The focus of the 21st annual Elected Officials Retreat is “The Future of the American Dream: The Changing Landscape of Work and Democracy.” On the surface, the future of work and the future of democracy may seem like disparate topics, but one need only look at recent events to see that work and, more specifically, the opportunity to earn what is considered a living wage, has an indelible effect on individuals’ perspectives on government. Recent works like “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance illustrate, from one point of view, the way Americans have felt ignored and forgotten by both government and industry, and the impact that has on their worldview.
The 2017 program, as a result, sought to do a few things. First, the Retreat shed light on the anticipated changes to work and workforce needs over the next five to ten years and beyond, as a result of automation and other contributing factors. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, while automation is expected to increase global productivity and GDP, it also has the potential to significantly disrupt our workforce and other existing systems. The Retreat examined this issue from a national perspective, with the assistance of Sree Ramaswamy, a leading expert on this issue; from a local perspective, with civic and community leaders Gregg Behr, Bill Strickland, and Dennis Yablonsky; and, taking advantage of our region’s expertise in robotics and technology, Mark Kamlet from Carnegie Mellon examined the issue from an academic perspective. In a natural continuation of that conversation, on Thursday evening, Mayor Bill Peduto led a discussion on corporate social responsibility and the role that governments and communities play in working with corporate leaders to protect and preserve citizens’ rights.
On Friday, the Institute took the abstract concept of civility and attempted to make it more actionable by working with religious leaders, media experts, and others to examine our role in preserving civility in our political and community activities. Religious leaders, accustomed to having to address diverse viewpoints, were ideally situated to begin Friday’s conversation on civility. Rabbi James Gibson, Imam Adjul Wajid, Dr. John Wallace, and Bishop David Zubik opened Friday with a discussion on their roles as religious leaders as well as the roles that others in the community can play in encouraging civility.
Then, the Retreat examined gerrymandering and how that process affected political discourse in Pennsylvania and across the nation. David Thornburgh of the Committee of Seventy and Ken Gormley, President of Duquesne University, presented on the history of the redistricting process in Pennsylvania and new initiatives to educate Pennsylvanians about the importance of redistricting.
Finally, Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew Research Center, explored the role of the media in advancing civility in our nation. Given the controversy surrounding the media’s role in fostering misinformation and sensationalist rhetoric, this presentation and subsequent discussion was essential to gaining a better understanding of what the media can and should do in this era of mistrust.
Coleman Award Winners
Please note that the titles and organizations listed reflect the position held by the awardee when he/she received the award.
- Terry Miller, Director, Institute of Politics, University of Pittsburgh
- Laurie Mulvey, former Director of Service Demonstrations, Office of Child Development, University of Pittsburgh
- Tracy Soska, assistant professor and director of COSA, School of Social Work, University of Pittsburgh