We have collaborated to create Healing American Democracy: Going Local. It started as an outlet for our mutual frustration with the 2016 election(s) and ended with a new vision for restoring Americans’ faith in democracy.
Here are our stories.
Growing up in a Washington D.C. suburb, I developed a lifelong interest in politics and an abiding belief in American democracy. It all just seemed to come naturally—what was “national” news everywhere else was “local” news in my hometown.
My belief in democracy was bolstered by my father’s reminders that the United States and its freedoms made our lives both comfortable and secure, something that my grandparents, Jewish refugees from Tsarist Russia, dreamed of when they came to America a half-century earlier.
I believed that our democracy was both inevitable and indelible. Now, I am not so sure.
My first full-time job was teaching university courses in American politics and governmental institutions. Later, I conducted political polls for the Michigan Democratic Party and its candidates.
I ended my traditional career with a firm that conducts research for local television stations and national networks. And then I teamed with Morley Winograd, a close friend and fellow traveler in Democratic (and democratic) politics to write three books focusing on generational and political change in America.
The first three books received critical acclaim, but the fourth—with another close friend Doug Ross—may be the most important. Healing American Democracy: Going Local speaks directly to the preservation of our democracy.
When my father came to the US as an immigrant in the 1930’s, he arrived without connections or being able to speak English, motivated by a powerful desire to live in a democracy where he would be free to pursue a good life.
He taught me that it was my personal responsibility to fight for the preservation of the America that drew him here and made me (and our better life) possible. Coming of age when John F. Kennedy became President simply deepened that sense of responsibility as he called on all Americans to make the world a better place.
Not surprisingly, much of my career was in government: as a Michigan State Senator, Michigan Commerce Secretary, and U.S. Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training. These experiences led to my belief in education as the principal path out of poverty in a knowledge economy.
So after running unsuccessfully for Governor of Michigan in 1998, I decided to see if we could create public schools that worked for low-income children.
I founded the University Prep charter schools in Detroit—and we learned how to graduate our low-income students of color and send them to college at the same rate as the most affluent suburban students.
But as anti-immigrant sentiment has been building, faith in democratic processes weakening, and a new nationalism emerging that would have branded my father and my Detroit students as “the other”, I felt the need to speak out.
I started working on this book right after the 2016 election to preserve my sanity, but I ended up working on it to preserve American democracy.
Throughout the 75 years of my life, I have been deeply committed to making democracy work better.
It’s why I left the private sector early on to become the youngest Democratic Party Chairman in Michigan history.
And it’s why I decided to leave corporate life to lead Vice President Gore’s Reinventing Government initiative in the 90’s. And it’s also why I became enthralled enough with America’s next great generation—Millennials—to co-author three books in the last ten years about them and their potential to reshape American politics.
Writing Healing American Democracy: Going Local gave me the chance to work with two of my lifelong friends to think through the challenges facing America today and use our combined wisdom to come up with ideas on how to meet them.
Ultimately, it represents the culmination of my life’s quest to make our unique democracy a living example of how to maximize each individual’s God given potential in a peaceful, prosperous society.
I hope everyone who reads it is newly encouraged to get engaged in their own community to help make democracy succeed in the same way where they live and work.