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President's Pen - November 2023

Karen Crowley | Published on 11/1/2023
In October, I had the honor of attending the Civic Health Summit - a day-long gathering of community leaders, nonprofit representatives, elected officials, educators, students and others. We came together at the request of Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck to wrestle with the deep and growing problems of division and distrust. 

Monica Guzman, journalist and Senior Fellow for Public Practice at Braver Angels, spoke to us about the ideas shared in her book: I Never Thought of it That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times. “Curiosity is our superpower,” she declared. She suggested that fear and certainty are the enemies of curiosity – and so contribute to the many challenges we see around us today: the erosion of trust in government, extreme incivility, a lack of compassion, the unwillingness to simply listen to each other. 

We spent the day in what I would call generative conversations. Here are just a few of the table topics we addressed:
  • How do we celebrate and reward bipartisan collaboration?
  • How do we create training programs on respectful dialogue for candidates and elected leaders?
  • How do we create vastly more robust civic education for children, youth and adults?
  • How do we build media literacy?
  • Are there unifying civic projects we can create to build true community?

  • As League members, these questions and topics are familiar. In so many ways, this is - and has been - our work. Our Washington State League has written and published two civics textbooks for elementary and high school students – The State We’re In: Washington. Our Civil Discourse Committee produced Fact or Fiction – a compact brochure with tips on how to identify mis- and disinformation. The Henry Jackson Foundation has sponsored the printing of this brochure in both English and Spanish, as well as our brochure Your Voice Matters in both languages. In past years, we have partnered with Braver Angels to bring several of their excellent training sessions to our members. And of course, our candidate forums and tabling outreach activities are all designed to bring unbiased information about voting, elections, and candidates to residents across the county.

    Lt. Governor Heck spoke eloquently about the need for us to come together to tackle these difficult questions. He reminded us that the solutions will emerge only when we work as partners and allies. We must build coalitions that reach across political, cultural, and economic divides. We must do this work TOGETHER. We must always be asking: Who is not at the table? What voices are we missing? What broader perspective is needed? What do we not see through our limited lens? 

    Over the past months, we have been invited to work with new collaborators:
  • We had a presence at the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration in Lynnwood.
  • In November we will share a table with Snohomish County Elections staff at a financial literacy event sponsored by the Washington State Coalition of African Community Leaders (WSCACL). 
  • We helped to sponsor the Herald’s Behind the News event. 
  • Our Natural Resources Committee regularly hears from a wide-ranging list of climate leaders. 
  • Our League is working in partnership with the local climate advocacy coalition - Climate Alliance of Snohomish County (CASC).

  • So – we are reaching out; but so much more needs to be done. No matter the issue we choose to take on, let’s keep asking these questions. Let’s be fearlessly curious! Let’s admit what we don’t know. And as we build new alliances, let’s also remember to ask: How can our League be a connector between and among groups? Because it is in the intersection of ideas that change happens – and trust grows.

    Let me close with this thought. In the report Common Ground for the Common Good – distributed at the Summit - one of the participants commented that “people move at the speed of trust”. Building trust takes time, patience and commitment, but it is the only way forward. I look forward to sharing with you the summary report of ideas and recommendations generated from the Summit – and to working together to build new partnerships and foster that much-needed trust.