Learn how to tone it down at Civility First events

A group of Whidbey Island residents decided they were tired of hearing the political rhetoric. Not the differing views, but the strident way those views are expressed.

It was out of the increasing cacophony that Civility First was born.

“We began a year and a half ago,” said Cathy Whitmire, a Civility First founder, director and spokesperson. “We came together out of a shared sense of concern that the social and political divides were widening.”

One of the first projects for the group was a booth at the 2017 Island County Fair. “We had both red and blue balloons and Republicans and Democrats behind the same table,” Whitmore said. Once they overcame their confusion, Whitmire said, people – more than 400 of them – shared stories. “Everyone had an uncle they were dreading to see at Thanksgiving or a neighbor or coworker they were now avoiding.”

The group’s website says: “We are a group of citizens representing a wide range of political views. We have come together to repudiate the divisive language and hate speech permeating our society.”

While some might assume the group leans left, Whitmire said, that isn’t always the case. “We have an equal number of people saying we are conservative leaning,” Whitmore said. “When we send people (to speak to local groups), we send in red/blue pairs. No longer are they ‘conservatives from Oak Harbor,’ they are Sandi and Jim and we are friends.

“Relationship takes away prejudice. The conversation space gets bigger.”

Whitmire said the goal isn’t to make political points, but to listen and understand. The group’s advisory board includes Trump supporters, longtime Republican elected officials as well as Quakers, liberals and Democratic Party supporters.

“We sit in a place where some liberals and some conservatives are being very wary of us because we are holding a pace that, unfortunately, is uncommon at this moment,” Whitmire said.

Civility First has a Civility Pledge that starts with: “In order to create a community where we are each treated with civility and respect, each of us affirms that we will: …” The cities of Langley and Coupeville, four churches, the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record newspapers, community groups and hundreds of local residents have signed the pledge. The Sno-Isle Libraries Board of Trustees joined Civility First in proclaiming October 2018 as Civility Month. Civility workshops will be conducted at:

The Oct. 1 event at Oak Harbor is scheduled to feature State Rep. Norma Smith and Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson.

Civility First, the Pacific Northwest Art School and Sno-Isle Libraries are partnering on an art and photography contest to mark civility month. The entry deadline is Sept. 30 and entry forms are available at any library on Whidbey and Camano islands. An awards ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m., Oct. 27, at the Coupeville Library.

Whitmire said the civility workshops offer plenty of tips, along with one more thing: “We give out Civility First stickers to put on your computer that people can look at before they press the send button” on those strident political messages.