My name is Jeff Edelstein, and I am the founder of the Campaign for Courage. I am a public-policy mediator and the author of From Oath to Action: Simple Acts of Courage to Rebuild American Democracy. For over twenty-five years I have helped resolve contentious public-policy disputes throughout the U.S.
Over and over, I have seen people in deep conflict come together to solve important public-policy problems. I have seen agreements reached that were thought impossible. I have seen conflicts resolved that had festered for decades. I have seen fractured communities brought together and healed.
And I observed an inescapable fact: the breakthroughs almost always happen when one person steps forward and says "enough!" When one person courageously takes action. Maybe not a large action. But one courageous act leads to another, and another, and eventually the momentum is unstoppable.
But in the place where America's most important decisions are made - Washington, D.C. - courage seems to be in short supply.
So I started thinking: what if instead of the constant barrage of attacks on our leaders, the toxic negativity our political system subjects them to, we were to encourage them with a positive message, a call to take one step, one "simple act of courage"? These might be small steps for any one politician, but collectively they could transform the workings of our government.
Out of these ideas came From Oath to Action: Simple Acts of Courage to Rebuild American Democracy, which led me to create this campaign. As I say in the beginning of the book:
My goal in publishing From Oath to Action is to offer a new vision of what political leadership is, or could be, in the 21st century. At a time when so many Americans seem fed up with our political system, I wish to provide a ray of hope. We can rebuild our democracy. The path I suggest may take time, but it just might take us where we need to go.
From Oath to Action presents a rare political message. Put aside the exposés, screeds, and rants. They just feed the flames of partisanship. Put aside the manifestos seeking constitutional reform. They are mere pipedreams. This doesn’t mean we don’t need to fix our political institutions. We do.
But institutions change only when the people in them change and most people change just one step at a time. That's not a cause for despair, but rather a cause for hope. Because one step at a time is achievable.
Many who pursue public office have their hearts in the right place. They start out intending to do what’s right. Along the way, however, the system wears them down. Eventually their courage—their willingness to take on the system—gets lost.
But within nearly every politician, I believe, a spark of courage still burns. Courage to stop and listen. Courage to admit they don’t know all the answers. Courage to take action, even at the risk of failure.
What we, the American people, can do—what we must do—is to help re-ignite those sparks. Let us call for our leaders to rebuild our democracy, one simple act of courage at a time.
In the pages ahead, I suggest twelve such acts. They all have one thing in common: they require no new laws, no changes to the constitution, no fixing of congressional rules. Any politician can undertake any one of these acts any time they choose. All it takes is a little courage.
By the time you’ve finished this book, I hope you will be inspired to spread its message: share these ideas with friends, family and colleagues; contact your members of Congress; speak out publicly; or take whatever action suits you best. And I encourage you to offer up your own ideas for acts of courage to rebuild our democracy at www.fromoathtoaction.com. We’re all in this together. I invite you to join this endeavor.
And thus, I have launched the Campaign for Courage, heeding my book's message that actions matter more than words. If I am to be true to that message, I need to do more than just publish a book. I need to work to turn its ideas into action. I hope you’ll join me.