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My Fellow Citizens,

I recently read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last book, Where Do We go from Here: Chaos or Community?.This set of sentences sounded like poetry. Lingering over them for just a minute longer, I realized this is more than the rhetorical flourish of a preacher. 

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

We think we understand power. What more would we know about being a good human if we understood that power starts with love?

People now routinely gather to "show up" for justice and attempt to demonstrate the power of the people. We proudly march through the streets, carry clever signs and shout at decision-makers. At least one sign in the crowd will ask why we still have to march for the same things year after year.

MLK has the answer. Noise and shows of anger don’t do much to connect us. It’s all adversarial and it's going nowhere.

On the one-year anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, I volunteered as a legal observer at our state capitol. I quickly found myself surrounded by displays of power and anger.

The far-right groups used their platform on the capitol steps to spew insults and gross accusations at the people demonstrating against them. In the crowd protesting the far-right rally, people showed up dressed in all black and kept their faces hidden behind bandanas. 

Those two groups kept turning up the agitation, daring someone to push or shove them first so they could fight back. Soon two columns of State Troopers in riot gear marched out of the capitol to enforce a safe distance between the groups. 

A similar series of events is bound to happen again on the next anniversary.

Examples like that came to mind quickly. It took me a little longer to realize I had also seen activists use love to a great effect. 

A Texas immigration activist uses Facebook to post a picture of an asylum seeker each morning with the caption, “This is your daily reminder that seeking asylum is not a crime.” It's a persistent attempt to challenge the narrative supporting extreme policy changes.

The major news channels spent the government shutdown reporting on all the ways local communities came together to support unpaid federal employees. We all took pride in the resilience of the American people as we attempted to make sense of our government's failure.

The best expressions of who we are, the ones that help us see who we might be, come to us through acts of love.

We are so much better when we empathize with one another than when we villainize the other side. That’s when we most look like Cicero’s “communities of people linked together by justice.” 

I bet that's a Valentine's Day message you didn't see coming!

With love and civics,
Did some amazing example of civic action by way of love and empathy come to mind when you read this? I would love to hear about it. Reply to this email and tell me your story. 

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Questions of Civic Proportions

What would it look like to apply a magic makeover of power, love and justice to our political discussions?
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(share your answers in our learning community)

The State of the Union would be a demonstration of compromise and shared purpose.

The best treatment of this week's speech came by way of historical context. NYT's Mark Landler picked up the question of how President Trump's speech compared to previous Presidents during periods of divided government. President Clinton and President Obama both experienced this difficulty during their administrations. They each adopted a strategy for acknowledging their opposition's majority and attempting to lead the way to a coalition. President Trump's speech, however, suggested he was not willing to concede any ground to the new dynamics of House of Representatives. The Atlantic ran a headline that seemed to represent the consensus:
"Trump's Call for Unity was Never Going to be Real: In a long and sometimes strange State of the Union speech, the President exalted bipartisanship, without displaying a strategy, or a will, for achieving it."

If you're only going to read or listen to one thing about the speech, however, listen to this interview of Mark Landler on NYT's podcast The Daily. He has a mastery of the historical examples that yields real insight into what this week's message might have sounded like if there was a genuine will to work together. The show's host Michael Barboro often asks the same questions you have in mind while listening. 

Plenty of analyses also focused on an echo of President Nixon's State of the Union that Trump might have tried to avoid (but didn't) and this trip in the wayback machine to President Washington's State of the Union address is a fun one too. Imagine the speech without all the staged applause lines and what a wonderful world that would be!

Identity politics would be less a cause for derision and more a strategy for inclusion.

Stacey Abrams stole a show you might have missed. You likely heard plenty about her response to the President's State of the Union. At the beginning of the month, she published an article in Foreign Affairs that argues, "Identity politics strengthens democracy." She offers this in response to a recent argument from one of the most well known names in modern political thought, Francis Fukuyama. He recently argued that this mode of politics will lead Americans to identify into ever-narrowing identities and fracture society.

Critics of identity politics often bring this charge against the Democratic party, in particular. You might also recall that a particular identity of white, working class men were given credit for President Trump's electoral success. The data didn't quite match up to those early assessments of how he won but these identities have become the way we talk about candidates and who is likely to vote for them. 

Abrams's essay plants a flag in the ground to show why identity politics is a necessary part of today's political life:
"Beyond electoral politics, Fukuyama and others argue that by calling out ethnic, cultural, gender, or sexual differences, marginalized groups harm themselves and their causes. By enumerating and celebrating distinctions, the argument goes, they give their opponents reasons for further excluding them. But minorities and the marginalized have little choice but to fight against the particular methods of discrimination employed against them. The marginalized did not create identity politics: their identities have been forced on them by dominant groups, and politics is the most effective method of revolt."

Abrams's essay is the first in a series on the topic and it includes Fukuyama's response too. The whole series is a refreshing exercise of stating beliefs and explaining why they matter. It's like the anti-State of the Union and it's worth your time. 

Make this your longread for the morning and let us know if you're persuaded to consider it a feature rather than a virus for today's politics.
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"When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books. You will be reading meanings."

--W. E. B. Du Bois

Our Black History Month project pushed us to pick up the required reading that never gets assigned. Our next email looking at W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk goes out on Tuesday. It's definitely not too late to join us.

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Good Work: "This Land" by Gary Clark, Jr. 

Confronting our racist past has to sound something like this new song from Gary Clark, Jr. 

The guitar hits angry dystopian notes. There’s no doubt those strings are weeping, tearing and telling the same story you see in the haunting imagery of the official music video. Confederate flags, something burning in the middle of a pasture, a young black boy going under the water and nooses hanging in a tree.

Intense, powerful and raw. 
The song starts, “Paranoid and pissed off…”

The lyrics are NSFW and you will want to be mentally prepared before watching the video. For that reason, I chose to embed an interview with the artist instead.

You can watch the music video here.  

In the video above, Gary Clark, Jr. sits down with Rolling Stone to tell the story of how he wrote the song. He talks about the racism he has endured growing up in Texas and how it persists even with his success. After going through a long list of racist encounters of years past, Clark recounts a recent exchange with a new neighbor. He adds, “Maybe it wasn’t racial, but in my mind I was thinking that. You know? And I’m tired of thinking that. I’m tired of us having to think that way.”
The song continues, “I see you looking out your window; Can’t wait to call the police on me.”
Clark reflects on a recent trip to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, now the National Civil Rights Museum. He seems to be seeing a lot more in his mind than what he can put into words. “My people have been through a lot,” he says, “and I haven’t been through shit compared to them.” 
The song makes it’s way to the chorus, “F—- you, I’m America’s Son; This is where I come from.”

And closes out with the chorus:
This land is mine
This land is mine
This land is mine
This land is mine 

That’s what a world without love looks like. Paranoid and pissed off. 

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