The Regenerative Civic Impulse

Wednesday, November 1, 2006 (All day)

Having led Community Partners for the last 14 years, I realize the privileged position fiscal sponsorship and intermediary organizations like ours occupy on the social and civic landscape. There are relatively few of us, but we provide a critical role in validating a hard-to-name phenomenon. That phenomenon invigorates all communities in which the liberal democratic form of government gives rise to free and unfettered expression.

I call it “the regenerative civic impulse.” The traditional American holidays provide an opportune moment to celebrate what we need to regard as a triumph of democratic culture.

As slow to evolve as civic life and our politics can sometimes seem, the regenerative spirit knocks hard and persistently on doors that are closed to reform or resistant to change. What else explains major turnovers of Congress such as the one that occurred last election day? Political shifts of that magnitude are rare, but when they occur they stir up winds of possibility in previously hardened spaces of the human heart and mind.

I’m always amazed, for example, by the way in which nearly every person in any group of thoughtful people will harbor at least one idea for how they would act to change their community. They’ll often frame their idea in the form of a service or an organization. But one young woman in a graduate social work class where I lectured recently at UCLA had a grand notion of the utopian society she thought would best serve human needs.

It’s heartening to know how reliable most of us are in pondering ways to shape and change the world. Maybe it’s a gift of our culture or perhaps it’s a necessity, but the regenerative impulse is clearly detectable.

For me, stirring up that impulse takes concrete form in community mobilization, new social ventures, policy initiatives, collaboratives and networks and the occasional new organization. Coming to work each day, I feel steeped in rich and inspiring American entrepreneurial and innovator traditions that bring to Community Partners’ door a segment of society generally impatient with the status quo. I could not have led Community Partners this long without the deepest appreciation for whatever it is that inspires an unending river of amazingly fertile human imaginations to dream up and translate into action new ideas for making communities work.

So this holiday season, let’s give thanks that such a place even exists in the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings. Let’s hail the fact that we’re unafraid in the company of others to detect and mend what needs fixing, to envision and seize what needs to be.