In 1991, Citizens and Politics: A View from Main Street was released by author Richard C. Harwood and the Kettering Foundation. This groundbreaking study found that Americans were not apathetic about politics and public life, but instead felt pushed out, disconnected, and impotent.
More than two decades later, the conversation has radically changed. If in 1991 people’s main focus was about the political system and its ills, then 2012 is about something more distinctly human. People feel they live in a “Tower of Babel”—bereft of a sense of possibility, unable to come together and get things done, and exhausted by the public recrimination and acrimony that hold our public discourse hostage.
But what Harwood also found during his travels across the country is a deep yearning among Americans to kick-start a new direction for the nation, a new sense of hope and possibility. Under the right conditions, people can and will start on this new path—turning outward toward their community with more openness, compassion, and concern for the common good. And this new path will take shape only through actions that start small and local, between and among people, in a place where they can begin on a human scale.
The good news is that people are ready to start.