Jacob Miller is a Citizen University Fellow and Harry S. Truman Scholar. 

The Citizen University 2017 Conference was set against the backdrop of two words: reckoning and repair. What does reckoning look like? Are we too quick to rush to repair? I believe reckoning is sitting with and acknowledging our bad parts, flaws and faults. Reckoning is a reflective process and can run parallel or after repair, which takes time and persistence.

Past Tense with Carrie Mae Weems. Photo by Alabastro Photography

As someone who likes to get stuff done, I’ve become obsessed with ways to fix our system. I know there is no easy fix and one problem has multiple symptoms and solutions.  How can we actually repair our rigged system? We repair it together. The conference left me with a sense of togetherness. Everyone in our nation is experiencing a full range of emotions happiness, pain, confusion, and idealism. This realization isn’t a rush to common ground, but an understanding of what makes us human. Humanization happens when you share a family style meal or discuss ideas with people who are politically opposite. The divisions we have seem to evaporate or at least become dulled when one stops pointing fingers and assumes good intentions. In an emotional performance about racism in America, Carrie Mae Weems lyrically repeated, “Blinded by rage and circumstance each blamed the other.” We are in this moment.

I feel that inequality paints every issue we face. Our economy is rigged and broken, our political system favors the rich, and our social fabric is weakening. We blame each other, we blame immigrants, we blame our messy political system. All of this blame blinds us from thinking big, changing our systems, and bridging our divides. We begin fixing this by elevating and empowering the role of citizen.

 

 

You’re More Powerful Than You Think with Annie Leonard (Greenpeace). Photo by Alabastro Photography.

Each of us has the ideas to build our communities and make each other stronger. The role of citizen is more important now than ever. As a self-governing nation, we must hold the our politicians and experts accountable to our actual needs, wants, and desires.  Annie Leonard, the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA said it perfectly, “Expertise should be on tap not on top.” Citizens should be on top.

Eric Liu’s equation for citizenship is power plus character. Power is how we make stuff happen, mobilize people, ideas, and money. Character is how we are in the body, our social virtues of kindness service, sacrifice, mutuality, and reciprocity. Only when we each take up the role of citizen can we begin to reckon and repair our system. We each have value and as Eric Liu’s new book title asserts, You’re More Powerful Than You Think.

 

 

Our democracy is built on constant learning and challenge; America is an argument. We must build citizen power to change our public discourse and sit with truth of division. The conference left me with the question, what can I do? Here’s what I’ve come up with: Practice conversations with people I may not agree with, read news from multiple sources, practice power, and step outside of comfortable opinions. Each of these will push me beyond my comfort and help me guide my conversations and arguments. Since leaving the conference, I’ve attempting to make each of these habits. The conference taught me how to be a better Citizen.

We are here, in our beautifully difficult moment, and can only reckon and repair together.

Citizen University Fellows Hasher Nisar, Bianca Guerrero, and Jacob Miller with Eric Liu