Academy Article

Developing a Youth Agenda for American Democracy


Today the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) are hosting a virtual convening of more than 50 young leaders as part of a shared commitment to strengthening American democracy. The participants, between 18 and 29 years old, are community leaders, social entrepreneurs, and professionals from across the political spectrum. What unites them is a willingness to have open and constructive conversations to develop a youth agenda for American democracy.

Their discussions build on a poll of young people ages 18-29 about the state of democracy in America that was recently conducted by students from Stanford, Slippery Rock, Marquette, and Yale in a cross-institutional practicum led by Stanford University’s Center for Deliberative Democracy. The findings of that deliberative poll, Voices of the Future, and the recommendations in Our Common Purpose – a bipartisan report issued by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences – will inform today’s virtual convening.

“We are eager to listen and learn from these young leaders. They bring a unique perspective on the current shortcomings in our democracy and important ideas about steps that can be taken to inspire young Americans to help reinvent our democracy for the realities of the 21st century,” said Stephen Heintz, the President and CEO of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, who cochaired the Commission that produced Our Common Purpose. “The participants in this process recognize that to address the issues that motivate them as individuals – such as reforming immigration, addressing climate change, managing the national debt, and expanding economic opportunity – there must be a collective commitment to an inclusive and effective democracy.” 

Marie Griffith spearheaded Washington University in St. Louis’s cosponsorship of the event. At WashU, she is the John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. Griffith served on the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship at the Academy. “Our Commission worked across differences in disciplines and perspectives to reach some shared, bold recommendations for strengthening democracy in the twenty-first century,” said Griffith. “These younger leaders will do that too and identify which reforms they believe will have the greatest impact when it comes to preserving and revitalizing our democracy for their generation.”

The day will begin with a brief presentation by Alice Siu, the Associate Director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy and a welcome from Justin Levitt, the White House Senior Policy Advisor for Democracy and Voting Rights.

The participants will work together to produce an action plan – the Youth Agenda for American Democracy – that will strengthen the values, principals, and institutions of American constitutional democracy.

“The blend of quantitative information from the poll and qualitative information from the discussions will illuminate the priorities and perspectives of younger Americans, which is essential knowledge for everyone working to protect and strengthen democracy,” said David Oxtoby, the President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences – an organization founded in 1780 to help guide the nation.

The priorities established at today’s meeting will be shared broadly: with the White House, including those planning December’s Summit for Democracy, with community partners and champions, and with the media. They will be available online at as part of the work undertaken to foster a national debate on democracy reform and advance the recommendations in Our Common Purpose.

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences and Washington University in St. Louis are grateful to the participants in the Voices of the Future poll and today’s convening for contributing their thoughts and their time to shaping the future of American democracy. The organizers thanks Alice Siu for her presentation about Voices of the Future and thank Justin Levitt, White House Senior Policy Advisor for Democracy and Voting Rights, for his participation and receptivity. 

Young Americans Convene to Imagine the Future of American Democracy



Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship

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