Beyond The Purple Tent: Make America Civil Again

Down the street from the RNC in Cleveland was an event without the theatre of politics, protests or Donald Trump. The Purple Tent, a 2500 square foot civility destination (purple for a blend of the red and blue), dealt with the substance of how "we the people" can better get along and build a nation of values. Sponsored by Purple America/Values-in-Action Foundation in conjunction with the Bridge Alliance, its objective was to bring together thought leaders from media, politics, business and education to discuss how to achieve civility in politics, communities, schools and life.

Many observers said that the Purple Tent was more substantive than the political conventions themselves; that devoid of Hillary-bashing or Donald-bashing, thoughtful people, engaged in civil dialogue, were able to discuss issues objectively. The methodology was to focus, first, on our shared values and, then, to discuss significant matters within the context of those values.

Starting with leaders from Northeast Ohio, the first two panels focused on Northeast Ohio as a model of civility. The leaders, two council members from Cuyahoga County Council, the head of government advocacy for the Cleveland schools, two former state representatives, two leading educators, the publisher of a community newspaper, and a prominent judge spoke about the culture and values that proclaim loud and clear, "Let's set our differences aside and get the job done for our community's greater good."

In line with this values statement, Cuyahoga County was able to reform its government from a pay-to-play system to a responsive county council and executive. Two council members, one from the inner city and one from the suburbs, one Republican and one Democrat, swapped districts for a day so they could walk in each other's shoes and better collaborate. With shared responsibility, the Cleveland School District was able to change state law and local work rules, collaborate with the teachers union, combine levy initiatives with the dominant charter school, and pass a long overdue school levy.

Following the Northeast Ohio examples, panelists spoke about "Is Civility Dead," How to Achieve Common Ground," "Engaging Millennials," and "Polling and the Media," all within the context of shared values and shared responsibilities.

In the safe space of the Purple Tent, Conservative Republican Grover Norquist (Americans for Tax Reform) and liberal Democrat Rick Ungar (Sirius XM) discussed "Finding Common Ground," and Ohio Democratic Chair David Pepper, Independent Matt Dowd (ABC Chief Political Correspondent), former RNC Chair Michael Steele and nationally-syndicated talk show host Michael Medved discussed "Is Civility Dead and What Can we Do About It?"

Dr. Ben Carson spoke about our shared values, similarities and common responsibilities. What emerged was a feeling that we are able to get to know one another and get things done through conversation and the lens of our shared values. Panelists on the "Engaging Millennials" panel pointed out that the Millennial Generation is driven by values of social conscience, community and fairness, as evidenced by their live conversations on Facebook and overwhelming support of Bernie Sanders.

Can our shared values guide us to conversation, consensus and positive results?

Leaders at both the RNC and DNC conventions spoke about values. Looking objectively at Melania Trump's plagiarism of Michelle Obama's speech, one can clearly argue that both women agreed about the timeless values of hard work, fairness, integrity and the American Dream. They agreed on values -- get them in a room together, and maybe they could be friends!

Both parties spoke about freedom. Ted Cruz at the RNC: "America is more than just a land mass between two oceans. America is an idea and ideal. Freedom matters .... We will unite the country by believing in our shared values." Ivanka Trump said that her father instilled in her "... positive values and a strong ethical compass (and that) there's nothing you can't accomplish .... Judge him by the values he instilled in his children."

At the DNC, Senator Cory Booker said that, "We gather in the City of Brotherly Love to reaffirm our values." Rev. William Barber II called for "... a moral revolution of values. Some issues are not left versus right or liberal versus conservative. They are right versus wrong." General John Allen said, "We are all of us together, pursuing our common values." And Gold Star parent Khizr Khan declared that, "We don't take these values lightly -- we are testament to the goodness of this country .... Republicans and Democrats are as patriotic as anyone else."

The common ground of America -- that oasis where we can have civil and productive dialogue -- may not be through our politics but can be through our shared values. Our politics may divide us, but our values can unite us. In the Purple Tent, liberal Richard Ungar and conservative Grover Norquist were able to discuss guns, gun control and community. Ben Carson, coming right off of his "Lucifer speech" the night before was able to speak beyond partisanship about the values that make America America.

I dream of an America that recognizes these similarities and responsibilities: that the other side is not, by definition, evil; that churches, temples, synagogues and mosques, schools, companies, colleges and communities sponsor honest and collaborative conversations about who we are and what we stand for; that we recognize that no political party, religion, race, club or community has a cartel on values. We all do.

Under our respective "purple tents," we can all recognize that America is more united than divided, that thoughtful people can have thoughtful dialogue, and that disputes can get resolved and urgent issues solved.

According to ABC's Matt Dowd, speaking in the Purple Tent, "Civility isn't dead, it's just in the hospital." With that predicament in mind, it's incumbent on all of us to do our part to triage and heal civility by recognizing our similarities, having conversation and using our shared values as our guides.

One citizen, Jack Born of Parma, Ohio, in a letter to the editor of The Plain Dealer, eloquently summed this up:

"We are all the same within. The only difference is whether we understand that or want to remain ignorant. We all bleed the same color and we go to war together, so why can't we live together in brotherhood and respect for one another. These are troubled times and we need to resolve our differences before it's too late."

Whether America "is already great" or "needs to be great again," talking heads will light up the airwaves by arguing their respective positions. But, only by engaged citizens working together to make America civil again, will both slogans converge and ring true.

To see all the content of the Purple Tent or to download an "I Stand for Civility" poster, go to www.purpletent.us

Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to www.PurpleAmerica.us. Project Love is a school-based character-development program of Values-in-Action Foundation. To see information about Project Love school programming, go to www.projectlove.org.