PERSPECTIVE: Dialogue, Diversity and Progress Amidst News of Dysfunction

by Martha McCoy What better way to spend the day than with a broad diversity of people from across Connecticut who want to make our towns, cities and state even greater places to live – who are working to create inclusive communities and make a difference on the issues we face.

For six years, Everyday  Democracy and the Secretary of the State’s office have been bringing together an expanding group of civic leaders to consider indicators of our state’s civic heath – such as how well neighbors relate to each other, how often people participate in community affairs, and how well we collaborate across differences. 

On a sunny day with day with a New England chill in the air, 75 Connecticut residents recently gathered for the first annual Connecticut Civic Ambassadors Summit at the Hartford Public Library to celebrate our public life and find ways to improve it. During an afternoon of sharing food and conversation, we deepened our understanding of the “civic health” of our state and continued to find ways to take action together.

State news coverage often focuses on dysfunction. Our state was one of the last in the country to pass a budget. We are struggling to pay for important services, develop the economy, and address large racial and economic inequities. When we hear about towns and cities, it’s often about ways they are pitted against each other.

But the tone of the recent Saturday gathering was completely different. While we all acknowledge that our state faces tough issues, we believe that there are ways “we the people” can address them, working with each other and public officials in more inclusive and democratic ways.

Throughout the day, we heard from people of all ages (grade school to senior citizens) and all backgrounds and walks of life who are using their voices, generating productive collaborations, standing up for justice, and making a tangible difference in their homes, schools, communities, and regions.

Here are just some of the things we heard:

  • “People are yearning to have discussion, to understand the world, and to come together to transform dialogue into action.”
  • “Use the gifts you have to change the world around you…”
  • “Young students have the power to change the world.” “Teachers need support so that they know how to help their students talk about divisive public issues in respectful ways.”
  • “We need to start talking about things before they become hot-button issues. A tweet is not action.”

At the close of the Summit, 40 Civic Ambassadors were sworn in, pledging to be a dedicated and engaged community member to uphold civic values of civility, respect for our democratic institutions, principles of social justice, and nonpartisan civic action toward community improvement.

The goal of the Summit was to engage more people as Connecticut Civic Ambassadors.  Join us.  Civic Ambassadors are everyday people – all of us have a voice and can make a difference. We all need ways to resist the cynicism and polarization that are so prevalent both in our state and across the nation.  Whether you live in or outside of Connecticut, please call us so that you can learn about the civic health work going on in your state.


Martha McCoy is Executive Director of Everyday Democracy.  A national organization based in Hartford,  Everyday Democracy works to strengthen democracy by making authentic engagement and public participation a permanent part of the way we work as a country. Since their founding in 1989, the organization has worked with hundreds of communities throughout the U.S., first by offering small, structured dialogues that led to positive and lasting change, and now offering an array of flexible resources, discussion guides, coaching and technical assistance.