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Keynote General Session: Yes, And(ing) Congress: A Collaborative Effort to Improve Political Discourse

October 3, 2023 @ 9:00 am 10:15 am

It’s time to put our “Yes…And(ing)” skills to the test! Led by our fearless WIT moderator, our expert panelists will engage in a no-holds-barred, no-ideas dismissed, fun discussion to help improve political discourse in our country – what could go wrong?

Katrina Bishop, Association of Equipment Manufacturers
Laura Brigandi, Public Affairs Council
Lori Pitts, Washington Improv Theater (moderator)

Ory Rinat, (formerly) The White House
Kristin St. John, McKesson Corporation
Jaime Werner, Congressional Management Foundation
John Windmueller, Washington Improv Theater (moderator)


What is the current state of political discourse? 

←Excellent          Terrible → 

  • The majority of audience members moved to the terrible side of the room. 
  • A single attendee stayed on the excellent side. He reasoned that his colleagues have been working hard tirelessly to thread the needle and get the ball going, so it is an excellent hand. 

What direction is our political discourse going?

← Better               Worse → 

  • Half of the audience members moved to the worse side of the room. Some attendees stated the upcoming election cycle, current social issues, and political infightings are the reasons for their pessimism. 
  • Half of the audience members moved to the middle of the room.
  • A single attendee on the better side stated that she is hopeful for the next generation of advocacy. 

Forces for change

  • The next generation can have an impact on political discourse.
  • Current and future generations can hold multiple different beliefs, unlike older generations.
  • The younger generation of Members of Congress is breaking the habits of older legislators who do not want progressive changes to the legislative process. 
  • Social media gives young people the platform to enact change, build a grassroots movement, and build connections with fellow problem solvers. Social media can also help people have tough conversations. 

Forces resisting change 

  • People who don’t like change. People who enjoy their routines and current beliefs. 
  • People’s belief in taxes and their contribution to communities. Ex: Why are we paying taxes for communities’ growth when it doesn’t impact us at home?
  • Digital algorithm – social media only shows us what we want to see, instead of all the diverse dialogue. 
  • The people who have the force for change will not be able to create an even platform for change. Ex: Members of Congress will never create bills that are against their interests and power.
  • Social media makes it harder to have civil discourse due to the presence of extreme incivility and hate speech. There is no break from social media and its vitriol. Social media dehumanizes people in discussion.

Best levers to enact change

  • Intentional dialogue to create accountability.
  • Hold our Members of Congress accountable for their actions.
  • Volunteers and grassroots members can be a force for change when they mobilize together. 
  • Have conversations with your family, friends, and community members who are not involved in advocacy. Help educate people one conversation at a time. 

Structural issues preventing change

  • Gerrymandering is a big problem.
  • The myth of the boogeyman for people to unite against in political discourse. The boogeyman becomes the scapegoat for people’s frustration. 
  • Idea: Expanding the House member’s term to three years, instead of two to give members time to legislate, instead of running for reelection. Give them an extra 12 months to get things done. 
  • The media is portraying politics as the Red and Blue teams, giving people the perception that you have to support only those teams and not meet in the middle.
    • The media now focuses on clicks and viewerships, instead of investigative reporting and due diligence. 
    • The news is now homogenized and hyper-focused on issues that viewers are paying to see.

Examples of positive civic engagement/discourse

  • Buzz Summit attendees and their work in educating grassroots members with their advocacy areas. 
  • Facilitate town halls and arrange site visits for grassroots members to meet with their Members of Congress. You can help Members of Congress understand the issue area. 
  • Help people understand the importance of local government and how change can start at the local level. 

Ways advocates can contribute to improving the system

  • Build relationships with their elected officials. Go to council meetings, town halls, and Hill Day. 
  • Look at the profiles of your clients and your advocates when assessing how to get things done.
  • Go for the personal ask if you need to. The extra 3-4 steps can help.
  • Understand that your tools are dynamic.

Questions and Answers – Additional Tips 

  • Include language such as “We are asking Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to help support XYZ…” → emphasize the need for bipartisan support and demand it from your elected officials.
  • Encourage your advocates to run for local and state office. Start with the local level, and if they’re good at it, they can run for Congress. Consequently, you can have a relationship with an elected official who can enact change. 
  • Remember the importance of building a connection with your elected officials. 
  • Dogs can be a great bridge builder when you bring them to the Hill. 
  • How can you invigorate people to stand against legitimately bad actors?
    • Use blunt honesty and have transparent conversations.
    • Trust in people’s resiliency and their ability to handle tough conversations on sensitive and challenging topics. Do not sugarcoat it. 
  • Stay true to your values. 
  • Be willing to listen and have a conversation with someone with a different perspective. 
  • Be nice to each other. Thank Members of Congress and Congressional staff for their public service. Be the connector.


October 3, 2023
9:00 am – 10:15 am
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