What Could Possibly Go Right?

What Could Possibly Go Right?: Episode 45 Eric Liu

June 22, 2021

Show Notes

Eric Liu is the co-founder and CEO of Citizen University. He also directs the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship & American Identity Program. He is the author of several books, including “You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen” and “Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy”. Eric served as a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and later as the President’s deputy domestic policy adviser. He has served as a board member of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Washington State Board of Education, and the Seattle Public Library and is a co-founder of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. 

Eric addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:

  • That Citizen University is working to foster a culture of powerful citizenship
  • That “all great endeavors are collective endeavors”
  • The “incredible surge of mutual aid” we’ve seen during the pandemic
  • The importance of civic catalysts, who “may not have the title, authority or formal office of a leader, but they’re the ones who make it happen.”
  • That “you can’t possibly change another person’s mind if you yourself aren’t willing to have your own mind changed or your own heart opened.”


  • Book: “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America” by James and Deborah Fallows
  • Book: “You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen” by Eric Liu<
  • Book: “Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy” by Eric Liu
  • The Better Arguments Project https://betterarguments.org

Connect with Eric Liu

Website: https://citizenuniversity.us

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ericpliu


Vicki Robin

Hi, Vicki Robin here, host of What Could Possibly Go Right? a project of the Post Carbon Institute, where we interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good, so that they can help us all see more clearly and act more courageously in service to the crazy times we’re living through. Today’s guest is Eric Liu. He’s the Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen University and he also directs the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity program. He’s the author of several books, including The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker; The Gardens of Democracy, co-authored with Nick Hanauer; You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizens’ Guide to Making Change Happen; and his most recent, Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility and Democracy. Eric served as a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and later as the deputy domestic policy adviser. He has served as a board member of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Washington State Board of Education, and the Seattle Public Library, and is a co-founder of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. It’s a great conversation. I think you’re gonna enjoy it a lot.

Vicki Robin

Hello, Eric, and welcome to What Could Possibly Go Right? a project of the Post Carbon Institute, in which we interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good, asking each one in the midst of all that is going wrong, what could possibly go right? So your beat has been democracy and citizenship. You’ve been writing and teaching, convening conversations, writing programs all aimed at people owning their power as citizens to shape the future. About your flagship Citizen University, you say: Citizen University is building a culture of powerful responsible citizenship across the country. But as you and I know, all is not well for citizenship in the United States of America at this moment. While Trump is no longer President, Trumpism is not going away. Battles are brewing, we are polarized left to right, and also ordinary people from the elite. So thousands of pundits and reporters and podcasters and professors and movement leaders have filled the public square with anguished and often conflicting stories. Are we as polarized as it appears in the mirror of the mainstream media? Is the tide of democracy going out? Or is it coming in, whether in pockets or in states or in the nation in general? So I’m asking you to squint for us into this cacophony and tell us what you see. What green shoots of citizenship do you see sprouting now, as we emerge slowly from isolation, and return to the public square? So Eric, as I say to all my guests, what could possibly go right?

Eric Liu

Vicki, it’s so great to be with you. I love the question. I love that you’ve built a podcast around the question and I love the way that you’re awakening people’s sense of imagination. The question is fundamentally about civic imagination, and it’s not just an attitude shift, right? It is positive to think about what could go right, rather than face all that is going wrong, but I think that’s not just a matter of mindset, of are you optimistic or pessimistic. It’s really something deeper, and it goes to the word that you lingered on a second, when you read that mission statement for Citizen University, my organization, and the word was culture. Our work is about fostering a culture of powerful, responsible citizenship here in the US.

What is culture? Culture is our norms, our stories, our habits, our mindsets, our heart sets. So when you ask a question like “what could possibly go right?”, you are doing something that is right now rather countercultural. In an age of doom and doomsaying and where the evidence all around us, but also the ways that media is incented to tell stories, is all about catastrophe, real and imagined. The countercultural act of asking what could go right, is very much bound up with the spirit of counterculture that we have at Citizen University. We feel like we’re operating against a dominant culture of hyper-individualistic, short-term thinking, selfish atomistic approaches to everything, to economic life, to community life, to civic life, to democracy itself. What we’re trying to do in our work by building this culture of powerful citizenship, we are inviting people out of that market imperialistic isolation and into a web of relationship, a web of trust, a web of obligation. That may sound like, Oh, well, isn’t the whole American dream to be free of obligation, to be let alone, to be able to do whatever the heck you want? And to a certain extent, yes, and that is, I suppose, the way in which we are countercultural, but when you look more deeply at what’s made the United States function to the extent that it has and what’s made it thrive to the extent that it has, it has not been only about rugged individualism, right?

As I often like to say, rugged individualism never got a barn raised. Rugged individualism never got a vaccine made, for instance. All great endeavors are collective endeavors. All things that are purposeful, are purposeful because they are not done alone. The promise of American life is a promise that I think is still worth believing in, even though we haven’t achieved it, and that is the promise that this could actually turn out to be Planet Earth’s first mass multi-racial, multi-faith democratic republic. It hasn’t happened yet. People have tried two or three or four of those adjectives, but not all of them, not all of them at once, and not all of them at once in a way that’s inclusive of everyone. When the United States has succeeded at being a democracy, it did so by limiting the definition of who is us, by limiting what you call the public square to whites only, or men only, or people with literacy only, or people with an education only.

So this question of is it possible actually to do that is one that we are living through right now. I am hopeful that it’s possible, but I am not certain that it is. I think I say hopeful rather than optimistic, because to me, optimism and pessimism is a bit of a spectator’s frame. I’m optimistic that the Yankees might win the World Series this year. But I have pretty much nothing to do with it. Right? I’m a fan watching, hoping, wishing, praying for my team to do well. But hope implies agency, and it implies also responsibility. That is where I think that your question, this podcast, and our work at Citizen University are countercultural in that they are about responsibility, not only rights. They’re about duty and obligation, not only permission, liberty and privilege. I think one of the things that we’ve got to do here is to say that these things are not burdens; taking responsibility for the planet in a carbon neutral way, taking responsibility for racial justice. We’re speaking here, right now, the day after the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. Taking responsibility for the ways in which our systems of democracy are rigged by the few, for the few and of the few. Taking responsibility isn’t a burden, it’s not a heavy weight to carry. It’s a great liberation. It’s a great, exciting thing to actually be involved in the remaking of these systems to work for all of us.

So at Citizen University, we try to teach people literacy and power, and a grounding in character, because we believe that it’s power plus character that equals citizenship. You can’t just have one half of that equation. Some of our programs are really about breaking down the elements of power and how power works in your community, in your country, whatever scale it might be. But also to couple that literacy and power with an ethical moral framework that is not just about raw self-seeking; that is about obligation to others, but also a sense that we are situated in a time horizon that is more than just the now, that inherits the past, and that is steward to the future. Again, these are all deeply countercultural things in the United States of America in 2021. I think what gives me hope is that, when you ask to peer around the corner, scout for the culture of the future, I don’t know what I see around the corner. I can imagine that this will be a passage during which we reckon, during which we take responsibility and we actually have a fourth founding of the United States and really deliver on the idea of liberty and justice for all. But whether or not that comes to pass is completely up to us. So that’s why I’m passionate about this. I’m trying to expand the number of people who see this as our responsibility, as our purpose, but also as our joy, so that we can actually turn the outcome toward that positive vision.

But your question, is the tide of democracy in ebb or in flow? I don’t know. I don’t use the tidal metaphor; I use the garden metaphor. Democracy is not a machine, it is not a self-perpetuating, perpetual motion machine. Neither, by the way, is the market and you’ve spoken a lot about that. Markets, democracies, communities, families, are complex adaptive systems. They are ecosystems, they are gardens, and gardens required gardeners, gardens require tending. You can’t be laissez-faire about a garden. I mean, initially, you can and it’ll grow like gangbusters and be awesome. But then pretty quickly what happens? Noxious weeds will take root and take over. And that’s what’s happened in casino capitalism and the financialization of our economy, and that’s what’s happened in the rigging of the game of democracy, by both money power and other concentrated hoarded power. So we’re trying to make more gardeners in a hurry, and if we can get enough and mobilize enough and awaken enough, then that positive vision will come to pass. But if we can’t or won’t, then actually what we will return to is what most of human history has been, which is a Hobbesian vision in which the idea of equal citizenship is just a myth, a dream and a joke, and in fact, what prevails is just raw domination. Enough of us have had enough of a taste of that in the United States over the last four or five decades, that enough of us are seeking radical measures.

Some of those radical measures take the form of people believing in QAnon and storming the Capitol and drinking deep from the well of Trumpism. Others have gone hard to the left in ways that are equally wanting to blow up the current systems. But what we’ve got to do is to push for a radicalism that is inclusive, and for radicalism that defines success, not by saying, “I want to hoard for myself”, but “I want to actually circulate for all” because it is possible to both believe and to effectuate the idea that we’re all better off when we’re all better off. So that’s our work at Citizen University and that’s, I know, the spirit of everything you’ve done, not just this podcast, Vicki, but your great deep, rich career. I suppose anybody listening to this knows you, but I just want to say for those who might be first-timers to you in this work, you are a model, a paragon of everything I’m preaching, and so I just appreciate everything that you’ve done your work.

Vicki Robin

It’s sort of like I can’t help it, and I think that’s true of you, too. It’s just I wake up in the morning, and that’s who gets out of bed with me. I want to press on this a little bit, because what I hear you saying is that things are tipping in the balance. We really can’t say which way it’s tipping. We can be hopeful and we can be frightened. It’s sort of like sitting in a rowboat and leaning; like trying to be in relationship with these fairly high seas that we’re in. According to some people who’ve lived through dictatorship, these are the easy times, and these are the calm waters. There’s the idea here, though, that there are things that are happening that people can cooperate with. I would challenge you to tell us, it’s not all a mystery to you. You see places. And it may not be the typical things; it may not be the people in the streets, it may not be voting. You are an expert in observing citizens stepping up. Where do you see people stepping up such that you think, Whoa, that’s a strong oarsmen over there.

Eric Liu

I see it everywhere,  and that is why I am probably net hopeful. I see it among young people we work with in some of our youth programs at Citizen University who are eager to gain that literacy and power so that they can start figuring out how to make programs in their schools more inclusive of LGBTQ youth, so that they can start creating interfaith conversations in communities that are deeply divided, or deeply dominated by a particular evangelical Christian idea of Godliness. I see it among young people who are really mobilizing and organizing other young people to start taking on the inclusion of unheard voices in things like the policing debates or the immigration debates. But it’s not just among young people. One of the things that gives me the greatest amount of hope – and you’re right, it isn’t so much about elections, voting or policymaking – it’s been at the citizen level, the incredible surge of mutual aid. Now, that term has come into such widespread use during the pandemic. But if we’re honest about it, most frankly, most of what has been passing for mutual aid during the pandemic, and during the reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd, has been essentially glorified bulletin boards; like, I’m gonna post what I need, and other people will post what they might offer, and maybe people will read and cross-pollinate across those boards.

But what I’m seeing on the ground, and this is actually what we’re trying to accelerate on the ground through one of our programs called the Civic Collaboratory, is the practice of mutual aid; people actually coming together across different silos of sector, of region, of ideology, of generation, and saying, Look, I’ve got a project that I’m trying to do that does X in civic life, that tries to reform this particular part of our community, and I need help. What we’ve created is a format called the Rotating Credit Club where everyone else in the room doesn’t offer critique, or commentary, or throw pot shots or peanut gallery questions about the project. All other people in the circle in the room do is make hard commitments of help, investments of capital of every kind. I know a person who can do this; my organization can do that. I will help you with your communications. I’m a funder, I will invest some funds into this endeavor. Right? Whatever it might be, whatever the form of capital might be, we’re seeing these circles spread around the United States where people are making these kinds of mutual commitments of help in a way that says, Look, nobody’s coming to save us. It’s better to have a non-sociopathic President than a sociopathic President.

But the President of the United States will not save American self-government. American self-government will be saved by Americans themselves, taking responsibility for governing ourselves. And governing ourselves is not just about voting in elections. I am absolutely hugely focused also on what we do to show up in voting and show up in the push against voter suppression. But there’s a layer that precedes that, or that lays beneath that, that is this layer of seeing ourselves as responsible for each other and seeing ourselves as empowered to support each other in community and rebuilding that Tocquevillian muscle of association and mutuality. I see that everywhere in the United States, in small towns, in city blocks, and that gives me a fair amount of hope. We’ve partnered with Jim and Deb Fallows, authors of a book, Our Towns, and a documentary was recently made based on the book. They went to medium-sized towns all across the United States, out of the power corridors of the West and East Coasts, and out of the media and political and financial capitals of the United States, and they went to places like San Bernardino or Scranton. What they found in these places where people just coming together in a mutualistic spirit, to fix stuff, to solve stuff, to create new spaces where people could come to rehumanize each other, even if they might have voted for different people or worship at different places. They’re telling these stories of people. At Citizen University, we’re working with these people. I believe there are enough of us to turn that tide or to sustain the health of the garden of democracy. But I also think it’s important for things like this podcast to amplify that story and to give people greater reason for hope, and for faith that you’re not alone if you think you want to do this. There are many networks for you to join and many ways for you to start clubs and capacities where you live so that we can spread this spirit of awakening.

Vicki Robin

Yeah, we’ll just get as much as we can from you and put it in the show notes. I have a couple of questions here; lots of them actually. Number one, the places you mentioned in the Fallows project would indicate that there’s a scale of democracy, beyond which democracy becomes, there’s not enough glue. It’s more sort of ciphers, it could be done by AI reading your Facebook feed and voting for you because they know you better than you do. Is there a village scale? I’ll do three questions.

Number one, is there a scale of democracy beyond which it breaks down in some way or transforms into something else? The second thing is, and I think this is what you’re doing at the University, do all projects, solutionary projects, do they all have a spark plug? Is there a type of person, whether they’re trained by you or not, who just shows up and starts to move things around? And then the third thing is, and I think this is the toughest one, is I live in Whidbey Island. We have a strong Three Percenter group here. We have a history of white nationalist groups here. We have a very strong… The navy’s up north, but that’s not the only thing. We have a strong red culture up in the north end of the island. So all is not well in our little kingdom here. I know that the liberals want to be inclusive, and everybody has these inclusive ideas, but there’s a sort of being repelled by the cultures, the red cultures. It’s like, I want to be inclusive, but you have to come over to my house, and you have to drink my tea set. I puzzle about this. I puzzle and puzzle and puzzle. How do we become sufficiently civil, we’re not gonna like each other, but sufficiently interested in one another’s well-being that we don’t blow up our end of the boat to spite your end of the boat. So those are the questions; the scale, the spark plugs, and the polarization.

Eric Liu

Love all three questions. So very briefly, on scale, I think you actually put it very well. There is a scale of democracy that is probably optimal, and social media technology today makes us forget that. The anthropologist Robin Dunbar is the originator of what now is called the Dunbar number. He noticed that across civilizations, across different sectors, or whatever it might be, whether it was a Roman legion or a company in the Army or a corporate organization or a religious congregation, that humans most of the time throughout human history, they have a maximum number of meaningful relationships that they can hold at once; a maximum size of community to be embedded in for highest fidelity and quality of relationship. It’s like 100-150 such relationships, right? That may not mean 150 individuals. That might mean 150 families or 150 things but beyond that, things start to degrade. It is worth thinking about what would it take to Dunbar-ize our democracy and to rescale back. You know, that’s why the precinct is the precinct. But people think of precincts today just as an administrative artefact and where I have to show up to register to vote or to cast my ballot or something like that, or it’s a relic of a past in which precinct wards were the bosses and so forth. But the scale of 150 relationships is a pretty good place to start thinking about what change you can make, because frankly, the scale of the problems that we are facing in our democracy is so vast that it can be very disempowering. It can make people just give up preemptively. To try to fix democracy, you don’t have to fix democracy. Fix the group of 150 that you are part of, or join a group of 150 that you could make into an agent of the fixing.

That brings me to the second question you asked about the spark. And is there a certain X factor in people who can make this kind of change? I think there is, but I hasten to say, in all of our work in Citizen University, we try to avoid the word leader. We don’t talk about leadership. We speak of civic catalysts, not leaders, because there are many people who are catalysts of change and action and reimagination that may not have the title or the mantle or the authority or the formal office of leader, but they’re the ones who make it happen. They’re the ones who go ahead and, Okay, I’ll be the one I’ll organize the potluck. Okay, I’ll be the one who makes the spreadsheet. Okay, I’ll be the one who says, Come on, a few of us have to go over to those folks over there we don’t like and strike up a conversation. Sometimes they do have the formal mantle and authority of leader, but not always. I think, the person like you who just gets out of bed and can’t not do this, that’s part of it. But it doesn’t even have to be that. It doesn’t have to be the person who has the zeal, the Vicki Robin or the kind of evangelistic spirit that I have in civic life. It may just be someone who looks around and realizes no one else is going to do this; guess I’ll be the one. Right? American life is filled with people like that. That not rugged individualism is what has distinguished American life and American culture from say, the culture of my parents’ native country, China; not individualistic, but also because of the collectivism is so vast and so oppressive in a way, no one wants to be the one to catalyze change, or ask the impolite question, or force the awkward moment. And that is a benefit of being in American life.

Your final question about depolarization and so forth. I mean, you actually partially answered the question in the way that you posed it when you said, It can’t just be I’m willing to do inclusion if you come over to my house on my terms, drinking from my tea set, and so forth. That’s fake inclusion. That is forced inclusion. That is pull, that is demanding face saving surrender. I think what we’ve got to be able to do is, number one, we have to reflect on what are the contents and what are the boundaries of our commitment to pluralism. Inclusivity doesn’t mean you have to prioritize including the people who are the most noxious. There’s no obligation on you, Vicki, to put all your energy in getting the most extreme of the Three Percenters or the most virulent of the white nationalists into a conversation with you. But there are definitely people who tag along as part of the Three Percenters who hang out with the militia groups who might march in a tiki torch march in Charlottesville, who are not so far gone that an appeal to their humanity might bring them into a third space, that is not that space, and it is not your space, but it is a space of re-humanization.

And that third space of humanization has to be about at least two things. Number one, it has to be about shared experience or action. Right, let’s do something together. In a place like an island, like Whidbey, there’s plenty of stuff to do together, to repair after a disaster, to fix something, to bail someone out, when their well or irrigation system is busted, and to come together after a fire, whatever it might be. That’s why I’m a huge believer in national service, a thing that brings us together across our backgrounds, not to talk about ourselves and each other, but to do a third thing in a third place. Shared experience is one, but the second is when you do finally get to facing and dealing with the ways in which you have differences, deep differences, is to recognize, number one, that just being in the presence of this person doesn’t diminish you. I hear a lot from younger people on the left of why should I even engage with somebody whose very philosophy or ideology dehumanizes me? And I say, literally, what do you have to lose by entering into engagement with this person? You’re not diminishing yourself. If you’re diminishing anybody, you might be diminishing that person just by being the, quote unquote, bigger person, but it’s not about diminishment. It is about asking whether there’s some germ of curiosity in your heart to want to know how was this person formed? How is this person in your view de-formed? What might you have in common in the traumas and the trials in the life experiences that lead this person to their view of the world and lead you to yours? And might there be from that even tiny little sliver of a Venn diagram of overlap, some basis for re-humanizing each other. And re-humanizing does not mean agree, right?

One of our big projects that we run with facing history in ourselves is called the Better Arguments Project. The premise of it is that, as toxic and polarized as our politics may be, we don’t need fewer arguments in civic life. We just need less stupid ones. We need arguments that recognize our full humanity, that recognize the inequality of power that we may be bringing into an argument, but that see each other as emotional creatures who have pain and trauma and fear and hope. And bring that to the table every time we engage in a political argument, not as rational calculating machines, who will be persuaded by facts and by information, but by people whose emotional needs have led us to one point or another, right? That’s a better argument. You may not change that person’s mind, but you can’t possibly change another person’s mind if you yourself aren’t willing to have your own mind change or your own heart open. So if I think about what that looks like in a place like Whidbey, it looks like getting people together to work on some common things, and then build some trust and build some relationship, and from there, be able to have a basis to say, Okay, I know you and you know me enough that we can stop demonizing each other. We can joke about how we have stereotypes of each other. But now let’s get real and let’s talk about the ways in which we came to these worldviews. Let’s talk about how each of the worldviews that we ascribe to the other, harm us, make us feel less than, make us feel hurt.

If you enter into an argument not to win, but to understand, all kinds of things become possible. Taking winning off the table is also a very unAmerican thing to do. But it is part of what we’ve got to do right now. Again, just to go back to where we started here, that’s best done at a human scale, where you can see that person or engage with a real person, and not be anonymized on social media or just on a threat of torching and flaming each other, in a comments thread on a piece online. So anyway, I think all of these things are part of what it means to return to a human scale in democracy and self-government. And I’m not naive, I don’t think these things alone can fix things. I think when I said earlier, being honest about differentials in power, it also means being honest about there is a difference in the kind of injustice that the United States has perpetrated from the beginning, toward the first peoples of this land. There is a difference between that and the injustices that a big government might do by over-regulating your small business. These are not the same thing and they carry different moral historical weight. But I think, understanding each other and understanding the instincts that one might have to have a political view. Again, it’s all it’s about understanding, it’s about recreating a culture of understanding, and it’s only by doing that, that we are going to be able to try to have a shot at making a mass multiracial, multi-faith, democratic republic for all of us.

Vicki Robin

Well, that seems to be our wrap, Eric. That’s a perfect wind up. It’s so rich in possibility, and I think it’s just up to all of us to take what you said and fill it out with life experience, with the real people who live next door to us or in our town.

Eric Liu

I will quickly add that there’s a whole ecosystem. Please join. For anybody watching and listening, Citizen University would love to have you join our work, and you can just find us at CitizenUniversity.us. The better arguments project is BetterArguments.org. But we are part of an ecosystem of many, many projects and organizations just like you said at the beginning, Vicki, who are doing this kind of work to rehumanize, to depolarize, to create a culture of responsibility-taking rather than responsibility-shirking in American life. If you come to us, you may not want to do our programs, but if you come to us, you will then find a gateway to a whole range of hundreds of other organizations around the United States doing similar work, just as this podcast does the same thing. So there’s a way, if there’s a will.

Vicki Robin

Thank you so much. That’s sort of exciting, isn’t it? I’ll do my little wind-up. I know one of the pitfalls for me as a social entrepreneur, activist, whatever, is that I’m doing one thing in order to have something else happen. I’m doing this project in order to lower consumption in North America. I’m doing this project in order to… and so when I don’t see my projects add up to the standard that I set for myself, that was like a beacon out there; like, I’ll work really hard because I see this thing out there. So I’ve been learning as I age that you have to bring the passion that arises in the presence of a noble goal, then you bring the detachment that says, I may never see the results in my lifetime, or the results may be so diffused that there’s no way to put my name tag on it. So there’s something about citizening that is not project or person-oriented, either. It’s a sort of, as you say, it’s a culture.

Eric Liu

It is a faith. It is an act of faith.

Vicki Robin

Exactly. It’s a lived – what do you call it – social kindness and goodwill, without an attachment to being able to see that, to have your little pin on some picture somewhere that says, You did that. And it’s actually pretty exciting. I think the times demand that. I just don’t think there’s any linear way to interact with this complex reality that we’re inside of now. It’s not in the future. It’s not over there. We’re all inside it. So this sort of participation as a citizen is one way to talk about being with the forces of plays such that, through you, something might go right.

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Eric Liu

Absolutely. The title of one of my books is, You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen. That is the message, that any one of us… I mean, it’s the positive side of the lessons we learned during the pandemic. We have learned during the pandemic that no one is an island, that no one can wall themselves off from other people’s suffering, and that we are deeply interconnected, whether or not we want to be, and that horrible things are contagious, no matter how secure we might think we might be. The flip side of that is that we are all also nodes of a constructive contagion. We are nodes of a spreading, of a way of seeing, of a way of believing and a way of doing. Yeah, you may not, I may not see the fruits of that in our time here. Or we may even see those fruits come, but we may not be able to claim I did that. Right? I didn’t do that, I was only part of a great flotilla or a great web of people who did that. And again, that’s a little countercultural too, right? We’ve already made a narrative that Stacey Abrams saved the Georgia senate elections. She was catalytic. She was a catalyst par excellence. But that only happened because an incredible ecosystem of people showed up and arose to claim voice and power. So your description of it is spot on. I’ve been taking notes here about that way in which it does require a new way of thinking about what agency and power are. It’s not: I did this, I see the result. It’s: I pour my passion into this, and that energy feeds the web and the ecosystem, and that complex adaptive system over time will, if enough of us do it, yield the result that we that we hope for.

Vicki Robin

And at very least Eric, we’ll have a good time. What are you going to do while Rome burns, you know?

Eric Liu

You’re an inspiration, Vicki, thank you.

Vicki Robin

Thank you so much. Take care.


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Eric Liu

Eric Liu is the co-founder and CEO of Citizen University. He also directs the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship & American Identity Program. He is the author of several books, including “You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen” and “Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy”. Eric served as a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and later as the President’s deputy domestic policy adviser. He has served as a board member of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Washington State Board of Education, and the Seattle Public Library and is a co-founder of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. 

Tags: American citizenship, building resilient societies, citizenship, depolarization, direct democracy