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My Fellow Citizens,

Do you have a book you recommend over and over again? Whatever the question is, you know one thing for sure. The person asking it needs to read this one book. 

These recommendations make it possible to think together. Talking to someone after they read a book you suggested can bring familiar ideas back to life and create space for new ideas too. 

I recently read a book that President Eisenhower made a bestseller. He wanted to talk about the insight he found through Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.”

Reading True Believer, I recalled our discussion of the 14th Amendment and the Initiative for the New Constitution. We shared a belief that the change we need today will have to come from the grassroots. Will Harris, from the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, agreed but added that too many of these groups lack imagination.

We talked a bit about what we need from these groups, and this is where Hoffer can help.

What makes the difference between a protest over a grievance and a mass movement? Something Eric Hoffer calls “extravagant hope.” 

What makes the difference between a policy-driven, competent candidate and the next big thing? Extravagant hope. 

What makes it possible for a group to persist through a policy cycle or from one win to the next battle and the battle after that? Extravagant hope. 

Hoffer observes that many groups suffer through discontent without acting. Many groups find power through a strength in numbers or a combination of circumstances. They still don’t act. For a mass movement to proceed, to move forward and gather strength, it needs a grievance, power, and extravagant hope: 

“What seems to count more than possession of instruments of power is faith in the future. Where power is not joined with faith in the future, it is used mainly to ward off the new and preserve the status quo. On the other hand, extravagant hope, even when not backed by actual power, is likely to generate a most reckless daring.”

Faith in the future serves to make the case and do the work.

More recently, DeRay McKesson, an activist who took to the streets in Ferguson, Missouri wrote: Hope is the belief that our tomorrows can be better than our todays. Hope is not magic; hope is work.” 

Building a movement requires extravagant work. Hope is a call to action. Are you worried about the strength of bad ideas and the crowds collecting around them? We have to do more than hope they go away.

Eisenhower knew it and his recommended book reminds us that we know it too. I wonder what other titles he recommended. 🤔

Let's keep thinking together,


Are you inclined to read books with civic themes? We're cooking up a #citizensread book club effort that includes online discussions and developing a podcast. If that sounds like your kind of nerdy fun, reply to this email so I can send you the details. Join us, maybe? 
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Questions of Civic Proportions

How could faith in the future change how we talk about today's headlines?

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(share your answers in our learning community)

Instead of talking about the power politics of who will see the Mueller Report, we would talk about accountability

Some of the best reporting on the Mueller report has managed expectations by putting the investigation in historical context. On NYT’s “The Daily,” host Michael Barboro has presented a three-part series, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting (the Mueller Report).” The series starts with a careful inquiry into what the special prosecutor rules require today and why. This investigation is the first test of regulations written as a result of the Starr report:

“The officials who wrote the regulations sought to prevent the sort of ‘extravagant’ steps Mr. Starr had taken in writing his report, according to Neal Katyal, a former Justice Department official who drafted the rules.

‘There is no doubt that when you are writing regs like that in the midst of a really public thing like the Starr Report, it’s going to influence your thinking, and definitely it did,’ he said. ‘There were concerns about the privacy violations that occurred in the Starr Report.’"

With the narrow rules in play today, the recently appointed Attorney General gets to decide what happens next. There is no requirement to release the Mueller report to the public. And, in fact, that’s precisely how the rules were drafted to work.

The history of the United States includes a long struggle to manage these investigations so that they yield accountability and avoid despite partisan maneuvering. 

To take an even longer view on the question, NPR goes back to 1875 when President Ulysses S. Grant appointed the first special. He wanted to investigate the corruption of officials in the Midwest but fired the special prosecutor when evidence led back to Washington. 

Instead of talking about the math of the Electoral College, we would talk about representation

Predictably, the 2020 Presidential Election has also brought new energy to the debate over the Electoral College. You don’t have to count to 270 to understand the math when CNN reports that “the Democratic candidate for president has won the popular vote in four out of the last five general elections but has lost the presidency in two of those races.”

The punditry of the Twitterverse have enjoyed their own fuzzy math, arguing over the maps we used to make one's case. Matt Lewis, a reporter for The Daily Beast, made the mistake of sharing a map that FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver couldn’t let pass without comment. Compare for yourself.
Imagine the pithy reply between the two: "Dirt doesn't vote."

This topic is “Up for Conversation” over in the Studio here. Share your opinion on the question and link to recommended reads there too. 

Instead of talking about the cost of reparations, we would talk about the potential of reconciliation

Calling himself a “slow convert to the cause,” NYT columnist David Brooks recently added his voice to the conversation on this question. He quotes Abraham Lincoln and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2014 essay (whose title he has borrowed). Coates responded to the criticism of his essay in 2016 but that’s not what made the difference for Brooks. He had to get there on his own.

Brooks recounts traveling across the country and shares his conclusion:

“We’re a nation coming apart at the seams, a nation in which each tribe has its own narrative and the narratives are generally resentment narratives. The African-American experience is somehow at the core of this fragmentation — the original sin that hardens the heart, separates Americans from one another and serves as model and fuel for other injustices.”

In Esquire magazine, Gabrielle Bruney makes an excellent case for approaching this late conversion with skepticism. She points to Coates’s “dollar and cents-minded” article and compares it to Brooks's suggestions that the conversation alone will serve as “some kind of salve.” As challengers for the Democratic nomination continue to give this issue space in today's headlines, this is a distinction to keep in mind.

An open conversation about race is where this work begins. What matters more is a willingness to see that work through to what reconciliation might require. 

*The "join the conversation" link above will take you to Politicolor's online learning studio where you will need to be a member to access the content. It's free so request an invite when you see that option.
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Good Work: A Silver Fern and the People of Christchurch

The image of a silver fern has represented New Zealand since at least 1880. It represents an ancient story of guiding the first residents of New Zealand, the Māori, back home. The leaves reflected the moonlight to show the way through the forest. Through the artwork of cartoonist Pat Campbell, the symbol now has a powerful new message.

Campbell recast the image as a series of 50 profiles in various postures of prayer. Each figure represents one of the victims of the mosque attack in Christchurch. The artist who works for The Canberra Times said the idea for the image came to him the morning after the attack:
“I thought of the fern, an important symbol of New Zealand, it's form naturally lending itself to a representation of people. From there it was a short step to depicting the victims as they prayed.” (Speaking to CNN )

The figures bent in prayer become the light against a black background. An ancient sign of home has become a symbol of hope and resilience. People around the world have how shared the image breaking through language differences and across hostile boundaries.

Even the most civic-minded superheroes run low on willpower sometimes. Please consider sharing this email with a friend who is always ready for a good fight.

If you're that civic-minded superhero of a friend, this button is for you. 
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