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Spreading the Minnesota Way

By Harry Boyte, Director, Center for Democracy and Citizenship

This Martin Luther King Day weekend I’ve been thinking about the “Montgomery Way” and “The Minnesota Way.”

The beginning of the freedom movement, which later shaped me as a college student in the 1960s, was the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) on January 10-11, 1957, in Atlanta, Georgia. SCLC was created to spread “the Montgomery way” across the south. It communicated lessons of the famous bus boycott, begun when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white man on December 5, 1955, in Montgomery. The bus boycott was an enormous successful nonviolent movement of black people and their allies to desegregate city buses that stunned the nation and the world. SCLC spread not only organizing lessons about boycotts but also a “Crusade for Citizenship,” launched by Ella Baker, first executive director, in 20 communities across the South. The Crusade for Citizenship communicated democratic hope, the idea that battlers for racial justice, growing in numbers, were not alone but rather part of a rising tide. A freedom movement was about to break on the nation’s consciousness that would change the course of history.

There are lessons that can ground a similar “We the People” movement today. One way to describe it is “Spreading the Minnesota Way.”

On January 24 in partnership with the congressionally mandated National Conference on Citizenship and the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, our Center for Democracy and Citizenship is publishing A Tale of Two Cities. The report compares the “civic health” — levels of civic engagement — in the Twin Cities and Miami Florida. The Twin Cities is the most civically engaged community in the nation, Miami is the least, according to composite of a number of indicators (voting levels, volunteering, charitable giving, involvement in community problem solving, participation in public meetings, campaigns, and also informal measures like talking to neighbors and having dinner with families). Civic health is correlated with social benefits such as economic well-being, income equality, and individual health and happiness.

The report is an opportunity to analyze reasons for the Twin Cities success. I believe that there are three elements, present everywhere but especially developed in the Twin Cities.

  • Civic agency. Most simply, people here believe that change is possible and that they can make it —  that everyday citizens, not superheroes or famous celebrities, can develop the capacities for public work across differences to tackle tough problems and shape the world around us.
  • Civic educators. In the Twin Cities, the detachment from community life of many institutions – families, schools, congregations, businesses, nonprofits – that is widespread visible in America generally has also taken place. But many buck the trend. There is still an unusual degree of institutional engagement with communities in ways which educate for citizenship. In some cases civic dimensions of institutions are being revitalized.
  • We the People government. The Twin Cities also embody many continuing examples of political leadership, government agencies, and civil servants who make government the partner, instrument and meeting ground of citizens – neither savior providing “customer services,” nor the problem.

These elements add up to a “culture of civic empowerment.” And just as in the civil rights movement when a widespread desire for change warred with a deep pessimism about whether segregation could be ended, a culture of civic empowerment can spread. In fact this week’s civic outpouring in Tucson, Arizona where citizens have shown the world that the community is much bigger than the violent shootings can also be seen as stirrings of a new movement of civic empowerment.

In this movement everyday citizens are the foundational agents of making change.  What do these have in common?

Democratic hope.


Announcing the Speakers for the ADP National Meeting

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

I’m pleased to announce that three exciting people have agreed to speak at the ADP National Meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 2-4, 2011. Erica Williams of the Center for American Progress, Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times, and Russell Dalton, author of The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation is Reshaping American Politics will speak at our meeting. The New York Times is sponsoring Andrew’s involvement in the ADP Meeting. We are very grateful to the Times for their continued support of ADP. To learn more about The New York Times Knowledge Network, please visit this website.

See below to learn more about Andrew, Erica and Russell and don’t forget to register for the ADP Meeting!

To register for the ADP National Meeting, please visit this website.

Speaker Bios

Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor of The New York Times, is in charge of the paper’s opinion pages, both in the newspaper and online. He oversees the editorial board, the Letters and Op-Ed departments, as well as the Editorial and Op-Ed sections of The editorial department of the paper is completely separate from the news operations and Mr. Rosenthal answers directly to the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr.


Erica Williams is the Deputy Director of Progress 2050, a project of the Center for American Progress that develops new ideas for an increasingly diverse America. The project seeks to build a progressive agenda that is more inclusive and reflects the rich racial and ethnic makeup of the nation. Progress 2050 does this by promoting innovative policy ideas, facilitating honest dialogue about the intersection of race and policy, analyzing demographics, and developing new leaders.

Listed by as one of Top 50 Politicos to Watch, she is the former Deputy Director and Policy Manager of Campus Progress, the youth outreach arm of the Center where she still serves as a senior advisor. While there, she led the staff and network of young Americans in advancing progressive policy with and for 18- to 27-year-olds across the nation. Her advocacy work focused on economic mobility, equal opportunity, health care, and clean energy.

Before joining the Center for American Progress, Erica worked at the Leadership Conference on Civil Right to coordinate grassroots activity in nearly 45 states to advance effective civil and human rights legislation at the federal level.

She is a past participant of the American University Women and Political Leadership Training Program, a 2008 O Magazine Women Rule Leadership winner, and a 2008 Aspen Institute IDEAS fellow.

Williams has appeared on CNN, C-Span, “The Tavis Smiley Show,” “Focus Earth with Bob Woodruff,” and BBC among others. She has been widely quoted in various print publications such as U.S. News and World ReportThe Washington PostO Magazine, andThe Nation.


Russell J. Dalton is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine and was the founding director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at UC Irvine. He has received a Fulbright Professorship at the University of Mannheim, a Barbra Streisand Center fellowship, German Marshall Research Fellowship and a POSCO Fellowship at the East/West Center. His recent publications have focused on youth and politics:  The Good Citizen: How the Young are Transforming American Politics (2009) and editor of the Engaging Youth in Politics: Debating Democracy’s Future (2011). In addition, he has authored or edited 20 books and almost 150 academic articles on public opinion, political behavior, and political parties.

ADP Query: Does Your Campus Have a Civic Engagement Center?

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

In the American Democracy Project, we believe that there is no more important public purpose for higher education than the preparation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy. To this end, we are constantly seeking strategies that universities have used to fulfill their role as citizen educators. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about Western Carolina University, campuses must find ways to institutionalize civic engagement programming in order to fulfill this public purpose. Institutionalization is of paramount importance because it provides every student on campus with opportunities to be educated and engaged as citizens. We use the term “institutional intentionality” to express this notion. Western Carolina demonstrated its commitment to institutionalizing civic education by incorporating Constitutional programming into a basic and required university function: the Quality Enhancement Plan. And many more of our campuses have been creative and bold in their design and institutionalization of on-campus programming.

One way a university can demonstrate its seriousness about institutionalizing civic engagement programming is through the establishment of a center that facilitates and connects the disparate civic engagement activities on campus. An effective civic engagement center can also perform a variety of functions that include (but are not limited to) conducting faculty development on community-based learning, linking interested students to community-based projects, convening the campus community for discussions about civic topics, facilitating equitable and effective community/university partnerships, providing programming for student civic leadership, and partnering with elected officials and community members to solve public problems.

Civic Engagement Centers Query

Mike McCullough is a professor of management at the University of Tennessee at Martin and is helping run a civic engagement center for his university. He’d like to learn more about other civic engagement centers. That’s where you come in. If your campus has a center that handles some of the activities I described above, or other functions I did not list, please take a moment to complete this brief, online survey so that we can better understand such centers. After the results are compiled, we will share a summary of the findings on the ADP Blog. 

To complete this survey, please click this link.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to complete this survey. Your response will help us better understand this important strategy for institutionalizing civic engagement programming.

Campus Spotlight: Western Carolina University

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

Civic engagement scholars and practitioners often site knowledge about government as an important element of citizenship development. This makes good sense. If citizens are going to solve societal problems and interact with elected officials, it is important that they understand governmental structures. Our nation’s Constitution is likely one of the most important documents for citizens to familiarize themselves with. Constitution Day was created as one way to assure that more citizens will learn about and celebrate this governing document. Constitution Day takes place on September 17th and celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. Each educational institution in the United States that receives federal funding must observe this holiday. In the ADP, many campuses have transformed this little-known federal mandate into an opportunity to reflect on our government, our liberties, and our obligations as citizens in this democracy.

Some ADP campuses have extended celebrations of and conversations about the Constitution beyond this holiday by incorporating Constitutional programming into ongoing campus activities. Western Carolina University in North Carolina is one such enterprising institution. Western Carolina has tied discussions about the Constitution into its  Quality Enhancement Planning (QEP) process. The Student Affairs and Undergraduate Studies departments at Western Carolina are hosting a semester-long celebration of the First Amendment as part of the QEP process. Faculty members are encouraged to develop lectures, workshops, exhibits, multimedia projects, and other programs with the goal of educating the Western Carolina community about the First Amendment. Administrators at Western Carolina are encouraging a variety of faculty members from different disciplines to consider how a program about the First Amendment might fit into their disciplinary work. Part of Western Carolina’s goal is to get each person on campus to talk and think about how the First Amendment relates to their daily lives.

What is particularly compelling about the Western Carolina project is that it is using a mandatory university process (QEP) to increase the campus community’s knowledge and understanding of the Constitution. One distinctive thing about the ADP is its focus on institutional intentionality. Institutional intentionality can be defined as how an individual institution organizes its resources and activities to achieve specific institutional goals. Civic engagement programming must be institutionalized on individual campuses so that all students have the opportunity to develop as citizens. By incorporating civic education into their QEP process, Western Carolina is demonstrating its level of institutional intentionality.

In ADP, we work to educate “informed, engaged citizens.” It is campus programming like Western Carolina’s that builds student civic knowledge and helps us realize our goal of educating future citizens for our democracy.

For more information, please contact Carol Burton, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Studies, at Western Carolina University.

Question: How might you use existing campus functions to educate students as citizens?

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