Tuesday night marked the beginning of the prime political season. $12.5 million was spent by candidates and their Super PACs to convince 122,000+ Iowans that they were best suited to move this country forward.
Regardless of who the ultimate nominee is, the November election will undoubtedly be a referendum on whose vision to restore our country to greatness is more convincing. And as we've seen in recent weeks and months, those visions could not be more different.
In our own experience, and substantiated by research with both voters and political staffers, our two political parties represent differing world views on how change happens.
Research conducted by Olson Zaltman Associates on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation confirmed what we have consistently heard from the mouths of citizens and our political parties. This research employed image and collage work to elicit unconscious thinking and the prevailing metaphors for how political staffers "see and think" about the world. It showed that more politically liberal people see the world in the context of systems and connections that need to be changed or shaped to create a more fair and just world. More conservative staffers, in contrast, thought more in terms of individual journeys with obstacles that people could overcome.
These points of view represent a false choice. Creating change isn't about either fixing systems or taking more personal responsibility. It's about both.
There is clearly a gale of forces outside of us that impacts our lives. Governments, the markets, and natural disasters are chief among them.
And it is equally clear that we do have the power inside ourselves to exert our own internal will to help make better choices.
In moving the world forward and creating social change, one without the other doesn't quite cut it. As they say, it takes two to tango.
Take for example, healthcare reform. Twenty-five hundred pages of the best legislation can help shape the healthcare system but failing to get the American public on board can threaten its passage and implementation.
Similarly, movements like the Tea Party and Occupy show that the public can be mobilized to get involved, but the lack of any honest appreciation of how our systems, both political and economic, work leave these movements either neutered or destructive.
Great movements shape the gale of forces around us so they are the wind at our back, not in our face AND build public will that doesn't simply rage against the machine but takes an active role in fixing it.
Take the civil rights movement, for example. Most people instinctively think of it as a campaign of public will embodied by freedom riders, bus boycotts, and the march on Washington. But behind the scenes, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders were constantly working with political leaders to take a more active role in guaranteeing civil rights. These two visions of change worked arm in arm, not in opposition.
Or think of our national call to greatness that resulted in man walking on the moon. This was a government-led initiative, working with the private sector and supported by the will of the American people whose emotional investment in the project made it possible.
The only way to truly move the world forward is by both shaping the gale of forces around us and creating the will within us. It is in recognition of this that I am proud to announce that today we are opening the GALEWiLL Center for Opportunity and Progress.
The GALEWiLL Center for Opportunity & Progress is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to create and promote research, content and programs with the potential to move the world forward. It is established as a private operating foundation that will invest in ideas, people and organizations that empower others to improve their station in life.
We are looking to fill a void in public discourse that seeks to build a bridge between these opposing ideas on how we move America forward.
Previously as part of our work at YELLOWBRICKROAD Communications, we developed nonprofit projects such as our book Actions Speak Loudest: Keeping Our Promise for a Better World, research projects dealing with the power of empathy, and documentary films. This new center will create a new home for these projects and future ones. Our next project is a major research initiative that takes a new look at the American Dream and is being done in conjunction with Public Agenda. I encourage you to visit www.galewill.org to learn more about our work and future plans.
As the political season moves forward and candidates court voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida we are bound to see further articulation of these opposing ideas. When we hear stump speeches and read talking points from both parties we must try to glean truth from each and ask ourselves, "Can we reconcile them in our minds to form a coherent narrative to move us forward?" If we can't, then who wins Iowa or the Presidency will be inconsequential among parties and people still divided on what to do next.