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My Fellow Citizens,

Do you have an idea of a new you for a new year? Yeah, me neither but let’s pose that question to our political selves. 

When I talk to friends and family members about “our politics today,” consensus comes easy. Something has to change. The soundbites that go by on a constant scroll flatten out how we think about politics.

Questions are small. Answers are even smaller. It’s just a question of who has power and what they are willing to do to keep it. We know that's the wrong question.

I believe you and I can resolve to build our public capacity for better questions by engaging the big ideas that give form and motion to the work of self-government. The National Academy for Civics and Government has always created a space for connecting to the strength of big questions.

When I re-read Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, I see this community of the powerfully engaged. I remember the awareness I discovered when I first read it for the Academy and it sounds something like this, Charles Lindbergh’s reflecting on the view of Earth from space:

“From momentary spatial limits, we look back on ourselves with new perspective. We see life compressed on a shrunken orb at the same time we feel awareness expanded to fantastically great dimensions.” 

--Charles A. Lindbergh, writing the Foreword to "Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey” by Michael Collins

Let’s resolve to make our politics and our civic life about those fantastically great dimensions again. 

We’ll be in good company too. The journalists at Five Thirty Eight each made a resolution to guide their professional practice for 2019.

What resolutions should we make to maintain our focus? I would love to hear your answers (just hit reply).

Have a great holiday weekend and let's think together soon,

Questions of Civic Proportions

How can we work together to support a civic perspective that includes great dimensions and curiosity?

Join the Conversation

(share your answers in our learning community)


By looking at ourselves from a new angle. Christmas Eve marked the anniversary of the most famous photo of our modern era, Earthrise. In National Geographic's recent article, photographer Brian Skerry calls it "the most famous image ever made" and compares it to "humanity seeing itself in the mirror for the first time." The Apollo 8 astronauts came to think of the unscripted image as their most valuable contribution to the mission of mankind's survival. Scientists credit this view of the Earth with the rise of the environmental movement and giving us all a way to understand ourselves as a global community. 

[Following this story, our Facebook page has been lost in space this last week.]

By using color and models to make facts easier to see. Census data is nothing new but a clear pattern emerged when researchers added color to the data. Looking at the "Racial Dot Map," you can see how our cities are segregated. Again, that is probably something we already know about the cities we live in but scrolling through the same pattern in each of our biggest cities is bound to leave you speechless. There was, however, an unexpected pattern in our rural areas. In areas sparsely populated with blue dots (white people), the researchers found, "random collections of green dots (black people) in weirdly delineated, concentrated areas." That's how the segregation of our correctional facilities showed up.

[These facts follow the conversation in our Learning Studio about the "Costs of the Confederacy"]

Another research project used color and immigration statistics to show that 200 years of immigration data looks like rings of a tree, expanding with welcoming factors and staying narrow during years of war or economic upheaval. The effect is that the data and the country it represents looks like a living organism.

By making new inquiries into the stories we think we know. At the top of the Aspen Institute's "Nine Ways to Take Action in 2019" is reading. More specifically, the suggestion is to challenge ourselves to continue to learn more about the world around us by reading. As an example, they point to Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, "imagines a world in which a narrow isolationism becomes untenable, and the global community must find a more just way of welcoming the displaced." The story is fiction but it changes the way you see the world around you. 

If you haven't yet seen the trailer for Peter Jackson's film, "They Shall Not Grow Old," make time for it today. By adding color and sound to film from World War I, he has brought the faces of the battlefield back to life. The uncertain purpose, the loss of life and the people locked in that story all look familiar again. They even look like us. 

The ways we understand the stories that confront us shape what we expect of ourselves and how we approach others.

[As part of our daily conversation in the Learning Studio, we recently shared a story about how sci fi authors are helping us imagine the future of work.]

*The "join the conversation" link above will take you to Politicolor's online learning community 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: Victor Hugo Green's Travel Guide for Black Motorists

The debate over the current movie is worth understanding but neither the controversy nor the movie should eclipse the story of how one man sought to make it safer for Black Americans to travel during the era of Jim Crow.

The 99% Invisible team tells the story of Hugo Victor Green, a mail carrier who tapped into a nationwide network of mail carriers to compile the directory of hotels, restaurants and service stations. At the end of this recent rebroadcast, you will find a clip from the storytellers at Memory Palace. Their podcast adds the music, sights, plot lines and characters to help us imagine the the plight of black families who wanted to participate in the freedom to explore the country by interstate.

Both podcasts will help you see how the family road trip became part of the story of fighting for civil rights.

Share this email with someone who is as civic-minded as you are. It's the single greatest thing you can do to support this project and it's pretty easy to do. 

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