Are you ready? Mysteries, the hit fiction podcast team and. Yes, reaches this thrilling final season. Just coming after my dear child team NBA Season four, no one is allowed up here to listen and follow team and on the radio out Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts, take me to to Monday. But now we wait til and be like, hey there.
It's Mango hosts a part time genius, co-founder of Mental Floss. And like many of you, I'm one of the 21 million people that have picked up gardening in the past six months. That's why I'm hosting the brand new podcast, Humans Growing Stopped, Brought to You by Heart Media and your friends at Miracle-Gro join me on a green adventure as we talk with experts, friends and surprise guests and hear what gardening means to them.
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Welcome to two cities in the Desert Sun, 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.
I'm Baratunde. We want this show to do a few things for you, make you feel better and more empowered and give you things to do to improve your community and our democracy as a whole. That feels super essential right now as the election twenty twenty season ratchets up and we get more dispirited and assaulted. By a lot of noise, keep your head up. And if you need to just take a time out, trust me, I get it. I truly hope this episode helps restore you a bit.
It's designed to give you a turbo boost of people power. We've recorded it with our live zoom audience, as usual, which you can join by visiting how two citizen dotcom sign up for my emails or text messages. That's where we put the invite to protect our Zoome universe. And speaking of email, I want to thank you if you've sent us a message to action at how to Citizen Dotcom or comments at how to citizen dotcom. And thanks, especially if you shared a rating or review in your podcast app, it really helps with the trolls.
Now I'm going to hand the mic to myself as we all learn to let the kids lead.
In this episode of How a citizen with their resume day, we are going to explore two things that get a lot of lip service in the worlds of philanthropy and democracy. Civic participation and youth empowerment. Can you hear the white papers ringing in your hair and an uninspiring fashion when those terms ring not so loudly in the streets? Civics, as we've talked about it on this show, is a topic that's gets very watered down out there in the quote unquote real world, there are civic education and participation project that often shy away from addressing the idea of people power, the history of injustice in this country, and why our systems are the way they are, the questions about power in the system and who benefits from those decisions and why the grounding in that deep understanding of power.
Instead, this diluted version of civics. It focuses on the idea of being informed and making sure your representative knows your views and maybe volunteering maybe and none of those are bad things. They are, in fact, necessary, but they're not sufficient. They aren't the whole picture. And they miss key aspects that I just mentioned which come down to true accountability and things that make real change happen. We think this idea of youth empowerment and civic participation needs a reset because at the same time we're facing some pretty big challenges.
I don't know climate change, racial inequality, economic inequality and the purposeful erosion of our democratic institution. And during all that, we hear this refrain. The youth will save us, it's now up to the kids. This dastardly commencement speech, which burdens the next generation with the failures of all those who came before, who should have handled it.
It offends me. That's not how we do that, that is not fair. We don't tell kids to clean your room and then clean our rooms to. I say to the youth, welcome to our democratic society, we will be there with you beside the front and sometimes behind to let you leap. Now we hear this talk about many in the adult population talking about GenZE, a self obsessed and checked out with social media, and they're disengaged and they can't be counted on to vote.
At the same time, we put the pressure of the literal world on them. We berate them for not believing in institutions. We've given them very little reason to believe in. I find it interesting that this generation is putting pressure on the system in their own way and have their own savvy critique as to how change will happen. Given my perspective on this, you're going to understand why I was thrilled to learn about this relatively new organization and campaign that is tackling these things head on, but in a very new, real and promising way, I am thrilled to welcome the co-founder and CEO of Civics Unplugged, Josh Thompson, along with Zoe Jenkins, a civics 20 30 campaign steering committee member, to talk with me today about the founding of Civics Unplugged and the launch of their Civics 20 30 campaign.
Welcome, Josh. Welcome, Zoe. What is the mission of civics unplugged and what was the motivation for founding?
So you want to take the mission and I'll talk a little bit about the founding share.
That sounds great. So it's in everybody's email bio. The kids will read. You know, we have so many systems that are falling apart and rewritten. I think you phrase it purposely know we're putting the impetus on Generation C while also not believing in that. And so it's a and plug we're totally flipping that the kids aren't just the future. They aren't going to just be our future presidents and our future leaders. They're going to be leading us right now.
And we're seeing that just perfectly in this moment. So I think that's really demonstrated by the fact that our steering committee, of which I'm a part of, we're all high schoolers, all under the age of 18, helping run the campaign to find other GenZE projects. And stuff like this isn't being done because we're not trusting kids to lead when we know that they have all the power and the knowledge and the spirit to be able to do so. So I think that is really the core of our mission is really operationalizing that and letting kids start reading right now because we desperately need the leadership of young people, if that's often made any clearer by everything that's going on.
And I'll toss it over to Josh to talk a little bit more about the founding.
I was part of a mission of Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey, from Newark, New Jersey, and he was deciding to run for the highest office in our country. And he helped me so much in life that it's not even a question that when he does something, I usually tell people, do you need me or want me with Cory? It's either one I'm in. And so I was traveling around the country and I was at all these different rallies and convenience and a lot of campaign, not his others and other adults.
We're looking out into the rallies and saying, I can't believe the adults in these parents drag these kids out. And I was like, you know what? I think it's the other way around. And there's only one way to find out, which is to get out there and start talking to the kids. And I call them kids in our community. They asked to be identified as that. And so, yeah, all the things I think that we may all in this community have a feeling of, they go up to someone like Zoe and say, hey, you get dragged out here in the because you know what I had to do to get my mom out here?
She's got to be more involved. Like, I had to bring her out here to tell her where it was to get her, that you're getting her on time. And that's just when it started to come together. It's a bit of a misnomer. Sure. You introduce me as as the CEO of Civics, unplug my contract. And in my title within the community is that I'm the executive assistant to Generation Z. It is a intergenerational theme of service and action in service.
But it started with us saying, let's have a all inclusive paid for a trip to our nation's capital. Let's start there. Access is everything. We say that kids will be the change, but they've never even been to the nation's capital, majority of them.
So I started going around speaking about that kind of connective tissue, and that's what I met a couple other kids and young folks and another co-founder, Gary Ch'ing, who was part of Google and building out the Google cloud. And he said, I'm a build you digital platform. And I said, What digital platform? We're all going to D.C.? And he goes, Right, I'm a build you digital platform. And that's when we started to bring in this community that has led us to today.
Before we catch up to today, Josh, I want to go a little bit further into your background, because what you shared is fascinating. What I've learned about you before. The Cory Booker speed dial moment is also fascinating. And you talk a bit about your personal journey pre that with St. Benedict's and even a bit of your childhood. I'm a multiple time high school dropout.
Talk about a system not serving right. Just getting handed one. The education system was was not serving in that sense and for the age of 11, lived in over five states, a couple of dozen homes. But the home and where I became a man, as I say, is in Newark, New Jersey and at St. Benedict's and guiding into that community, say Benedicts really threw me for many, many reasons. One father, Edwin Leahy, much like our community.
Yeah, he's the headmaster, but no way the kids run that entire school and father of one family at a time where I had no community, did not know where the next place I was going to sleep. And he welcomed me in to this experience that I'm so thankful for everything at St. Benedict's. It was the first time where I was brought in and the first day I went up to him, sucked my teeth, told him everything I had, experience it.
I told him everything that I didn't like about the school. And he goes, Great, don't bring me problems, bring me solutions and even. More to the story is, we know at St. Benedict's, so there's a boarding facility there and majority of us in that boarding facility are in a situation where we don't have parents did not be with our parents or we need a more structured community in that sense. And that's where I learned and was called out that there was a time in my life all I wanted was a door to hide me from everyone.
I'm good. Just just put me behind the door and I'll be all right. Well, the dormitory that I was put in, they didn't have doors. And I found out that because if you are depressed, if you're feeling this anxiety, what you do is retreat. So the whole concept of St. Benedict is living out in brotherhood and sisterhood as we welcome young women. When I was brought into the home of St. Benedict's, that is when I met the goofy 31 year old wearing Birkenstocks.
Cory Booker, mayoral hopeful, running for our city. And I'm part of what was called the street fight gang and the central ward I used to work at when I was not in high school, hustling, playing basketball, putting a round ball through round hoop. And I found Corey. I found for a campaign, I found his movement. He was welcoming and people who were not of the age to vote like me people because of our criminal justice system and equities, had lost the right to vote.
And that's when it was really imparted upon me. Sure, Corey wanted to win and he knows how to count votes, but it was something bigger, as he said. Josh, what were you doing with your time before this movement? So I met him at that same time. I met my wife to be and that's when I started to get deeply involved as well with the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Miss Rachel Robinson is an angel on this earth. And I started to intern and work around there, which the motto is Education is our pitch.
So I never had a choice, man. I'm happy for that.
So in a roundabout way that some of the background thank you for going there with us. That often helps to understand where you're at by knowing where you've come from a bit. Zoe, I want to know a bit more about you and your connection to Civics Unplugged. How did you get connected to this merry band?
Yeah, so I guess I'll walk back. I was an inaugural fellow with C, so I applied last November. But I want to go back a little bit of has I even come to the point of wanting to apply. So my mom, she is a CPA, she's an accountant. She worked at her parents trash company. They were first generation college students, paid for on their own, got a loan during Jim Crow, which was really difficult for African-Americans.
And so they really instilled in her and all their children. It's like you're going to college or you're not my child. Like education was like the pathway to success for them to be able to start a trash company that's so profitable. Fifty years later, they're like, yeah, you're going to college and you need to take your schoolwork very seriously. And that's something that she and my father have both instilled in me. And then going through elementary and middle school with that attitude and seeing a lot of students who don't have that attitude for a myriad of reasons.
There are a lot of students who, I guess, quote unquote don't care about school, but there's something going on at home. That's why they're not caring about school or there's something going on with how we're catering to different types of students. There's something with the way that we handle discipline in schools that makes students not want to go. And so with all of that experience, I got involved with a local group in Kentucky around education, advocacy and student voice because students go to school thirty five hours a week.
It's a full time job, but they're not at the decision making table deciding what's going to be on our curriculum. How are we going to discipline students? What is the school they look like? And so I've been doing that work. I guess I'm approaching almost four years, four or five years of doing that work. And then the Application Pacifics on came about and I was like, wow, this is a great opportunity to take know education work to a macro scale.
I think I kind of skimmed over the word civic because I was like, that doesn't apply to education and civics isn't the same thing. And then I think probably within like three weeks of being in the fellowship, I was like, oh, wait, I was like education reform, civics. I think that's all the same stuff. And I was like, this is a great opportunity to unite those two things. And then going through the fellowship, we had our launch event for Civics Twenty Thirty and I hosted that event.
We had Cory Booker speak, we had engineering, and then that was kind of the launch pad for me, getting more involved with the steering committee and then just getting more committed ever since. And it's just it's been fantastic the whole way through as we use the word launch pad.
And I want to give you an opportunity to talk about this organization you launched. Tell us the name and what your mission is.
OK, so with civics unplugged, I launched a diversity, inclusion, equity and anti-racism training for Gen series called Dice. And it was inspired off of some stuff that happened in my own school. I was in this math and science program, predominantly white and Asian students, and a lot of them were using the N-word. And I was like trying to figure out how do I, like, educate my peers on why that's not appropriate. And I. I realized I was like, I've been in K through 12 education all my life, and I cannot even put the words to it of how do I explain to someone why that's exclusive language and why that's not OK.
And so with a little bit of extra time during quarantine, with school being more flexible, I did a lot more research into there must be some kind of diversity, inclusion training for young people. Right. Apparently, that's not the thing. And so I partnered with some people at the University of Kentucky, partnered with Vertov, one of the co-founders, and just an amazing resource in all things anti-racism and SIU to create a curriculum that's free and open source.
And we're starting our own pilot cohorts here in the next week or so. So just super exciting to try and get this to as many young people as possible because it's so important. And it always blows my mind that we were on this train probably in February. So before a lot of us were, I think, more in tune with everything going on. And so we were just kind of, you know, perfectly positioned, I think, to really jump off in the summer here.
How old are you? I'm 17 years old. I have a huge smile on my face right now.
And also noting that I think part of why this training didn't exist is because we have this assumption that young people just magically know things like the next generation, just it's in the air. They breathe different air or their genetics are slightly modified to a more woak setting.
And someone's got to be a part of that educational process. So I'm really grateful for the effort you've taken to either of you. Do you have this term in your movement called civic superheroes? Who or what is a civic superhero to you?
So, you know, I think we all have superheroes. Like when we were younger, we all looked up to Superman, Batman. I love these superheroes. They're so powerful and they're going to save the world. And I think that we ascribe to them the ability to fly this crazy ingenuity, all of this wealth. In the case of that man, did you buy any gadget that you want? And I think our society is in the place where we need superheroes.
We need people to look up to who we know that these are the people leading systems change. And so I think that that is the inspiration behind the use of the word. I mean, we would normally call them these are icons. They're they're titans, social entrepreneurs. I mean, they're great words and they describe who they are, but they don't really get at the powerfulness of somebody who can really unite a group of people around the betterment of a society.
And so I think that's a lot of what our language at civics unplugs about. We're all space themed, all astronaut themed, talking about lift off. You know, everybody was just an astronaut kind of exploring the realm of space and just that representing the social betterment, which I think is so crucial to the whole visionary culture that we've created with that organization. Visionary is sometimes a word overused, but I think in the case of your organization, you actually have a vision.
It's not a 20 20 vision. It's a 20, 30 vision. I think you call it civic 20, 30. There's a plan. There's people involved in moving us toward it. You call them builders. What is the civics 20 30 vision and what motivates someone to be a builder in that in achieving that vision?
So someone asked me the other day, Josh, what's your role at Civics Unplugged? I said to pick fights with the kids that I consistently lose. Right. And that's like one of the funnest things in the world. But that dialogue is super important, right? It's not just, hey, I disagree with something. So it's why how was the research behind it? Don't just say I don't like the system and throw to have you experience it. Have you gone gone all the way?
And all the adults that you see recognize the civic superheroes. They were all selected and elected by our community, which was one of the funniest thing, launching Civic 20 30 that when Cory was selected or the rock, it was the easiest outreach I've ever done. I literally would drop a line of like, I can care less if you do this. The fellows in the community have selected you in the C the speed of the civic superheroes. That sort of intuition of the kids were remarkable.
But, you know, the launch of it when I picked the first fight, it made me roll my eyes, the community, to come up with this 10 year pledge. I've been in politics and government, public service. How many superintendent? Five year plans that I heard about. I got a three year strategy. A five year turnaround plan is like here we go. We're recreating this other generation of a plan that's going to be written like a white paper put on a shelf and get dusty.
And that's when one of the community members said, nope, here's the deal with the 20 30 plan. And then so talk about how you become a builder and how that's evolved. They said adults a lot of the way stressed out about what to have for lunch tomorrow. The ten year plan is when I make my ten year pledge around climate change that informs what I'm going to have for lunch for the next ten years, the impact that that has on the environment.
And that is the sense of actionable pledges. And that's what I got it. And that's when Zoe and the kids just ran with it. So. So if you want to talk about the process and how you become a builder.
Yeah. How you become a builder is just that you're committing to build a better 20, 30. So at the end of our fellowship, all of the fellows who were to become builders created their own 10 year pledges. They designed what is the ideal community? What is our ideal democracy? What am I personally going to do over the next year, five years, ten years to realize that mission? We all signed a declaration where we laid out this is what we want twenty thirty to look like.
This is how all of our individual pledges play into that. This is how our community is going to be governed. We have probably asked flat of a structure as possible. The only reason we need steering committee members is because he needs somebody, I guess, to just sit in the room every Monday because not everyone can get there Monday nights, but the whole building community votes on everything. And so, yeah, just being a builder just means that you're committed to building the future of 20 30.
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We're always on these dumb calls and these dudes are like, I missed this dude. Yeah, I missed you guys. It's true. I do miss you guys a lot. I miss you guys so constantly. So we thought, hey, you know what? Our conversations this important told me these are important conversations we're having and the world needs to hear it.
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Don't even get me started. What are some examples of the picture of 20, 30 that you've painted?
So my own personal builder pledge revolves around Dyce a lot around how can we get people to be more vulnerable, be able to listen to other people and just work more collaboratively, organically. But there are a lot of other people's pledges, like what Josh mentioned, that revolve around climate change. We have people who are focused on election reforms, and it's just a really diverse array of what people are committing to. But I would say getting a chance to see some of our other builders ideas, which you can also actually find on our website for the most part.
And a lot of our own pledges are just out there for people to see and to ask us about building a society and a community that listens to everybody. And I think this works more concretely together than we are right now, because that's the basis of any kind of system change. We need to be listening to the people who are on the front lines, the people who are experiencing it, but just making the through line of connecting it and bringing the value proposition to every single citizen.
What are some of the motivations of the builders in this community?
I'll say that something our co-founder mentioned to me recently, and I think I totally realized, is that every single builder has some kind of chip on their shoulder, that you don't just wake up in life wanting to totally flip all the systems that you've been experiencing and living through, like on their head. You just wake up wanting to do that. There has to be something that happens which is sad. We want everybody to see that value add. But I think the motivation is that people see a problem, they're experiencing a problem.
They know someone who's experiencing a problem with the system. They've taken a guess of the traditional routes. And at some point they realized they were like, no one else is going to do something about this. I have to be the one who steps up and does it. And there are a lot of natural barriers, especially for young people. You if you're under the age of 18, you can't sign certain checks. You can't, you know, create certain contracts that your parents being there.
And that, I think, is the real beauty of Josh and the rest of the co-founders. They have a lot of value, I assure you, but a huge value that they can sign contracts for us.
I just really operationalised that the kids can leave. And there are a lot of superficial barriers that we place on young people, on people of color and we place on women that we place on various other people of different social occasions. But they're virtual barriers and barriers that we have employed are committed to helping people break and move past.
Can you explain even more how civics unplugged differs from existing civic engagement work?
It's been natural Bhatinda, in terms of how we're different. One being we consistently get this feedback from our partners. Hey, we are kid lite, like the advisory kid heavy, and we're working with our community to really understand that for them, they can't just flip that switch. They just can't make that culture change organizationally. Overnight, we need to walk together. We need to learn together. And and we share our mistakes consistently. But what we really found is when the fellows started to be recognized for their work, two things.
One was other nonprofit or more specifically, political campaigns wanted access to our kids. Cool. We are never we are decentralized. We're not the barrier. But when I started asking what they wanted to do, they said, well, the Internet's a school. What do you want them to do? I want them to run our product, our social media campaign. Think about how we do engage youth. I was like, that's a leadership position. That's not an internship.
So show me the budget that you have to recognize that. And we were met with a lot of them saying, OK, I'm with you. It is leadership, but we don't have the budget. And I said, cool, we'll chip in. We're not going to let budget get in the way of these youth attaching themselves as leaders. We're investing capital directly into these projects like Zoe's, like the project done in St. Louis. Talk about a chip on your shoulder.
Our builder down in St. Louis is working and has been recognized statewide that you need a notary to recognize your mail in ballot. And he has built this organization and got funding to provide access to notaries and even beyond. And he called me one night with a list of like five thousand names he like. I need connections to all these people. I said cuz I know Bozsum why. And he goes, I did a complete internet search and any one that is ever said young people need to vote.
I'm going after him on this because if they actually mean it, they will help with this. I was like that is that mentality that we are just lifting up that civics and pledge was remarkable.
That is remarkable. I mean, talk about calling someone in. That is what that means. The boldness of someone stepping up to that degree is beautiful. I had my own experience with a GenZE leader within the climate space who hit me up. And she's like, you're on TV a lot. I need introductions, all these bookers, so they can. Or directly from the most impacted generation, about the biggest crisis our species has ever faced. You can join our Zoome.
Welcome to my every morning, that is.
So despite or in addition to this focus on GenZE, your movement and campaigns have an intergenerational flavor to them. Can you share more about that perspective, how you were achieving that other than using people over 18 to sign cheques?
Appreciate it. Yeah, we are not anti generational. We are not that OK boomer movement, which is not GenZE. This is caused at that. And really from the founding ethos back to man. I wish this existed when I was always age. The amount of things that I did in my public service that I'm proud of. But it could have been a lot more impactful if I understood the system as opposed to the issue. I just did my issue.
I didn't know what system in which it existed. In and with age comes wisdom, no matter what that wisdom is, whether sharpening your own conviction or learning from what they have carried out. So our community is 14 years old, all the way up to ninety four of individuals that have signed pledges and have committed and rolled up their sleeves. And it comes in a lot of different forms and fashions. But that superhero is not a superhero theme. We are superheroes.
People say, oh, you lean into it. We are explorers, we are astronauts, we are superheroes. We are building the largest democracy movement. Forget America that this world has ever seen. And we say that with humility and with conviction. And so we ask the intergenerational of, OK, I see your LinkedIn, I see that you're a good CEO. That's great. What is your actual superpower? And we have this monster in the community.
You have to lean into what you're good at to to show that you can lift this community up. But what's the other side of you that you don't get the flex all that often and one lean in or what you're good at and then lean into that side. So there's everything from providing jobs, providing mentorship to joining boards of of the organizations and movements that are fellows and builders are launching. I don't know if I did that justice. You tell me.
I think so.
And I think you framed it perfectly. There's a lot of wisdom of the co-founders, all the board members. I mean, you can look at their LinkedIn, but you can also just talk to them. And I've been amazed. I'm like, wow, I'm like, these people are doing stuff that like I want to do. And I know I got that feeling when I talk to Nick, for example, because he used to be an educator and went to law school and I was doing civics and blood work and reading program developed.
I was like, wow, I'm like, this is like the education person that like I've always needed to talk to. And so I know I joke that, you know, so much of their purpose is of administrative assistance. But there's an even added I mean, they're not assistants. They're administrative assistants. Yeah, there's a lot of feedback. There's a lot of advice. There's a lot of help that comes from having these adults. I can't tell you how many times I have slapped Gary.
Gary, I'm trying to figure out how to do this tech thing or Gary, how do you figure out this? I'm trying to figure out how do I frame this for a college essay. He's great response so quickly. It's always there, but then it goes back and forth. So I would say that not only are all of the co-founders mentors, but I think we're also just friends out think that young people get to have that relationship with adults all the time where it's like you rely on them, but they just as much rely on you as well.
And that's not a dynamic that you see a lot. I think when young people have mentors, it's been a really powerful and transformational experience.
You've talked a bit about the flat organizational structure, about being executive assistance to the generation. From Josh's perspective, what are some of the top technologies or even processes that you have in place that are critical to him, to powering his campaign into actually governing in this different way?
I'll say in terms of technology, slack number one, I don't think anything that's going on see what exists without slack. The ability to just message anybody in slack whenever you want to is just so powerful. So I think just like flattening that organizational structure, you know, when you have an idea and you want the steering committee to hear it, you just at all of them in a message, you're like, hey, that's steering committee. I want you to think about this or or you can add anybody on the team.
Hey, I want you to look at this and you get the notification that we have, I think, a really strong culture of like when someone has an idea, when someone wants to experiment, you go all in. You're supposed to help them figure it out. And I think that's a really powerful attitude we all have. It's just that we want to experiment because that's the only way you figure out how to do things better. And so while we have a strong culture, we have traditions.
We're always looking for ways to change that and to make it better, more conducive for everybody. Like, for example, we have an opportunity where people can share things. And so sometimes it's like you can notify everybody in the workspace. So like all one hundred and eighty six builders, we get notified every time somebody posts an opportunity and some. I was like, hey, that's a lot of notifications in the day. Could we maybe condense this?
Can we do like a weekly thing? And now we do weekly roundups. And that's something that I think in a more hierarchical organization would have taken weeks to figure out. And we we made that change in two days. And I think it's really powerful and really key, I think, to how fast civics is able to move on a lot of things.
I like the idea of my city council being available to me on Slack. I would like to fix this. This as a write up change the funding of the police do it. I have one question that we ask all our guests now, which is this show sees citizen as a verb, more so than a legal status. And so if you interpret citizen as a verb for both of you, how would you define the word citizen? And I think two words, I guess, come to mind, I guess, is just vulnerability, knowing that you don't know everything and it's important to seek out the voices and the information that you're not hearing, it can really shape the kind of change that we can create.
And then I think mobilizing, you know, I think when you have a really great idea, when you're really passionate about something, it's important to bring people along. The co-founders of See, you could have just run on this idea of what do we want 20, 30 to look like. Let's just do this as a group. But, you know, they knew that they needed young people behind that. That's why they put together the fellowship. That's why they started to see you, because young people had to come and be on that mission with them.
And that's an impetus. It's also been put on all of us, is we in many cases have the privilege of being able to be a part of this community, to be able to check in every hour or so. How can we bring young people who aren't able to do that or how can we bring young people who aren't engaged yet into this movement as well?
And Josh, for you, how would you define citizen if you interpret it as a verb?
I'm bad with verbs and adjectives and stuff like that, so I'll just riff on what's real. But what I think about it is just that whole idea of how boring is life if you're actually the smartest one in the room, that is a position I never want any myself to be in, but a lot of us to be in. So I think about that in terms of how you do a citizen to consistently seek out communities that are more active, smarter, intelligent, thoughtful than you.
And the second one is how you and I vote on it, as I was rooted in the love of Jackie Robinson's legacy and had the privilege to to grow up there. And Mr. Robinson wrote a book, First Class Citizenship, and talk about him turning it into a verb. We post his professional baseball career. It picks up of what he did thereafter to make citizen a verb and more active in people's life. So that's what comes to mind. Hi, I'm Bethany Van Delft, host of a new podcast, The 10 News, 10 Minutes of News and Fun for the new generation of Curious Thinkers.
We're here to help you make sense of it all, from current events to science, art and pop culture. We'll talk to experts and special guests and hear from young people just like you. Listen to the Sun News on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts with new episodes every Tuesday and Thursday.
I'm Jennifer Palmieri, host of a new podcast from the Recount. All just something about her. After working on five presidential campaigns, I thought women could achieve the same success as men if they played by the rules. Then 2016 happened in my podcast. Just something about her. I'll talk with women, CEOs, athletes, politicians and more so together we can create our own girls. Listen to just something about her I heart radio app, Apple podcast, or wherever you get your podcast.
And now we're going to go to questions, starting with this first one in terms of leadership, have you found it more effective to empower people to become leaders or has it been more effective to bring together and catalyze people who already are taking action as leaders?
So that has been one of the coolest things to play out. So when we announce to the community that, hey, you went through this fellowship, you put it in with us and now we're going to invest in your project. So. Right, that project plan, we'll invest in it once again. I was wrong. I figured know all a couple of hundred plus fellows moving into buildings would have made their own proposal. But we did see was about 50 50, 50 percent of them bring in work from other folks and their peers that they already saw happening in the community, saying I lean in behind the scenes, which is often more important, and they need the support.
They need this community. And then about the other 50 per cent say, hey, you know, I'm the leader. This is what I want to want ahead. And that was really something very hopeful that I experienced.
There's a follow on in our next question from Jennens Hahn. Not all kids are leaders. How can kids who aren't into leadership still be involved? Yeah, I can take that.
You don't have to lead an organization. You don't have to be on the steering committee. So much of everything that SIU has done would not have happened without people just doing the work. And I mean, like we have leaders who are doing the work, of course, as the front people who are maybe on podcasts like this or people who are going out and kind of evangelizing the message. But we wrote a ton of song parodies to invite of our civic superheroes to come to commence.
And that's work that every builder participated. We had builders who didn't submit their own projects, but that they can write some really good drak parodies. I didn't even know that was a skill that people had. But there are so many ways for people to plug in. And I think the parody is a great example of, like, you don't think that's something that's going to help. But if we hadn't written those parodies and hadn't gotten those people to come to commence, would we have the energy right now that we're having we have the connections that we're having in the name recognition?
No. So in many ways, you know, those just writing those songs like eleven o'clock at night in the middle of the summer, really did catalyze a lot of the civic 20 30 movement. So I think there are a lot of ways to be a leader in your own right without necessarily leading like a team of people.
I have long believed that Rick Perry's working, restoring and renewing our democracy, and now I have the evidence to use that, that our next question comes from Ned and Amber is about the organizational structure.
How big is the organization, the number of staff or those involved day to day. But it's related to this idea that most people have a sense that an organization needs a hierarchy to ensure order. So in addition to sort of your org chart and headcount numbers, how does your culture defy the narrative of hierarchy to ensure that things get done?
It frustrates me at times, but the steering committee that Zoey talks about, we've leaned into that structure where they are the ones because we built it with them and co-pilot in it and then agreed that these five community members were the ones that make the decisions on what projects we invest in. And I couldn't love that more because I know myself and I knew I would start to mingle in it. And the second I think it was the first project that you all invested in.
I jumped in. It was like, well, I got all these questions about it. I'm not sure it was like, well, that's why we set up the structure. And so it is actually leaning into structures to ensure that there is leadership and accountability within these different mechanisms. So we started with two hundred and twenty fellows. We got hundreds of applications from all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, our community. So you got to recognize we had zero marketing budget.
We did zero ads. We built a website with these kids and said, take it out and start with 220, because we were going to culminate in Washington, D.C. and Georgetown only gave us I'm going to love you, Georgetown, but you only gave us two hundred twenty bits. So that was that forcing function. Now, when covid shut down and we as a community decided, we decided in I think early April, Zoe, we weren't going to D.C. We called the shot when we weren't going to D.C., we started launching things like unplugged conversations, fireside chat.
So that's when we started to bring in hundreds of more other participants. And we just launched year two application. And in less than 48 hours, we got more than two hundred applications. In two days, we're probably going to cap around five hundred. But the size of everyone working on it all the time, I say is at about 11 deep. But we interact as a community every single day. So we start our mornings off with a morning reflection.
Where I come from, it's called convocation, but it's a mourning reflection where we all lean in set for the day. Expectations reflect on something challenging each other. But that's a bit of how we're structured in the size.
Thank you for that. We are going to go to a live question. We're going to Gunnar Carlson.
I'm going to Carlson. I'm in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thank you for this talk, first of all. And thank you for your leadership and service. Zoe, my question is for you and specifically, I work with a lot of youth. And so something I like to ask and get an honest answer on is one way that you think that adults like us can be supportive and get behind you and lean in and help your momentum. And what is one area where we need to just get out of the way because we're a problem and it would be easier to just let you do your thing.
I think the biggest thing is just to believe just believe in young people. If a young person has the drive to come and talk to you about a problem they're seeing if they have a new policy they want to recommend, then you just got to lean it. I can tell you from personal experience with my education advocacy group, we were lobbying in Frankfurt to increase pay, but also just increase the number of school counselors because our school counselor ratio is almost close to five hundred to one, which is just ridiculous.
Students aren't getting school counseling resources and that the response from a senator in the Kentucky legislature was you all should start a bake sale and raise money to pay for your school counselors. You know what it's like. I know people are laughing. They're shaking their heads. That's ridiculous. You know, you can't pay for school out of the bake sale. So I think that just overcoming that culture of writing kids off, if kids are going to come and lobby you in Frankfurt about how they think they need more school counselors, then, you know, they're lobbying just like anyone else.
What they really care about an issue in terms of, I guess, I guess tips as well as I think a lot of kids sometimes say we want to be treated like adults, but there's a nuance to that. We don't want to be treated like we're 30 because we're not 30, but just given the same kind of value in our opinions and what we know. But also recognize, though, that if you're 18, like what Josh was saying, we obviously don't have the same kind of wisdom as somebody who's lived much longer.
But that doesn't mean that our ideas are any less merited. It just means that we may need a little bit more support from intergenerational partners to operationalize those ideas.
I hope I answer your question. I just. Thank you.
I appreciate it. Thank you. I appreciate that question. And I'm still mad about the way those Kentucky elected officials responded to you. So I want to know how we can help out. Telling kids to do a bake sale instead of you doing your job is the height of offensive and small d democratic. So we got to work on that, especially in a pandemic.
So because there's been so much concern, especially by folks like your parents and the age group of your parents, about the consequences of living in a digital landscape, how do you manage the full time screen time life? What does that digital hygiene look like for you?
It's been an adjustment. So I think for a long time my resolve was like, well, I don't spend too much time on screens because I'm at school and I'm on screens. I'm at school. So it's OK for me to do all these phone calls. And I get home because I've had all this in-person interaction. And then when that went away, I think a lot of the kids I know it was kind of a wake up call, like, whoa, we need to do some things personally to make sure that we're filling our own cup before filling everyone else's.
So we've started kind of like taking Saturdays off of slack. And that's something we started recently. It was like we need to have something where people know I don't have to be on slack today because nothing's going to happen important today. I think a lot of digital tech, I think, is just making sure that you're being social, because if you're just working all day and just on some calls, which just work, I think that's really draining. But a lot of what we do at Civics Unplugged is a lot of fun.
If we're not getting right into the media things. We're just chatting, just chatting about how life is going. I always like to reference Lilyan, another person, a steering committee. She started the meme channel in civics. And we we just send memes and just talk about meme culture. It's just something casual so that you can be on a screen, because that's one of the few ways we can really interact with others especially and see you. But still, you have a good time while also working to save democracy on the other side of things as well of this conversation with both of you has been what I needed.
I think it's been what a listener needs right now. We are in this moment of extraordinary frankness and precariousness and balancing and feeling overwhelmed. And we don't get very many signals of anything worth fighting for. Looking forward to from our major news outlets. And you have filled my cup with your energy, with your approach, with your drak power and your belief in Meems to restore and renew democracy.
Thank you for showing up. Thank you for building relationships. Thank you for understanding your power. Thank you for working on behalf of the many and not just the few. That's how the citizen and we are learning from you in the process. Zoe and Josh, Civics unplugged family. You're welcome here any and every time. Thank you for sharing the space with us. And so we still go to work that bake sale when you click back of a very specific nature.
I don't know about you, but I am feeling motivated, inspired and uplifted by that energetic conversation with representatives from the next generation. We are so grateful to Josh Thompson and Zoe Jenkins for joining us. You can find them online. Joshua Thompson on Twitter or Civics unplugged on Instagram or Twitter. And you can also, of course, go to their website at Civics Unplugged Dog. This whole episode, a transcript and the actions I'm about to tell you are always findable and how to citizen dotcom.
So listen to what I'm about to say, but also just go to the website. Here are some actions you can take in the spirit of youth in action and letting the kids leave. Internally, we have, as usual, a writing exercise. This one is inspired by the Civics 20 30 program at Civics Unplugged, and it's to help you start your journey as a civics 20 30 built, even though you're not formally in the program you can run alongside.
So you want to fill in the following statements. To me, a flourishing democracy is one that a flourishing community is one that blank, right? By 20 30, I pledge to have contributed to the flourishing of the following communities and then list them. Finally, by 20 30, I pledge to have played any many or all of the following roles in service of creating a brighter future for my communities and American democracy. And if you're not American, that's OK.
I might be jealous of you. So pick your society, your community as it fits. After you've done developing your own vision, check out a bit of the vision of civics unplugged. We are linking to two pieces. Why we must save American democracy is one of them and what American democracy could look like in 20 30. For external actions, we got four things lined up for you in this episode. Number one, identify young people in your life that you could support.
Ask them what they are working on and ask how you can help, then help them. Number two, the Civics Unplugged Fellowship is open and accepting twenty, twenty one submissions. The deadline is November 30th. Twenty twenty. Nominate someone, encourage someone. Spread the word to get high schoolers involved in this process. Number three, get involved as a mentor yourself in supporting builders at the Civic Twenty Thirty campaign.
We have a link to that civics unplugged plug dash in and a bonus.
This is my favorite assignment by far. Don't tell the other producers my favorite assignment. I want you to find or create your own Drake, Meems and Paradies. Yes. Do it for democracy, y'all. This is how we do it. If you take any of these actions, share them with us via email action at How to Citizen Dotcom. Make sure to mention kids will lead and the subject line and brag about it loud and publicly on social media.
Use the hashtag How to Citizen. We love general comments. You can hit us up comments that had a citizen that Tom. I'm Baratunde Thurston, I am your host and I am infinitely reachable wherever Baratunde days are found on social media, but specifically reachable by you via text message at 202 eight nine four eight eight four four.
How does it fit in with Baratunde?
Day is a production of I Heart Radio Podcast Executive produced by Miles Gray. Next up, Elizabeth Stewart and Baratunde Thurston. Produced by Jill Wilesmith. Edited by Justin Smith.
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