Monday, May 17, 2010

Never Too Young to Start Advocating

I attended a climate change forum a couple of weeks ago hosted by Climate One to discuss how younger people are taking action to cut carbon emissions in their communities. The students that were participating had unique approaches to how they were taking on climate change in their community but they all understood the power of advocacy and raising awareness for their issue. Advocacy can take many forms from doing student projects that raise awareness for their issue to talking to the decision makers in their community about making changes that will help reduce their carbon footprint. Take a look at how these students are making a difference in their communities through their innovative advocacy efforts.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grassroots Code of Ethics: Round 2

A couple months ago, I posted information about a grassroots advocacy code of ethics that I and several colleagues in the community are developing, in concert with anyone who wants to be involved. A recent column in Roll Call, authored by Amy Showalter and Kelton Rhoads expresses their point of view. The piece, titled "Mis-Trust Unavoidable in Grassroots Efforts" suggests that a grassroots code of ethics that stifles free speech won't help either the industry or civic discourse.

I couldn't agree more, which was why I was completely mystified by their arguments. While they have suggested a more nefarious motive for our work, those developing the code are interested only in stopping egregious practices that make everyone look bad, such as sending fake letters to Capitol Hill -- a subject of recent Congressional hearings -- or creating coordinated campaigns where citizens make death threats to legislators in townhall meetings.

Because we have a difference of opinion on the basic point of whether mistrust is avoidable or not, and because there were some factual errors in the column, several leaders in the grassroots advocacy community joined together to co-author a response. The letter (which you can access here) was signed by myself, Anne Darconte (in her role as a long-time leader on these issues), Les Francis of the Washington Media Group, and Christopher Arterton in his role as a Professor of Political Management at GW.

In addition, our friends at the Congressional Management Foundation's new Partnership for a More Perfect Union crafted a response based on their unique perspective and scientific research on this issue. You can read their response here.

I hope you'll take a moment to review ALL the arguments and, if you feel so inclined, to comment on the code itself at All perspectives, whether complimentary or not are very welcome.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

To Paraphrase Stephen Colbert: I AM The Government -- And So Are YOU!

Over the weekend President Obama delivered a commencement speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in which he, in the words of reporters covering the story, offered a "spirited defense of government."

Personally, I think that headline doesn't tell the whole story. Duh. It's a headline. Of course it's not going to tell the whole story. What I mean, though, is that Obama didn't just offer what some people are saying was a spirited defense of his government, or this particular iteration of government. No. He gave a spirited defense of the very concept of government -- of the idea that "...there are some things we can only do together, as one nation."

If you think about it, the people who formed our current system of government had reason to be pretty skeptical of the idea that a centralized authority would be anything but a big bunch of trouble. They may even, dare I say it, have been more skeptical than tea party advocates are today. As you may recall, our founding fathers had just fought a war to get rid of a monarchy they weren't all that fond of.

Yet they went ahead and formed this suspicious organization called a "federal government" anyway and, one can argue, this bold act marked the turning point of our history as a nation. Why did they do it? Because they recognized that together -- even when we disagree with each other -- we're stronger than when we're divided.

Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't remain vigilant or that we shouldn't question whether "government" is doing the right thing. But we should remember that this "government" thing we're often frustrated with is us -- it's you, it's me, it's your neighbor and it's your cranky Uncle Bob who you never agree with but you tolerate for the sake of family unity.

If you haven't reviewed the speech, I hope you'll take a minute to do so -- and I hope it will make people on BOTH sides of the aisle think about how they present their heartfelt, passionate views that, believe it or not, other people will have the audacity to disagree with.

As citizens, I think we have a responsibility to recognize that we're all in this together. And we should ask ourselves, as Obama asked the Michigan class of 2010, "[a]t a moment when our challenges seem so big and our politics seem so small, how will you keep our democracy alive and vibrant?"

To quote the kids these days, IMHO we can all keep our democracy alive and vibrant by continuing to express our views. At the same time, we must remember that others have every right to disagree with us. And, as the founding fathers discovered, somewhere in the middle is a solution everyone can agree with -- or at least equally hate.