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Making Hope Real

March 19, 2008


I like Rich Harwood. In an age that applauds cynicism and celebrates snarkiness, Rich is a throwback to a more idealistic time. As the founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, he has worked for twenty years to change "the negative conditions in society that too often divide people and keep them from making progress in their neighborhoods, communities, and the nation as a whole."

To use terms long out of fashion, Rich is both a pamphleteer and a public intellectual. Long before Hillary Clinton hit on the idea of a listening tour, Rich was traveling the country, listening to and talking with ordinary Americans about their fears, hopes, and aspirations.

In his latest essay, Make Hope Real: How We Can Accelerate Change for the Public Good, Rich asserts that the nation's public life and politics are undergoing "radical change." Indeed, the

very nature of our relationships to one another as individuals; to public, private, and civic groups and institutions; to our communities and the larger society; and to our very notion of what is "public" and what is "private" have all been shaken loose and are up for re-negotiation....

According to Harwood, the turmoil in American society is driven by four "broken covenants":

  • Lost faith in the American dream
  • A free-for-all on basic values
  • Materialism and consumerism run amuck
  • A breakdown in community

He's an optimist, however. The mostly bottom-up effort to rebuild devastated neighborhoods in New Orleans, the proliferation of policy-related blogs and citizen journalists, the candidacy of Barack Obama -- all point to Americans' growing disenchantment with the politics of paralysis and their impatience to get on with the important work at hand. The question now, he says, is to understand the change that is occuring and figure out what we, as ordinary citizens, can do to accelerate it. 

Make Hope Real attempts to provide a framework for that discussion based on four or five key ideas: finding the "sweet spot" of public life; embracing citizen-based values; supporting a new breed of leader; and promoting a renewed sense of civic engagement.

Rich has a lot more to say about these issues in the essay, on the Harwood Institute site, and in a series of articles he wrote for PND in 2004. To download an electronic copy of Make Hope Real (or to order a hard copy), click here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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