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Reinvigorating Democracy

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Reinvigorating Democracy

The thoughts expressed in this Guest Opinion are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of S&P Global.

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Given the high levels of distrust in our highly partisan environment, it will continue to be a real challenge for entrepreneurial leaders at all levels of our society to bring people closer together so that they and the officials they elect can solve problems instead of aggravating them. But this challenge hasn’t stopped some young people, working at and with all levels of government, to encourage the election of problem-solving candidates and to promote practical decision-making.

Two of the individuals profiled here acquired their passion for making a different through their service in Americorps, an important characteristic that motivates one of our later recommendations. The third individual featured in this section founded his organization out of frustration with the current condition of our politics, an element that is common to all three of those profiled in this section. 

One approach to reinvigorating our democracy, pioneered by Emily Cherniak, one of the Americorps veterans, is to recruit and encourage people with a “service” background, civilian or military, to run for office. She launched her organization, New Politics, in 2013, and has not looked back. 

A second approach to strengthening our democracy is similar to the first one but works with already elected officials.  Working through two organizations, the Millennial Action Project and the Congressional Future Caucus, Steve Olikura applied the lessons he learned from music – which requires collaboration, often among individuals with varied backgrounds – to bring together, cultivate and train younger elected officials in both political parties to promote bipartisan problem-solving and policy development. Olikura is the subject of our second profile here.

A third approach to revitalizing democracy is to concentrate on young and future voters. That is the mission of Changeist, founded by Mario Fedelin, another Americorps veteran, and the subject of our third profile. Changeist has built youth organizations – with participants as young as 11 up to the age of 26 – to engage in weekly dialogues about current issues of the day to help the participants prepare to participate in the political process. Since its founding, Changeist has expanded from its initial location to Los Angeles to Stockton, California, and now has over 200 youth members in its programs.

Educational initiatives also can promote more effective democracy among future voters. There is growing support for adding or supplementing, as the case may, civics instruction middle and high schools. Such instruction covers not simply the facts about our constitution and our democratic form of government, but the ability to engage in civil discourse and the importance of participating in democracy, not just watching it from the couch in a living room.

Civics instruction need not and should not be confined, however, to a single course or two, but ideally in the way students are taught in all their classes – to learn respect for others and their points of view, and to learn how to speak, not just write, persuasively, backed by reason and evidence. As we highlight in Entrepreneurial Leadership, one way to do this is by incorporating debate techniques in middle and high school classroom across the curriculum.