When the Beacon Journal last summer sought participants for focus groups titled "I'm mad as hell," there were plenty of volunteers.
People are angry, afraid, and some are in denial - blaming others - for the problems they face.
But a lot of those emotions are understandable.
Even before George W. Bush was sworn into office in 2001, the economy had begun to weaken. Then the Sept. 11 attacks occurred.
Household income never recovered from the 2001 recession before the crash of 2008.
That's nearly 12 years of financial stress. That has taken a toll on our psyches.
A polarized people
More than 20 focus groups and polling in the Akron area this year showed that people in our community are angry with their leaders for failing to solve problems, and instead polarizing America.
They also blamed the media, saying cable television, talk radio, bloggers and traditional news outlets were adding to the polarization by airing disrespectful, or uncivil, exchanges among politicians while paying little attention to the experiences of the people.
What's interesting is that when asked to name other groups responsible for the incivility, people placed themselves last on the list.
Empowering people to demand change
The Akron area is becoming the focus of attention. The question is, are the people willing to take action?
The Akron area faith community, the Beacon Journal and three universities led by the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron have been working together since late 2011 to do the following:
* Find out what emotions are out there.
* Understand the reasons for those emotions.
* Help the community understand that people have different life experiences and different needs.
* Figure out how people who may be radically different can talk about their differences respectfully so that -- and here's the key -- they can also find where they agree and take action.
* To identify ways regular folks can model good behavior and demand the same of their leaders.
* To provide engagement projects for people who want to make a difference.
On this web site, you'll see the stories, the tools and the opportunities to make a difference.
People and organizations behind this project
The Ohio Civility Project - This is a consortium led by the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron, in collaboration with the Ralph Regula Center for Public Service at Mount Union University and the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. The project began in 2010 as an exploration of polarization and incivility, and recently devised civility guidelines to help people with different opinions to have respectful, productive conversations. John Green is the director of the Bliss Institute.
Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com - The news organization is publishing the America Today series, which illustrates the different life experiences of people in the community, and the sources of tension. They also are covering aggressively the work by The Ohio Civility Project, citizen engagement projects and recent work by Jefferson Action. The newspaper is a member of the community steering community, sponsored most of the focus group work and helped with formulation of the civility guidelines.
Alice Rodgers - She is a focus-group facilitator who returned to Akron from retirement in New Mexico to donate hundreds of hours planning and facilitating more than 30 discussions in 2007 and 2012. She facilitated discussions for the Beacon Journal in 1993 exploring race relations in the community, a project that won the Pulitzer Prize for community service.
Love Akron Network - The interfaith organization is led by Pastor Mark Ford. Ford, who was troubled by the angry exchanges on radio, television and in public, brought together the initial group that conceptualized the project. He sits on the steering committee and helped formulate the civility guidelines.
Heart to Heart Communications - Led by Fr. Norm Douglas and attorney Larry Vuillemin, the group has a history of problem-solving and building communication in difficult situations. They sit on the steering committee.
The Civic Commons - This is an online site fostering open, moderated conversation of difficult issues in Northeast Ohio and the nation. Dan Moulthrop and Daryl Rowland of the organization have worked with the steering committees and the Beacon Journal in the development of engagement opportunities and the civility guidelines.
Round River Consulting - The public-engagement consulting firm, based in Akron, is headed by Sue Lacy. She has done work with AmericaSpeaks, which helps citizens discuss difficult issues, and has worked with the University Park Alliance in convening public forums. She is a member of the project steering committee and facilitated the first Ohio Civility Project community meeting.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation -- The foundation, formed by the late Beacon Journal editor John S. Knight and his brother, James, sponsored the focus groups, polling and provides support to the Civic Commons.
Taylor Institute - The marketing research institute at the University of Akron provided the focus-group facilities and logistical support for more than 20 sessions over four weeks.
Jefferson Action - Because of the ongoing civility project in the Akron area, this Minnesota-based organization brought its form of public engagement, known as citizen juries, to the 16th Congressional District. The organization enlisted panels of citizens to study the issues in the district, interview the campaigns and candidates, and score the candidate on the top issues.