JCCI makes democracy work - that's why after 15 years, I still love this organization.
Now that I'm approaching 15 years of working with JCCI, I'm often asked what brought me to the organization and what keeps me here. I'd like to share a few thoughts on why I feel that JCCI is such an important part of our community, and why we've been helping communities around the world set up their own JCCI's for close to three decades.
Scott London wrote a piece called Doing Democracy that captures, I think, the heart of our work.
When Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States in the 1830s and 1840s, he marveled at Americans’ propensity for civic participation. “Americans of all ages, all conditions and all dispositions constantly form associations,” he famously wrote. ... What was distinctive about these civic organizations, Tocqueville observed, was not just how numerous and variegated they were, but how they embodied what he saw as a unique and distinctly American understanding of democracy. Associations were the means by which Americans acted together in pursuit of their common goals and aspirations. They were carriers of what he called “habits of the heart”—the essential beliefs and practices that shape our character as democratic citizens.
But today, civic participation -- the underpinnings of successful democracy -- is at risk across the country. "Once a nation of joiners, we’ve become a nation out of joint, more disconnected from each other and from our communities than ever," London adds, quoting the work of Robert Putnam.
So what do we do to make our democracy work? Suzanne Morse, in her book Smart Communities: How Citizens and Local Leaders Can Use Strategic Thinking to Build a Brighter Future, devotes a chapter to Practicing Democracy. In it, she writes, "Evidence shows that education, dialogue, and deliberation can make the public more aware of the seriousness of local problems and can provide a catalyst for addressing those problems. In turn, greater public involvement may encourage a culture of collaboration, which not only solicits citizen participation but also encourages and expects it. In turn, the public requests and accepts responsibility for helping solve community challenges. At its best, community problem solving can harness the energy and enthusiasm of citizens working together, putting their talents to work to address problems, and at the same time promote a sense of ownership over the processes and outcomes of democratic community life."
The example she uses to show how civic participation works in communities? Jacksonville Community Council Inc. Of us, Dr. Morse said, "In my judgment, this is the preeminent non-partisan civic organization in the country."
So why have I worked at JCCI for the past 15 years, and why am I still excited about coming to work each day? Because at JCCI, we make a difference. Because we truly believe in the bold idea that together we can build a better community. Because I see it happening every day.
Professor Daniel Schafer wrote: “There is a spirit alive in JCCI; it is the spirit of thousands of civic volunteers who have come to the aid of their beleaguered community from the 1880s until the present.” Thank you for being one of them.