Tuesday, November 29, 2016
It's #GivingTuesday and we're giving thanks for you
In a blog post yesterday, we introduced you to our two newest board members. I mentioned that one of them, Louis Chaiten, an attorney at Jones Day, commented to me after the board meeting at which he was appointed that with a 30-minute conversation about the importance of freedom of speech and the value of civil, civic dialogue, this was going to be distinctly different than other board service opportunities (and, to his mind, much more fun). I thought about this in the context of this being the season when you and people like you across our community decide where to put charitable dollars and which great organizations deserve your support. It occurred to me that Louis's comment points to what makes us unique, and, I hope, uniquely deserving of your support.
The board meeting he spoke of was just one of two meetings yesterday that deeply illustrate what it is we're all about.
Our board meetings are typically routine affairs -- successive committee reports, the occasional strategic conversation, and everyone is back to their offices after about 60 minutes. That conversation about freedom of speech kicked off the report from our program committee. It was largely a response to a question about what role the City Club ought to play in the aftermath of a historically contentious election in which the country seems deeply fractured and hate speech appears to be increasing. We talked a lot about core values and core principles that guide our work here at the City Club. If you have read our blog before, you know about our new mission and vision which were adopted with our updated strategic plan. And if you've known us for a while as well you know that City Club members have long thought of the institution as a citadel of free speech. We weren't able to get to any definitive answers in just a half hour, but it was one of the best conversations I've ever had with this group. We were all reminded of what makes us important to this community and, the opportunity that this political climate actually offers.
Shortly after our board meeting, we had a team meeting. After we dealt with the usual operational stuff, we spent some time talking about how we all use social media. It's important in this moment because so many on our team are active on social media, and we can't escape the fact that wherever we are in the digital world, we're representatives of this institution. Though I personally feel that it really is a privilege to be associated with this organization, some on the team were worried that the point of our conversation was to censor their speech. That's not the case. In fact, in our conversation, we ended up close to where the City Club actually began.
More than 104 years ago, a group of citizens very much like you created the one place in the community that exists to bring people together for impartial and uncensored civic dialogue. You help us maintain that place. As Ralph Hayes, the City Club's first paid executive secretary, wrote in 1916, "we welcome to our platform the discussion of any theory or dogma of reform," but as an institution, we don't pick sides. We're also the one place where anyone--anyone!--can ask a question in person of any speaker, in their own voice, and that question and its answer wind up on the record, often broadcast on radio and television (thanks, ideastream!). There's more, though. Another board member said yesterday, we are "the place for non-violent violent disagreement."
You make all this possible. In a moment characterized by algorithmically reinforced media bias bubbles, you help us sustain a place where "prejudice grows less and bias dwindles." In a moment when so many who engage in political dialogue seem to be most interested in being right, you strive to understand how diverse points of view are formed and informed. You're interested in facts, intelligent arguments, in the importance of each of us making up our own minds and finding our own ways to get involved and strengthen our community.
I started out wanting to pitch you on pointing your Giving Tuesday donation in our direction. I hope you'll do that. But what I really want to say is thank you. You may not know this, but what you help to create at the City Club is something that most communities do not have and would love to have. You sustain this place that helps our democracy in a truly unique way, and we're deeply appreciative.