I try to organize my civic work — both ideas and projects — around four questions:
- What happened? What in our past led us to where we are today? What choices, trends and coincidences in our history built our shared world?
- Where should we go? What is our vision of a better future and what is the direction we must set towards that vision?
- How do we get there? What strategy, tactics, practices, institutions, and modes of civic thought and action available to us in the present will help advance us towards that vision?
- Why must we care? What spirit must we channel along this journey? What is the faith that drives us?
I am working on books aiming to help answer each question for my generation of Americans:
- For What Happened? I am working on a book provisionally titled, appropriately, What The Heck Happened?: A Millennial Political Detective Story. I want to answer “what the heck happened” to American politics: What has led to our fierce discontent with our political system? Why do so few public problems find solutions? Why do we feel so disempowered? In an attempt to get to the heart of the matter, I am critically surveying the “theories of decline” of various political thinkers from across the ideological spectrum: from “corporations got too powerful” to “the government got too powerful”; from “we lost faith” to “we cling too hard to faith”; from “we’re too polarized” to “we’re too compromising”. The book will aim to untangle this knotty mystery and, in doing so, hopefully point the way towards where we should go.
- For Where Should We Go? I am working on a book provisionally titled, The Democratic Alternative Vision. It will aim to not simply address the specific policy questions of today, but rather will focus mostly on the more foundational challenges facing our democracy: what a switch from a managed politics to a true membership democracy looks like; what it means to move from experiencing our national community through media spectacle to actually encountering each other; how an enriched localism could invigorate our politics; and more. It will serve as a comprehensive policy program for The Democratic Alternative, our organization aiming to broaden the vision and restore the integrity of the Democratic Party.
- For How Do We Get There? I am working on a book provisionally titled Civic Creativity: Democracy as a Platform for Our Public Projects. I have been arguing that civics can be about more than voting, deliberating, protesting and serving– it can be about creating, too! Civic creatives see that politics can be about: (1) spearheading new projects, as opposed to just participating in pre-existing institutions; (2) public problem-solving using multiple civic tools, as opposed to just changing laws; and (3) community action, as opposed to relying solely on government action. I am hoping this way of understanding civics can be used by community leaders and educators to change the way they educate for active citizenship and, in doing so, inspire more civic action. In the book, I am also hoping to supplement the theory with a practical handbook for civic revivalists of the present moment that includes the best practices of past civic revivalists facing similar challenges.
- For Why Must We Care? I am working on a book provisionally titled Battle Hymn of the Left Conservative. It aims to reconcile two strands of civic spirit: the left-wing, democratic project of building an inclusive world averse to hierarchy and the conservative political temperament that prefers, in Michael Oakeshotte’s words, “the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.” In pursuing a reconciliation between the two, it aims to describe a civic spirit that could inspire our generation to put in work to address what has happened, envision where to go, and work out how to get there.
I am also working on projects that aim to put into practice ideas laid out to answer these questions:
I am building political projects that aim to flesh out and advance a vision of the future addressing where should we go. The largest is The Democratic Alternative, a group working to intervene in the Democratic Party to broaden its policy vision and restore its democratic integrity. In addition, I occasionally work on miscellaneous policy projects unrelated to the Democratic Alternative.
I am building community projects that aim to equip people and address how should we get there. To advance the civic education ideas described in my upcoming Civic Creativity book, I am working to put together The Institute of Civic Creativity. To build democratic, community-minded technology, we put together The Laboratory for Civic Technology. To incubate new civic ideas in a sustained way in one location, I plan to launch The North Virginia Project.
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