Remember 2017? I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that the country was in somewhat of a challenging place. People were angry, sad, frustrated. Those on the left were upset either because they felt they had lost all political power nationally, or because they felt their own party had played a part in losing that power.
Those on the right were angry that those on the left often lumped them all together in unflattering terms. It often felt that we were too divided to recover from whatever was ailing the country.
But somewhere in the midst of all that emotional turmoil came greater understanding of how our political system works, or more accurately, doesn’t work...at least not for the majority of the people it’s supposed to serve.
With the ushering in of a new year, however, it felt like the tide has taken a turn toward optimism, and nowhere was that more apparent than at this past weekend’s Unrig the System Summit in New Orleans, put on by Represent.Us.
At the summit, 1,500 people gathered to work toward solutions to the problems that we now know are at the root of why our democracy isn’t working as it should. This wasn’t an event to lament the issues; it was squarely focused on solving them.
The summit featured speakers from across the country and across the political spectrum, and they shared their ideas with attendees about how to bridge political divides, give greater voice to independent voters and candidates, reform campaign finance laws, and improve our voting systems.
Participants had opportunities to learn about several different initiatives from across the nation aimed at making our political system more representative, including redistricting measures and anti-corruption measures, among others. Represent.Us even unveiled a new online map to help those who want to get involved find local measures to support.
Some additional highlights included a presentation by Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter on their study, Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America, which lays out a detailed roadmap for how to improve the lack of competition that’s harming our democracy.
Gehl pointed out that the system isn’t changing because the parties in power have no incentive to change it. “Our political system isn’t broken,” she said. “It’s fixed.”
Another presentation that many of the attendees said touched them the most was an impassioned speech by Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) in which he had everyone applauding as he emphatically proclaimed, “Party before country is un-American!”
And as a fitting close to the event, which many said had made them quite hopeful for the future of our democracy, participants heard from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). She talked about how she reached out to colleagues across the aisle through sharing her mother’s macadamia nut brittle and during 6:30 am gym sessions with her bipartisan workout group.
She said this spirit of connection is what is needed to bring both sides together to work toward solutions, and that it all comes down to relationships and how we treat each other.
“If you are able to build those relationships,” she said, “then you’re able to have a debate, have a conversation that is based on respect, that allows us to disagree without being disagreeable, and that allows us to find common ground.”
With the amount of attendees who found extreme hope in how those from both sides of the aisle came together in this conference with the shared vision of creating a system that serves the people better, there appears to be hope that 2018 will be the year we find enough of that common ground to start getting things done.