Op-Ed: A New Vision — Citizenship for the 21st Century
The urgent task of retooling and strengthening our democracy can no longer be left to our leaders in Washington, Trenton, and city hall
It is good to see that the need to address Russian efforts to undermine our democratic institutions has generated a rare moment of bipartisanship, with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders agreeing on the basic facts and on the urgency of taking steps to promote deterrence and increase cybersecurity to prevent future occurrences. But as anyone who watched our recent presidential election can recognize, the greater threats to our democracy lie within. They are the growing trends of blame-game politics, of demonizing those with whom we disagree, of the aggressive spread of misinformation, and of rabid partisanship. These are accelerating a dangerous decline in our capacity to govern ourselves.
This fundamental problem cannot be solved from the top down. The fact is that 20st century citizenship — where one pays taxes, is passively informed with accurate and contextual information from media set up to sift through data, and then makes an informed voting choice — is outdated. Just as to be successful in today’s competitive global economy often requires learning new skills and adapting to new challenges, today’s political and governmental challenges require a much more informed and proactive citizenry. The urgent task of retooling and strengthening our democracy can no longer be left to our leaders in Washington, Trenton, and city hall; it requires more of each and every one of us.
That is what the Citizens Campaign’s Civic Challenge is all about. We pledge to leave our communities and country better than we found them by working to find solutions instead of assigning blame. The Civic Challenge is designed to give citizens the ability to define what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century and the power to fix our broken politics and government. We are standing up for the core democratic standards of unselfish service, mutual respect, and civility.
And this movement is beginning to take hold, achieving practical solutions right here in New Jersey. In Trenton, for example, pledge-takers working together ensured that the city is better prepared for storm damage caused by increased flooding. They did so by winning the adoption of an innovative planning-board resolution that moves stormwater protection to the center of city infrastructure planning. In Perth Amboy, pledge-takers came together to advance a solution to improve the high school graduation rate by developing a community-based approach to school discipline. And in Newark, the elements of a neighborhood improvement program are now being put in place.
These solutions are being crafted and advanced according to the principles outlined in our Civic Pledge. Solutions must be: 1) based on evidence of success, 2) cost effective, and 3) advanced in a no-blame manner.
People who take the first step and take the civic pledge are then assisted by a dream team of volunteer experts in government law, administration, media, and the strategies of policy implementation. They also get access to both live and online citizen-power training, and free manuals on citizens’ legal rights to operate the power levers of government, as well as other problem-solving tools. Among the most powerful of these are a 10- Step Guide to No-Blame Problem Solving and a solutions menu packed with success-based local government solutions.
For those willing to take the plunge, the combination of new laws and technology that provide greater access to government records, as well as more opportunities to advance proposals at government meetings, create opportunities for a more powerful and consequential role for citizens. On the tech front, Google, for example, greatly facilitates our ability to search for solutions that have worked in other cities. This kind of research, which gives regular citizens the potential to play a significant role in developing government policy, formerly required the assistance of governmental administrators and professionals. New technology also enhances our ability to share successful solutions with fellow citizens in other communities in New Jersey and throughout the nation.
This new role of 21st century citizens will help fix our democracy. But it requires all of us. Now is the time to join your fellow citizens in ensuring that we leave our communities and our country better than we found them. Take a minute today toand take the civic pledge. It is the first step on the road, and it will give you free access to the power tools of 21st century citizenship.