On the same day that Pope Francis challenged Congress to renew a "spirit of cooperation" in Washington, D.C., two former U.S. Senate majority leaders in the other Washington called for more civic engagement to end political polarization.
Tom Daschle and Trent Lott were part of a spirited discussion with more than 300 partners (employees) at the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle.
Despite ideological differences, Daschle and Lott are advocates for bipartisan solutions for the nation’s issues. And they believe that ultimately it’s up to the American people to “demand greater statesmanship and legislative achievement” from political leaders in Washington, D.C.
“There’s no way this country can live in perpetuity as a democracy unless we as citizens care enough to remain engaged and vote,” said Daschle, a member of the Democratic Party from South Dakota who served in office from 1987 through 2005.
“Everyone has a voice and a key component of making a difference is using that voice by engaging in discussions like this one and then voting,” added Lott, a Republican from Mississippi who was in office from 1989 to 2007.
A 'Cycle of Dysfunction' in Politics
Many of the Starbucks partners in the standing-room-only crowd wanted to know what they can personally do to help the country get past partisan gridlock on a national level.
Political polarization is deeply embedded in the United States and has intensified the past two decades, according to Pew Research. With the 2016 presidential election season underway, the Bipartisan Policy Center and others are trying to engage and educate citizens.
Founded in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is a non-profit organization that brings Democrats and Republicans together to tackle difficult issues facing the country. Former Senator Trent Lott serves as a BPC senior fellow.
The former senators cite low voter turnout as a fundamental, yet fixable problem that adds to the “cycle of dysfunction” in politics. Voter turnout for the 2014 general midterm election was the lowest it's been in any election cycle since World War II. About 38 percent of the voting-eligible population participated, continuing a steady decline in midterm voter participation that has spanned several decades. Daschle noted primary election voting rates in cities and states across the country are “usually dismal.”
Starbucks Leadership in Civic Engagement
Both Daschle and Lott see opportunity with companies, like Starbucks, that show leadership in civic engagement and with young people who are finding avenues to get involved and informed through social media.
The former senators will continue the discussion started at Starbucks, when they speak later today on “A Bipartisan Blueprint for Civility and Democracy” at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. Daschle and Lott are also set to publish a book as the election year begins, in January of 2016, titled “Crisis Point: Why We Must – and How We Can – Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America.”
Distinguished visitors frequently visit the Starbucks headquarters, including more than two dozen national, state and local elected leaders as well as international dignitaries over the past year. In the months ahead, partners will hear from more political leaders and candidates, both at the company headquarters and in stores across the country. Next month partners will meet the youngest current governor in the U.S. and the first woman to serve as Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley.
“As Starbucks continues to define the role and responsibility of a public company, we believe we can use our scale for good by encouraging voter participation and civic engagement ” said John Kelly, Starbucks senior vice president of Global Responsibility and Public Policy.