Seeking politics on a higher plane
The Village Square, which is a national organization seeking to restore civil discourse to our national politics, has come to Kansas City.
The new Kansas City chapter of the organization, co-founded by distinguished professor Allan Katz of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has named its co-chairs, appointed an advisory board and scheduled its first event. Katz has returned to his alma mater as a faculty member after serving as U.S. Ambassador to Portugal
The Village Square is a vehicle for civic engagement. It is an attempt to bring back the spirit of the American town hall and engage local citizens in civil dialogue on contentious issues. The Village Square holds comfortable, casual forums and offers programming that brings people together for face-to-face interactions about polarizing issues facing local communities and the nation. The goal is to engage in dialog, build connections and seek understanding, even while disagreeing.
“Our political system won’t change until leaders lose power when they are divisive and polarizing,” says Katz. “In our hometown, what will change right away is how we discuss these issues, because they’ll be framed not just by advocates, but by the community.
“There is a hunger in this country for rational conversation,” Katz said. “We’re going to create a place for that in Kansas City.”
Each Village Square chapter has co-chairs from opposite sides of the political aisle. Filling those roles in Kansas City are Mary Bloch, a Democrat on the Missouri side of the state line, and Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn, a Republican from Kansas.
The chapter’s inaugural event, A Dinner at the Square, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, October 9, at the Kansas City Public Library Downtown, 14 W. 10th St. It will be a dinner and panel discussion in partnership with the Library, with the theme “The Price of Incivility.” Katz will moderate a discussion among panelists David Obey, John Bluford and Bryan Desloge. Tickets are available online here; online registration deadline is Oct. 7.
Obey is a former Congressman from Wisconsin, former Chair of the Appropriations Committee and author of the book “Raising Hell for Justice.” Bluford recently retired as CEO and Executive Director of Truman Medical Centers, and is founder of the Bluford Healthcare Leadership Institute, a professional development program designed to encourage minority scholars’ interest in the healthcare professions. Desloge is Commissioner of Leon County, Fla., President of the Florida Association of Counties and Vice President of the National Association of Counties.
In addition to the local Kansas City chapter, the national Village Square offices also are being established at UMKC, with support from the Bloch Family Foundation. Chancellor Leo E. Morton said the university and the Henry W. Bloch School of Management are affiliating with The Village Square as another way of living up to its responsibility to its students. The paralysis caused by our current political divide, Morton said, narrows graduates’ options.
“We need to have an impact on the environment they will enter when they graduate,” Morton said. “That’s why we are excited to have the national headquarters of the Village Square at UMKC.”
Co-chairs Bloch and Dunn both spoke at a June luncheon at UMKC, featuring Congressmen Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri and Kevin Yoder of Kansas, to introduce The Village Square to Kansas City. Both expressed tremendous enthusiasm about participating in the project.
Dunn was quick to note that The Village Square “isn’t just about politics; it’s about issues that are polarizing.”
“It’s such a simple idea,” Bloch said. “It’s a shame there has to be an organization to promote it.”
She said the need for civil discussion around hot-button issues is obvious to anyone who watches television. “Everyone is fighting, and no one is talking.”
Kansas City Village Square Advisory Board members are Irvin V. Belzer, Mary S. Bloch, John W. Bluford, Curt Crespino, James W. Dawson, Corey Dillon, The Honorable Peggy J. Dunn, Henry Fortunato, SuEllen Fried, Lee Greif, Nick Haines, Scott T. Helm, Irvine O. Hockaday, Jr., Joanne Katz, Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, Rabbi Mark H. Levin, Janet L. Mark, Mary Kay McPhee, Ramon Murguia, Sally Murguia, Sue Seidler Nerman, Dr. Nick Peroff, Cici Rojas, Steve Roling, Daniel Rosenfield, Mahnaz M. Shabbir, Deborah L. Sosland-Edelman, Marvin S. Szneler, Dr. F. Wayne Vaught and Phil Witt.