Jan 16, 2024 - News

Inside Carmel's civility campaign

Carmel City Council member Jeff Worrell and local author Alexandra Hudson at the Carmel Clay Public Library with the 300 residents who attended the first of multiple civility meetings to take place throughout 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Worrell

Carmel City Council member Jeff Worrell wants to rebuild civility in his hometown.

Driving the news: More than 300 Carmel residents packed into the Carmel Clay Library last week to attend an event organized by Worrell that was part book discussion, part town hall.

Why it matters: Carmel is still recovering from its first attack-laden mayoral election in decades between Republican Sue Finkam and Democrat Miles Nelson.

  • The race garnered national attention as it devolved into back-and-forth mud-slinging.

The big picture: Coming out of that battle and acknowledging the tense state of the nation at large, Worrell felt that trust in government was at an "all-time low" and wanted to do something to reverse that trend locally.

Zoom in: Worrell said he was motivated after reading Hudson's bestselling book, which analyzes humanity's history with incivility and aims to guide readers on how to develop true respect for the dignity of others.

  • "I suspect from looking at the size of this crowd, and my hundreds of interactions with you, there is an underlying anxiety concerning our behavior towards each other," Worrell said.

What they're saying: The bulk of the gathering was spent hearing from concerned Carmel residents.

  • Bre Sweeney, a Chicago native who moved to Carmel in the summer of 2019, advocated for Carmel Pride and urged decision-makers in the room to do everything in their power to make queer youth feel welcome.
  • "We just got out of a local election that broke my heart," Sweeney said. "A lot of the discussion tonight was around looking inward … you have to figure out your own junk before you can even begin to pave the way to being civil."
  • Toby Malichi said as a Black man, he had his concerns about moving to Carmel seven years ago due to its reputation, but was relieved when his new neighbors embraced him with open arms. Still, he fears that some of the politeness he regularly encounters may be disingenuous.
  • "You meet someone and they say, 'You're so wonderful. We should have lunch sometime.' Then you turn your back, and they take your back out," Malichi said.

What's next: Worrell and Hudson will hold another civility event on March 6 at the Village of West Clay Meeting House.

  • In early February, Worrell said the Current in Carmel will begin to feature a weekly "civility box" that will offer civility tips.
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