August 2017    

Welcome! But be forewarned. Navigating this site may feel a little like rummaging through your grandparents' attic when you were a kid. You'll find a lot of junk before you stumble on something useful, something you want. Alternatively, navigating it could feel like looking for the needle in the haystack, though I'm hoping that persistent searchers will see the site as a haystack full of needles. Then again, you could experience the site as an Easter Egg hunt with goodies just around the corner awaiting your color-sharpened eyes. 

For me, site is two things. First, it's an online autobiography of sorts, tracing the outlines of a meandering career and compiled for my son Joe as record of his dad and his dad's family. (For others, that's the "junk".) Second, I see it as a goldmine of nuggets - multimedia models of citizen-participatory, problem-solving political discourse - which, when operational, would be fully capable of reversing a destructive, historic and media-driven trend: the triple collapse of American political discourse at local, state and national levels that began with the advent of network TV and televised election-time attack ads in the 1960's. 

This triple collapse of political discourse at local, state and nationals, orchestrated by the so-called political donor class that underwrites these attack ads, has polarized the American electorate into artificial extremes of left and right. In so doing, it has gained a stranglehold on American politics and government. At risk today, as a result of this polarization, is the ability of governments at all levels to serve the public interest. 

In response to this state of affairs, the Civic Media nuggets offered at this site are market-driven mechanisms designed to depolarize politics and to enable communities large and small to restore functionality to government. They do this by means of inclusive, issue-centered, problem-solving political discourse that makes all members of the community, including public officials responsive and accountable to each in defining and solving the problems that threaten the community's future. The Issue-centered political discourse that takes shape from these nuggets is intended to serve as an alternative to America's existing money-driven, election-centered political discourse system. It complements this system; it both competes and cooperates with it. The resulting dual political discourse system envisioned here, election-centered and issue-centered, strikes me as the best and perhaps the only hope for American the future of political discourse and democracy itself.

Organized chronologically, the site 
documents my civic media work in the fields of education (media-based school reform) community policing and, ultimately, 
politics and government, most of it 
in Chicago. The site archives over 200 Civic Media documents going back to the late 1980's. While its
primary focus is on (youth) violence in Chicago, the citizen-participatory, problem-solving dialogues proposed here are fully scalable to enable communities of all sizes to address any issue and maximize any opportunity at local, state, national and even international levels. In recent years, these nuggets have focused on an inquiry into the origins and solutions the epidemic of urban violence for which Chicago has become the poster child. 


I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.

                                                                            -  Thomas Jefferson, letter to Jarvis, 1821

There. My liberal cards are on the table. I had to put them there. Here's why. Recently my eyes were opened by a friend's observation about the only possible political orientation from which any attempt to create a non-ideological, impartial, issue-centered political discourse system can arise. Including one that gives equal voice to conservatives and liberals alike. Such a system, the observation runs, can originate only from liberals. Not conservatives. Why? Because liberals are inclined to mistrust authority and trust the common man and conservatives, by contrast, are inclined to trust authority and mistrust the common man. 

So in this respect I'm more liberal than conservative. For decades I've been inclined to place my trust more in the wisdom of the people (when informed!) than in the elected leaders of either party, whom I have come to regard as manipulators of the people. This outlook prompts me spur the creation of level discourse playing fields where all members of a community would have ample space, means and time to collectively and pragmatically define and solve problems in ways that benefit their communities, ideology be damned. 

Today liberals and conservatives seem hopelessly polarized. The obvious (and Jeffersonian) remedy for this split is depolarizing discourse. Creating such discourse, I think, belongs at the top of America's political agenda. But it isn't; indeed, it's nowhere on America's political agenda. The fact that no political leaders, no members of the media, and few academics are even discussing the possibility of citizen participatory discourse is yet one more sign (as if we needed it) of how deeply polarized we are: how distracted or enraged we are by our frustration with the other side or with the American political system itself.   

All that said, the creation of solution-focused, issue-centered political discourse is only half of what this site is about. What's envisioned here, in its totality, is nothing less than a dual system of political discourse: a blend of the existing, candidate and election-centered discourse system and the citizen-participatory, issue-centered discourse system proposed above. The latter system is subordinate to the former. In fact it feeds into it, for its solutions are offered on a strictly advisory, non-binding basis to office holders chosen by voters participating in the election-centered system. In this dual-system, election-centered and issue-centered systems are complementary in that they can both compete and cooperate with each other. This 90-second "Ready to Rumble" video describes the dual-system concept.      

  • Analytically, it provides materials for a history of violence in Chicago centered on Chicago's acknowledged failure to diagnose (let alone put an end to) its six decades of that urban violence that have plagued virtually all American cities since the simultaneous rise in the 1960's of network TV and the so-called drug culture. This history takes into account the (usually harmful) impact of mass (commercial) media and newsmedia, both print and electronic, on the cities they profess to serve. 
  • Constructively, it offers media-based models of political (civic) discourse designed to enable the citizens and leaders of Chicago to define and solve any and all aspects of its systemic violence problem: gun violence, gang violence, drug violence, racial violence, police violence, even domestic violence. Key to these models is the principal of giving all Chicagoans, 
     its young people its at-risk youth, an informed and ongoing voice in defining and solving the youth violence problem that threatens the city's future. In 1992 Mayor Richard M Daley actually floated the idea to a group of 50 Chicago student leaders
  • Historically, it sets violence in a larger political, economic and cultural context as seen in three linked phenomena, all of which originated in the 1960's:
    1. The rise of the national, network TV and the culture of violence it has created among Americans of all ages and backgrounds 
    2. The gradual polarization of political discourse into alienated, disconnected and increasingly violent extremes 
    3. The rise of the violent, heavily armed drug-dealing street gangs and the resulting underground drug economy that now sustains both poor, nonwhite urban neighborhoods and poor white rural communities as well.
  • Historically, it correlates this trend towards violence in another, educational trend. Because I've not seen this educational context described in print, they only way I can introduce it is from my own personal experience of it as an career educator coming from an academic family (my dad taught English at Yale for 42 years). My experience of it is described in a 2004personal memoir that opens with an account of my dad's teaching at Yale, describes my own initial teaching experience at a New Haven public school and then traces the roots of the decline of American public education since the 1960's back to the abandonment by America's torchbearing universities of their traditional role as guarantors of the health of the nation's public schools. This desertion, with its enormous consequences, occurred the mid-twentieth century when America's elite universities began to reinvent themselves as global research institutions dedicated to the advancement of commerce and technology. 
Other universities followed their example. This shift of emphases caused American universities to abandon their roles as shepherds of America's public schools. Educators abandoned education, so to speak, including the education of perhaps half of the children who literally constitute America's future. Soon America's universities across the board were raising tuitions astronomically in order to compete with each other for the best professors and students, to underwrite their research priorities and to modernize their infrastructures so they could attract students who could afford their high tuitions. The rise in college tuitions not only created the nation's trillion dollar student debt problem but contributed to the ever-widening wealth gap between rich and poor that today arguably makes America more a plutocracy or oligarchy than a democracy

And the disruptive focus on commerce and technology - on machine learning and artificial intelligence - now poses a threat not only to public education but to the universities themselves. 

OK, so let's get back Chicago and its failure to diagnose, let alone solve, its violence problem in past six decades. Bottom line, it's owing to Chicago's inability (or outright refusal) to see and respond appropriately to what's been staring Chicagoans in the face ever since the 1960's: the omnipresent role of the city's media, visible day in and day out on our TV screens and in our newspapers, in sensationalizing violence and neglecting efforts to solve it. We've advocated a holistic approach to violence reduction centered on three ways of treating violence:
  • As public safety problem (police and criminal justice). For their part, the city's media have treated violence as a crime story with "if it bleeds, it leads" headlines intended to sell newspapers and boost TV ratings.
  • As public health problem (medical, economic, educational and racial). Although the City of Chicago has in recent years directed major resources to this approach, the city's dominant TV stations have yet to see this allocation of resources as newsworthy. 
  • As as public communications, or media problem. Although it's widely acknowledged that we live in a media-driven society in which media have equal power to harm or help the public interest, Chicago (and other cities) have yet consider the extent to which their media can be part of the solution to violence as opposed to part of the problem. And commercial media, for their part, have yet to consider the profit potential of uses of their resources to make citizens and governments responsive and accountable to each other the ongoing to search for solutions to system problems, like violence, that threaten the future of communities of all sizes.       

In response to the above considerations, Chicago Civic Media since the late 1980's has designed and pilot tested dozens of problem-solving, citizen-participatory multimedia programs and formats on the premise that solution to violence in Chicago (and elsewhere) requires a trustworthy, citywide Civic Media that connects City Hall and Chicagoans of all backgrounds in rule-governed ways that make Chicago a safe for all residents.

Who pays for Civic Media? This includes funding from any commercial medium that will profit by effectively tapping its own existing audience. It will most profit those media that effectively tap the presently untapped Market of the Whole of all members the community who want an informed voice in the government decisions that affect their lives.

Who governs Civic Media? No one. No one, that is, governs Civic Media programming. Civic Media is in essence a set of rules of discourse designed to facilitate and regulate public discourse that is inclusive, issue-centered and solution-oriented. Programming designed by any medium can be Civic Media programming when it abides by these rules. So who creates the rules? I have designed a set of Civic Media rules that is modelled on the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. To have credibility, these rules would need the approval of media, representatives of both political parties and citizens' groups.