Making America Work: A "No Labels" Event That Seeks to End Congressional Gridlock

Early on the morning of Monday, January 13, in New York City's famous Marriott Marquis hotel, 1,500 people met in a ballroom to register for an event entitled "Making America Work." The people in this ballroom ranged in age, race, religion, sexual orientation, and political beliefs but they shared one thing in common: they were tired of the caustic hyper-partisan behavior that has become characteristic of Congress in recent years. The organization that was sponsoring this event was No Labels, an activist group in Washington D.C. was launched two years ago and continues to be committed to having bipartisan cooperation in Congress.

The event began at around 8:30 a.m., with a warm welcome from No Labels co-founder and former city council member of Atlanta, GA Lisa Border. She discussed the itinerary and fired up the crowd, while also introducing five basic principles of leadership that politicians should live by. These include telling the truth, governing for the future and not for the next election, putting country first before the party, being responsible and accountable, and working together to produce viable solutions. Soon afterwards the welcome and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, Mary Anne and Abby Huntsman sang a beautiful duet of their own arrangement of "God Bless America." Their father, Governor Jon Huntsman, is the former governor of Utah and the former U.S. ambassador to China.  

Directly afterwards, all of the co-founders of No Labels spoke to the audience at length about the founding of the organization. It began two years ago as a grass roots effort that started county-by-county, then state-by-state. Feelings of frustration regarding political gridlock in Washington D.C. is what inspired the co-founders to launch this movement in order to create a dialogue between people of different political backgrounds. The three primary reforms that interest the co-founders of No Labels include advocating for national interests, empowering ideas into actions, and building problem solvers in Congress. Along with these overarching reforms, there are a few focused reforms that they have in mind that are making headway in Congress. The first is called No Budget, No Pay, proposing that if Congress cannot pass a budget they should not get paid. Another is an annual fiscal report from Congress. It should be discussed in a joint session of Congress and be televised for the American people, ensuring that the government is delivering the facts directly. The third and final one is called the 5-Day Work Week. Surprisingly enough, members of Congress are only in D.C. for 2 to 3 days a week; most of their time is spent campaigning, fundraising, or doing publicity in their home state. No Labels seeks a rebirth of real leadership in the executive branch and Congress, and has started making some progress by meeting with members of the House and organizing public hearings in the Senate.

No Labels co-founder Andrew Tisch then introduced Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who spoke about his early experiences as a city council member as well as his belief that no race, religion, or party "has a monopoly of the truth." He passionately delivered his conviction that the independence, which forged this great nation, has graduated to become interdependence, suggesting that it is the connection that we create with diverse peoples that makes us distinctly American. According to Booker, Americans have a choice: accepting things as they are or fighting back and taking responsibility for what is happening.

The next speaker is one of the most prominent voices of the Independent Party, Senator Angus King from Maine. He introduced some great advice to the audience, namely that compromise is the basis of our lives, born of respect and relationship. Compromise should also be the basis of government, something that we haven’t seen in recent years. Some important words that he said he heard from one of his constituents when he was a younger politician were "regret the things that you did, not the things you didn't do."

Soon after, New Labels co-founder Kiki McLean moderated a discussion by 10 "problem solvers" — members of Congress who are committed to working together to develop solutions to important problems. They all spoke about how No Labels is the only opportunity for congressmen and women to discuss their constituents and problems together constructively. Some advice they had for younger people included embracing all perspectives and trying to understand other sides to controversial issues.

The keynote speakers came next: former Governor Jon Huntsman from Utah and Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia. They talked about how they had become friends despite their political differences and were encouraged by No Labels to meet members from their opposite party. Governor Huntsman spoke passionately about the culture of problem solving that exists in this country at present, and that Democrats and Republicans alike need to come together in order to fulfill America's unmet potential. He and Senator Manchin emphasized that our greatest enemies are apathy and cynicism. Senator Manchin also discussed the significance of parents imparting knowledge to their children. According to him, there are five promises that every parent should make to a child; the first four of which are love, health, safety, and quality education. The last one is a bit more difficult, because it is the promise of instilling civic duty and community service in each child. In that way, that child can learn to appreciate the American political system and what it has to offer.

Just before the last part of the event, award-winning singer Deborah Cox did a fun, original performance of "America the Beautiful" while imparting a few of her own words regarding political unity. The last portion of the event included a simulation of problem solving hosted by Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington Bureau Chief. Through using experienced panelists and assigning them roles that were quite similar to what they do in real life, Sesno was able to create a realistic situation about how people from both parties in the public and private sector could collaborate to develop necessary solutions to crisis situations.

After the event closed out, I had some time to reflect over the event. Around 1,500 people were in attendance with several thousands more watching it as it was live-streamed online. All of them were committed to the common cause of getting Congress to work for the American people again. Many of us had thought that it was too late for that to happen; No Labels, on the other hand, has given us hope that we might succeed in this endeavor.

If you feel that you might be interested in No Labels and its mission, please visit http://www.nolabels.org/ for more details.