June 29, 2019 —
July 4, 2019 will mark the second anniversary of Common Ground Solutions. On that date two years ago our founder, Howard Konar, launched the Common Ground website and began the public phase of work he had been doing privately for several years. As we approach the two-year mark, we’d like to reflect on what has been accomplished and look forward to what is ahead.
Writing Common Ground
Howard’s experience as a family business owner with a commitment to community service fueled a long-term frustration with political gridlock that he felt was holding our nation back. After years of discussing the issues with his three children, one of them gently suggested he put pen to paper and do something to make a difference. It worked, at least in the sense that he stopped talking to them about politics for a while.
Nights and weekends of research turned into a short book called Common Ground: An Alternative to Partisan Politics. It was published on the Common Ground website July 4, 2017 and has been available to download for free ever since. One basic goal of the book and the organization is to promote positive political discussions. Rather than advancing specific programs or policies, Common Ground tries to identify basic principles on which people across the political spectrum might – and often do – agree.
A second goal is stressing that it is up to citizens as well as political leaders to make a difference, by listening carefully to other points of view, and by supporting candidates committed to solving problems rather than scoring political points for their parties. In an interview with WXXI News, a National Public Radio station, Howard said “We’ve given the parties too much power, and that is where I think that the problem lies.”
Getting the Word Out
In 2018, Common Ground Solutions began expanding its reach via Facebook and Twitter. Through these channels, we’ve shared news articles on key issues from diverse and reputable sources, encouraging thoughtful discussions and civil debates.
We also launched Wide Angle, a biweekly newsletter, featuring custom content, quizzes, and news articles that we think are worth reading. The goal of our original content is to cover the issues behind current events in ways that are unbiased, reliable, and informative. We don’t want to tell anyone what to think or believe – but we do encourage readers to think for themselves rather than along party lines, or by labelling views as liberal or conservative, left-wing or right.
Between thought pieces written for the website early on and content for Wide Angle, our team has already written over one hundred articles and quizzes on topics including health care, education, poverty and income inequality, immigration and making government work.
Promoting Civil Politics
In January 2019, Howard represented CGS at a Brookings Institution program called “The dissatisfied public: What can Congress do?” Voice of the People introduced findings from a detailed survey of 16,000 registered voters. The topline conclusion: citizens are seeking candidates who are responsive to their constituents and interested in solving problems. As Howard summed up the underlying sentiment, “people count on government not to create jobs or solve problems for us, but to make good and lasting policy decisions that help us build better lives for our families and our communities.”
Two months later, three of our team members traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to attend the Unrig Summit organized by RepresentUs. The conference featured policy experts from around the nation focused on ways to make elected leaders accountable to voters rather than special interests and major donors. In place of long speeches and panel discussions, Unrig offered hands-on training in a fun, fast-paced setting, encouraging participants to cross partisan lines and ideological divides.
We featured a short video by RepresentUs called “Unbreaking America” in our June 1st issue of Wide Angle. In case you missed it, you can view it here.
In partnership with Voice of the People (VOP), CGS is developing a Citizen Cabinet Initiative, building on VOP tools and data developed with the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland.
A Citizen Cabinet is a statistically valid sample of voters in a congressional district who take part in “policy simulations” developed by VOP. Unlike public opinion surveys, policy simulations are designed to give participants accurate and balanced information on one issue facing Congress. Participants in the simulation review different policy options, evaluate arguments for and against each option, and then make policy choices in the same fashion as their representatives must do.
The results of these simulations are incredibly encouraging. They consistently show that voters are far less polarized in their views and beliefs than their representatives in Congress. Citizen Cabinets offer representatives a way to learn what their constituents really believe, and see evidence that they agree on policy solutions across party lines far more than conventional wisdom suggests.
Citizen Cabinets are important to voters as well. In pilot events conducted last year in Cleveland, Ohio and Rochester, New York, voters learned about the issues facing their elected officials and about ways to become more engaged in political life. Keidai Lee, a Monroe Community College student who participated in the Rochester event, put it this way: “Not only do I understand my responsibility better, but I feel like I have more of a right to speak on that responsibility because I understand.”
Heading into the 2020 election season, VOP and CGS are reaching out to Members of Congress from both parties to launch Citizen Cabinets across the country. We’re also establishing partnerships with media outlets to promote Citizen Cabinets and then share the results of policy simulations in print, online, on television, and in public town hall events.
Empowering citizens to be heard by their elected leaders is one way we will be working to break the gridlock that is holding our nation back.
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This article originally appeared in the June 29, 2019 issue of Wide Angle, our regular newsletter designed, we hope, to inform rather than inflame. Each edition brings you original articles by Common Ground Solutions, a quiz, and a round-up of news items — from across the political spectrum — that we think are worth reading. We make a special effort to cover good work being done to bridge political divides, and to offer constructive information on ways our readers can engage in the political process and make a difference on issues that matter to them.
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