Our nation is in desperate need of democracy renovation. Polarization, divisiveness, toxicity, misinformation, distrust of each other and our political institutions, and government dysfunction are symptoms of a deeper problem: Our systems are straining under the scale and complexity of our country's needs.
In January, Danielle Allen, Academy member and cochair of the Academy's Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, published the first in a series of columns for The Washington Post that will draw from the democracy reforms in the Our Common Purpose report.
Before diving into what we can do to tackle all of these problems, Allen shared her personal connection to the work of democracy reform. "When I was born in 1971, I inherited an original love of democracy from my family," Allen writes. "As I grew up, civic engagement was all around me. My father had 11 brothers and sisters. Six family members, including my dad, migrated to California in the late 1950s and early '60s, fleeing the Jim Crow South and seeking new opportunities and true freedoms. I grew up in a huge network of aunts, uncles and cousins, where participation was the rule."
As Allen entered adulthood, the problems that plagued her generation - the rise of wealth inequality and stalled mobility, mass incarceration and substance abuse, and the stunning rise of polarization - left her with a deeper appreciation for both the values and failings of our democracy.
"Over the half century of my lifetime, our nation has experienced a "Great Pulling Apart", Allen writes. "The Great Pulling Apart has left us in a place where we can no longer govern ourselves so as to steer toward solutions to some of our worst problems. My red alert on democracy came in 2013. That year the American people gave Congress an approval rating of 9 percent."
Congress is supposed to be the people's house. For so few of us to approve of our own voice is a profound indictment of the health of our governance mechanisms, Allen argues.
Allen pivots to the work ahead of reinventing American Democracy for the 21st century, noting her role as a co-chair on the American Academy's national Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship.
Allen closes with a call-to-action: "I still believe that constitutional democracy offers the world’s best hope for human flourishing, and that’s why I do this work. I invite you to join me in it.”