“May our children and our children’s children to a thousand generations, continue to enjoy the benefits conferred upon us by a united country…”
As we awoke in America this morning, we were once again met with news of devastating loss of human life from horrific acts of violence. This time the target was Nice, France and the world mourns. The news of the France attack comes on the heels of a painful period in our own country as we struggle to come to terms with a growing divide that threatens the fragile unity that kept us strong as a nation. Indeed, many are asking what it will take to bring healing to our communities and to renew and strengthen the spirit of, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In these troubled times, too many citizens have a sense that what they do matters little when it comes to civic life and the health of their communities or the country. Some feel threatened by the very institutions put in place to protect them.
So what can we do?
It was more than a decade ago when the Case Foundation commissioned a framework for new civic engagement approaches titled Citizens at the Center. The report provided specific recommendations for getting people from all walks of life to discuss what matters most to them, and recommended the tools and technologies they need to identify problems and develop solutions together. As the recommendations made clear, often to be effective, citizen-centered approaches must be representative of a cross-section of the entire community, rather than just parts of it. Shifting to an approach that puts citizens at the center can be a powerful way to help ordinary people take action on the problems that are most important to them, and in the ways they choose.
This work is emblematic of our belief at the Case Foundation in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and that for a vibrant democracy to thrive, citizens must be at the center of shaping the institutions that are put in place to serve them. We’ve been champions of efforts that promote active civic engagement—from volunteering, to voting, to making a pledge to a cause, to movement building—and we’ve been passionate about supporting and bringing together diverse voices in times of struggle and chaos. As history teaches us, the most effective movements are comprised of people from different backgrounds and perspectives working toward a common goal.
Let’s continue to find our voices and support “Citizens at the Center” movements like #BlackLivesMatter and prizes and challenges like American University’s Peace Day Competition, to source innovative and actionable ideas to challenge the status quo. Let’s commit to believing we can make our communities, our nation, the world a better place—that in itself is an important action.
Throughout our history, the story of America has been the story of passionate citizens with an idea coming together for a cause—women and men who have stood up, spoken up, crafted solutions, built organizations and launched movements to protect the freedoms and ideals of democracy. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about “the fierce urgency of now,” and those words are ringing in my ears through these difficult days. Let’s commit ourselves to working together to strengthen our communities and our nation by embracing not just those who agree with us or who we perceive share our points of view, but by reaching out and across to unfamiliar people and unfamiliar places. Let’s bring our best ideas and our best solutions to help our communities heal.