Editorials

League of Women Voters encourages civil discourse

The League of Women Voters in San Luis Obispo County distributes these pins, along with brochures and stickers, to encourage constructive civil discourse as the voting season draws near.
The League of Women Voters in San Luis Obispo County distributes these pins, along with brochures and stickers, to encourage constructive civil discourse as the voting season draws near. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The League of Women Voters of San Luis Obispo County rolls out its civil discourse campaign this week. The timing couldn’t be better.

On top of several contentious issues — a mental health facility proposed in Templeton, housing projects planned for Avila, the rail spur application put forth by Phillips 66 and the formation of a groundwater management district in North County — we’re heading into election season.

If we aren’t careful, things could get very ugly, very fast. As divided as the county is now, it could get worse, which is why the League’s focus on civil discourse is so valuable.

The League developed and printed 10,000 brochures that are, in effect, a primer on civil discourse. They also are distributing “I Heart Civil Discourse” pins and buttons. (Note for the future: We think bumper stickers would be a great communication tool as well.)

The League’s guidelines are for government officials and members of the public. While they pertain mostly to public meetings, the principles could be applied to a range of venues.

Most are common-sense reminders:

Stick to the topic at hand.

Don’t interrupt.

Avoid labels.

Speak in modulated tones. (In other words, no shouting.)

Don’t use half-truths.

And of course, no violence, threats, personal attacks or name-calling.

Several suggestions are aimed at chairpersons who run meetings, such as Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Debbie Arnold, the mayors of the various cities and the presidents of school boards and special districts.

That’s good. Chairs set the tone for meetings. If they do their job well, they can make audience members walk away feeling as if their concerns were heard and heeded — even if the vote ultimately didn’t go their way.

But if they don’t run the meeting properly, members of the public can feel ignored, or worse, insulted to the point where they never want to return.

On Tuesday, the League of Women Voters will be at the Board of Supervisors meeting, distributing brochures, buttons and stickers.

It also will ask the board to adopt a resolution that is essentially a pledge to uphold key principles of civil discourse.

Those include:

Avoiding rhetoric intended to humiliate, malign or question the motivation of those whose opinions differ from their own.

Choosing words carefully.

Speaking truthfully, without accusations.

And speaking out against violence, prejudice and incivility in all their forms.

Again, these ideas — which we should all take to heart -— aren’t new or radical. But putting them down on paper gives them weight, and signals how important these values are to our community.

The Board of Supervisors should adopt the resolution on Tuesday — that’s a no-brainer.

The League also plans to reach out to each of the seven cities, and if school boards and special districts would like a presentation and/or materials, they should contact the League.

The League’s job won’t end when the resolutions are adopted; members also plan to attend meetings, though they will be there only to observe. They stress that they aren’t the civility police.

Even so, we suspect that the presence of League members wearing their “I Heart Civil Discourse” buttons will send a powerful message — even if they don’t say a single word.

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