Working to Create a Thriving Democracy

Paul A. Valdez, Associate Director, Center for Community & Civic Engagement, Bowling Green State University

May 6, 2019

Opportunities like the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Annual Meeting always help bring focus and remind me that there are so many people and organizations working to create a thriving democracy.  In June of 2018 I attended my second CLDE meeting and as I prepare to attend the 2019 meeting, I wanted to take a moment to reflect about the past year and share how the CLDE has informed my values and practice as a community engagement professional.

Last year’s conference was a wonderful place to connect with colleagues passionate about engaging students in the electoral process and preparing for the 2018 Midterms.  From the presenters, sponsors, and national organizations I came away with great connections, well developed and tested resources, and a confidence that we could deepen and scale up our efforts.  The formal sessions and the informal conversations with peers were so valuable for me because it reminded me that there is a vibrant network of people passionate about this work.  I returned to my campus enthusiastic about the possibilities and worked with my student leader team to implement new strategies and goals.  As many of us experienced in November, youth voter turnout increased significantly.  I know the knowledge, resources, and connections established at CLDE definitely contributed to that increase. 

The CLDE planning team does an excellent job curating a program that brings together exceptional researchers, practitioners, students, thought-leaders, and organizations to foster stimulating debates and help us position our work around the Theory of Change.  That framework and the intentional design from speaker selection to session format has definitely influenced how I work with others on my campus to design workshops and events for students, faculty, and community partners.  Another aspect of the conference that I greatly appreciate is how the values of democratic participation are manifest in the meeting planning, venue, sessions, and activities.  It is important to be congruent with our values, and I believe the organizers of the CLDE meeting do that very well.

Much of my work involves working with faculty to develop community-based learning courses and research.  Many of the conversations I had with faculty colleagues at past CLDEs are the same conversations I have regularly with faculty on my campus.  From how to effectively prepare students to engage in community work to managing conflict and difficult conversations.  The CLDE meeting provided a space to have more of these conversations to hear multiple perspectives and models for dialogue.  Many of which I share with my campus faculty colleagues and I have referred back to throughout the past year.  Additionally, I appreciate the meeting space to hear emerging conversations and opportunities within the arena of civic and democratic engagement.

Lastly, the CLDE is a vibrant community of colleagues and peers.  I come away from the meeting feeling inspired and fortunate to engage with an incredible network of professionals.  Whether sharing a meal or engaging in workshops, I have always enjoyed learning from other colleagues in the field who are passionate about this work as well.  

So come to CLDE because you seek a robust network of colleagues.  Come because you will inevitably take away critical resources/conversations/tools to apply to your campus and community.  Come because you want to explore the plethora of ways to support a thriving democracy.  I hope to see you in Florida June 5-9! 

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