The town of Coupeville has agreed to “play nice” when it comes to politics. The town council members signed a pledge at the last town council meeting agreeing that they will uphold certain standards of civility for themselves and others.
The pledge comes from the local citizen’s group, Civility First, which works to transcend the typical political divisions in hopes of making political talks in Island County more respectful.
In the aftermath of a presidential election cycle that was particularly littered with personal insults, name-calling and otherwise rudeness, Civility First works to keep that type of behavior out of the Whidbey Island communities.
“There’s been a real change in how we treat each other over the last 40 or 50 years,” Cathy Whitmire, the president of Civility First, said.
Whitmire said she was pleased that Coupeville will be the first “civility city” in the area, and she said the group is also talking to the cities of Oak Harbor and Langley about the pledge.
“We’re 50 percent people who bleed red and 50 percent who bleed blue, all committed to working together,” she said.
The members of the group, which formed in 2017, emphasize that they’re nonpartisan and nonpolitical, hoping to bind together Democrats and Republicans for the goal of civil discourse.
They are participants in the annual Holland Happening parade, have a booth at the county fair and also host workshops at local libraries.
The workshops focus on transforming potential arguments from heated, red-faced yelling matches into calm, respectful listening exercises that show respect for other’s opinions, no matter how different they may be.
“We’ve become careless with how we treat one another,” Whitmire said. “What we want are communities where we can feel respected.”
She said the group sends people in pairs to run the workshops, one conservative and one liberal, to serve as models of how attendees can disagree but still hear each other out.
Whitmire said the group aims for friendship over animosity.
“For us, it doesn’t mean that everybody has to believe the same thing,” Whitmire said. “Everybody has their own truths.”
She said the social media age has posed unique challenges to treating each other well. The next step for the group is to get their message out to young people, working with schools and encouraging youth participation at libraries.
They’ve designated October as Civility Month and will be having an arts and photography contest called “Capturing a moment of civility on Whidbey,” which will be displayed first at the Coupeville library.
Whitmire said Civility Month is in partnership with Sno-Isle Libraries and it will include “book displays in all the island libraries, civility story hours for children and civility workshops in the libraries for adults.” The group also plans to work with churches and local municipalities.
“In a democracy it works best when everyone expresses their opinions,” she said.
“But we need to be able to hear each other.”