Eighteen Carolina community members, comprised of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni, joined PPD in the Carolina Union for our inaugural First Friday workshop on September 3rd.
The workshop, led by executive director Kevin Marinelli, saw participants moving from small group conversations to workshop-wide discussions about what they saw as current challenges and opportunities for democratic discourse. Topics progressed from identifying the environments where participants engaged in public discourse to naming challenges to that discourse, deciding who or what is to blame for those challenges and what possible solutions may be, before concluding with considerations of what constitutes robust public discourse.
Environments included the academic (classrooms, publications, conferences) and public (town halls, social media, the workplace), and challenges ranged from the individual (fear, desensitization, and a lack of meaningful engagement) to the structural (algorithmic siloing and the voting process in political primaries).
Participants blamed these challenges on various actors and elements, including governments and regulators failing to act within the public’s interest, the privatization of public discourse by corporations, and the loss of local news.
Proposed solutions included small, personal changes (identifying and understanding your own bias and how it impacts your community) and large, structural ones (bolstering state civic education to raise collective understanding of government, increased transparency from corporations). The conversation also dealt with redefining our idea of censorship to help combat mis- and disinformation.
When asked what robust public discourse looks like after considering these elements, participants noted the need for heterogeneity of inputs and ideas in conversations, vulnerability and authenticity from those involved, and a commitment to continuous communication.