As part of the Jackson Fellows program, the Foundation was fortunate recently to host a discussion with the Fellows and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on leadership. The Attorney General is a valued member of the Foundation’s Honorary Council of Advisors. Ferguson, whose parents deeply admired Senator Jackson and instilled Jackson values in their son, made time for a one-on-one dialogue with the Fellows.
In a thought-provoking, memorable session, Ferguson couched his lessons of leadership in terms of his former hobby of chess, a sport he dedicated himself to for several formative years before embracing the law and politics as a career. “If you lose, you have no one to blame but yourself,” he began. “You were outplayed. You made a mistake. Take responsibility for your actions,” he advised. Mistakes will happen: what is important is taking ownership of them and being accountable to others. He also suggested analyzing one’s losses carefully. “The path to improvement is a careful scrutiny of the games that you have lost,” he stressed.
Continuing the chess analogy, Ferguson told the young Fellows to “imagine a position in the future and think of the possible moves to get there.” It is important to take calculated risks, he said. “As a leader, you should be willing to go to that position and accept the consequences.”
Turning to leadership and team-building, Ferguson believes that: “Your team watches you closely. If you have a leadership role, they are watching you.” This engenders in him a sense of responsibility and the importance of modeling ethical behavior. “You set the tone,” he reminded the group. “True leadership also means true listening,” he counseled.
The Fellows peppered Ferguson for advice and input that stems from their own professional dilemmas. When faced with complex situations, Ferguson told them: “Be true to yourself. Don’t compromise.”
The Fellows deeply appreciated the opportunity to engage with a leader like Attorney General Ferguson.
Senator Jackson believed deeply in the importance of good government. For him, that meant being prepared, well-informed, and ready to work with others – from either political party – to get major legislation passed. One part of the Foundation’s work is to encourage civic and political engagement, particularly among young people. We recently found a new partner in the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate to do just that. The Kennedy Institute, only a year old, and the Jackson Foundation, together sponsored a Youth Town Hall at the Institute’s home base in Boston, Massachusetts. The timing, in the midst of the 2016 presidential election, could not have been better and enthusiasm for the event was high.
One of the special aspects of the Kennedy Institute is its full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber. It’s a wonderful place to hold events and to bring in young people to learn about political life, the legislative process, the art of compromise, and the history of the Senate. We chose to hold the Youth Town Hall in the Senate Chamber and it was packed with millennials from colleges and programs throughout the Boston area. The session opened with a sense of history from both Mrs. Vicki Kennedy, President of the Institute’s Board and the Senator’s widow, and John Hempelmann, the Foundation’s president. Both highlighted the special relationship between Scoop and Ted and the manner in which each man valued colleagues and worked to pass important legislation during their years in the Senate. As John Hempelmann put it, “These men shared some important values that made them both great leaders – their desire to reach across the aisle for new perspectives, their ability to negotiate and compromise, and their keen understanding of the institution of the Senate. “
The Youth Town Hall had two excellent young moderators in Lauren Dezenski, from Politico, and Mike Deehan, of WGBH News. They deftly got the crowd to discuss the interactive survey of views of the political process – How can we get you more involved in political life? How likely are you to volunteer for a campaign? How important are the issues discussed in the presidential election to your life? Are the candidates talking about your issues? What can be improved in the civic education of our country?
The diverse crowd, filled with the children of immigrants and immigrants themselves, as well as the full spectrum of young people from the region, had strong opinions. At times, they seemed to reflect some of the well-known stereotypes of the millennial generation – they want their voices to be valued and heard. They are optimistic about the future, but cynical about politics. They have a fresh, unadulterated take on society and are not afraid to speak up. The room held Bernie Sanders supporters – lots of them – but also Trump and Clinton advocates. A 15-year old spoke up: “We need to make sure that students know that their voices be heard.” A young African American woman declared her interest in running for political office to offset the lack of women of color in the U.S. political life. An immigrant from Nigeria made an enthusiastic defense of Trump. One person made a plea for young people to “talk about ourselves as those who have a right to participate in society, rather than seeing ourselves as someone ‘less than’ equal to others.” “Our view of how we see the world is legitimate – we are not just an age group.”
As the youngest member of the Massachusetts State Senate, Senator Eric P. Lesser reminded the crowd at the end, “Take on and challenge cynicism rather than embrace it. Real change comes from the community up.”
This was the first Youth Town Hall sponsored by the Kennedy Institute and the Jackson Foundation. It was inspiring and can be watched in full here.
In early August, the Jackson Foundation will partner with Seattle CityClub for the second time this year to present its latest Civic Boot Camp series. The day-long program targets young adults and new arrivals to the city and is a fast-paced course into local history, culture, and politics. The Jackson Foundation supported the program to help CityClub engage new populations into the civic life of our community, and, in so doing, to promote some of the values that Senator Jackson embodied.
During the day, Civic Boot Camp visits key historical and civic institutions, hears from civic leaders in the region, networks, develops participants’ civic skills, and gives them tools to design their own personal plan for civic engagement. Diane Douglas, Executive Director of Seattle CityClub, says “the partnership with the Jackson Foundation is a natural fit; Civic Boot Camp was envisioned to start conversations, build knowledge, and ignite civic action. This program has done just that.”
In the spirit of Senator Jackson, Boot Campers gain an in-depth appreciation of the history around an issue in our region and have the chance to practice civic leadership skills. CityClub provided the historical curricula and the Jackson Foundation provided the civic tools to activate people’s inspiration into action.
While the core curricula of each Civic Boot Camp program is to instill in its participants the knowledge of how civic leadership and participation shapes our community, CityClub narrows down the discussion around a chosen theme. In May, Civic Boot Camp focused on”Local/Global Seattle” and highlighted the history of the “American dream” across King County as it relates to equity and demographic change. As part of a panel luncheon discussion, participants listened to civic leaders in South King County working to support civic health in immigrant communities and answered difficult questions about how to achieve equity across our community.
In two separate days in August, Civic Boot Camp will take place along Seattle’s downtown waterfront and will focus on the history and politics surrounding the downtown waterfront development plans. Participants will get a guided tour of waterfront sites from a local historian from the nonprofit HistoryLink, visiting the Pike Place Market, Olympic Sculpture Park and the Port of Seattle, and as at all Boot Camps, learn about philanthropy, social services, and opportunities for civic engagement in the region. A panel discussion will feature representatives from the Mayor’s Office, the Pike Place Market Foundation, and the Port of Seattle.
Throughout each day, the Foundation’s publication The Nature of Leadership helps Boot Campers identify ideal civic leadership traits in the leaders with whom they interact, and importantly, in themselves as public citizens. Participants wrestle with hard questions to evaluate their own civic engagement strategies: “How do you seek out partnerships to solve problems? How do you learn from others? What do you do in your community to build trust and motivate others?” With the Senator Jackson leadership story before them, participants have a valuable resource to explore their own civic engagement goals.
Sharing civic stories and learning about our community’s past is integral to the Civic Boot Camp mission. Christina Billingsley, CityClub’s coordinator for the Civic Boot Camp program, notes “The partnership with the Jackson Foundation and CityClub has provided an innovative platform for newcomers to the region and young people to get connected, appreciate our past, and become better informed about their own political choices and civic involvement.” The Foundation and CityClub hope Boot Campers will continue the conversations started here and translate this knowledge to improve civic health across King County. The Jackson Foundation is proud to be part of this effort to engage young people, new immigrants, and diverse populations into the heart of civic life in the Seattle community.
Our legacy compels us to honor the idea of crossing the political aisle to get things done, whether it be in Washington, DC or in any of the states of this nation. The Jackson Foundation has held a number of sessions promoting civil discourse, with a particular emphasis on bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress and civic engagement and respectful dialogue here at home in Seattle, Washington. Earlier this week we held a packed, public forum with Seattle CityClub where we combined our two target areas, featuring U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-Washington State) and Dave Reichert (R-Washington State) in conversation with long-time political journalist Robert Mak. Enjoy the full dialogue below:
Congressmen Kilmer and Reichert reflected on the obstacles to political progress on issues from solving the budget deficit to finding common ground on affordable health care. Both stressed that voting for what is right – rather than just blindly following party allegiances – helps to center them in their work on the Hill. “I’m a thinker,” Reichert stressed, “and I use my skills learned from when I was a detective to figure out the facts on an issue. That helps lead me to where I can take a stand.” Kilmer, who has only been on the Hill for a few years, meets monthly with a bipartisan group of his peers to seek consensus, and, presumably, friendship that allows bonds to form beyond political ideologies and interests. “When people ask me if I am frustrated by gridlock on the Hill, I tell them that I don’t think that’s an acceptable reaction,” Kilmer explained. “I am motivated. I intend to accomplish something. I am not interested in wasting time.”
Both lawmakers impressed the crowd. The gathering was intended to highlight how the Washington State delegation can serve as a model for civil discourse in today’s fractured political environment.