Rudeness and lack of respect for each other has sadly become common place in many open forums. Discussions can turn into loud, angry arguments. Hostility towards those with different opinions has become normalized. What triggers this aggression and how can it be avoided?

The League of Women Voters of Greater Chippewa Valley and the UW-Stout Center for Applied Ethics encourage students, voters, and community members to join in a discussion on civility in public discourse.  The program will be held Tuesday, February 28, 2023 at the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts in Menomonie from 6:30pm to 7:30pm.

The speakers are Dr. Chris Freeman, Professor, UW-Stout Social Science and Dr. Tim Nordin, President Eau Claire School Board. Dr. Freeman will present historical traditions of civil discourse and share his experiences as a member of the Menomonie School Board. Dr. Nordin will discuss his school board leadership when targeted by a death threat.

Following is a machine-produced transcript with only very light editing.


civil discourse, people, eau claire, school board, discourse, dialogue, meeting, polite, uncivil, league, nature, year, understand, speak, menominee, community, students, operates, vote, happened


Annemarie McClellan, Dan Paulson, Question, Ellen Ochs, Kate Roberts Edinborg, Jane Pederson, Chris Freeman, Question 2, Tim Nordin

Ellen Ochs 00:07

Good evening. It is 630 Welcome to all of you here tonight, whether you're in person, or online, we are so glad you could come. We are so glad that you have an interest in this changing world. My name is Ellen Ochs. I'm a co president of the League of Women Voters greater Chippewa Valley as an American voter. As a past Dunn County Supervisor from 1990 to 2010. And as a member of the league, I find the rising tide of abuse of our democratic institutions extremely troubling. I hope you do too. Tonight, we will hear from two area citizens who have weathered serious disruption of their public service. I'm going to surrender the mic now to my fellow league co President Anne Marie McClellan, who will introduce them.

Annemarie McClellan 01:20

Hi, everyone, and thanks for being here at the wonderful Mabel Tainter theatre. It's kind of intimidating standing up here, that's formality. But luckily, stout has co hosted this along with the League of Women Voters. So we thought this was a perfect venue to invite both the community and the students. So we thank you both for coming out here. Several of us league members attended an event for aspiring teachers at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire last year, where we had the opportunity to meet Dr. Tim Nardin. And this was shortly after he received some vicious threats just for doing his job as a school board president and the league we became aware of all the threats that were made to our municipal clerks just for doing their job administering elections. And so we were kind of alarmed as most are with this uncivil behavior with amongst people that are just trying to do their job. So what we wanted to do is open a discussion about this kind of uncivil behavior within our you know, our community and see where we're headed with it. So we invited speakers Dr. Tim Nordin, from, as I said, the President of the Eau Claire school board, because he has first hand knowledge on how uncivil behavior affects both individuals and the communities that he serves and that we serve on. And Dr. Chris Freeman is a professor of social science at stout, and he will share some historical perspectives as well as his personal experiences serving on a school board. So we're going to set up is each speaker will have 20 minutes to talk. And then we have a mic down here. So for the last 20 minutes, we'll be happy to take questions and have an active discussion amongst everyone here. So now, also, we have a general meeting the League of Women Voters after the first hour, it will be short, but we hope that you all stay and just kind of learn about the league and what we have planned next. And now I'd like to introduce Kate Roberts, Edinboro who's professor of communications at stout and also the Interim Chair for the Center for Applied Ethics, who is the co sponsor of this event.

Kate Roberts Edinborg 03:46

And I will be brief, because I want to hand the session over to our speaker. So we can have that conversation that both Annemarie and Ellen talked about. I am very happy that the League of Women Voters approached me to help co sponsor this conversation. And I think we've talked about other events where we'll continue to inspire conversation in the community, with the campus with students with community members and citizens in the area to talk about topics that I think we think are discussed enough in the community. So I thank you guys for inviting me to or inviting the Center for Applied Ethics to be a part of this. So with that, I'll hand it back over to you guys all right.

Tim Nordin 04:33

Well, everybody this mic close enough that y'all can hear me okay, that better if I go like that. You know, I was a high school teacher for five years before going to graduate school so I'm very used to like using teacher voice theater. I was protected but I'll try to I don't know Made Simple, I guess, I'm not sure how to do all that you can see that Chris has a folder up here, he as a professor as well prepared and have a list of talking points I as a locally elected official, and no one. Just going to freestyle tonight, you know, three years ago, I would not have been invited to be part of the forum, because I had not had that experience of living in a grew, I guess, living through a time when we have seen, I think, an upswing in tactics use in our institution to try to influence power. And that has become I think, increasingly over the last few years, more and more uncivil. But I think over the past few years, as I have been the wrapping up, I guess, my third year as the president of the board, and I think we have learned a few lessons about how to respond to new situations. So I was asked to just sort of share some of our story and some of the things that we've gone through or that we as a school board, but I, unfortunately, individually as well. So, you know, being elected to the Eau Claire School Board in 2019. I started my first year. And one of the things that I think our president at that time was very proud of this one, we got our meetings done in two hours, every time he would announce the time it is 858. And we ensure that was his signature. And our meetings were quite frankly, boring, right. That's what we want our school board meetings to be, right, we discuss what we're doing, we do our business, and we get our work done for the schools. In 2020. You may recall that we had an event in spray that shut our schools down. That was when I became the board president. So I've been board president through COVID and the following. And that, of course, is an adjustment all of us. And before you start to think that I have any real wisdom to share, I will share a little bit of my naivete. At the start of COVID. We did vote to shut down our schools just like every school in the state, the governor followed with the requirement that it had a requirement that we do so. And that was still really before COVID was here. And it wasn't in Chippewa Valley. It wasn't in Eau Claire or Dunn County, it wasn't in western Wisconsin. And there was a time a couple of weeks where I thought we'll miss it. Maybe it won't make it here. And obviously that wasn't the case, right? Sometimes I feel like as a non native of Eau Claire that I feel insulated by the area that we don't always experience all of the issues that we see on the news that we read about in the paper. Those things happen in New York, or Chicago or Florida or Texas or California, they don't happen. But of course they do. And the first time that we got our case that it was during the fall of 2020, when an organized group of protesters filled our streets outside of our Board Office on the evening of in August. Ultimately, by media accounts, about 300 people sign our plan for COVID school. Now, every district around here did something a little bit different. There wasn't a right answer in my mind. And we did the best that we could, but they were unhappy with that. And after that, they filled the room, which in many ways is perfectly fine, right? Our democracy can thrive when people want to protest when they want to share when they're outside. They're protesting outside and that's okay. But when they came in, and that's when the shouting started, in person after person filled our public comment. And were shouting about us as though we were the ones who were making every decision to specifically harm people. And the first realization I had there was that this loud group of people who by you're welcome to come and speak at our public comment. But very few of them were actually from the Eau Claire school district sitting right in the front filling the space in our horseshoe was a family that I knew personally, you know, obviously we disagreed on some of the issues, but they were sitting there with their four small children, none of whom attended Eau Claire schools, because they lived out past Mondovi. We recognize people from around the area and this group came and they protested here in Menominee. It was sort of a traveling roadshow to try to intimidate schools and school boards to doing what they want it right. After that, we realized that in a COVID era, there was not a safe way to handle that many people in our meetings. And we required after that the people coming to our meetings and again, other districts chose other things, other ways to do it. So I'm not suggesting that we had the best way or the right way. But our choice was to say, you cannot be present in our meeting without wearing a mask, we're going to try to protect the safety of our staff, especially because we did have, I don't know, the contact tracer, but we did have the staff members, within a week of that big meeting where the protest was there, and very few people were wearing masks have to take time off for COVID. So we're not going to put our staff at risk. And then we had more people come in, and they wouldn't wear the mask. And so what do we do? At that point? You know, we had discussed as a group, and I think one of the things that we learned is that in order to combat some of the issues that we're having in order to combat the attacks or the shouting, you have to be prepared. We had discussed as a board, what will our plan be, we had talked with our law enforcement officers about if we're in an unsafe environment, what can we do and what and we had discussed a plan. And our plan was to call recess to ask people to put their masks back on. And then at the end of the recess, hopefully, people would comply, or I guess their other option was to leave, just like most school districts, nowadays, we do stream all of our meetings, that was always an option for people. When we recess the first time, the first meeting after that there was only one person there who wasn't wearing a mask, she decided. After that, there was a few people that wouldn't put their masks on. And gentleman began shouting at me and approached our podium. And, you know, so we recessed the meeting. And ultimately, we had to adjourn the meeting. So we get, you know, maybe you watch the news that That, to me was the first time realizing, Oh, this isn't something that's just happening in other cities, it's not something that just happens in big cities. It's happening here. Later in the spring, we had and throughout that next summer, we had, you know, kind of continued there. We then had the next sort of phase of it. And I think one of the things that's important to realize is that this isn't accidental. Or this isn't something that is just a bunch of people kind of getting mad and losing control. For a moment, I think all of us can probably relate to a time where we lost our temper and shouted at somebody, and then had to go back and apologize and make things right, this is intentional. This is organized by groups who feel that this is the best way to drive power, to drive fear, and to drive votes to take power. And specifically at school boards, this was a target and intention. There are groups outside of Wisconsin, but inside Wisconsin as well, that are saying that school boards are the path to power up and down, throughout. And we had people here in Eau Claire, and I think, you know, Menomonie and other places that took that to heart on several occasions. So their next line of attack, of course, was critical race theory. We had a we had a few people that yelled at us about that, as well as we had a group of people who interrupted our meetings. I think their plan did not go off, as they had intended it to but they had planned to disrupt our meeting. And a woman jumped up and started screaming in the middle of our like, right after our Pledge of Allegiance. You've been served, you've been served, at which point two of her colleagues ran forward with what amounted to a hostage a ransom note and threw them at us at our tables. Now you've been served as a legal term that was not what was happening. What they had was a packet of demands, saying here are the I believe it was 20. The first time I believe was 19. I follow up one was 22 crimes that that you have committed as a school board that violate state, federal and international laws. So you are all free to go home and say I sat in a forum with someone who has been accused of violating the Nuremberg Code. Because asking our students to wear masks was considered by them a war crime. I'm glad that you laugh. If you hadn't, I might have put them back down and just sort of slowly walked away. This happened several times our insurance attorney this was a this is a planned action that is supported by a group called bonds for the win, who encourage people to write up these lists. They have form letters that they then sort of fill out with their own and put in quotes serve them to school boards threatening their insurance. Our insurance attorney, congratulated us that we had one joining the ranks of different school districts that he was working with here in Wisconsin who had experienced this. And then he said to us, you know, most districts just get one, you will have four. So we had four different occasions where they did this at one point, we did have a process server come to our individual homes and sheepishly handed to us saying, I'm just doing my job, which they were, you can pay a process server to take anything for you. But of course, then we're we're dealing with this and some of the ransom demands were changed all of these practices, within one day, everyone on the school board has to resign, the superintendent has to resign, all of the books in this list must be removed from your libraries, you can never mention, you know, race or gender in any of your classes. And doesn't stop there. Last spring, you this is where if you know who I am at first, it's because of last spring, and I'm sorry to be a celebrity that you might have heard of. Last spring, we had a fairly contentious election for school board. I was on the ballot. This is why I'm part of it. And the three candidates that were running, there were three spots up and the election ended up basically breaking down three and three, the three candidates that I would say were running against the three candidates that I was aligned with, or the two others. were given a piece of our professional development that went out to teachers about safe spaces, right? How do we protect kids in our schools to make sure that they are safe to share with caring adults, in order to be who they are. This was particular this was specifically about LGBTQ students, who one of the slides was a discussion slide was talking amongst yourselves on the slides with the presenters notes said one thing to remember is that parents are not entitled to know their children's identity, they must earn that right. That was taken to be that Eau Claire was requiring teachers to hide the identity of students who came out to their teachers from parents. I think if you give it a fair reading, what you can say is that, who I am on the inside as a person is mine to control it is not the control of my parents, right? Children are people. And when you say that I have the rights to every single bit of knowledge about my child, that they don't want to give me that I own everything about my child, he was very close to treating people as property. And we do not have a very good history in this country. When we consider people as property, whether it is children, or others. The candidates that we were running against this news made a press release and with plenty of hyperbole. Put it out to our media. This was immediately picked up and you know, I realized that this is a nonpartisan event. This was coming from the right wing on this case, I am not suggesting that this isn't a practice that happens from all sides. This is my experience was from the right wing on this case, right wing media in Wisconsin picked up the story and ran with it. Media on the national level, picked it up and ran with it. So I and the district were named personally like the superintendent. on websites like Breitbart, Fox News, we managed to make international news of the UK Daily Mail. And the more people that push this false narrative, right, this is not an attack on parent rights. This is attack. This is an attack from them on to our students to say that students don't have rights to say that the students are not people. This is an attack on our teachers. And this is where I think the real deluge of hatred of incivility came in and turns out, I might use that 20 minutes I said, I'm never gonna feel 20 minutes. You're gonna have to bleep wave me off at some point. We started getting mail from people in town. We started having people at our public comment, where we were called groomers where we were called pedophiles, where we were called sinners, where we were called monsters. In an attempt to intimidate us, to stop supporting our students and to stop supporting our teachers to keep for keeping our kids safe. We receive plenty of letters as the story grew to right wing media across the country, we receive plenty of letters from people I received a hate message from someone who runs a group in Illinois. We received a religious tract and warning from someone who runs an operation out of Tennessee. And last March, I received an email on the day of one of our board meetings from someone and whose email address in our contact form was kill all Marxist, which said and I'm going to paraphrase because I don't quite have it fully memorized here almost a year later, I am going to kill you. For your rabid radical transgender agenda, I am going to shoot up your next school board meeting. And I will declare it is time to declare war on your paedos I will kill you and your entire family. I was at home it was noon. My wife was out. I was inside working from home on that day, my 14 year old son 14 year old son at that time when they grow up basketball was was playing outside like just outside on our trampoline. And as much as we'd like to say, well, you know, this is some someone who has no intention This is the real problem is that you don't know whether or not it's a real threat until you know whether it's a real threat. And quite frankly, it is too easy in the United States right now to imagine any public event being the site of a mass shooting. And that includes our school board meeting where anyone could be in attendance regardless of your politics. Our staff are there, our school board is there. Anyone in our community and if you'd like to come and visit, what I hope is a very boring meeting come to our school, we're being up there. And so at that point, I had to have my wife call our son inside and said lock all the doors I'm leaving because I don't know who this is the phone number that was placed in the contact form was a 715 number. I immediately left and call the school board office and said I've you know i Here's I perceive this death threat. And they said we'll we'll get in touch with the police come on, and we'll take care of you know, we'll run into here. And I went down to the school board office, I spoke with the police, thank goodness for the law enforcement officers and ecpd They did an amazing job. They were able to take the information that they had, and they were able to work very quickly. They ultimately found that the person who sent the threat was in California. He was a 34 year old man who had was living at home and had sent the email through his Playstation four. Now, I don't know how many of you are video gamers, it may be a generational thing, I played plenty of video games, maybe some of you that are slightly older than me played fewer. And maybe some of you that are younger, will also be able to understand that it's the least effective email tool ever is a PlayStation four. But thank God. So they partnered with a sheriff's office in Orange County, California. And we went to that man's house confirm that he was at home. And were able to stay by our board meeting that night that they didn't believe that it was someone coming but when they traced the phone number, the fake phone number that he put in it traced to just the other side of the state and you're the up. It's about a four hour drive from where that phone number would have been if it was his real phone. At noon, when I received the email for our seven o'clock, meaning the house in a car, or frankly begins on a plane at Las, you can be in Eau Claire in four hours. Now again, we were fortunately able to realize that he was not likely to be here he was still in California with no actual plans to come. But we had to have police at our meeting we had to have that we had to announce to the public we've had this threat we are going to hold the meeting because our police are are certain that it's safe. We will have extra protection there. But that's disrupting our work and our work the way that is for producing results for our children to help our kids become the people that we want them to become right. Oh, Claire's mission is to help students to live creative, responsible lives. Right? We can't do that when we are worried about our own safety and that is the tactic. That is the intention. The man who threatened me, I guess what had a history of threatening many organizations, professors at the University of Wisconsin out of Massachusetts he was eventually he was charged in Eau Claire those charges were dropped when he was convicted in federal court by the FBI for threatening the Merriam Webster Dictionary company. He also threatened Land of Lakes it's if you got extra time and you want to hear some funny case. We can talk about it later. But you know it's easy now. Right? Someone has people people have said that you know tragedy plus time equals comedy. Right I can joke about it with you right now but in that moment, my family is at risk my community is at risk my colleagues are is people that I love people that I respect people that I honestly don't know. But don't wait course don't wait. assume any harm. So all of this to say like all of these experiences, you know, what do we do? Right? When people are trying to intimidate you both from outside, both from inside when they're screaming at you, I hope that Chris will have at least a little bit of context to bring to that I'm gonna really put the weight on him to solve this all for us by the end of his 20 minutes. I will say that what we saw in Eau Claire that changed the tenor of that election, we started talking about, is this the kind of behavior that we want in our, in our community in our school district? Is this how we want to approach our politics and our service. And Eau Claire, and that spring election responded loudly to say, No, that is not what we want. And the three candidates that were remaining, I would say civil, that we're not promoting these false narratives won handily, if you add our votes together, and there's it was slightly over a 10 point margin, right, Eau Claire said, We don't want this to happen. And we saw in that spring election, across western Wisconsin, many communities, rejecting those sorts of arguments that those that sort of hyperbole, that sort of speech and anger, in favor of going forward. Now, I wanted to hit back. I, after that I wrote, you know, I had a statement that I released to the press saying, you know, this is my response to it. The first draft was not great. It was very angry, it was very ongoing on the offense. But what we had to realize what I had to realize, and thankfully, I have, you know, caring people around me to help edit, my wife is a wonderful writer. And she said, I think you want to tone this down a little bit and focus on what's important, which is our kids and students and our family. Because the way to combat dishonor, the way to combat anger and rage is not by throwing it back, we have to be bold, and we have to stand up and we have to call out hatred. We have to call out bigotry and racism and white supremacy, we have to be able to say those things. But we don't have to do it in a way that is disrespectful to even those that we're trying to listen to, because it is our responsibility to listen to everybody. We do listen to those responses. We do think about what's brought before us, but we want to go back and treat them. So I think the one thing that we learned through this is that what three things that we learned to this and then I'll wrap it up, thank you. What, plan ahead, right, talk with the people that you weren't gonna know that this might happen, and how will you approach it if it does, too. There's a difference between offense and offensive. And you have to find the difference between that and three. The best way to defeat this is by winning elections, by voting. Right? This is League of Women Voters, I think I'm on message here to say, go out and vote. And vote for people who represent the way that you want your community to be represented. Don't tolerate people that will come with this hatred don't tolerate people who egg that on or move it forward. Almost all of our we still get the occasion, we still have some ongoing issues and our meetings occasionally. But it really dried out the moment that Eau Claire stood up as a community and went to the ballot box and said, We do not want this in our community. So vote and vote for people that represent you in the way that you want it to be to vote for we we are at a tipping point where we could move away from, I don't care who it is or how they act, I just want them to get with their power. And that's not going to be effective. And it will not continue to carry us through we'd have to vote for those people that represent us not only with their ideas, but their demeanor. So I did feel the minutes. I'm very sorry for going over. But maybe Chris will appreciate that because he can go faster. I don't think

Chris Freeman 29:01

Wasn't that great?. I mean, not great grades, but not great kind of way. I think one thing that I kind of like to address is the nature of what civil dialogue is. And so I'm not gonna really concern myself with some of the craziest things that might have happened to me when I was on school board, or some of the aberrations that happen in what is an increasingly violent society that we live in. So there's a difference between cultural violence, social violence, and then civil discourse. And that's kind of where I want to take the discussion and all of that to make us realize that like, you know, our civil discourse it isn't that bad. When you put it in historical perspective, you know, it's civil discourse that is like discourse that's oriented towards the opposite of our citizenry. It's never been polite. If you compare ourselves to the Greeks, our civil discourse is just as rancorous and contentious as the Athenians were in this century. When we're talking about the type of dialogue we need to have in order to sort of educate a citizenry about interest of vital importance to the state, you can only be as polite, and you can only be as simple as the people to whom you speak. So, if you don't like the nature of political discourse in this country, I don't really think we need to look at political leaders. They're speaking to a context and to an audience, and to a culture that's primed for the type of dialogue that we have. So that's the first thing I wanted to mention today, is that no civil dialogue can ever be more civil than the people to whom that addresses. Because it's a rhetoric, all rhetoric, your words have to bend to the gears in the audience. You can't speak above them. You can't speak below them. And you can't actually, you know, Explain the facts as you understand them. You need to create a dialogue that can be understood so that citizens can act. They have to participate in the dialogue. And so, when we think about what that looks like, you know, when we put it in the big picture, we're not doing too badly. I mean, think about the context for democratic discussion in ancient Greece, you know, or it happened. It happened on the panics. You know, what the Phoenix is? It's a freakin rock. It's a large rock and the east side of the Acropolis. Has anyone ever been to Athens? It's frickin hot. All right. So if you're in freakin hot Athens on top of a rock, the type of dialogue you have can get very contentious. No win when you address the ecclesia which is about 15,000 hot, sweaty togas on the peninsula, which is a hot rock and a hot part of the world. Things got contentious and they got contentious quickly. If you didn't speak in the way that conform to the ears of your audience, those 15,000 tokens would fumble you up, carry you off with a Bama, which is the hot rock that you dress your assembly on and take you off with connects in a hot minute. Was that Palais? Hell? No. But that's not the nature of civil discourse. All right. So when we think about how the kind of context for the ways in which the dialogue has to operate, it really has to conform to the nature of the kind of culture that you're addressing. And the way in which that, you know, we want to think about the rules for what this type of civil dialogue should be composed of. Now. I happen to be a classicist, so I could talk a lot about the nature of rhetoric. I mean, we could talk about Aristotle's treatise on rhetoric, we could talk about Cicero, my favorite quintillion. And you know what? I don't think Horace gets enough truck when we start talking about the nature of civil materialism. All right. But he understood the way in which that the civil discourse was always dependent upon reception, and understood in the very nature of reception theory. I can't go on and reconstitute what the nature of civil discourse is, even if it's just to try to address Aristotle. Do you know that Aristotle's on rhetoric was over 325 pages into modern edition? How much time do I have left? I got like five minutes people. So instead of talking about what civil discourse is, I'm going to talk about what it ain't. And this is, historically speaking, we should really understand what civil discourse cannot be. First and foremost, it cannot be polite. It's never been polite. It never stood on courtesy and never stood on ceremony. I'm understanding how that kind of engagement operates. It's dependent upon the nature of the audience to whom you're addressing. And it's also dependent upon that kind of context, the reception, right has to condition the way in which the dialogue operates. And I'm telling you, the more popular you know, our voting population Shouldn't becomes, the less polite that we are going to become. Because a lot of the people that are brought in in times of populism, you know, they don't have time for standing on ceremony and politeness, they need action, they need words of action, and they need people that are going to address their particular needs. Now, this sure as hell happened in Athens during the parrot clan age, because he brought in a radical new populace contention into the voting population, he expanded the ecclesia considerably. And you know, what happened to that discourse got less and less polite. That's because civil discourse isn't by its nature, polite, it's conditioned by the people to whom you address same thing happened in this country. Obama, right. A populist brought in a bunch of people who had never voted before that needed specific needs addressed, they expected it to address their concerns, you know, Bernie populist, those people he brought in expect that there needs to be addressed that very specific workman like language, and Trump brought in more than all of them. We've got a radically expanded population, that's part of our democracy, now, they're voted. And if you don't think that substantially conditions, the nature of, you know, civil discourse, you gotta read your Aristotle, man. Because we have to speak to those people who demand redress. So it changes all the time. So first of all, it's not polite. And the second thing you got to know about civil discourse, it's not smart. It can't be too smart. As a matter of fact, if you're going to be talking to your audience with your big smart language with your 10 cent words that people don't understand, anyway, you're gonna hate you, Charlie. Remember, I sometimes I use words, there are two things that people do understand that people got irritated. That was obnoxious of me. I was the one being uncivil. You know, speaking down to your audience, I made lots of mistakes in that school board. But you can't be too smart. You know, I figured this out when I was campaigning with the good people. And now, I was at a nap. And I was knocking on doors, right? And they're like, who are you? I'm like, I'm Chris Freeman. I'm running for school board. They're like, what are you going to do? And I have my 14 point plan. Right? About how it's gonna fix the problems with the school district. Now me? Well, guess what people, they thought the kids were doing just fine. They didn't need any damn 14 Point Plan. And so I would address tourists and people be like, slamming the doors, especially if I use a word that ended and what I call the eddies. If you ever use a word that ends in like, I T, Y, like, I don't know, intersectionality, or the if you want to think about like positionality, any of these words, don't use them. They're uncivil. People don't understand them. They're conceptual. They're not specific or not country concrete. So I like I had to change the nature of what I was talking about. And thank God, the good people in that, and for me that I was doing until the last person, right that I went door knocking on cheese. I mean, I know I'm not supposed to use the F word. But she said, Fuck you. Close the door. But I think she said it a nice way of doing something wrong here at people. The problem was me. So the next guy, I've got at his door, and he's like, Well, what's your plan on life plan? I just want to I just want regular education. He's like, regular education. He's like, that sounds good. I'm like, Yeah, regular education. I just want students to be able to concentrate on reading and writing, you know, having a good math skills so that they could like, learn about things and express themselves. So they could, you know, really advanced an understanding of who they were in the world, protect your freedoms, to learn in ways that make them feel good about themselves. He's like, Yeah, yeah, regular education. Well, dammit, I will with regular education for the next 12 doors. And I think I got 12 votes, and now it's the classic Aristotelian tragedy or strategy of the enthymeme. That's where you feed the critical third part of an argument out so that the audience has to fill it in. That first guy was like, Greg Education, data makes good citizens. Exactly, man. But they come to fill in the art of civil discourse needs to have space for people to participate in it. It can't be like a never ending mansplain explain that people want everything is wrong, everything is bad. Okay, so it can't be too smart man.

Tim Nordin 40:26

Nobody ever called me too smart.

Chris Freeman 40:31

No special interest people. You know, you can represent special interests, but you have to do it in a way that represents everyone. The classic example in the Menomonie school board, when I was trying to address bullying in the SDMA, especially regarding our LGBTQ plus community, right, and our marginalized students who came from minorities. And the people sitting next to me in the left and the right, they're like, all students matter, Chris. Like, I'm like, okay, all right, fine, I have to stop talking in a way that advanced special interests, and like, let's do a Student Bill of Rights. Best thing ever done. Talking about those special interests kids in a way that advance the rights of all the kids in that district, it delineated the concerns that, you know, was affecting those marginalized people. Well, we created a Bill of Rights at the government in Wisconsin. And we got, we got people on board for that one. So here's the thing, you can represent your special interest groups, but you have to do the way that makes sense, right, to the common sense of the people that, you know, are also part of that audience. And this is one of the most important things that especially the political left has to do, they have to create an argument that doesn't, you know, isolate certain interests. But that speaks to a common way that brings people in, you know, I teach peace studies that stout, I'm a big proponent of kinky and non violence. And this is King's genius, how he took a message that regarded special interest in marginalized people and put it in the context that made everybody believe. Right, so special interests, that's a big deal. Isn't it? The other thing? I know, I'm mansplaining right now, but you can't mansplain people. This is absolutely uncivil. It's directing people what to think. And as soon as you start doing that you're at a monologue. In one civil discourse becomes a monologue. Right? It's uncivil. You know, when we get criticisms about the way in which that, you know, conservative folk push back against the words and the context, and the seemingly directions that they are given by a civil discourse, you know, telling them what to think what words to use, it kind of feels like people are like word police. And when you are giving that explicit a direction about what you can say and what you can't say, telling people what they mean, because they say a certain kind of use a certain kind of phrase, where they express themselves a certain kind of way. You've already, you know, lost that audience. You've already created that, you know, uncivil way in which that our current political discourse is operating. Um, the last thing is, like, we gotta get rid of political elitism. You know, remember that, for that one president, we had George W. Bush. That guy, man, he got it. He got it. He was a he was an elite, East Coast elite went up Phillips and over Yale University blueblood. But when he was debating, you know, another East Coast elite, he came across as a hard working Texan. He was neither of those things, flats with his common man approach. Hey, you know what? I think you nailed this a little bit when you came to that event that we had Harvey Hall. Do you remember that event? You did a good job there. Speaking to Menominee folk in ways in which that really made the people in the audience feel good. And again, our values, which was really interesting about the way in which that that common person's approach doesn't speak down to them being there, but it celebrates us. And that's really powerful part of the way in which civil discourse has to operate. But it can't do that if it smacks of elitism. And in terms of how people experience those things, that's the most important lesson we can get from Aristotle is that our rhetoric has to conform to the ears of the audience, and if isn't pleasing to those years, you're not engaging in civil discourse. Alright, so you want me to say something about where we can go from here? Are there any good models about what goes on in terms of thinking about what civil discourse looks like? Well, I'll tell you, there's a couple more things. You got to know.

Ellen Ochs 45:45

leave time for questions Chris.

Chris Freeman 45:47

in American history, switching gears, leaving time for questions. Jefferson, he might be a good, you know, example of civil discourse. No, no, I'm afraid not. elitist, big words. Sorry, not happening. Declaration of Independence, actually even civil discourse, right? If we're gonna, like, make an example of who Jefferson was, he's sort of like the masteries Hey, slaveholding, a weak Madison, another great American orator. Not a great example of civil discourse. Another slaveholding ulead, who thought himself Cicero was another slave holding believe. You might think Sam Adams, who thought himself a Cato, you know, no slaves with Sam Adams. But really didn't nail what an American civil discourse would look like, you know, a dead Tom Paine. Common sentence 150,000 copies sold before January 4 of the same year, we called our July fourth at the Savior. That version of independence. He published anonymously, anonymously. Americans liked that he was funny. He was critical. Need okay to hate marking drove citizens to action, gave space and to think through participate in argumentation about what the nature of that movement was going to look like. They found a young republic beautiful example of American civil discourse. Whereas CNN started with a crap Gillis mass. And it wasn't polite. It wasn't courteous. But it did find a place in space for Americans to express themselves. So thinking about where a discourse can go forward, I think that might be a good model to start thinking about. That can make sense of a very rancorous and contentious you know, civil discourse. That's never polite. It's never smart, no special interest, no man's planes, and cheeses, no elitism if it's done to find a proper way forward. All right. So I do 20 minutes. Are you real proud of me right now? Okay.

Tim Nordin 48:56

So there's a microphone right up here in the front that Amory is about to turn on. And we would love to fill the last time that I did not overfill with your questions.

Question 49:12

I don't know why they always put these mics so tall. Sorry. Well, first off, thank you guys so much for talking. That was super important, informative. I really enjoyed that. And I know this isn't necessarily your guys's area of expertise. But I would just like kind of your insight, as you know, not my generation into how social media and the introduction of social media has led to kind of the erosion of that civil discourse, because that's something that I've obviously definitely seen in my generation. And so I don't know. Well, that perspective is from you know, somebody beyond my generation. And so I'm just like your input on that. If you have any.

Tim Nordin 49:47

Well, I will come out as being very curmudgeonly. I think that social media has been a net negative for society. I don't have any particular solutions. I would really encourage you if you're interested in the ways that social media that impacts our society, our discourse. I've just recently finished an excellent book called The Chaos machine by Max Fisher. Get it from your local library, buy a copy of yourself. I think it really to me, elucidated. It really, to me made me understand made me understand what I was feeling about social media and my discomfort. You know, and in the ways that I, I've seen that use and the ways, you know, like, certainly, like my candidate page on Facebook was a sale over and over again by, you know, trolling. Which, yeah, it may not always be polite, but it doesn't have to be that impolite, I don't think but that's so the chaos was seen by Max Fisher, I think is a great read for people that are looking at customer.

Chris Freeman 50:54

Yeah, I think that the big thing for me about the way in which that social media operates, it's not necessarily a bad thing. But it's such a compressed space. And that it, as well as other aspects of digital media, it tends to shrink one of the most important things that we have to have for civil discourse, which isn't being polite, but it's not the puberty called the patient's. Like she noticed this when the President was addressing Congress. And like those people on Congress, like they started getting fidgety after about like five minutes. I think it's had a big effect on our attention span. And our ability to hear longer reasoned arguments now is becoming almost impossible. Aristotle suggested we should never make a logical argument that's got more than three components to it. Now it's coming to like two. And those things have to be really short and to the point. So the most, the biggest threat that I see is the way in which has created a quick, cheap and easy discourse that's shrunk our ability to have the patience to really listen to dialogue, and then participate, and how we might respond to that. Does that sound good?

Question 52:20

Yes, it does. Thank you. All right. Can I, somebody else have a question? Or can I have? My gun? Okay, I'm asking the follow up. So you kind of mentioned how Thomas Paine published common sense under the guise of anonymity. And so how do you think that sort of compares to the anonymity or the, you know, Hungary say that we're in Italy? But I shouldn't say, but. So how do you think that sort of compares? How do you think that's also been eroded? I guess, by the fact of social media, because now you can, you know, hide behind the guise of I don't have to use my real name. And I don't have to, you know, put any personal information out there. I can solely use this to get my opinion out, you know, without it being traced back to me, theoretically. And so, I guess what I'm asking is, how is that sort of also changed in the face of civil discourse through social media? That that what? The anonymity, like, presets, does that make sense?

Chris Freeman 53:27

Yeah, it's kind of follow up on this one. And then, okay. I think this how you receive an anonymously published, well considered a beautifully written treatise on, you know, what is to be done. That's got a long tradition. That is, it still resonates with the fact that there was a person who crafted this, who took time in creating the expression, the anonymity that we have now, that is, you know, sadly, the instrument by which we find threats and, and ways in which that we find ourselves threatened by increasingly, you know, a violent language. That's a whole different species of anonymity. And so, it seems like a social media and digital, you know, language has really had a negative effect on the way in which we understand the author, the authorship intentionality. And this the most important thing is the aura of that rights behind that. The anonymity that bro behind it, and I couldn't imagine what that would feel like. Like, I can't imagine. This is why I'm saying there's a difference between civil discourse and then this rising kind of violent culture that we're living in. That is, you know, and advancing is something quite different and quite new. Does that sound very?

Tim Nordin 55:07

I don't have much to add to that I do think that social media widens that space to be able to express those violent thoughts. Right, it provides you that cover. And it is obviously much different than, you know, publishing an anonymous treatise. I think it's probably too big for me even. But yeah, so I think I think it widens that space, and it opens that door to make it okay. And that's why we have these corners and portions of the Internet where, you know, just violent, racist, misogynistic, all of these, you know, we're conflicted, because it, it opens it in a way that gets rid of that aura. And the realization that there's a person behind that, and that there's a person in front of it, as well, as Thomas Paine's, writing anonymously. But notice, he is writing to an audience, where social media, for those that you are attacking become faceless, right, I'm not a person, to the person who's writing to me, calling me a pedophile and telling me he's gonna kill me. And the blind, of the separation of the social media does that same thing. So that's, I guess, the little bit that I would add to it. That's perfect. Thank you so much.

Question 2 56:30

Thank you, um, I've been thinking about, you know, the rock is a specific location, that discourse took place. And one do feel that we've transitioned to private spaces for the discourse of public and hasn't had an effect on people who choose to put themselves into government positions, I don't have my phone number, address, and information about me it is publicly accessible in a tablet size. I mean, anybody could come to my house. So I think that like, has it affected, in some scares, the transition to private or has the do feel that it has even transitioned to private spaces? No longer the halls of

Chris Freeman 57:26

yeah, there's, I mean, in so many different ways, we've lost the comments. And we've lost that public sphere, that was a vital part of the way in which, you know, really, American Republican discourse operated Zasa sense that the scale has gotten so immense and so large, that it's seems almost impossible to effectively even wield it. I don't know, what I know, we've got like an A census, it was like 340 Turn up 40 million people in this country, maybe 300 million citizens, it's impossible to underestimate, it's impossible to overestimate the impact of that scale on the nature, what that public sphere looks like how you can wield that or manage that effectively. You know, we've had a number of different ways in which that people are trying to reassert states and even states are almost beyond the scope of how we can create like, a rock. The Ecclesia can gather, you know, to engage in civil discourse, it's, I guess, when I think of, of how that, you know, major transformation in the, you know, leverage of the way in which that the upbuilding, or the increase of population operates. I think that you can't, you can't have it operate the way that it used to. And you can't have that public sphere manifests itself in like, you know, townhall meetings. Those are, you know, cute. But they're not, you know, effectively allowing people to participate in that discourse. I think when I think of one that was effective, the very outside of what I studied was enlightenment. You know, society of letters, that enlightenment discourse was often created across large spaces carried, you know, communication between people that subscribe to, you know, everyday journals and allow people to person participate in a massive scale. It almost seems to me that that kind of reawakening of that enlightenment public sphere, where we saw people that were cosmopolitan citizens have a dialogue about what it meant to be human or what human rights were. I think that's kind of where it has to Go. And I think that actually the Internet can be an effective way in which we can exchange these types of letters. But it has to escape the kind of anonymity of the sniping that operates and the way in which that, you know, that social media has denigrated that great potential. So I guess the idea that I'm dealing with here is that we're going someplace almost beyond what we consider to be a nation state as a vehicle for understanding what the dialogue of the public sphere actually is all about. And I think that enlightenment discourses, and societies of letters can be a great step forward.

Tim Nordin 1:00:45

We certainly have, you know, an ongoing fracturing of the monoculture, right? For good or for bad, right, but I just cut my Netflix off. I mean, I'm now on Hulu, you're an apple plus, right? We don't have that one event, we don't have the three channels on the TV. Okay, I was probably five channels when I was younger. But the point is, we, and we have these, we have these smaller spaces, right. And our social media that was promised to bring us together actually then siphons us into these smaller groups. And, and brings us apart from one another. And it allows for the breeding of extremism and this violent discussion and violent language that I think actually has the biggest chilling effect, you know, we saw across the state school board members resigning, you know, people unwilling to to run, I gotta tell you, it's not a real good paying job. Right. It's not something that you do at the local electric level, as a career, something that you do out of service, I think it's it's less necessarily the privatization. But I mean, that splintering hasn't affected. When we talk about public schools or public institution, we don't have that forum. And I think Chris is probably right, that it could be the internet could serve that that's the purpose is to connect us in a larger way to allow us to expand our dialogue across space, that isn't possible, face to face in it in a state of 8 million people or a country of 340. It could connect us in that way. But we do see that chilling effect. And we do see that the intimidation now with some of that media coverage that does connect those impacts away from us, like Eau Claire has, has not, you know, stood against this that we've we've responded as a community, we've we've tried to take care of our own. But we frequently hear from other regional school districts. Well, we don't want to get in trouble, like Oh, clarity, and we don't want to go through that. So we're not going to make that choice. We're going to back away from it. And we're not, in my view, going to do what is best for our students and our community, because we're worried about the violence, we're worried about the attacks we're worried about. And maybe that does privatize some of that discussion. And so that, that is the chilling effect not only on people who want to serve in our public and degrading and the trust in our institutions, but then it also has impacts around us because you know, that connection almost goes the wrong way. It looks like Elon might be ready to move us on to the next

Ellen Ochs 1:03:26

one. Do we have one more question? Yeah, one one quick question.

Dan Paulson 1:03:30

I'm afraid to sign off, but I just, you know, Chris, alluded to art history. And when you're talking about Jefferson, Madison, and Thomas Paine you mentioned Hamilton, we did not say, go into the civil discourse of that was characterized by that our cherished Founding Fathers, I mean, and how they had their own newspapers, like get on Breitbart, and Murdoch, and that note, just wrote scandalous articles about each other and how they wrote anonymously using, you know, Greek or flat open names and, and, you know, how they just paste it. You know, politely, just skewered each other at every opportunity because

Chris Freeman 1:04:41

yeah, I think when we think about the nature of contentious debate, it's incredibly nourishing. But I think one thing that has to be developed in feel like having a dancing argument that normally you wouldn't associate with, you know, a liberal academic. But it seems to me that, that cultural Nia, people had thicker skin. I mean, they can tolerate a lot of deep criticism and ways in which it seems like we are able to, and in the present moment, so, I don't know, I'm not opposed to taking a deeper look at the way in which that, you know, enlightenment dialogue really had the seamy underbelly, they call them GrubStreet hacks that were, you know, writing in England was writing in France was also reading the United States, people that were creating a very critical dialogue, that was voiceless, it was perverse, it was it was almost pornographic. And that was a vital part of what that, you know, early American civil dialogue was all about. As as pornographic and vulgar as you know, American culture is now It didn't just come out of nowhere. For verse and Bulger for a very long time, and finding ways in which we can, we can sort through some of that, some of that, can a little bit of that, but not have to wade through it as if it was, you know, the, the sum total of our, you know, civil dialogue, I really do have hope. Here's the best example. Spotify finds nice and damn good music, right? It has a logarithm that's finding things that I like to hear that expanding my horizons, that's thoughtful that it's like, I'm like, well, where's this mix coming from? Who's that song, like, all the time, we've got the technology that can bring together dialogue that can uplift, the Greeks called it for nesis, the uplifting ray of the soul, right, the way in which that we can be better citizens, better thinkers expand our intellectual and moral horizons, you know, technology can do that. It's just that we tend to isolate ourselves in these very narrow platforms, that doesn't allow that kind of buoyant diversity of discourse to emerge. But I believe, right, that by following some good models, we could find a way in which that we could kind of restore some of the ways in which that we can be connected to things that matter. And that can really, you know, develop a renewed engagement, civil discourse that isn't polite, that isn't too smart, to mansplaining in all the other ways in which we talked about that, today.

Tim Nordin 1:07:59

Thanks, everyone for the opportunity to share with you. I'm gonna be right over the Ellen because she's looking at me of less patients that I like.

Ellen Ochs 1:08:19

Thank you for thank you for talking about hope, because we had hoped. And I want to say, Tim, that what you did for us that after we got that threat, where did you do? You went out knock doors, you went right back out on the streets, and started talking to people with truce and respect. And that's what I think that's what this organization does is empower voters in defense of democracies. And that's Thank you very much Chris and Tim forgiveness. I clearly wanted to ask a question about the entertainment value of news. But now I listening to Chris Freeman, apparently that's been going on for a long time, too. I really want to thank you both for coming tonight for being here with us and sharing these experiences. 

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