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Footage from the Civic Agency Institute: Harry Boyte on We the People

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

“It’s important for us as academics to recognize that our knowledge is less important than the community’s knowledge. As an academic, you are on tap – not on top. It is essential for communities to develop their own power.” – Harry Boyte

For those of you who weren’t able to join us in DC for the third annual Civic Agency Institute, please see below for footage from the event. In this video, Harry Boyte elaborates on We the People and explains how we might describe our work to others. This is an amazing and short (15 minutes long) speech that lays the groundwork for We the People.

The song is “We Are the Ones” by Melissa Etheridge.

We the People Part 3

By Harry Boyte, Center for Democracy and Citizenship

“Something is stirring,” Cecilia Orphan wrote on the ADP blog, Thursday night of the Civic Agency meeting held last week, November 11th and 12th, at the state college and university building in Washington DC. More than 60 people discussed their work over the last year and made plans for a “We the People” (WtheP) effort to change customer service government – government which mainly does things for the people — into government of the people and by the people. In  the We the People vision, government is our meeting ground, partner and common instrument in addressing our problems and building a shared life.  Teams from 18 colleges and universities joined with representatives of Rock the Vote, Sojourners, the White House Office of Social Innovation, community colleges,  the American Library Association, National Issues Forums and Strengthening our Nation’s Democracy network, among others.

Among many important steps forward, I want to highlight three:

  • Empowerment gap. A focus on the empowerment gap needs to replace the achievement gap. Rom Coles, Director of the Community, Culture and Environment Center, Miguel Vasquez, professor of anthropology at Northern Arizona University, and other colleagues described the remarkable organizing work in the area around Flagstaff on issues ranging from weatherization and sustainable environments, to immigrant rights, water, and youth empowerment through Public Achievement. Against a tide of fear-mongering politics, Vasquez won a seat on the Flagstaff board of education on the platform of “the empowerment gap.” His focus on the empowerment gap highlights that the deepest problem in our education is that young people – especially children and teens of low income, minority, and immigrant backgrounds – feel “acted upon,” not agents of their education. A We the People movement will have as a central emphasis closing “the empowerment gap,” empowering young people to take leadership in developing the kind of education they need to be shapers of their lives, agents of change, and co-creators of healthy communities and the democracy.
  • Public knowledge: There were many examples of a deepening in what Nancy Kranich, former president of the American Library Association and head of its new Center for Public Life, called “public knowledge.” Public knowledge involves developing ways to continuously learn from our mistakes, our successes, and our ongoing work. I was struck especially by the innovations in Public Achievement in many settings – Georgia College, Northern Arizona, Central Connecticut, Lincoln, and elsewhere. Many other examples emerged as well — “Tuesday Teas” at Western Kentucky, which offer ways for the campus and community to exchange and discuss experiences every week; debriefings of student weatherization efforts in Flagstaff, which help students learn from their community experience, the efforts of students at Lincoln and Florida A&M University to develop new forms of community service which empower, instead of provide charity. As Gary Paul pointed out in his concluding remarks, learning from the gritty, real, everyday work of making change is the way people develop “political sobriety” and a “prophetic imagination.” These point beyond the givens, allow us to work with people who make us uncomfortable,  and cultivate a long term perspective.
  • A new public narrative: We the People is not something in the future – it is emerging all over the place, as our colleagues, students,  staff, and faculty rework relations with elected officials and other decision making bodies to be partners in public work, not mainly providers of services. The outstanding example is at University of Maryland/Baltimore County, where Yasmin Karimian and her fellow students have fundamentally reworked student government (the SGA) into a center for activating the public work of students and creating a different, more collaborative and respectful relationship between students, faculty, and the administration. One of the highlights of the organizing conference for me was the interconnection between these local examples of public work and large scale change – a connection which Paul Markham at Western Kentucky argues will be the centerpiece of the emerging movement. In the session on “Creating a Citizen Demand for ‘We the People’ Democracy, with Norm Ornstein, one of the nation’s leading political analysts, and Marta Urquilla, senior policy analyst with the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, we pointed to UMBC student government as a model for governments at every level to learn from – a return to government of and by the people.

Overall, many agreed that the challenge of American revitalization depends upon developing a new public narrative in which all participate and help to craft. It will be full of argument and difference on issues ranging from immigrants to the nature and content of education for the 21st century and the meaning of “the good life,” in a culture in which many students feel we’ve gone too far toward consumerism and “the rat race” (as students told me recently about their parents’ generation, at Lone Star community college in Houston Texas). But it will also be full of rich local stories of citizens shifting from complainers, victims,  consumers, and supplicants of government to “owners of the store,” makers of change, agents and architects of the democracy.

The Civic Agency/We the People working meeting in Washington convinced me, yet again, the state colleges and universities will provide crucial leadership.

Reflecting on the Civic Agency Institute and Our Work Ahead

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

We had a wonderful conclusion to our two-day institute in Washington, DC. On the second day, our campuses started mapping the next two years of their work. While being facilitated by two students from Middle Tennessee State University, each of the 18 campuses represented at the Institute presented their early action plans. I am both inspired and impressed by what their plans entail.

This work calls for a lot of community organizing – power mapping, one-to-ones, relationship building, etc. The university leaders that attended our meeting are among the most talented and dedicated people I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. They are passionate about making government by the people a reality. And they understand the paramount importance of working with students to make this happen. Finally, they believe deeply in the democratic purpose of higher education and see themselves as instrumental to realizing this purpose.

Over the next few months, I’ll feature stories of the early work of our campuses on the blog as they agitate students to solve local problems with elected officials. The theme of our national conference in Orlando, June 2-4, 2011, will be animated by “We the People.” We’ve driven the ideas of “We the People” into the theme of the national meeting which is, “Beyond Voting: Citizenship in the New Era.” During the ADP Meeting we will explore what it means to be a citizen. In the conference programming, we will pay special attention to models for successful community-elected officials partnerships and the progress we’ve made in the first seven months of this new phase of our work.

I recorded Harry’s closing remarks and will share those in the next week or so after editing. 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!

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?

Follow the Civic Agency Institute This Week!

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

Use this hash tag to follow the Civic Agency Institute: #CivAg10.


Yasmin Karimian and Harry Boyte at the 2009 Civic Agency Institute


This Thursday, in partnership with Dennis Donovan and Harry Boyte of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, we are kicking off the Civic Agency Institute in Washington, DC. We have 65 faculty members, students, and national partners joining us in DC. These 65 people are what we call, “Agents and Architects of Democracy” in higher education. These academic leaders, students, and faculty members are working to fulfill higher education’s legacy of promoting and protecting American democracy. The Institute is the annual event of the Civic Agency initiative. In Civic Agency, we are experimenting with strategies for developing a deep sense of civic agency in undergraduate students.  Civic agency involves the capacities of citizens to work collaboratively across differences like partisan ideology, faith traditions, income, geography and ethnicity to address common challenges, solve problems, and create common ground. Civic agency requires a set of individual skills, knowledge, and predispositions.

During the Civic Agency Institute, we will launch the new We the People phase of our work with Harry Boyte.  In We the People, we are working to “animate ‘citizen voters’ in 2012. While many leaders are needed in such an initiative, we believe that college students in American Democracy Project schools can take key leadership, reminiscent of the roles students played in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. When the question is the civic health of elections, the government, and the nation itself, and when the electoral process is threatening to spin out of control, we need a broad movement in which the whole citizenry works to redeem American democracy. Civically-oriented politicians are allies and partners, not enemies, in this work.” Taken from Harry Boyte’s blog post.

We have an incredible line-up of co-creators at the Institute who will help us think about how to operationalize We the People. What follows is a sampling of our co-creators: Nancy Kranich, Chair, American Library Association Center for Public Life, Rutgers University New Brunswick, William (Bill) V. Muse, President, National Issues Forum, Norm Ornstein, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy and Research, KerryAnn O’Meara, Associate Professor of Higher Education, University of Maryland, College Park, and Marta Urquilla, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, White House. We will also have a representative from Rock the Vote join one of our roundtable discussions.

I see this Institute as the launching point for a new tactical way to deepen our work in the American Democracy Project. I’m very excited to see what unfolds!

We will be live blogging and Tweeting from the Institute. Follow along on this blog and by using the Civic Agency Hashtag #CivAg10. See below for the entire agenda.

Question: How are you working with students to develop their civic agency? What are the important next steps you can take to make “We the People” a reality?


Civic Agency Institute

“We the People”


Thursday, November 11

8:30 a.m.          Welcome and Framing Discussion: “We the People,” The Return of the Citizen Voter

Harry C. Boyte, Co-Director, Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Augsburg College

George L. Mehaffy, Vice President, Academic Leadership and Change, AASCU

9:15 a.m.          Campus Highlights and Challenges

Cecilia Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project, AASCU

10:15 a.m.         Break

10:30 a.m.         Roundtable: Creating a Citizen Demand for “We the People” Democracy: Countering Vilification with Public Problem Solving

Norm Ornstein, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy and Research

Marta Urquilla, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, White House

A Rock the Vote representative will also participate in this panel.

11:30 a.m.         Strategizing for the Next Two Years

Yasmin Karimian, Student, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Paul Markham, Co-Director, The Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility, Western Kentucky University

Dennis Donovan, National Organizer, Public Achievement, Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Augsburg College

12:30 p.m.        Break

12:40 p.m.        Lunch and showing of 50-50: The American Divide Film and Nobody Turn Me Around

Followed by a conversation with Charles Euchner, Author and Creator, Nobody Turn Me Around

1:45 p.m.          Making “We the people” a Reality: Strategies for Curricular and Co-Curricular Change

Joe Mark, Academic Dean, Castleton State College

Nancy Kranich, Chair, American Library Association Center for Public Life, American Library Association Center for Public Life

KerryAnn O’Meara, Associate Professor of Higher Education, University of Maryland, College Park

2:45 p.m.          Break

3 p.m.               Workshop Breakout Sessions (Descriptions on the next page)

Workshop Title Room
1. Agitation 101 

Dennis Donovan, National Organizer, Public Achievement


6th Floor Conference Room
2. Creating Civic Minors in Teacher Education 

Jolanda Westerhof, Director, Teacher Education, AASCU


2nd Floor Conference Room
3. Self Designed/Open Topic 

Harry Boyte, CDC and Cecilia Orphan, ADP


5th Floor Conference Room
4. National Issues Forum (NIF) Information Session  

Bill Muse, President, NIF

Nancy Kranich, American Library Association Center for Public Life

All-Purpose Room

4:30 p.m.          Building the Civic Agency Movement in Northern Arizona

Jason Lowry, Community-Based Research Associate, Northern Arizona University

5:30 p.m.          Reflection

Gary Paul, Associate Professor, Florida A&M University

Friday, November 12, 2010

9:00 a.m. – 2 p.m.

9 a.m.               Public Achievement Roundtable

Abigail Adams, Professor, Anthropology, Central Connecticut State University

Robbin Smith, Assistant Professor, Political Science, Central Connecticut State University

Gregg Kauffman, Instructor, Coordinator of Civic Engagement and ADP Coordinator, Georgia College and State University

Christopher T. Sutton, Coordinator of Student Development, Lincoln University of Missouri

10:45 a.m.         Ideas for Organizing the Cohort – National Initiative

George L. Mehaffy, Vice President of Academic Leadership and Change, AASCU

Cecilia Orphan, National Project Manager, American Democracy Project, AASCU

12:00 p.m.        Working Lunch: Bringing It Home: Review of Campus Plans

Cecilia Orphan, National Project Manager, American Democracy Project, AASCU

1:35 p.m.          Reflection

Harry C. Boyte, Senior Fellow, Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Augsburg College

1:45 p.m.          Public Evaluation

Dennis Donovan, National Organizer, Public Achievement, Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Augsburg College

2:00 p.m.          Adjourn

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