2018 Annual Conference on Citizenship Recap



October 26, 2018

Last week, more than 300 individuals keen on addressing our democracy at the 2018 Annual Conference on Citizenship gathered in Washington, D.C., at the Marriott Marquis. It was an amazing two days that saw passionate conversations, enriching speakers, and excitement booming from attendees. Here is a conference recap from It’s Your Democracy!


Following the Bridge Alliance Education Summit and the Civic Health Index working group meetings, the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) kicked off its annual conference in earnest with an opening night reception at the Marriott Marquis in Washington D.C.

After an exciting time networking and meeting new partners, the main program kicked off in the main ballroom as NCoC CEO, Sterling Speirn, opened the night with his remarks.

One of the most indelible memories from the conference came on the first night, when the 2018 HOOAH Award winner was announced. The HOOAH award is presented annually by NCoC to recognize distinguished former service members who empower the next generation of military veterans to continue to serve beyond their time in uniform. “Hooah” refers to the U.S. Army battle cry used by soldiers and airmen. Brenda “Sue” Fulton, a United States Military Academy graduate and longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights, was the recipient of the 2018 HOOAH award. Fulton is a 1980 West Point graduate and member of the first class of the USMA to admit women. Fulton was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain before becoming an integral founding member and leader in advocacy groups instrumental in overturning the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and ban on transgender service members. Fulton is currently the Chair and Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, making her the first openly gay member of a New Jersey state cabinet.


With conference attendees fully energized from Sue Fulton’s award acceptance speech, it was time for our keynote speakers, James and Deborah Fallows, authors of  Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America. The Fallows shared reflections from the book, including local stories and voices from around the country.


The night closed with the Fallows signing books for attendees.



We reconvened the next morning with time for conversation and fellowship before hearing from a brilliant line up of speakers. NCoC CEO Sterling Speirn welcomed everyone and introduced Mark Gerzon, author of Reuniting the States of America, who shared insights and reflections from the book and the state of affairs in the country.


The next session of the day saw author Anne Snyder report on her research and forthcoming book, The Fabric of Character: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Renewing Our Social and Moral Landscape. The session, which was titled “Be a Citizen,” drew great interest from conference attendees.

Anne Snyder captured the crowd’s imagination with her presentation about hope in the nation. After which, high school students and teachers from the District of Columbia and Alabama reported on efforts to lower the voting age to 16, to increase school funding, and to make civics come alive inside and outside the classroom during the session entitled, “Youth Civic Engagement.” Students took to the stage to share inspiring stories, ideas, and thoughtful concerns, and they gave voice to an emerging group of citizens.


Getting time to meet new people and talk in between helps forge new bonds and create great learning experiences. We returned to the conference format to hear from Karen Lieberman, Coalition for Campaign Finance Reform, and John Bonifaz, Free Speech for People, leading off a panel discussion on campaign finance reform with a case study from citizens in action in St. Petersburg, Florida. The case study was captured in the form of video. 



The 2018 Annual Conference on Citizenship featured three different award sessions, first kicked off by the HOOAH Award and Sue Fulton’s energizing speech the previous night. After “Money in and out of Politics” it was time for the second award session: The 2018 Civvys! The Civvys seek a range of projects, programs, and people that use civic collaboration best practices to achieve real results in facilitating dialogue, enabling cross-partisan action, or putting civility and community above ideology. 

The Civvys were awarded in four categories: 

  • National: These projects are nationwide in scope and audience.
  • Local: These projects are designed to serve a local, state or regional community.
  • Youth: These projects have a focus on children, teenagers or young adults.
  • Political: This category celebrates collaborative political leadership, problem solving and campaigns. 

To present the awards, NCoC welcomed Caroline Klibanoff and Brian Clancy from Big Tent Nation. The following winners were announced:


One of the most anticipated awards was up next, the announcement of the Citizen of the Year. Taking to the stage to present the award was former NCoC Interim CEO, Sally Prouty who enthusiastically announced winner G.S. “Mack” McCarter III, founder and coordinator of Community Renewal International (CRI), based in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Citizen of the Year Award recognizes individuals who use their public presence to inspire others and give back to their community. Mack McCarter was chosen for his leadership and partnership to build hope and renew the spirit of cooperation in every segment of the Shreveport-Bossier, Louisiana, community. Evidence of the CRI’s work can be measured in many ways, perhaps most notably that major crime has dropped an average of 52 percent in areas where they operate Friendship Houses. But, it is his focus on building a system of caring relationships in a community that truly provides the foundation for a strong and successful community.

Prior to Mack accepting his award, attendees saw his work in action through a beautiful video.

After the video, McCarter took the stage and delivered a charismatic and inspiring address.


The next session on tap were quick-hitting, rapid-fire, six-minute presentations from several individuals during the “Shark Tank for Civic Entrepreneurs” session. During the session, presenters were asked to present an answer to the question, “How to fix our Democracy?” Each presenter argued why their approach gives us the best chance. Presenters included:

  • Zaneeta Daver and Jennifer Domagal-Goldman (All In Campus DemocracyChallenge),
  • Scott Greytak (RepresentUS)
  • Emma Humphries (iCivics) 
  • Meredith McGehee (Issue One)
  • Manu Meel (BridgeUSA)
  • Tom Flanagan (Inclusive Collective Design)
  • Ben Gubits (American Promise) 


A highlight of the It’s Your Democracy afternoon, ushered in, “Democracy Rx: Civic Health Partners.” The session detailed how partners going beyond the Index to transform their communities. Panelists included:

  • Matt Daley (Kentucky Secretary of State Office)
  • Susan Nold (The University of Texas at Austin)
  • Kristi Tate (Center for the Future of Arizona)
  • Shawn Healy (McCormick Foundation) 


The afternoon also featured Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer from the National Institute for Civil Discourse sharing a trailer for an upcoming documentary, Civility TV. The documentary chronicles individuals of different political affiliations and ideologies getting together for a social experiment in which individuals engage each other over several days to determine if mutual understanding, middle ground and common beliefs can be found.

The last session of the day featured a return to the Bridge Alliance Education Fund and a report from the previous day’s summit, featuring Bridge Alliance’s Debilyn Molineaux and David Nevins.


The conference concluded with hope and gratitude, and a determination to continue strengthening our democracy.


Keep checking back to NCoC’s News Feed for more post-conference recaps, reflections, photos and awards.