Last fall I spoke on 15 college campuses on the 2oth anniversary edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break between People and Government. I told the students that I started RESULTS 34 years earlier after I asked 7,000 high school students the name of their member of Congress and fewer than three percent could answer correctly. Then I ask the college students the same question last fall and only 10 percent could answer correctly.
In March I spoke at a senior citizens lecture series in Princeton. I went a month early to check it out and see if they really do get 200 seniors to attend. They do. The moderator said, “In one month we will hear from Sam Daley-Harris on Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government,” and there were chuckles in the room. The moderator said, “Yes, this is something we need to work on.”
My take-away was that the students are oblivious and, in this one sample, the seniors are cynical. (They were great, by the way, at the lecture a month later.)
Also in March I met with a professor of organizing at a major Ivy League college. He had never heard of the groups I worked with and peppered me with questions. At the end of our 20 minute conversation he said, “Yes, but the Congress is really dysfunctional.”
I said, “Yes, Congress is really dysfunctional but this year they appropriated $1.65 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Congress is really dysfunctional but this year they appropriation $700 million for maternal and child health programs globally. The Congress is really dysfunctional, but if you roll up your sleeves, do your homework, and get in there you can make big things happen.”
In April I spoke at Rutgers. In a small group discussion with students before the lecture a student in an honors futures class said, “With a view to 50 years in the future, what is the most important issue we could work on?’
I said, “My friends in climate change tell me that if we don’t solve that, we’re toast. My friends working to get money out of politics say that if we don’t solve that nothing will work. My friends in global poverty work tell me it is a blight on humanity. For me the most important issue we could solve is why so few of us see ourselves as changemakers. If we could solve that, there wouldn’t be enough problems to go around.