Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead
While leading legislative conferences to Washington, DC in the 1990’s, Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath became increasingly concerned with what they perceived to be a decline in civil discourse in politics and government, and with the impact of that decline on policy and community life. Finding no national organization devoted to addressing the issue of civility at the grassroots level at the time, they launched the Institute for Civility in Government in 1998. The Institute interacts directly with elected officials, staff, and constituents, offering models that cut through partisan noise by emphasizing active listening, tolerance, and the importance of claiming one’s own needs without degrading the needs of others.
Cassandra and Tomas have developed a strong track record of positive relationships with elected officials on all sides of the political aisle. They have developed a multi-tiered educational approach that encourages civil behavior from those officials, while working to provide citizens at large with the necessary skill-set to identify and practice civility, and expect it in return. Today the Institute facilitates dialogue through Congressional Student Forums that bring elected officials from opposite parties together on college campuses to model a collegial and respectful conversation about issues the students raise. Today the Institute teaches respect and civility skills both on-line and through Civility Training Workshops. Today the Institute brings groups of students and adults to Washington, DC for Legislative Seminars, teaching them that their voice matters, and that direct engagement with their elected officials can make a difference.
Recognized as leading civility experts, Cassandra and Tomas have appeared in media outlets across the country, and are much in demand as speakers. They have addressed civic groups and corporate boards, students in public schools and college courses, faith communities, and members of the United States House of Representatives. They have appeared on PBS, CSPAN, and CBC radio, as well as in Roll Call and NPR Online. Their 2007 book, Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square, calls attention to the value of civil discourse, serves as a blueprint for action, and provides examples, in plain, straightforward language, of living, thriving civil discourse in American politics today. The rules they teach and practice can bring a greater civility to our homes, communities, and our nation.