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voiceofsandiego.org has inspired people across the country to launch various projects similar to it. The crisis in the news industry brought on by struggling newspapers and a sour economy has made communities everywhere anxious about the future of local news, investigative journalism and civic discourse.

Some of those projects that followed our lead have become so successful that they’re now teaching us a thing or two.

One of the things they taught us is that we needed to put together a big event.

Not long ago it occurred to us that San Diego — which is so good at putting on festivals for the arts, food, neighborhoods and culture — needed a festival for public affairs. It needed a field day-type setting where people could gather to talk about the future of the city but in an atmosphere where the kids would have something to do, where beer and good food might be had and where serious topics were treated seriously but where we also might have a laugh.

We all do want to make this place better, no matter how much we disagree sometimes. Why not build an event around that?

The idea for Politifest 2011 became real when a couple of visionary sponsors agreed it was worth a try. I’m writing to ask you to join us Saturday (details below).

More than 80 political groups and nonprofits have confirmed they’ll have a booth at Politifest (check out our program guide) — from right wing to left wing to no wing, media, authors, humanitarian groups, candidates and parties, they will represent our diverse civic discussion unlike any event I’ve been to recently.

The mayoral debate is set. The Idea Tournament — an American Idol-style contest pitting almost 50 contestants and their ideas against each other — has generated so much buzz we moved it to the center stage and even one of the top mayoral candidates called repeatedly asking to get a spot in the tournament in addition to his debate.

We followed through with our promise to make it family friendly. Thanks to the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, we have a bounce house and we’ll have kids activities including hippity-hop races and tugs of war (I think we might even have some adults in on one of those). SeaWorld and the Chula Vista Nature Center are bringing some of their furry friends at which the kids can gawk.

And there will be beer: Thanks to Stone Brewing Co., a beer garden and band will be ready. Right nearby, our beloved voiceofsandiego.org members will have lunch courtesy of Donovan’s Steak & Chop House. Fine food trucks and other vendors are lined up.

NBC 7 San Diego and its many talented reporters and anchors are helping us run the show. Best of all, for some of you, might be the news that I and some of our most provocative reporters will sit for a turn in the dunk tank. NBC’s news director, Greg Dawson has agreed to take a turn as well. If you’ve been dying to take out some aggression on the news world, you’ll have no better chance than Saturday.

I got an angry note from a reader this week who was offended by this “circus.” He said that “politics isn’t fun! Politics, like being a good mother, is a hard job, requiring discipline, motivation and self-sacrifice, not FUN.”

We are in a depression, he said. It’s the wrong time for this.

I wrote him back and respectfully disagreed. We’re in a deep recession because people aren’t confident enough to invest, to take risks, to try out ideas, to share information and to fix problems. We won’t solve this by sitting at home and grumbling. We won’t get people engaged by holding exclusive, serious debates, reserved for only the select few who can get away on a Thursday evening.

Let’s celebrate the spirit of debate and ideas. Whether it’s about Balboa Park, or city pensions, or medical marijuana, let’s disagree thoughtfully, under the sun, in a beautiful grassy area. Let’s set a new San Diego tradition so that, in September 2012, when politics is at its feverish peak, we can get together again in a warm, respectful setting.

Let’s have a festival!

Thank you for your support and thank you especially to our sponsors Hughes Marino, SDG&E and Cox Communications. They gave us the opportunity to try out this idea.

Now, come bring us yours.

Politifest 2011

Saturday, September 17

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Ingram Plaza at Liberty Station — 2640 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego, CA 92106 (map)

Mayoral debate at 10:30 a.m.

Idea Tournament begins at 12 p.m.

You can contact me directly at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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