Name: C John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE

Title: President and CEO, The Center for Association Leadership (ASAE)

Based: Washington, D.C.
Education: Franklin & Marshall College

Quote: “One in every three Americans is a part of our nation’s vital association and nonprofit industry.”

Set the stage for us. How did we end up in such a divided environment in the United States, and how are people feeling about their place in the country and the world?

Voters, undoubtedly, had a lot on their minds as they headed to the polls in November beyond whether candidates’ values and views on issues aligned with their own. There was the spate of politically tinged violence that dominated headlines, the flood of negative ads on both sides aimed at swaying the still-undecided, and maybe for many, a feeling of despair that we are too polarized politically, that bipartisanship and politics as a means of solving problems have fallen to the wayside

MoreWhat the Mid-Terms Meant for Event Professionals

Elections can be very disaffecting for many of us. They can cause us to lose faith that we have a say in the outcomes, or even question generally why any of it matters. And without question, there are people in the world who do not want to see harmonious dialogue, and who want to prey on fears and anxiety to sow unrest or feed their own ego. But that’s not what our democracy is about, and it’s not a trend we will tolerate as American institutions.

What role can association planners play in bringing people back together, even if they disagree about some things?

Associations can help set the tone for discourse in the months and years ahead. Starting in January, we will have a divided government, but associations can be brokers for conversation and for compromise.

Associations serve as important refuges and communities for people who want to come together for a common purpose and achieve results that are positive for our nation and the world. This is the fundamental purpose of associations—to allow different voices to be heard, to accept that there are many ways of attacking a problem and ultimately, to make our industries, our professions and our society stronger.

What is the best way to heal the divisions and have a positive impact on the tone of the discussion?

Regardless of how we feel about the election results and the current political climate, association meetings can continue to be havens where we seek common ground, engage in productive conversations and respect our differences. The role of associations as information brokers and incubators for good ideas is more important than ever.

Associations can also continue to advocate for solutions to our nation’s problems. Associations amplify the voice of the industries and people they represent, and they lend expertise and real-world experience to policymakers who choose to listen and who want to achieve results for their constituencies.

What would you say to those who feel that getting involved in politics is beyond their job description as planners?

Associations have a huge responsibility to the world. We understand that our stakeholders extend beyond just the members and volunteers we represent to the communities in which we live and work. They extend to the far regions of the world, where some innovation or standard we perpetuate helps improve someone’s quality of life. The election is over, but associations remain very much hard at work.

Stronger by Association

The Power of A is ASAE’s advocacy initiative, designed to tell the story of the vital role associations play in creating a safer, stronger and more vibrant society. “One of the most important ways that associations strengthen America is through the creation and enforcement of industry standards of quality, safety, environmental stewardship and other vital business practices,” Graham says. “From how health-care services are delivered to how our food supply is protected, appliances are made safe for consumers and the environment, and machinery is labeled (to name only a few), associations leverage deep professional experience and research-based knowledge to develop the standards that protect life in America and around the world.”

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