Molineaux is President/CEO of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund, is a 501(c)(3) organization that houses The Fulcrum. David L. Nevins is chairman of the board.
We are very excited and honored to become the new co-publishers of The Fulcrum. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to build upon the successes of the first two years of publication.
We are confident that The Fulcrum will continue to explain how citizens can become involved and why our democracy depends on citizen engagement. We must harness the tension of our differences in order to strengthen the bond between us. For more than two years, The Fulcrum has played an important role in doing so. We envision growing the existing digital platform to be more interactive, engaging, and innovative — in order to empower Americans of all stripes in our movement.
To reach this goal, you will notice an expansion of content available on The Fulcrum over the next few months. We will build on the founding mission that focused primarily on political reform, and reach more people on topics that demonstrate democracy is connected to our day-to-day lives.
New mission: The Fulcrum is a platform where insiders and outsiders to politics are informed, meet, talk, and act to repair our democracy and make it live and work in our everyday lives.
We will continue to publish news about political reform topics, but also share stories that inspire and connect daily concerns to reform efforts. As we share stories, we make the important news interesting to new readers. The forthcoming Citizen Connect website, which will be connected to The Fulcrum, will allow people to move from news to action with a click of their mouse.
We have unwavering confidence in America's future, while recognizing the profound challenges we face. It is the affection for our great nation and faith in the power of regular American citizens to make a difference that will drive The Fulcrum's success. If we can authentically reach and welcome people from diverse perspectives, geography, generations, and backgrounds, as a nation, we will succeed. We are committed, through The Fulcrum, to help citizens learn, engage, and find their path forward that reflects their values and priorities for the sake of a more perfect union.
The Fulcrum will continue to be guided by the high journalistic standards that have been a hallmark of The Fulcrum from the outset. Each article, story, video, and podcast will be categorized as News, Analysis, Opinion, or a Common Ground Corner, so you know the type of content you are receiving.
Initially, much of the new content will be provided by Bridge Alliance's more than 90 member organizations, each of which is working to strengthen democracy.
The members in the alliance are the political and social infrastructure to catalyze this movement towards healthy self-governance, so we can re-envision democracy itself.
From the outset of our nation, the critical role that a free press must have in maintaining democracy was forthright in the mind of our founders. As flawed men, they nevertheless envisioned a future we can live into.
No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions. — Thomas Jefferson
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Moore-Vissing is associate director for national engagement at Public Agenda, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to creating a stronger, more inclusive, more participatory democracy for everyone. This is the third in an occasional series.
The events of the past year — including the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests and the insurrection in the Capitol — have shown our nation what happens when we don't address civic challenges or risk factors.
Similar to a dry forest that can become inflamed by a tiny spark, when we don't pay attention to threats to our civic health, one incident can set off a series of chain reactions. For instance, the public's lack of trust in government, which has been steadily declining for some time, has contributed to prolonging the pandemic in multiple ways, including people's unwillingness to wear facemasks or become vaccinated.
When our civic health is strong, communities are less polarized and people are physically healthier, safer and more resilient in times of crisis. Understanding what makes civic health function well or poorly is critical to supporting a strong and functioning democracy.
How do we measure civic health? Multiple factors facilitate healthy or unhealthy civic life – including whether people vote, talk with their neighbors and trust their government. Why are some communities close-knit, while in others people barely talk with each other? Or why do some communities react to crises well, with droves of people helping deal with tragedies or natural disasters, while others lack the "people power" and networks to respond effectively?
My organization explores how to measure these things. Similar to check-ups at the doctor's office, regular "civic health" assessments are essential. By collecting data in a geographic area, we can better understand civic assets, risk factors and what we can do about them.
The predominant way civic health is currently measured is using data from the Current Population Survey, a monthly Census Bureau poll of about 60,000 households. The National Conference on Citizenship currently works with states across the country to create "civic health indexes," pulling data summaries from the civic engagement and voting supplements of the survey.
But the Census Bureau data is limited in measuring civic health in three important ways.
It provides a state-level picture only, so it's not possible to compare what's happening in different parts of a single state. While the survey measures civic actions such as voting or volunteering, it doesn't gauge attitudes and feelings, such as trust in government or whether people feel they matter to others in their community. And while the poll asks about civic actions ("Do you read the news?") it doesn't provide information about the civic life in their community ("My local council gives me a meaningful say in decisions that affect me.")
Civic health outcomes are affected by a community's "civic infrastructure" – the laws, processes, institutions and associations that support opportunities for people to connect, solve problems, make decisions and celebrate community. This can include such diverse things as welcoming public spaces, grassroots groups like neighborhood associations and racial equity training for public officials.
We often incorporate this idea in our research. For example, we helped folks in six states by examining the local and state civic infrastructure before they started trying to improve civic health.
To get a more comprehensive assessment of civic health, several approaches can be taken.
Going beyond the census data may lead to deeper depictions of engagement. The Social Capital Community Benchmarks Survey, sponsored by three-dozen community foundations and used sporadically across the nation, measures trust, social connection and barriers to engagement. Other national surveys, such as the Pew Research Center's American Trends Panel, ask other valuable questions about civic life that could be included in other surveys.
Other state and national research may shed insight into how civic health affects certain populations or social issues, such as opioid use. For instance, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count data and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey both provide information about youth experiences and civic health.
Plenty of tools allow citizens to share their own assessments. We have a Civic Engagement Scorecard for people to rate their local community's civic life in terms of participatory practice and transparency. Communities may also experiment with qualitative data collection, such as participatory action research or storytelling campaigns.
Once civic health data is collected, how can communities use it? Ideally, civic health outcomes should directly inform interventions to strengthen civic life. For instance, in our study last year of New Hampshire, we found Millennials lagged behind other generations in civic health outcomes. With one of the oldest populations of any state, New Hampshire's future depends on its ability to support young adults in participating in civic life. Now, the state is considering a variety of approaches to this challenge.
Other states have used civic health data to catalyze conversations about civic life. Connecticut created a statewide civic health advisory committee, which includes the secretary of the state, where leaders from different sectors discuss civic priorities. The Georgia Family Connection Partnership used civic health data to stimulate conversations in different counties about civic health programming and priorities.
The choices we make in the coming years, such as how to rebuild community after the pandemic, will have lasting effects on our society. We are staring into the face of unprecedented political polarization, with rising calls for white supremacy as well as intensifying movements for racial equity. At the same time, our population faces the challenge of reentering public life after more than a year of social isolation.
So there is no more urgent time to make informed choices about what actions will best support strong civic health.
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Six civic engagement organizations were recognized Monday night for their work to strengthen democracy in a cross-partisan way.
The 4th annual American Civic Collaboration Awards, or Civvys, were more competitive this year as the 2020-21 cycle saw the most nominees since the awards ceremony was established by the Bridge Alliance and Big Tent Nation in 2017. Eighteen finalists were selected among the four dozen nominees for three categories: national, local and youth. From those finalists, six winners were chosen.
"While the headlines may show ideological division and entrenched partisanship, we the people are showing the way forward," said F. Willis Johnson, Jr., vice president of partnerships and programming for the Bridge Alliance. "This important work reflects the spirit of the Civvys as organizations and industries are coming to realize that it is collaboration, not competition, that will allow us to move America forward, combine our strengths to do more, do better and overcome partisanship and gridlock."
Here are this year's winners:
- National: The Civic Responsibility Project, for its work to support voter participation and civic engagement in the business community.
- Local: SA2020, for its work to reimagine the San Antonio community.
- Youth: Green Our Planet, for its work to promote civic responsibility through a nationwide school gardening program.
Three organizations were also recognized with the Committee Choice Award:
- Pandemic Voting Project, for its work to support safe voting in Missouri during the pandemic.
- Issue Voter, for its work to connect constituents to members of Congress using technology.
- DoSomething.org, for its work to amplify the voices of young people in the 2020 election.
The Bridge Alliance is a financial supporter of The Fulcrum and just announced it will take over as publisher in May.
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Young people have the power to influence presidential elections, but whether they influence presidencies is another matter entirely. Biden ran on promises that matter to young people. But, after less than three months in office, there is growing concern these promises were just lip service.
"Young people not only exist to represent the future of the country. We are here to effect change so that our country may have a future," one student activist told the Center for Law and Social Policy. "This past election, we overwhelmingly voted for Joe Biden, cementing our place as a critical voting bloc," said Connor Kalahiki. "Despite our efforts, the issues we face are not prioritized. We face high unemployment rates, mental health crises, and injustice environmentally, socially, and economically — the pandemic has only exacerbated this reality. We cannot be ignored anymore."
"As a member of Gen Z, I was a part of this historic youth turnout. I supported Biden from the start," Ashley Lynn Priore, a national youth organizer, wrote for The Progressive on inauguration day. But it took months to connect with someone to urge the campaign "to consider the differences in policy based on ages. When I finally did get a call back, I was told something like this: 'This campaign is about organizing, not policy implementation.'"
Feeling dismissed, Priore concluded: "How do we expect to have a seat at the table for young Americans without actually engaging them in the White House? We are tired of being shut out."
These experiences are not unique, according to new findings by my organization based on surveys of tens of thousands of Americans ages 13 to 25 each year. After surveying their political perspectives in conjunction with a 2019-2020 national study, we discovered that 41 percent of young people feel that most adults in their lives disregard their feelings about political issues — and more than half (52 percent) believe they know more about politics than adults give them credit for.
"Older people, like our parents, don't really listen. They half listen to our opinions, thoughts, whatever the case may be. They don't really hear us out," Alyssa, 19, told us.
Additional data, however, suggests that young people are bearing the brunt of a political climate that doesn't put much value on hearing out anyone — their age notwithstanding.
When asked to describe how the adults in their lives talk about politics, young people selected aggressive, dismissive and disengaged (65 percent) almost twice as often as they selected considerate and inviting (35 percent).
Young people are watching as their parents, coaches, teachers, bosses and even spiritual mentors fail to model healthy political discourse. The result is that young people are seeing this trend toward political toxicity come up in their own exchanges and experiences. "I have had very few healthy political conversations in my lifetime. Nobody wants to listen. They just want to talk," explained Corey, 21.
Fortunately, Gen Z is course-correcting, even without much help from older adults in their lives.
Nearly half (48 percent) of all American adults say they've stopped talking to someone they disagree with politically, while few adults take time to educate themselves on what their political opponents really believe.
By contrast, 68 percent of young people have told us they would not stop speaking to someone who strongly disagrees with or opposes their political values. At the same time, 81 percent say it's important to understand both sides of a political issue, and 84 percent agree that getting educated about the views and perspectives of others is important for seeing both sides more clearly.
While a majority of adults are avoiding conversations with those they disagree with politically, 77 percent of young people tell us they want to have conversations about political differences openly.
If it's true that a majority of Americans are exhausted by the state of our politics, then we dismiss the voices and perspectives of young people at our peril.
It is precisely young Americans whose voices we should be propping up right now — because they are eager to subvert the political polarization that has become so commonplace that we now take it for granted.
Research is showing young Americans — even those with ages in the single digits — are informed and empowered when it comes to politics. We live at a time when information is more readily accessible than ever, and Gen Z is extremely savvy when it comes to accessing that information.
We can no longer justifiably assert that young people are naive and misinformed about politics, so we should stop treating them that way.
A brighter future for American politics is possible if we give Gen Z a seat at the table and hear what they have to say.
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