Building a Cross-Partisan Movement in a Time of Division

At the third annual National Citizen Leadership Conference, citizen leaders from across the nation came together to discuss the democracy reform movement and advance the 28th Amendment to end big money domination of our elections. Throughout the conference, breakout sessions explored the many facets of the movement. In a breakout called Building an Inclusive Movement, panelists Wambui Gatheru, outreach manager for American Promise, Rio Tazewell, senior campaigns manager for People for the American Way, Katie Fahey, executive director of The People, former Republican New Hampshire State Senator Jim Rubens, and Jose Dominguez, director of development partnerships for League of Conservation Voters discussed ways to broaden the movement.

The cross-partisan, grassroots movement to pass and ratify a constitutional amendment requires Americans of all types to come together—something that seems increasingly rare in this time of deep division. Yet, while Americans are divided on many issues, most Americans, regardless of partisan affiliation or political ideology, agree that our campaign finance system must be fixed—including 85% of Democrats, 66% of Republicans and 70% of independents. The movement for a constitutional amendment provides an opportunity to bridge the political divide.

As Republican former New Hampshire Senator and American Promise board member Jim Rubens says: “Anyone who agrees with what we’re doing here has got to be at the table, in the saddle, able to influence what we’re doing.” 

Passing amendments is the way Americans have historically expanded our definition of democracy—and they’ve also historically succeeded when the majority of Americans have come together to demand change. Given that Americans already agree on this issue, it is whether we can learn to come to the table and listen to one another that may determine our ability to reclaim the power of our voice on our democracy. 

“There is broad awareness and acceptance that Citizens United was corrosive to democracy. It’s bipartisan, not a right-left thing,” says Rio Tazewell, senior campaigns manager for People for the American Way. “Most of our work isn’t educating people about the problem—it’s educating them about the solution.”

Overcoming the partisan divide will require setting aside differing issue-specific or partisan views to restore the country’s system of self-governance. We all must come in with a willingness to listen and learn rather than with a set of predetermined assumptions. “Taking time to develop relationships—whether it’s with another culture or political party—is important,” says Jose Dominguez, director of development partnerships for League of Conservation Voters. “We’re going to need to be united to get this done.”

When approaching those from other backgrounds, whether political, generational or racial, don’t assume everyone in that community shares the same viewpoints. “It is important not to see a community as monolithic,” Dominguez says.

Former New Hampshire Senator and American Promise Board Member Jim Rubens sits next to American Promise Outreach Manager Wambui Gatheru.

Not making assumptions also means approaching and engaging people whose voices are not typically sought out in government reform conversations. When Katie Fahey, executive director of The People, was organizing action to end partisan gerrymandering in Michigan, she found a receptive audience in a rural, upper peninsula community. “At our first community meeting, we had standing room only in rural Michigan,” Fahey said. “We had just publicly announced our organization three days earlier. We have to be willing to involve the people who are hungry for change.”

Along with its cross-partisan mission, American Promise is working to build a multi-generational movement. Our partner BridgeUSA—a nonpartisan organization with chapters on college campuses across the country working to advance respectful political conversations among America’s future leaders—brought 50 college students to the NCLC to help launch the Cause of Our Time program, inviting young Americans to help end the domination of big money in politics.

Americans of all political stripes want their voices to be heard and represented in our government. Coming together to break up the concentrated power of entrenched political forces is not a conservative or liberal cause—it’s an American cause. American Promise is leading the movement to take power back from the political donor class and give it to everyday Americans. Get involved to help restore human liberty, equal citizenship, and responsible self-government.

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