Challenging Conversations: Notes on the Blueprints for Progress Workshop

Article excerpt

Contrary to the popular theory that people should not talk politics at the dinner table, people can actually benefit by talking about politics and progress much more frequently. Often times, however, engaging in dialogue about progressive ideas is difficult because most of us feel like outsiders to the political discourse of the modern era. So what compels certain people to participate in extended discussions about the nature of progress? How are they convinced to contribute the valuable resource of time to a project that will not reward them with a tangible benefit, such as a good grade or monetary gain? When does speaking about progress become its own reward? These are some of the many challenges we faced while coordinating and implementing the "Blueprints for Progress Workshop."

The Blueprints for Progress Workshop involved students from five different colleges in an extracurricular, correspondence program. The workshop allowed participants to exchange ideas about appreciating and developing progressive viewpoints during the twenty-first century. While "progressive viewpoints" can certainly connote a range of perspectives and ideologies, we were especially interested in concentrating on three central themes: spaces for thinking about liberating ideas; language and key terms that people utilize to participate in communal progress; and finally, the development and expansion of intellectual, communicative, and collaborative skills. Focusing on these three central themes allowed participants to take part in a series of interactive learning activities and gain rewarding educational experiences.

The workshop actually began as an attempt to stimulate complex conversations about the nature of progress within various educational settings. The overall purpose of the workshop was to provide college students with resources and experiences to enhance their capabilities as developing, progressive thinkers who are also citizens of various university systems. By encouraging students' interaction, the project empowered participants to actively engage in conversations about the guiding ideas and strategies necessary to confront barriers of apathy, isolation, and conservatism that so often plague college campuses these days.

THE TOOLS

The idea for the Blueprints workshop came to fruition after reading The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics by Matt Bai. In his work, Bai stipulates that modern Democrats lack a compelling governing philosophy about how to reach a new generation of citizens and to adequately address modern-day problems. He poses questions to the Democrats he is not able to answer: "How do we, as a nation, move beyond the tired doctrines of a receding era? Who will explain the difficult truths of our new reality? What will the next version of American government look like?" (xvi). His questions raised concerns about the compatibility of argument in the modern period of Democratic politics.

Bai charts an interesting history of the bloggers, wealthy donors, party insiders, and activists who contribute to the progressive movement. Bai describes how various organizers such Eli Pariser, Andy Stern, and Markos Moulitsas contribute their time and efforts to fostering large and energetic groups that will play important roles in influencing the decisions made by politicians and the leadership of the Democratic Party. Because these varied contributors to the future of the party held a range of different viewpoints and political commitments, they often disagreed on what the future of Democratic politics will be. Bai's coverage of all these various figures and political groups that initially took shape online is particularly engaging because it provides readers with rare behind-the-scenes looks at the dynamic challenges the groups faced while trying to formulate a cohesive philosophy and guiding argument.

Bai's style distinguishes his book for two reasons. …