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Op-Ed: Newark Sets the National Standard for Civic Empowerment

Brick City becomes first ‘Civic City’ in country, prioritizing practical solutions, problem-solving, and empowering citizens to drive government from the bottom up

Harry Pozycki
Harry Pozycki

As we watch the dysfunction of our national government, where just keeping the doors open seems like an accomplishment, it is tempting to simply point fingers and express frustration. But as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

In Newark, the leaders and residents alike are living Roosevelt’s words, putting in place a foundation that empowers citizens to drive their government from the bottom up. All Newark residents now have the opportunity to learn how to be No-Blame problem-solvers, exercising their full political power to leave their city better than they found it.

Recognizing this hopeful reality that he has helped bring about, Mayor Ras Baraka joined members of the Newark Civic Trust, the superintendent of the Newark School District, and the Vice-Chancellor of Rutgers Newark, as Newark became the first Civic City in the nation. A Civic City is one that creates a pipeline of practical solutions and principled leaders. In a Civic City, all citizens have access to training in the practice of No-Blame problem-solving and the opportunity to serve as Civic Trustees working to find successful urban solutions which they adapt for adoption in their city.

What it entails

The main components of Newark, The Civic City are:

  • Solutions Civics: Solutions Civics is now incorporated in the curriculum for all Newark public high school students. It is a 10-hour teaching tool that gives high school students skills they need to be problem-solvers and to participate in the city’s decision-making process so they can leave their city better than they found it. It also teaches students about accessible entry-level public leadership opportunities — ones that they can immediately seize without having to run for public office, ones that also prepare them to participate in politics and government at the state and national level in the future.

  • Power Civics: Power Civics combines the basic elements of Solutions Civics with more advanced guidance on how to devise and successfully implement a solution to a city issue. Power Civics is available to all Newark residents through community forums, promoted by the mayor, and via an online video class curriculum. Power Civics is now being taught at Rutgers Newark School of Public Affairs, and as part of the Rutgers Honors, Living and Learning Community program. As a service component of these courses, students are organizing and leading Power Civics forums for community residents. The first one was held on December 1 at the Paul Robeson Campus Center.

  • Newark Civic Trust: The Newark Civic Trust is comprised of 24 city residents — Civic Trustees — who come together in monthly No-Blame problem-solving sessions, searching the nation to identify successful solutions to better Newark. Trustees commit to at least one year of service and pledge to work to “leave their city better than they found it.” These trustees are the driving force behind Newark, The Civic City.

  • Policy of Empowerment: Mayor Baraka’s commitment to empowering all city residents to participate constructively in city government is a critical element of Newark, The Civic City.

“At the heart of Civic Cities is the recognition that we are intrinsic and moral neighbors who must continually and steadily be learning how to move from difficult dialogues, to community mobilizing, to experiencing real victories and then to empowerment,” said Marcia Brown, Vice Chancellor of Rutgers-Newark.

Drawing on Newark’s examples, Civic Cities are in various stages of formation in Trenton, Plainfield, Perth Amboy, Atlantic City and Philadelphia. Miami, Oakland, Toledo and Yonkers are among the cities where activities are slated to get underway later this year. But it is Newark that set the standard. As the pioneering Civic City, Newark is setting an example for the nation, leading the way to the national civic revival needed to build a 21st century democracy from the bottom up.

Harry Pozycki is the founder of The Citizens Campaign, a community of problem-solvers dedicated to restoring service, civility, and pragmatism to America’s political culture by facilitating the development of Civic Cities across the nation.

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