Summer 2018 Bulletin

How to Make Citizens

Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship

On May 30, 2018, Eric Liu (CEO of Citizen University, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program, and Cochair of the American Academy’s Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship) spoke at a gathering of Academy Members and guests about preparing citizens in a democracy. The program, which served as the Morton L. Mandel Public Lecture and the 2068th Stated Meeting of the Academy, featured welcoming remarks from Jonathan F. Fanton (President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences). The following is an edited transcript of Eric Liu’s presentation.

Eric P. Liu, How to Make Citizens
Eric Liu speaks about how to prepare citizens for a democracy

Eric Liu is an author, educator, and civic entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of Citizen University, the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program, and Cochair of the American Academy’s Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship.

I would like to begin by saying a few words about the Academy’s Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, which I cochair with Danielle Allen (Harvard University) and Stephen Heintz (Rockefeller Brothers Fund). The Academy recently launched this commission. We plan to host gatherings around the country that feature talks and presentations like this evening’s but also to convene meetings where the flow of the conversation is reversed: where we are listening to people from all walks of life and from all parts of the political spectrum about what the future of democratic practice is going to look like in this country technologically, ethically, and in terms of the values, knowledge, systems, and skills that are needed to make change in this ever evolving republic of ours.

And so we are extending to you an open-ended invitation to send your thoughts and ideas as we do our work. Our aim is not only to produce a report that will capture some of the most promising and innovative ideas around the country for how to revitalize and revivify democratic practice, but also to think about ways in which people who are in different pockets and regions of the United States can and should be learning from one another. We live in an age right now when so much of our conversation about democracy is dominated by national politics and by what is going on in Washington, D.C., and in many ways that can be dispiriting. But we also live at a time that I would describe as an age of networked localism, when people are rediscovering the power of participation in local self-government and recognizing that the local ends up being an incredibly open and permeable arena for innovation and new kinds of practice of power, new claims of voice, and new ways to shape norms as well as laws. But none of this can happen in parochial isolation.

What is happening in Seattle connects, affects, and infects what is happening in Akron, in Wichita, in Miami, in Tucson, and so on all around the country on issues of all kinds across the left and the right. Movements that arise from both the libertarian anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party and the socialist anti-establishment wing of the Democratic Party are pushing back against sectors that say you have to do things in a certain way. They are innovating in ways that are allowing them to experiment locally but then web up all around the United States. And it is in that spirit that we want to carry out and conduct the work of this commission.

Let me back up and tell you a little bit more about myself and about how I come to this work and to the topic of our program this evening.

I run a nonprofit organization called Citizen University, which is based in Seattle. We do work all around the United States to foster a culture of powerful citizenship by teaching the practice of power, hosting gatherings, and facilitating experiences that strengthen rituals of democratic practice. In many ways, we are trying to rekindle a spirit of what you might think of as American civic religion: namely, the recognition that we are both blessed and burdened by an inheritance that is a creed of ideals established when the American Academy was formed in the 1780s and restated at various junctures of crisis throughout the history of this country. And it is this creed that has been challenging us over the generations to actually live up to it, challenging us to be greater than ourselves, challenging us in a way that people in other nations around the world – my forebears are from China – are not so blessed or burdened with. They go on with their lives individually and nationally, but they don’t ask themselves the way we ask ourselves with earnest – and sometimes in anger – are we actually living up to or are we betraying our stated creed? And that is an exceptional thing to have.

In our work at Citizen University we are always trying to reinforce the ways in which that creed, that container of ideals and obligations, is what we work within. But we also take pains to note that when we say the word citizen we are not talking only or perhaps even primarily about documentation status under the immigration and naturalization laws of the United States. We are talking about a greater, broader, more ethical conception of citizenship that you might think of as essentially the art of being a prosocial contributor to a community, a non-sociopath, to put it in simplest terms. And it is this broader ethical conception of being a prosocial contributor to a community that we are trying to emphasize and elaborate upon and democratize in many ways in our work.

I come to this work not only because I have worked in government and in different areas of public service. I came to Seattle in 2000 at the end of the Clinton administration, and I have learned in the last eighteen years as a citizen of Seattle and of Washington state more about democratic practice and what it means to strengthen a culture of citizenship than I did in all my years working in the hallowed halls of power in the White House and on Capitol Hill. By serving on the board of the Seattle Public Library for a decade (I love the library and would still be serving if there were no terms limits) I learned about the life of the neighborhoods of this city. When we were ready with a $200 million bond measure to build and renovate twenty-eight branches across the city, we asked the residents in every neighborhood in the city about their hopes and dreams for their new library branches.

When you live in Seattle you take it for granted that this is just part of the culture here. People have pride in their community, they are rooted in their sense of place, and they expect to be asked what their hopes and dreams are for their corner of the city. But I can tell you, because my work takes me to communities all around the United States, that the expectation that we have here in Seattle is exceptional. There are a lot of places in this country, in fact most places, that do not ask their citizens what their hopes and dreams are; they do not invite them to participate in the articulation of the physical structures and the intangible institutions that we are called to build together. I served on the State Board of Education in Washington as well and during my time on that board, the same thing happened.

When you serve on the Board of Education in Washington and are called, as we were, to revise high school graduation requirements for the state, you realize that you need to talk to people at the University of Washington, at the community and technical colleges in the state, as well as to people in the trades and in business about not only where our next wave of employees is going to come from, but where the next wave of citizens is going to come from. When you talk to people about these kinds of questions and about public education, you get a chance in a very hands-on way to recognize that the point of free compulsory public education is not in fact to make great workers or employees for our businesses, but rather to make citizens who are capable of self-government in a democratic republic.

Intellectually I knew this when I was working in D.C. and debating about education policy at the federal level. But being rooted in a place like Seattle helps me to understand the ways in which the future of our democracy depends on rooms like this one, where a group of people can see each other, look each other in the eye, and get a sense of how they are responding to ideas.

The other important piece for me is that I am the child of immigrants. My parents were born in mainland China. They fled to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War. They came to the United States separately in the 1950s and met in upstate New York. As a second-generation American there was this unspoken sense that my parents had done the heavy lifting, and thanks to section one of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, I was granted birthright citizenship. I was a citizen of the United States simply because I was born at Vassar Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York, a status that could not be taken away from me if I crossed the border, if I migrated here or there, if I took a job somewhere else, or if I went on vacation somewhere.

But the message that I received from my family and from my community was with that opportunity of being blessed with birthright citizenship came an equal or greater obligation. And that simple idea has powered a lot of my adult waking life to contribute to the community, to push this country to live up to its stated creed and ideals. This obligation is deeply visceral and multigenerational. My grandfather, who I never met, was the son of a farmer in Hunan Province in China. In 1911, he joined the first military academy of the first Republic of China. He ended up becoming a pilot in the first air force of the Republic of China and fought and served during both the Sino-Japanese War and the war against the Communists in mainland China. Although I never met him, all my life I have essentially labored under the idea of him because his name in Chinese is Liu Guo-yun. Liu is the family name. For those of you who do not speak Mandarin Guo-yun basically translates into “deliverance of the nation.” No pressure! My grandfather was part of the deliverance of his nation, and so to be that person’s grandson and to be born here has instilled in me this sense that my job is to activate in everybody with whom I work and learn a sense that we all have to hurry up and help deliver this nation.

When talking about ideas like citizenship and democracy, it is important to remember that all of this work and all of these notions are situated in stories and in our experiences. As the great pragmatists – the William Jameses, the Oliver Wendell Holmeses, and others, many of whom are American Academy Members – taught us, experience should be the measure of our ideals. When we are experiencing a democracy in upheaval; or a republic on a shaky foundation; or a country that is being pulled apart by polarization, apathy, and ignorance; or a country whose body politic is so ill and ill attended to that we are vulnerable to all kinds of viruses – such as literal viruses implanted by Russian hackers and others, or figurative viruses of authoritarianism, nativism, and scapegoating – that is when those viruses come to the fore and their symptoms become palpable and unavoidable. We are living now in such a time like that.

So on this question of what it means to make citizens I have a very simple formula, a quasi-scientific equation that I like to use that encapsulates not only the work that we do at Citizen University but the way that I think in general about this work of citizenship broadly defined. And the equation goes like this: P + Ch = Ci. That is, Power plus Character equals Citizenship. I want to unpack that equation for you. Let’s start with the P, power. One of my most recent books is entitled You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen. It grew out of work that I have been doing for many years trying to democratize the understanding of how power works in civic life. The reason why I undertook this body of work is that I think that so many Americans, I would say the great majority of Americans, are willfully ignorant about power.

When I say power in civic life I mean simply a capacity to ensure that others do as you would like them to do. Now, to many Americans that definition is distasteful, menacing, and domineering and not something they would want to comfortably talk about or own. But let’s get real. In every arena of our lives – in our personal relationships, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our faith and civic organizations, and in public life – we as humans are wired to want to get others to do as we would like them to do. Because we labor in America under this mythology that we are all equal and we all have equal say and equal clout it seems impolite to point out the ways in which that is just not true. And so it seems impolite to talk about power. It seems a little dirty – like a combination of House of Cards and Game of Thrones with these dark arts of manipulation and backstabbing and the rest. But we live in a time in this country – an age of nearly unprecedented inequality and nearly unprecedented concentrations of wealth, voice, and opportunity – when if you choose to put your head in the sand about power, if you choose to be willfully ignorant about what power is, how it works, who has it or does not have it, where it flows, why it flows that way, why it has always flowed that way, what it would take to change that flow, then you are absolutely affirmatively ceding the field to those who are very happy to exploit your ignorance, who are quite fluent in power, and who are perfectly happy to exercise their fluency to take your power in your name.

And this is the sensation that people have across the left and the right. Actually, I have stopped using the metaphor of the political spectrum since it is a bit more these days a political circle. When you start thinking about the folks who were the co-founders of the Tea Party, the folks who were the co-founders of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the folks who ended up gravitating toward Donald Trump as a presidential candidate or toward Bernie Sanders, they are actually closer in many ways to each other than they are to some of their fellow party members. They are closer in their resistance to and rejection of top-down establishments and their suspicion of concentrated power and their sense that the game has been rigged. They may differ on who is rigging the game, they may differ on the ways in which somebody is cutting in line ahead of them, but that motivation, that sense that the deck is stacked and the game is rigged, is something that they share.

We live in the age of the great push back. And that age is not just about the Trump presidency. It goes back at least to the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is blossoming in all different kinds of cascading movements from Black Lives Matter to the Fight for $15, from movements like the Dreamers who are pushing for a voice and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to the #MeToo Movement that is now upending institutions not only political but educational, corporate, and the rest. Across all of these movements is a sense of bottom-up citizen power. And so it behooves us to become literate in that power.

When I talk about literacy and power I often break down power in a very simple way, namely, there are three laws of power in civic life. It is useful to think about these three laws and how they play out throughout our history as a country, and particularly today in this time of great polarization and upheaval.

Law number one: power compounds and concentrates, which is fairly obvious in Seattle. If it took you longer to get here today because of the traffic, that was the result of an economic boom from Amazon and other big tech firms that have hired tens of thousands of new people over the last decade, adding nearly 120,000 new residents, most of whom are highly educated with skill, clout, and capital, and who are changing our traffic patterns, the equilibrium of our housing market, the norms and attitudes about homelessness, and what is acceptable and tolerable.

All of these things are happening right now in ways that make visible and palpable to us how power compounds. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, those with some clout tend to get more clout, and those with some voice tend to get more voice. Social media amplifies this dynamic in which having a little bit accrues and accretes into having a lot more. This is not, of course, a feature only of the age of social media. It is a dynamic as old as human civilization, certainly as old as Scripture. We read in the Book of Matthew about how the nature of societies, when left to themselves, is not only for the rich to get richer but for the rich to get so rich and the poor to get so poor that the rich shall eventually extinguish the poor. It takes some affirmative commitment of spirit and action to undo that natural cycle.

So power compounds in ways that we feel not just economically but politically. There have been studies by political scientists from Princeton and elsewhere over the last several years that show that the United States Congress today is driven in its policy choices essentially by the preferences of the most wealthy. Now, if it happens that the preferences of the top 10 percent of Americans by income and wealth also align with the preferences of those in the middle class or the working class, then that’s great: those of us not in the top 10 percent get to have our preferences expressed. But that is only by chance. What Congress listens to is the dollar and more precisely the organized dollar, meaning organized capital. One hundred fifty or so years ago people talked about slave power in a way that I think today we can talk about money power. The organized capital at the top – choose your demographic: 1 percent, 5 percent, or 10 percent of the United States – the top 1 percent has accrued over 90 percent of the gains of the so-called recovery in our economy since the 2008 crash. That kind of concentration of wealth leads to a concentration of voice, of who is heard and who decides.

Law number two: power justifies itself. At every turn, incumbent holders of power individually and institutionally will spin elaborate narratives about why that ought to be the way things are, about why that is in fact the natural order of things, about why that concentration and that compounding of power, clout, and wealth is nearly God-given. With white supremacy not just a norm practiced by a small minority but in fact the official ideology of so much of our law and government, it has become one of these narratives of self-justification: that whites ought to be in positions of power because whites are by definition . . . you fill in the blank: more capable of self-government, have more self-control, have more grit, have more this, have more that, and that people who are not in this category are not expected to be leaders in our society and to have the same kinds of opportunities. We may think in a room like this that this sentiment is a very nineteenth-century or outmoded frame of thought, but all you need to do is turn on your Twitter feed to see that this narrative is alive and well.

Male supremacy is another narrative that we are experiencing and that is being challenged today because of #MeToo. Think about places like the University of Washington and how much tech talent is here in this university and in the tech companies of this region, but also in Silicon Valley and the tech world in the twenty-first century and how much of that world is driven implicitly by narratives of male supremacy. It is primarily men who run these new companies and new businesses in Silicon Valley. Men are more . . . fill in the blank: capable at math, capable at making hard decisions, less sentimental, more hardnosed and savvy in business. You hear these narratives every day at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and the other great big tech companies – narratives of self-justification.

One of the things that we have to recognize about these narratives is they are not only at the scale of great social forces like male or white supremacy; they are also woven into the ways in which at a micro level our power dynamics unfold. And so that consciousness of the ways in which power justifies itself is part of being awakened to the nature and the dynamics of power and society. If all we have are these first two laws, that power is always compounding and concentrating and that power is always justifying itself, we would be stuck in a pretty grim doom loop in which fewer and fewer people were hoarding more and more of the resources, wealth, and voice in our society and telling the rest of us why we ought to be happy about that because it is the natural order of things. And there are many ways in which we experience that doom loop right now. One great example of this, which is a cross-partisan ideology embraced perhaps more by Republicans than Democrats but it has certainly been championed by both, is the ideology of trickle-down economics: the idea that the super wealthy are job creators, with a capital J and a capital C, who must be worshipped, who must be taken care of, who must be put on a pedestal because they are the true origins of prosperity. If we simply pay enough homage to them and don’t burden them with too much in the way of taxation or regulation their prosperity will leak its way down to the rest of us.

This ideology has powered economic agendas, both Republican and Democratic, for most of the last forty or fifty years. But it is actually just a fairytale and not founded on fact. Any record of the major tax cuts taken in this country will show that in fact the true origins of prosperity are not the few at the top but rather the many in the middle. When workers have more money, businesses have more customers, and that is the true origin of a growing, increasing cycle of rising demand. We are all better off when we are all better off. The narrative of trickle-down economics is one of self-justification that both causes and affects the way in which power compounds and justifies itself. It is a very vivid example today of how people start behaving in a scarcity-minded way. Everybody is looking over his or her shoulder. Though you might be comfortable and affluent, you are not feeling very comfortable. You might own a single-family home in Seattle, but you are looking around and thinking who is coming after me? You might be scraping by and be full of resentment for those who are seizing unearned privileges in our society.

The scarcity mindset takes hold when you get into this doom loop, and it is something that we are feeling palpably in our politics right now. If all we have are those first two laws it would be a pretty grim situation. In many societies people get stuck right there, but what breaks us out of that doom loop and what can save us potentially, particularly in a self-renewing country like ours, is law number three: power is infinite. This statement cuts against our intuitions that we draw from, among other things, physics and science. We think that physics teaches us that there is only so much heat or energy in a system and that nobody over here can get more of the energy without somebody over there getting less of the energy. It is the law of thermodynamics, and our intuitions are by definition this very zero-sum thing: if someone is going to get more, then someone else is going to be suffering. But I am not talking about physics. I am talking about civics, in which it is possible to generate brand new power out of thin air and to add brand new power into a system in a positive sum way through the magic act of organizing, by inviting a few other humans to join you in some common endeavor that requires a common goal or common strategy, and navigating through difference and negotiating through different priorities. That magic act of organizing, which is not just community organizing in the sense that we think of today around issues and ballot measures and elections, is as old as Benjamin Franklin and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Start a club on anything – a philosophical club, a tradesmen’s club, a debate club, a business club – and you have created brand new power out of thin air.

We are living at a time right now when many Americans are rediscovering this third law of power, that it is in fact possible to generate brand new power out of thin air. That is the very definition of each of these movements that has been surging seemingly out of nowhere over the last decade or more. At Citizen University we work with the full circle of ideological practitioners of citizen power. We work closely with different founders of different Tea Party organizations: the founder of the Tea Party Patriots, the former head of FreedomWorks. And on the left we work with co-founders and co-creators of the Black Lives Matter movement, the leaders and orchestrators of the $15 Now movement. What they have in common is that all of them are recognizing that with this third law it is possible to take what seems like a fixed system of unequal power and actually change that equation.

Each of these three laws comes with an imperative for action. And it is these imperatives for action that we need to reflect upon when we think about what it means to make citizens. If from the first law power is always concentrating or compounding into these winner take all games, then we have to change the game. If in the second law power is always justifying itself in these elaborate ideological narratives about why things are the way they are, then our second imperative is to change the story. And finally, if most people remain stuck in this zero-sum finite mindset about the nature of power in a complex adaptive system like a community, then our third imperative is to change the equation and remind them of the positive sum nature of power in civic life.

Now, let me be clear. When I say that power is infinite, when I say that it is possible to generate power out of thin air, I am not saying that you can just manifest wealth by imagining it. I am not saying that you can just make things change by wishing it so. And just because one group can generate new power by organizing doesn’t necessarily mean that that is the way things are going to stay. Incumbent holders of power have access to the third law as well and they will counter-organize and they will counter-mobilize and they will activate new forms of power to try to reckon with what has been generated. There is a simple word for the dynamic of organizing and counter-organizing, of pushing over here and then getting pushback over there: politics, namely politics in a democracy. And that is what it means to show up in civic life – to start a club, to organize each other, and to vote, of course, but to do all the things that precede voting, that make voting simply the capstone and the final deposit and expression of a long set of habits of the heart, as Tocqueville put it – of what it means to claim membership in a community.

So literacy in power is the first part of this equation, P + Ch = Ci. But the second part is equally important, the idea of character. I am not talking about individual virtue necessarily, or individual traits like perseverance, diligence, grit, or honesty. Those things matter, of course. They are important in life and in civic life. But what I am talking about here in this context is what I think of as character in the collective, how we behave toward each other in the ways that we live together. Ethics and values like mutuality and a recognition that true self-interest is mutual interest. Ethics like reciprocity and knowing that what goes around comes around. Ethics of service and sacrifice, ethics of contribution before consumption, and ethics of responsibility.

What I am talking about is the notion that our fates are entwined, that in a city upon a hill people do not walk past each other without making eye contact. In a city upon a hill, people don’t stop seeing and ignoring the homeless in tents on a sidewalk under the overpass, that in a city upon a hill people don’t tolerate as acceptable voter turnout rates of 30 and 40 percent, maybe 50 percent in a big election. That in a city upon a hill people recognize that citizenship means showing up with our wallets, with our voices, with our feet, with our ideas, and with our hearts. That is what it means to live in a city upon a hill and that those ethics and those ideas of character are not high ideals. They are the bread and butter of surviving in a world that is utterly indifferent to our experiment and utterly indifferent to our creed. It is only by cultivating character that we can actually make sure that the practice of power is tempered.

If all you are is super-literate in power and schooled and expert in the ways to get other people to do as you would like them to do, if all you are is highly skilled at understanding the machinery of decision-making in politics and government and understanding how you can rig that machine in a certain way or apply pressure on one part of the machine to yield a certain kind of outcome, if all you have is that, but you are untethered from any moral sense, to any sense of responsibility to a greater good, to any sense that you are a member of the body, then all you are in fact is a highly skilled sociopath. But the inverse is true as well. If all you are is deeply steeped in civic character and earnest about these values and ethics and really a big believer in mutuality and service and shared sacrifice, but you are at the same time completely clueless about how to get anything done in a community, completely unpracticed in organizing your neighbors, completely ignorant about who is making decisions on the city council, the county council, the state legislature, or the United States Congress about things that matter to you, if you are completely in the dark about who is deciding because that is the central question of all civic power, if all you have is that deep grounding in civic character but utter illiteracy in power, then you are merely amusing yourself in a philosophical debate. You are not participating in life as a citizen. And so it is the coupling of power and character that makes for citizenship.

Let me close with a note about what we have to teach each other. Citizen University – though university is in our name – is not a four-year degree-granting baccalaureate institution. We are a popular education platform. We go into communities. We have gatherings, rituals, workshops, shared experiences, festivals, and summits where people from all walks of life come together and learn and practice and challenge each other in these ideas of what it means to get literate in power and what it means to push each other a little bit harder to live up to a notion of civic character. What we have discovered in that work is something very simple and very profound. There are different ways to put it, but I think candidate Barack Obama put it best back in 2007 and 2008 when he said, “We are the change we’ve been waiting for.” He said this during the 2008 campaign and the people who liked him cheered when he said it but they didn’t believe it. What they heard him say was, “I, Barack Obama, am the change you’ve been waiting for.” And they said to themselves, “Yeah, you’re the change I’ve been waiting for. Thank God this perfect kind of unicorn of a candidate has come along and he is going to save the republic and he is going to be awesome. He is this, he is that, he is a pioneer, he has all this great knowledge and heart. He will help our country solve race. Wow, that’s great, there he is.” And then guess what? He didn’t do it.

For those of us who liked Obama, this might surprise you, and for those of us who didn’t like him, it should come as no surprise. A few years later, we have Donald Trump and he essentially said the same thing but promised something else. He was more honest. He said, “I alone can unrig the system. I alone can make the changes that we need in this country. I alone can drain the swamp of our sick corrupted democracy.” And to many Americans this sounded authentic. I trust this guy. He doesn’t play by any of the rules of the old establishment. He is willing to break all convention. I think this guy alone can actually do it. And the people who didn’t believe Barack Obama but did believe Donald Trump were operating from the same premise, which is that it is someone else’s job to save this country, to drain the swamp, to clean up the mess, to unrig the system.

Our work at Citizen University includes going to communities all around the country, having gatherings like this one, but also what we call Civic Saturday, which is essentially a gathering about American civic religion. It is a gathering that actually follows the arc of a faith gathering. We sing together. We turn to the strangers next to us and talk about a common question. We hear readings of American texts that challenge us and force us to think about whether we are living up to those ideals and words. There is a sermon. We sing again. There is an hour afterwards in which people are organizing and engaging in activism or education or just simply making friends. And it is through these rituals and experiences, which we started here in Seattle and now have taken all around the country, that we have discovered that as broken as our national politics are, as powerless as people feel in this rigged system right now, as much as people are inclined to want to hand their power over to a strong man – whether it is a strong man named Barack Obama or a strongman named Donald Trump – as much as that may be the case, people in place, rooted in community, are being reminded again and again when they see each other and look each other in the eye and invite each other to fix something and do something that they are still capable of self-government and of healing our republic. People are still capable of practicing citizenship at the local level.

The way that we make citizens now is to make sure that we are teaching power, that we are democratizing what we know and circulating what we know about how power works, about who decides, about how you make stuff happen, and that we at every turn, in every circle of institution here, are also cultivating character. And that when we do that we do that with a faith that we are not alone. We do that with the knowledge that people in Tacoma are doing that, that people in Ellensburg are doing that, that people in Yakima are doing that. That people in Poughkeepsie are also doing that, as well as in Birmingham, Savannah, and Baton Rouge. All around this country right now in our towns people are revitalizing democracy and remaking the idea of citizenship. And so our commitment in coming together today and thinking about the work that we do as citizens, and certainly in taking seriously the invitation that I extended at the beginning of this evening for you to participate in the life and the work of this commission on the future of democratic practice, is that all of us have not just a say and not just an opportunity, but an obligation and a responsibility to be the authors of our new republic and to be the builders of our new democracy. When we do that we shall truly be, again, a city upon a hill.

© 2018 by Eric Liu