform to devote student and faculty attention to these pressing problems. Indeed “defining the problem,” for many current MPPs, involves questioning the sustainability of the democracy itself.

CCDE’s Civility Fellowships program, for example, supports Advanced Policy Analysis for client-project opportunities which advance the Center’s mission. The breadth and variety of these student projects cover all the exciting ways public policy is revitalizing democracy. Recent Fellowship projects have focused upon participatory budgeting, campaign finance, public involvement in regional growth planning, and city-level civic-engagement technologies.

To address political engagement in other ways, CCDE recently has partnered with public broadcaster KQED on its “Start The Conversation” campaign. The campaign raises awareness of how policy‐related and human‐interest news stories help deepen conversations within families and communities, and across traditional social divides. KQED and the Center will also partner on producing a series of “voter parties” around the Bay Area, bolstering enthusiasm for and participation in the 2016 fall elections.

CCDE also hosts campus events demonstrating the virtues of civility and consensus building to the UC Berkeley community and broader audiences. Our Cal Day event this spring was a student-led panel dialogue on “Political Life @Berkeley: Conversations Across the Divides.” Participants included current officers of the Cal Berkeley Democrats, the Berkeley College Republicans, and the ASUC, with Professor Alan Ross, Business and Political Science, and moderated by Center board member, Dick Beahrs ’68, himself a former ASUC president.

CCDE is also active in state and national leadership roles. It co-founded the California Consortium on Public Engagement, an affiliation of like-minded community- and campus based organizations dedicated to advancing the breadth and depth of citizen involvement in public policy and governance statewide. The Consortium has partnered with the State Assembly’s Select Committee on Civic Engagement, led by Assembly Member Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) on hearings convened in Sacramento and Los Angeles to address challenges and opportunities facing the state’s civic infrastructure. In addition, CCDE is a member of the National Civility Network founded by the National Institute on Civil Discourse.

GSPP’s Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement remains a vibrant and creative locus of activity at the School. We welcome your interest and your support. For more information visit https://gspp.berkeley.edu/ centers/CCDE or contact me directly via email (lar@berkeley.edu).

Editor's Note: You can hear more from Larry Rosenthal on public radio’s Take Two story titled “Is there hope for civility in the 2016 election” (March 2, 2016) here.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of Policy Notes.