Former Florida Gov. and U.S. Senator Bob Graham spoke Tuesday night about the newest edition of his popular book “America, the Owner’s Manual: You Can Fight City Hall — and Win” and how citizens can bring about change through civic engagement.
The University of Florida alumnus spoke at the Pugh Hall Ocora in the appropriately named Bob Graham Center for Public Service, and began by quoting the words of Thomas Jefferson.
“Democracy was a form of government built upon citizens being willing to first understand and then execute their rights and responsibilities in a way that benefited their neighbors and the new nation of America.”
Graham and his co-author, Chris Hand, former chief of staff for Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, visited the center to discuss the book’s message of civic engagement.
“The fact that there are so many people so dissatisfied that this is a exactly the time when we need to look for initiatives that will get citizens involved,” Graham said.
In light of the tumultuous and divisive election season, Graham and Hand, a graduate of UF’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law, both emphasized that the principles discussed in the book are important now more than ever.
“You don’t learn how to function in democracy without actually doing it,” Graham said. “We need to inspire people that there is a better future if they will become an active part.”
Prior to the event, Graham and Hand sat down with WUFT to discuss their book, the outcome of the 2016 general election and how everyday citizens can make government work for them.
“Americans have shown us day after day and time after time that citizens can be effective in moving the government in their direction,” Hand said.
When asked about the election results and why the 35 “tips from the pros” written in the newest edition of the book are even more crucial to know today, Graham was convinced people are looking for change and that a working knowledge of civics could bring about those changes.
“Americans demonstrated that at least a substantial percentage of them were very cynical about government,” Graham said. “They thought it wasn’t listening to them, it wasn’t acting on the things that they thought were important, and in many ways, they thought government was the enemy.”
Graham went against the lack of civic education in public schools and what he called “spectator civics.”
“I hope that we will begin to introduce civics back to our schools,” Graham said. “It doesn’t teach you to actually play the game.”
Graham and Hand mentioned successful anecdotes from the book in which focused, grassroots efforts by everyday citizens made important changes to communities. Among them was the story of the formation of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in California and a political coalition in Georgia that demanded the state’s power utility move toward solar power.
“We have multiple stories in the book of Americans who have used the skills of effective citizenship at every level, including on college campuses to make government responsive to them,” Hand said.
Some UF students who attended Graham’s lecture felt citizens could make changes with civic engagement while others were more cynical.
“I think most kids are not informed, but everything has a domino effect, I believe… if everyone gets involved in the small things, it could make a big difference,” said David Rodriguez, a 20-year-old public relations major.
Others, like Kai-Paul Roehrbein, a 19-year-old international studies major, were more cynical about politics and the impact of everyday citizens.
“I would say that voting is the extent of my civic engagement,” Roehrbein said. “I think politicians have their own way of making an impact no matter what the people think.”
Graham and Hand both are optimistic though that supporters and detractors of President-elect Donald Trump will be able to hold him accountable by staying consistently engaged with the systems of government dictating their lives.
At the end of the talk, Hand recited a quote from former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson — “As citizens of this democracy, you are the rulers and the ruled, the law-givers and the law-abiding, the beginning and the end.”