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New avenues for public discourse

Published Sep. 16, 2005

The national, nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates has affirmed something people have always known: Citizens make better-informed decisions when they discuss issues among themselves. With the official establishment of DebateWatches, forums in which citizens view the presidential debates together and discuss them in all 50 states, the commission is helping to raise the level of public discourse and build a more informed populace. But the public awakening shouldn't stop there. Everyone who can't be involved in an official debate forum should organize his or her own.

In St. Petersburg, the Times' downtown auditorium will host 150 people on Sept. 25 and Oct. 2. For the Oct. 9 presidential debate in St. Petersburg, 1,000 people will gather at the University of South Florida in Tampa and the St. Petersburg Coliseum. Local and national public officials and commentators will discuss issues with the voters before the debate. Then Channel 13 is scheduled to broadcast voters' post-debate reactions live.

Following the televised debates with town meetings will thrust voters into the marketplace of ideas with the politicians. The debate forums are a shot in the arm for participatory democracy, reminding us that people are smart enough to think and evaluate for themselves. This may be the most powerful weapon yet in the fight against voter apathy and disaffection.

Readers can watch the Times if they want a chance to attend a DebateWatch, but organizing a forum with the people from your church or workplace would achieve the same benefits. Several local groups and businesses are already planning to watch and discuss together.

Voters shouldn't miss the chance to add their voices to the growing chorus of politically active citizens.