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What Does It Look Like to Renew America?

Photo: New America

You learn a lot in eight years in the White House: how to craft good policy, how to make a good team, how to get enough sleep so that you can make good decisions. I’m still processing everything I learned over the last eight years, five of which I spent leading the Domestic Policy Council for former President Barack Obama. But some of the brightest spots are already clear to me. Among my greatest sources of inspiration are the ways in which ordinary Americans in cities and towns around the country are engaged in their communities, driving them forward in innovative ways, making change happen—even as Washington grows more divided.

Maybe a couple of examples will give you an idea of what I mean.

During my time in government, I met community leaders in San Antonio who unified disparate programs in the city’s east side, giving them all the common goal of improving outcomes for children. As a result, attendance and graduation rates of the local high school shot up—and the sense of hope in the neighborhood went up along with it. I met young people from a small, poor pueblo in New Mexico who organized a program that was providing hope and opportunity to hundreds of Native American youth in the surrounding community. And I watched tenacious leaders bring an emptying main street in a Kentucky coal town back to life by helping merchants at a local farmers market grow businesses in once-vacant storefronts. All over the country, Americans are doing this—engaging in the process of renewing their own communities.

I’ve had the good fortune of joining New America, an organization focused on supporting, catalyzing, and strengthening these local efforts not only for their own sake, but also for the example they offer to policymakers and for the inspiration they provide to the rest of us. New America is building a national network of these “doers,” strengthening their work, connecting them to each other, and making sure their stories get told—because it feels like we need these stories right now.

For all of the cynicism we find in Washington, around the country we’re still Americans. We’re still the people who create, who innovate, who watch out for our neighbors, who build the tools that will become the envy of the world, and shape the future we hope to build. Americans of all walks of life, in large cities and small towns alike, are engaged in the work of American renewal every day. These stories are sources of hope in troubled times, sources of inspiration for the ways that we as Americans can shape our communities for the better.   

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be using this space to tell these stories. We’ll be highlighting innovative leaders and programs making a difference in the lives of ordinary Americans. We’ll be showing how ideas can move from one geography to another, how they can grow into movements, inspiring policymakers and driving change on a larger scale.

This special package of stories will, hopefully, offer a glimpse of the work of New America’s National Network, where the mission of renewing America is well underway.


Cecilia Muñoz is Vice President of Public Interest Technology and Local Initiatives at New America.