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Last week, friends, family, and colleagues came together in New York City to celebrate the life of Public Agenda’s co-founder, Dan Yankelovich. It was a fitting event to honor a man who touched so many, filled with heartfelt stories, big ideas and not a few laughs. It was also an opportunity to reflect on Dan’s profound contributions to tackling the most pressing issues of our times and the struggle for a healthier democracy.
This week, after a year of bitter and divisive politics, the president gave his first State of the Union address. Partisan reactions during the speech revealed the sharply-divided nature of our national representatives on so many issues facing the country: immigration, criminal justice reform, health care, and the economy. But does that divided chamber represent America’s views on the issues?
Part of Dan’s genius was to recognize that the public has its own way of thinking through issues and that under the right conditions the public is surprisingly capable of developing well-rounded and thoughtful views based on core American themes and values, like fairness, opportunity, pragmatism, and responsibility. Understanding the public’s views and values, and creating the conditions that make wiser public judgment and more meaningful public participation possible, is at the heart of Dan’s rationale for creating Public Agenda with Cy Vance more than four decades ago.
Dan’s ideas have never been more important or relevant than in our age of alternative facts, populist instability, demagogic leadership, and endemic mistrust. Celebrating his life was also an affirmation of our commitment to carry his ideas and work forward. Here are just a few of the ways in which we’ll be doing so this year:
- In the coming weeks and months, we will be releasing the first two installments of our Hidden Common Ground initiative, on criminal justice reform and health care. Through this work, we illuminate the solutions to tough issues that the broad public agrees on despite the partisan polarization and gridlock of politicians and pundits.
- We will also be starting on a new initiative, the Yankelovich Democracy Monitor, which will track the public’s evolving views on solutions to the problems plaguing and stunting our democracy.
- We will begin planning on the inaugural Yankelovich Prize, bestowed on a public official, community leader or public initiative that exemplifies inclusive, effective democratic engagement and problem-solving at its finest.
- And we will continue working on education, health care, jobs, and other issues critical to people’s lives and prospects, the resilience of our communities, and the health of our democracy.
Dan did not take democracy as a given, but as something to be earned every day, protected and perfected over time. That is our commitment too as we build on Dan’s ideas and take our work into a new and challenging era.