Pages tagged "Featured Blog"
By Debilyn Molineaux, Co-Director & Secretary, Bridge Alliance
I cry every time I watch the six minute opening scene from The Newsroom, an HBO series from 2012. Yes, it’s well produced, written and acted. But that’s not why I cry. I cry because the words spoken call to the longing in my heart of what I want our country to be. Of what I thought our country was as I grew up. It echoes my belief before I learned that the America referenced was a myth -- that some Americans never thought this dream was possible for them and actively excluded them. The America described is the American dream I was promised and may never see. I cry for the loss of honor and trust in human beings and our institutions, as witnessed on news and social media stories. I cry because I know that the American dream, expressed in just a few sentences, may never be a reality. After all, it’s up to us -- each one of us and all of us -- to choose what our country is and what it will be.
By David Nevins, President & Co-Director, Bridge Alliance
The U.S. Constitution sets up a system of checks and balances in governance to prevent tyranny in our republic. The functioning of our checks and balances is now in doubt, largely due to the erosion of the democratic virtues of civility and compromise. We’ve been in a downward spiral for most of the last 20 years.
Now is time for thoughtful Americans to come together and support the rebuilding of the infrastructure to strengthen our democracy morally, intellectually and in practice.
The speech delivered by Jeff Flake Senator from Arizona a couple of weeks ago, will be thought by some as a political attack on our President but I believe it is not. If read carefully liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and independents will see the speech as a call to all citizens and leaders to reclaim the American virtues of democracy that define us as a people and as a nation.
As you read his speech ask yourself whether you are complicit in not speaking out against unacceptable behavior from your elected representatives.
By Eric Allen, Curriculum Development and Research, State Legislative Leaders Foundation
Monticello’s east facade is one of the most-recognized home elevations in America. Beneath it lies the town of Charlottesville; not far away is Monroe’s house; a little further is Madison’s mansion, with the second-floor study in which our Constitution was largely penned. Ink stains still mark the pine floor, there. A day’s ride further by horse and you’re at Washington’s home, perched over the Potomac.
It’s hard not to think about government, and particularly about democracy, when you’re in central Virginia’s horse country.
And the Emerging Leaders Program gathers here every summer, at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. The campus echoes Jefferson’s main quadrangle at UVa: Georgian brick buildings flanking a courtyard. Each classroom contains the latest technologies for presentation, and from the terraced seats everyone can see everyone else, and the instructor. At the University of Virginia the word “instructor” is taken seriously, and differently: last names and the word “professor” are nearly prohibited; the instructor asks questions, and the whole room discusses.
This works well among 20 year-olds, but works spectacularly when the students have families, careers, and up to 75 years of living under their belts (remember, newish legislators may have recently retired from an accomplished career, or be just starting their first one. They could be currently-serving soldiers or sailors; they might be grandparents, or new parents; they can certainly be from wide-open cropland, from the mountains, or from a city.)
New Hampshire Listens is a winner in the regional category for their work facilitating civil conversation in the state of New Hampshire on controversial public challenges. They also train others to facilitate such productive dialogues. Bruce Mallory and Michele Holt-Shannon have developed programs to elevate the state’s problem-solving capabilities, modeling a respectful and inclusive approach that many hope will be replicated nationwide. As the person who nominated them put it, “People feel relieved and respected when Bruce and Michele enter the room.”
Nationally, a partnership between the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, the National Institute for Civil Discourse and the National Foundation for Women Legislators has resulted in a new leadership program designed to deliver insight, inspiration and techniques to legislative leaders working to improve public policy discussion in their states. With NICD’s expertise in training community leaders and legislatures, SLLF’s success in providing state legislators with nonpartisan information and a forum for discussion, and NFWL’s work in empowering leaders, this partnership aims to replace gridlock with progress and criticism with compassion. In the words of their nominator, “since many of our federal leaders begIn their political service in state legislatures, success in this program will eventually improve our federal government.”
In the youth category, the Student Public Interest Research Groups from several college campuses were nominated for their work supporting voter education, voter registration and creating safe spaces for dialogue between students with diverse perspectives. Student PIRGs promote learning and understanding about a host of current issues, while providing a forum for students to become politically active and effective. As one elected official put it, “the work PIRGs do is vitally important in a democracy and serves as such a great role model as a set of engaged citizens so necessary to building effective public policy.”
Thank you to all those who submitted nominations and helped take part in recognizing organizations doing great collaborative work. A special thanks to our judges Peter Levine, Betsy Wright Hawkins and David Sawyer as well as our co-sponsor Big Tent Nation.
Here is to another year of innovation and collaboration!
By Kyle Bozentko & Annie Pottorff, Jefferson Center
There’s a dire need to rebuild relationships, restore trust, and strengthen the capacity of local news organizations.
If you’re a regular visitor to Medium, you likely recognize the power of accessible and democratic storytelling. Medium’s approach hints at a possible future for local journalism, a future where the divide between producer and consumer narrows, where newsrooms prioritize two-way relationships with their communities, and where local news serves the interests of the whole community, not just advertisers. In short, a future of where journalists and citizens are engaged together to create, collaborate, and improve their communities.
Looking at the state of our news, there’s a dire need to rebuild relationships, restore trust, and strengthen the capacity of local news organizations. In 2016, the Jefferson Center dove into the issues we’re experiencing daily (polarization, misinformation, clickbait, and attack ads, to name just a few) in our projects Your Vote Ohio and Informed Citizen Akron. Our expertise is in civic engagement — bringing community voices together to address shared problems and identify creative solutions. We tasked citizens with the question, “How can local news media shift their coverage to help voters better evaluate candidates and make more informed electoral decisions during the 2016 election?” Specifically, what voters wanted and needed to know, and what they weren’t getting from candidates and from national news outlets. The results were telling.
More than ever before, America’s future depends on working together. We need to celebrate the people and initiatives that leverage collaboration and creativity to strengthen communities, heal partisan divides and invigorate American democracy. That’s why we created the American Civic Collaboration Awards - or Civvys.
The 2017 American Civic Collaboration Awards finalists all exemplify what it means to embrace diverse perspectives and make a difference. Selected by a panel of civic engagement experts from over 50 nominations, this year’s finalists have achieved on-the-ground impact at the youth, regional and national level. We are pleased to honor them, along with all our nominees, at an awards ceremony and reception on Friday, October 20 at the National Conference on Citizenship in Washington, D.C. The winners will be announced in a post following the awards ceremony.
"As we continue through the uncertain times ahead, we will choose to continue to demonize each other or we will choose to lean towards each other and learn to work together. These American Civic Collaboration Awards shine a light into the chaos to provide hope. We are working to increase collaboration and kindness in our civic lives.” Debilyn Molineaux, Bridge Alliance Co-founder.
We’d also like to extend our sincere congratulations to all Civvys nominees, each of whom is harnessing teamwork to help overcome polarization and foster civic renewal.
By Kurt Sampsel, Government Services Associate, Center for Technology and Civic Life
Residents of Edwards County, Kansas have a new online home for important civic information thanks to the efforts of the Edwards County Clerk’s office and the Center for Technology and Civic Life.
Located in central Kansas, Edwards County has a population of about 3,000 people. The county seat, Kinsley, is known as Midway U.S.A. for its position exactly halfway between New York City and San Francisco on historic U.S. Route 50.
Before working with us, the Edwards County Clerk’s office didn’t provide any election information online, meaning that locals had to either visit the office in person or go to the Kansas Secretary of State’s website to get information. But County Clerk Gina Schuette and Deputy Clerk Stephanie Brake knew that creating an informative, user-friendly website could really benefit voters.
By Brian Clancy, Founder and CEO, Big Tent Nation
When we launched the Civvys to honor people working to overcome America’s divisions, we knew we’d get many worthy nominations. But we weren’t ready for the scale and scope of the nominations received, which have been both inspiring and somewhat overwhelming! Despite what the media may feature, the Civvys are evidence that Americans are doing amazing things to get beyond what divides us and strengthen communities at the local, state and national level.
Our Civvys nominees are as creative, tenacious, diverse and wonderful as our nation itself. They include elected officials with the courage to work across the aisle and technology gurus harnessing cutting edge tools to heal the country they love. They range from high school teachers to corporate CEOs, inside the beltway experts to youth volunteers – Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The full list is below. Learning more about these remarkable people and organizations is the perfect way to rekindle civic faith and see what’s possible when we emphasize the values we share rather than just what divides us.
By Brian Miller, Exec. Director, Nonprofit VOTE
Core to the work of Nonprofit VOTE is helping nonprofits around the country – including major brands like United Way, Independent Sector, National Council of Nonprofits, Volunteers of America, YWCA, and others – engage the communities they serve in voting and elections. What drives our work is a belief that democracy works best when all voices are heard, regardless of their views.
So when we were asked to take over management of National Voter Registration Day earlier this year, we saw an opportunity to take that commitment to a new level. National Voter Registration Day was first started in 2012 to address rising concerns that citizens across the country were losing the ability to vote because they had problems with their registration or missed a crucial deadline.
Most states require voters to register or update their registration when they turn 18, move to a new address, change their name, naturalize, or just haven’t voted in a while. In many cases, that registration needs to take place as much as 30 days in advance of the election. Of course, many people don’t think about the election until it’s a few days away, in which case the registration deadline has already passed. But that’s only the beginning of the challenge.
By Eric Allen, SLLF, Curriculum Development and Research
Here’s a fun fact: almost one American in ten thinks that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Only four in ten are pretty sure our Civil War was fought over slavery. Three-quarters (just) are confident that the earth revolves around the sun, or that the U.S. got its independence from Great Britain. But 95% of us believe that our country has a civility problem. And when asked where that problem is worst, more Americans name “government” than any other place.
Clearly, Americans save their attention for what really matters.
Legislators think that citizens are right on this topic. When asked, legislators say that civility in their chamber is essential to producing good policy outcomes, and that bipartisan collaboration (a different thing, but related) improves the effectiveness of legislative sessions. Two-thirds of them feel that civility has decreased while they’ve been in their legislature. Lots of them (we’ve all seen the interviews) have left government service because they feel legislative gridlock makes their service a waste of valued time, or so unpleasant they don’t want to do it. How lawmakers treat each other, and how they interact, has become a crisis like broken bottles on a vacation beach. Our citizen government, in many cases, has ceased working.
Someone mentioned a beach. As it happens, the State Legislative Leaders Foundation has moved into a new campus, here on the long arm of Massachusetts that challenges the sea, and it’s big enough to host intimate conferences when a topic warrants special treatment. We decided to christen our new campus with an event on this very issue. Twenty four state legislators gathered here in early August, a Republican and a Democrat from each of twelve states. We wanted pairs that could speak knowledgeably about the state of civility and cooperation in their statehouse at home, and could make a difference when they returned there.
Two other organizations partnered with us to do this. The National Foundation for Women Legislators works to support women legislators in a host of ways, and was particularly helpful in recruiting women attendees. The National Institute for Civil Discourse runs workshops all over the country, helping state legislators to appreciate civility issues. So far, they’ve worked with 500 legislators in 15 states. After our conference, that would be about 524 legislators.