Helping Your Voice to Be Heard in Congress

May 12, 2022

Our executive director, Jillian Youngblood, recently joined a group of colleagues for a roundtable discussion with the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress to discuss how policymakers could engage with the people who elect them. The following are her remarks for that meeting.



MAY 11, 2022

Chair Kilmer and Vice Chair Timmons, Members of the Committee:

My name is Jillian Youngblood and I am the executive director of Civic Genius, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to overcome political polarization.

Like many of my colleagues, I was heartened during the 116th Congress to see this Committee pass Recommendation 83, to “establish a district exchange program to allow Members to use the Members’ Representational Allowance for traveling to other Members’ districts.”

District exchanges offer powerful opportunities to understand perspectives and priorities through the eyes of a colleague from across the aisle – and those of their constituents. Some Members have benefited from participation in the Bipartisan Policy Center’s American Congressional Exchange, which reveals common ground, builds trust, and lays a foundation for working together on substantive policy matters.

Even with the barrier of funding for these trips eliminated, however, Members have little infrastructure to help them apply these experiences to the broader work of Congress or to our nation’s polarization crisis. Individual district exchanges can become greater than the sum of their parts through a coalition, caucus, or working group that promotes, learns, and collaborates around initiatives through which Members engage with one another’s constituencies.

A committed group of Members could work together to:

  • Consolidate and compare experiences and learnings across visits;
  • Connect with each other in a community of practice and learning;
  • Convey to constituents, media, colleagues and other stakeholders your commitment to bipartisan collaboration.

This body could be new or existing, perhaps led by members who have already experimented with district exchanges.

By continuously integrating into their work the wisdom generated by district exchanges, Members can forge nationally resonant bipartisan solutions in the context of the districts they represent. Whereas fresh trust between two Members is a valuable byproduct of cross-district visits, a body that systematically leverages these types of visits can increase that trust in Congress by an order of magnitude.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.

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