The latest presidential election season has many of us wondering if something has gone fundamentally awry with our democratic system. If there’s a silver lining to the “high negatives” of the presidential candidates and a pileup of allegations and counter-allegations that substitute for debate, it is that we’re coming to realize that our democracy is not impervious to neglect. It doesn’t run itself. It requires that we as citizens do our job of following the issues, asking questions, engaging in dialogue, and otherwise participating in the system. In a word, it requires that we engage.
This theme permeated a full day of dialogue at our 27th Envisioning California Conference on October 7 at the beautiful Tsakopoulos Galleria. Our Voices: Advancing Civic Engagement in California was attended by about 200 people, including staff from the Capitol, representatives from local governments, members of the judiciary, faculty and students, political advocates, and many others. It was an opportunity to talk about how to ensure that California’s democratic system remain robust, with genuine and meaningful engagement by all Californians.
The conference involved six panel discussions throughout the day which focused on different aspects of civic engagement. Topics included voting, the ballot initiative process, student and adult education, engagement with local governments, and demographic change.
The centerpiece of the day was a lunchtime discussion among civic engagement leaders from all three branches of California government. Capital Public Radio’s Beth Ruyak moderated the insightful dialogue among Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court), Alex Padilla (California Secretary of State), and Susan Eggman (Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Civic Engagement). The wide-ranging discussion explored strategies for engaging all Californians with their government and their communities.
The day ended with a reception where conference participants could continue the conversations of the day over drinks from California wineries and breweries. This has become a tradition for the Envisioning California conference. We’d like to thank Scott Harvey Wines, Sicilia Vineyards, Drakes Brewing Company, and Sudwerk Brewery for sharing their products.
We have not yet picked a topic for next year’s conference, but we have set the date for October 5, 2017, at the Tsakopolous Galleria. We encourage you to save the date. And feel free to provide your suggestions for a conference topic!