Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Prayers from a former mayor: Ending our divides starts with us

red and blue divide
Westend61/Getty Images

Copenhaver, a former mayor of Augusta, Ga., is founding Partner ofStarts With Us and author of “The Changemaker: the Art of Building Better Leaders.”

During a recent healing service at my church, I was asked by the two priests officiating what I would like for them to pray for before they anointed my head with oil. I almost couldn’t believe what I was asking for when I simply replied, “Please pray that our nation gets through the midterm elections with no political violence.”

In the wake of the senseless attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, I now pray that political violence (across the ideological spectrum) hasn’t sadly and sickeningly become our “new normal.”

Having served nine years as mayor of Augusta, Ga., I can attest firsthand to the fact that politics are not for the faint of heart and have always involved negative rhetoric. During my time in office, there was a seemingly endless stream of issues our local government dealt with that became heated, but never turned truly dangerous. Even in the midst of our most controversial issues, I continued to intentionally interact with people at the grassroots level in all areas of our city in order to keep my finger on the pulse of our community. I was always aware that I had vocal detractors but at no time did I fear for my safety. When I exited office nearly eight years ago, I would have never imagined the dangerous state our nation finds itself in during a critical juncture in history at a national and global scale.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

I must admit that as an American citizen and a former public servant, I’m extremely concerned with the state of our democracy, and I know I’m not alone. A recent Starts With Us and YouGov poll found that 87 percent of Americans are tired of how divided we are politically, and a CBS News poll found that 72 percent of Americans believe democracy and the rule of law are under threat. Today, bipartisan agreement on any major issue seems to be extraordinarily difficult to come by. Though our two major parties are split over just what it is that’s threatening our democracy they are able to agree that it is in fact under threat: According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 69 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans believe America’s democracy is on the brink of collapse.

So, what is the greatest threat to our democracy? When posed this question by Anderson Cooper in a recent “60 Minutes” interview, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates answered by saying, “extreme polarization.” He went on to say, “The greatest threat is found within the two square miles that encompass the White House and the Capitol Building.” Whether or not you align with Gates politically, we should all find the words of a Washington insider sobering.

While serving in office, one of my primary objectives was to act as a bridge builder in bringing our city together on common ground. I kept at the forefront of my mind the fact that I served 200,000 citizens, some who voted for me, some who voted against me and some who didn’t vote at all but all of whose needs I needed to value equally. I also had a diligent focus on consensus building and recognizing the differences of my elected colleagues while treating them with dignity and respect. During our time working together we were able to attract over $1 billion in economic investment creating thousands of jobs, build many new public buildings, and create an award-winning revitalization initiative in the historic African American neighborhood of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. It wasn’t always pretty – government never is – but I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish by working together across any perceived lines of difference, political or otherwise.

It’s encouraging to see bridge-building organizations following a similar ethos to the one I championed in office, and to see them working to mend our frayed society. One of these, Starts With Us, is working to help Americans understand their agency by fostering what they affectionately call “The Three C’s” – curiosity, compassion, and courage – as daily habits to overcome the polarization, blind tribalism and dehumanization threatening our democracy.

I recently joined Starts With Us for “man on the street” interviews here in Augusta. I spent hours talking to a diverse group of locals to get their take on what’s causing the divides in our nation and what we can all individually do about them. We approached each person and conversation with the Three C’s, and the experience was eye-opening. We’re constantly told how divided we are, how dire the state of affairs is (which is true to a certain extent), but we are actually more aligned than we think. Some of the common themes to come out of the interviews in each city were: People are upset about our divides, they feel we need to listen to each other with respect for opposing views, they think it’s important we treat each other with civility and people are simply tired of polarization in general.

This experience reinforced for me that it is not politicians, or one political party, that will heal our divides. And I say this as a former politician. It literally starts with us – every single one of us – to recognize our agency and step into it. That might look like thinking twice before commenting on social media, taking a deep breath before engaging in a political conversation, taking a step back before making assumptions about someone because of a campaign sign in their yard. It might seem small, but these everyday actions can have a tremendous ripple effect – from our homes to our communities, to our cities, institutions, politics, our nation.

If we can each take on the personal responsibility to treat our fellow citizens with curiosity and compassion while having the courage to have difficult conversations we can, and we will, change the dangerous course extreme polarization has set our nation upon. I still believe in our United States of America, but in the meantime I’ll keep on praying.

Read More

Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Don Bacon

Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Don Bacon won the "Life in Congress" award from the Congressional Management Foundation.

The best bosses in an unusual work environment: Capitol Hill

Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

Our nation’s capital is known for many things — but good management practices are not among them. Stories regularly surface of bizarre tales of harassment and abuse by members of Congress. An Instagram feed a few years ago unearthed dozens of stories by staff outing less-than-desirable managers and members for their bad practices. But what about the good leaders and good managers?

Like any profession, Congress actually has quite a few exemplary office leaders. And the beneficiaries of these role models are not just their staff — it’s also their constituents. When a congressional office can retain great talent, sometimes over decades, the quality of the final legislative product or constituent service rises immensely.

Keep ReadingShow less
Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley

Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley won the Congressional Management Foundation's Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility.

Official portraits

Some leaders don’t want to be held accountable. These two expect it.

Fitch is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

There is probably no more important concept in the compact between elected officials and those who elect them than accountability. One of the founding principles of American democracy is that members of Congress are ultimately accountable to their constituents, both politically and morally. Most members of Congress get this, but how they demonstrate and implement that concept varies. The two winners of the Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility clearly understand and excel at this concept.

Keep ReadingShow less
Woman speaking at a microphone

Rep. Lucy McBath is the first lawmaker from Georgia to win a Democracy Awarrd.

Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Surprise: Some great public servants are actually members of Congress

Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

TheCongressional Management Foundation today announced the winners of the seventh annual Democracy Awards, CMF’s program recognizing non-legislative achievement and performance in congressional offices and by members of Congress. Two members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, are recognized in four categories related to their work in Congress.

Americans usually only hear about Congress when something goes wrong. The Democracy Awards shines a light on Congress when it does something right. These members of Congress and their staff deserve recognition for their work to improve accountability in government, modernize their work environments and serve their constituents.

Keep ReadingShow less

Can George Washington inspire Biden to greatness?

Clancy is co-founder of Citizen Connect and board member of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund. Citizen Connect is an initiative of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund, which also operates The Fulcrum.

King George III reputedly said George Washington was the greatest man in the world for voluntarily relinquishing power. The indisputable fact is that Washington’s action remains remarkable in human history. And he actually did it at least two times.

On Dec. 23, 1783, Washington resigned his commission as commander of the Continental Army and returned to Mount Vernon. He did it again when he declined to run for a third term as president by publishing his Farewell Address on Sept. 19, 1796. In June 1799 Washington was yet again urged to run for president and declined.

His reasoning on each occasion was a complex mix of the personal and political, but the bedrock was an unwavering commitment to put the good of the nation above personal gain and the factions that would ultimately become our toxic party system.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joe Biden at the debate

After his disastrous peformance at the debate, President Biden needs to exit the race, writes Breslin.

Kyle Mazza/Anadolu via Getty Images

Getting into the highest offices is hard. Getting out is harder.

Breslin is the Joseph C. Palamountain Jr. Chair of Political Science at Skidmore College and author of “A Constitution for the Living: Imagining How Five Generations of Americans Would Rewrite the Nation’s Fundamental Law.”

This is the latest in “A Republic, if we can keep it,” a series to assist American citizens on the bumpy road ahead this election year. By highlighting components, principles and stories of the Constitution, Breslin hopes to remind us that the American political experiment remains, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, the “most interesting in the world.”

Getting into America’s highest political offices is hard. Getting out is harder.

President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance has intensified calls for him to step aside. Not even 24 hours after his poor showing, The New York Times took the extraordinary and unprecedented position that the sitting president should immediately pass the torch to a more energetic and electable candidate. “The greatest public service Mr. Biden can now perform,” the editorial board declared, “is to announce that he will not continue to run for re-election.”

Keep ReadingShow less