The Need for a 'Civic Message'
By Rich Harwood
Let’s face reality: the underlying change we need in our country today is not likely to come anytime soon from Washington, DC or many of our state capitals. Nor will it come from simply electing a new batch of elected officials that insist on pursuing a divisive and polarized politics. People in communities must step forward if we are to create the lives and communities—and the nation—we aspire to.
As I travel the country on my speaking tour, I am finding people increasingly discouraged and dispirited by our national condition. Hope is on the wane. Faith in one another is being undermined. Never before in my 30 years of doing this work have I witnessed such widespread and deep discontent.
There is good news though: People are willing to hear a distinct and different civic message.
There is a hunger among Americans from all walks of life to be called back to public life, to bring out the best in us, and to get to work rebuilding our shared future. This work must happen in our local communities where we are able to forge relationships and trust and civic confidence. Change can spread from there. New norms can take root.
We must seize this opening. Politicians can then follow us.
People are ready to go, and much good work is already underway. But so many people are so hunkered down—pulling back from our shared lives, closed off to each other, experiencing a lost sense of possibility. It’s time for a response that actively calls people back to rediscovering what we share in common and to find ways to actively build upon that. To help people see the progress that is being made by making visible what is often invisible progress in our communities. And to lift up a new can-do spirit and narrative—fuel for hope.
Those of us in local communities can be the difference we need to get on a new trajectory. I believe this not because of some theory I read in a book, some philosophy I adhere to, or some blind belief. Instead it is because America’s history bears it out. Our nation was founded by a ragtag group that rose and beat the British and then afterward found ways to abolish slavery and make progress on child welfare, women’s suffrage, civil rights and voting rights—not to mention the vast and ongoing homegrown change that has taken place in communities all across our nation.
As Americans, we are by nature innovators, problem solvers and doers. It’s our time once again to step forward in our local communities and create the kinds of lives and communities we aspire to.