Learning to Disagree: Q&A with Citizens League Executive Director Pahoua Hoffman

The tsunami of political “angertainment” is headed our way, and with an unusually large number of high profile seats in play in Minnesota, the ads placing blame and skewing perspectives will be plenty. In times like these, the refuge of the Citizens League is vital. This organization intentionally incorporates the voice of citizens across the political spectrum into policymaking, providing a megaphone to those who may not otherwise be inclined speak up.

The Citizens League’s new executive director, Pahoua Hoffman, is breaking ground as the organization’s first female leader, and we got a chance to chat with her. She shared with us what brought her to the Citizens League, why she created the organization’s new periodical, the Citizens League Voice, and her message to the nation:

What is your “why?”

Pahoua: If given the opportunity, I go for it and bring along the people before me who never had the chance.

What brought you to Citizens League?

Pahoua: I was enticed when I heard that a Citizens League operating guideline was including those most impacted by an issue to be part of defining the problem and coming up with the solution. They need not be a subject matter expert; they are the expert in their own experience.

Why create the Citizens League Voice?

Pahoua: We wanted to model excellence in nonprofit and nonpartisan journalism, which I believe to be missing. Sometimes, I feel people do not listen or read to learn, but rather to shame and shut down the conversation. This often happens on social media, but I also see it play out in person. If people can’t learn – and learn to disagree – I don’t know how we can come together the solve the many public policy issues that are in front of us. We wanted to devote considerable pages to one topic and offer multiple perspectives in a neutral tone so that the reader can learn and make her/his own decision on where they land. We also wanted to model good questioning, and the “back and forth” section illustrates this.

Did any of the Studio/E competencies help you with this idea?

Pahoua: All of it helped me. I remember an English teacher trying hard to get me to start early on rough drafts and work my way to a final version. Instead, I’d agonize on making something perfect from the start. I still do this, and it is a blind spot. Going through the process outlined in Studio/E helped me put something down instinctively and quickly before I could second-guess myself. From there, I was able to improve on the idea and get others to help me.

What are you reading right now?

Pahoua: Lately, it’s been everything minimum wage since I am working on a project on this topic, but my last book for fun was Jacques Pepin’s autobiography.

If you could say something to the nation during the political season, what would it be?

Pahoua: Please be kind, think, and speak with care and clarity.

With an impending tsunami, it’s instinctual to want to take cover. But if we can learn to disagree and engage in productive conversations, the waves of political angertainment will be a little less intimidating. In the spirit of creating a safe space for dialogue, we are bringing Pahoua into the Studio/E Clubhouse on Wednesday, February 21 for our Member Morning Series. During this program, Pahoua will share her story of leading a new vision for Citizens League, plus her journey of creating the Citizens League Voice. If you are a Studio/E member and would like to join our conversation with Pahoua Hoffman, please contact membership@yourstudioe.com.

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