Guest Post: Civic Synergy

by Max Williamson

At inflection points throughout American history, young people have stood at the forefront of political, social, and economic change. Youth played a key role in the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s, to Dr. King’s non-violent insistence on racial equality in the 1960s, to the nationwide Women’s March of 2017. As young people, we have a greater stake in the future than any other living generation, and this stake provides us with a unique mandate to shape the future we want to see for ourselves. However, today we find our collective generational voice more fragmented and feeble than at any time in recent history. Hyper-partisanship has divided our country, but it has had an even more direct, palpable effect on those of us just entering the political sphere. The tenor of our national political discourse, principally shaped by older generations, has sunk so low that it has become too tempting for young people to join this race to the bottom. However, if we want to have even a shred of impact on our shared future, we need to learn to talk to each other about divisive issues in a more open and thoughtful environment. Otherwise, our generation’s rhetoric will remain as feckless and distracting as that of our parents and grandparents. To secure our generation’s seat at the table, we must fight for change in ways that remain committed to our values, but pragmatic in our approach.

As a college student who experienced his political awakening in the months preceding the 2020 election, I was struck by my peers’ unwillingness and seeming inability to hold frank, solution-oriented discussions about our country’s most pressing issues. Instead of engaging in robust debates centered on policy and legislation, too many of us have become discouraged and silenced by ideological extremism that seldom reflects the more tacit, moderate mindsets of the majority. Spend just a few minutes scrolling through Twitter, and you’ll likely feel as though our nation is on the brink of another civil war. However, social media platforms consistently amplify the most extreme voices while leaving the vast swaths of us in the middle feeling out of place. According to the Pew Research Center, just 10% of Twitter users are responsible for generating over 97% of the platform’s most political content. In the face of discourse so blatantly skewed to the extremes, what can we possibly do to change it? Well, we can make an honest, concerted effort to elevate those voices in the middle and focus our debate around substance, not rhetoric.

Today, disenchanted young people all-too-often paint “compromise” and “moderation” as dirty words that surrender our commitment to deeply held values. These skeptics argue that a preference for pragmatism over purity only leads to toothless policy solutions that fail to address underlying systemic problems. I disagree. Over the past two years, our country’s greatest legislative achievements (the CARES Act, the U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill) have all come in the form of carefully negotiated, compromise-laden, pragmatic legislation. As we seek to better our country throughout adulthood, we must retain our idealism and belief in a better future. However, we will not be able to realize any of our desired policies if we choose to silo our perspectives and refuse to cede any ground to the opposition. If our generation cannot find the political will to talk to each other and advance our common interests, then our elders who hold the reins to legislative and policy change will just not take us seriously. To gain our well deserved seat at the table, we must demonstrate our willingness to pursue pragmatism and compromise no matter our ideological leanings.

After watching staunch partisanship erode any sense of comity in youth political discourse throughout the 2020 elections, I developed a stronger and stronger urge to help overcome our generation’s steep divisions. By a series of happy coincidences, I stumbled upon an organization called Civic Synergy. Founded just last year by a trio of brilliant MIT students, Civic Synergy seeks to bring together students from different backgrounds to hold robust discussions on policy issues and develop pragmatic solutions to present to lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels. It is exactly the type of model that can pull students out of this morass of partisanship and mold them into capable change agents without compromising their values. In the second year of the program, we are excited to expand our operations to dozens of schools nationwide to involve a range of viewpoints that reflects the current political landscape of America’s young adults.

Civic Synergy is just one lever helping to guide our generation as it makes a fundamental choice. On one hand, we can continue to immerse ourselves in the divisive vitriol that spills from political institutions governed by those ten, thirty, or sixty years older than us; we can let anger and distrust remain the status quo. However, we can instead use this inflection point as an opportunity to assert ourselves as a different kind of generation. One that is clear-eyed about the dire threats of climate change, racial animosity, and great-power competition; one that recognizes our fundamental differences in values, but is willing to seek common ground; one that is eager not to trade insults, but to reshape our laws in ways that will continue to bend the moral arc of history toward justice. I want our generation to make real progress in spite of our differences, and while I understand that these changes will not come overnight, we have to start now. That is why I joined Civic Synergy, where we develop pragmatic solutions to our challenges through mutual understanding. At Civic Synergy we hope to spark a real generational drive to unite across partisan differences in solving our greatest challenges. Together we will strengthen our generation’s voice one student, one campus, and one state at a time, and I hope you will join us.

Max Williamson ’22 is a former PKG Fellow and current Truman Scholar, who is currently serving as Civic Synergy‘s Director of Outreach. Learn more about Civic Synergy by clicking here to visit their website!

Tags: Civic Engagement, PKG Fellowships, Voting

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