The National Institute for Civil Discourse, or NICD, is currently travelling with reporters from Huffington Post on the “Listen to America” bus tour, visiting 25 cities to hear from people across the nation. NICD is housed in the School of Government and Public Policy in the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The bus stopped in Tucson and on the UA mall on Oct. 20.
“The National Institute for Civil Discourse is proud to be joining HuffPost journalists on this journey as they seek to give voice to everyday Americans,” said Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of NICD. “At every stop along this tour, NICD will work with people we meet to foster the free exchange of ideas in a way that respects and affirms all persons.”
Basant Virdee, the communications coordinator for NICD, is on the bus for the entire tour, which started on Sept. 12 in St. Louis and ends on Oct. 30 in New Orleans. The institute is also reaching out to city mayors and encouraging them to proclaim a “Listen to Revive Civility” month. NICD will facilitate workshops and conversations upon request for mayors who want to make civility part of their cities.
NICD’s portion of the tour is sponsored by the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. NICD and SBS are the only national partners with Huffington Post.
“Our college is proud to be a partner with Huffington Post’s “Listen to America” bus tour and to provide sponsorship to the National Institute for Civil Discourse,” said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “Unfortunately, division and incivility are pervasive, and it is hurting us as people and as a country. One road forward is to listen, carefully and thoughtfully, to a variety of voices from diverse communities to find common ground.”
During the bus tour, journalists are interviewing people from all ages and backgrounds about their hopes, dreams, fears and what it’s like to “be American." They are also hoping to rebuild trust in the media by listening to the public and elevating their stories.
“A Pew Research Center poll from January found that 86 percent of Americans believe we’re more divided today than in the past,” said Lukensmeyer. “It’s only through listening, understanding, and respecting one another that we can start to bridge this divide.”
The Oct. 20 stop in Tucson includee an event organized by NICD. In addition, the bus was parked on the UA Mall from 11-3 so journalists could interact with the campus community. Hillary Frey, who is overseeing the “Listen to America” bus tour for Huffington Post, spoke with UA journalism students. The UA School of Journalism sponsored Huffington Post’s visit to campus.
Virdee said there is a lively, positive energy on the bus, which is filled with about 15 journalists and organizers. She is blogging about her experience and the people she meets on Medium.com.
“I go to these cities with my eyes and ears open. I see people in a different light than I did before. I see them as deep reservoirs of personal knowledge, stories, and experiences,” Virdee said.
In Birmingham, AL, Virdee participated in a forum on overcoming and surviving inner city violence. “After listening to the panelists and passionate statements from the audience, it’s clear that the citizens present at this forum desire real change and are ready to put in their time and energy to make the difference,” Basant wrote, while also noting that one panelist admitted these panels are often “preaching to the choir.”
Virdee said the practice of listening she has cultivated during the tour has extended beyond the formal events to everyone she interacts with, such as Uber drivers and waiters. “We are just open to hearing everyone’s stories. We never turn off from the project.”
The other desired outcomes of the tour—such as compromise and bipartisanship—come later, Virdee said. “The listening comes first. The theme of the trip is the power of listening, the power of being heard, and the healing that comes from being heard.”