Collaborative Conferences

Concept: Conference of Conferences (Collaborative Conference)

Joseph McCormick
After a decade as a Christian Coalition activist and Republican nominee for the U.S. Congress in one of the most conservative districts in our country, Joseph learned firsthand the most destructive force in our country today is Americans taking sides against other Americans. The turning point in his life came in 2001 when his political career, marriage, business and reputation collapsed, his relationships having been eroded by mistrust and hatred of his enemies. Since 2004 he has organized a series of ground breaking private retreats brining over 140 national leaders representing over 70 million Americans into dialogue in search of common ground. His passion is applying tools developed in these gatherings to catalyzing a national campaign of transpartisan dialogues that serve as a resource for local, state and national decision makers searching for innovative, bottom-up solutions in this time of crisis.
Email: jmccormick@transpartisan.net Web: www.transpartisan.net

Transpartisan Convention 2011 Concept

By Joseph McCormick (Visit Joseph’s Blog)

Political lines in the sand are being drawn. Polarization can be expected to increase sharply in the coming mid-term elections. Isn’t it time for a new type of political convention – a “conference of conferences” – to bring together all sides to talk like adults about the true state of our union?

As a transpartisan organizer that has spent the last six years convening transpartisan leadership retreats with leaders of national groups and as the organizer of the first American Citizens Summit, a prototype event for a “conference of conferences”, here’s my bold, but practical, vision:

In early 2011 during the “armistice” period – armistice means “cessation of hostilities” – I can imagine a national political convention, a conference of conferences taking place in a central part of the country, like St. Louis. It will be co-sponsored and attended by national political parties – in reality, in my experience, mainly third parties will buy-in, R and D leaders have been very defensive about this idea in the past – as well as members of groups like Netroots Nation, Freedom Works, League of Women Voters, American for Tax Reform, MoveOn.org, Campaign for Liberty, etc.  It will also be co-sponsored by facilitator/mediator groups like the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation and the Common Bond Institute (conveners of the “Engaging the Other Conferences.”)

It will be several days long, probably five or six. The first day and a half will be to allow groups who regularly convene anyhow, to meet by themselves. Presuming we plan a large enough convention center, each of these groups can conduct their own private agenda undisturbed by the other groups meeting in adjacent spaces. Later in the day of day two, all groups can begin to meet in a large plenary. I imagine a large room set in a world café format (tables of four or five). The program for the night is simply a handful of powerful small group dialogue questions like “What is the true state of our Union?” and “What is the role of the citizen – beyond voting — in navigating our nations future?”

The way world café works is that after each twenty minute conversation, people get up and go to a different table. Therefore, after a couple “rounds” of conversation the people are mixing together all around the room. At the end people randomly share with the room, from their seat, their experience and what they heard in their various conversations. The effect is that all these separate groups that came into the event with their own separate agenda’s begin to develop relationships with individuals from the other groups. The intent of this first plenary session is simply to acknowledge that we’re all Americans, we’re all in the same boat, and that maybe cooperation between groups from all sides may make sense in the face of a crisis.

I can imagine the next day being an inquiry into values.  “What’s most important to you as an individual and as a citizen?”  We can spend time allowing people to throw out words discuss them in small groups and then collect them and vote on them using wireless keypad voting (something we have done numerous times with great affect in the past — see list from Feb ‘09 Citizens Summit).  Once people see that we’re all Americans and that we share a lot of the same values, then we need to have some tools to deal with the areas where we disagree, often very strongly.

In this case, maybe for a whole afternoon (day three) we can hear from professional trainers about dialogue and conflict resolution tools like: listening to be heard, speaking to be understood, managing emotional triggers, the art of inquiry, and techniques for managing judgemnet.  This session, based on experience, builds a great deal of trust and gives participants the sense that we can safely and effectively deal with our differences.  The conversation from this point forward becomes grounded in an acknowledgement of common bonds.

On day four and five is when we can get into “the issues.”  Very often people want to begin discussing policy immediately and in my experience that’s a mistake. Trust, respect and communication has to be created.  By this time in the conference I can imagine we use a self-organizing process called open space technology (free market conservatives call this process “spontaneous order”) that allows any individual to convene a breaklout session on any topic/theme of their choice.  When this happens and there are very different groups represented, its amazing the crosspollinization that takes place.  Throughout the day I can imagine Greens and Libertarians co-hosting sessions on local control and localization.  I can imagine MoveOn.org members and Tea Partiers co-hosting sessions on the role of government.  Because there is no-one “in charge” dictating the agenda and people are free to come and go from sessions at will.  The conversations tend to be much more creative and imaginative and much less adversarial, the natural tendency when people are in a relaxed, open environment where they feel safe is to be innovative.

What this country needs right now is creative innovative thinking.  The adversarial “game” is tearing us apart. At a deeper level, our current political “operating system” cannot deal with complexity.  The system is defaulting in the face multiple, interlocking crises, i.e. economic, environmental, national security and health.  Neuroscientists have found that people who are skilled at “managing chaos” are people who engage not only their left brain – reason, logic, analysis – but also their right brain – intuition, creativity, imagination.  Government is primarily a left brain institution. From my point of view, what we need is a parallel, integrated left-right brain “institution of citizenship” where people can relax, open up and get creative about the challenges facing us (this new “institution” can take many forms from local house parties, library dialogues, town halls, citizen assemblies, all the way up to this annual national conference of conferences.)

As a conservative and an organizer who wandered into the dialogue and deliberation community five years or so ago, I feel that as governments at all levels become overwhelmed and unable to respond to complexity, naturally citizens will need to self-organize and begin to respond on their own.  This can go well or it can go badly.  My intention is that we anticipate the “gathering complexity storm” and begin to organize events like this transpartisan conference of conferences.  We need a healthy alternative process for generating win-win policy options that work for liberals, conservatives, greens, independents, libertarians, and those who don’t identify with any side.

I have the greatest confidence that we as Americans can do this.  We have always been incredibly adaptive in times of need.  These times are calling for innovation in our political process.  I see us rising to the occasion.

Joseph McCormick
After a decade as a Christian Coalition activist and Republican nominee for the U.S. Congress in one of the most conservative districts in our country, Joseph learned firsthand the most destructive force in our country today is Americans taking sides against other Americans. The turning point in his life came in 2001 when his political career, marriage, business and reputation collapsed, his relationships having been eroded by mistrust and hatred of his enemies. Since 2004 he has organized a series of ground breaking private retreats brining over 140 national leaders representing over 70 million Americans into dialogue in search of common ground. His passion is applying tools developed in these gatherings to catalyzing a national campaign of transpartisan dialogues that serve as a resource for local, state and national decision makers searching for innovative, bottom-up solutions in this time of crisis.
Email: jmccormick@transpartisan.net Web: www.transpartisan.net

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