Reflections on Civic Courage: Civic Courage As Part of a Larger Endeavor

This is a guest post by David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation. David will be facilitating a panel on "New Connections" at the Rural Assembly 2018 convening in May. This is a part of an ongoing series on the topic of civic courage, which is the theme of the National Rural Assembly 2018 convening.


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There is no universal definition of civic courage. Whether it is an issue to solve, an audience to address, or more simply a way to be engaged, everyone values something different. To tell someone their issue is not important, or that their idea on how to be civically engaged is not the most effective method, doesn’t help us achieve our larger goals. What is important is when people realize that they are the change they’ve been waiting for.

That is what civic courage means to me: the willingness to step forward and acknowledge there is a problem that needs to be addressed. But having civic courage is only the first step. The next step, and one equally as important, is applying that courage towards solving an issue by putting a plan into action. You might not know the full scale of the problem or even have all the answers on how to fix it. That’s ok. What matters is that you’re not waiting for someone else to solve it; you’re part of the solution. Together, these two important steps make up our understanding of civic engagement.

That idea is at the center of the Obama Foundation’s mission. We’re focused on making active citizenship accessible to anyone, anywhere. We want to reach everyone – from those who want to make the world a better place but aren’t sure where to start, to those who don’t yet see themselves as change agents. That helps us achieve our broader mission: to inspire and empower the next generation of active citizens and leaders, together defining what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century.

By connecting with these individuals, we can truly understand where they are coming from and create the foundation upon which civic engagement and organizing are built. We don’t have all the answers. We don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all strategy. Civic engagement wasn’t built on lecturing one another. But in order to build that foundation, we need individuals to have the courage to step forward and be agents of change.

That is where the National Rural Assembly comes in. You are all spread out across the country but share the common desire to make your community a better place. You’ve already demonstrated the courage that is required for effective civic engagement. That is especially impressive considering that your location may not give you the same access to resources and connections others may have. Still, you’ve overcome the barriers and are working on developing your action plans. On behalf of the Obama Foundation, I cannot wait to hear more about what you’re working on and talk about how we can tackle these challenges together.