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IDEAS matter





 What we have heard as we crossed the country is anger, frustration that approaches alienation, distrust that verges upon contempt. The American people are profoundly dissatisfied with government at all its levels. To a startling degree, they feel detached from its decisions and removed from its processes. To an extent probably unequaled since the second Continental Congress, they feel more like subjects of those who wield power than like their masters.


And yet, at the same time, they evidence a deep desire to respect their government again, if only it would treat them with commensurate respect. So, many of them took time from private pursuits to attend 63 forums we have held across the country. These two contradictions are the twin roots of contemporary discontent. Together they explain much of what we have learned by listening to Americans.


NPF's Policy Council on Free Individuals in a Free Society melded the voices we heard at the grassroots into a set of seven principles that, time and again, gave form and direction to our dialogue with the American people:


1. Freedom and discipline are complementary, not antithetical.


2. The ability of individuals to use their freedom in the modern state depends upon the strength of society's mediating institutions (i.e., family, church, civic, and neighborhood organizations) .


3. For a self-governing nation to be successful, it must be composed of self-governing individuals; and experience has long identified religion as a primary provider of the individual self-government so vital for effective national government.


4. The public discourse of a free society must be guided by civility and reason, not by formulas of "political correctness," which limit freedom in the name of its preservation.


5. Individuals have rights, given by their Creator and recognized by the Constitution. Groups on the other hand-whether political, religious, racial of regional- have agendas, and legitimately so.


6. The survival of political and social liberty depends upon the continuance of economic freedom-and, we would add, economic opportunity.


7. The principle of free speech, enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution, is being turned inside out. The purpose of freedom was to promote the discourse of ideas and politics that are essential to the self-government of the American people.



A living example of principle number 2 above- depending more on mediating structures than government-is Mary Cunningham Agee, who founded and directs The Nurturing Network, a nationwide charity of more than 52,000 volunteer members who provide a positive alternative to abortion. By offering to women facing an unplanned pregnancy an Stephanie turned to the individually tailored program of practical resources Nurturing Network when (educational and career placement, medical services, she found out she was nurturing homes, emotional, adoption and parental pregnant with Alicia. counseling), the Network has helped more than 25,000 others-to-be to choose a positive alternative to abortion.


We asked Agee to reflect on her work and her membership in NPF's Strengthening the Family Policy Council:

Comments by TNN's Founder and President

My experience in founding and directing the day-to-day operations of The Nurturing Network for nearly ten years has given me a profound awareness of the motivational importance of personal participation in any decision making process. Our Network has been successful in empowering nearly 6,000 women to accept personal responsibility for their future.


By forming a partnership with each woman that includes counseling and on-going career and educational support following the birth of her baby, the Nurturing Network enables each woman to emerge from this potentially devastating experience with both improved self-esteem and a realistic life-plan in place. Furthermore, we are able to insure that more mothers will find it unnecessary to depend on our over-burdened welfare system. In appreciation for the compassionate help that she has received, each woman deepens her commitment to helping others ... an essential element in the fabric of our culture and conscience.


I have witnessed in all segments of our society the emergent sense of responsibility that is unleashed when people are encouraged to personally respond with compassionate action. Over 21,000 volunteer members illustrate daily with their lives that putting one's values in action on behalf of those least able to help themselves is both empowering and inspiring.


Participation in the National Policy Forum has been a source of inspiration to me because its goals have so much in common with The Nurturing Network. Our greatest hope for a more peaceful and productive society rests in the effectiveness of grassroots organizations like The Nurturing Network and National Policy Forum. These efforts and others like them will actualize the untapped potential of our most important resource- the American people.


We must continue to encourage Americans to take responsibility for shaping their destinies. As we demonstrate the value of providing an open forum where candid dialogue is safe and voices can be heard without edit, we will release a positive force that no government ever has or will. This limitless human energy cannot be underestimated in its power to solve the most complex challenges facing our country.