Recognizing a decline in civil communication and lack of respect among differing viewpoints in politics, government and public policy, a handful of central Arkansas business and political leaders have created the state’s first-ever Civil Discourse Forum, which will be held on Nov. 13.
The bipartisan event focuses on creating an open dialogue, learning to understand one another and having civil debate and conversation, organizers say.
Sandra Byrd, vice president of public affairs and member services at Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas and a member of the forum’s steering committee, said she was inspired by the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona, where former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush serve as honorary chairs.
Other members of the Arkansas forum’s steering committee include Vicki Vowell, CEO of Vowell Inc., publisher of AMP and AY Magazine; Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage; Kathy Webb, member of the Little Rock Board of Directors; Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service; and Christina Standerfer, associate professor of communication at the Clinton School.
Here are five reasons to attend the Civil Discourse Forum:
1. Hear from the ‘Nicest U.S. Senator’
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, who was voted one of the “nicest” U.S. Senators by congressional staffers in Washingtonian‘s biennial survey last year, will deliver opening remarks at the forum.
“We live in a divided nation during trying times,” Boozman told AMP via email.
“We owe it to the people of Arkansas and the future of our country to have an open dialogue about the issues that impact our nation. We can disagree without being disagreeable. It simply requires a certain level of respect for those who voice differing opinions. While neither side can abandon its core principles, we can address our problems through mutual understanding, open-mindedness and a willingness to work together for the good of the nation.”
2. Meet Key Businesses and Political Leaders
The event will offer tables of 10, each featuring a discussion leader from the business or political community and a student from the Clinton School. Discussion leaders include:
- Bruce Moore, Manager, City of Little Rock
- Mary Leath, CEO, Community Health Centers of Arkansas
- Ron Mattieu, Executive Director, Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport
- Cory Anderson, Executive Vice President, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
- Rick Green, Arkansas Department of Education
- Jonathan Dismang, Arkansas Senate President Pro Tempore
- Mark Davis, Partner, Wright Lindsey & Jennings
- Randy Zook, President, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce
- Virgil Miller, Community Reinvestment Director, Arvest Bank
- Sherman Tate, Board Chair, Urban League of Arkansas and Director, Southern Bancorp
- Rex Nelson, Director of Corporate Communications, Simmons Bank
- Leon Jones, Director, Arkansas Department of Labor
- Marvin Childers, Executive Director, Arkansas Poultry Federation
- Erin Brogdon, Partner, Wright Lindsey & Jennings
- Anna Strong, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Executive Director of Child Advocacy & Public Health
- Jay Chesshir, President, Little Rock Chamber of Commerce
- Marta Loyd, Executive Director, Winthrop Rockefeller Institute
- Patty Barker, Arkansas Hunger Alliance
- Bryan Day, Executive Director, Little Rock Port Authority
- David Freeman, Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Little Rock
- Stephanie Malone, former State Legislator (niece of Senator Boozman)
- Greg Ramon, CEO, Little Rock Wastewater
3. Learn to Be a Model Conversationalist
Byrd encourages anyone “that is interested in how public debate takes place and is interested in good results from any governing body” to attend the forum.
She said Standerfer is training discussion leaders about civil discourse and how to lead the discussion. During small-group discussions, participants will talk about their experiences with public and political discourse, and come up with ideas of how to ensure civil discourse among their colleagues and friends.
Breakout sessions will last about 45 minutes, and, afterwards, discussion leaders will identify a few takeaways from the session to present to the entire group.
4. Put Arkansas on the Civil Discourse Map
Organizers of the forum say the long-term goal is to have Arkansas as a national leader in the civil discourse arena.
“I want to have this state be an example of how to actually change the context of civil discourse, that there’s a way to get things done and have healthy debates and come to resolutions and compromises,” Byrd explained.
“Let’s take some steps forward in Arkansas to keep it growing and evolving.”
5. Contribute to a Good Cause
Byrd said the Civil Discourse Forum committee plans to continue working in this arena and anchor the event with both the Clinton School and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.
Sponsors of the first-ever event include AMP, Simmons Bank, the Clinton School, Lisenne Rockefeller and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. Byrd said sponsorships are paying for the event’s expenses, and remaining money will be divided equally between the Clinton School and Rockefeller Institute to establish a scholarship.
The Civil Discourse Forum is Nov. 13 at the Junior League of Little Rock Headquarters, 401 S. Scott St., from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Lunch will be served. The event is free but registration is required. Call 501-683-5239 or email email@example.com to register.