Perspectives on America’s future

acoypl-photo

Northern Ireland’s coalition government sets an example for America’s increasingly divided political leaders, according to a visiting group of young US politicians and activists.

A bipartisan delegation from the American Council of Young Political Leaders met a range of political leaders and officials, including the First and deputy First Ministers, Chief Constable and Lord Chief Justice.

Four Democrats attended:

  • Kim Coleman, Deputy Director of Finance and Compliance at Emily’s List (a feminist lobby group);
  • Oscar de la Torre, Executive Director of the Pico Youth and Family Center in Santa Monica, California;
  • Samuel Liebert, a councillor on Janesville City Council, Wisconsin; and
  • Chris McCannell, the group escort and Vice-President of the APCO Worldwide consultancy.

The Republicans were represented by:

  • Nick Kachiroubas, clerk of the city of Crystal Lake, Illinois; and
  • Stephanie Malone, a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives.

agendaNi met the group at Parliament Buildings, after they met with the five main parties and observed an Assembly plenary debate.

Oscar de la Torre recognised that ‘peace walls’ remained a problem but was impressed that Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were “working in co-operation, really understanding the concept of coalition-building.”  He added: “Everyone here, I think, is very careful to not derail the peace process in the wording and how they frame things.”

Journalists have often found that used as an excuse to cover-up stories (e.g. over the payment of ministerial drivers) and it’s noteworthy that the phrase ‘peace process’ is still being used in political circles five years after the Assembly was restored.

Stephanie Malone found Stormont’s form of government “still fresh” and enjoyed watching that as a process.

American politics, of course, is currently deeply polarised on ideological grounds.  Asked how that could be overcome, Kim Coleman pointed to the example of the First and deputy First Minister.

“Obviously there’s so much fighting and so much polarisation, and not much getting done in our country right now,” she said. “[If] people come together and try to do what is best for their constituents, and not just stick to a party line, then we’d be able to get a lot more done.”

Malone commented that politicians should “put our egos aside and look more to the generation that’s coming up.”  Thinking of her three-year old niece, she asked: “What kind of world or what kind of society am I leaving for her?”

Agreeing, Sam Liebert found it “very inspiring” to see the two men coming together.  In his view, strict rules on MLAs’ spending at election time made for a “level playing field”.
This contrasts with America, where politicians may “feel beholden to large campaign contributors” and therefore not always make the best decisions for their constituents.  “Sometimes, the saying is: ‘Why don’t poor people hire some lobbyists,’” he related.  “They can’t because they’re poor so no-one’s really lobbying for them per se at a professional level.”

Hope

As expected, the USA’s early history was the basis for the group’s ambitions for their country in the years ahead.

“My hope is that America’s best days are still ahead of us and we have a lot to look forward to,” Nick Kachiroubas said, adding that young leaders could help to clear the vision through the “smoke” of its current problems.

Chris McCannell wanted to see the USA moving forward “as a nation,” and not divided on political, ethnic or religious backgrounds.  “It’s really on fulfilling the dreams of our forefathers, out of many people one,” he explained, “and a fair and equitable nation, and also one that can continue to play an exceptional role in the world.”  McCannell is a former staffer with Senator George Mitchell and saw a continued role for America ‘exporting’ democracy and peace to other countries.

“I hope that we can keep focused on what America is and who we are,” Malone added, “that we keep working on it, and we don’t start to turn on each other, and get so frustrated with the way the economy is.  Step back and look, and be grateful for what we have, and not lose sight of it as we do go forward.”

Liebert concurred and wanted to look past partisan issues and get to the heart of the matter: “Jobs, making sure that we leave our children and grandchildren a better country, a cleaner country than what we found, passing the torch.”  He had no Republican friends before the trip but now thought that “we have a lot more in common than we don’t” and hoped that America could “move past the past.”

The country’s origins, too, were the basis for de la Torre’s hopes i.e. living up to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Native Americans, he noted, had thought seven generations ahead and this could be applied to the environment and social justice.  Being a “nation of nations” would be the best example the USA could give to the world.

Motivations for entering politics varied from person to person.  Coleman was seeking to improve women’s rights.  De la Torre wanted to see “justice for all” as set out in the Pledge of Allegiance, specifically dignity in the work place, fair pay and a good standard of living.

Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage was the main reason why Liebert took up politics.  His younger sister is gay and he believes that current state and federal policy is a “grievous error”.
Initially a reluctant politician, Malone is now in her second term and, when visiting schools, she enjoys telling young people that they can be involved: “Our government is made up of all different types of personalities and peoples.”

McCannell wanted to make a difference for his community in Maine and his country.  Public service had always been a strong ideal in his family.  America was founded on citizens volunteering and stepping up to leadership roles, Kachiroubas remarked.  “For me, it’s real simple.  It’s about service and service to others so, as long as there’s an opportunity, I think at some level I will try to be involved.”

Related Posts