Talking about politics has not been easy in the last several years. With so many angry knee-jerk reactions to opposing viewpoints, it would seem as though courteous conversations and rational discussions over politics have little hope. But for the members of the Ojai-based Chautauqua group, hope is not lost and now is the best time to work through these issues to help the Ventura County community connect in such a volatile time.

In 2013, an informal group of concerned friends, with support of the Agora Foundation and Oak Grove School, came together to further conversations of understanding rather than division and polarization. Founding member Andy Gilman relayed the group’s purpose:

“To address the problem of getting good information about important and controversial issues. Also to address a lack of civil discourse around these hot-button issues.”

Over the last three years, the group has led panel discussions on immigration, fracking, income disparity and the future of water and more. Even with the sensitivity of these issues, through these panel discussions, the outcome has been positive.

“We choose panelists who represent the range of positions on the issue. We work with them to create an atmosphere where different points of view can be discussed, with the objective of understanding the issue better,” Gilman said. “Not a debate, not a contest, rather a good-willed effort to open up the subject for the benefit of the audience.”

But it’s hard to understand why it’s so difficult to have discussions, on controversial topics, that don’t result in hateful mudslinging.

“Big issues in our time are complex, not lending themselves to simple black and white points of view,” Gilman said. “The urge to ‘political action’ creates its own kind of bias, so getting objective views is almost impossible. The public would like to know what the real issues are, not a predigested rendering that represents and pushes a given point of view. We seek to provide objective information and understanding about why people disagree.”

As the 2016 election winds down, or fires up, depending on how one looks at it, Chautauqua members are looking forward to the next round of panel discussions on the past and future of politics.

The 2016 Campaign (Part One): How Did We Get Here?
Saturday, Sept. 17, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
A conversation that looks beyond the daily headlines to examine the broader political landscape that has produced such an unusually contentious and polarizing election season.
Will the 2016 election be a preview of the future of politics in America — or can we do better?

The 2016 Campaign (Part Two): What Happens Next?
Saturday, Oct. 8, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
In the closing days of an unusually contentious and divisive presidential campaign, we will look beyond Election Day to the challenges facing our next president, the new Congress — and the American people.

Ticket scholarships are available for students, teachers, veterans, first-time voters and nonprofit employees. Any interested parties should contact Andy Gilman at

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to