Next week, Americans unite for our nation’s annual birthday bash. We’ll commemorate the 241st signing of the Declaration of Independence. I hope your holiday will be filled with great BBQs and lots of time with family and friends.
Amid the revelry, I also hope we all pause to think not just about that grand document and what it means for our lives today, but more importantly, of the men and women who struggled to shape its principles and sacrificed much to see its signing.
Democracy is not a spectator sport: it wasn’t then and cannot be today.
Our country’s founders were America’s first advocates. It’s easy to forget, as we encounter them now cast in polished white marble, that these men and women were colorful, fierce, and passionate about their cause. Their contemporaries called them “rabble rousers” and worse. While history remembers them as heroes, many paid a heavy personal price in their day for signing that document.
Also important to remember, the founders disagreed as passionately as they agreed on their ideas for shaping a new government.
Conflict and consensus played equal roles in birthing our democracy.
The political coalitions that vex us today have nothing on the First Continental Congress. (Here’s more on lessons from the Network on effective coalitions.)
Influencing policy in this country has never been easy. Not for our founders and not for us today. In fact, advocates for education reform today are doing much the same work: bringing a voice for people affected by policy into the halls of state capitols to ensure that their needs are represented.
Informed advocates, armed with data and backed by authentic ties to their communities, are effectively shifting the balance of power in favor of the public’s interest. Often, they are winning.
Across the country, organizations of leading citizens have recognized that they need to engage in the politics of education reform, bringing perspectives from families, students, educators, and business leaders to their decision makers, to school board meetings, and to the halls of Congress. They have created organizations that established a credible, professional, and constant advocacy voice in state law-making processes. (Here’s more insights on how advocacy organizations are built.)
Like the founders, the work advocates do is often thankless and as often draws scorn from those who think change can and should come more slowly, more incrementally. So, as we advocates celebrate the 4th, let’s tip a cold one to the rabble rousers who founded our nation. And as we do, let’s remind ourselves that we work in the same spirit of the leaders who built the democracy we continue to shape today.