National Constitution Center, Ken Burns and PBS Partner to Support “Civility and Democracy”

Joint Initiative Launch Tied to National Constitution Center’s

“Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America”

Saturday, March 26 – Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bonnie Squires

David Eisner, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center (NCC), today joined filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and Corporation for Public Broadcasting President Patricia Harrison to announce collaboration to foster a national conversation about “Civility and Democracy.”  

More after the jump.

The National Constitution Center hosted a kick-off press conference, featuring filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, prior to their weekend of national speakers and panelists, dedicated to “A conversation about Civility and Democracy in America.”
Seen here in the Annenberg Center are (left to right) David Eisner, CEO of the National Constitution Center; Ken Burns; Patricia Harrison, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; Tom Phelps, of the National Endowment for the Humanities; Ken Burns, whose new documentary, “Prohibition,” was highlighted over the weekend;  and Lynn Novick, Burns’ partner in filmmaking.

As part of the project, NCC and PBS station WETA Washington, DC will work together to develop educational materials and Web content connected to Burns’s and Novick’s upcoming film, PROHIBITION, which is scheduled to air this coming fall on PBS.  The film takes viewers beyond the oft-told tales of gangsters, flappers and speakeasies to experience the rise, rule and fall of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Burns and Novick will work with WETA, PBS and the National Constitution Center to create station and public engagement tools around the theme of “Civility and Democracy,” and lead conversations about the issue in a multi-city tour that will take place this spring, summer and fall.

The announcement was made on the eve of “Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America” at the National Constitution Center on March 26th and 27th.  The conference is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Bridging Cultures program.

Highlights from PROHIBITION will be incorporated into some of the Center’s workshops throughout the weekend.  Participants – along with the general public – will be provided an early look at the film the night of Friday, March 25th at the Center.

“The idea for ‘Can We Talk?’ is to engage in a national conversation about the role of civility in our democracy,” said National Constitution Center President and CEO David Eisner.  “There can be no better partner to make this conversation meaningful and broad-based than one of America’s greatest storytellers, Ken Burns.”

“With each Ken Burns film, PBS works with local stations, such as WHYY in Philadelphia, one of our leading stations for civic engagement, and other partners to create a national conversation about issues as diverse as our parks, the experience of war, and America’s love of baseball,” said Paula Kerger, President and CEO of PBS.  “PROHIBITION is a remarkable film that will engage viewers around the country and just as importantly serve as a starting point for conversations in schools and at the dinner table.  This partnership will help us provide even more tools to stations and community groups as Ken and Lynn travel the country over the months ahead.”

“There is no topic more important to the ongoing health of our republic than civility and democracy,” Ken Burns said.  “No period in American history is void of conflict.  There is no idyllic moment in American life.  But civility is essential to our ability as a nation to confront together difficult issues, even when we may disagree, and to continue to improve as a country.”

Patricia Harrison, the President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has partnered with WETA on station engagement and community outreach, said, “Ken’s films connect us, no matter what our background, heritage or station in life, to our country’s past in a way that provides us with an understanding of the present and the issues shaping our lives today.  Public media is committed to providing, through our content and engagement with community, a safe place where people can debate and disagree in a way that affirms, not diminishes, our civil society.  Through PROHIBITION, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick offer an opportunity to follow the law of unintended consequences through the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  As a result, PROHBITION provides public media stations throughout the country an opportunity to engage with students, parents and partners, such as the National Constitution Center, as we take a thoughtful look at this important time in our country’s history.”

“In many ways, Prohibition is an example of an era when strongly held views by one group led to consequences that no one could have foreseen at the time,” said Lynn Novick.  “Ken and I are very excited about the opportunity to the work with the National Constitution Center, PBS stations and others across the nation to embark on a conversation that we hope results in greater civility and ultimately a stronger democracy.”

“Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America”

An interactive, interdisciplinary forum, “Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America” will bring together the best and brightest from such fields as history, government, communications, and political philosophy.  This renowned group will guide public discussion of the role of dissent and protest throughout American history, and the degree to which dissent can and should be civil.  At the close of the event, participants will present guidance on the tools, systems, and best practices that may contribute to productive social and political movements in the future of our nation.

The forum will feature three main parts specifically designed to foster active public engagement with the topic: an opening keynote address, a set of small group discussions and a large town hall-style exchange that will be taped for broadcast at a later date.  Portions of the conference also will be webcast live at www.constitutioncenter.org.  The Center’s new blog, Constitution Daily, will feature live blogging of the events and ongoing coverage about civility and its connections to the Constitution at http://blog.constitutioncenter…

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Educational and Web Materials

As part of the partnership, NCC and PBS member station WETA Washington, DC will work together to incorporate themes from “Can We Talk?” into educational and web materials to support the broadcast.  The web site for PROHIBITION will be accessible via pbs.org, one of the most successful .orgs in the world, and will reach millions of people of all ages.  In addition to educational materials, the site will include selections from scripts, outtakes and transcripts from interviews, archival footage and photographs, music, a bibliography, and timelines.

WETA and PBS also will launch a social media campaign designed to engage audiences online in conversations and discussions around the themes in the film.  Video clips from the broadcast also will be posted on the PBS YouTube Channel.  Fans can follow Ken Burns on Twitter @kenburnspbs or on Facebook at facebook.com/kenburnspbs.

Community Engagement

For each Ken Burns film there is a comprehensive national engagement campaign designed to work in conjunction with the broad promotional plans in order to help create a larger discussion around important topics addressed in the film.  For PROHIBITION, WETA will offer grants to stations to help them explore civility and democracy-related themes and issues in their local markets.  Station activities will include screenings and panel discussions, local productions, customized classroom materials, social networking, and online modules and multi-media projects.

It is expected that events will take place in up to 15 markets (including New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, Louisville, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Columbus, Seattle, Philadelphia and Washington, among others).

When in market, Burns, Novick and others will screen highlights of PROHIBITION and lead discussions about the film and “Civility and Democracy,” as well as visit local schools to discuss these topics with children.  

Gerlach: Building Mosque “Just Like” Protesting at Military Funerals


Republican Congressman Equates Building the Park 51 Mosque with Fred Phelps’ Hate Group Picketing Funerals of American Servicemen and Descrating the American Flag

At last night’s debate, Main Line Reform Temple’s Rabbi David Straus asked Congressional Candidates Jim Gerlach (R) and Manan Trivedi (D) how they stood on the question of the whether the Park 51 Community Center and Mosque should be built in New York City on the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory story on a side street two and a half blocks from the site of the World Trade Center.

While Manan Trivedi thought this was an issue left for New Yorkers to decide, he said

I fought in Iraq to defend the Constitution, and one of the rights in the Constitution is for religious freedom, and that was what they were doing up in New York when they proposed to build that mosque. These are some of the rights that were in the Constitution, and that’s a principle I stand behind.”

As a Marine, Trivedi put himself in danger to protect those freedoms for all of us whether Jew, Christian, Hindi or Muslim.

On the other hand, Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach said that those who build such a mosque are just like Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps: Gerlach observes that one has the right to build a mosque, or show up at a military funeral desecrating the American flag and carrying signs such as “God hates fags”, “Thank God for dead soldiers”, “God hates Israel”, and “Jews killed Jesus”. However, Gerlach argues “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.”

The Park 51 project calls for a “green certified building” to serve as a “center for multifaith dialog and engagement”. The Cordoba initiative leader and moderate Imam, Feisal Abdul-Rauf, has justly been recognized as a courageous and eloquent leader in improving relations between Islam and other faiths. In fact, he was Bush’s partner for Middle East peace and helped the FBI with its counter-terrorism efforts.

On the other hand, Fred Phelps and his extended family are engaging in hate speech. It is not at all clear whether anti-Gay, anti-Semitic and anti-American rhetoric spat in the face of the mourners of our fallen heros is guaranteed under the Constitution as “free speech”. In fact, the Supreme Court will soon be ruling on this case.

For those unfamiliar with Snyder v. Phelps, the backstory is as follows: Snyder was burying his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in a Humvee accident while stationed in Iraq. One thousand feet away stood members of the “church,” which protests just about everywhere, spreading the message of God’s hate for Matthew and his fellow soldiers as well as the entire world. They were carrying signs such as “Thank God for IEDs,” “Fags die, God laughs,” et cetera; Al Snyder said they also carried the sign “Matt in Hell.” In addition, they posted a poem on their website claiming that Snyder and his wife “raised [Matthew] for the devil,” taught him “to commit adultery” and that “God killed Matthew so that His servants would have an opportunity to preach His words. …”

Al Snyder, who became violently ill after reading this and watching the coverage of the protest later, filed a lawsuit claiming defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Snyder claims that this is not so much a free speech issue as a harassment issue. This is about deliberately engaging in psychological torture and, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “exploiting a private family’s grief.”

Drawing any sort of equivalency between these two groups shows a lack of a clear moral compass on Gerlach’s part. Treating a moderate Imam as if he was one of the 9/11 terrorists instead of a key ally in our efforts to isolate the extremists in the Muslim community is unfair, racist, immoral and jeapordizes the security of our nation
Rabbi Straus continued with a question about the Tea Party. Trivedi said the group espoused “dangerous ideas for our country”, while Gerlach was appreciative of the efforts of the local Tea Party groups and considered them preferable to MoveOn.org which he denounced as a extreme left-wing organization.

Unlike the Chester County debate, the Gerlach campaign agreed to let the debate be televised. It was carried live by PCN.