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Welcome to How does the In With Baratunde do a show where we reimagine the word citizen as a verb, reclaim it from those who weaponized it and remind ourselves how to wield our collective power? Democracy means people power, literally. I just want to talk with you for a minute, just me and you. I owe you a definition before we head too far on this journey together, and yet I know you thought this was like a podcast or a show, but it's a journey and we're going to go places.
That journey is called How to Citizen with Baratunde. I'm the Baratunde. There's a definition there. But on the citizen front, I need you to understand what we are not we are not interested in your legal status. And we have a concept of what it means to citizen that goes far beyond voting, as important as that is, we think there are four parts to what it means to citizen. First to citizen is to participate, it's a verb, not a noun, not an adjective, it's to show up.
All right. Number two to citizen is to value the collective and to work towards outcomes that benefit the many and not just the few. Number three to citizen is to understand power and the various ways we have at our disposal to use it. And no, for two citizen is to invest in relationships with others and recognize our interconnectedness. This definition of what it means to citizen is going to serve us throughout the series, participate, value the collective, understand power and invest in relationships.
In this episode, we are going to talk about power, a quick word on how we make this show. We've recorded most of this episode in front of a live studio audience. OK, it was Zouma was a live zoom audience. But that doesn't take nothing away from nothing because Zoom is everything. Now, when it counts in the taping, you'll hear me tell a short story, hold a conversation with our featured guest, then open the floor to questions from the audience.
I would love for you to join a future live taping. And you can do that by visiting How to Citizen Dotcom. Join my email list where those invitees live and also some pretty dope content I send out on a weekly basis.
If I might brag a little bit, I send the best emails.
And while I love the live audience, don't worry, it's just me and you right now, remember, and I'm going to catch up with just you on the other side and I'm going to give you some very specific ways to citizen, not just principles. Actions. I want to start with a story from high school, specifically a classroom in my high school where I have some distinct memories. This room was on the first floor, had a giant floor to ceiling glass windows really well lit.
And the first memory I have is actually a video games because my friends and I would reel in this AV cart with a giant TV on top to play video games during off periods. It was a really unused room in the afternoons. We played a lot of Madden. My second memory from this room is of breaking in to the school through this room. I spent a lot of time on campus. I was a part of the high school newspaper, had a lot of excuses to be there after hours.
And one time I locked myself out of the building, had to get something back inside. And I knew that these little hinged windows at the base of the wall in this room would let me into the building. So I'm scrambling through this window and I hear this voice, Mr. Barrett, is that you missed opportunities that you and that was the voice of the head of security for the school, Mr. Ford. Fortunately, I had a great relationship with him because I had been advised early on the first thing you do in an institution like this, you make friends with the cleaning staff, you make friends with the security staff.
They might help you get out of a jam later on. And that's what happened because he didn't see some random black kid breaking into a predominantly white institution in a predominantly white and wealthy neighborhood in Washington, D.C. He's not an idiot. He saw the idiot that he knew soon and he gave me the benefit of the doubt. Let me inside through proper entry and exit points, and I was able to move on. The other memory I have of this room, though, is actually a classroom setting, a learning environment in Western civ, the class we called western of Western civilization.
A teacher wheeled out that AV cart with a giant at the time television on top.
And we were forced to watch this VHS of some old school like Socrates, Plato, Aristotelian looking dude leaning back in his white robe with his white beard and his bald whitehead like a lot of white, saying something profound and grave.
He said, How should men live? And we were just supposed to react to that question like, yo, that's the question, that's the once and future question to end all questions like how do we organize our society? How do we share power, have a voice, govern ourselves? And it was Aristotle who gave us a simple framework for this. You got rule by the one tyranny who rule by the few oligarchy still do rule by the many democracy.
Yeah. And we're supposed to celebrate that idea and that word, which literally breaks down in the Greek origin to people power being a citizen is exercising power.
But when I've been hearing these conversations about the crisis of our democracy, about civic engagement, about citizenship, I rarely hear the word power being used. Instead, I hear a limited version of what we have as our power in the society, the the power to vote.
And the power to act as individuals and both of those are far too narrow, voting mad, important, don't get me wrong is very important, but it's not the whole game. And when you really think about it, voting is delegating power. We have a lot of energy devoted to giving our power over to professional politicians. That's like being asked to sign up as a superhero. You're welcome to The Avengers, Baratunde. You're in the squad. I'm like, what's my superpower or your superpower?
You get to give your power away if you're lucky every two years you're excited about that. Like, I'm not that I feel like you're missing some of the point of the superpower. It is. Even Hawkeye had better powers than that. He got to run around looking like a badass bow and arrows ran real fast. I might prefer that to just delegation of power. The other oversimplification I think we have with our power in the system as it's focused on the individual, especially in the Western world, one person, one vote, your voice matters.
But we don't exist alone. We live among other people. We only know ourselves as a reflection of the people around us. And when we work with others, we multiply that power. So what is this whole power thing? It's who gets what, when and how. It's who decides that. Now, to jump into this conversation with me, we have quite a human person. I'm going to call him a human person. I first met Eric Liu virtually.
We had been introduced by many different people over the years, but we met face to face in a non socially distant space at the TED conference in Vancouver, Washington, and he was giving a talk about the power of citizenship.
I was preparing to do my talk, but somewhat secretly plotting this show. And Eric said, when you're ready to do this, reach out, let's talk. So he's one of the first people I wanted to talk to about this. Eric is the co-founder and CEO of Citizen University, literally schooling people on what it means to be a citizen. He directs the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program. He's written several books. I feel proud of my one book home.
He's got at least three books, The Accidental Asian Notes of a Native Speaker, The Gardens of Democracy. You're more powerful than you think. A Citizen's Guide to making change happen. And actually a fourth one more recently become America Civic Sermons on love, responsibility and democracy. Eric has been in the game for a while. He wrote speeches for Bill Clinton. He was a White House policy adviser. He's been on the boards of the Washington State Board of Education and near and dear to my heart, the Seattle Public Library, because libraries rock.
Eric Liu, welcome to The Citizen, thank you for being here with us today. It's so great to be with you. I just just love your whole framing this whole thing and looking forward to this conversation. Where are you joining us from, Eric, and how are you right now? I'm joining you from Seattle, Washington, which is where I live. I'm joining you more specifically from my mom's condo, because to be real, I'm spending a lot of energy helping take care of her through some health challenges.
So that's where I'm at. Yeah, well, my best to you and your mom, I'm glad you're able to be close to her and help take care of her. That's kind of what this is all about, that I look through and our team look through a lot of your work. It was more prolific and profound than even I understood when I met you at Ted. So thank you for your contributions to this whole question of what it means to be a citizen.
I want to talk with you more about this idea of power, because you have spoken and written and I think behaved in a way that elevates the idea of literacy about power and so much of the literacy that I think we're encouraged to pursue is literal. Learning how to read, consuming information, be informed, know the news. But you talk about power literacy. What is power to you and what do you think we need to understand about it in the context of being a citizen in something that's at least like a democracy, you know, such a great set of connected questions.
And, you know, I start with just in the first place, unpacking what we mean in my organization, Citizen University, when we even talk about citizen or citizenship. Right. So how does a citizen name of this show? We think of citizenship not in terms of documentation, status and passport holding. We mean it in the broader ethical sense of being a member of the body, a contributor to community, in a word, a non sociopath. Right.
Which seems like a low bar. But actually we all around us is evidence that there are a lot of people can't get over that bar right now. Right. So but in that broader ethical sense and when we think about it in those terms, we often use this very simple mock equation, which is that power plus character equals citizenship, that that to live like a citizen in the deepest way is both to be fluent in power. And I'll unpack that in a moment, but also to couple that fluency in power with a grounding in what you might think of a civic character, which I don't mean like personal individual virtue, like work hard and persevere.
I mean, the social virtues of how do you live in public? How do you behave in community? How do you hold together a community? Right. So those two halves of the equation are super important. And one of the things that really struck us in our work is that considering our new democracy, considering that theoretically, as you say, we have the power, we the people, most people are profoundly illiterate in power. Most people do not think about it, do not want to talk about it, do not want to name it.
To the extent that it comes up, it seems like it's a kind of a dirty word, a dirty topic. Right. It's all conniving and it's Game of Thrones and House of Cards kind of stuff.
Power brokers, power trip power, you know, power mad, power hungry. All the connotations are negative. Right. And our most basic thing that we try to teach in our work is that power is simply I mean, it just is it's like fire, right? It's neither inherently good nor evil. And just because fire can be put to bad use doesn't mean that you should just turn away and put your head in the sand, not think about ways that could be put to good use.
Right. So it is with power and civic life. We define power really simply, which is a capacity to ensure that others do as you would like them to do. Yo, that sounds I mean, that sounds like power like to make other people do it. That's like mine would.
Sure that others do. And that sounds depressing and. Right.
And people like, whoa, whoa, I like it, but let's be real in every scale of our lives. Right. I'm not talking about voting and protesting. I mean, like you and the people you love, you and your workmates, you and your neighbors, we as humans are always trying to get other people to do as we would like them to do. Right. And that is just what we're wired to want to be able to do in the world in that capacity.
When applied to questions of common interest and common consequence, public concern is civic power. I think the central question of all civic power is this who decides? Right. And so when we talk about illiteracy or illiteracy in power, what that boils down to is that most people have no freakin idea who decides on anything. Yeah, right. So, ah, most people answer the question with a default today. I can't believe they decided to start school in person or start school online.
I can't believe they canceled bus service. I can't believe they haven't yet built a grocery store in this food desert. I can't believe they would ever write.
And yeah, they don't want you to x and the fundamental lesson that we teach a city's university.
But I think the fundamental teaching of democracy itself is there is no there. There is we. Right. And we have an obligation to actually get particular about in each case, who does the deciding and how can I actually insert myself into that map of who does the deciding? Right. That is a literacy, just like reading and writing. Who decided that these kinds of protests happening in cities around the United States right now would be met by unmarked federal agents?
Right. They decided maybe Trump decided, you know, maybe some people pay attention to the news. Maybe Attorney General Barr decided, OK, yeah, but really, when you boil it down, who decides who can stop that? How do you mobilize people, ideas, money forced to resist that? Right. And I think questions like that that are not just theoretical, they are live in every community in the country right now. All turn on this question of who decides.
And that is the heart of civic power. But why do you think power the term and the literacy of it has been absent from so much conversation about civic engagement and our role?
I think there's two reasons. One is democracy and civics gets taught if it gets taught any more at all, but to the extent it still does get taught teachers in our more polarized. Traverse City filled age do not want to get in trouble. They do not want to go there, right? So there's often an instinct to go to the lowest common denominator. Talk about the process stuff, how a bill becomes law, but not talk about the structure, stuff that precedes process.
Right. Or who gets to decide how a bill becomes law. Well, people in the Senate and people in the House. Why? Because the Constitution will. Why? Because a group of people made a deep set of compromises with slaveholders about who was going to have power and say, oh, OK. So that's how a bill becomes a law. Right? They don't want to go there. Right.
And and yeah, it's not in a little animated cute thing from there. Exactly right. And I think the deeper question, apart from just the, you know, allergy to controversy that exists in a lot of places is frankly, our culture. Right. So everything in our small democratic culture says, you know, you are to you have the power to remake your life, the brand of you. You can do this all the time. It's the it's the civic equivalent of the economic message we get all the time, which is you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.
And if your situation isn't great, that's because you suck. That's your problem. Right. That's on you. And I think in our culture, there is this analogy also to talking about collective action, collective responsibility and collective power and how things got rigged, the way they got rigged and why maybe it's not because you're lazy or not effective or not smart enough that you keep getting smashed down. Maybe it's because the game has been stacked and rigged against you and people like you for generations.
I often think about the conversation that you and I are having and the whole point of your show as part of a greater cause right now, which is we've got to make civics sexy again. Right. Civic engagement just it just forces you to not only the BBC's news, but that you make civics sexy again by being honest about what it is and what it is. It's about power. It's about people claiming power, about people contesting power. Right.
And and for the same reasons we are drawn to Game of Thrones or House of Cards. We ought to be drawn to participation, except we're not just spectators now. We are participants. We can actually exercise this stuff. And that's that's worth learning.
There's an irony in here that I'm trying to tease out. Democracy means people power and we use the verb version of that word to democratize, to indicate the distribution of some good. We've democratized access to information, meaning more people have access to it. Everything we need and can claim is in that word, people power. And yet we haven't democratized the meaning of the word itself. We have kind of kept the deep meaning, the power part of it.
And the people, the multiple people, not just the person, not the army of one inside of you, not brand you. We've buried that and we've muted the power and trimmed it down. And so we've got to democratize democracy itself. At least our interpretation of that is so absolutely right.
And I think part of that is about narrative and culture and projects like this show and some of the things that we try to do at Citizen University, we have programs that are about not just teaching in a workshop way, but creating communal rituals where people can come and gather and practice this stuff. But I think the other thing that you're really pointing to, again, back to what we're talking about, about literacy and power, you know, I often talk about how there's three laws of power that are really worth understanding, who I love laws.
Here we go. So long No. One power compounds. Right. That's as obvious as the world we live in right now. Right. The world is the one percent or the point one percent and everybody else power with interest, power and power compounds.
Those who have will have more. Right. Those who have not will have even less over time, right? Well, No. Two power justifies itself at every turn. Those who hold power will spin elaborate narratives about why this allocation of things is the God given way of the world. Right? This is just the natural order of things and in different times that's taken on different cast. But that is the back story of white supremacy. That is the back story of male supremacy.
Right. And you might think, oh, well, that's history. That's old stuff. You spent time in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is a bastion of both white and male supremacy.
Right. And there are story lines about white people who are not white or male, aren't cut out for this world. The narrative trickle down economics is all around us. The idea that a few super rich people are capital G, capital C, job creators and we shouldn't tax them too much. We shouldn't regulate them too much because we want their prosperity to leak its way down to the rest of us. Right.
That's a wonderful fable. But it's economics. It's complete B.S.. Right. The true source of prosperity is not a few rich guys at the top, it's the rest of us. And when workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Right. That's how you create. That's a counter narrative to that, right? And so if these first two laws empower that power is always compounding into fewer and fewer hands and it's always justifying itself and those few are telling you why you should be happy with the crumbs you got.
You've been a pretty grim doom loop, right? What breaks us out of that doom loop, though, is law number three. Power is infinite, power is infinite. But what I mean by this, I'm not you know, you might think, oh, here's the dude from Seattle coming to sell me a new age. A new age kind of manifest your power. You know, I'm not doing new age stuff. I'm saying this. It is an even the most rigged situation and most unequal step situation.
It is entirely possible to generate brand new power out of thin air through the magic act of organizing and generating power out of thin air is the only thing that saves us in a democracy that you can actually change that equation. Right now, of course, incumbent power holders also can generate power and they will counter organize to block you. And you have this perpetual game of organizing, counter organizing, mobilization, counter mobilization. You know what? There's a word for that.
Politics, politics in a democracy. That's what we got to do. That's our responsibility for showing up. Right. And there's no it's not one and done. It's not. Oh, I organized. We fixed it. Right. It's a perpetual never ending thing. And if you start relaxing, then you will, in fact, cede power over time.
I think it's it's humbling and hopeful at the same time, because we've all felt acted upon by power and this thought that there is a cabal somewhere and sometimes there really is a cabal, like it's not a conspiracy. Those like a pretty small room with a bunch of dudes in it making decisions about, say, the borders that will comprise the continent of Africa, for example, or tax policies in the United States as another example. But there is hoping to me and the idea that we can generate it ourselves and that we can kind of spin up or accelerate a perpetual motion machine at some velocity in some mass to it to get more momentum behind our desired allocation of that power.
We're living through it right now.
I mean, absolutely, the waves and waves of awakening and activism that followed the murder of George Floyd and even prior to that, the creativity brought to bear in new forms of organizing since the pandemic hit. Both of these there are some tectonic things going on in our country right now. Something is shifting. Right. And that shift depends on us. Not again, not acting like Americans often act, which is a short attention span squirrel, like what's the next distraction?
Right. But actually, like, no persist in practicing power. And the other piece of it that you were talking about earlier, I got to come back to you because. No, I said at the beginning, we have this equation at Citizen University. Power plus character equals citizenship, right? Yeah. I got to say a note about the character side of this, because if all you do is get really practice of power and learn and figure out ways to move money, move ideas, move people, mobilize those who have means of force and violence, and it's untethered actually to any ethical or moral purpose, then in fact, you are just becoming a finely skilled sociopath.
Right. And that is not what we're that's not what we're trying to cultivate in our work. And I know that's not what you're that's not. How do you citizen. Right. How citizen is both coupling that literacy in power with who am I doing it for? How am I bringing more people into the fold? How do I actually take a knee literally and metaphorically for somebody who's not here? How do I circulate whatever power privilege I might have in a way that actually is to the benefit of the whole?
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I want to step back to the power thing, because you took us through these laws, is there like a menu of power that we get to choose from or to get it out of the vagueness of power?
Yeah, I love that. To get it out of the vagueness is the key, right? In just the same way that there's no they there's a particular way or particular group of people who we can insert ourselves into powers and just some mystical blob it takes, you know, in my book, in your more powerful than you think, I talk about six different sources of power.
OK, I love the numbers. You got three laws. You've got six sources of power. This is you're going to love.
I got nine strategies of power to know. Three, six, nine. OK, it's the baseball exponential baseball history here.
But, you know, sources of power. So the obvious ones, money, people, power like numbers. Right. And what we've seen all around the country, the power of ideas. Right. The idea not not even as something as abstract as liberty, but the idea, for instance, of Black Lives Matter, that's an idea that a few years ago was much more on the margins. And now you got practically every Fortune 500 company rushing out there to say they agree black lives matter.
There's there's another one that comes to mind kind of on a different end of the spectrum. But the idea of an inheritance tax being rebranded as a death tax. Absolutely right.
The way you frame things, that's a form of power, right? Absolutely right.
So you got money, people, ideas, social norms is another super important source of power. How we together define what's OK and what's normal. Right. So, again, look at the unfolding debates about trans identity. Right. And about pronouns. But we are in the midst of a collective reckoning and rearrangement of what social norms are. Right. We've already now had the Supreme Court literally sanctify and bless what had been an agreement among so many of us as a matter of social norms that love is love.
Whether the couple is same sex or not, love is love, right? That didn't happen because Politician A said so. It didn't happen because Corporation A. did an ad campaign to be happened because in a distributed way, millions upon millions of people had conversations with each other and started changing their sense of, you know what, I have I used to have this belief, but this person in my life, this person I'm connected to, is changing my heart in my mind and my sense of norms.
Social norms is a fourth important source of power. A fifth one, of course, which we are seeing unfortunately and powerfully in evidence right now is force. Violence, yeah, right. Yeah, whether that is organized under the aegis of the state in bullbars, master Gestapo or whether it is, you know, the self organizing militias of AK forty seven carrying protesters in Michigan at the state capital who didn't want to have the tyranny of wearing a mask imposed upon them.
Or going without a haircut, which I can understand why he's worried they're going to do a video, because this is not my best look.
But but force is one, right? Ultimately. And the final one is the state, the power of the state to actually set rules and norms, whether it's about something as tangible as, hey, how much did you get for an hour of flipping burgers, 70, 50? How about 15? How about fifteen dollars an hour? Right. And why? Well, because enough of us convinced our government, the state, to say that 15 dollars is the minimum wage.
Fifteen dollars is the minimum basis for dignity and security for an hourly wage. Right. And so you take all these different sources of power and they're all on display right now in good, bad and ugly forms all around us. Right. And again, you gave my bio at the beginning. My worldview is left of center, but I work at Citizen University. We work with and learn from people across the ideological spectrum. Right. We gather folks ranging from Black Lives Matter and fight for 15 activists and dreamers to Tea Party co-founders, because what animated them on one level, as much as they may disagree fiercely on policy, what animates them on one level is some interest in activating bottom up citizen power, right?
People power. And my view is, to your point, we've got to democratize democracy. We've got to make sure everybody, whatever the politics, whatever that is from a small rural town or a big city, get some baseline literacy and then let us fight it out. Let us argue it out. Let us debate it out. Let us do that thing called politics. Right. But the politics will be more meaningful to the extent that we've actually gained that initial literacy in both the laws and the sources of power.
Thank you for that deeper explanation. Three laws, six sources, and I think that for me, it gives me a sense of power and I don't feel like I'm over using the word just to have options.
You know, I don't want to feel like there's only one thing I can do. And so if I'm starting to think about money as a source of power, that gives me a certain lens and a certain approach versus mass mobilization or even small mobilization of of someone other than myself versus ideas, which is a place I naturally live in and less so in the world of money. So I think if you allow an entry point for everyone when you do that, I want to take this time.
We've got some questions starting to come in during this recording from our community around us. And so Robert Bates has a question. How can you define a citizen without ultimately excluding people that live in a country? Is that OK? Talk more about that. The idea that you can be a citizen without having the right paperwork.
I mean, of course, there is a legal definition of US citizenship and that matters. Right? I get that. I mean, the vote is tied to that, for instance. Right. But in the work that we're doing and I think the work that you're doing here, we are trying to open up a much broader, capacious idea of what it means to live like a citizen.
Right. And again, whether you have the papers or not, how you live like a citizen has to do with, whether you join, whether you serve, whether you listen, whether you argue well, whether you participate, whether you vote, whether you protest, if you can't vote, whether you encourage others to write. Basically, it all boils down to whether you show up for others. Right. And I think that, you know, to the second part of that question, you know, well, who do we shop for?
I mean, sometimes I get the version, the question of, well, why talk only about the United States, right? I mean, there's global citizenship and we're all you know, we're all humans. And yes, that's true. And again, nothing like a pandemic to teach us that many problems, including a novel. Coronaviruses don't care about our borders or about our national institutions. But at the same time, the pandemic is also teaching us painfully in the United States right now compared to people right up the way from me in Canada and in other parts of the world that nations still matter because nations still are the unit of moral agency.
They are the unit at which we can actually ask somebody for redress of our grievances. Right. You've got a problem. You don't have health insurance. You cannot go petition the World Health Organization. Right. They're busy right now doing other stuff. But, you know, even if they weren't busy, you couldn't go petition them for health insurance. Right. You would petition your national government flawed as it may be rigged as it may be. That's who you'd go to.
Right. And so nations still matter. And this nation in particular matters, I think, because, you know, frankly, there might be conversations going on about citizenship and democracy in other places right now, but not a lot that look like you and me talking and the other people in this community participating and listening. Right. In the United States in particular, we realize right now that democracy works only if enough of us believe democracy works. And it's it's kind of a faith based, faith based.
And we in the United States have a special burden to try to live up to that because we can't just default to what we're all part of the same volke, you know, with all the same kind of bloodlines and legends and all that stuff. No, we're not.
We're just a bunch of people bound together by a set of ideas about how we're going to try to do this thing together right now and the togetherness and the relationships and the with others and the four others that empathy is.
I think it just again, it unlocks an entry point for people and especially, you know, one of the consequences of limiting our power to the interpretation of you get to vote and you get to have your atomic unit of self interest is that you leave a lot of people off to the side. You leave people who don't have documentation of because you can't vote without that or if you're formerly incarcerated in certain states or by age, you know, and we have seen so much mobilization.
One of those sources of power that you talked about earlier with people under voting age in this country and around the world, the climate crisis and the response to it is being led powerfully by groups of young people who are prohibited from exercising. One form of power would have infinite amounts. Again, I'm trying to reflect back what I've heard from am I doing it right, Professor? Well done.
To exercise that power in a different way. And that relationship, even the way you've talked about the openness of your university, not just the left of center people, that we need a space to kind of build that relationship. If all are interested in at least that basic premise, like if there's someone who's just down for tyranny, I'm not sure if they have a place, but if you. I believe in power to the people, and you say that we're going to try to test that with each other, then that's a relationship.
We spoke with Valerie Kowa for this show as well. Her new book is called Stranger, and it's built on a similar premise that your opponent won is not necessarily your enemy, but that a stranger is just a part of you who you have yet to know. And so how do you integrate others, even as you disagree with them in a process of humanity, which is to see them as part of you? And I think there's a connective tissue here with the idea of valuing relationships, about working with others, about humanizing even opponents in the project of democratizing democracy through citizen.
He is absolutely right. And I think that, you know, we often talk about in our work when we're training people to lead these civic Saturday gatherings. Right. That it's about cultivating bonds of trust and affection. Right to trust requires in the first place that like I know if I walk in here, you're not going to ambush me. You're not here to see me like this is not a one. And done. You know, the point of this is not scorched earth.
This is we're in a game of infinite replay right together. And we're going to earn each other's trust by continuing to come back here. But the affection part of that doesn't mean that I actually have to like you, but I have to. I love how you put it that. But to see you, the stranger as a part of me that I haven't yet discovered. Right. And that humanisation is so much a part of you. You've emphasized a couple of times now in things that you've said today about kind of the access to the stuff.
Right. This is concepts, laws of power. I know that can sound kind of high minded and stuff, but this is stuff for everybody, right? And you talk about young people. So where I live in Seattle and King County, which is the county that surrounds Seattle over the last number of years, when the Black Lives Matter movement started to pick up steam several years ago, a group of unheralded, unknown young people of color, mainly African-American, started organizing to block the creation of a new youth detention center right.
And they went under the slogan No new youth jail. And they organized the activity. They showed up at council meetings and know what happened over and over again. They lost. They kept losing votes, I think kept on going. The project kept on getting approved. And they started they laid the ground and they started building this thing. Right. But these young people kept on organizing. They kept on building allies. They kept on sharpening their skills and their literacy and power.
And then what happened? Twenty, twenty had a combination of the pandemic and the post-war Floyd uprisings led to this incredible shift in the frame of the possible. And they were ready for it. And they've been organizing. They had those bonds of trust and affection, not just with each other, but with allies in power all over the place in this community. And all of a sudden they were able to take that moment and apply pressure on the elected officials and the decision makers.
Who decides of this and say, now, I think it's time for you to reconsider this. And guess what? Just last week, the King County executive said, you know what? We're going to depopulate this youth detention center. We're going to take down this youth jail. So what looked like a repeated, repeated, repeated defeat and setback turns out right now to have been a victory. These are young people who just showed up and started teaching each other by showing up and practicing the stuff.
Ideas like the stuff we're talking about hopefully helped inform them. And, you know, some of them were involved in stuff that we've done, a citizen university. But I take no credit at all because these are just this is a rising generation, as you said, of people who are figuring out by doing it. And that is super exciting. What you and I can do is help shine a light, help them make sense of what they're doing and give it some frameworks and then again, democratize this stuff about democracy.
Right. So my friend and I believe your friend to Britney Patnaik Cunningham is one of the co-founders of something called Campaign Zero. Campaign zero is this policy platform and framework for people who initially joined the activism after a whole host of police killings of unarmed black men and boys and wanted to figure out, well, how do we how do we pivot from showing up in the streets to changing the system? And they made they answer that question with this incredible menu of things that break it down for you.
Right. It's again, it's not just the system. There's the piece of the system that's about police training. There's a piece of the system. It's about prosecutors who can be unelected if they don't serve the people. Right. There's a piece of that puzzle that is about the media and how you educate the media in following these stories before the fact, before something goes down rather than after it goes down. Right. And there's this incredible menu of tools there.
And I think that what they do with campaigns can and should be done across every possible issue. Your issue might be climate, your issue might be guns issue might be gender equality. Whatever the issue is, there's a way to go from that initial burst of protest, which is often pushing against something to a concerted, systematic way to build for something. Right. And again, just to. Repeat your refrain, you can't do that alone. You got to join others, you can join a club, you can join a group of people hanging out at the corner.
You can join a, you know, a party.
It doesn't matter. Just join the act of joining is the beginning of creating that infinite civic power.
Hey, this is Jason McIntyre, join me every weekday morning on my podcast, Street Fire with Jason McIntyre. This isn't your typical sports pot pushing the same tired narratives down your throat every day. Straight fire gives you a level of authenticity you just don't get. In sports media today, honest opinions on all the biggest sports headlines, accurate stats to help you win big at the sports book and direct conversations with all the best guess. Look, I know what sports fans want.
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I'm Holly Frying an American markets. And together we're exploring the margins of history and specifically at the intersection of history and true crime.
Welcome to the Criminally, a podcast. Our first season of the show is all about lady poisoners, and the history has not been kind to ladies.
Women have been marginalized. They've been vilified. They're falsely accused and often just plain misunderstood time and time again. But sometimes women take power for themselves and sometimes they do it through murder.
Some of these women absolutely were guilty, but some of them were probably labeled as criminals. But that was not the case in all of them were viewed through society's lenses, sitting at this intersection of being both killers and the fairer sex. But how many were just misunderstood? Listen to criminality on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast.
All right, we're going to bring in and speaking of joining Natelson, I believe Nat is coming to us from New York City, New York.
Yeah. So I'm coming to you from Brooklyn, New York, in my kitchen because it's close to the Wi-Fi router.
And so my question is, how do we convince people who have no demonstrable empathy that they should care about other people? And if you want to look at that in a political system, how do we convince Americans who bought into the myth of American individualism that individualism has failed us and that collectivism is the way that society should function for the betterment of everyone in that society?
It's a great question because it's not easily answered. I mean, I think that you're asking. You're asking a technical question about how you deal with individuals in interactions and then you're asking a much bigger strategic question about how do we deal with our culture? Right. So let me say a word about each of those levels, because, you know, on the tactical level, when you're whether it's online, invite people into conversation where again, where it's possible to build trust, where you actually know who you're talking to.
Right. But, you know, I think on that human level, I still think that even the person who for a variety of reasons and many of them just have to do with their kind of tribal, polarized political identity, dig into a set of talking points and a point of view that he should have been more careful. You shouldn't have done this. You take it away from that and you begin with a series of questions. Right. And so one layer of questions is basically like, how do you feel like you are most misunderstood?
OK, that's a disarming question. How are you most misunderstood? Right now, you're kind of getting them to let down their guard a little bit and open up a bit more of their three dimensional humanity. But then the second question is, what are you most afraid of if your side loses? Right. If your worldview does not prevail, like what are you not what are you afraid of in the abstract and what are you afraid of for you and those around you and those you care about?
Right. And again, it gets to some of the the fear, fear, the shame, the hurt that often animates some of these most antisocial civic and political attitudes. Right. And if you can somewhat detoxify them at the outset, you might have a shot in this one on one conversation where if you've earned some trust and you know, you're not just a kind of a one and done, I'm going to flame you and be off this platform.
You have a shot there. Now, you get to the very interesting question, which, you know, is the question of culture and media. Right, of how do you scale from one to one like epiphanies to culture change. Right. How do you scale that? And I think part of it is we do it by doing what we're doing here, not just me and Virginia having a conversation, but you joined this conversation. You decided to show up and participate in the middle of the day and then shape.
And we over time in ways that are much harder, have to, again, make it more possible for more people to enter into conversations where they can question that mythology of rugged individualism. And you can do it in a way that's not gotcha. But you ask you like again, I have a different pair of questions that I often use with people in work that I used to do around mentorship, which is who's influenced you and how do you pass it on?
Right. You ask that question. If I aspire to that question, we did an hour on that he would unscrew this list of mentors, tormentors, people who have shaped him, people who've managed him, people who've coached him. And you can't start answering that first question without realizing no man is an island. No one is self-made. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We are all made by each other. We all make each other right.
And then you immediately go to that second question of, well, how am I passing that on? How am I passing on the good, the bad and the ugly of how I was formed? Right. And again, it's an invitation for people to get out of their political combat avatar identity and into their actual humanity. And and if we do that in setting after settings, why we do select Saturdays, it's why we created the Civic Civic Seminary Program to train people like you actually to lead civic Saturdays in Brooklyn, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in Dallas and San Diego, wherever it may be, to lead these conversations and to create that kind of space.
That's how we change the culture, is we create that.
We commit to creating that space over and over and over again. It's going to take some time because it took us some time to get to the level of sickness in our culture that we're dealing with. But I'm not hopeful, man. I mean, just conversations like this. Give me give me a surplus of hope. Thank you, Nat, for a thoughtful question, but Eric, great answer, and to encourage people to engage with questions is such a shortcut to changing how we relate to each other as opposed to statement versus statement, questions or invitations.
Statements are often closed doors. So I really resonates with me so much personally. I'm going to give you one more kind of parting opportunity.
And truly, if you don't have an answer right now, we can follow up. We like to give people an opportunity to actually take a step, to give them something tactical, tangible to do. Could be a writing exercise, could be sign up for a thing, could be a set of questions to ask the person in their lives. But as we've been talking so much about citizenship and civic power and the forms of it and the sources of it and the ways we can wield it, do you have one or very short list of things you would encourage someone listening to this to experiment with themselves, to feel that power?
Yeah, you know, the shortest answer I can give is troyen or make a clock. I honestly don't even care what it's about. I mean, ideally something civic or political or social cultural issue.
But it can be a gardening club. It can be a rotisserie baseball club. It can be a, you know, 80s, early 90s, you know, hip hop, rap club, whatever floats your boat. Right. But join or start a club in which you can actually rebuild that incredibly atrophied muscle we have in the United States, our citizen muscle. Right. My friend Annie Leonard, who runs Greenpeace USA, talks about how we as Americans, we have this hugely overdeveloped consumer muscle.
Right. We know how to buy 50 different kinds of toothpaste. We know different kinds of, you know, platforms for our music streaming choices and all this stuff. But our civic muscles are pitiful and weak. Right. Well, how do you build that? Sure.
You can go protest. Sure, you can vote. But the simplest thing to do is actually to join or start a club, to gather up a few people with a commitment to repeat your gatherings, create a sense of unity and identity, create a sense of ritual about how you gather and then keep adding. Over time you will figure out that, well, having to come together to create a common agenda, to find common goals, to do common activities requires negotiation.
It requires reckoning with the fact that you've got money and I don't have money. You've got time and I don't have time. It requires us to deal with our inequalities or inequities. It requires us to deal with our differences in a way that you speak with an accent. I don't speak with an accent, whatever. Right. For the next three to six months, I deep on that issue, learn about it, read about it, talk to people about it, knock on virtual doors about it.
Like, Hey, I heard that, you know about something about this. Can I pick your brain about this, join or start a club on that issue. Right. Great. OK, after three to six months, maybe you'll decide that issue is your life's passion. Maybe you'll be like, OK, I got it. Like, I'm done with that issue. But now guess what? You will have you will have Sidiq muscle. You will have practiced on something concrete and specific over and over again instead of just generally.
I'm thinking about power. I'm thinking about power. No, no, no lift stuff. So if you just go to our website, Citizen Universe, Unite US, there is ways for you to join that club, participate in of Saturday, start your own kind of find ways to get them connected with others who care about this stuff. And I think, you know, of course, a lot is lost during zoom times. But I would say what is game too?
There's a focusing that happens in the kind of conversations that you and I are having here, Battuta, in the ways that people realized, OK, like they're listening to this. They're seeing ideas in the chat, like today they can start learning how to lift stuff. And that, to me, is kind of beautiful and pretty exciting. Eric Liu, CEO, co-founder of Citizen University, thank you for the explanations and the breakdown. Thank you for the examples on the ground.
Thank you for the tangible calls to action. Thank you for your energy and building a relationship with us for this time that we've had together. So appreciate you and good luck to you, to your family, to your mother in particular, will be in touch. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Hey, you. It's me again. It's just us. Just me and you. And I got to tell you that I am fired up after that. Well, really connected with me was the idea that power justifies itself and we create very convincing stories to explain the very unequal distribution of that power.
But the good news is we can create new stories of power and actually shift it and generate it. That's what we're doing with this show. That's what we're doing with you. But we are just here to think about and talk about power. We're here to lift stuff in each episode. We're going to share things you can do internally and externally to strengthen your citizen practice. Don't worry about the details. We've posted them to how the citizen dotcom or this episode is two things you can do.
The first is inspired by Eric and the work of Citizen University. You already heard him say it. Start or join a club, ideally at something useful to your community. But you can have a broad interpretation of useful. Maybe it's about supporting kids in your neighborhood. Maybe it's a film club. The point is to help you practice power in relationship with others, ideally some strangers. This is big citizen stuff right here. You'll practice how groups of people make decisions self-governing, are accountable to each other, negotiate different needs and perspectives, collaborate and importantly, resolve conflicts, after you do this, let us know.
Send an email to action at How to Citizen Dotcom, include episode one somewhere in the subject line and tell us about your club or go one step bigger and shout it out publicly on social media. Use the hashtag How to citizen and say something like, I don't know. I started a text message group for local business owners in my neighborhood.
What, what? And then what? What would be completely optional? Like if that's not your voice, like, definitely don't don't do it just because I did it like you. You do you. This next action is something less public. We want you to practice seeing and understanding power, what Eric calls reading and writing power.
It will literally become your superpower as a citizen and we are going to put this episode to use. So this is something that you're going to need to take some time with. Write things down, type it up. I'll say it to you. But again, the details are at how too citizen dotcom. It's four steps to this here process number one, pick an issue that you care about that impacts a specific community or the general public. Whatever works for you, for example, could be police budgets and how large they are.
I have some interest in that topic. Number two, I want you to write down who benefits from the current state of things and who doesn't make a list. Three. Answer the question, how are the decisions about this issue made and in that process, is there accountability, transparency and participation by those most affected by that decision? In the last step, number four. Write down who influences the decision making process and what types of power do they use?
Now, you don't have to write it down. You can rewind, pause, think out loud to yourself, give a soliloquy. Doesn't matter too much how you do it, only that you do it. And we welcome you sharing it with us, typing it or with an audio memo. If you want, send that email again to action. And How to Citizen Dotcom include episode one in the subject line. We are so grateful to Eric Liu for helping us democratize democracy, check out Citizen University U.S. for so much more about their activities, their trainings, their virtual events, and find one of Eric's many books, wherever you like, finding books and supporting those booksellers.
You can also follow Eric online. He is on Twitter. Eric P. Liu. That's Eric with a C, the letter P l IU. And we're going to post this whole episode. A transcript show notes and more resources at How to Citizen Dotcom. Do check it out. And if you like what you experienced here, please share this show.
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How a Citizen with Berrytown Day is a production of I Heart Radio Podcast executive produced by Nick Stumpf, Myles Gray, Elizabeth Stewart and Baratunde Thurston. Produced by Joel Smith, edited by Justin Smith. Powered by. Get Down to Cape Town is a podcast about the explosion of Korean culture all over the world and why it's here to stay. I'm your host, Esther Choi, founder and chief of several restaurants in New York City. And I truly believe that food is the ultimate gateway to getting to know a culture.
And that's how it all started for me. I've been using my passion for cooking to cultivate a deeper understanding into my culture, and now I can proudly say that I am an ambassador of Korean food and culture. And by using food as an entry point, we dig in deeper to the rich and fascinating culture of Korea.
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