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My Fellow Citizens,

When a big holiday meal goes well, we all start to see the magic in a hundred small things. 

Perhaps your holiday crew avoided political confrontations this year. Or you played board games without someone getting their feelings hurt (we all have that ONE person every year, don't we?). Sometimes the magic hides in the fact that we've all managed to get together in one place for this one day. 

These annual get-togethers are the antidote to loneliness too. They often require sacrifices of a missed shift or stifling frustrations over who has to drive the farthest and cook the most. The magic we enjoy in these moments is 100% human-made. It always reminds me of one of my favorite campaign slogans. 

The campaign is a work of fiction. That hasn't stopped the message from consistently creeping into my understanding of the world today. The slogan that wins the presidency in Vonnegut's 1976 book Slapstick is—" Lonesome No More." 

The American people were willing to vote for a genius plan to give everyone a very extended family. When elected, Dr. Swain's plan will give everyone ten thousand brothers and sisters plus one-hundred and ninety-nine thousand cousins. Hi ho. 

Slapstick tells the story of a nation devastated by a long series of unfortunate but probably predictable (and entirely avoidable) events. Dr. Swain, the book's narrator, wins election to the highest office in our country of ruins with this plan to cure loneliness in America. 

He recalls a moment from the campaign when he spoke from the steps of New York's public library at Forty-second and Fifth:
 

"I spoke of American loneliness. It was the only subject needed for victory... I said that all the damaging excesses of Americans in the past were motivated by loneliness rather than a fondness for sin."


Excess and loneliness. A recipe for enjoying a Thanksgiving meal while being buried by Black Friday emails. But wait, there's more.

These holiday meals shared with a large group of family, friends, and friends-of-friends show we do know how to fight against loneliness. Researchers interested in questions of how we live our lives together call this medicine "synchronized gathering." They're getting harder and harder to pull off.

In The Atlantic's November issue, Judith Shulevitz warned readers that "Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on American society." The way we work is making it harder than ever to participate in synchronized gatherings. 

If you have ever uttered the phrase "social capital" or quoted Robert Putnam and his book Bowling Alone, take a look at Shulevitz's version of the facts today. Even if you have no idea who Robert Putnam is, you'll recognize the story she wants us to hear.

She asks us to imagine what Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once called "a cultural asset of importance… an atmosphere of entire community repose" (McGown v. Maryland 1961) After describing nepreryvka, a Soviet program to maximize productivity, Shulevitz explains how our varying and unpredictable work schedules, "divide us not just at the micro-level, within families and friend groups, but at the macro level, as a polity."

When we gather together, we might imagine that we're building up our immune response to these forces of division, isolation, and loneliness. 

We think we're making the long drive to celebrate the holiday. It's the coming together, however, that makes it possible for us all to reconnect with the magic of being human. It's at its brightest in our synchronized gatherings. 


Let's start synchronizing together,

Shellee

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Questions of Civic Proportions
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(share your responses in our Learning Studio)
 

"A calendar is more than the organization of days and months. It’s the blueprint for a shared life."


—Judith Shulevitz, writer for The Atlantic
 


Good people have taken their chances in making sure this shared life is managed well.


The end of the public hearings of the impeachment inquiry has yielded a couple of hopeful articles about the bureaucrats and brave women who have taken a stand to defend good government. Some have even decided to resign. In this Washington Post op-ed, Richard Spencer, the former secretary of the Navy, offers some insight into what it's like to work with an administration where the President's official orders often come by tweet. 

 

Blueprints exist for a better quality of life when it comes to work, housing, and living longer.


The problem of homelessness in our cities has earned a lot of national attention that has included more blame than problem-solving. That's why this observation from Mike Nichols caught my eye. He is the Interim President and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless in Houston. His full remark was: 
 
"There will always be people coming into homelessness," he adds. "But we can solve it. It's not an insolvable problem. … It's a finite problem, with solid solutions."

Since 2011, Houston has developed 4,300 housing units connected to support services and decreased its homeless population by more than 50%. They have a model other cities are trying to follow

Another interesting piece for imagining the possibilities comes with the headline, "We need a major redesign of life." Laura L. Carstensen asks why our longer lives have only extended the period we call old age rather than extending youth or middle age. 
 
"Long lives are not the problem. The problem is living in cultures designed for lives half as long as the ones we have."
 


Strong organization is a winning strategy.


When thinking about what to expect in 2020, be sure to reflect on this story from Carol Anderson's book One Person No Vote. She shares what it took to defeat Roy Moore in Alabama's special election:
 
"Civil society knew that 2016 was a wake-up call. And those who were a part of it answered the alarm. The Atlantic's Newark noted that 'GOP dominance, voter suppression, and the stubborn support for Moore among white voters in the state helped revive the kind of black political entities originally built in the state to grapple with Jim Crow.' Those organizations drew upon that history and the lessons learned from 2016. They needed to be more deliberate, more purposeful, more focused, and more vigorous. To take Roy Moore down would, in short, require fewer TV ads and more person-to-person interactions."  

 
Occasionally we pick up these questions and the topics they present in our Learning Studio. Look for deeper inquiries in this closed online community where the focus is on following the conversation. 

The Learning Studio requires a membership but it's free. 
Join us in the Learning Studio to participate in our own careful deliberation over the questions of impeachment. 

The book has just arrived. It's short and starts with this provocation:

"Imagine if it had worked. Imagine if our president had leveraged his role as commander in chief to convince a foreign power to open an investigation into his political opponent...

Imagine what it would do to our faith in elections, to our trust in government, to our belief that we live in a democracy." 


Pick up a copy of the book and join us in the Learning Studio to share your thoughts as you work through the text.

Katyal is a thoughtful narrator of the case for impeachment and the questions are big enough to warrant our careful thinking too. Hope you'll join us as we think our way through the book this month.
 
Join the Studio

GOOD WORK: ADL's Never is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate


Watch this video. Then use your social media accounts to amplify Sacha Baron Cohen's keynote address. The message Cohen delivered is so much more provocative than the soundbites and headlines you might have seen. 

Cohen starts by acknowledging that he must look like a funny guest for the Anti-Defamation League event. He demonstrates how his career in comedy has worked to expose extremism and hate. Then he gets to the point. He wants us to know that our social media platforms have created much bigger problems in the name of entertainment, and there's nothing funny about what might happen next. 

The case Cohen delivers is devastating. You might have heard that it was all about Mark Zuckerberg. It's also about the failure of our lawmakers to stand together to defend democracy. 
 
[Read the full text of Sacha Baron Cohen's Keynote Address here]

Cohen suggests that "the Age of Reason—the era of evidential argument—is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed." Democracy, he argues, depends on shared truths and that's what is slipping away:
 
"On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate.  Breitbart resembles the BBC.  The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report.  And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel Prize winner.  We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends."

Cohen refers to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Google as all being part of "the greatest propaganda machine in history." He proposes a "fundamental rethink of social media," and there's a legislative agenda that needs to accompany it. 

This speech makes clear that social media companies committed to bringing us together wouldn't just be making different decisions today. They would be asking different questions about how we can work together in this crucial fight against hate and violence. 

Shared facts are good for getting laughs in comedy. They're also good for democracy.
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