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Something is Definitely Stirring: Day 1 of the Civic Agency Institute

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

Just a quick word about today before I head to bed. I think it’s clear that there’s something stirring. Our students, faculty members, and national partners were talking about our work as a “movement.” It seems clear that ADP schools will lead this work. In the movement, we’re trying to activate citizens to solve local problems by partnering with elected officials. This movement presents an alternative to the negative, partisan bickering that we’ve been subjected to. Under Harry Boyte and Dennis Donovan’s leadership, ADP campuses are offering a new vision of how politics can work.

During the day, the 65 participants in the institute were bombarded with loads of information – ideas about how they might partner with national organizations like Rock the Vote (we had Eric Axelson in the meeting), the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, and the National Issues Forum; strategies for infusing civic agency principles throughout the curriculum; tips for working with students, and more.

We had a wonderful set of speakers including Nancy Kranich who talked about how we might use academic libraries as civic spaces. KerryAnn O’Meara described the attributes of faculty members who have a sense of their own civic agency and ability to affect change. KerryAnn also described strategies institutions can use to activate and support their faculty members in becoming civic agents. Marta Urquilla from the White House gave us more insight into how the Obama Administration is working to engage people in governance. Joe Mark, Academic Dean at Castleton State, helped us understand what it means to truly infuse Civic Agency across campus. Joe also helped participants understand the power of working in partnership relationships with students. The folks from Northern Arizona (Rom Coles and Miguel Vasquez) described the work they’ve been doing with Public Achievement and their local school system. And we had a lot of time to think and talk about how we might, as public colleges and universities, fulfill our purpose as being Stewards of Place and Stewards of Democracy. It was a wonderfully energizing day and I look forward to tomorrow’s meeting when we get down to the brass tacks of what we’ll do next.

So…what is next? We’re going to ask participants to answer Melissa Helmbrecht‘s challenge of making their work immediate, measurable and specific. We’ll help participants build action plans and think about next steps, and then they’ll return to their campuses and start organizing. I hope you’ll join the conversation by commenting on this blog post, leaving a comment on the ADP Facebook page, engaging us on Twitter, or giving me a call.

Not quite sure what We the People is? Read this blog post. Not sure what Civic Agency is? Visit this website. And if you’d like to get involved in the movement, contact me!

Follow the Institute on Twitter using #CivAg10.

Question: What are the specific, immediate, and measurable things we can do as ADP campuses to activate our students to solve local problems?

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