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Talking Back to History

Thanks to a close election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and historic televised debates that may rival the Kennedy-Nixon Debates for their impact on the political process, America has seen unprecedented levels of engagement with public policy possibilities.  

So how can the national conversation America is having about public policy interact with the work of the Interactivity Foundation?  The IF…Urban Initiative attempted to answer this question through a series of discussions. Over the month of October, we’ve organized nearly 30 discussions in 4 states in both English and Spanish. We met in restaurants. We met in people’s living rooms. For the final debate, we met at The Washington Post building. We broke bread, had stimulating conversations among people with views all across the political spectrum. And then, after IF-style discussions, we watched the debates on a big screen on Oct. 3, 11, 16 and 22nd.

A Washington, D.C. radio show host happened to stumble into one of our events. He invited me on the station the next day, and marveled at what he saw:  “I was in the house at Chez Billy’s last night and you had a packed room full of people watching the debate! And there was quiet! How did you do it?”

Of course, we had been building up to this moment all year long via IF’s Urban Initiative. We began with a partnership with Howard University alumni, and expanded the include Spanish-language discussions with families from the Latin American Bilingual Montessori Bilingual Charter School and the education firm ABC Consulting, and brought into the fold the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs. 

Often the debates themselves had the feeling of a boxing match. (One participant in the discussions spoke of wanting to see his candidate’s “rip his head off.”) The contentious, pugilistic and often downright rude nature of the debates themselves stood in stark contrast with the IF facilitator-led conversations of the Democractic Promise, Helping America Talk and Helping Out reports. 

For IF, talking about the public decisions we make is not something that happens when an election is coming up. We do this day in day out. And I would like to invite you to join our next one. If you’d like to participate or host an IF discussion in your community, please email us at [email protected]

Listen to the IF…Podcast recorded on location of one of the debate watch events Washington, D.C.: