The NCoC itself is a non-profit organization, founded in 1946 and chartered by Congress in 1953 for the purpose of encouraging engaged citizenship. It began as an effort to continue the sense of cooperation and unity that grew during WWII. NCoC's Civic Health Initiative (CHI) is a partnership with dozens of states, cities, and issue groups that aims to foster data-centric, locally-led initiatives to improve civic health. In 2009, Congress passed legislation that made CHI the most definitive measure of civic engagement in our country. NCoC has a goal to extend CHI partnerships to include all 50 states by 2020. In partnership with the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute, NCoC also has a leading role in the Service Exchange, a technology platform that connects volunteers, sponsors, and organizations to promote a national year of service as a 'rite of passage' for Americans 18-28 years old.
About 350 of us gathered for this years Annual Conference in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. One gentleman at my table asked me about the lapel pin on my suit jacket. I told him it was from West Point, and that I graduated in 1983. He was also a graduate, from the class of 1958, and a retired general. He told me about his efforts with codeofsupport.org, and I told him of my efforts with accountabilitycitizenship.org, Then came his million-dollar question: "What's your mission?" Simple enough on its face, the "mission" for military professionals is a technical term--a concise statement of an organization's task and purpose. My answer: AccountabilityCitizenship.org increases voter participation to grow a community of positive, informed and engaged citizens.
The day after the conference, I visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I have visited this museum before, but it is always a powerful reminder that our system of government is not immune to the kind of evil the Nazi's inflicted on the world 83 years ago. One need not look hard to see that many current messages and trends are eerie echoes of the history recounted in the USHMM: a gridlocked Congress, a bevy of idealogues jockeying to enhance their personal power in the name of patriotism, simmering anti-immigrant sentiments, persistent racial unrest, and a precarious global economy. The Nazis were brought to power by a minority. We must encourage broad participation in our political process as the best insurance against similar forms of extremism in our own country.
When I wrote Accountability Citizenship, I had no idea of NCoC's existence or its initiatives. Since attending my first conference in 2013, I have become an advocate of the value and efforts of NCoC to support locally led initiatives to foster positively informed and engaged citizens. It is no accident that NCoC was founded in the wake of the holocaust. The people who started it had just lived through WWII, and the horror of the death camps was recent history. These people knew an active and informed citizenry was the best way to prevent this history from repeating itself. The information age has changed the skills needed for effective citizenship. Traditional institutions that taught young Americans their role in our republic are no longer sufficient. We should all embrace the goal of connecting NCoC with communities in all 50 states by 2020, and we should encourage young Americans to consider the Year of Service initiative.