The rise of the democracy entrepreneurs
Now that the midterm elections are over, many pundits are pivoting to the 2020 presidential race, but there is an exciting underlying trend taking place in America that will probably impact our country well beyond the next major election. That trend is the rise of a new generation of “democracy entrepreneurs.”
Democracy entrepreneurs use creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial techniques to make our civic life more participatory, inclusive, equitable, and just. Like private-sector entrepreneurs (who play a vital role in renewing our economy) and social entrepreneurs (who tackle social issues such as climate change, poverty, and education inequity), democracy entrepreneurs are disruptive leaders who are inventing new solutions to pressing challenges in our democracy. As such they are working on a range of issues.
Recently, March For Our Lives demonstrated that high school students can be important democracy entrepreneurs. Others include New Politics, which supports military veterans and civilian service leaders who want to get into politics; Ballot Ready, which provides information on candidates for local and state elected offices; Jolt Texas, which brings more Latinos into politics; Voters Not Politicians, which sparked a grass-roots revolution in Michigan to stop gerrymandering; and Issue One, dedicated to political reform. There are many others as this movement keeps growing.
Democracy entrepreneurs are fearless, optimistic, and visionary. They see opportunities for change in our democracy and are relentless in pursuit of their goals. The challenges facing our democracy do not discourage them; they get them up in the morning.
These entrepreneurs arise from a grand tradition in our country, with our Founders serving as our original democracy entrepreneurs. They pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to invent a radical new form of government that rested power in “we the people.’’
D emocracy entrepreneurs are key to revitalizing and reforming the health of our nation. Just as new industries need support, so does this emerging sector, whether through funding, technical support, or networking to facilitate systems change and build the movement.
What would success look like if we invested in this sector? A country that has:
ª Eighty percent voter participation in every election, with no restrictions on anyone’s right or ability to vote.
ª Fair and clean elections, not rigged by gerrymandering, and where money doesn’t dominate who gets elected, what bills get passed, and what decisions are made at all levels of government.
ª Political discourse that is elevating, substantive, respectful, and based on ideas, not extreme attacks and toxic appeals to our worst instincts.
ª Candidates and elected leaders who fully represent the ethnic, racial, religious, gender, socioeconomic mix, and sexual orientation of our communities and country.
ª Trust in major institutions standing at record high levels again.
ª A revitalized and invigorated media not driven by corporate profits but by the search for truth, and that provides all Americans with the vital information we need both to hold our government accountable and to participate fully in our democracy.
ª Trust among people, especially people from different backgrounds, reaching unprecedented levels.
ª Government at every level — local, state, and federal — that is responsive to the will of the people, not special interests, and gets things done to move our communities and country forward.
ª A restored sense of common purpose, even though we may disagree politically, so that we have empathy and understanding for other points of view, are able to work for reasonable compromises, and fundamentally believe, at the end of the day, that we are all in this together.
Our ultimate goal should be that we have truly restored government “of, by and for the people” to renew our nation, which still represents the “last, best hope for humankind.”
Given the daily assault on our democracy, this vision may seem far-fetched but, compared with what our Founders achieved, it is far less daunting. If each of us does what we can to build a new democracy entrepreneurship movement, we can get it done.
Alan Khazei is the founder and CEO of Democracy Entrepreneurs, a new organization dedicated to building the democracy entrepreneurship movement. He is also cofounder of City Year and founder of Be the Change.