Press Release

A Plan to Reinvent American Democracy for the 21st Century: Responding to a Nation in Crisis


Cambridge, MA | June 11, 2020 – A bipartisan commission, convened by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, released a report today that recommends 31 steps to strengthen America’s institutions and civic culture to help a nation in crisis emerge with a more resilient democracy. While the project began in 2018, recent events – including a devastating pandemic and massive nationwide protests for racial justice – underscore the urgency of identifying how to fix what is breaking and recommending ways to move forward.  

“We have worked for two years across divides, across disciplines, and across the country,” said David Oxtoby, President of the Academy. “These comprehensive reforms are necessary to make America more representative, more responsive, and more united.” The American Academy of Arts & Sciences was established in 1780 by the country’s founders to help guide a young nation through challenges and emerge stronger. This is one of those times. 

The report, Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century, is being issued by a diverse commission of leaders in academia, civil society, politics, and business from across the ideological spectrum. The chairs are Danielle Allen (Harvard University), Stephen Heintz (Rockefeller Brothers Fund), and Eric Liu (Citizen University). 

“This is an ambitious plan because it has to be. The nation is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy that cannot be addressed by any single reform. Our political institutions, civil society, and political culture need interacting reforms and investment to launch a virtuous circle of empowerment and responsiveness,” said Danielle Allen. “Our Common Purpose is designed to establish a stronger foundation for self-government as the best route to safety and opportunity for all Americans.”

The Commission held nearly 50 listening sessions to understand the problems and to illuminate what is needed. Among the 31 recommendations in the bipartisan report:

  • Expand the House of Representatives (and therefore the Electoral College) by at least fifty members.
  • Institute universal voting and instant voter registration for all eligible Americans.
  • Establish an expectation of national service by all Americans.
  • Limit Supreme Court justices to 18-year terms.
  • Reduce the influence of big money in politics.
  • Promote electoral reforms to increase representation and decrease hyper-partisanship.
  • Increase resources and resolve for community leadership, civic education and an American culture of shared commitment to constitutional democracy and one another.

“We studied the past to understand the enduring strengths and unmet aspirations of American democracy, we learned from Americans experiencing both opportunities and barriers in our democracy today, we looked to the future to assess the 21st-century challenges we will confront, and we have developed a plan for a more resilient America,” said Stephen Heintz. “This is not about nostalgia. People don’t want a better past. They want a better future.” 

“This moment of crisis and reckoning in the United States reminds us that it is a blessing, not a burden, to be forced to live up to a creed,” said Eric Liu. "We Americans have one great asset, if we don’t squander it: our capacity for reinvention and renewal. Whether the issue is unequal justice or unequal votes or unequal voice, we can change our institutions and our culture if we commit to the work together."

The commission’s 31 recommendations address six broad areas that are fundamental to a healthy American democracy: 

  • Culture of Shared Commitment
  • Connected Communities
  • Equal Voice, Equal Representation 
  • Empowered Voters
  • Responsive Government
  • Social Media with Common Purpose

Support for the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship is provided by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Alan and Lauren Dachs.

Learn more about the project and read the full report here

Media contact: Alison Franklin
617-576-5043 |




Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship

Danielle Allen, Stephen B. Heintz, and Eric P. Liu