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February 23, 2021

Hearing and sharing your “Hopes For 2021” for the United States Senate and our nation

As the United States Senate convened last month for the 117th Congress, still in shock from the violent insurrection of January 6 and a tumultuous election season, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute invited friends and supporters to share their “Hopes for 2021” and how the Senate in particular might heal and lead our nation.

We are thankful to more than 200 of you who have responded so far, offering both specific hopes about policy debates you want to see at the top of the Senate’s post-impeachment agenda—but also a yearning for whatever that debate may be to prove respectful, cooperative, and productive.

“I hope the acrimonious divisions in the country will end,’’ wrote Steve McColm . “And I believe the Senate has a unique opportunity to show the way because the evenly-split body can hopefully overcome the extreme partisanship and work together.’’

“It is my hope,’’ wrote Donna Heuman, “that each senator can find some common ground, some slim margin of agreement, something as small as ‘We both care about our constituents’ that will enable more senators to widen the common ground, and build consensus to enable the United States to move forward.’’

Added Margaret Dragon: “It is my dear hope that it becomes the norm again to reach across the aisle–as Senator Kennedy did so skillfully and successfully—and that doing so is not vilified by politicians as it was during the debates this past year, but instead understood that it needs to be about compromise and civility: Knowing when to compromise, knowing when to take a stand, and knowing when to do both.’’

In terms of which policy issues they wish will be at the top of the Senate’s agenda, responses to our request ranged widely and reflected a diversity of concerns and hopes for the country: Health care coverage for all. Ending COVID and accelerating vaccinations. Legislation to protect voting rights and ensure “clean elections.” Addressing climate change and environmental issues, including through a Green New Deal. National jobs and infrastructure programs. Fighting racism. Fighting against income inequality and for fairer taxes. Supporting public education and early-childhood education. Ending the gerrymandering of congressional districts that aggravates hyper-partisanship. Reducing defense spending. Convicting the impeached former president and holding to account those who promoted false claims of a stolen election.

For all the specific ideas about what respondents want to top the Senate agenda, across so many of their responses what we heard was a deep longing for a change in how the Senate will do its work–and by extension, how it could change the tone of our national civic conversation.

“I hope in 2021 that people will try to get their messages across with peaceful discussion, and not the violence that seemed to hang over 2020,’’ said Stephen Richardson. “I hope the US Senate will hold any unpeaceful or violent participants responsible for their actions.’’ “I hope that people will come together in the fight against discrimination in our country,’’ wrote Cindy Rowe, “and the U.S. Senate works to create an inclusive multi-racial democracy that treats every person with dignity and respect.’’ Working together,’’ said Christel Manning, “means you have to stop demonizing the other side and be willing to compromise.”

Or as Fran Buchheister summed it up: “Stop fighting and work together for our country. Thank you.’’