THE BLOG

Why I'm Embarking on a Campaign to Reclaim Main Street

10/23/2013 11:21 am ET | Updated Dec 23, 2013

Next week, on the heels of the government shutdown, I'll be launching my new Reclaiming Main Street Campaign. It's time for Americans from all walks of life to restore their belief in themselves and one another that we can get things done together.

The campaign will start in Washington, D.C. on October 28, ground zero for the very dysfunction and divisiveness we must combat and overcome. (If you're interested in participating, come to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 6 p.m.) Next, we'll go to Oakland, Calif., and then Sarasota, Fla. During 2014, I'll be speaking in new communities each and every month.

I'm embarking on this effort because I believe we must remind ourselves -- and reclaim the practical idea -- that community is a common enterprise. None of us can go it alone. Indeed, in my work in communities every day, there is a deep hunger to figure out how to bring people together around shared community challenges, engage people in ways that make a real difference, marshal resources, and build momentum to tackle new concerns. It is clear that we must work together to take these steps.

If we don't, communities will be stymied, unable to move forward. The country as a whole will remain mired in partisan gridlock. And people's faith in institutions, leaders and our collective ability to address pressing concerns will further erode.

In the campaign, I'll focus on three key actions people can implement in their communities and daily lives that will help all of us begin a new and positive direction:

1. We must focus on our shared aspirations. This will enable us finally to state what we are for -- and what we seek to create together -- at a time when current public discourse is focused on tearing each other down and dangerously dividing people. We need to know where we want to go, and this new direction must be rooted in our shared aspirations.
2. We must bring people together to do shared work. We live in a time when progress can seem impossible and gridlock is our default mode. To break this stranglehold, we must create ways for people to come together, set goals, achieve them, and then build on those successes. We must start locally, in our own communities, so that people can restore a sense of trust and build meaningful relationships and confidence. The size and scope of the actions matter less than their authenticity.
3. We must tell a different story about ourselves. The narrative in this country, and in so many of our communities, is that productive change is beyond our reach. This narrative drives our mindset, attitudes, behaviors and actions. We must generate a new, can-do narrative built on the real and tangible actions of people nationwide. Such a narrative will help people see that we are on a better course, one that offers genuine hope and gives people reason to step forward.

To make this new path a reality, we will need to name and reclaim basic values such as compassion, openness, humility, and concern for the common good. By igniting a deeper sense of compassion, we see and hear others, especially those who are different from us. By exercising more openness and humility, we recognize that no one group, political party, side of town, or other camp has a corner on the truth and the sole power to shape our future. By fostering a greater concern for the common good, we temper our need for personal instant gratification and focus on the common good, not simply our own.

I have been speaking about many of these themes over the past few months -- from Idaho to Maine, from Kansas to Florida, and many places in between -- and I have found that people are ready and excited to hear about how to build a constructive new direction. So many of us are yearning to re-engage and re-connect with others to improve and strengthen our communities -- and to bring out our better nature.

This new direction has important implications for how non-profit organizations work in communities, how foundations and philanthropists help support positive change and how individual citizens can join with others to be part of something larger than themselves. I'll be talking about each of these during this campaign.

Today, we face a basic choice. We can resign ourselves to the existing route of dysfunction, division, and gridlock, or we can shape a new path forward. I invite you to join me as I launch the Reclaiming Main Street Campaign. Together we can take practical steps to restore our belief that we can get things done and reclaim the idea that community is a common enterprise.

To learn more about the Reclaiming Main Street Campaign and how to bring it to your community, contact Andrew Willis at AWillis@theharwoodinstitute.org