Not too many years ago, a college professor kicked off my college senior-year Public Policy practicum course with a single book and a simple objective. The book: Design Like You Give a Damn, an inspiration source for those thinking up innovative ways to address humanitarian crises. The objective: It is time to take your ideas out of the classroom and into the real world; we have talked public policy for quite some time, and now it is time to live it. Fingers tingling with anticipation after hearing what waited ahead, I never could have imagined what might result from such a curriculum, and perhaps neither could my classmates. Sparking an endless curiosity for the concept of public innovation, a simple class planted the seeds for a drastic re-shifting of my own priorities.
Prior to this course, my two great interests—the public good and the arts—had always seemed at odds. Two loves (it appeared then) that ne’er the twain should meet. At the time, I was finishing up dual majors in political science and public policy. My political inclinations were clearly winning out. The logic seemed simple enough: “If you want to make a difference, you go into politics.” And there was little surrounding me in a twenty-first century liberal arts university to dispute this claim, particularly as my studies focused upon reading, essay-writing, and honing my understanding of the democratic process.
But, as someone who was just as likely to have her head in an interior design magazine as in Plato’s Republic—and perhaps not one more than the other—I often wondered why I had been so unfortunately gifted with competing interests. It seemed that if I went the art/design route, I would be giving up my concern for issues related to the common good and settling for a more materialistic way of life. Seeping with an overdose of asceticism, my train of thought went something like this: planning outfits, decorating for events, drawing pictures, how can these be good? Meanwhile, as I pushed off in the other direction, my soul hungered to be plugged into the creative arts despite my misguided ideals.
I liked the piece just for its frank, first-person example that urges the reader toward not sitting idly by and limiting their activism to buying fair trade coffee (although, Rob, I will continue to do so, even if I rather agree). I have tried lately to get involved in some similar work in my neighborhood, though my work schedule is prohibitive. The article was a great reminder to keep trying.
But enough about me. What's possibly more interesting is the potential link to my esteemed colleagues' work on the 29 to 42 campaign, which seeks to "fortify Canada's civic core and change the charitable tax credit from 29% to 42%." I can't find an American equivalent, but I love every little bit of this, from signing the manifesto (we Commenters are uncommonly fond of manifestos), to donating more to charity, to volunteering more hours (which, incidentally, was not a popular suggestion down here when the President brought it up last year, but hopefully that will change). I'm not even sure I know what a charitable tax credit is, or what changing it means, but my proverbial hat is off.
My fellow Americans, can we get something like this together, too?