The touchstone for American Renewal must be conscious and continuous effort, at every family table, in every neighborhood, every organization and every region of the nation, to cast aside racism and prejudice in all their forms. We must remind ourselves and our children of the metaphor of the rising loaf of the shared American experience.
At the same time, every civic group must nurture and develop the leaders of the future. The object is not so much to prepare “heroic” leaders as it is young people who grasp the techniques of working together collaboratively, rather than acting alone in frustration.
Learning about collaborative leadership and mediation also can be a “refresher” for people who find themselves victims of mid-life “stalling” — workers sidetracked by lay-offs or new technologies, burned-out journalists and community activists, and disillusioned professionals. The issue is not so much training as it is renewal through a pooling of talents. The same processes also can function collectively, permitting, for example, leaders of a region to think together about ways to deal with their mounting crises.
The push for renewal must infect every institution of the land, from churches and corporations to every group representing those “factions” of democracy of which James Madison first wrote. In every sphere, we need the equivalent of Reinventing Government — the idea that with the same resources, one can indeed achieve more public good, be more responsive to impatient and insistent constituencies, and motivate and empower workers.
Organizational renewal does not come easily. Just as in personal and family life, the urge to protect what one has is immense. What is required is creative in-surgency. This means the insurgency of men and women who believe deeply in their families, neighborhoods and the missions of their organizations, while realizing they are falling far short of their potential. One example would be what some people call the “shadow government” of experts in frequently clashing industries, governments and environmental organizations. These people would jump at the chance to agree on workable compromises and creative “win-win” scenarios to move public policy forward. Sadly, they all too rarely get the chance to do so. But the dreary refrains of organizational orthodoxy too often squelch their originality.
Indeed, insurgents generally have a tough time of it, often because they are going against the grain. But in a real sense, they are the salt, the true patriots of our time.
And if collaboration, not conflict, is a secret to American Renewal, the message to the popular media must be “you, too.” Fights, scraps and competition in every arena from sports to government, are easy to cover. Corruption and the transgressions of people in high positions are red meat for the media. No one wants to suppress legitimate investigative coverage. Butan American Renewal demands a great deal more of the media. Americans want press, radio and television coverage that focuses on their deepest concerns and interests. They worry about the future, and want media coverage that treats them as adults, illuminates policy alternatives and explains the substantive barriers to solving our shared problems, as well as the potential for break-through.
Fundamentally, the message of American Renewal is that we need a new patriotism — as bold as the raw courage of our nation’s founders, as visionary as the framers of the most durable democracy in recorded history — because we face the challenge of reorganizing some of our most complex and resistant systems.
We need new standards for civic life. We need a new social contract that says every citizen counts, not just at the ballot box, but at parent-teacher meetings at schools, on committees to hammer out conflicts between growth and environmental conservation, and in neighborhoods to stop crime and save at-risk youth.
Amid this message of idealism, we need the pragmatism to understand that renewal is never complete. It does not equal contentment. There is no magic day on which it will be complete. We must commit ourselves to a “rolling renewal,” for while renewal seeks to invent new forms, it does not pretend those forms will be perfect. Our Declaration of Independence, the commitment of our Founders, reminds us that self-governance is a dynamic process — a state of mind, requiring surges of fresh energy and commitment.