Citizen Panels Go Online

We held our very first online Citizen Panel event last weekend in Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District. Covid-19 certainly hasn’t stopped citizens from making their voices heard.

August 23, 2020

Part of the magic of our Citizen Panel events has always been the face-to-face interactions people have with their neighbors and with their member of Congress. But since two hours of talking in a crowded room isn’t exactly what the doctor would order right now, we decided to take our flagship event series online. We were thrilled to partner with two local newspapers, The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer, to host our first virtual Citizen Panel event with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). As always, our friends at Voice of the People and the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland joined us in bringing the event to life.



This event was special in another way, too: participants came from the reader panels of our two media partners. It’s a testament to strong local newspapers like the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer that such an exceptionally knowledgeable and engaged group came to the virtual table with us – we could not have asked for a more thoughtful and informed panel.

This time, our group considered police reform, one of the most wrenching issues in our public discourse today. Several participants spoke about how they came in with near-certain views, and were amazed to find that, through the policymaking simulation and discussion, they gained a new appreciation for the other side.

Rep. Fitzpatrick put it best: “The vast majority of people want to come to the center and get things done. That’s what I believe. That the polar extremes are the noisiest, they make a lot of noise, but they’re not the largest in terms of numbers. I think that the overwhelming majority of people in our community, the overwhelming majority of people across the country, want government to operate the same way that they manage their families, they manage their businesses – where people listen more than they lecture, they view diversity of thought as a strength and not a weakness…and they want to listen to each other’s perspectives, come to the center, find areas of agreement, and move forward.”

On almost all proposals in the survey, residents of Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District felt about the same as people across the country (see the PA-01 survey results here with a comparison to the national results, and dig even deeper here). This echoes what we see time and again: in purple districts like this one, in staunch red districts, and in deep blue districts, we are much less polarized than we have come to believe. One community at a time, we hope our Citizen Panels can change that perception.

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This article originally appeared in the August 23, 2020 issue of Wide Angle, our regular newsletter designed, we hope, to inform rather than inflame. Each edition brings you original articles by Common Ground Solutions, a quiz, and published articles — from across the political spectrum — that we think are worth reading. We make a special effort to cover good work being done to bridge political divides, and to offer constructive information on ways our readers can engage in the political process and make a difference on issues that matter to them.

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