Democracy Lab

  • Launching Fall 2020, Democracy Lab is an experimental, non-partisan initiative aimed at fostering our community’s commitment to the project of American citizenship.

    These are anxious times for our nation. A global pandemic, mass unemployment, the eruption of long-simmering social and racial tensions, a hyper-partisan political landscape, and a highly contested national election are among the many challenges currently testing our commitment to the democratic project. 

    Yet these same circumstances also present us with important opportunities. The social restrictions imposed by COVID-19 and its fallout invite us to reflect on how interconnected we are and to appreciate our neighbors and loved ones. The wider unrest summons us to consider the current state of our society, assessing both its virtues and its shortcomings. By using this moment to take stock of what we value and where we wish to improve, we may begin taking concrete steps toward a more equitable, more civil, and less divisive future. 

    What Democracy Lab does 

    Through the deployment of skills-building workshops and facilitated discussions, the Lab aims to serve as a gathering place where students, staff and community members can assemble and engage with one another in the kind of candid and civil exchange of ideas that a healthy democracy requires.  

    This will be a place where participants can discuss their differences honestly, openly and without fear of being judged; where they can learn about and learn from others’ perspectives and experiences; and where they can begin building upon common ground where it exists. 

    Braver Angels

    For its inaugural season, Democracy Lab is partnering with Braver Angels (www.braverangels.org) and its nationwide “With Malice Toward None” campaign. Non-partisan and citizen-led, Braver Angels is a national organization committed to the de-polarization of American political culture through grassroots efforts. In keeping with this mission, its “With Malice Toward None” campaign aims to serve as a vehicle for citizens to embrace their role as architects of a more perfect union by building capacities for working across political differences to address our common challenges.

    At the heart of this campaign is the “With Malice Toward None” pledge:

    “Regardless of how the election turns out, I will not hold hate, disdain, or ridicule for those who voted differently from me. Whether I am pleased or upset about the outcome, I will seek to understand the concerns and aspirations of those who voted differently and will look for opportunities to work with people with whom I disagree.” 

    Citizens who are concerned about the current state of political discourse are encouraged to sign the pledge by visiting the Braver Angels webpage. Carroll County residents who have already taken the pledge are welcome to email their name with the subject heading “WMTN Pledge” to democracylab@carrollcc.edu. Your name will then be posted to our Carroll County Residents of Good Faith page. 

    Please join us! 

    Democracy Lab offerings are free of charge and open to all members of the Carroll community.


  • Schedule of Upcoming Events

  • September

    COMMUNICATING ACROSS POLITICAL DIVIDES

    Thursday, September 17, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    Rarely in our nation’s history has it been so difficult—or so vital—to engage with people of different political commitments. Democracies depend not on people being able to agree, but on their being willing to speak honestly and listen to others with an open mind.

    In this skills-building workshop, participants will: 

    • Learn to reframe potentially contentious political exchanges in more constructive ways. 
    • Practice skills and techniques vital to constructive democratic exchange. 
    • Formulate a plan for deploying the skills and techniques presented in the workshop within their communities.  

    To participate in this workshop, register here.

    WHY DEMOCRACY?

    Thursday, September 24, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    As Americans, we are taught to believe that democracy is the best form of government, but we are not always encouraged to examine the bases for this belief. By exposing this idea to reconsideration, we open ourselves to a host of questions, many of which touch on some of our most deeply held values and beliefs.

    In this discussion, participants will work together to reflect on: 

    • What they expect from their government and why. 
    • Where our democracy is and is not succeeding in meeting the needs of its citizenry. 
    • How, as citizens, we might work to strengthen civil society and hold our government to account.

    To participate in this workshop, register here.

    HILL SCHOLARS COMMUNICATION COURSE (ACTIVE LISTENING)

    Tuesday, September 29, 4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)        

    Routinely cited by employers as a top 3 desired skill in prospective employees, an ability to communicate effectively carries important benefits in both one’s personal and professional life. As a skill, effective communication entails both the ability to convey one’s own positions and the ability to understand other people’s thinking. Critical to both these goals is the skill of active listening. Learn how to hone your active listening skills in this 90-minute seminar on effective dialogue and communication. (Reserved for students in the Hill Scholars Program.)

    To participate in this workshop, register here.

    OCTOBER

    SKILLS FOR ONLINE COMMUNICATION ACROSS POLITICAL DIVIDES

    Thursday, October 15, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)

    As the elections approach and the rhetoric surrounding them grows increasingly acrimonious, it can be difficult for many of us not to follow suit. However, in the process we risk threatening longstanding relationships with friends and loved ones. Platforms such as email, Facebook and Twitter exacerbate this problem, presenting new and distinct challenges to the kinds of nuanced and constructive discussions that democratic citizenship demands.

    In this skills-building workshop, participants will:

    • Learn to reframe potentially contentious political exchanges in more constructive ways. 
    • Learn about online practices vital to responsible and constructive democratic exchange. 
    • Formulate a plan for deploying these practices within their online exchanges.  

    To participate in this workshop, register here.

    ELECTIONS CHECK-IN

    Thursday, October 29, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)

    As we approach the end of one of the most taxing election cycles in living memory, this discussion will provide a forum for community members to give voice to their election experience. 

    Participants in this discussion will be invited to:

    • Explore the hopes and concerns elicited in them by this election cycle.
    • Identify potential obstacles to producing a decisive winner on election night and reflect on their implications.
    • Work together to develop strategies for approaching the election and dealing constructively with what is likely to be a difficult aftermath.

    To participate in this discussion, register here.

    NOVEMBER

    Part 1 – WMTN POST-ELECTION DISCUSSION 1 

    Tuesday, November 17, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)

    Has the election left you feeling distressed and angry? Perhaps you were repulsed by both major parties’ visions for America. Perhaps you fear that the will of the people has not been properly enacted and that the election may have been unlawfully stolen from Donald Trump. This discussion is the first of a two-part series aimed at exploring the damaging effects of extreme polarization and at rediscovering a common purpose. The follow-up discussion will take place on Thursday, December 10. 

    In this discussion, participants will: 

    • Explore their fears and concerns for the nation given the election results. 
    • Examine the potential ramifications of allowing these feelings of anger and dismay to contribute to the worsening of political divisions within the country. 
    • Work together to develop strategies for mitigating some of the more harmful effects of these and other similarly strong emotions. 

    To participate in this discussion, register here.

    Part 1 – WMTN POST-ELECTION DISCUSSION 2

    Thursday, November 19, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams)

    Has the election of Joe Biden left you feeling vindicated and triumphant? Perhaps you are newly hopeful that, under a Biden administration, democratic norms will be restored and Trump officials will be held accountable for their malfeasance. This discussion is the first of a two-part series aimed at exploring the damaging effects of extreme polarization and at rediscovering a common purpose. The follow-up discussion will take place on Thursday, December 10. 

    In this discussion, participants will: 

    • Explore their hopes and ambitions for the nation given the election results.
    • Examine the potential ramifications of allowing their feelings of triumph and elation to contribute to the worsening of political divisions within the country. 
    • Work together to develop strategies for mitigating some of the more harmful effects of these and other similarly strong emotions.  

    To participate in this discussion, register here

    Part 2 – WMTN POST-ELECTION JOINT DISCUSSION 3

    Thursday, December 10, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Microsoft Teams) 

    In this discussion, participants from the WMTN 1 and 2 discussions will be brought together to hear from one another and learn from each other’s experience with the aim of fostering mutual understanding, respect and a willingness to work together for the common good. 

    In this discussion, participants will: 

    • Learn about one another’s hopes and fears for the nation. 
    • Work together to identify shared values and points of common interest. 
    • Explore prospects for bipartisan coalition building. 

    To participate in this discussion, register here.  



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