WINGATE — It’s a stormy time in our society: Officer-involved shootings have led to protests and riots; we’ve experienced one of the most divisive elections in the nation’s history; and a growing number of lawsuits are pending between North Carolina’s legislative and executive branches of government.
How have things gotten so far out of hand, and what can we do to help right the ship?
According to N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, the answer begins with civil discourse. Horn will be among five speakers featured in a town hall event at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12 at Wingate University’s Batte Center. The Civil Discourse forum is the second installment of the Engaged Citizenship Series.
“We will take contentious issues and exchange thought directed at those issues and not at either the antagonists or protagonists,” Horn said. “There should be no place in civil discourse for ad hominem attacks. Information is the point. The seeking of and the delivery of information is what makes civil discourse work and be productive.”
The lawmaker sees regaining the ability to indulge in civil discourse as a matter of both practice and patience.
“We must consciously avail ourselves in conversations that invite differences of opinion and then practice the art of listening and responding to the issue and not the personality,” Horn said.
In addition to Horn, practicing that art and inviting the audience to join the conversation will be:
• Activist Suzanne Barakat, a San Francisco physician who lost three family members to a shooting in Chapel Hill in 2015. She has spoken out across the nation about hate crimes against people of faith.
•Toussaint Romain, a Mecklenburg County assistant public defender and criminal justice teacher who has been hailed a hero for his attempts to bring peace to downtown Charlotte in the wake of the shooting of Keith Scott last September.
• Geniece Crawford Monde, a Wingate University sociology professor who has researched crime, gender and race relations in contemporary U.S. society.
• Jeff Jackson, a Democratic member of the state Senate since 2014, who has been outspoken about the need for independent redistricting, better funding for public education and Medicaid expansion.
Horn is serving his fourth term in the N.C. House, representing portions of Monroe and western Union County. He is often called “Rep. Churchill” because of his role as president of the Churchill Society of North Carolina.
It was that position that allowed him to bring Celia Sandys to Wingate last year. Sandys, Winston Churchill’s granddaughter and biographer, kicked off the Engaged Citizenship Series with a discussion of leadership.
Held quarterly on the Wingate University campus, the series is designed to give the public a deeper understanding of complex societal problems while creating an inviting space for productive dialogue.
“The bottom line is to find ways to help people stop yelling and screaming at each other and gain a better understanding of the issues,” said Jeff Atkinson, assistant vice president at Wingate’s Ballantyne campus. A seasoned journalist who came to the university after a career in television news, Atkinson will serve as moderator for the Civil Discourse event.
A reception will follow the forum in The Batte Center rotunda so that audience members have a chance to continue the conversation with one another and with panelists.
Horn sees the forum, which is free of charge, as a starting point.
“This is not an easy task, nor one that can be accomplished in a single event,” he said. “What I hope for this process is that we persevere, that we sow the seed of desire for a more civil public exchange.”