Advancing the Practice of Civic Mobilization in America -- The Gettysburg Project


The advance of American democracy has been driven by the struggles of people to make their voices heard through civic associations, social movement organizations, and political parties in town squares, on picket lines, and in the halls of Congress. The experience of people engaging with each other to organize, mobilize, debate, and decide created a vibrant, if contentious politics, rooted in mechanisms of democratic expression and accountability.  And it was never easy. These organizers of popular voice had to learn to overcome a deeply unequal electoral system; different rules, cultures and obstacles from decentralized local, state, and regional jurisdictions; racial, ethnic, gender, regional and religious divisions; and the dominance of moneyed special interests. And although they did make progress, today we find ourselves confronted by a new set of 21st Century challenges – globalization, growing inequality, social fragmentation, climate change, etc. – that our public institutions seem unable to address without a whole new level of popular engagement, mobilization, and struggle.

We -- the organizers of the Gettysburg Project -- believe that resuming the fight for long-held American goals of opportunity for all, shared prosperity, and real democracy will depend on mobilizing millions of Americans, from all walks of life, to participate in shaping our collective future. And although valiant – and creative – efforts are being made in a wide variety of areas including online and offline, locally and nationally, we believe that our democracy requires much broader and deeper engagement to succeed. To this end, in January 2013, we convened 43 of our leading organizers, activists, technology innovators, educators and scholars for two days of exploration. Our aim was to determine whether we might better confront the challenge of enhancing public engagement by committing to working on it together. That initial convening strongly affirmed the potential of a well-organized, multi-year effort, identified compelling opportunities, and highlighted urgent gaps with which we could begin.

We believe that with a shared commitment, appropriate strategy, and right kind of support, we can help meet this challenge by focusing on organizations that reach downward to build real constituencies, outward to ally with other organizations, and upward to push for transformations in policies and institutions. While some imagine addressing this problem must begin with institutional change and others consider it a matter of transforming individual behavior, our focus is on organizations – how individuals combine to effect institutional change – as most accessible, actionable, and sustainable path to fostering enhanced public engagement. These organizations must adapt, renew themselves and therefore endure—or fade.  Specifically, we propose to help improve public engagement by addressing the role of organizations at three levels:

·         Improving how organizations mobilize civic engagement: For example, how should recruitment, leadership development, and other core strategies respond to major demographic, technological, and other shifts affecting the population? How can we achieve both scale and sustainability for movement-building      


·         Facilitating collaboration between organizations: For example, where can the field benefit most from a shared infrastructure? How can we coordinate agenda-setting and action? What types of alliances are most crucial?

·         Catalyzing structural transformation in our democracy through organizations: For example, how can we most productively sequence and prioritize efforts to reform or protect key institutional pillars of American democracy, including but not limited to fair elections?

The Gettysburg Organizing Committee

Xavier de Souza Briggs (MIT), Anna Burger (Harvard Fellow), Archon Fung (Harvard Kennedy School of Government), Marshall Ganz (Harvard Kennedy School of Government), Hollie Russon Gilman (Harvard Kennedy School of Government), Marissa Graciosa (Center for Community Change), Hahrie Han (Wellesley College), Ngozi Nezianya (Democracy Alliance), K. Sabeel Rahman (Harvard Law School and Department of Government)


Guest Speakers:

Archon Fung is Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship. His research examines the impacts of civic participation, public deliberation, and transparency upon public and private governance. His Empowered Participation: Reinventing Urban Democracy examines two participatory-democratic reform efforts in low-income Chicago neighborhoods. Current projects also examine initiatives in ecosystem management, toxics reduction, endangered species protection, local governance, and international labor standards. His recent books and edited collections includeDeepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance; Can We Eliminate Sweatshops?; Working Capital: The Power of Labors Pensions; and Beyond Backyard Environmentalism. His articles on regulation, rights, and participation appear in Political Theory; Journal of Political Philosophy; Politics and Society; Governance; Environmental Management; American Behavioral Scientist; and Boston Review. Fung received two SBs and a PhD from MIT.

Marshall GanzSenior Lecturer in Public Policy, entered Harvard College in the fall of 1960. In 1964, a year before graduating, he left to volunteer as a civil rights organizer in Mississippi. In 1965, he joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers; over the next 16 years he gained experience in union and community issues, and political organizing, and became Director of Organizing. During the 1980s, he worked with grassroots groups to develop effective organizing programs, designing innovative voter mobilization strategies for local, state, and national electoral campaigns. In 1991, in order to deepen his intellectual understanding of his work, he returned to Harvard College and, after a 28-year "leave of absence," completed his undergraduate degree in history and government. He was awarded an MPA by the Kennedy School in 1993 and completed his PhD in sociology in 2000. He teaches, researches, and writes on leadership, organization, and strategy in social movements, civic associations, and politics.

Marshall Ganz also teaches "Leadership, Organizing and Action: Leading Change" an online program designed to help leaders of civic associations, advocacy groups and social movements learn how to organize communities that can mobilize power to make change.

Lani Guinier In 1998, Lani Guinier became the first woman of color appointed to a tenured professorship at the Harvard Law School and is now the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law. Before her Harvard appointment, she was a tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Educated at Radcliffe College and Yale Law School, Guinier worked in the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice and then headed the voting rights project at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the 1980s.

Guinier has published many scholarly articles and books, including The Tyranny of the Majority (1994); Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School and Institutional Change (1997) (with co-authors Michelle Fine and Jane Balin); Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New Vision of Social Justice (1998); and The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy (2002) (co-authored with Gerald Torres); The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: How Wealth Became Merit, Class Became Race and Higher Education Became a Gift From the Poor to the Rich (forthcoming Beacon Press 2013). In her scholarly writings and in op-ed pieces, she has addressed issues of race, gender, and democratic decision making, and sought new ways of approaching questions like affirmative action while calling for candid public discourse on these topics.

Guinier's leadership on these important issues has been recognized with many awards, including the Champion of Democracy Award from the National Women's Political Caucus; the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession; and the Rosa Parks Award from the American Association of Affirmative Action, and by ten honorary degrees, including from Smith College, Spelman College, Swarthmore College and the University of the District of Columbia.

Her excellence in teaching was honored by the 1994 Harvey Levin Teaching Award from the graduating class at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the 2002 Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence from Harvard Law School.