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Former Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild: Kicking off the UA's Participatory Democracy Initiative
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Former Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild: Kicking off the UA's Participatory Democracy Initiative

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Events of recent weeks brought into focus this issue: How do we cultivate leadership that understands how to gather relevant, vetted, evidence and utilize unbiased critical thinking to make decisions in the interest of the greater good?

Politics has gone from a place where people complained you could not tell the difference between the political parties to a point where the aisle between the parties is an ocean that a member of either party swims alone at their peril.

In a time when our capacity to concentrate, engage in critical thinking, respectfully disagree, solve complex societal challenges, or even have confidence in shared information is declining, we need to assure that future leaders come equipped for the task at hand.

The way to make change is to start locally. The University of Arizona College of Law, the School of Journalism, and the School of Government and Public Policy have launched a Participatory Democracy Initiative.

The purpose of the initiative is to make a difference in practice by educating and developing students and the community to find ways out of the partisan thicket and share a common foundation for debate and rationally engaging in the challenges that lie ahead.

First, the Participatory Democracy Initiative in conjunction with the Pitt Family Foundation is bringing four speakers (virtually) to our community this year. Jan. 26 at 5:30 p.m., Eddie Glaude Jr., the chair of the African American Studies Department at Princeton University, will take a look at challenges that face our democracy, particularly in the African American community.

On Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 12:15 p.m., Ezra Klein, founder and editor at large of Vox and author of the book “Why We’re Polarized,” will speak about how we became so polarized and ways to improve current dialogue. Klein’s work is based on a compendium of political and psychological studies and has included the work of University of Arizona professor Samara Klar.

On Tuesday, March 23 at 5:30 p.m. Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and New York Times bestselling author, will speak about structural flaws in our current election system and the intersection of digital technologies and democracy.

On Thursday, April 22, Janet Napolitano will speak at 5:30 p.m. Napolitano has been the attorney general of the state of Arizona, the governor of Arizona, the secretary of homeland security, and has served as the 20th president of the University of California. Napolitano will speak from her vast array of practical experience in the lion’s den.

Additionally, there are a set of core courses available to graduate students related to civic leadership, structure of government, mediation in the public setting, and effective communication in the public setting.

Full disclosure, Sarah Garrecht Gassen, the Opinion Page editor of the Arizona Daily Star, will be teaching the course in effective communication.

Effective communication is evidence of deliberate thinking. By improving communication skills, we improve the ability to work through complex problems.

Finally, the law school has students teaching the Marshall-Brennan Program in Tucson. This program has law students teaching civics to high school students. The first cohort is launching this spring.

The university is committed to bring this curriculum to its students and the community at large.

The lecture series is open to the community. If you wish to join in any of the lecture series, including the first one on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 5:30 p.m., simply go to:

We hope to see you there and raise the level of political communication, participation and the ability to work together for common solutions locally, state-wide and at the national level.

Jonathan Rothschild served as Tucson mayor from 2011 to 2019. He is the director of the Democracy and Leadership Initiative at the Rogers College of Law.

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