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Conventions 2012: To Save the American Dream, We Need to Recapture the American Spirit

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Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus gavels the Republican National Convention open in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus gavels the Republican National Convention open in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

TAMPA, FLORIDA -- Though the first day of the Republican convention was disrupted by the hurricane that wasn't, the rest of the week is following the carefully planned script. As will, I'm sure, the Democratic convention next week in Charlotte. Speeches will be delivered, standing ovations will be given, and balloons will drop as a smiling family waves from the dais. Both conventions will portray their respective parties as well-oiled machines, ready to churn out solutions to our many crises. But don't mistake the shows for reality, which is not following the same smoothly executed script, which includes 20 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed, while jobs go unfilled because job seekers lack the right skills or training. It would be hard to overstate the devastating human consequences behind those numbers. At The Huffington Post, we're committed to telling those wrenching stories. But there is a real danger that by focusing exclusively on what is not working, the media are missing out on recognizing what is working -- the opportunities that are available, and the creativity, ingenuity, compassion, and entrepreneurship Americans are tapping into in order to create jobs.

That's why we've chosen to use the unique opportunity offered by the conventions -- with 15,000 credentialed media present -- to launch a multi-part effort to put the spotlight on solutions, innovative ideas, and the men and women who are actually creating jobs right now. The conventions are, of course, inherently partisan affairs, but there's nothing left-wing or right-wing about coming together to address the jobs crisis.

This week in Tampa, and next week in Charlotte, we're going to hear a lot about what each party intends to do to create jobs. But it's increasingly clear that whichever side of the aisle you're on, no magic solution will be coming out of Washington any time soon. As John Bridgeland, CEO of the public policy firm Civic Enterprises, who has been instrumental in our effort, told me, "we need all hands on deck and there are concrete steps the private sector, fueled by the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, can take right now to help jumpstart further progress." In order to tap into that "all hands on deck" spirit, and our nation's surplus of resilience and creativity, we need to change the narrative.

And to help do just that, The Huffington Post will be hosting panel discussions at each convention, which will center on those creating jobs right now and on ways we can scale what is working for the kind of disruptive change we need to end the crisis and look ahead to a better future.

Panelists in Tampa will be Ohio Governor John Kasich; Scott Case, CEO of Startup America; Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute; Allen Blue, co-founder of LinkedIn; Laura Ingraham, syndicated radio host and Fox News contributor; Judith Rodin, CEO of The Rockefeller Foundation; Brad Smith, General Counsel at Microsoft; Sanford Shugart, President of Valencia College; Marc Freedman, CEO of Civic Ventures; Jeremy Heimans, CEO of Purpose; and Mark Kvamme, director of JobsOhio. In Charlotte, panelists will include Julián Castro, Mayor of San Antonio and Democratic keynote speaker; Rosario Dawson, actress and Founder of Voto Latino; and musician

I'm also delighted that Tom Brokaw is moderating both panels. As a journalist and as a storyteller, in books like The Greatest Generation and The Time of Our Lives, he has chronicled the American experience in his own distinctive voice.

As a boy, Brokaw was captivated by the small locked box of $25 war bonds tucked away in his parents' closet -- which, he wrote, had "a kind of sacred quality." And it's true -- the spirit of cooperation, collective purpose and shared sacrifice represented by those bonds is sacred. And "the greatest generation" acted on that spirit to make our country stronger and better. But it wasn't just about fighting the war. In the decade after World War II, as John Bridgeland put it, "that generation volunteered more, joined organizations more, voted more, gave charitable contributions more and were active neighbors helping those in need more than the generations that came before -- and would come after them." Our nation pulled together to educate its workforce and build the economic engine that created the American middle class. Facing an uncertain future, Americans summoned a spirit of optimism, ingenuity, and resilience.

Along with our lunch panels, we'll be hosting a jobs expo, bringing entrepreneurs of all stripes together to showcase the ways they're creating jobs and providing training to America's workforce. We want to open up the lines of communication, and get entrepreneurs and policy-makers talking. And we hope these conversations will continue long after the balloons have deflated. The jobs expo will be all about how -- how we are already creating jobs, how we can learn from each other, and how we can take those solutions to the people and places that need them most.

More than 70 entrepreneurs will appear at each convention expo. They include the Millennial Trains Project, founded by Patrick Dowd, a former JPMorgan analyst, who is organizing cross-country train rides that will bring enterprising young Americans together to see the country's regional challenges and brainstorm solutions; Kickboard, a tech start-up that uses tablets to help teachers cut down on paperwork, centralize student data and share it with other teachers, administrators, and parents; Zeel, a company that connects patients to the health providers they seek; ConnectEDU, which uses a sophisticated algorithm to connect students with the colleges most likely to accept them -- just like Amazon uses customer information to recommend books you might like; and Opportunity Finance Network, whose CEO Mark Pinsky said, "Our hope is that this venture will help kick-start a whole different attitude about what's possible."

Today we'll also announce that more than 30 companies, non-profits and foundations have partnered with us to make specific promises to address the jobs crisis. They include The Rockefeller Foundation, which will award $1 million to an organization with the most innovative solution to create jobs; The Ford Foundation, which is investing $150 million over the next five years to address the factors contributing to the skills mismatch and assist working people to gain economic security and develop new businesses; and The Skoll Foundation, which has committed $250,000 to a challenge that will fund the most creative and innovative ideas from non-profits working to create jobs.

And I'm delighted that The Huffington Post, along with Crowdrise, will be partnering with The Skoll Foundation in order to fulfill this promise. In coming up with a name for the challenge, we wanted to conjure the barn-raising spirit that has always been part of the American DNA. So we're calling it JobRaising.

Finally, to tie it all together, we've created a dedicated HuffPost section called "Opportunity: What is Working," featuring news and updates on all these projects, as well as blog posts of entrepreneurs, philanthropists and ordinary citizens, as well as governors and mayors, on what is working, and ideas about what would work.

We can rekindle the American Dream, but to do so we'll need to summon the American spirit. We're not letting government or our national leaders convening here in Tampa and in Charlotte off the hook, but we cannot just be bystanders waiting for them to act. There is much to be done, but there is already much being done. By putting the spotlight on what is working, we hope to change the narrative away from a fatalistic acceptance of our jobs crisis to the ingenuity and resilience that have always defined our country.


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