Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer is Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and founder and former President of AmericaSpeaks. I have read the manuscript of her forthcoming book entitled Bringing Citizen Voices to the Table: A Guide for Public Managers. She summarizes the book in a Nonprofit Quarterly article entitled “The Case for Citizen Engagement,” writing,
What if millions of Americans regularly came together to deliberate about a wide range of critical national issues like health care, immigration, and education? What if the recommendations they made actually guided the actions of our national policy-makers? … We would be a credible democracy.
Bridget Draxler reports from the annual conference of Imagining America: Artists & Scholars in Public Life. She describes exemplary college-based programs that combine real community engagement, liberal arts education, and digital technology.
Harry Boyte, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and a leading democratic theorist, argues in the Huffington Post that jobs programs can be turned into opportunities for public work. He cites Melissa Bass’s forthcoming book on the history of national service (which I have also had a chance to read in manuscript). As Boyte says,
The [Civilian Conservation Corps] also helped the nation to regain a view of government as an empowering partner — not simply “for” the people, delivering services, but “of” the people and “by” the people,” in Lincoln’s terms. … As people made a commonwealth of public goods, they became a commonwealth of citizens.
Citizens deliberating and interacting with public administrators, students making meaning in partnership with local residents, and paid workers seeing themselves as building the commonwealth–these are three compatible visions of civic renewal offered at an ugly moment. If they’re not inspiring enough, check out Democracy Prep’s fourth graders singing “vote for somebody” in this article that reports our recent study of civic education.