“How many of you are Democrats?” asked Harvard Institute of Politics Polling Director John Della Volpe.
In the Kennedy School of Government classroom filled with millennials from around the country, a smattering of hands went up.
“And where are my Republicans?”
I added my hand to the smatter.
Those souls with political inclinations too wild to be contained by any one party identified themselves, and the focus group began in earnest. It was a fitting way to begin our working weekend.
My fellow Hoya Jessica Andino and I had traveled to Boston for the National Campaign Conference, an event that would challenge the students in attendance to address a towering problem in a nation ravaged by a particularly brutal campaign season: How do we reunite ourselves? The transition from rhetoric and campaigning to governance and functioning, the one we always knew would be coming, is finally here—how can we do our part?
Well there’s no better way to digest that problem than to pile a bunch of politically opinionated and invincible young people into a room and ask them, “What could be better about 2017?”
Della Volpe wanted us to think big at the focus group. And that’s exactly what happened.
Students threw out some pretty gargantuan obstacles to unity: The family unit is fading away, national diversity still isn’t being embraced, hardworking people aren’t achieving their dreams, and the list goes on. The group narrowed its collective thoughts into three main categories: Civic engagement, the media, and inequality.
Pretty hard to solve the myriad problems surrounding those three things without some very complex solutions, huh?
But to quote the Great Communicator, “Perhaps there is a simple answer—not an easy answer—but simple.”
We weren’t in search of a panacea that would cure the entirety of the nation’s very deep political wounds, but in our effort to find common ground and look for some practical ways to come together, we did indeed encounter some simple answers.
As members of the team focusing on media problems, Jessica and I engaged our teammates in a conversation about journalism quality and social media tools. We decided that two simple steps—a social media campaign aimed at embracing friends of a different political stripe, and mentoring middle school students with the goal of passing on the importance of critical thinking during the news reading process, could go a long way.
We didn’t reinvent the political wheel at the National Campaign Conference in Boston. Hopefully there are conversations just the like the one we had—conversations about respect, tolerance, and dignity—happening at dinner tables all over America.
But come across some concrete ideas to bring that conversation back to Georgetown and reevaluate our civic responsibilities as free people?
You bet we did. Not a bad weekend, if you ask me.