TEDx: 21st Century Democracy
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Last month, nearly 2,500 delegates convened in the Quicken Loans Arena to ultimately choose Donald Trump as the Republican Presidential Nominee during the party's convention in Cleveland. Meanwhile, outside of the Q, thousands of activists from local and national organizations also voiced their democratic opinions through rallies, marches and protests. These two parties, separated by tall, metal fences and a militarized police force hardly interacted directly, but were nonetheless part of the same conversation about democracy.
13 blocks away from the animated convention floor and bustling downtown streets, Cleveland State University was also engaging in that discussion in a quiet, third floor conference room. The environment of academia provided a fitting space to host a TEDx Salon, a forum focused on Democracy in the 21st Century.
TEDx events are independently organized, intellectual panels derived from those produced by TED, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading ideas. Notable speakers on subjects including education, science and philosophy include Steve Jobs, who presented a speech on "How to live before you die."
At 10:30 a.m. on July 20th, the university’s President Ronald Berkman called guests’ attention and commenced the talk by quoting a former president:
"'Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely, and the real safeguard of democracy is therefor education,'" said Berkman. "So I think it's particularly appropriate that we are here today at Cleveland State University."
Panel speakers included Richard Perloff, Professor of Communication and Political Science at CSU, Lee Weingart, Founder and President of the LNE Group and former Cuyahoga County Commissioner, Sharon Broussard, Chief Editorial Writer for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, and Lee Fisher, President of CEOs for Cities and former Lieutenant Governor of Ohio.
Associate Professor of Journalism at CSU Edward Horowitz moderated the discussion humorously. Horowitz opened the panel by recounting a scene of the film adaptation of the Broadway musical 1776, the story of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the Declaration of Independence.
"My favorite part of the movie is a small one," Horowitz said. He continued, "John Adams is frustrated because nobody will move over to have the vote. Benjamin Franklin finally says to him, 'John, no one has ever done what we have done. No colony has ever broken off from its mother country."
That legacy of innovating democracy continues today in our evolving nation.
After giving a brief history of the partisan press, including the Federalists Papers, Perloff discussed how modern, negative political campaigns contain more information about issues than positive ones, yet they are premised on strengthening already held beliefs as opposed to changing views.
"Voter anger frequently lamented is not a bad thing," said Perloff. "In fact, given the problems that face us, if you're not angry, you don't have a political pulse. But the problem is that anger is frequently framed by candidates in terms of aggression, not argumentation."
His then proposed three ways for what he calls a "slug fest" into a more constructive "idea fest."
Wiengart explained that one obstacle to becoming more educated and rational about the political workings of one’s country is hyper-partisanship, which typically results in policy stalemates and social polarization. He cited statistics that concluded that 1/2 of Democrats and Republicans reported that speaking to the other party was stressful and frustrating, not interesting and informative.
"In 2008, 30 percent of Democrats and Republicans had a very unfavorable view of the other party," he explained, elaborating that this year, that number has doubled. "We can't live near each other, we can't talk to each other. Heck, we can't even stand each other."
People have historically turned to news outlets to learn about issues and candidates. Broussard,the only female on the panel, offered her perspective of the media’s evolving role in political campaigns. She began with an astounding statistic from the Pew Charitable Trust: 44 percent of US adults learned about the 2016 election from social media.
"There's a reason that the 2016 Presidential campaign is called the 'Social Media campaign,'" said Broussard. "[Canditates] are pushing their message through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, other social media."
The reason for the shift? With social media, costs are negligible, there are no gatekeepers, and it’s becoming the most popular medium.
As far as democracy in Cleveland goes, Fisher discussed how American cities have become centers for civic engagement.
"If you want to change the world, I say, you don't start with Washington, D.C., you start with your city," Fisher said. "You start with your city where ideas collide and where bottom-up change occurs."
When we asked Fisher for advice on how students can have more of a say in how their universities function, the answer was simple: get involved.
To watch the live stream of this TEDx Salon in its entirety, go here.
Save the date for Oct. 21st, 2016 for the next TEDx event at Cleveland State University. Tickets can be purchased soon here.