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KY Voices: Mark MLK Holiday with Return to Civility

January 17, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. - With the nation engaged in a dialogue about civility in political discourse, a Republican officeholder and a Louisville civil rights activist say it's time the country turns the page on venomous political rhetoric and people work to find common ground on the issues of the day.

Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who is leaving his post at month's end to become the director of the Harvard University Institute of Politics, says virtual public spaces have made it easier to air anger and dissent in a less polite way.

"The Internet, the 24/7 news cycle, offer the opportunity to really get information, communicate directly to others, sometimes in a more impersonal way rather than face-to-face."

Grayson says concerns about the tone and partisanship in today's politics were expressed by Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in an e-mail he received from her a day before the shooting. The two met through a young elected officials fellowship a few years ago. They were selected because they had shown an ability to work across party and ideological lines.

Raoul Cunningham, president of the NAACP Louisville branch, began his civil rights activism as a teenager in 1961. He has worked for elected officials and was recently recognized with the 2011 Citizenship Award by the Martin Luther King, Jr. State Commission. He says he remembers a time when Washington politicians knew how and when to turn off the rancor.

"When I was there, you would watch Strom Thurmond and Ted Kennedy go at it tooth and nail on the floor, and then go to a reception and see them conversing and socializing together. I don't think you have that anymore."

The same holds true for some in Kentucky politics, Grayson says.

"Having spent the last seven years in Frankfort, one of the things that struck me was how few Republicans and Democrats would even just go to lunch together to try to build some of kind of relationship, even if they did disagree on a lot of issues."

But on this national holiday, Cunningham hopes all Americans will reflect on the message of Martin Luther King: exercise non-violence in both deeds and words.

"The Martin Luther King holiday celebration's theme is a day on and not a day off. If we were to take that - not just as a holiday - we could do something meaningful for our community, whether it's service or worshipping."

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY