“Promoting Civil Discourse” Review

By Amber Nobe 

This season, as we mingle at parties or visit far-away loved ones, discussions of politics could heat up and spiral down—fast!  How can we create bridges to encourage civil civic discourse? At the November Civic Education forum, three experts on free speech and building consensus offered their take.

Mat dos Santos (ACLU of Oregon), Michael Mills (PSU National Policy Consensus Center and Oregon Solutions Project Manager), and Wendy Willis (National Policy Consensus Center and Oregon’s Kitchen Table) shared keen insights on the state of current political dialogue, posed questions for us to consider, and provided advice on infusing respect into our conversations.


  • Good leaders aren’t afraid of opposing viewpoints — they seek them out. Mills believed it strengthened the city government when he worked under Mayor Vera Katz.
  • “Tilt” is a poker strategy to force poor play from opponents by confusing, distressing, or enraging them. Politicians and political parties are adept at this.
  • Rage is a powerful motivator and is driving politics right now. Willis talked about how sites like Facebook have ways to amplify the voices that resonate with us and confirm our biases.
  • Social media is still brand new in the context of history. Similar challenges likely existed with the advent of the printing press.
  • Authoritarianism is on the rise across the globe — sometimes in places where the people say they don’t see democracy as essential. At the same time, this is not the first period when our nation has confronted polarizing views and uncomfortable change. (Dos Santos pointed to the Civil Rights movement.)
  • In the “Marketplace of Ideas,” all ideas are voiced, and the best rise to the top. But if some voices are given outsized advantages, how can you discern those ideas the majority truly support from those that are broadcast loudest?
  • Willis contends that Americans generally share the same bucket of values — our differences lie in how we prioritize them.



  • Protests cause disruptions, from clogging traffic to driving away local business. Is the cost of democratic free speech worth it?
  • Is protest or conflict inherently uncivil?
  • Does the cost of democracy include unfettered Second Amendment rights?
  • What is the reasoning behind your rage? And “their” rage?
  • What is your vantage point? And what is “their” vantage point? Can you try to understand it?
  • What, if any, controls should there be on social media speech?



  • Join a cause you care about.
  • Talk to strangers and engage different viewpoints.
  • Rest and take care of yourself.
  • Monitor your information input.
  • Question your rage and de-escalate personal attacks.
  • Practice being uncomfortable.
  • Start small.
  • Apologize if you slip up.
  • Write to your elected officials.
  • Create a safe environment for all.


More than 70 people attended this event, which was moderated by Marge Easley of the Clackamas County League. To view a recording and hear more from the panelists, click here.


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