american flag voting

Anticipating Voting Season

Another election season is nearly upon us. Most people tend to associate elections with casting a vote. But there’s far more that goes into being an informed voter, and an engaged citizen. 

The first step in becoming an educated voter is finding reliable sources of information about candidates, issues, and ballot questions. 

Common Ground Committee Voting Resources

We have created a portal that will help you vote in the upcoming election.  You can even download our handy, Help Me Vote guide to get started.

We have also created an easy-to-use Scorecard to compare candidates in your region (searchable by zip code or official name). In addition to learning about the candidate’s background, officials are given a “score” that corresponds to their track record of nonpartisan decision-making and compromise.

Partner Voting Resources

There are also a number of other organizations that provide voters with neutral and nonpartisan insights into their ballots, with unbiased sources of information. Many are united under the umbrella of the unifying group, the Bridge Alliance. 

One example is Ballotpedia, a digital encyclopedia of American politics, elections, and policy. It provides curated content on all levels of U.S. politics that is relevant, reliable, and available for all.

Within the Bridge Alliance is a page dedicated to the breakdown of different member categories — focused on topics ranging from think tanks and youth empowerment to fact-checking and corruption. Its page focused upon election integrity is particularly timely as we come up on midterm elections, spotlighting members making progress in opening up our electoral systems and reducing the influence of the political parties.

Similarly, Citizen Connect is a non-partisan platform dedicated to helping Americans heal political divides and strengthen democracy through finding civic organizations and events—based on civility, fairness, and fact-based reason. Its events are both virtual and in-person, held through a variety of outlets and partners.   Citizen Connect has also created a helpful voting portal.

How to Volunteer to be a Poll Worker

When it comes to the smooth running of elections, workers and volunteers are essential to ensuring that elections function efficiently and accurately. Each election requires the work of millions of Americans to uphold this process, the handling of ballots that are the tangible core of democracy.

This is more critical than ever, with multiple states reporting a shortage of poll workers. As the pandemic wanes but is still with us – as are ongoing concerns about political violence — America continues to face a critical shortfall of workers. Some 130,000 poll workers have stopped serving over the past three midterm elections, according to the group Vet the Vote. The organization offers volunteers a link to sign up, with a focus on ushering in the participation of veterans. Sign up opportunities are also available through the portal with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission

While November may seem far off, it is around the corner.   Check out these resources to help you have a voting plan and make the election run smoothly.


How to Vote in the US (Step by Step)

Your Voter Resource Guide

At Common Ground Committee, our goal is to bring individuals together from all sides to bring light, not heat, to public discourse.  We also believe that voting is every citizen’s right, responsibility, and privilege. 

We are here to help you through the voting process — from registering and finding your voting location (or learning how to vote remotely) to learning about the issues and the candidates. 

Get started now with the few easy steps below!

5  Easy Steps to Vote 

Each one of these steps is critical to making your opinion, voice, and vote count on election day.

Step #1: REGISTER to vote

Whatever your political preference, your right to vote gives you the chance to be heard and impact the direction of our country. According to data from the U.S. Elections Project in 2016, 43 percent of voters did not fill out their ballots. Why? Many Americans don’t know enough about the voting process, how to register, or are unaware of registration deadlines. Rock the Vote provides an easy link to get started on your registration in moments. Vote411 from the League of Women Voters Education Fund can also help you check your registration status, get registered, and find information about the issues.

Step #2: Know WHERE to vote

If you aren’t requesting an absentee ballot, make sure you know where you can vote — and have a plan to get there. Of the 29 percent of older adults who did not vote in 2016 (approximately 2,262,000 voters), about half were held back by poor access to transit. Ride share programs and volunteer transportation assistance are available across the country to help seniors and others with mobility challenges get to the polls.

Step #3: Know WHERE candidates stand

Before you cast your vote, make sure you’re informed about the candidates and their stances on today’s issues. Tools like BallotReady and VoteSmart help sort the information on thousands of politicians and the thousands of issues at stake. Common Ground Committee also has a unique tool, the Common Ground Scorecard, to rate politicians on how well they reach across the aisle to find common ground.

Step #4: Have the IDENTIFICATION you need

Some states require proof of identification to vote. Make sure you have the correct personal identification needed in your state (if any) to cast your ballot. 

Step #5: VOTE!

Whether it’s your first time voting or you’ve exercised your right many times, making it a priority to get there is the most important step of all. You have a voice and privilege, so stand up for what you believe. Races can be closer than you’d imagine — so just do it!

Resources for Informed Voting

A sign of a healthy democracy at work is an active network of advocates providing the tools for an educated population. Here are some of ours here in the U.S.

Tool #1: Ballotpedia

Ballotpedia is a non-profit organization focused on educating the public on current political issues, elections, current candidates, and more. Whether you are considering running for office, contemplating your voting options, or looking for the latest news from an unbiased source, Ballotpedia is a tool committed to clarity and neutrality.

Instagram: @ballotpedia
Facebook: @Ballotpedia
Twitter: @ballotpedia

Tool #2: VoteSmart

Looking for information on the latest candidates and elected officials? Votesmart has profiles, voting records, contact information, issue positions, public statements, and more. One of its key features is the “Political Courage Test,” which offers a unique kind of transparency: insight into how likely candidates are to give straightforward answers to voters’ questions.

Facebook: @ProjectVoteSmart
Twitter: @VoteSmart

Tool #3: Vote411

Vote411 is known as a one-stop-shop for the information you need for the election process: the ability to check your registration status, register, find upcoming events, discover (and decipher) questions on your ballot, simplify steps for first-time voters, and more. An interactive state-by-state map is a hallmark of the site.

Instagram: @vote411
Facebook: @vote411
Twitter: @VOTE411

Tool #4: When We All Vote

It’s critical it is for all citizens to participate in the political process; that’s the belief that drove the formation of When We All Vote. This nonpartisan non-profit organization was founded in 2018 by Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw. Their ideology? That the country is in a better place and can move forward successfully when you guessed it — we all vote.

Instagram: @whenweallvote
Facebook: @WhenWeAllVote
Twitter: @WhenWeAllVote

Tool #5: Common Ground Scorecard 

Let us be one of your trusted resources! The Common Ground Scorecard is your free, online guide for identifying candidates who seek common ground to make progress on the issues. Interactive features (such as a map) help you identify your elected officials (so you don’t have to look them up) making it easy to use. You can even compare up to six candidates.

Instagram: @commongroundcommittee
Facebook: @commongroundcommittee
Twitter: @commongroundcom

Tool #6: Activote

Activote’s easy-to-use nonpartisan app – learn more about the features – educates voters on important issues, when and where they can cast their vote, connects them with their elected officials, and allows them to make their voice heard by quickly answering key polling questions. Join voters in all 50 states, of all parties, and of all ages & join in on #DailyDemocracy. Try it on the web or on mobile on GooglePlay or the Apple App Store.


Check back here for future updates on voting. Also, check out our recent Op-Ed on mail-in voting, and sign up for our newsletter for more resources to help you vote! 

common ground agreements in the workplace

Bringing Attributes of Civility and Common Ground into the Workplace

Public discourse has grown increasingly polarized in recent years, creating divisiveness that has consequences in government, in communities, within families, on social media, and of course, within organizations and workplaces. 

Political conversations between colleagues are fraught with unintended consequences: uncomfortable or hostile relationships, feelings of exclusion, or alienation, if leadership of an organization takes a stance on an issue that they disagree with.  

In addition to tension, this causes an erosion of employee trust, which is the foundation of a productive and cohesive workplace. Employees are increasingly engaging in political conversations at work, and disagreements are impairing their ability to work cooperatively with colleagues with whom they disagree. Internal messaging that reveals a bias creates an “Us vs. Them” mentality within the organization. Employees need guidance to navigate these conversations in a respectful manner, following messaging that starts at the top. The bottom line—in addition to the financial one—is that top officers need to partner with supervisors up and down the org chart to ensure that internal messaging and leadership promotes unity based on shared goals and values rather than points of contention.  

Common Ground Committee (CGC) is a nonprofit organization that encourages action reducing polarization by bringing together prominent leaders with opposing views in public forums to find common ground. This conversation is as needed in the workplace as it is in government chambers, the media, and street corners.  

 To this end, CGC has created the Ten Attributes of a Common Grounder, guidelines for conducting useful, nonpartisan conversations among disagreeing parties to help them converse more peacefully and productively. They are applicable to all kinds of environments and can be used by an organization’s top officers to promote an atmosphere of trust and respect within the workforce, and to ensure that internal messaging brings light, not heat, to discussions where colleagues disagree. 

We all carry personal beliefs, ,biases and opinions. As you approach a conversation, be aware of yours. Be willing to test them against new information and recognize when they
may be closing your thoughts to what the other person is saying. 

Approach discussion or debates with an objective of trying to find common ground and solutions, not win arguments. Use a “let’s work it out” attitude. 

It’s hard to work with someone if you aren’t listening to them. It’s also difficult to engage in a dialogue until the other person knows you have heard them. Active listening establishes the foundation for real communication. It provides the opportunity for the “I never thought of it that way” moment. 

Understanding the motives and intentions behind someone’s position is necessary to finding common ground. The challenge comes when we assume, often erroneously, that we know those motives and intentions because we have accepted commonly held beliefs about people who take that position. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, ask the questions that clarify the person’s true motivation.

Rather than emotional arguments, bring verified facts to the conversation. If you are presented with verified facts, accept them, even when they don’t fit your narrative. It’s fine to examine
them carefully and to see if something is missing, but don’t reject them dogmatically. 

Don’t go into a discussion with predetermined expectations of the outcomes. Be prepared to be flexible and work to find an approach that addresses the concerns of all parties (including yours). But don’t feel obligated to go along with something that you feel violates your principles. Be prepared to “agree to disagree.” 

Because people have different experiences and viewpoints, they may not share your values. It’s not necessary to always agree on what’s important or why. But it is crucial not to
equate a difference in values with whether a person is good or bad. Don’t let arguments divert you from appreciating your fellow person. If someone is unreasonably dogmatic in a
way that violates your principles, it may be best not to engage. 

Watch what you are saying and how you are saying it so that you don’t degrade the quality of the conversation. Eliminate pejoratives from your vocabulary. If your temperature starts
to rise, take a breath, and shift to a different line of discussion. 

There are two points to be made here:
• Name-calling and personal attacks on groups and individuals are currently part of everyday political conversation. Don’t succumb to the temptation to use these methods.
• Watch your own thinking. When you hear these types of attacks, don’t accept them. The more you do, the harder it will be to engage with others. 

• This is about controlling your thought and thereby your actions.
• Be alert to everyone’s temperature. It may be best to shift to a different line of discussion or a totally different topic before people become angry with each other.
• If you find yourself in a hostile situation, don’t contribute to the hostility. Identifying and expressing what you appreciate about the other person’s ideas and intent can help. As with attribute 7, don’t let arguments — even heated ones — divert you from appreciating your fellow person.

Common Ground Committee (CGC) is a non-partisan, citizen-led organization that inspires action on polarizing issues by bringing prominent leaders with opposing views together in public forums to find common ground. Since its founding in 2009, the organization has hosted dozens of notable panelists including John Kerry, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Steele, and Donna Brazile to find points of consensus on issues ranging from race and income inequality to America’s role in the world.  

The Flag Of The United States Of America Flying In Front Of The

What is a Common Ground Culture?

Anecdotally, we know what “common ground” means. Finding points of agreement; finding a way to get along.

But what does it mean in politics, and in culture?

Politically, looking for common ground has its roots in the Constitution, striving for the union in a more perfect Union. Back then, we were united against an external foe. Now we’re struggling to find common ground within our union, and we have not yet fully grasped just how important it is to triumph in that struggle.

Our divisions have caused the dominant culture to be one focused on winning, not solving. By that we mean the energy in our political culture today aims at eviscerating those we disagree with. While that kind of victory might feel good at the moment, it imposes a significant cost in the form of social and professional disincentives to work with people holding different points of view. It makes it very difficult to make progress on the country’s crucial issues.

Serious internal divisiveness isn’t unprecedented by any means—Slavery and The Civil War, Vietnam, and civil rights all created great unrest. But for some in the younger generations, this is the first experience with such heated polarized strife.

How to Find Common Ground

In order to have productive and respectful conversations, we have to observe certain foundations of discourse and behavior. At Common Ground Committee, we believe in a set of standards to be applied to all interactions — and we believe in the importance of these interactions. People most interested in our work hold in highest esteem the principles of social decency, and trust; of ensuring that differences of opinions don’t mean differences of respect and degradation of decency.

To this end, we created our 10 Attributes of a Common Grounder, principles to guide the conversations we bring together from across the spectrum of opinions. This is true both in the overall theme and choice of invited guests, as well as the content and tenor of discourse within the events. And, of course, in the candidates, we as citizens choose to support.

To be sure, finding common ground is a tall order. It requires identifying our personal biases—we all have them—and putting them aside for the purposes of a conversation where both parties might learn something, and share something. It involves active listening free of assumptions; a refusal to vilify those with whom you disagree, and a willingness to defuse tension and aggression.

Have a look at our attributes, and consider which relationships in your world might benefit from this approach. Tune into our conversations, and watch our panelists as they strive to uphold our values. Let us know your thoughts on where we succeed in supporting the goal of common ground, and when we fall short. These are tough times, and our union deserves nothing less than our full efforts.

Voting in Primaries

The Importance of Voting in Primaries

Nearly 90% of congressional elections are decided in the nominating contests. That’s a striking number, and one that demands a simple action: Vote in the primaries.

The midterm primaries have begun, and candidates are being selected for local, state, and federal offices. Some states have “open primaries,” in which any registered voter can cast a ballot regardless of party affiliation (or lack thereof). However, in states with “closed primaries,” voters must be registered with a party to participate in that side’s nominating contests.

And that’s where most congressional races are decided. The data is clear: The vast majority of U.S. House districts lean so far to either party that the November result is a foregone conclusion. In 2020, just one-quarter of the voting-eligible population participated in the presidential primaries. And when considering the districts that determined control of the House, just 10% of voters selected 83% of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a study by Unite America.

With primary elections increasingly deciding the outcome of a race, it’s important that voters engage in the entire process when possible. For partisans, that’s easy. In every state, voting-eligible people who are registered with a party can vote in that party’s primaries. While primary voting is often limited to just party members, other states allow all registered voters to participate.

Advocates of open primaries argue that closed systems are unfair to independents (who make up about more than 40% of the electorate), produce more extreme nominees, and, as publicly funded elections, should be open to everyone.

Opponents argue only members of a party should be allowed to select its nominees and open primaries are subject to subversion by voters of another party hoping to nominate an “unelectable” candidate. (Research out of Marquette University argues such sabotage, if it exists, would cancel itself out.)

Others have argued that partisans in places where their party may be unlikely to win a general election (say, Democrats in Mississippi or Republicans in Massachusetts) should vote in the opposing party’s primary, not to sabotage the race but to try to nominate a more moderate candidate.

Because so few people – the most partisan people – are determining primary winners, candidates who appeal to party wings are most likely to advance to the general election. Voters are then asked to choose between candidates who have ignored the middle. But there are still options for finding candidates who are willing to work across the aisle.

One tool is the Common Ground Scorecard, which assesses elected officials and candidates on their willingness to pursue solutions through listening and productive conversation, rather than scoring political points. Using nearly 20 objective and subjective data points from a variety of bipartisan sources, the Scorecard can help voters determine which candidates to support if good policymaking is more important than party identity. It considers five key areas:

  • Official Performance — bipartisan bill sponsorship for legislators or bipartisan job approval for executives
  • Personal Actions — public conversation across political differences and joining an official from the opposing party for a visit of their district
  • Communication — promoting common ground
  • Commitments — affirmation of Common Grounder Commitments
  • Outstanding Common Grounder — awarded for common ground behavior or boldly champions common ground

The Scorecard grades incumbents and candidates for five offices: president, vice president, senator, House member, and governor. Try it out now.

Learn how your state handles primary voting.

Check the primary date for your state.

Gun Violence Commentary

Co-Founder’s Statement on Reducing Gun Violence

Stop the Posturing and Do the Hard Work.

By Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen

Columbine. Sandy Hook. Parkland. And now, Uvalde.

Will it be different this time?

As an organization that brings people of diverse views together to work toward more progress and less division and bring healing, we believe action can be taken to save lives – once people decide that the solution is more important than the fight.

In the wake of the shooting at Robb Elementary School, we call on lawmakers, lobbyists, activists and citizens to resist the urge to amplify emotionally satisfying but polarizing reactions and stop using the issue to gain political position and power. Instead use this moment to do the hard work of research and thoughtful deliberation needed to craft and advance bipartisan action that can effectively reduce gun violence both now and over time.

There is no denying that, at a broad level, viewpoints on guns break across party lines. Republicans are nearly four times as likely as Democrats to say gun rights are more important than gun control, while nine in ten Democrats, compared to half of Republicans, favor bans on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines.

Nor is there doubt that gun control is one of our country’s most polarizing issues. The passion with which some Americans defend their Second Amendment right while others call for weapon bans brings more heat to an already fraught issue. Yet this all-or-nothing debate is a manufactured narrative that simply cannot address the issue of gun violence in a meaningful, lasting manner.

In truth, most Americans already agree on common-sense measures that can help. According to Pew Research, overwhelming majorities of both Democrats (91%) and Republicans (92%) strongly favor barring people suffering from mental illnesses from purchasing firearms. And a large majority of both Democrats and Republicans — 93% and 82% respectively — favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks.

To drive meaningful policy change and bring healing to the divisiveness, it’s clear we must leave zero-sum games behind. In a country with more guns than people, there is no absolute panacea to gun violence. Gun ownership and the constitution’s Second Amendment have been cultural anchors since the times of our Founding Fathers and will likely remain so for decades to come.

Yet that does not mean we are powerless to address the death toll. When faced with a public health challenge, working toward harm reduction — even if some members of the public scorn these as half measures — is proven to provide tangible material benefits. By framing mass shootings as a public health issue, not a political one, Congress can set the stage for developing effective, bipartisan solutions.

We believe that to move the needle, we must seek out two things: fact-based regulation on gun access and ownership, and research-based methods that enable early detection of people on a trajectory to cause harm.

Activists are already doing this work and having an impact. Rachel’s Challenge, formed after the Columbine High School tragedy, has helped avert eight mass shootings and save 150 lives annually. Parkland students motivated then-Governor Rick Scott to buck the NRA and sign a sweeping gun bill into law that included raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles and extending the waiting period for purchasing handguns.

The federal government is also showing signs of progress. In collaboration with RAND’s National Collaborative on Gun Violence, we now have research analyzing the effectiveness of gun policy, with “moderately good evidence” found that expanding background checks could make a difference.

This focus on research can lead to better regulatory policy and better health outcomes, as shown by examples from past public health scares. From 1973 to 2012, there were 269 National Institute of Health (NIH) research awards granted for Polio – and just 266 cases in that period. For cholera, 212 awards for 400 cases. In this same 39-year span, there have been over four million firearm injuries. The number of NIH research awards for gun-related harm? Just three.

Along the way, America must ignore distractions, such as calls for repealing the Second Amendment or arming teachers. These ideas are de-facto non-starters while encouraging more divisiveness. Instead, we should follow the lead of experts like Ryan Busse, a former gun industry executive and lifelong firearms aficionado, who on our podcast set aside the talking points and spoke about the challenges with the gun lobby in our search for solutions to gun violence.

To pursue our usual approach to the gun debates effectively means accepting an unforgivable cost. We must seize this moment, together, to start writing a good and lasting ending to this recurring American nightmare.


Media Politics Polarization

Media, Politics and Polarization

What is the role of the media in our current state of polarization, and the twisting of facts to suit an agenda? That was the topic of a panel with Chris Wallace of CNN and Jonathan Karl, ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent. The event, “Media, Politics, and Polarization,” was hosted by former CBS correspondent and author Jacqueline Adams.  

 There were three main topics on the table: the perception of media as increasingly polarized; the power of the media; and the solutions for fixing distrust of the media. 

Why do you think there’s such a public distrust of the media? Jacqueline Adams asked. She cited a Gallop poll last year that indicated increasingly skeptical public opinion of the media – particularly among Republicans. 

 Karl said he didn’t find that surprising, since the most prominent Republican, and president of the U.S., Donald Trump, called the media the public enemy of the people. But the progression was already underway, Wallace pointed out. The reason for Fox’s rise back in the late 90s was that a large part of the population felt underserved. Fox gave them a news outlet that they hadn’t seen before Trump was an accelerant. It was an answer to their sense for decades that the mainstream media wasn’t speaking to them.  

 How powerful is the press, really? Adams suggested the influence could be seen in its real-world impact—most recently, as a driver of perception about COVID. She presented the results of a study that demonstrated a dramatic difference of opinion toward the pandemic: Those who watch MSNBC reports on COVID risks expressed three times as much concern over the risk of COVID than viewers of Fox did.  

 Democrats and Republicans had a very different slant toward the lockdown, Wallace said, comparing it to the polio generation’s embrace of the vaccine, which was not at all political. Today, he said, the response to COVID and the vaccine was an echo chamber of politics and media. “Media kind of followed the political divide,” he said. “It didn’t create the political divide.” 

 What options does the media have to reduce the divisions among its programming, and viewers? Adams asked. Fact-checkers are already working overtime to reality-check the spin put on by both parties. What’s the solution to dial this back to center? 

Karl interjected that he felt uncomfortable with the characterization of “the media this, the media that.” The media is such a diverse landscape, he said, with a wide range of outlets—from Twitter to podcasts and newspaper comments feedback online — that it can’t be painted with one brush. Most news consumers will follow the feed that matches their beliefs. Not surprisingly, many outlets don’t mind the divide, and in fact, benefit from fanning the flames.  

“We’re not two political philosophies,” Wallace said, “We’re two tribes, with not just different beliefs, but different truths.” If you’re a politician moving toward the middle, there’s the fear of reprisal by your competition. Until there’s a market incentive to compromise, there’s a lack of motivation for finding common ground. “I have a good friend who deals with news start-ups, both print and digital, and he was making a pitch to investors to tell it down the middle,” Wallace said. The investors told him, that the market doesn’t reward that—it rewards news with a point of view. “Until we can get away from that, news as a business, you’ll take a loss if you tell it straight.” 

What if the news networks stopped giving air time to guests who make outrageously biased statements? Adams asked. How much do ratings play into the choice of topics and guests? 

If I don’t do well in ratings, Karl said, I’m probably not going to have the chance to continue what I do. But mistakes happen when you focus purely on ratings. Years ago, whenever there was a car chase, they’d cover it live in real-time. Then it becomes, “My God, where’s it going to go?” “When are they going to catch them?” It was beyond OJ and the Bronco. You gain an audience,” he said. “But it doesn’t work over time and erodes the brand”  “CNN’s brand was, ‘News You Can Trust.’ Look at Chris Cuomo bringing his brother on. People watched again and again. But it eroded some credibility.” You can’t just look at ratings, he said, because it will be a failed business model in the end.  

The takeaway, Wallace said, should be that there doesn’t need to be too much wringing of hands, because there’s some great reporting happening every day. “In the end, it’s really on citizens: do you want a different government and climate, political ecology? It’s on each of us in our various roles to push for it.” 

There’s plenty of space for opinion journalism, Karl said, but we need to have news organizations dedicated to nothing more than pursuing the facts and truth as far as we’re able to discern it. “My opinion is that we’re in an extremely polarized period, but we’ve had this before, perhaps worse,” he said. “The pendulum will swing.” 

To see the full event, you can watch the recording. 

image of the earth

Environmental Action: Getting Beyond the Recycled Arguments

In recognition of Earth Day 2022, we sat down with Common Ground Committee co-founder Bruce Bond to discuss the polarization that exists over some of today’s great ecological challenges—and ways we can meet in the middle.

Q: Why do you believe there is strife over scientific facts surrounding threats to the environment?

A: We have work to do on climate change. I think it is a real thing. But the question is, to what degree does mankind have a role to play? Not, does it have a role to play, but to what degree. So let’s be smart about this. There have to be ways to address the climate problem without causing the enormous changes in the economics and lifestyle of everyday people that often accompany the calls to action. And the thing we ought to be thinking about, especially on Earth Day, is how we can make a difference as individuals—as communities and entities, corporations and government, whatever it might be—to put ourselves in a better position from a climate perspective, that can be done practically with an eye toward engaging people in the effort rather than accepting that they are the necessary victims of dramatic policy change?

Q: What do you remember as your earliest awareness of the environment as something in need of being protected?

A: Like many of us, I remember that “Keep America Beautiful” PSA in the early ’70s, of the Native American in a canoe passing all the garbage, with a tear down his cheek. My father was an executive with Stauffer Chemical, a major producer of DDT, and at the time I didn’t have a full understanding of the pushback on pesticides. When I became more aware of his work, I was like, “That’s something that I’m not going to tell my friends.” But, I began to press him on environmental questions and what I saw as his company’s exacerbation of the problem. He said, “If you want to have this discussion, you need to go get your data. And then let’s have a conversation about it.” And so I did. We’d have these long and passionate conversations at the dinner table, conversations which I’m sure made my mother uncomfortable. When all was said and done, we had both shifted our position and found common ground. As a pesticide to protect crops, DDT is something that you probably don’t want to use. But if you’re trying to save lives, in a malaria situation, it was extremely effective. I learned that context matters. Rarely is any issue black and white, and you don’t solve it through ideology.

Q: What environmental issues give you hope, in terms of solutions with a good bit of nonpartisan support?

A: Fossil fuel-powered cars are going to be like horses. There was a time when horses were the primary vehicle in personal transportation, but innovation and competition resulted in horses being replaced by cars. And we see another similar change unfolding today. At this year’s (2022) New York Auto Show, it was all about electric. Electric cars are already beginning to replace gas-powered ones. We’ve seen that innovation and competition rule. It’s the hidden hand of the market manifesting itself, right? You innovate, you compete, and you get these problems resolved one way or the other.

Then there’s solar energy. Energy companies are going to farmers who might be considered victims of climate change, struggling with farming on what has become fallow ground, and asking “How about if you let us put up some solar panels, and we’ll pay you. You can make a living using your land, and help the environment at the same time.” And it’s like, win-win, right? Also with solar, we do have situations now where you can sell a surplus collection of solar energy from your home back to the power companies. Think about that. That’s just a radical thing. Fifty years ago that would have been unthinkable, the stuff of Tom Swift novels.

There are no so-called easy answers at this point. But the breakthroughs are coming in form of common ground being found, where the economics of improved climate solutions make sense. We absolutely can move forward together to address the climate challenge. It is a doable thing.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge to overcome to help people agree on environmental change?

A: There’s a lot of innovation if you can get people to cross the chasm, as Geoffrey Moore would say, with fully operational and economically sound technology. It’s going to take some time for the transition. But the question today is not is there going to be one, but when is it going to happen?

We had an event with Condi Rice and John Kerry at the University of Notre Dame in March of 2019. Kerry is very, very much a climate guy. But he was agreeing with Condi Rice that we are a nation of truck drivers, and we have to have a transition fuel. What could that be? And he was saying, hydrogen is not going to cut it. I was truly impressed to hear him saying, yeah, there’s not a business model, the business model doesn’t work. The economics don’t work. Not yet. And maybe never. He said, but there is a need for a bridging fuel, and that presents an opportunity.

There are times when you have to take a radical step, whatever it might be. But, in the environmental field, you can often make progress in a way that achieves both ends: you don’t create an economic catastrophe for people, and you help the environment repair itself or avoid further trouble.

Q: If you had a broad platform to make a case for common ground on the environment, what points would you stress?


Protect the beautiful, threatened places. I cringe when I see what’s happening to the rainforests, and what’s going on in the Amazon. And it’s more than the science of it, the reduction of the Earth’s ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. That is a big deal. But there’s only so much natural beauty on this planet, and only so many beautiful pristine wilderness areas. And when we experience big ecological disasters, like what happened with the Exxon Valdez when I was in school, they make the hair go up on my neck when I read about them or see the videos on the television. The “ROI” of preserving the natural world is very hard to measure. But most people, when they experience the wonders of nature, know in their hearts that those wonders must remain.

The other thing I’ll say that is important about debating climate change and other heartfelt, emotional issues is to remember to keep what’s important in mind.  For my dad and me, the DDT debate was a very emotional battle between us. But we never lost sight of the fact that we loved each other. That remains the most important thing. It took some time, but we were able to find common ground. For us, the relationship was always the priority, not the issue we were debating.

A second thing is an importance of getting your facts right. You can have a conversation if you are dealing in facts. And when you think you have them, dig deeper, because it’s all about context, as I found in my discussions with my dad.

And, when it comes to climate change, find organizations you really respect and support. I happen to like the Nature Conservancy, in part because they’re really about being preventative. Let’s go out there and get parcels of land and preserve them. I’m just naturally attracted to good planning, solutions that involve, good, smart thinking that put you in front of things rather than have you reacting to them. Perhaps sending a contribution to a climate organization you respect or an organization that you believe has demonstrated good environmental practices is something you would consider doing on Earth Day.

Last, do the little things.  Pick up trash – particularly yours – and recycle. I think those are things we can all agree upon.

fake news

How to Spot Fake News

In contrast to Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 observation about pornography, “we know it when we see it,” fake news is something that may be very hard to recognize.

There’s a reason so many people are confused or deceived by the information presented as fact. That’s because the way information is presented (and misrepresented) has become both more sophisticated and more convoluted. At its most basic, though, when done intentionally, the goal is simple: to confuse the public enough to make them question what they thought to be true.

Fake news is also about validating a deeply held narrative. Take, for example, Putin and the effort he’s made to not just keep people from seeing the truth, but also to validate their belief that Russia is a good country that it’s only defending itself and innocent Ukrainians are being brutalized by a Nazi regime. The tactic is very effective in case they hear something to the contrary.

When people can’t distinguish between facts and fakes, it creates confusion and misunderstanding about important and timely issues. And when people become jaded into a generalized sense that they “can’t believe anything you see/hear/read,” it intensifies polarization, messes with electoral outcomes, and undermines overall trust in legitimate news sources.

Another example can be seen in the recent news surrounding the invasion of Ukraine. “Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook are all full of ‘firsthand accounts’ and ‘threads from contacts’ and other such things. While many of them are legitimate, many, many more are not. There is old footage, deep fakes, made-up personal accounts of events, and more,” explains Sree Sreenivasan, managing director of Cronkite Pro, a global training initiative of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in his weekly newsletter. Even official government statements from Ukraine should be taken with a grain of salt, he says. “Information wars go both ways, and just because your side says something you want to hear, doesn’t make it true.”

As we wrote recently in An Introduction to Fake News, fake news can be “disinformation,” exaggerated or mistakenly presented as news — or misinformation, delivered with the intention to deceive. Either way, there are a collection of attributes that news consumers should be alert to.

An important first step is being skeptical of any claims going viral, says, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters, applies journalism and scholarship to reduce the level of deception and confusion in politics by monitoring the factual accuracy of what is distributed in the media (both traditional and social).

When first began warning the public in 2008, the most common red flags were excessive use of exclamation points, anonymous authors or sources, misspellings and odd use of capital letters, and in the case of chain e-mail, insistence that “This is NOT a hoax!”

Things have become more complicated since the days of emails from Nigerian princes looking for partners in investment. This is particularly true of outlets and websites that appear more professional, where the public’s level of scrutiny needs to go up a notch.

“A lot of posts that really take off tend to tap into presuppositions, appeal to somebody for example who thinks Democrats are always raising taxes. We recommend trying to check your biases. Much of this stuff plays into emotions, designed to make people angry or scared,” says Lori Robertson, managing editor of Always do a gut check before believing what you read, and definitely, before passing it on, she says. Otherwise, you’re just adding to the clickbait.

Some questions to ask of any article:

*Scrutinize the tone. Is there an angle being pushed? There’s a difference between an article that gets one fact wrong, either through shoddy or inexperienced journalism, and one that beats the drum for one viewpoint, with biased, questionable, or false sources.

*Does the source cited actually support the claim? Some official-looking sources have nothing whatsoever to do with the conclusion the article is trying to make. Linking to the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act of 2012 seems like it adds legitimacy. But it doesn’t back up a story that a candidate is, say, trying to ban prenatal vitamins or legalize cocaine.

*Check the date and circumstances of an event that’s being credited to (or blamed on) a current politician. A headline referencing something that happened years ago can suggest causality where there is none—or deny causality where there is. Some photos and videos coming out of Ukraine are being disputed by Russian officials as footage from unrelated past wars.

*Who’s the author? Are they really who their credentials say they are? John Doe might have won an impressive number of esteemed awards and literary publications. But a few keystrokes can reveal whether or not he conferred them upon himself.

*Remember to sniff for satire or parody. Some fake news is offered simply for entertainment value, like The Onion. These stories don’t attempt to deceive readers because they aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Still, believe it or not, there are some people who take the Borowitz Report literally. Think before you retweet.

*Deep face videos do exist. But they aren’t generally done well enough or with credible enough material to go viral, says Robertson. Still, if you see something that seems too extraordinarily far-fetched or out of character, that might not be the horse to put your money on, even if you think you’re getting it from the horse’s mouth.

Would you like to dig deeper?

Visit our event Facts, Fake News, and the Media for an in-depth discussion between CNN+ anchor, Chris Wallace and NYT correspondent, Maggie Haberman.

Richard Davies Madeleine Albright

WATCH: Madeleine Albright Makes an Impression on a Young Reporter

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Madeleine Albright

Journalist Richard Davies, host of our Let’s Find Common Ground podcast, shares a personal memory of a trailblazing woman leader who made an impression on him early in his career: America’s first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

Ms. Albright, who passed away on March 23rd, was a child of Czech refugees who narrowly escaped Nazi troops and fled to the United States in 1948. A gifted student, Ms. Albright became a prominent analyst of world affairs and served as a counselor to President Jimmy Carter and numerous presidential candidates. Appointed to serve as Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, she was committed to talking about foreign policy in human and bipartisan terms, realizing that building public support and understanding was vital to American democracy.

For young political reporter Richard Davies, meeting her on a press bus in 1984 during her time as top foreign policy advisor to presidential candidate Walter Mondale, Ms. Albright’s approach would leave a lasting impression.

“She was the opposite of most buttoned-up campaign advisors who would insist their remarks were on background only,” recalls Davies. “She was serious and highly intelligent, but also warm, witty and confident. I’ll never forget that bus ride.”

Hear more of Richard’s work on our podcast page, featuring conversations with today’s top thought leaders, journalists and more.