Event Addresses State's Low Political Participation

AUSTIN, Texas – Oct. 31, 2013 – As one solution to low civic participation across the state, The University of Texas at Austin College of Communication's Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life is hosting the first ever Texas Conference on Civic Life. The conference, which will bring together citizens from throughout the state and across partisan aisles to discuss the future of civic engagement, will take place from 8:30 am. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9 in the second-floor auditorium at the Belo Center for New Media, 300 W. Dean Keeton.

The conference will build on the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and National Conference on Citizenship's Texas Civic Health Index, which was released in June. The first-ever nonpartisan, statewide evaluation of political and community engagement in Texas, the study found that Texas has one of the nation's lowest political and civic participation rates.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Lance Bennett, director of the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement – A professor of communication and political science at the University of Washington, Bennett also serves as director of the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement. The center is dedicated to understanding how communication processes and technologies can enhance citizen engagement with social life, politics and global affairs.
  • Ilir Zherka, executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship – A life-long advocate of human rights and civic engagement, Ilir joined the National Conference on Citizenship as executive director in 2012. The organization works to improve civic education and participation in the U.S.
  • Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement – Levine is the director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which conducts research on civic education and engagement in the U.S. He also serves as a professor in Tufts University's Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.
  • Evan Smith, editor in chief and chief executive officer of The Texas Tribune – Smith is the editor in chief and chief executive officer of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan digital news organization based in Austin. He also hosts "Overheard with Evan Smith," which airs on PBS stations across the U.S.
  • Ann Beeson, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities – A renowned social justice lawyer, former philanthropy executive and frequent public speaker and writer, Beeson is executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan nonprofit institute committed to improving public policies in Texas.
  • Chuck DeVore, vice president of policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation – DeVore is vice president of policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, one of America's premier conservative state-level public policy think tanks. DeVore is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army (retired) Reserve.
  • Sylvia Manzano, senior analyst at Latino Decisions – Manzano is a senior analyst at Latino Decisions, a leader in Latino political opinion research.
  • Keya Dannenbaum, founder and chief executive officer at ElectNext – Dannenbaum is founder and chief executive officer at ElectNext, an award-winning civic startup that translates open political data into embeddable tools for digital news media.

Civic Pop-Up Space

As part of the conference, the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, KLRU Public Television and KUT Public Radio, will sponsor the inaugural civic pop-up space of "Why Bother? Engaging Texans in Democracy Today."

The civic pop-up space will be an interactive, multi-station experience designed to draw in conference participants as well as potential passersby. Each station will encourage citizens to engage around civic issues, neighborhood placemaking and personal experiences. There will be three primary stations organized around the following themes:

Listening Booth

  • Manifests as a video and sound recording booth operated by KLRU and KUT staff
  • Allows participants to share their stories about civic life beyond the confines of the booth
  • Shares content online via social media, allowing participants to distribute to their networks
  • Provides an outlet for citizens to share their personal experiences with civic life and ideas for how to improve it

Neighborhood Identity

  • Offers creative workshops led by a local artist around the concept of neighborhood identity
  • Invites participants to sit for a short session and craft a visual manifestation of their neighborhood's identity
  • Facilitates discussion after the activity around the pieces and what they mean to the citizens that crafted them
  • Allows a "critical mass" of representations of neighborhood identities to be put on display now and in the future

Issue Prioritization

  • Gives citizens the ability to visually prioritize issues that are important to their area (either Austin or more broadly, Texas)
  • Informs the community, over the course of the day, which issues are rising to the top
  • Fosters a dialogue around important issues in Texas and Austin that resonate with a wide range of citizens
  • Presents an avenue for citizens who are not attending the conference to participate in the rest of the Why Bother? Civic Pop-up Space stations

For more information or to register, click here.


Contacts: Laura Byerley, (512) 471-2182; or Regina Lawrence, (512) 232-4433

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer