Elevating Constructive Voices to Disrupt Polarization

Laura A. Maristany
September 12, 2017

Today when people think about entrepreneurship and innovation, they tend to associate those concepts with the private sector. Maybe they think about Steve Jobs or Elon Musk—leaders whose big ideas revolutionized an industry. Or maybe they think about the legions of small business owners fueling the American economy. If you search for the word entrepreneur online, most of the results are about people who have opened their own businesses or developed new products or technologies. The bottom line is that entrepreneurship has become synonymous with the private sector.

Yet, our great nation was built by political entrepreneurs—visionaries who innovated new tools of governance and pushed the boundaries of what is possible. America today is radically different than the America of 1789, and while our founding fathers developed a forward-looking model of governance, we need their modern counterparts to help us think through how democratic institutions evolve and survive in the modern world.

At Democracy Fund, we understand this and actively seek out people and organizations who are working to disrupt the existing polarized political climate by promoting civil dialogue, sharing unbiased research, collaborating on breakthrough ideas, and embracing common-sense steps to strengthen our democracy. As Associate Director for Constructive Politics at Democracy Fund, I had the opportunity to travel across the country this summer learning about a new generation of leaders who are doing just that. My journey took me from D.C. to Chicago to Dallas to Malibu, where I attended several events by organizations focused on fostering a more constructive politics in the United States.

  • The Millennial Action Project (MAP) is working directly with leading young policymakers on both a national and state level to spur bipartisan legislation and innovative policy solutions. Defined by diversity, technology, pragmatism, and collaborative attitude, the millennial generation refuses to see the world in traditional ideological terms. Through projects like the Future Caucus, the State Future Caucus Network, the James Madison Fellowship, and the Millennial Policy Forum, MAP is elevating fresh ideas and building a network of cooperative millennial thought leaders.
  • At a convening by the Harris School of Public Policy’s Project on Political Reform, I watched a bipartisan group of political consultants discuss the rise of political polarization and how increasing distrust in our institutions could impact the future of our political system. During campaign season, you could never imagine these folks sitting in one room, much less swapping stories and collaborating on pragmatic solutions. Yet, here they were, focused on developing pragmatic solutions to our nations’ most difficult challenges. They might not have agreed on every policy solution, but constructive dialogue is the first step toward positive action for the American people.
  • The National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ (NALEO) Annual Conference brought together Latino elected officials from across the political spectrum to engage in dialogues about their role in the future of our country. In many cases using their personal time and funding to attend the conference, Latino elected officials were able to take advantage of informative sessions about subjects like how communities prepare for an emergency, how education policy changes at the federal level are implemented locally, and evolution of media and its impact on American politics.
  • Pepperdine University’s American Project convened conservative thought leaders and academics to talk about the issues and challenges impacting the future of the conservative movement. The conversations served as a reminder that while we will always have differing views, even within the parties, we are all Americans and want our country to succeed. Policy disagreements will continue to challenge us, but healthy democracy requires partisans who are committed to promoting their views constructively.

Overall, this summer I was reassured and inspired by the events I attended. Healthy democracy requires spaces for civil conversations where individuals can learn about each other, hear different points of view, and discuss their differences respectfully and productively. In each city I visited, I met Americans of all ages, races, and political ideologies who share these values and are brimming with ideas to make our democracy stronger. It leaves me with no doubt that America’s future is bright.

To learn more about our grantees who are working to ensure that Americans come first in our democracy, visit

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