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By Gregory Bourne, Co-Founder, Lead4Tomorrow
Originally posted on the Can We Keep It Facebook page.

In recent years we have been exposed anew to the prophetic words of Benjamin Franklin – “A republic, if you can keep it.” When asked at the close of the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787 if the new union would be a monarchy or a republic, this was his response. There was a presumption that this form of government, by and for the people, would be best for a healthy, sustainable society. Franklin, however, foresaw this new republic would face ongoing challenges in its attempt to govern based on the will of the people and the wisdom of elected leaders. Diligence would be required.

Almost 250 years later, the question remains relevant and must be seriously considered — can we keep this republic, and keep it healthy? America has been a beacon of hope and a place of opportunity for innumerable people around the world. The principles forming the basis of American society remain aspirational. Many have served and sacrificed to uphold these principles. Yet for others, these principles have yet to be fully realized. The grand experiment of American democracy remains a work in progress.

A cause for concern is the near absence of meaningful public dialogue today on key issues facing our society, and precious few sustained and integrated efforts to address those issues. As such, #Can We Keep It will attempt to create a dialogue around the challenges facing our families, communities and society more broadly, and identify opportunities to address those challenges. A healthy republic goes far beyond policies and politics – it is about values, morality, compassion, opportunity and equality, among other traits embedded in American ideals.

The following are emblematic of the challenges:

  • Child poverty rates (40+% of children in the U.S. live in low-income families) are among the highest of any developed country
  • Maternal death rates are the highest in the developed world
  • Educational test scores rank poorly in comparison with other developed countries
  • The U.S. ranks among the most violent of all developed countries
  • Over 20 million Americans struggle with substance abuse
  • Some contend the economy is the best it’s been in years, yet the middle class continues to dwindle and people living in poverty continue to struggle
  • The public has little confidence in government, especially Congress, which has its highest approval rating in years at a meager 20 percent of those polled
  • Nearly 4 in 10 Americans say our democracy is “in crisis” and a nearly equal percent say it is facing serious challenges
  • Excessive political partisanship and gridlock have stifled both meaningful dialogue and development of solutions to many of our society’s most pressing problems.

So, what are we to do? We are engaging a broad cross section of people and organizations to provide their perspective on the challenges and potential pathways to a healthier society – built around the foundation of healthier families and communities. We are excited about the prospect of collecting contributions from a wide array of citizens across the range of socio-economic and racial diversity, public policy experts, journalists, educators, government officials, activists, public health experts and others. Our intent is that by starting a dialogue others will engage and be inspired to consider the issues and how to address them.

As presumably a government of, by and for the people, the American people need to engage each other in civil dialogue. Resolving complex issues requires listening to one another and working together to find solutions which transcend ideological and political boundaries. This means working through divisions and dynamics which limit progress and undermine “keeping” a vital republic intact and thriving. #Can We Keep It is intended to create a marketplace for ideas – and a forum for working on solutions to the vexing issues facing American society.

Signs of Growing Comfortably Numb: Can we consider our republic healthy when child poverty rates (40+% of children in the U.S. live in low-income families) are among the highest of any developed country and public dialogue to address this issue is virtually nonexistent?

Signs of the Phoenix Rising: The Children’s Defense Fund, recognizing the lack of dialogue about child poverty, circulated a petition to request the presidential debates include questions about child poverty – what practical steps will the next president take to significantly reduce the number of children living in poverty? CDF is working in a variety of ways to improve the well-being of children.

Editors Note: #Can We Keep It was in the planning stages far before recent events, such as the impeachment process, as it spans a much broader timeframe and set of issues. It is intended as a pan-partisan initiative, open to a cross-section of political expressions – not just one political perspective. As long as such expressions are respectful, with the intent of improving the health of American governance and society, we welcome and encourage a wide range of views.