If you’re like me, when you hear the word collaboration, the first thing that springs to mind is the American political system. Okay, maybe not. But if Andrew Kaplan and Sam Gilman have anything to say about it, someday that might actually be true.

Millennial LeadersThese collaborative Millennial leaders formed Common Sense Action (CSA) as sophomores at Brown University. It is the first and only bipartisan advocacy organization made up entirely of Millennials. Common Sense Action has chapters on 40 campuses in 20 states and they’re building a movement of Millennial voters committed to repairing politics and changing the tone of political discussion.

CSA operates under the assumption that you don’t need to think alike to have a meaningful, civilized, productive political discussion. Kaplan remembers a unique high school debate group that influenced CSA’s structure, “We got to discuss all different perspectives on an issue – not to try to win the debate but rather to learn something from each other.” Years later Kaplan realized it was during those Thursday afternoons that he learned best. He truly enjoyed talking with people who disagreed with him.

Sam Gilman
Sam Gilman

That unorthodox debate group is partly responsible for CSA’s bipartisan and rather than non-partisan identification. Those disparate views are a strength. But, they can also present challenges. Gilman explains, “We seek to find common ground but that common ground is not the exact middle – it’s not the 50 yard line.” He admits having members who hold strong political views can make it difficult to avoid political talking points. Gilman adds, “The challenge for us is to engage on the issue. That’s where the opportunity lies.”

So what has CSA figured out that our elected officials seem to be missing?

They’ve created “norms” or rules to govern their discussions. The simple guidelines listed below lead to a space that’s conducive to conversation and collaboration instead politics. (Side Note: I’m considering bringing these norms home to make holidays with my family more “collaborative.”)

  • make space take space: each participant must be sure to make space for other’s opinions but also take opportunities to share opposing opinions and be heard.
  • honest space safe space: each participant is encouraged to share honestly and to speak up if another participant shares an opinion that makes him/her feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
  • trust intent name impact: each participant should be trusted to have the group’s best interest at heart but must also be made aware of the effect his or her statements have on other members of the group.
Andrew Kaplan

By abiding by these norms during their winter summit, CSA was able to collaborate to create the Agenda for Generational Equality. Gilman suggests, “Members of Congress should take a page out of the book of our chapter leaders. If they spent time questioning assumptions, challenging where people were coming from but ensuring that what was said in the room together didn’t make it into the media, I guarantee we would have better policy.”

The friends recognize they are learning lessons that will affect their future leadership. Through CSA they are experiencing the benefits of connection and collaboration in practice.

As you can imagine, this is a busy time of year for CSA. Chapter members across the country are working to register Millennial voters for the midterm elections on November 4th. Common Sense Action is determined to keep decisions from being made without all the stakeholders at the table.

They believe Millennials cannot afford to wait to get involved in the political process. It is vital that they vote in the November 4th midterm elections.

“The voices of the future will be left out of planning for the future if we don’t engage now.”

Kaplan explains, “As the newest and youngest generation of voters, Millennials will be living with the consequences of a lot of policy choices being made now and those that will be made in the future.” It’s imperative that Millennials participate in order to have their priorities included in the political conversation. Participation is the only way to shape policy. Gilman agrees adding, “The voices of the future will be left out of planning for the future if we don’t engage now.”

The Thin Difference Team encourages you to get out to vote on November 4th.