SF State News {University Communications}

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Sen. Graham shares how to make government work for you

October 9, 2009 -- Sen. Bob Graham joined Mayor Willie Brown at the Downtown Campus Oct. 8 to discuss how citizens, particularly young people, can be active in politics rather than spectators.

Sen. Bob Graham (left) speaks with Mayor Willie Brown (right)

Sen. Bob Graham (left) talks with Mayor Willie Brown (right).

A full house attended the "Conversation with Sen. Bob Graham" event where the former Florida Governor and Senator shared how ordinary people can influence public policy.

Motivation, Graham said, is a key barrier to people interacting with government. "Many people have the idea that 'you can't fight city hall so don't even make the effort,'" Graham said. He cited Candace Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, as an inspiring role model. "Candace is a tremendous example of a person who didn't say 'I can't fight city hall.' Her impact became ingrained in the values and institutions of America and we are all the beneficiaries of that."

Graham tells the stories of Americans such as Lightner in his new book, "America, the Owner's Manual: Making Government Work For You." The book provides a roadmap for how to become an effective citizen advocate.

Graham also discussed the need for a new approach to civics education in high schools and Universities. "The way civics is taught has morphed into what I call 'spectator civics,'" Graham said, comparing today's civics classes to a music appreciation course where you learn about the composer and their music but not how to play a musical instrument.

Throughout his public service career, Graham has been passionate about preparing a new generation of active citizens and since retiring in 2005 has turned his attention to training college students in advocacy and preparing them for leadership roles.

"With education we can be the people who turn the tide of declining citizenship in America," Graham said. "Education has the capacity to energize our people, to prepare them with the values and skills to be the next generation of Mayor Browns."

The event was sponsored by the Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center at SF State.

-- Elaine Bible


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