On Wednesday, Nov. 15, the Center of Civic Engagement hosted Sam Daley-Harris for a talk entitled “Are Silence and Shouting Our Only Two Options: Bringing Bipartisanship and Transformation to Citizen Activism.” Daley-Harris, a former orchestra musician and high school music teacher, founded a group called Civic Courage to empower citizen action. According to their website, they do this by “teaching strategies to organizations so that their members can create champions in Congress and the media for their cause.” Along with him, he brought representatives from other groups including Citizens Climate Lobby — dedicated to addressing climate change, RESULTS — working to ending poverty, FCNL — working to prevent nuclear war and American Promise — working to get money out of politics.
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Daley-Harris began his talk by stating that “cynicism is obedience, optimism is a political act.” Change, he argued, is not overly difficult to achieve, but resignation and a feeling of hopelessness prevent citizens from trying to resolve the issues they see in the world. While activism is on a spectrum, Daley-Harris and Civic Courage focus specifically on bipartisan relationship-building advocacy. He noted that sometimes it might seem impossible to work with local officials and representatives due to hopelessness about human nature, but it is necessary to overcome these feelings in order to foster relationships that can be used to address issues in the future. He also stressed that no matter the current position your representative holds on an issue, it is your job as a civically engaged individual to move them on the “Champion scale,” first from opposed to neutral, then to a supporter, then to an advocate, then to a leader or spokesperson, then to a champion.
Overall, there were three main takeaways from Daley-Harris talk regarding the mobilization of civic action:
You can make a profound difference on big issues with your voice as a citizen
You probably have not because of your sense of powerlessness and resignation about politics, especially federal politics.
If you find an organization committed to dissolving the powerlessness you can make that profound difference.
Daley-Harris ended by encouraging students to dedicate themselves to individual causes and not spread themselves too thin over a wide variety of issues while passing around contact information for the groups present. While it is good for students to be engaged, he noted that to make a real difference it is best to dedicate oneself fully to a cause.