|By Saralynn Finn
Senior Manager, Strategic Communications and Partnerships
August 25, 2023
As the initial peak of the pandemic and isolation grow more distant, many of us are still fortunate enough to enjoy flexible work schedules like hybrid or asynchronous work. This arrangement can be deeply fulfilling and brings balance to many of our lives. We get to collaborate with interesting people – with very different lives from ours and who live in faraway places – with the touch of a button. Our workplace no longer has to include fluorescent lights or a fridge that smells like whatever someone brought for lunch last week.
However, we all know we’re missing something too.
The problem of social isolation has been written about by scholars for thirty years, but the acceleration of this trend as a result of our lifestyle changes from the pandemic has become its own “epidemic of loneliness.” The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy writes:
“Loneliness and isolation represent profound threats to our health and well-being. But we have the power to respond. By taking small steps every day to strengthen our relationships, and by supporting community efforts to rebuild social connection, we can rise to meet this moment together.”
Murthy and others are sounding the warning that the “new normal” many have adapted to is a threat to our well-being. And because so many people in our communities are at risk, isolation has also become a threat to democracy. This is why we are so excited about the impact the upcoming American Democracy Summit (ADS) will have. Coming together from across the political spectrum to tackle the issues that stymie our democracy will give attendees the opportunity to put isolation, as well as political corruption, to rest.
Accomplish The Great Task By A Series of Small Acts - Lao Tzu
Ask anyone who has attended summits like ADS in the past what their main takeaway is and they are likely to say something like this:
What appears impossible when we are alone and divided is easily tackled when we come together with shared goals.
What I miss the most about working together in person is the magical buzz of a completed goal. When a group of people come up with a rough idea that feels like a moonshot, then shape it into something plausible and still have the energy to craft a rough plan to make the idea tangible. I remember times when that process didn’t come from weeks of meetings but maybe just an afternoon that spilled over into dinner. I remember when things happened because all the key stakeholders were present in one room. We sketched out an objective, we hashed out a plan to make it happen, and then we got a burger and fries. I went home from those days feeling accomplished and energized to take on the next thing. That’s what American Democracy Summit will be like. The pro-democracy movement is coming together to tackle the big problems facing our democracy, and we want you to join us!
Break the Cycle
I do not want to discount the amount of energy, and sometimes courage, it takes to go out on a limb and try something novel. Arthur Brooks recently wrote about the trap of believing the stories we tell ourselves about what is possible,
“To break out of the cycle, you might need to try an “opposite signal” strategy. Your inertia probably tells you that getting dressed and going to work will be a hassle, and that inviting someone over for dinner will be uncomfortable. You should do these things anyway. Think of it like starting a workout routine after a long sedentary period (another common COVID problem). At first, your system complains bitterly, but if you push through the complaints, you soon find that you can exercise (or socialize) easily, because it has become routine and because you can feel how it improves your life.”
I hear a lot of people lament the gridlock and how everything feels jammed up politically. Folks feel hopeless but how much of this is a result of still being stuck in our houses?
If you’re considering coming to ADS, but you’re still on the fence, consider how attending could break you out of the cycle you’re currently in. Travel away from home, make new connections, and see what might change. Nathan Lockwood, the Director of Rank the Vote, attended a previous Summit hosted by RepresentUs and spoke with me about the impact that the Summit had on his career and role in the pro-democracy movement. Nathan said,
“[Before I attended a Summit] I was a volunteer lead for Central Massachusetts for Voter Choice Massachusetts. Today I'm the director of Rank the Vote, that would not have been possible without the relationships that I forged… when I was at the RepresentUs Summit in 2018.”
American Democracy Summit aspires to be as accessible as we know our political system can and should be. Being around like minded people focused on the same goals shows the value of connection. Nathan’s experience of the Summit sums this aspect of the event up beautifully,
“So I'm telling people, you can't really afford to miss this. You'll never have access to experts and shakers and movers who are leading things like you will at this conference. You'll never have access to some of the national partners that you as a state or local organizer are looking to work with and get support from. The accessibility to these people is, I mean that's one thing that just blew me away was just, the down-to-earth nature of everybody from top to bottom in this movement.”
As Nathan recounts, meeting in person is magic, there’s a connection between two people.
“Yeah, I just think it's just the way we're wired and whether it's not just that we just prefer in person, it's just something deeper on natures that when you meet someone in person and spend time with them, working and eating and drinking, and having a laugh, you just form a tighter bond and you're in a way it's subconscious. You're just going to have a certain trust for them and an affinity for them that is very hard to develop through, less rich medium.”
Be in the Room When it Happens
Coming to ADS isn’t just good for you, it’s good for our democracy. You’ll be growing the muscle that helps you to move past differences and bridge divides. In an updated epilogue to her best-selling book, “It Takes a Village,” Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote,
“If you dig deep enough, through all the mud of politics and polarization, eventually you hit something hard and true: a foundation of values and aspirations that bind us together as Americans. That’s something to build on. If we can break out of our toxic “us versus them” dichotomies, if we can shrink our notion of “the other” and expand the “we” in “we the people,” perhaps we can discover that we have more in common than we think.
Though we are divided in so many ways, though we are lonelier and more isolated than ever, it remains true that none of us can raise a family, build a business, strengthen a community, or heal a nation alone. We have to do it together. It still takes a village.”
If you have never been to a summit like ADS, it can be hard to imagine the value of such an event. But just as you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take in hockey, you will never see the unique connectedness and community-building that happens within the walls of ADS if you sit at home. There is a reason so many people love to say that democracy is not a spectator sport: we all have to get off the sidelines and engage if we want to see our desired results. Consider ADS as step one to building a stronger pro-democracy building. To see steps two and beyond, sign up below to join us!
Contributors: Nolan Bush, RepresentUs Writer