Future Hindsight

By Mila Atmos

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Now more than ever, the need to be an engaged citizen is critical. Future Hindsight presents interviews that explore how each of us has the power to shape our society and fulfill our shared civic responsibility.

Episode Date
Supreme Inequality: Adam Cohen

Supreme Court’s Agenda

Although we are taught to believe the Supreme Court is a neutral institution whose primary concern is justice, it is actually an extremely powerful legal body with its own agenda. For the last 50 years, that agenda has been staunchly conservative. Instead of functioning as a check on executive and legislative powers, it operates as its own power building machine, often making decisions that favor itself or the conservative lawmakers who put a majority of the justices in power. The Supreme Court is confident in its position and its conservative views, and has no qualms about overruling democratic decisions to keep itself—and conservative lawmakers—in power.

Far-Reaching Impacts

Decisions made by the Supreme Court have long and far-reaching consequences. On the positive side, single Supreme Court decisions helped desegregate American schools, create due process protections like Miranda Rights, and legalize same-sex marriages. At the same time, the conservative Supreme Court has greatly inflated the power of corporations over ordinary citizens; consistently ruled against the poor and welfare rights; and allowed our electoral system to become overrun by powerful interests with their campaign finance rulings. Their decisions have very real consequences for everyday Americans, whether we all understand that or not.


With the exception of the progressive Warren Court of the 1950-60s, the Supreme Court has showed itself to be antagonistic towards America’s poor. It has continually ruled against welfare rights, labor rights, voting rights, and even equal funding for education. The court has also refused to give poor Americans the protected minority status they so desperately need. Instead, the court has repeatedly ruled in favor of America’s rich and on behalf of corporations, further exacerbating the plight of the poor. Companies have substantially increased protections in their power over workers, while organized labor has lost much of their ability to protect workers.

Find out more:

Adam Cohen, a former member of the New York Times editorial board and senior writer for Time magazine, is the author of Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court's Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America. He is also the author of  Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck and Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he was president of volume 100 of the Harvard Law Review.

You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamscohen.

Thank you to Podcorn for sponsoring this episode. For more information, visit Podcorn.com

Sep 25, 2020
Decolonizing America: Nick Tilsen


Self-determination empowers those who are most affected to be in the driver’s seat of policy-making decisions. For example, if an oil company wants to run a pipeline through Indigenous land, Indigenous communities themselves would decide based on their values and the impact on their families, water, air, and land. NDN collective works to restore self-determination through three pillars: defense, development, and decolonization.


European colonization was a system of white supremacy that annihilated complex Indigenous populations, cultures, languages, beliefs, land, and governing systems. The work of decolonization includes dismantling white supremacist systems of economic extraction and governance; education about the totality of colonial history; and the revitalization of Native languages and ways of being. Reclaiming Indigenous heritage is also an act of healing past traumas from colonization.

Land Back

A key tenet of self-determination and decolonization is the “land back” movement. Theft of Indigenous lands was one of the fundamental ways Europeans colonized America. Stealing land and extracting its resources decimated both the land and the people who lived on it. The land back movement aims to right this wrong by returning public lands, like National Parks and National Forests, to the care of Indigenous People. Land back does not mean removing Americans from their homes. Instead, it means returning the land to Native stewardship focusing on preservation and rejuvenation.

Find out more:

Nick Tilsen is the President & CEO of NDN Collective, and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Tilsen has over 18 years of experience building place-based innovations that have the ability to inform systems change solutions around climate resiliency, sustainable housing, and equitable community development.

He founded NDN Collective to scale these place-based solutions while building needed philanthropic, social impact investment, capacity and advocacy infrastructure geared towards building the collective power of Indigenous Peoples. Tilsen has received numerous fellowships and awards from Ashoka, Rockefeller Foundation, Bush Foundation and the Social Impact Award from Claremont-Lincoln University. He has an honorary doctorate degree from Sinte Gleska University.

You can follow him on Twitter @NickTilsen
And you can follow NDN Collective on Twitter @ndncollective

Sep 18, 2020
Building Civic Power: K. Sabeel Rahman

Civic Power

Civic power puts communities most impacted by legislative decisions in the drivers’ seat of making public policy. Community members get to have a say in areas like policing, zoning, education, taxation, voting rights, and more. Participatory budgeting creates a structure of representative decision making that is responsive and reflective of the affected communities. This form of civic power exists around the world and can be replicated in the United States on a large scale.

Radical Democracy

True bottom-up democracy is a radical but simple concept that fully espouses civic power. The representative democracy in the US puts bureaucrats, not affected communities, in control of many aspects of public policy. To achieve true democracy, we need to demand a policy shift in institutions, which creates more power for citizens in the long run. It’s a demand about changing the way policy is made tomorrow, and not just today.

An Inclusive and Equitable Society

The markers of a society’s success must include the flourishing of low-income workers and black and brown communities. It would require restructuring work and capital that does not exploit workers; investing in universal public services like health care and education; ending predatory lending practices as well as the system of crippling debt, especially for education; and dismantling systemic and systematic racism.

Find out more:

K. Sabeel Rahman is the President of Demos, a dynamic think-and-do tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy.

Rahman is also an Associate Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, where he teaches constitutional law, administrative law, and courses on law and inequality. He is the author of Democracy Against Domination, which won the Dahl Prize for scholarship on the subject of democracy. His academic work explores the history, values, and policy strategies that animate efforts to make our society more inclusive and democratic, and our economy more equitable. His new book, Civic Power, looks at how to build a more inclusive and empowered bottom-up democracy.

He has previously served as a Special Advisor on economic development strategy in New York City, a public member of the NYC Rent Guidelines Board, and the Design Director for the Gettysburg Project, an initiative working with organizers, academics, and funders to develop new strategies for civic engagement and building civic capacity.

You can follow him on Twitter @ksabeelrahman.

Sep 11, 2020
State Capture: Alex Hertel-Fernandez

Capturing State Legislatures

State capture refers to the idea that a set of organizations, businesses, and movements can capture a political office and dictate its agenda, decisions, and resource allocation to benefit their interests. Capturing state legislatures is especially effective because state governments – as opposed to the federal government – have control over significant aspects of our daily lives: taxes, minimum wage, health insurance, and administering elections. 

The Troika

Three powerful conservative organizations, commonly referred to as the troika, work in tandem to capture state legislatures: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the State Policy Network (SPN), and Americans for Prosperity (AFP). ALEC works with lawmakers directly to pass legislation it often writes and provides. SPN is a network of think tanks that works outside of government, creating reports, legislative testimony, and polling that champion conservative bills often created by ALEC. AFP operates like a political party with national, state, and local offices, all aimed at electing conservative lawmakers around the country.

Public Policy Changes Politics

Public policy can and does change politics. The troika has successfully promoted the adoption of so-called “right-to-work” laws, which weaken labor unions. These laws make it more difficult to unionize, collect dues, and support pro-labor candidates for office. In fact, they are a direct response to the unionization of public sector workers and their successful organizing, specifically the National Education Association in the 1960s-70s. Once anti-labor policies were in effect, it became easier for conservatives to continuously win elections and cement their political power.

Find out more:

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez is Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public affairs, where he studies the political economy of the United States, with a focus on the politics of organized interests, especially business and labor, and public policy.

His most recent book, State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States—and the Nation, examines how networks of conservative activists, donors, and businesses built organizations to successfully reshape public policy across the states and why progressives failed in similar efforts.

Hertel-Fernandez received his B.A. in political science from Northwestern University and his A.M. and Ph.D. in government and social policy from Harvard University.

You can follow him on Twitter @awh.

Sep 04, 2020
Organized Power: Theda Skocpol and Caroline Tervo

Political Learning

In response to the elections of Obama and Trump, grassroots political movements sprung up on the right and the left. Members of these groups demonstrated an eagerness to learn about and understand local and state politics, which is where they are most actively engaged. After the 2016 election, Resist groups used many of the Tea Party movement’s tactics, like writing to law makers, running local candidates, and knocking on doors to get out the vote.

Impact on Politics

Grassroots movements are highly impactful across the political spectrum, often revitalizing local capacities of both political parties. Resist groups on the left are dominated by women, who are organizing and insisting on a more open and inclusive Democratic Party. Increasing voter turnout has had the strongest impact on both sides. Boosting the margins for the Democratic candidate in a swing state could lead to electoral victory in 2020.

Organized Groups Swing Elections

Organized groups helped swing the 2016 election. Donald Trump met with select groups who hold power over large swaths of voters, notably far right evangelical ministers, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the NRA. In the case of the Fraternal Order of Police, Trump pledged to protect white officers, leading to an endorsement from the Order—something Mitt Romney did not receive. Research shows that endorsement led to extra Republican votes in key battleground states like Pennsylvania.

Find out more:

Theda Skocpol (PhD, Harvard, 1975) is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. At Harvard, she has served as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (2005-2007) and as Director of the Center for American Political Studies (2000-2006). In 2007, she was awarded the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science for her "visionary analysis of the significance of the state for revolutions, welfare, and political trust, pursued with theoretical depth and empirical evidence." Skocpol's work covers an unusually broad spectrum of topics including both comparative politics and American politics. Her books and articles have been widely cited in political science literature and have won numerous awards, including the 1993 Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Political Science Association for the best book in political science for the previous year. Skocpol's research focuses on U.S. social policy and civic engagement in American democracy, including changes since the 1960s.

Caroline Tervo is a research coordinator in the Harvard Government Department, working with Theda Skocpol and others on studies of citizen grassroots organizing, state and local party building, and the local effects of federal policy changes. A native North Carolinian, Tervo holds a BA in government from Harvard University.

You can follow her on Twitter @CarolineTervo.

Aug 28, 2020
Energizing Local Politics: Drew Kromer

Building Precincts

Precincts are critical to building local and regional party power. Kromer started Davidson’s Democratic party precinct with only four other people. Once established, they gained political legitimacy as well as access to state and county voter databases. This allowed them to organize and knock on doors, inform their constituents about the candidates who are running, and get out the vote. As a result, Davidson had a higher voter turnout rate than other local towns.

Politics Flows Up

The road to high-ranking state or federal positions often begins with local offices where only tens or hundreds of votes decide elections. Holding local office serves as validation for a candidate’s run for higher office. The mayor of your small town could become your congressional representative in the next election cycle. Focusing on local politics and seriously opposing bad candidates makes it harder for them to succeed and climb the political ladder.

Showing Up

We often think of party politics as exclusive clubs or murky organizations full of political operatives, but this is not the case. According to Kromer, 90% of becoming civically engaged is simply showing up. The best way to make sure your voice is heard is by attending local group or precinct meetings. Most local political organizations will welcome you to their initiative, to be engaged, and help solve the issues of your community.

Find out more:

Drew Kromer studied at Davidson College in North Carolina, where he became involved in the local College Democrats and built the local Democratic precinct in the town of Davidson, NC. He has served as the Vice-Chair of the National Council of College Democrats and currently serves as a DNC delegate in North Carolina. He is now in law school at UNC Chapel Hill.

You can learn more about the work Kromer did to revitalize his community here.

Aug 21, 2020
Politics is for Power: Eitan D. Hersh

Politics Begins with Service

Political power starts with service to others. For instance, Russian immigrant and Boston resident Naakh Vysoky began his political career by helping his fellow Russian immigrants gain citizenship and keep their government benefits. He also advocated on their behalf in Washington. Members of his community recognized his leadership and initiative, and began to follow his lead politically. They voted according to his recommendations. By building a voting bloc, Naakh created lasting political power to make government more responsive to his community.

Politics Solves Problems

Politics is about working together to solve problems. Uniting like-minded citizens through political organizing builds political power, which can be used to ask the government to help resolve the particular issues facing communities. Naakh Vysoky created a voting bloc of more than 1,000, and his precinct voted at three times the state average. When he called the governor’s office, the governor called back. The politics of empowerment helps a community grow and thrive, addressing issues like government benefits, the relationship of the police with the community, and communications between parents and the school district.

Political Hobbyism

Political hobbyism is distinct from power building: it is time spent thinking or worrying about politics without actually doing anything to change it. Political hobbyism includes news binges, political tweets, petition signing, and other forms of "shallow" activism. Further, this makes us look at politics from the "horserace" perspective, entrenching tribalism and making politicians misbehave. By engaging in political hobbyism, we learn the wrong lessons and acquire the wrong skillset, like paying attention to significant national issues. Instead, we should be engaged in local politics, where we can actually have an outsized influence.

Find out more:

Eitan D. Hersh is Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, focusing on American politics. He studies US elections, civic participation, and voting rights. Much of his work utilizes large databases of personal records to study political behavior.

His second book, Politics is for Power, was published in January 2020. His first book, Hacking the Electorate, was published in 2015 (Cambridge UP). His peer-reviewed articles have been published in venues such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

His next major research project, now underway, is about the civic role of businesses and business leaders.

You can follow him on Twitter @eitanhersh.

Aug 14, 2020
Introducing the Future Hindsight Civics Club

Introducing the Civics Club!

Signup at www.patreon.com/futurehindsight today!

By supporting Future Hindsight, you're helping this independent podcast deliver the information you need every week to stay civically engaged. You'll also get bonus content, transcripts, early access to the show, and personal access Future Hindsight team—all for the price of a latte per month.

We look forward to your support, and thanks again for listening!

Aug 07, 2020
Sexual Citizens: Jennifer S. Hirsch & Shamus Khan

Sexual Citizenship

The concept of sexual citizenship asserts that people have the right to sexual self-determination, including young people. Recognizing young people’s sexual citizenship prepares them to both say no and yes, as well as to be able to hear other people when they do or don’t want to have sex. It also recognizes their fundamental humanity. Establishing sexual citizenship and autonomy for young people is a critical step in preventing campus sexual assault and promoting relationships based on trust, kindness, and love.

Power and Precarity

Meaningful action against sexual assault in its many forms must be grounded in a general project of equality because experiences of assault are fundamentally about power and precarity. Studies show young people who have difficulty paying for basic needs are at a significantly elevated risk of sexual assault. The highest rates of sexual assault reports come from LGBTQ communities because of systemic invalidation of queer identities. Racism, gender discrimination, transphobia, homophobia, and income inequality exacerbate the occurrence of sexual assault.

Comprehensive Sex Ed

Comprehensive sexual education goes well beyond biology, teaching healthy habits and boundaries around consent and mutual respect. Women who have learned refusal skills are half as likely to be assaulted as their less educated peers. Multi-faceted sex education should begin at a young age, so that by the time they mature, young people are prepared to safely and responsibly explore their sexuality. Parents also play a critical role in how to bring values like trust and empathy to any sexual interaction.

Find out more:

Jennifer S. Hirsch is professor of socio-medical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Her research spans five intertwined domains: the anthropology of love; gender, sexuality and migration; sexual, reproductive and HIV risk practices; social scientific research on sexual assault and undergraduate well-being, and the intersections between anthropology and public health. She's been named one of New York City's 16 'Heroes in the Fight Against Gender-Based Violence.' In 2012 she was selected as a Guggenheim Fellow.

You can follow her on Twitter @JenniferSHirsch.

Shamus Khan is professor and chair of sociology at Columbia University. He is the author of dozens of books and articles on inequality, American Culture, gender, and elites. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and many other media outlets. In 2018 he was awarded the Hans L. Zetterberg Prize for "the best sociologist under 40."

You can follow him on Twitter @shamuskhan.

Sexual Citizens reveals the social ecosystem that makes sexual assault a predictable element of life on a college campus. The powerful concepts of sexual projects, sexual citizenship, and sexual geographies provide a new language for understanding the forces that shape young people’s sexual relationships. Bringing attention to the importance of physical spaces, of peer influences and norms, of alcohol, and most of all, to the many forms of inequality on campus helps shine new and powerful light upon the ways in which young people experience and interpret sex and assault. The result is an innovative lens that transforms our understanding of sexual assault and provides a new roadmap for how to address it.

Jul 23, 2020
Surveillance Capitalism: Shoshana Zuboff

Surveillance Capitalism

Surveillance Capitalism is the dominant economic logic in our world today. It claims private human experience for the marketplace and turns it into a commodity. Vast amounts of personal data are necessary -- often harvested without our knowledge or consent –- in order to predict future behavior. Surveillance capitalists create certainties for companies by modifying people's behavior.

Instrumentarian Power

Instrumentarianism seeks to modify, predict, monetize, and control human behavior through the instruments of surveillance capitalism, our digital devices. Having mined all of our data, instrumentarians can tune and herd users into specific actions through triggers and subliminal messaging. It is ultimately a political project intended to install computational governance instead of democratic governance.

Protecting Your Privacy

A myriad of programs and apps can block tracking and scramble your location, making your behavioral data less accessible or even inaccessible. Since instrumentarians gain their power through our use of their devices, limiting internet use and working in-person reduces the power they have over you.

Find out more:

Shoshana Zuboff is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School and a former Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Her masterwork, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, synthesizes years of research and thinking to reveal a world in which technology users are neither customers, employees, nor products. Instead, they are the raw material for new procedures of manufacturing and sales that define an entirely new economic order: a surveillance economy.

In the late 1980s, her decade-in-the-making book, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, became an instant classic that foresaw how computers would revolutionize the modern workplace. At the dawn of the twenty-first century her influential The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism (with James Maxmin), written before the invention of the iPod or Uber, predicted the rise of digitally-mediated products and services tailored to the individual. It warned of the individual and societal risks if companies failed to alter their approach to capitalism.

You can follow her on Twitter @shoshanazuboff

Jul 17, 2020
Canvassing with Love: David Fleischer

After listening to this episode, try deep canvassing yourself! Click HERE to read the step-by-step guide. We'd love to compare notes and see how you did. After you've canvassed, tell us about your experience by leaving a message at (929) 262-0752. Thank you!

Deep Canvassing

Deep canvassing was developed to better understand voters in response to California’s Prop 8 legislation, which outlawed gay marriage. Sharing personal stories and active listening techniques establish common ground, even among voters with totally different opinions. These kinds of meaningful exchanges lead to constructive, positive dialogue that can change minds and achieve political results at a higher rate than traditional canvassing.

How to deep canvass

Start with the change you seek. Put together a list of people to talk to. Recruit a buddy. Before the call, think about someone you love and why you love them. On the call, genuinely listen to people and ask meaningful questions based on what they say. Share a personal story with a loved one where decency and kindness -- instead of judgment -- was extended. Connect the issue with that person’s real lived experience. Reconnect with the buddy and compare notes.

Voting is Personal

Voting is both a political and a personal act. Thinking about voting as a gift to our loved ones is a powerful way to make clear what the stakes are around voting and the world we live in. Deep canvassing taps into the real lived experience of how we treat each other, connecting the dots to why we vote and who we vote for.

Find out more:

David Fleischer is the Director of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Leadership LAB. The Center’s carefully honed method of “deep canvassing” delivered the first empirically tested and proven process where a single conversation decreases prejudice in a long-lasting way. Developed after the shocking 2008 win for Prop 8, which made gay marriage illegal in the state of California, Fleischer was motivated to figure out why, in this seemingly open-minded state, people voted against gay and lesbian people who wanted to marry. To find out, he and the Leadership LAB organizers and volunteers went to the neighborhoods where they had lost the worst; 15,000 one-on-one conversations later, they had learned several universally actionable pieces of information.

You can learn more about David and his work here, and you can follow the LA LGBT Center on Twitter @LALGBTCenter

Jul 10, 2020
Deconstructing the Alt-Right: Alexandra Minna Stern

Culture Informs Politics

The Alt-Right believes politics is downstream from culture. They operate in this meta-political sphere where changing American politics must start with changing culture, discourse, and language. The internet allowed the Alt-Right’s ideology to proliferate through memes, in online communities, and finally into mainstream culture. After the 2016 election collapsed the timing between culture and politics, the internet continues to serve as a platform to disseminate their cultural values. Conversely, de-platforming prominent Alt-Right voices like Gavin McInnes and Alex Jones has reduced their ability to gain new adherents.

Gateway to Extremism

The Proud Boys, McInnes’s group, is a gateway to right-wing extremism. They often claim plausible deniability by saying anti-Semitic or transphobic memes are jokes and using seemingly harmless initiation rituals to lure young white men into their orbit. They attempt to “red-pill” their followers and decry modernity, liberalism, egalitarianism, and feminism. They would like America to re-embrace a “traditional” natural order in which white men are at the top of the pyramid, one of the central ideas of white supremacy.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, groups like The Proud Boys are often the first step toward white nationalism.

Countering the Alt-Right

We must support democratic uses of social media to create a fair online environment. Pressuring companies like Facebook and YouTube to call out and remove hate; exposing the farce of nostalgia for a dominant white culture; and pushing back against tribalistic tendencies, especially among teenagers online, is critical. The Alt-Right is focused heavily on gender norms, so supporting transgender and LGBTQ+ rights is an actionable way to promote and support an inclusive society. Further, we should infuse our public discourse with a positive and racially pluralistic message.

Find out more:

Alexandra Minna Stern is Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate of History, American Culture and Women’s and Gender Studies and Associate Dean for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. She also directs the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab housed in the Department of American Culture.

Her research has focused on the history of eugenics, genetics, society, and justice in the United States and Latin America. Through these topics, she explored the dynamics of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, disability, social difference, and reproductive politics.

Her book, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right is Warping the American Imagination, applies the lenses of historical analysis, feminist studies, and critical race studies to deconstructing the core ideas of the alt-right and white nationalism.

You can learn more at her website: http://www.minnastern.com/.

Jul 03, 2020
The Roots of Conservative Media: Nicole Hemmer

Conservative media activism

Beginning with the America First Movement, conservative political activists also became conservative media figures. In addition to writing conservative books and hosting radio or television programs, these activists also created civic organizations and worked on political campaigns from Eisenhower to Goldwater and Reagan. Media is an important part of their political activism, and not a separate, objective endeavor.

Politics of Ideas

Conservatives believe political change starts with ideas. They build political power through spreading and popularizing their ideas through their own media outlets where ideology trumps facts on the ground. Conservative audiences -- primed only to right-wing views -- believe that only their sources are right, both factually and ideologically. Hence, conservative voices became the only ones telling the truth.

Epistemological divide

We are experiencing an epistemological divide where liberals and conservatives have fundamentally different understandings of the truth. This divide is partly born out of the rise of conservative media, which is based on faith claims, or claims of personal authority and knowledge, rather than observable facts. Because many conservatives believe what conservative media and political personalities tell them, they are often impervious to fact-checking and the promotion of truth.

Find out more:

Nicole Hemmer is a professor and political historian specializing in media, conservatism, and the far-right. She is the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.

In addition to being an associate research scholar with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project, she is also co-founder and co-editor of Made by History, the historical analysis section of the Washington Post, and co-host of the Past Present podcast.

Hemmer’s historical analysis has appeared in a number of national and international news outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Atlantic, Politico, U.S. News & World Report, New Republic, PBS NewsHour, CNN, NPR, and NBC News.

You can follow her on Twitter @pastpunditry.

Jun 26, 2020
Political Communication Ethics: Peter Loge

Ethical Communication

Ethical communication involves respect and civil discourse. Taking time to listen to other sides and treating lawmakers with civility are key to a healthy democratic process. Respecting procedures that bolster the institutions of democracy and working together can help us achieve a better America.

The truth is click bait

The truth is not boring. We can be clever about presenting truth and facts. Presenting the truth in a click bait format—with catchy headlines, good photos, and a listicle—is possible. Ethical communication doesn’t have to be dry, like eating our vegetables.

Improving the media

The media can and should cover politics in a way that encourages citizens to be engaged participants in a democracy, instead of spectators. Recognizing robust and ethical leadership in our lawmakers will encourage a high bar of communication among all politicians. Supporting substantive reporting through subscriptions is imperative.

Find out more:

Peter Loge is the founding director of the Project on Ethics in Political Communication and an Associate Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, as well as a strategic communication consultant.

He has served in senior positions for Senator Edward Kennedy, for three members of the US House of Representatives, and in the Obama administration. Loge has led and advised a range of campaigns and organizations, put the first Member of Congress on the internet, lobbied for “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” served as a Senior Policy Advisor for health care in the US House during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, and was a Chief of Staff in the House of Representatives during the Clinton impeachment proceedings.

You can follow him on Twitter @ploge.

Jun 19, 2020
Fact-Checking for Truth: Jon Z. Greenberg

Who Gets Fact-Checked?

PolitiFact finds statements of “fact” by American politicians that can be verified and are highly visible, or pertinent, to a current national conversation. This is the reason why high-ranking officials such as Members of Congress, Senators, Cabinet members, and the President are at the top of the list. The President gets checked a lot—and fails nearly 70% of the time! 

The Fact-Checking Process

PolitiFact looks for evidence to support that a statement is accurate or less than entirely accurate: scouring independently verifiable information from sources like the Bureaus of Labor Statistics or Economic Analysis; turning to experts in a given field; and also asking the person who made the statement to provide whatever information they used. Once all of the facts have been checked, the rating of the statement is determined on the Truth-O-Meter. It has six ratings in decreasing levels of truthfulness from true to pants on fire.

Speaking Truth to Power

PolitiFact’s reason to publish is to give citizens the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy. One of the most rewarding ways PolitiFact sees its work in action and check power is in the White House Press Room. Often reporters will confront the President or the White House Press Secretary with PolitiFact analysis. Challenging a person in power with the facts is an essential way to get the truth out and keep America more honest at the highest levels.

Find out more:

Jon Greenberg is a senior correspondent with PolitiFact. He was part of the PolitiFact team during the 2012 presidential election and was one of the fact-checkers who launched PunditFact in 2013. Prior to that, he was executive editor at New Hampshire Public Radio and a Washington reporter for National Public Radio. He has twice won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for investigative reporting.

You can follow him on Twitter @JonZGreenberg.

Jun 12, 2020
The New Conspiracism: Nancy Rosenblum


A functional conspiracy theory uses facts and rational arguments to prove that things are not as they seem. Conspiracism is a conspiracy without the theory. Conspiracism takes the form of a bold assertion without any evidence, even fake evidence, to back it up. It’s an assault on common sense. Prominent examples are “climate change is a hoax!” and “the election is rigged!” Conspiracy claims spread quickly because they require no explanation and are impossible to counter. Moreover, they ring “true enough” by playing into an emotional narrative of fear or hatred. When the president engages in conspiracism, such as the press being the enemy of the people, he imposes his reality on the nation, with violent consequences.

Dangers of conspiracism

One of the most devastating side effects of conspiracism is the delegitimation of democratic institutions, such as the party system. The notion of a loyal opposition party is key to democracy; without it, democracy ceases to exist. Republicans rely heavily on this delegitimating tactic to hold power, and it’s growing more rampant. Birtherism towards Obama and painting Hillary Clinton as a criminal mastermind are examples of this. By equating Democrats with traitors, as the president has explicitly done, he implies they are not a loyal opposition but enemies of the state. Once delegitimated, violence against them becomes acceptable. This is an old tactic, but one we’re seeing for the first time in the US.

Protecting Reality and enacting democracy

Conspiracism is destructive, delegitimating, and disorienting. However, it has no program, no policy, and no ideology. Conspiracism is now mainly used by conservatives, but it can easily travel across the political spectrum. In fact, conspiracism has already replaced ideology as the dominant political tool in the US. It is critical to speak truth to conspiracism—not for the person spreading it, who is unlikely to be persuaded—but for yourself and others. For starters, it is morally right. Speaking truth also reinforces reality, shows other truth-seekers they are not alone, and creates solidarity. Equally important is voting for politicians who emphasize facts and explain how and what their actions are accomplishing. Lawmakers help sustain democratic norms when they are transparent and make acts of government open and legible.

Find out more:

Nancy Rosenblum is the Harvard University Senator Joseph S. Clark Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government emerita. Her field of research is historical and contemporary political thought. She is the co-author of A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy, among other books.

Prof. Rosenblum is Co-Editor of the Annual Review of Political Science and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science. She has served as the President of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy, Vice-President of the American Political Science Association, Board Member of the Russell Sage Foundation, and Chair of the Department of Government from 2004 to 2011.

Jun 05, 2020
The Risks of Fake News: Travis I. Trammell & Elisabeth Paté-Cornell

Viral Model

Trammell created a viral disease model to mimic how fake news spreads. People must come in to contact with the fake information in order to be infected, just as with a virus. The more people are exposed, the more it spreads. The research shows that individuals who claim to be online for more than 10 hours a day are more susceptible to fake news. Flattening the curve of false information requires countermeasures on multiple fronts.

Counter Measures

Fake news is likely here to stay, but it is possible to mitigate its spread and efficacy. France effectively employed a “pre-bunking” strategy in its last presidential election. The government warned citizens that fake news would be coming from Russia, and preemptively distributed factual information to counter false narratives. Other necessary counter measures are aggressively attacking fake accounts (bots), building a reputation system to identify bad actors and reliable sources, educating schoolchildren to be vigilant consumers of the news, and cultivating a habit in citizens to never rely on a single source for information.

Future of Fake News

Artificial Intelligence is revolutionizing the fake news frontier. The rise of Deep Fake videos is an alarming trend because they are virtually unidentifiable as fake, and humans are much more likely to believe audio or video. AI can also glean audience predispositions and specifically target fake news to susceptible users, like Google targets ads. Coupling Deep Fakes and AI targeting with “nuanced” fake news—information that is mostly true with only certain key details changed—will make fake news a more and more trenchant problem in the months and years ahead.

Find out more:

Lieutenant Colonel Travis Trammell is a career U.S. Army Officer with operational experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt. At Stanford, Travis is a Ph.D. Candidate with the Management, Science and Engineering Department, inside the Engineering Risk Research Group and a Predoctoral Fellow with the Program on Democracy and the Internet. His research focuses on quantitative risk analysis of nation state promoted fake news and influence campaigns.

Dr. Marie-Elisabeth Paté-Cornell is the Burt and Deedee McMurtry Professor in the School of Engineering and Professor and Founding Chair (2000-2011) of the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. Her specialty is engineering risk analysis with application to complex systems (space, medical, offshore oil platforms, etc.). Her recent work is on the use of game theory in risk analysis with applications that have included counterterrorism, nuclear counter-proliferation problems, and cyber security. She is the author of more than one hundred publications, and the co-editor of a book on Perspectives on Complex Global Problems (2016).

May 29, 2020
The Truth Sandwich: George Lakoff

Truth sandwich

George Lakoff invented a construct called the Truth Sandwich in order to effectively frame the truth and negate a lie. In it, true statements act as "bread," and the lie is the "filling." A truth sandwich always starts with the truth because framing first is an advantage. Next, indicate the lie and state that it is a lie. Return immediately to the truth. The truth must always be repeated more than the lie.  Simply negating a lie without first stating the truth helps liars because it highlights the lie first. The Truth Sandwich formula of truth-lie-truth is key to combatting lies and fake news.

Truthful Reporting

Democratic societies depend on newspapers and the media overall to lead with the truth in their reporting and to root out lies. Everyday citizens are ill-equipped to fact-check every piece of media they consume. We need capable editors and reporters to fact-check, call out lies, and point to the consequences of the lie versus the truth. Reporters and editors should use the Truth Sandwich model to convey factual information and debunk lies to the public. High quality and truthful journalism is critical to a functioning democracy.


Our morals depend on how we understand ourselves, our families, and our politics. Republicans and Democrats have different ideas about morality, and give their loyalty to the party they think most likely to defend their values. Illegal conduct, lies, and other usually "immoral" actions are tolerated when they are deemed as furthering a specific set of goals and morals. As long as the party is carrying out the values of its constituents, the party faithful will keep their values.

Find out more:

George Lakoff is Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society and is now retired Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972. He previously taught at Harvard and the University of Michigan. He graduated from MIT in 1962 (in Mathematics and Literature) and received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Indiana University in 1966. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller The All New Don't Think of an Elephant!, among other works, and is America's leading expert on the framing of political ideas.

You can follow him on Twitter @GeorgeLakoff.

May 22, 2020
Post-Truth: Lee C. McIntyre


Post-truth is the political subordination of reality. It is not a failing of knowledge, but one of politics. Authoritarians use post-truth to corrupt our faith in the truth. The end goal is not to make citizens believe lies, but to make them so cynical and uncertain, they think they can never know the truth. Once this control over the information stream is achieved, leaders begin to have direct control over the populace. Post-truth marks the beginning of the descent into fascism for this reason.

Fake News

Fake news is intentionally false news. It’s a key tool in the pursuit of post-truth because it muddies the waters of reality. Once misinformation is in the public sphere, it is impossible to remove. The more fake news saturates the information market, the more jaded the target population becomes. Authoritarians can further confuse people by labeling the truth as fake news; they deny facts and demonstrate their control over their country’s information stream.


Propaganda is the most potent weapon in a post-truth leader’s arsenal. It is not designed to simply fool a population. Instead, it exists to demonstrate the government’s command of truth and that the truth is subordinate to the will of the leader. It shows the government’s ability to lie with impunity. Even if the population doesn’t believe the lie, it overwhelms their defenses, making them easier to rule.

Find out more:

Lee McIntyre is a Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an Instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School. Formerly Executive Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, he has also served as a policy advisor to the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard and as Associate Editor in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

McIntyre is the author of several books, including Post-Truth and Respecting Truth: Willful Ignorance in the Internet Age. Other work has appeared in such popular venues as the New York Times, Newsweek, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New Statesman, the Times Higher Education Supplement, and The Humanist.

You can follow Lee on Twitter @LeeCMcIntyre.

May 15, 2020
Authoritarianism Under COVID-19: Thomas O. Melia

COVID & Authoritarianism

COVID-19 has created an excuse for authoritarians around the world to consolidate power. Repressive regimes such as China have jailed political prisoners, and citizen journalists reporting on the pandemic have disappeared. Russia clamped down on free reporting to protect powerful warlords. Free speech is under attack in the U.S., as was the case when Captain Brett Crozier was fired for expressing concern about COVID-19 onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Navy nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

Long term danger of surveillance

Under the guise of public safety, governments are increasingly collecting our data, such as through contact tracing. It might make sense to share our personal information at this time. However, once these habits become established, they are hard to break. We could soon be subject to temperature or blood checks at border crossings, airports, or even public buildings. If governments obtain and track our medical histories, they will know much more about us than whether or not we have COVID-19.

Seeing Through Trump’s Response

The U.S. federal government’s response to COVID-19 utilizes the authoritarian playbook. Scientists like Dr. Fauci are muzzled while Trump spews angry rhetoric, total fabrications, and rewritten narratives to make himself look better. Trump can usually avoid repercussions for his lying, but a mounting virus death-toll is one fact-check he cannot shrug off. In time, the truth about his management of the crisis will come out thanks to media reporting, whistle-blowers, and congressional investigations.

Find out more:

Thomas O. Melia is Washington Director at PEN America. Previously, he served in the Obama Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, responsible for Europe and Eurasia, south and central Asia, and the Middle East, and as Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) until January 2017. Melia is a monthly columnist for The American Interest and chair of the board of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED). He was also a Fellow with the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, helping to lead a bipartisan initiative to reinvigorate American leadership in defense of human rights and democracy at home and abroad.

PEN America is a non-profit organization working at the crossroads between human rights and literature. They champion free speech around the world, celebrate creative expression, and defend the liberties that make it possible.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @thomasomelia and PEN America @penamerica.

May 08, 2020
Civic Engagement, Social Distancing, and Democracy Reform

Recently, Mila sat down with other podcast hosts from our podcast network The Democracy Group, to discuss the impact COVID-19 is having on our democracy, vulnerable populations, and more.

“COVID, the pandemic … has really brought to bear not just the inequities and the inequalities, but also the necessity to have a much more active sense of democracy as a verb — democracy as an action that we can all be part of.” — Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, 70 Million

Host: Richard Davies, Co-host, How Do We Fix It?

Mila Atmos, Host, Future Hindsight

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, Founder and CEO of Lantigua-Williams and Co., Creator and Executive Producer, 70 Million

Carah Ong-Whaley, Associate Director at James Madison Center for Civic Engagement at James Madison University, Co-host, Democracy Matters

Lee Drutman, Senior Fellow at New America, Co-host, Politics in Question

May 04, 2020
ExxonMobil’s Dirty Secret: Geoffrey Supran

ExxonMobil’s Knowledge

Beginning in 1959, ExxonMobil became scientifically aware of the dangers of human-caused climate change. By the 1970s-80s, they had a detailed, precise understanding of climate change. Their peer-reviewed and well-respected internal research gave them access to government meetings and academic conferences. In turn, knowledge about the status of the science and policies helped guide and inform business decisions. Internal memos show that in response to the scientific evidence, executives chose to publicly spread uncertainty and denial.


ExxonMobil invented the advertorial, a paid advertisement that is written and presented like an editorial. This content ran every Thursday on the New York Times Opinion page beginning in 1972. Its longevity and proliferation make it one of the largest propaganda campaigns in history. Approximately 80% of the company’s advertorials denied, obfuscated, or encouraged skepticism about climate science. During the same time that these public climate denial ads ran, the company’s peer-reviewed academic literature accepted and acknowledged that global warming is real, human-caused, and solvable.


Supran is a scientist and an activist, calling for MIT to divest from fossil fuels and organizing the first major scientist protest against the Trump administration. He believes that speaking truth to power about climate change is his civic duty, especially because he is a scientist. He quotes Einstein, who would agree: “Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.” Due to a long history of interest group pushing academics and scholars to be impartial, many scientists are reluctant to be activists. The stakes are too high for silence.

Trustworthy climate news sources:

Climate Feedback

InsideClimate News

The Guardian - Environment

The New York Times – Climate and Environment

Find out more:

Geoffrey Supran is a Research Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. Working alongside Professor Naomi Oreskes, he investigates the history of global warming politics; particularly the climate communications, denial, and delay tactics of fossil fuel interests. He is also a Postdoctoral Affiliate with Professor Jessika Trancik at the Institute for Data, Systems and Society at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Supran’s academic publications include the first ever peer-reviewed analysis of ExxonMobil’s 40-year history of climate change communications, which demonstrated that the company has misled the public. It was the seventh most talked-about climate change article of 2017, with global news coverage reaching a potential audience of half a billion people, and it was cited by Anderson Cooper during CNN's 2019 U.S. Democratic presidential Climate Town Hall.

Supran has briefed U.S. Senators and Governors, testified as an expert witness to European (EU) Parliament and the Philippines Commission on Human Rights, and co-authored several amicus briefs in support of climate litigation.

You can follow him on Twitter @GeoffreySupran.

May 01, 2020
Ending the Nuclear Era: Fred Pearce

Legacy of Secrecy

Nuclear technology has a long history of secrecy, cover-up, and deceit from military officials and government leaders, starting with the creation of nuclear weapons. Secrecy has hampered scientists in conducting rigorous research and data collection. They are often faced with studying the effects of radiation after an accident, which means they lack baseline data for comparison. This is most notable in Chernobyl, where the surrounding exclusion zone is now teeming with wildlife. Scientists disagree whether the detected DNA changes in the animals are due to radiation or to natural evolution, and how harmful it is. A combination of disinformation, a lack of understanding, and fundamental disagreements about the danger posed by radiation feeds public skepticism of nuclear technology.

Dangerous Waste

Nuclear technology's longest-lasting legacy is radioactive waste. It produces plutonium, a highly radioactive isotope that takes thousands of years to decay. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that the world currently has about 550 tons of plutonium. Most of the waste sits in silos designed for temporary storage, which is expensive. We still need to find a way to treat, move, and bury it in a permanent storage space that is deep underground. The immense cost of waste management is one of the main reasons that nuclear reactors are being decommissioned. After deciding to abandon nuclear power, Germany is now struggling with its waste. Some of it is stored in salt mines that are not secure enough in the long term, and some is in the UK for treatment. It’s unclear if Germany will take back the nuclear waste that is overseas. How the world will eventually safely maintain nuclear waste is an open question.

Nuclear Disarmament

The heart of Pearce’s opposition to nuclear energy is the danger of nuclear proliferation. The creation of nuclear weapons is a Faustian pact that poses a vast and unnecessary risk to the world. The hydrogen bombs that were developed after WWII would kill millions of people instantly, which are now in silos all over the world, ready to be deployed. He argues that nuclear weapons are not a security measure, but instead create global insecurity. Every year they lie dormant, the chances they fall into the wrong hands increases. Nuclear weapons disarmament needs to be our highest priority, and should be achievable in the next 30 – 40 years. The only way to do so is by eliminating atomic technology, which also means eliminating nuclear power.

Find out more:

Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in London. He has reported on the environment, science, and development issues from 88 countries over the past 30 years. Trained as a geographer, he has been an environment consultant of New Scientist magazine since 1992. He writes regularly for The Guardian newspaper, including the weekly Greenwash column, and published a 12-part investigation of the 'Climategate' emails affair at the University of East Anglia. He is also a regular contributor to Yale University's prestigious e360 website.

Fred is the author of numerous books, including Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age, and The Last Generation: How Nature Will Take Her Revenge for Climate Change. His books have been translated into at least 14 languages.

Apr 24, 2020
Our Radioactive Ocean: Ken Buesseler


After the Fukushima reactor accident, radiation leaked into the Pacific Ocean, sparking global worry. In the months after the accident, levels were high, but not high enough to cause marine life die-off. For the last five years, all fish caught off Japan has been below the radiation thresholds for consumption. Radioactive cesium levels have been low since 2014, and levels of radiation off the California coast are lower today than they were in the 1960s when the US detonated hydrogen bombs in the Marshall Islands. Swimming in the Pacific for eight hours every day is less risky than one dental x-ray.


A crowdsourced science campaign called Our Radioactive Ocean was created to measure ocean radiation at various points in the Pacific. Interested citizens collected ocean samples and sent them to Woods Hole to be analyzed. The campaign became a hit, and more than 300 data points have been plotted up and down the West Coast. More than 1 million people have visited their site. Once citizen scientists got involved in the project, they wanted to learn more and engaged their communities. Communities, like Laguna Beach, began to band together to pay for samples. The data used is credible and has resulted in at least one scientific paper. Thanks to the public nature of the effort, new data points are continuing to be analyzed today.


Radiation is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and we live with it every day. Even without human interference, the ocean still has radiation because of dissolved radioactive agents found in salt. Radiation in small doses is natural and perfectly healthy. Living at a high altitude exposes you to cosmic radiation and flying from New York to Japan gives you a dose of radiation much higher than background levels. Living in New England exposes you to elevated levels of radiation thanks to the large amounts of granite, which releases it. Many foods, like bananas, have trace amounts of radiation. Getting a dental x-ray or CAT Scan gives you a dose of radiation. We live with radiation and should not be afraid of it, except in extremely high doses.

Find out more:

Ken Buesseler is a marine radiochemist who studies the fate and distribution of radioactive elements in the ocean at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. His lab has also been active in response to radioactivity released from disasters such as the impact of radioactivity released from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, and from earlier sources such as Chernobyl or atomic weapons testing at the Marshall Islands.

He created the Our Radioactive Ocean project, which uses citizen scientists to measure radiation levels on the West coast of United States. He also leads WHOI's Café Thorium, which analyzes marine samples for both natural and artificial radionuclides.

You can follow him on Twitter @cafe_thorium.

Apr 17, 2020
A Renewable Future: Mark Z. Jacobson

Nuclear Power is Impractical

Building nuclear power plants is extremely costly and time-consuming; projects are often plagued by cost overruns and construction delays. Between permitting, planning, and construction, it takes 10-19 years for a plant to become operational. To meet our climate goals, we need to transition 80% of our energy to carbon-free solutions by 2030. From a logistical standpoint, nuclear cannot become our carbon-free energy source because it will arrive too late. In addition, aging nuclear power plants become more expensive to maintain and operate, which necessitate additional subsidies. Maintenance requirements shut down the whole plant and energy production goes to zero during that time.

Nuclear Technology Risks

In addition to the practical barriers of building a nuclear grid, nuclear technology has inherent risks. Some of the radioactive nuclear waste takes hundreds of thousands of years to decay, posing long term problems for safe maintenance. The technology can and has been used for weapons proliferation. The catastrophic risk of a nuclear reactor meltdown is currently at 1.5%, which is astronomical. In comparison, we would not accept a 1.5% chance of planes crashing. The cost of cleanup for the Fukushima disaster alone has exceeded $500 billion, or more than $1 billion per reactor worldwide, which makes nuclear much more costly than many acknowledge.

Electrifying our lives with renewable energy

Transitioning to clean renewable energy and electrifying all sectors of the economy can achieve a savings in energy demand of 57%. The heating and cooling of buildings can be achieved through heat pumps; electric cars can replace fossil fuel models; high-temperature electric processes can be used in heavy industry. Clean energy electricity can be generated through large concentrated solar farms, offshore wind power, geothermal, and hydroelectric power. Sources like solar and wind can come online much faster than nuclear, cutting emissions more quickly and stay clean forever. Once electrification is widespread, it becomes easier to store excess power with batteries, hydroelectric reservoirs, and gravitational storage.

Find out more:

Mark Z. Jacobson is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Senior Fellow of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and Director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University.

His career has focused on better understanding air pollution and global warming problems and developing large-scale clean, renewable energy solutions to them. Toward that end, he has developed and applied three-dimensional atmosphere-biosphere-ocean computer models and solvers to simulate air pollution, weather, climate, and renewable energy. He has also developed roadmaps to transition countries, states, cities, and towns to 100% clean, renewable energy for all purposes and computer models to examine grid stability in the presence of high penetrations of renewable energy.

You can follow him on Twitter @mzjacobson.

Apr 10, 2020
COVID-19 Special Edition

Stephen Pimpare is a nationally recognized expert on poverty and U.S. social policy. Hedebunks the idea that COVID is the great equalizer, and explains why immediate cash transfers are critical to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the poor.

Joe Huston is Managing Director of GiveDirectly, the first and largest non-profit organization that gives cash directly to people in poverty. He shares how they are reaching the needy and providing thousands with critical funds right now.

Maria Foscarinis is the Founder and Director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. We talk about successful strategies to house the homeless and give them cash, as well as special funding to address homelessness in the CARES Act.

Robin Steinberg is the founder and CEO of The Bail Project. Her organization is doing the immense work to release as many Americans held on bail as possible at this time, what states are doing to help, and how decarceration is now quickly gaining traction around the country.

Find out more:

Stephen Pimpare is a nationally recognized expert on poverty, homelessness, and U.S. Social policy. He is also a Faculty Fellow at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire and teaches courses on American Politics and Public Policy. His most recent book is Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens: Down & Out on the Silver Screen, a history of poverty and homelessness in the movies.

Follow him on Twitter @stephenpimpare.

Joe Huston is the Managing Director of GiveDirectly, the first and largest non-profit organization that gives cash directly to people in poverty and that works to reshape the way we think about international donations.

Follow GiveDirectly @GiveDirectly and Joe @JHust

Maria Foscarinisis the founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, and has advocated for solutions to homelessness at the national level since 1985.

Follow her on Twitter @MariaFoscarinis.

Robin Steinberg is the founder and CEO of The Bail Project, an unprecedented national effort to combat mass incarceration by transforming the pretrial system in the U.S.

Follow The Bail Project on Twitter @bailproject.

Apr 09, 2020
A Nuclear Future: Joshua Goldstein

Green Power

Nuclear energy offers large amounts of power, produces no carbon dioxide, uses a comparatively small amount of land, and runs around the clock. Although nuclear power produces hazardous waste, the amount of material and risk to civilians is small. The risk is hugely outweighed by the risk posed by climate change. According to Goldstein, nuclear power represents the best source of carbon-free energy available to us as we transition from fossil fuels. In the span of one decade, Sweden cut its emissions in half while also growing its economy, thanks to a large-scale nuclear program.

Nuclear Waste or Air Pollution?

Air pollution kills millions of people world-wide every year because of the particulate matter that coal-powered plants emit freely into the atmosphere. What people should be afraid of is coal, but what people are afraid of is nuclear power. The fear of radiation is exacerbated by disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima, as well as generational trauma about the potential use of nuclear weapons in the 1950s to the 1970s. Although large amounts of radiation are fatal, we actually live safely with small, naturally occurring amounts every day. The stigma against nuclear power caused Germany to shutter its plants in favor of solar and wind. They replaced one green fuel source with another instead of replacing coal with a green fuel. Unfortunately, because Germany’s renewables are not meeting demands for electricity, they are now burning more fossil fuels to fulfill that need.

Small Modular Reactors

Instead of giant nuclear plants, which can take decades to build, the future lies in small modular reactors. These new, pre-fabricated, transportable, and scalable reactors are in current development by the US and China. They are projected to be operational in the middle of the coming decade. These smaller reactors can be mass-produced and distributed to high-need areas. In addition, small modular reactors carry less stigma because of their size. The Chinese model can sit on a barge, be towed to a location, and immediately begin producing power.

Find out more:

Joshua Goldstein is professor emeritus of international relations at American University and a research scholar at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He researches, writes, and speaks about global trends including war and society, economic forces, and world energy trends and climate change. Goldstein co-authored A Bright Future, How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow.

You can follow him on Twitter @GoldsteinJoshua.

Apr 03, 2020
Criminalizing Ecocide: Jojo Mehta

What is Ecocide?

The crime of ecocide is the "extensive loss, damage, or destruction of ecosystems such that their inhabitants can no longer enjoy life peacefully." Ecocide happens on a large scale; examples include the ravaging of the Brazilian rainforest, the consequences of widespread fracking, and toxic erosion from strip-mining. Corporations perpetrate almost all ecocide and millions of people are devasted by ecocide's effects every year. Currently, there is no legal pathway to compel corporations to stop committing ecocide.

Criminalizing Ecocide

The International Criminal Court oversees the prosecution of four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. During its inception, the crime of ecocide was proposed but never codified thanks to pushback from countries like the US, UK, France, and the Netherlands. All of them hold significant nuclear and fossil fuel interests. Since the ICC operates on a "one nation, one vote" policy, it is conceivable for small nations directly impacted by climate change to work together and criminalize ecocide, even if larger, fossil fuel burning countries oppose it. Criminalizing ecocide on an international level holds the world's worst polluters to account.

Shifting Public Opinion

Once something is outlawed, social stigma is quick to follow. Banning ecocide internationally, or even publicly considering doing so, leads to a shift in public opinion. As entire cultures become aware and fight against ecocide, many corporations will change their business models to meet public outcry. We already see this phenomenon around the world. Recently, the CEO of Siemens wrote a letter outlining the ways his company became greener but noted his legal duty was to his shareholders. Making ecologically devastating practices illegal will ensure that corporations change their polluting behavior.

Find out more:

Jojo Mehta is the co-founder and director of Earth Defense Integrity (EDI). EDI's international team is working with climate- and ecocide-vulnerable states which have the power to propose an Ecocide amendment to the Rome Statute, the governing document of The ICC. The International Criminal Court's annual Assembly in December is the critical forum for advancing this work. They have accompanied Small Island ("Great Ocean") Developing State representatives and helped amplify their voices and concerns there for four consecutive years, as the nations most impacted by climate emergency.

You can follow her on Twitter @Jojo_Mehta.

Mar 27, 2020
Climate Policy Failures: Leah Stokes

Fighting for Climate Policy

Dismantling the energy system is crucial to breaking the energy crisis. Implementing clean energy policies is the most effective way to change our current energy system and undo the playbook of the fossil fuel and utility industries. Citizens need to demand legislators to support green policies because a policy problem can only be fought with policy solutions. Mass public pressure, such as the youth protests led by Greta Thunberg, can disrupt the status quo and compel lawmakers to act.

Policy Feedback

Policy feedback is the idea that once policies are enacted, they reshape the next generation of politics. In the case of clean energy, the implementation of policies would kick start new industries and create jobs. As these industries become entrenched, they would defend the policies that created them and promote additional policy aimed at more green energy. Once this path dependence is created, a totally clean and renewable energy future is the result.

Policy Retrenchment

Fossil fuel and utility companies have immense power in state legislatures to reverse clean energy policies. Utilities around the country know how to run profitable power plants that burns fossil fuels and thus do not have incentives to switch to renewables. They fight against decarbonization by resisting implementation; rolling back existing guidelines for retrenchment; and even challenging pro-renewable candidates in primary races.

Find out more:

Leah Stokes an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and affiliated with the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). She is the author of the forthcoming book Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle Over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American State.

She works on energy, climate and environmental politics. Within American Politics, her work focuses on representation and public opinion; voting behavior; and public policy, particularly at the state level. Within environmental politics, she researches climate change, renewable energy, water and chemicals policy.

She completed a PhD in Public Policy in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning’s Environmental Policy & Planning group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); received a masters from MIT's Political Science Department; and completed an MPA in Environmental Science & Policy at the School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

You can follow her on Twitter @leahstokes

Mar 20, 2020
Climate Justice: Julian Brave NoiseCat

Climate Justice

Many low-income communities bear the brunt of industrial pollution or the harshest consequences of climate change. In order to address global warming in a meaningful way, we must also address systemic inequality. The Green New Deal offers a solution to both: transitioning to clean energy while also ensuring low-income communities get the funding they need, and blue-collar workers get good-paying jobs.

Promoting Policy

Climate Change is a global collective problem, and individual actions alone are not going to suffice to combat it. Currently, only the Democratic Party in the US is willing to acknowledge this reality and work towards enacting durable decarbonization policies. Therefore, voting for Democratic leaders is paramount in this year's election. Organizing, activism, and raising awareness should support and prioritize policy-making success.

Indigenous Wisdom

Indigenous peoples have deep insights as to how we can relate to the environment, such as in the management of fisheries and – more profoundly – in surviving a loss of their world. Colonization was an apocalyptic experience for them, yet many of these indigenous communities have endured, and some are even resurging today. As the climate crisis poses an existential threat, learning the history of First Nations people might help us understand what it means for humans to live through catastrophic destruction.

Find out more:

Julian Brave NoiseCat is Vice President of Policy & Strategy at Data for Progress; Change Director at The Natural History Museum; and a Fellow at Type Media Center & NDN Collective.

The belief that Indigenous peoples can contribute to understanding and solving the world's most pressing challenges inspires his work. In 2019, NoiseCat helped lead a grassroots effort to bring an Indigenous canoe journey to San Francisco Bay to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Alcatraz Occupation.

He has been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Paris Review, The Guardian, and The Nation, among many others.  

Previously, he led 350.org’s US policy work and was an Urban Fellow in the Commissioner’s Office of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development. He studied history at Columbia University and the University of Oxford, where he was a Clarendon scholar.

He is a proud member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen and a descendant of the Lil’Wat Nation of Mount Currie.

You can follow him on Twitter @jnoisecat

Mar 13, 2020
Writing Climate Policy: Jerry Taylor

Carbon Tax

The climate crisis is a global collective problem that requires a collective global solution. Robust and bipartisan public policy must be at the center of any effort. Taylor argues that we can harness capitalism to mitigate global warming, and proposes a combination of legislation together with a carbon tax on producers. Taxing carbon at $45 a ton creates serious incentives for cities, corporations, and individuals to cut emissions. A carbon tax is a swift fix because it can pass more quickly than substantial regulations that may take years to go into effect.

Changing Public Opinion

Changing public opinion starts with changing the minds of thought leaders. Elite Republicans are thought leaders for their party, so it is paramount to convince them that risk-management on climate change is essential for human survival on Earth. Many conservative leaders acknowledge reality, but there is currently no political window for change. Taylor and the Niskanen Center are working behind the scenes to ensure Republicans and Democrats will pounce when the opportunity presents itself with a new administration in the White House.

Facts Over Ideology

Climate denial is mostly a psychological argument in the face of overwhelming facts and scientific consensus. It is a reaction to left-leaning environmental activists, who many on the right believe are anti-industry, anti-fossil fuel, and anti-consumerist. Deniers believe that the climate change movement exists to attack the free market instead of to mitigate global warming. Accepting the facts and evidence of a warming planet is critical for passing bipartisan climate change legislation.

Find out more:

Jerry Taylor is the President of the Niskanen Center. Prior to founding the Center in 2014, Taylor spent 23 years at the Cato Institute, where he served as director of natural resource studies, assistant editor of Regulation magazine, senior fellow, and then vice president. Before that, Taylor was the staff director for the energy and environment task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Over the past two decades, he has been one of the most prominent and influential conservative voices in energy policy in Washington. He is also the author of numerous policy studies and has testified often before Congress.

You can follow him on Twitter @Jerry_JTaylor

Mar 06, 2020
The Actual Cost of Fast Fashion: Jussara Lee

Use Your Purchasing Power

Corporations only care about their bottom-line, so boycotting stores you don’t believe in does make a difference. Taking responsibility for your purchases is one of the most powerful non-violent tools available. Naysayers argue that individual actions have no effect, but these actions reverberate and impact the decisions of others. Recently, clothes giant H&M found itself with a $4.3B surplus, thanks in large part to changing consumer demands. As purchasers become more environmentally friendly, they moved away from fast fashion en masse, forcing the retail chain to change their behavior. H&M now operates clothing recycling centers in many of its store in a bid to appear more environmentally friendly. While this is only once instance, consumers can apply this action to a wide variety of stores and businesses and enact change in them.

The Impact of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion relies on the same business model as fast food: a high volume of cheap product for a low cost. Cheap textiles and materials as well as cheap labor come at the expense of exploited workers and the environment. To grow the cotton for one white t-shirt requires 713 gallons of water; leather tanneries use toxic metals like mercury and lead to dye their materials; cheap synthetic materials leech plastic microbeads into our water-system and food sources, eventually finding their way into our bodies. On top of this, the amount of oil used to create plastic hangers, bags, and other plastic accessories coupled with the carbon created during transportation creates a significant impact on the environment and climate. The actual cost of production, which should include pollution and other hidden costs, are not included in the price of fast fashion items.

Stay Small and Local

Unfortunately, there is no way to be entirely carbon neutral. Producing waste is inherent to life. The problem of pollution is essentially one of scale: the bigger you or your company are, the more pollution you produce, regardless of whether you use sustainable practices. Resource distribution is incredibly unequal throughout the world, so it’s important to use only what you need and not more. This way, we can ensure our resources do not go to waste and that others have access to what they need, as well. Staying local is also important to fighting climate change. A huge amount of carbon is produced in the transportation of goods. Consider using a local store to purchase new goods, instead of Amazon or eBay.

Find out more:

Jussara Lee has developed a small scale business operation in which luxury fashion and sustainable practices work in tandem. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, she launched her own label, which was embraced by prominent international retailers. For the past 18 years, she has worked to scale back the company to focus on making the best-fitting custom-made clothes with the gentlest impact on the environment. Hand-tailoring, local production, biodegradable materials, natural dyes form the core of her brand. The addition of mending services and a collection of transformed vintage clothes are part of her efforts to fit into a circular economic model, where the least amount of resources are consumed and waste is given a new purpose.

You can follow her on Twitter @JussaraLeeNYC

Feb 28, 2020
The Future of Food: Lenore Newman

Sustainable Food Supply

We can create a sustainable food supply for future populations with technology and a change in diet. We cannot feed the world the way we feed North America because 40% of the world’s arable land is currently used for food production. Most of that land is used to feed the animals that we then eat ourselves. Animal protein takes 10 times the amount of resources to grow than plant protein. We could reduce beef consumption by 70% if we replace hamburgers with artificial meats like the “impossible burger.” Doing so would be a huge step for the environment. As technology improves and becomes less costly, artificial meats will become the norm. In addition, we need to focus on efficient, crop-specific farm practices, and shifting farm subsidies to vegetables instead of sugar.


Humans have been mismanaging their food supplies for thousands of years. The Roman equivalent of vanilla, a plant called silphium, was prized so highly that Emperors hoarded it, yet it went extinct very rapidly due to mismanagement. Roughly two millennia later, clouds of billions of passenger pigeons ruled the American Midwest but went extinct in a short timespan because of overeating. More recently, the Canada’s Atlantic Cod stock disappeared, again thanks to mismanagement. Humans struggle with large scale, long term management efforts to ensure that our foods survive. This is a skill we desperately need to learn in order to ensure that our food supplies do not disappear.

Protecting What We Have

Think of the natural world as a library where each species is a book. Thanks to our current environmental and agricultural practices, we are burning these books; and once a species is gone, we can’t get it back. We need to focus on protecting what we have and managing our food supplies in a sustainable way. Ocean life is now most at risk from warming, pollution, and overfishing. A lot of ocean species travel in flocks like passenger pigeons, which makes them easy to kill. We need to stop eating the mega-fauna of the sea, like bluefin tuna and other big fish. Instead, we should focus on farmed fish and shellfish, like lobster and shrimp. Anyone who has an acre or two of land, should put in bee-friendly landscaping and avoid using chemicals that kill bees.

Find out more:

Lenore Newman holds a Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley, where she is an Associate Professor of Geography and the Environment. Her opinion pieces on the future of farmland use and other food-related issues have been published widely, including in The Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and Georgia Straight. She holds a PhD in Environmental Studies from York University.

Her current research focuses on three main areas: (1) Technology and the future of food, including the evolution of the food system including bioengineering, cultured meat, dietary trends and indoor agriculture; (2) Agricultural land use policy, including agricultural land preservation, agriculture on the rural/urban fringe, and global land use patterns; and (3) Place making through food and agriculture, including direct marketing, edge city zoning, and culinary tourism experiences. In 2014, Lenore was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. She has authored over forty academic papers and reports in her areas of research. She is particularly proud of her work on foraged foods and on the impact of climate change on cuisine.

You can follow Lenore on Twitter @DrLenoreNewman.

Feb 21, 2020
A Call to Arms: Bill McKibben

Nonviolent Social Movement

Through non-violent social movements, we can demand meaningful change in the political and economic calculus for polluters. Climate strikes, extinction rebellions, and concerted efforts to stop devastating environmental policies have inspired a new generation of activists. The successful opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline showed that people could stand up to oil companies, and win. By stopping or delaying new fossil fuel projects, renewables have a better chance to take hold and in the meantime the technology has time to get cheaper and better. The divestment movement is another key piece of non-violent activism. Divestments from fossil fuels now total more than $12 trillion, and has become a material risk for those businesses.

Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

We must all address our individual carbon footprint in order to solve climate change. One Vermont family reduced their carbon footprint by 88% overnight. With the help of Green Mountain Utility, they fully insulated their house and installed high-efficiency air source heat pumps and solar panels. Even after including the costs of new appliances and insulation, their energy bills were still lower than before. We can all do similar makeovers because this technology is widely available at places like Home Depot. The technology and science to move toward carbon-neutrality already exist, we just need to use them.

What if?

Oil giant Exxon knew as early as the mid-1980s that climate change was real and man-made. Exxon was so aware of the impending crisis that they started building their offshore drilling rigs to compensate for the rise in sea levels that they knew was coming. Instead of telling the public, they hid their findings and denied climate change. McKibben wonders what the world would be like if they had been honest and had been part of the solution. His hypothesis is that the price of renewables, such as solar panels and wind turbines, would have fallen much earlier; new oil and gas exploration would have stopped; homes would be better insulated; and that a modest price on carbon would have been enacted. The result? A dramatically less polluted planet and a much different economy. Had we started earlier to combat warming, course correction would have been both easier and less costly.

Find out more:

Bill McKibben is a legendary environmentalist, author, and educator whose 1989 book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change. He has written dozens of books, is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and founded 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement.

The Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was the 2013 winner of the Gandhi Prize and the Thomas Merton Prize, and holds honorary degrees from 18 colleges and universities. Foreign Policy named him to their inaugural list of the world’s 100 most important global thinkers, and the Boston Globe said he was “probably America’s most important environmentalist.” In 2014, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel.’ 

A former staff writer for the New Yorker, he writes frequently for a wide variety of publications around the world, including the New York Review of Books, National Geographic, and Rolling Stone. He lives in the mountains above Lake Champlain with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, where he spends as much time as possible outdoors. In 2014, biologists honored him by naming a new species of woodland gnat — Megophthalmidia mckibbeni — in his honor.

You can follow Bill on Twitter @billmckibben and 350.org @350.

Feb 14, 2020
Towards a Sustainable Future: Katherine Richardson

The UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda

The United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030 lists 17 goals designed to improve human well-being, while also managing the Earth’s resources for the future. We have been moving further from completing our environmental goals every year because well-being comes at the expense of the global environment. The sustainable development goals are a set of tools to maximize human well-being and minimize the negative effects of increased development. For instance, making sure everyone in the world has access to electricity is a well-being goal, and making sure that energy is clean is an environmental goal.

Resources as Money

We currently undervalue the use of natural resources because our economic model is designed to maximize profits, not protect the environment. Prices need to accurately reflect the reality that these resources are finite and must be used as efficiently as possible. No one uses more money than necessary to purchase a good or service, but all of us use more resources than necessary to maintain our lifestyle. We are able to regulate a global economy; we should also be able to regulate the global commodities market of resources.

Tipping Points

There are two types of tipping points in the climate change debate: environmental and social. Environmental tipping points include scenarios like losing all of the ice on the North Pole, which makes climate change much worse. There are also tipping points in social systems, such as the dramatic fall in smoking, or the use of seatbelts in cars. People can change, and consequently, societies can change very quickly. If we can manifest social tipping points around climate change that impact governance, our economic systems, our behavior, and our technology, we can mitigate the damage caused by climate change, and hopefully avoid the most devastating tipping points in our environment.

Find out more:

Katherine Richardson is the Leader of the Sustainability Science Centre at the University of Copenhagen and ​​​a Professor of Biological Oceanography at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution, and Climate. She is also a member of the 15-person panel that wrote and delivered the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

You can follow her on Twitter @KRichardsonC.

Feb 07, 2020
The End of Welfare: Kathryn Edin (Rebroadcast)

The end of welfare

Welfare ceased being guaranteed after reform in 1996. Although the safety net for the working class was strengthened through tax credits, the safety net for those who are jobless disappeared. In its current state, the welfare system is overwhelming and underfunded. States are given block grants that they can spend at their discretion. For example, Louisiana spends its money on anti-abortion clinics. As a result, over the course of a year, about 3.5 million children live in households with virtually no cash income for at least 3 months.

Cash is king

Cash has the ultimate function: it can be used to pay rent, utilities, food, school supplies, and more. Although food stamps (SNAP) and Medicaid help needy families, these cashless forms of assistance cannot address other necessities in life. Access to cash can be pivotal to keeping a job – to fill your car with gas so you can go to work – or a roof over your head while you look for a new job after being downsized.

The poor are true Americans

America’s poor are the very embodiment of American ideals. Living in poverty is incredibly complex, a daily challenge to which the poor rise. They take pride in their work and find purpose at the workplace. They are hard-working, resourceful, and enterprising. Poor families spend their money wisely to keep their children fed and sheltered, and they stretch every dollar to make ends meet.

Find out more:

Kathryn Edin is one of the nation’s leading poverty researchers, working in the domains of welfare and low-wage work, family, life, and neighborhood contexts through direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income populations. A qualitative and mixed-method researcher, she has taken on key mysteries about the urban poor that have not been fully answered by quantitative work, such as how do single mothers possibly survive on welfare? Why don’t more go to work?

She has authored 8 books and some 60 journal articles. $2 a Day: The Art of Living on Virtutally Nothing in America, co-authored with Luke Shaefer, was met with wide critical acclaim. It was included in the NYT 100 Notable Books of 2015, cited as “essential reporting about the rise in destitute families.”

You can follow Kathryn on Twitter @KathrynEdin

Jan 31, 2020
Democracy and Freedom: Season Round Up

Empowering citizens

Many Americans are unsure of how their government works. Civic education is the manual for democracy, which Civics 101 offers in the form of a popular podcast. Over the last hundred years, the United States became more democratic through the activism and litigation of concerned and well-educated citizens. Still, some unfairness in our system prevails. One important holdover from the institution of slavery is the Electoral College, which was originally designed to grant outsized electoral power to slaveholding states. The system continues to give about one third of American voters an advantage at the expense of the majority. Our responsibility is to understand the rules, participate, and empower ourselves to make this democracy work us.

Undermining the Press

The President is allowed to say whatever he wants about the press as a private citizen because of his First Amendment protections. However, the President cannot use the power of the federal government to exact reprisals against the press. For instance, when the White House revoked press passes earlier this year, it contravened the Constitution. Never before has a President undermined and used retributive action against the press like this, and other countries are taking note. Repressive measures like these come directly from an authoritarian playbook, and according to PEN America, the number of journalists jailed worldwide for “fake news” tripled last year because of it. America was once the moral leader on free speech issues around the world, but the current administration’s repressive tactics are withering that leadership.

Technology for Democracy

Democracy Works remedies some of the most pervasive and mundane reasons we don’t vote. TurboVote is a tool that enables online voter registration, sends out election day reminders, and even provides absentee ballots. Those mailed-in ballots are then tracked by the Ballot Scout initiative. The Voting Information Project produces the polling place and ballot data that is then used by Google and get-out-the-vote drives. By using current technology to take the hassle of voting out of our busy lives, the initiatives of Democracy Works are building a more engaged society.

Citizens’ forum

Deliberative mini publics innovate democracy by engaging citizens in constructive dialogue about the issues facing society. While many in parliament assumed citizens would always favor more spending and lower taxes, it turned out that voters who were presented with detailed information came to develop nuanced policy positions. After listening to presentations by experts, they actually favored higher taxes in certain areas and reached complex compromises about government spending. By doing so, they proved to lawmakers and skeptics that ordinary Irish citizens could be trusted with vital policy work.

Find out more:

Future Hindsight is a weekly podcast that aims to spark civic engagement through in-depth conversations with citizen changemakers. American democracy is a living, breathing mechanism whose well-being deserves to be cultivated and protected, and now more than ever, the need to be an engaged citizen is critical. We explore how each of us has the power to shape our society and fulfill our shared civic responsibility.

You can follow us on Twitter @futur_hindsight and our host Mila Atmos @milaatmos

Jan 25, 2020
Ending Urban Violence: Thomas Abt

Focus on Violence First

Abt’s central thesis for solving violence in urban areas is fairly straightforward: focus on the violence—and not other factors—first. Exposure to violence may be the central mechanism that keeps poor children poor because it inhibits their ability to escape poverty. Violence occupies the brain with lifelong repercussions. Studies have shown elevated rates of cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses based on childhood trauma. Trauma also impacts the ability to sleep, focus, and behave, all of which impact academic and job performances. By reducing violence first, we can provide a measure of safety and stability, which makes it easier to improve education, health outcomes, and attract business investments in a community.

Focused, Balanced, and Fair

Successful urban violence reduction efforts need to be focused, balanced, and fair. Urban crime “sticks” to certain locations, such as a liquor store or a gas station; certain high-risk individuals; and certain behaviors, such as the illegal possession of weapons. Tightly focusing on high risk areas, behaviors, and people, is key to reducing violence. A balanced mix of tactics includes increased policing as well as increased violence prevention programs. This carrot-and-stick method offers success consistent with human nature. Fairness builds trust between law enforcement and marginalized communities. When people don’t trust law enforcement and institutions, they’re less likely to use them to solve disputes, leading to an increasing cycle of violence. Law enforcement also overburdens many of these communities with constant policing – think stop and frisk – but underserves them because they are still not safe.

Targeting Behavior

The people who are on the giving or receiving end of violent urban crime are usually heavily traumatized individuals. Constant trauma and violence lead to a condition known as hypervigilance, an elevated flight-or-fight response. Those who are hypervigilant can go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, which makes it difficult to function in a normal setting. By targeting trauma-caused behavior through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), we can help them achieve the results they want. CBT addresses anger management, interpersonal problem-solving, and future orientation issues. It’s hard to work with a young man who cannot visualize that actions today might have long ranging consequences when he doesn’t believe that he’s going to live longer than another two or three years. Once these behaviors are identified and addressed, opportunities such as job placements are easier to utilize, and success is easier to achieve.

Find out more:

Thomas Abt is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice, and was previously Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for International Development. He formerly served as Deputy Secretary for Public Safety under New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Chief of Staff to the Office of Justice Programs at the United States Department of Justice, and founding member of the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative.

Bleeding Out is his first book, focusing on evidence-informed approaches to reduce urban violence. It argues the best way to reduce violence is through direct action against violence first, before treating deeply rooted societal issues like poverty.

You can follow Thomas on Twitter @Abt_Thomas

Jan 18, 2020
The Meritocracy Trap: Daniel Markovits

The Cost of Human Capital

Meritocracy gives the illusion that we are all equally competing at a level playing field. The reality is that the elite is able to purchase better education, which means they are more qualified when it comes to college admissions and high-income jobs. By heavily investing in education and training, elites build human capital within themselves. They become superordinate workers who are paid enormous wages. The flip side is that human capital enslaves us because we have to yield intensive and alienated labor. In order to maintain status in the elite and reap the benefits of the capital invested in them, meritocrats must work continuously at the highest paying jobs they can find. A member of the elite works punishingly long hours under intense pressure. While meritocracy allows some to become extremely wealthy, they do so at the cost of their own freedom, and ultimately their own happiness.

Meritocracy Erodes Democracy

Meritocracy erodes democracy in two key ways. First, meritocracy frames the reality of systemic failure to provide economic opportunity as the failure of individuals to measure up in society. It tells the person who didn’t get into Harvard or get a job at Google that if only they worked harder or were smarter, they would have succeeded, when in fact they are victims of structural exclusion. This creates deep disaffection among those who are unfairly excluded, who then begin to question the underlying institutions that hold American society together. Populists and nativists are able to harness this sentiment, blame ‘the other,’ rise to power, and attack democratic norms. Second, meritocracy creates a massively wealthy elite minority who can legally buy influence in media, politics, and even reduce tax obligations. Between the alienation of the middle and lower classes, and the outsized power of the elite, meritocracy has been one of the leading causes of the erosion of democracy.

Solving the Meritocracy Trap

Meritocracy compounds inequality through unequal access to quality education. Expensive, elite schools prepare those who can afford them for the most selective universities and then high-paying jobs. In addition, because of the way social security tax works, employers now have a huge tax incentive to hire one superordinate worker and robots as opposed to more middle income workers. Markovits proposes two policies to address these problems: expanding elite education and extending the social security tax. Opening up elite institutions will make them less exclusive and more accessible, providing more opportunities to the middle class to higher income. Currently, the social security tax is capped at $137,700, which means that the person who makes $150,000 and the person who makes $2,000,000 pay the same amount in social security tax. Eliminating the cap would raise almost 1.5% of GDP in steady state, which could help fund expanded education.

Find out more:

Daniel Markovits is Guido Calabresi Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Private Law. Markovits works in the philosophical foundations of private law, moral and political philosophy, and behavioral economics.

The Meritocracy Trap is his latest book. It places meritocracy at the center of rising economic inequality and social and political dysfunction, and provides solutions to these problems.

You can follow Daniel on Twitter @DSMarkovits

Jan 11, 2020
Bipartisan Civil Discourse: Michael Baranowski

Agreeing on the basic fundamentals

The need for positive, bipartisan discourse is acute. In today’s politically charged environment, it's important to disagree in a constructive and civil way. The first step in good-faith dialogue is to start by finding fundamental policies or values you both agree on and build on them. In fact, most Americans hold the same ideals, but value them differently. Mike and his conservative co-host Jay both value justice and freedom, though to different degrees. Since they both agree justice and freedom are important, fair and rational debate becomes much easier. Equally important are the ability to keep an open mind, and to be able to see and understand other perspectives.

The System is Working

The Trump Administration is undeniably attacking institutions in a way that we’ve never seen from the executive branch before. While this is deeply worrying, the good news is that our system appears to be bearing the brunt of his attacks well. For instance, the election process worked in 2018, giving Democrats the House, which in turn led to renewed scrutiny and accountability in the form of impeachment. Many of Trump’s promises have not been enacted because parts of our governmental system have worked correctly and stopped them. Trump has been frustrated in many areas, just as his predecessors were. The fact that all presidents cannot achieve all of their goals is a sign that the system is working and continues to work.

Returning Debate to the Center

Our media landscape often showcases the two political extremes as the dominant modes of American political thought. While this helps ratings, it is not the case. Most Americans fall somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum, where there is much overlap and common ground to be found. They are not deeply ideological, and are not interested in big things, whether that’s a massive wall or a complete remaking of the American health care system. Healthy political discourse needs to keep in mind that policy options should serve the majority of the country, and not just the ten percent of extreme voters on either side. By elevating these center-oriented voices, bipartisan debate becomes easier, and solutions are easier to create.

Find out more:

Michael Baranowski is a political scientist with a Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky. His focus is on American political institutions, public policy, and media. He is a co-founder of the Politics Guys and serves as one of the show’s liberal hosts.

The Politics Guys is a podcast for bipartisan, rational, and civil debate on American politics and policy. It features independent and bipartisan political commentary, as well as interviews with liberal and conservative experts and policymakers. The Politics Guys strives to balance liberal and conservative voices equally.

You can follow the Politics Guys on Twitter @PoliticsGuys

Jan 04, 2020
Protecting Free Speech: Suzanne Nossel

The First Amendment

The First Amendment protects four types of freedom of expression: freedom of speech, belief, assembly, and the ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances. It states that “Congress shall make no law” to infringe on these four freedoms. Over time, “Congress” has been extended to include the executive branch, as well as state and local governments. The court’s view of the First Amendment is extremely broad, which means that America protects more speech than any other country in the world. Defamation, harassment, and speech that incites imminent violence are the only kinds of speech that are not protected. The First Amendment also does not extend to private institutions such as universities or companies like Facebook.

Undermining the Press

The President is allowed to say whatever he wants about the press as a private citizen because of his First Amendment protections. However, the President cannot use the power of the federal government to exact reprisals against the press. For instance, when the White House revoked press passes earlier this year, it contravened the Constitution. Never before has a President undermined and used retributive action against the press like this, and other countries are taking note. Repressive measures like these come directly from an authoritarian playbook, and according to PEN America, the number of journalists jailed worldwide for “fake news” tripled last year because of it. America was once the moral leader on free speech issues around the world, the current administration’s repressive tactics are withering that leadership.

Protected Speech

The problems of hateful speech and fake news are uniquely difficult because in most cases they are protected by the First Amendment. While hateful speech is protected by the government, private institutions are allowed to police content on their own platforms or campuses. The ability to share unpopular ideas should coexist in a way that still allows for open debate, but that is not always the case. At dozens of campuses, controversial speakers who are invited to speak about their views were shut down by students. Fake news poses a threat by eroding the facts democracy is based on. We cannot let the government control it by shutting down websites because they may start shutting down legitimate sites—such as climate change websites—based on political ideology. Instead, we can counter it by educating the public about how to identify fake news, and taking steps as a society to disavow propaganda and misinformation.

Find out more:

Suzanne Nossel is the CEO of PEN America, which she has run since 2013. In that time, she has doubled the budget, staff, and membership. She previously served as COO of Human Rights Watch, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations.

PEN America is a non-profit organization working at the crossroads between human rights and literature. They champion free speech around the world, celebrate creative expression, and defend the liberties that make it possible.

You can follow Suzanne on Twitter @SuzanneNossel, and PEN America @PENAmerica.

Dec 28, 2019
Practical Equality: Robert L. Tsai

Law as a Framework

Equality creates a framework for how we should treat others, and how we should expect to be treated by others. The institution of laws enforces the rules of equality within that framework. Law helps shape the conversations in public life and in politics about what can, and cannot, be done when dealing with more abstract concepts like fairness, freedom, and equality. Law also acts as dispute resolution when we see our intangible values being infringed upon. It helps create compromises and resolutions to problems that arise from differing values, viewpoints, and ideologies.

When the Law Fails

Law can fail when judges fail to empathize with someone’s complaint about equality, such as in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. Judges struck down a complaint because they thought the plaintiff was imagining his own discrimination. Their failure was one of empathy, but the legacy was one of racism and segregation. Law also fails when judges ratify policies that make broad judgements about social or racial groups. By doing this, they legitimize incorrect and dangerous ideas. They end up establishing a policymaker’s incorrect judgement as law, as though it had been correct. This in turn encourages other people to increase their attacks on these groups, because they see their own views as legitimized by the law.

Reframing the Debate

When fighting against policies that infringe on equality, consider more than one angle of argument. For instance, Trump’s Muslim ban was clearly an attempt to disenfranchise immigrants from Muslim majority countries, but it never actually mentioned Muslims. This made judges uneasy about declaring it discriminatory on the basis of religion. Instead, those opposed re-framed the debate around another American value: fairness. By arguing the ban impacted many residents already in the US with green cards, it violated their right to expect free and fair treatment. This argument was successful enough in court that the Trump Administration had to completely rewrite the ban, leaving out new countries and providing exceptions benefiting hundreds of thousands of people.

Find out more:

Robert L. Tsai is a Professor of Law at American University. He is also an acclaimed essayist and author, focusing on constitutional law and history. He is the author of three books: Practical Equality: Forging Justice in a Divided Nation (W.W. Norton Feb. 19, 2019), America’s Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions of Power and Community (Harvard 2014), and Eloquence and Reason: Creating a First Amendment Culture (Yale 2008).


You can follow him on Twitter @robertltsai.

Dec 21, 2019
Deliberative Democracy: Jane Suiter and David Farrell of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly

Citizens’ forum

The Irish Citizens’ Assembly was formed in response to the severe social and economic crisis caused by the global financial meltdown of 2008. A group of political scientists, led by Jane Suiter and David Farrell, advocated for citizens to be included in debates about the necessary political reforms to address the failures of the executive. Deliberative mini publics innovate democracy by engaging citizens in constructive dialogue about the issues facing society. While many in parliament assumed citizens would always favor more spending and lower taxes, it turned out that voters who were presented with detailed information came to develop nuanced policy positions. After listening to presentations by experts, they actually favored higher taxes in certain areas and reached complex compromises about government spending. By doing so, they proved to lawmakers and skeptics that ordinary Irish citizens could be trusted with vital policy work.

The case of abortion rights

The first Citizens’ Assembly considered the issue of overturning the ban on abortion in the Irish constitution. Over the course of five weekend-long sessions, everyday citizens heard arguments from impartial experts, medical professionals, as well as activists on both sides. At the end of their deliberations, they produced a series of recommendations, which were sent to the Irish Parliament in June 2017. 64% of the Citizens’ Assembly participants recommended that abortion be legalized. In turn, Parliament put the question of legalizing abortion to the Irish public in a nationwide referendum in May 2018. It passed with 66% of the vote. The result indicates that the counsel of the Citizens’ Assembly was an accurate and meaningful representation of the Irish electorate. Since then the Assembly has given policy recommendations on issues such as how the state can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change and how to respond to the challenges and opportunities of an aging population.

Ireland is a Beacon for Democracy

The Assembly has strengthened trust and communication on both sides of the democratic equation – citizens and politicians – and has bolstered the legitimacy of democracy at a time when democracies around the world are under attack. Through the innovation of using citizens’ assemblies, the Irish experience is showing a path to overcome the problems of democracy in decline. Politicians learned about the willingness and capacity of everyday people to make serious, nuanced policy choices for the good of the country. The Assembly has led many in Parliament to consider the advice of constituents in a new way, and to seek advice from their voters. Conversely, Irish citizens see the Assembly as a way to augment their democracy beyond voting. Other countries have noticed this. At the launch of Scotland’s Citizens’ Assembly earlier this year, the constitutional minister for the Scottish government praised Ireland’s success as an example to follow.

Find out more:

David Farrell and Jane Suiter have been collaborating in research focused on Irish citizens’ assemblies for over 10 years. During the economic crisis of 2008-2009, they led a group of political scientists who proposed that citizens should be brought into the heart of debates over constitutional and political reform. This culminated in the establishment of We the Citizens – Ireland’s first national citizens’ assembly. In 2012 the Irish government established the Convention on the Constitution: David and Jane led the academic advisory group. This was followed, in 2016, by the Irish Citizens’ Assembly: David and Jane secured Irish Research Council funding to provide research leadership.

David Farrell is Head of the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin. He is also a member of the Royal Irish Academy. He is formerly the research leader of the Irish Citizens' Assembly and currently a member of the Stewarding Group of the Scottish Citizens’ Assembly.

Jane Suiter is Director of the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at Dublin City University as well as an Associate Professor in the School of Communications. She helped found the Irish Citizens’ Assembly (2016-2018) and the Irish Constitutional Convention (2012-2014). She is also a founding member of We the Citizens (2011), Ireland’s first deliberative experiment.

The Irish Citizens’ Assembly is an exercise in deliberative democracy, placing the citizen at the heart of important legal and policy issues facing Irish society. With the benefit of expert, impartial, and factual advice, 100 citizen members have considered the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (on abortion); making Ireland a leader in tackling climate change; challenges and opportunities of an aging population; manner in which referenda are held; and fixed term parliaments.

US-based deliberative democracy projects mentioned in the episode are:

  1. James Fishkin, Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University
  2. Kevin Esterling and his work with online town halls. He wrote Politics with the People, Building a Directly Representative Democracy.
  3. Citizens’ Initiative Review in Oregon

You can follow David on Twitter @dfarrell_ucd, Jane @JaneSuit, and The Citizens’ Assembly @CitizAssembly.

Dec 14, 2019
Responsible Statecraft: Stephen Wertheim

Responsible Statecraft

Responsible statecraft should derive from serious consideration of the public interest, with robust public debate and a strong role for Congress. The Quincy Institute believes that democratizing US foreign policy to include diverse points of view from minority, immigrant, and outsider communities – in addition to foreign policy experts – will lead to more vigorous diplomacy and less military intervention. Responsible statecraft would also require Congress to take its war-making responsibility back from the Executive Branch. US foreign policy should engage the world with peaceful discourse.

Military Hegemony

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the US and the Soviet Union embarked on a decades-long arms race. During this time, the American military-industrial complex grew to become a vital tool of national security. When the USSR collapsed, the US became the world’s only superpower. In order to secure unipolar primacy, America pursued greater military hegemony and dominance over potential rivals. Regional conflicts were viewed as existential threats to American democracy, embroiling us in needless conflict around the world. America’s imperial overstretch is a result of its militarized foreign policy that believes dominating a region by force, such as in the Middle East, can lead to stability. Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred. Instability in the Middle East has led to a vicious cycle of violence and built permanent enmities worldwide.

Vigorous Diplomacy

The American diplomatic corps has been devastated under the current administration, coming at the heels of years-long decline. US foreign policy has repeatedly prioritized military force over diplomacy, espousing the idea of “peace through strength.” This rigid and devastating doctrine has resulted in near-endless war. Instead of being neutral, the US is often on one side of a conflict and hence cannot be a mediator. As we face the climate emergency and other transnational problems, the US must prioritize rebuilding the State Department and investing in more vigorous diplomacy. American power and influence should be wielded to resolve conflicts, end wars, and enhance peace.

Find out more:

Stephen Wertheim is Deputy Director of Research and Policy at the Quincy Institute. He is also a Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. He specializes in the role of US policy on the global stage, from the late nineteenth century to the present.

The Quincy Institute promotes ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace. It launched on December 4, 2019.

You can follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenwertheim and the Quincy Institute @QuincyInst.

Dec 07, 2019
Keeping Government Accountable: David Greising

Investigations Get Results

Since 1957, BGA investigations have uncovered corruption and unfair practices throughout Chicago and the state of Illinois. A recent investigation of police shootings in predominantly African-American neighborhoods of Cook County found that of 113 shootings over seven years, none led to disciplinary action. After the findings were published, a state law was enacted requiring an investigation each time a police officer discharges their weapon. BGA also investigated and exposed the corruption of Alderman Burke in the 14th Ward of Chicago, who is now under federal indictment on multiple charges. When governments are faced with evidence of corruption they must — and usually do — act quickly to correct it.

Good governance

Advocacy for good governance goes well beyond exposing corruption. The BGA’s policy team recommends public policies for more transparency, accountability, and efficiency. Marie Dillon, the Policy Director, participated in the mayoral transition to help newly elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot transition into office and to help her staff develop ethics reform goals. The BGA is also tracking how the new mayor’s actions measure up against BGA’s agenda. The combination of advocacy for sound public policy and government oversight through investigative journalism makes it possible for BGA to push for effective government reform.

Getting People Engaged

Voting is still the ultimate tool of accountability. To that end, a big part of BGA’s civic engagement effort is to empower citizens to participate in their democracy. The way that government treats its citizens is one of the most important factors in the daily quality of life, from the safety of the roads to the quality of public schools. When citizens have little faith in their government, or see their government as unresponsive to their needs, the social contract breaks down. In the last city-wide election, BGA published stories and candidate profiles, as well as where to vote and how to vote. Good governance helps people see their investment in voting, in paying taxes, and participating in their communities as worthwhile, and become even more engaged.

Find out more:

David Greising is the President and CEO of the Better Government Association. Greising spent 25 years as a high-profile local and national journalist, and served as the Chicago Tribune’s business columnist for more than a decade. He also recently served as the Midwest bureau chief for Reuters.

The Better Government Association was founded in 1923 as a voter advocacy and election reform group. Their mission evolved in the 1950s to include investigative journalism. Since then, they have produced hundreds of investigative reports outlining corruption and other government shortcomings, resulting in lasting legislative change in the state of Illinois and city of Chicago.

You can follow David on Twitter @dgreising and the BGA @bettergov.

Nov 30, 2019
Powering American Democracy: Seth Flaxman

Technology for Democracy

Democracy Works remedies some of the most pervasive and mundane reasons we don’t vote. TurboVote is a tool that enables online voter registration, sends out election day reminders, and even provides absentee ballots. Those mailed-in ballots are then tracked by the Ballot Scout initiative. The Voting Information Project produces the polling place and ballot data that is then used by Google and get-out-the-vote drives. By using current technology to take the hassle of voting out of our busy lives, the initiatives of Democracy Works are building a more engaged society.

Partnering for Success

Democracy Works collaborates with voters, state partners, and corporations to create more successful elections. Since being founded in 2012, TurboVote has registered over 7 million new voters, with 2.5 million in 2018 alone. Moreover, 63% of them were millennials or younger. Successful voter registration came through heavy reliance on partnerships, including with over 130 universities and Snapchat. When Facebook reminds you to vote, it’s because of a TurboVote partnership. The Voting Information Project partnership with Google provides accurate polling locations and ballot information. Partnerships with 46 states help streamline the election and voting processes.

TurboVote Challenge

The TurboVote Challenge is the premier corporate coalition championing civic engagement in America. Its goal is to reach 80% voter turnout by 2024. In order to achieve record-breaking voter turnout, we cannot rely on the government and politicians alone. Instead, everyone must play a part and treat everyone like citizens and voters. Learning institutions need to register their students; companies need to work to motivate both employees and customers; and everyday citizens need to vote and encourage others to vote as well. Democracy is strongest when we are all participating and voting. 

Find out more:

Seth Flaxman co-founded Democracy Works while studying at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The Democracy Works’ tool TurboVote has been used by more than 7 million Americans to register to vote, and provides a suite of other tools to simplify voting for everyday citizens. Democracy Works also started the Voting Information Project, a widely accessible public information project designed to remove voting barriers by providing easily searchable polling place locations, ballot information, and other official election information. Thanks to a partnership with Google, the VIP is used by millions of voters around the country.

Seth earned an undergraduate degree from Columbia University and was student body president there. In 2011, he was honored as one of Forbes magazine's '30 Under 30' in the field of law and policy. Seth is also a Draper Richards Kaplan entrepreneur and Ashoka Fellow.

You can follow him on Twitter @Sethflaxman, Democracy Works @demworksinc, TurboVote @TurboVote, and The Voting Information Project @VotingInfo

Nov 23, 2019
Protecting our Elections: Marcia Johnson-Blanco

Protecting our Elections

Most Americans take for granted that our elections will be free and fair. However, this would not be the case without the rigorous efforts of dedicated non-profits, citizens, and volunteers. Organizations like the Lawyers’ Committee work year-round to protect our elections from internal interference using a variety of tools such as a voter hotline (866-OUR-VOTE), digital outreach, physical field programs, and litigation when states enact unfair or discriminatory voting practices. Legitimate elections are the result of passionate citizens and organized civic engagement.

Attacks on Democratic Infrastructure

The Lawyers’ Committee started its Election Protection program in 2002 in order to combat increasing attacks on election infrastructure at national and state levels. The most notable of these attacks was the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court Case, which struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act that had required districts with a history of voter discrimination to seek federal authorization for any changes in voting laws or procedures. Since then, 14 states have instituted new voting restrictions, and more than 1,000 polling locations have closed around the country. Restrictions like this make it harder for many to vote, alienating them and corroding the foundation of our democracy.

Restrictions and Interpretations

New laws—like Texas’s former voter ID law that banned student IDs, but allowed concealed carry permits—are not the only way states can suppress voting. Some states simply interpret existing laws in a new way. The National Voter Registration Act contains a list maintenance provision on how to remove voters who have moved or died, which some states have interpreted as a way to aggressively purge voters who still live in the jurisdiction. In Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute, the Supreme Court ruled that Ohio is allowed to purge voters who have not voted in two years and have not responded to a change of residence notice. Election protection challenges voter suppression in new laws as well as unfair interpretations of existing ones. 

Find out more:

Marcia Johnson-Blanco is the co-Director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Voting Rights Project. She manages the Project’s programmatic and advocacy portfolios, and also leads the Election Protection Program. The program was started in 2002 to combat voter suppression and disenfranchisement, which includes tools such as the voter hotline (866-OUR-VOTE), on-site election protection services, and litigation against discriminatory laws and tactics.

Johnson-Blanco is a widely-recognized voting rights leader, and served as the deputy director of the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act in 2005. She holds degrees from Georgetown and Villanova, and serves as a taskforce co-chair at the US Human Rights Network.

You can follow her on Twitter @mfjblanco, and the Election Protection program @866OURVOTE.

Nov 16, 2019
Podcasting for Democracy: Civics 101

Civic education for all

Many Americans are unsure of how their government works. Civic education is the manual for democracy, and Civics 101 offers it in the form of a popular podcast. Civic learning is a unifier that promotes democratic ideas and a more connected populace. In fact, listeners of the podcast span across the ideological spectrum, equally motivated to learn all about how they can utilize our democracy. Civics 101 also produces classroom materials for a growing number of high schools around the country.

Lasting legacy of slavery

The institution of slavery and the needs of slaveholding states were given weighty consideration in the founding days of the nation and were, therefore, baked into the Constitution. One important holdover is the Electoral College, which was originally designed to grant outsized electoral power to slaveholding states. The system continues to give about one third of American voters an advantage at the expense of the majority.

Empowering citizens

The United States became more democratic as time progressed. Even though the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, it was not always considered to be the bulwark of our democracy. The Supreme Court did not even hear a case with the First Amendment until the 1920s. However, over the last hundred years, concerned and well-educated citizens have bolstered and protected it through activism and litigation. Our responsibility is to understand the rules, participate, and empower ourselves to make this democracy work us.

Find out more:

Hannah McCarthy and Nick Capodice host and produce Civics 101, a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. They work with the Civics 101 team to brainstorm topics, as well as research, write, and record episodes.

Each episode explores topics – the secretary of state, the NIH, the vice president, the midterm election – through interviews with experts and teachers. The hosts ask the questions you’ve been wondering but may be too afraid to ask – what exactly does the vice president do? How do executive orders work? - and stitches them together into engaging narrative stories.

Civics 101 is used as a key classroom aide around the country, and episodes have been downloaded more than 13 million times.

You can follow Hannah on Twitter @HMcCarthyNHPR, Nick @capodice, and Civics 101 @civics101pod

Nov 09, 2019
Reimagining Civic Learning: Louise Dubé

High-quality civic education

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics in 2009 because she believed that the practice of democracy must be taught and learned anew by each generation. High-quality civic education starts at an early age and teaches how the US system works. The curriculum includes the basics, such as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; how to think about the complex challenges that face any government by examining past Supreme Court cases; fostering well-informed, civil discourse with people of differing viewpoints; and teaching media literacy. Educating and empowering future engaged citizens about why their vote matters, what their government does, and how they can enact change is the foundation for a strong democracy.

Educational Gaming

The series of innovative iCivics games and supporting classroom resources make the complex legislative, judicial, and electoral systems come to life. Civic knowledge is taught through active learning instead of through writing answers on worksheets or checking boxes. The games place you in real world civics situations: a constitutional lawyer deciding which cases to bring to trial based on your knowledge of the Bill of Rights, or one of the founders who is working to ratify the Constitution. In this way, students look at how they fit in to their community’s civic life and how they can make informed decisions and participate in our democracy.

Prioritizing civic education

Currently, 25% of young Americans view democracy as a “bad” or “very bad” system of government. This shocking number is both an indictment of the way civics is currently taught, and an urgent wake-up call that we must do better. School curricula are determined at the state level, so parents and legislators need to advocate for and invest in statewide civics programs. States like Florida and Massachusetts, which have rigorous civics requirements in their schools, are excellent examples to follow. Many other states are already invested in civics education, but more needs to be done. iCivics founded CivXNowto help ensure that every young person acquires the necessary civic knowledge for informed and authentic civic engagement.

Find out more:

Louise Dubé joined iCivics as Executive Director in 2014. She oversees the work that iCivics does in creating video games that transform abstract concepts into real-life problems and in designing a developmentally appropriate civics curriculum. Inspired by a continuing deep commitment to ongoing learning, she has devoted her career to ensuring that all students are prepared for active and thoughtful citizenship and life.

Before joining iCivics, Dubé served as the Managing Director of Digital Learning at Boston’s WGBH. She is also a co-founder of CASES, a New York alternative-to-incarceration program for youthful offenders where education helped re-shape lives. She holds degrees from McGill and Yale Universities.

You can follow her on Twitter @louise_dube.

Nov 02, 2019
Of the People, By the People: Mila Atmos

We Are Our Government

In our representative democracy, every citizen of the United States is ultimately a part of the government. One of our civic responsibilities is to be informed about how our elected representatives are working for us and how our tax dollars are being spent. We have the power to hold our representatives accountable when there is corruption or injustice. Our government is of the people, by the people, and we must participate in our society through civic engagement, community activism, or even running for office.

Find out more:

Mila Atmos is the founder, host, and executive producer of Future Hindsight. She seeks to promote civic values and social engagement through thought-provoking interviews with citizen changemakers. Previous guests include presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer, Indivisible co-founder Ezra Levin, and Robin Steinberg, founder and CEO of The Bail Project.

You can follow her on Twitter @milaatmos

Myriam Zümbuhl serves as Future Hindsight’s associate producer. A veteran reporter and producer at Swiss Public Radio, Myriam recently starter her own media company, Harvest Productions. Skilled in the arts of storytelling and scriptwriting, Myriam is also a passionate chef and gardener. She lives in Zurich, Switzerland.

Oct 26, 2019
The Sustaining Power of Passion: Mila Atmos

Passion Informs Engagement

Creating a stronger community and society comes through a continuous commitment to civic engagement. Passion about certain issues can motivate and sustain a lifetime habit of being involved. In addition, participating in community life and initiatives are essential for staying engaged. Working together and joining forces with other people yields the best results to shape a society that reflects our values. It is one of the most treasured gifts we can leave to future generations.

Find out more:

Mila Atmos is the founder, host, and executive producer of Future Hindsight. She seeks to promote civic values and social engagement through thought-provoking interviews with citizen changemakers. Previous guests include presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer, Indivisible co-founder Ezra Levin, and Robin Steinberg, founder and CEO of The Bail Project.

You can follow her on Twitter @milaatmos

Myriam Zümbuhl serves as Future Hindsight’s associate producer. A veteran reporter and producer at Swiss Public Radio, Myriam recently starter her own media company, Harvest Productions. Skilled in the arts of storytelling and scriptwriting, Myriam is also a passionate chef and gardener. She lives in Zurich, Switzerland.

Oct 19, 2019
The Three Dimensions of Freedom: Billy Bragg

Loss of Agency

One of the most important factors in a healthy democracy is the sense of agency. When citizens in a democracy feel they have some agency over their lives, whether it is economic, social, or political, they will work together to create a better future for themselves, their families, and their society. When this sense is taken from them by outside variables such as market forces, they lose this sense of collectivism, and become less likely to work together. This division leaves an opening for bad-faith actors and aggressive populism to take hold in otherwise stable democracies.

The Three Dimensions of Freedom

There are three ideas that bind and define a successful democracy. They are liberty, equality, and accountability. While liberty is the end-goal of modern democracy, it needs to be acted upon and bolstered by equality and accountability. If a democracy has liberty but not equality, that liberty is little more than privilege. Further, if a democracy has liberty but not accountability, that liberty becomes impunity to act without consequences. Lack of accountability through the loss of individual agency is a major reason why bulwark democracies like the US and the UK are facing crises today.

Accountability is Paramount

Many of the problems facing Western democracies today are the result of a dearth of accountability on many levels. Market deregulation and the globalization of capital markets have undermined accountability for companies as well as governments from the local to the national level. Executives are now narrowly focused on shareholder return, primarily at the expense of the average worker. Politicians also increasingly represent and serve special interests, resulting in policies that favor a select few and discount average citizens. In order to return to an equitable financial system and democratic process, we must urgently address the lack of accountability.

Find out more:

Billy Bragg is a well-known songwriter, musician, author, and activist living in the UK. Beginning in the 1980s, Bragg released a series of socially-conscious folk-rock albums focusing on political and romantic themes. Bragg continues to release albums, including 2017’s Build Bridges Not Walls, and sells out tour dates around the world.

Staunchly progressive, Bragg is a self-proclaimed socialist whose musical career has been paralleled only by his decades of activism. Bragg has written several books, including The Three Dimensions of Freedom, which came out earlier this year.

You can follow Billy Bragg on Twitter @billybragg.

Oct 12, 2019
The Power of Civic Engagement: Mila Atmos

Engagement and Representation

There are a multitude of ways to become an engaged citizen. Often people think of civic engagement as an overwhelming and high-level concept. In reality, civic engagement can be performed on any level, from lowering the speed limit on your street and participating in a protest, to joining a local advisory council or parent-teacher organization. The important part of civic engagement is not what we do, but that we actually do something to make our voices heard. We can only be represented when we are engaged in our democracy.

Find out more:

Mila Atmos is the founder, host, and executive producer of Future Hindsight. She seeks to promote civic values and social engagement through thought-provoking interviews with citizen changemakers. Previous guests include presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer, Indivisible co-founder Ezra Levin, and Robin Steinberg, founder and CEO of The Bail Project.

You can follow her on Twitter @milaatmos

Myriam Zümbuhl serves as Future Hindsight’s associate producer. A veteran reporter and producer at Swiss Public Radio, Myriam recently starter her own media company, Harvest Productions. Skilled in the arts of storytelling and scriptwriting, Myriam is also a passionate chef and gardener. She lives in Zurich, Switzerland.

Oct 04, 2019
The Time for Civic Engagement is Now: Mila Atmos

Since the 2016 election, it has become increasingly imperative that we participate in our democracy as citizens. There are many ways to be civically engaged beyond voting and running for office, from being mindful about civic actions to passionately advocating for an issue. Our society and our social contract are only as strong as those participating in them, and the more you can get involved —- and inspire others to do the same -— the more our democracy represents us.

Find out more:

Mila Atmos is the founder, host, and executive producer of Future Hindsight. She seeks to promote civic values and social engagement through thought-provoking interviews with citizen changemakers. Previous guests include presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer, Indivisible co-founder Ezra Levin, and Robin Steinberg, founder and CEO of The Bail Project.

You can follow her on Twitter @milaatmos

Myriam Zümbuhl serves as Future Hindsight’s associate producer. A veteran reporter and producer at Swiss Public Radio, Myriam recently starter her own media company, Harvest Productions. Skilled in the arts of storytelling and scriptwriting, Myriam is also a passionate chef and gardener. She lives in Zurich, Switzerland.

Sep 28, 2019
The Blueprint for American Democracy: Ezra Levin

Democracy Reform

When American democracy was conceived, the US was comprised of 13 states on the Eastern Seaboard, with a population of just over 2.5 million. The 18th and 19th century version of our democracy was meant for a smaller, less populous, and overwhelmingly whiter nation than the America we live in today. In order to preserve and strengthen our democracy for the future, we must engage in progressive reforms. One example is removing outdated and arbitrary procedures like the filibuster, which enables a slim minority to hold up meaningful policy changes for all.

Grassroots Organizing is Key

Representative democracy ultimately means governmental power is held by the people, not just those elected to represent them. The most effective way to get your voice heard is to organize like-minded individuals, or join groups that share your values, and set out to make a difference on national, regional, or local issues. When many voices join together to demand change, it’s often impossible to ignore. Organized, grassroots activism has the power to sway elections and elected officials in ways that individuals do not.

From Anti-Trump to Pro-Democracy

At its inception, Indivisible was a direct response to the 2016 election: it was an anti-Trump movement that gained widespread support around the country as a platform dedicated to defeating the Trump agenda. Since then, Indivisible has evolved into a wide-ranging pro-democracy movement. Defeating the Trump agenda is now seen as a facet of progressive democratic reform. The goals have changed into a well-rounded effort to stem anti-democratic practices throughout our government and ensure progressive reforms are made to safeguard a fair and free future.

Find out more:

Ezra Levin is the Co-Executive Director of Indivisible, which he co-founded with Leah Greenberg in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. The Indivisible Project's mission is to cultivate a grassroots movement of literally thousands of local Indivisible groups to elect progressive leaders, realize bold progressive policies, rebuild our democracy, and defeat the Trump agenda.

Previously, he worked as an Associate Director of Federal Policy for Prosperity Now, a non-profit, anti-poverty organization. Before that, he held the post of Deputy Policy Director for Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), and served in the Congressman’s election campaign.

He is the co-author of We Are Indivisible: A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump, which hits stands on November 5, 2019.

Follow Ezra Levin on Twitter @ezralevin

Sep 14, 2019
The Ethics of Big Data: Matthew L. Jones

Fourth Amendment

The Fourth amendment protects people from unlawful searches and seizures. For example, in the 1970s the Supreme Court ruled that a warrant is necessary in order to listen in on telephone conversations, but not to collect the phone numbers. This is the precedent that allows for big data to collect a vast amount of information about people on the internet. Further, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has determined that the legal analysis for the Fourth amendment is the same, whether the right is applied to millions of people or to just one.

Data privacy and literacy

The issue with collecting data at scale is that it becomes granular and social. At that point, the data is no longer innocuous but is invasive of privacy. It turns out that our every-day seemingly trivial interactions matter profoundly in the aggregate, and our habit of almost blindly agreeing to arcane privacy policies on the internet is misguided. We need newer forms of transparency that really tell us how the data is being used and how it affects our online profile, as well as a collective effort to prioritize data and technological literacy. We also need to have a conversation about what kind of analyses are and are not allowed.

Technological Determinism

Technological determinism is a vision of history in which technology leads the way and pushes a narrative that certain changes in technology are inevitable to the point of altering the people’s expectations. It’s also a reminder that decisions are always being made along the way, whether consciously or not, to yield the current system. We now accept the model of advertising services based on the surveillance of users' everyday interactions, but there were actually technological developments in the 1990s that would have made cash transactions largely anonymous. The internet could have developed differently. 

Find out more:

Matthew L. Jones is the James R. Barker Professor of Contemporary Civilization at Columbia University. He studies the history of science and technology, focused on early modern Europe and on recent information technologies. 

A Guggenheim Fellow for 2012-13 and a Mellon New Directions fellow for 2012-15, he is writing a book on computing and state surveillance of communications, and is working on Data Mining: The Critique of Artificial Reason, 1963-2005, a historical and ethnographic account of “big data,” its relation to statistics and machine learning, and its growth as a fundamental new form of technical expertise in business and scientific research. He was also a Data & Society Fellow for 2017-2018 and authored numerous other papers.

Follow Matthew L. Jones on Twitter @nescioquid

Sep 07, 2019
Achieving Tolerable Climate: Jonathan Lamontagne


Tolerable climate and economic conditions

Lamontagne’s study defines tolerable economic conditions as follows: the present value of abatement costs would not exceed 3% of gross world product and climate damages would not exceed 2% of gross world product. Current gross world product is estimated to be$80trillion, so 3% of that would be $2.4 trillion. Although this a large dollar amount, it would be a reasonable investment as a percentage of gross world product. Tolerable climate is defined as limiting warming by 2 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Robust Abatement

Abatement costs that range between 3% and 5% of global world product would be considered both aggressive and yet also uncertain in terms of limiting warming. However, because not taking action guarantees failure, immediate action is the best shot at having a tolerable future. The cost of alternative energy sources and how quickly abatement efforts take placewill determine the eventual, actual cost. In addition, actions that are important for the climate in the near term will not be important fifty or a hundred years on. Whatever climate abatement initiatives we undertake today, and which will surely be expensive, will primarily benefit future generations.

Window for Action

The study used a model that explored 5.2 million alternative scenarios. Limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius is possible, but only feasible in the most optimistic scenarios. Further, the analysis shows that in order to have at least a 50 percent chance of achieving a tolerable climate and economic future, net zero CO2 emissions need to be reached by the year 2030. The window for action is narrow: time is running out to reduce emissions and avert really significant climate impacts.

Find out more:

Jonathan Lamontagne is assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Tufts University School of Engineering. He researches water resources, decision-making under uncertainty, hydrologic statistics, and integrated global change assessment. His study, Robust abatement pathways to tolerable climate futures require immediate global action,was published in Nature Climate Change.

He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in environmental water resources systems analysis from Cornell University. His graduate studies focused on flood frequency analysis and the incorporation of uncertainty in hydropower systems planning. Following his graduate studies, Lamontagne worked as a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University, studying uncertainty and robustness issues for models of the integrated human-climate system. He joined the Tufts Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in 2017.

Follow Jonathan Lamontage on Twitter @jr_lamontagne and Tufts University School of Engineering @TuftsEngineer.

Aug 31, 2019
The Crisis in Higher Education: Liz Willen

Education Inequity

There is a college completion crisis and access crisis in America: black adults are only two thirds as likely to hold college degrees as whites, and the highest achieving students from the wealthiest families are three times as likely to enroll in a highly selective college as similar students from poor families.Low achievers from high income familieshave a higher chanceof graduating from college thanhighachieving students from low income families.

Community College

Community colleges provide real opportunities for upward mobility that elite colleges don’t. They offer an affordable education, welcome students with open arms regardless of economic background, and are working on transfer agreements to top-notch schools, including to Ivy League universities. More than half of American students attend community colleges. Even with a sizable financial aid package, elite colleges are still very expensive to attend, and low-income families cannot afford to pay the difference. Tuition alone at elite colleges can cost $50,000 or more, whereas community college tuition in New York State costs $5,000 on average.


The recent college admissions scandal fully exposed how far wealthy parents will go to ensure their children a spot in an elite college, including cheating on standardized tests. There is a strong correlation between high test scores and high-income families, as they can afford test tutoring to improve scores. The College Board just announced that it would include an adversity score going forward, which would level the playing field. While this might make sense in the near term, it does not address the larger issues with inadequate access to high quality education before college.

Find out more:

Liz Willen, a longtime education reporter, has been proud to lead the award-winning staff of The Hechinger Report since 2011. Liz got her start in newspapers as feature editor of Northport High School's "The Rag," in Northport, New York and worked at an array of New England newspapers before covering New York City public schools for New York Newsday.

She's a graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a board member for the Spencer Education Fellowships at Columbia. Liz is a sought-after moderator at education conferences and events, has been an active New York City public school parent and recipient of the “Above and Beyond,” award by the media company City & State for exemplary leadership. She was recently honored for commentary writing by the New York Press Club.

In the interview, Liz referenced the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, The Privileged Poor by Anthony Abraham Jack, and the documentary Personal Statement.

Follow Liz Willen on Twitter @L_Willen and The Hechinger Report @hechingerreport.

Aug 24, 2019
The Economics of Health: James Knickman

Social Determinants

Good health is the product of access to quality medical care and sound public health policy. Effective policies that improve health outcomes include the Earned Income Tax Credit, supportive housing, and access to good public education. Per capita spending on medical care and social services in America and in European countries is about the same, but the US spends much more on medical care, while Europe spends more on social services. Europeans have longer life expectancy and better health statistics than Americans.

Longevity and future medical innovations

Disparities exist in life expectancy just as it does in income. The top 20% live 11 years longer than the bottom 20%. Even in comparison to the median, the top 20% are expected to live 4 years longer. This disparity may become even larger with future advances in medical care, such as gene tweaking. They will likely be very expensive, and it’s possible that they may therefore only be accessible to the rich. There will be moral and ethical trade-offs to consider whether health insurance should cover these treatments, who is covered and who is not, and whether they are worth the increase in medical care spending in lieu of investing in social determinants.

More Health

The hallmark of good population health is a world in which people are connected to their communities, have a chance to make good decisions about their health, and have the resources to do so. The perspective in the field of health economics is changing towards focusing on better health outcomes for the population, instead of primarily on providing medical care and how to pay for it. What is a better return on investment? Do healthier lives come from more investments in things like education, income, early childhood, social services, and preventive medicine? Or do they come from more investments in high-tech medical innovations?

Find out more:

Dr. James Knickman is the Director of the Health Evaluation and Analytics Lab (HEAL), a joint initiative of the Health Policy and Management Program at NYU Wagner and Department of Population Health at NYU Langone. He is also a Senior Research Scientist at the NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and a Clinical Professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone.

Dr. Knickman was previously the president and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation, a position he held since May 2006. The Foundation focuses on high impact interventions to bring about measurable improvements in New York’s health system. Prior to that appointment, he was Vice President for Research and Evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

He has published extensive research on issues related to the financing of health care and long-term care and improving services for frail elders, homeless families, and individuals with HIV. Dr. Knickman is the co-author of Jonas & Kovner’s Health Care Delivery in the United States, a widely used textbook on health policy and management.

Follow James Knickman on Twitter @JimKnickman.

Aug 17, 2019
Eradicating Cash Bail: Robin Steinberg

The price of freedom

Cash bail was initially conceived as a way to incentivize the accused to come to court at their appointed court dates. As the criminal legal system expanded during the tough-on-crime years, cash bail was set at amounts that low income people could not afford. Even though they had yet to be convicted of a crime, they were forced to go to jail because they could not afford bail. One way to get out is to plead guilty to a small offense so that they can go home, but that adds significant complications down the road.

The cost to our society

Our society pays a steep price from allowing the current cash bail system to continue as it is. American taxpayers spend 14 billion dollars each year to hold people in jail cells who have not been convicted of a crime. The collateral consequences are estimated to be as high as 140 billion dollars per year. Most disturbing is that only 2 percent of the Bail Project’s clients actually receive a jail sentence. In fact, when people are fighting their cases from a position of freedom, judges and prosecutors are willing to engage in alternatives to incarceration as sentences.

A new system

A new system to ensure people appear at appointed court times must come from a perspective of humanity and respect. Over a decade’s worth of data in the Bronx shows that effective court reminders do work. Further, the needs of the accused have to be addressed, such as transportation fare or emergency child care, especially for low income people. Most importantly, any new system must involve a presumption of innocence, and can no longer be a two-tier system that favors those who can afford to pay for the price of their freedom.

Find out more:

Robin Steinberg is the founder and CEO of The Bail Project, an unprecedented national effort to combat mass incarceration by transforming the pretrial system in the U.S.

Over a 35-year career as a public defender, Robin represented thousands of low-income people in over-policed neighborhoods and founded three high-impact organizations: The Bronx Defenders, The Bronx Freedom Fund, and Still She Rises. Robin is a frequent commentator on criminal justice issues and has contributed opinion pieces to The New York Times, The Marshall Project, and USA Today. Her publications have appeared in leading law and policy journals, including NYU Review of Law & Social ChangeYale Law & Policy Review, and Harvard Journal of African-American Public Policy, and she has contributed book chapters to How Can You Represent Those People? (Palgrave 2013) and Decarcerating America (The New Press 2018). Robin is a Gilbert Foundation Senior Fellow of the Criminal Justice Program at UCLA School of Law.

Follow The Bail Project on Twitter @bailproject.

Aug 10, 2019
The Human Rights of Women: Lynn Paltrow

The human rights of women

The health needs of half of our population – women – include maternal and reproductive health. Equal rights mean that women can access the health care they need. Until we take into account the capacity for pregnancy, women will never achieve equality. The very survival of our species depends on meeting these needs.

Fetal Personhood

Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, anti-abortion activists have sought to establish fetuses, fertilized eggs, and embryos as separate entities with full constitutional rights. If they succeed, pregnant women lose their full rights under the Constitution. Arguments for the rights of the fetus have been used to force pregnant women to undergo caesarian surgery and apply existing criminal laws against pregnant women for child endangerment.

The legacy of slavery

The United States is a country that was founded in part on the principle that some people can own and control the bodies of others. This ideology is still affecting us today, and in this case extends to the state exerting control over the body of pregnant women: arresting them, taking their children away, subjecting them to surgery, or surveilling them for the period of their pregnancy.

Find out more:

Lynn Paltrow is the Founder and Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. She has worked on numerous cases challenging restrictions on the right to choose abortion as well cases opposing the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women seeking to continue their pregnancies to term. Ms. Paltrow has served as a senior staff attorney at the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, as Director of Special Litigation at the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, and as Vice President for Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of New York City. Ms. Paltrow is the recipient of the Justice Gerald Le Dain Award for Achievement in the Field of Law and the National Women’s Health Network’s Barbara Seaman Award for Activism in Women's Health. She is a frequent guest lecturer and writer for popular press, law reviews, and peer-reviewed journals.

The New York Times editorial piece that Mila mentions in the interview is accessible here: A Woman’s Rights.

Follow National Advocates for Pregnant Women on Twitter @NAPW and Lynn Paltrow @LynnPaltrow.

Aug 03, 2019
Gender Parity: Melissa Mark-Viverito

Gender equity in government

It’s a disservice to our communities and our democracy when the voices of women are missing in government. Women have a right for government to reflect their needs. The actual, lived experiences and perspectives of women in leadership positions enrich and inform our budgets, public policy, and legislation in ways that would not be possible in their absence. A prime example is reproductive rights. When women are at the table, onerous legislation against reproductive rights is less likely.

Campaign Finance Program

An effective campaign finance program is critical for leveling the playing field for political candidates. It amplifies the voices of small donors and marginalized communities, encourages citizens from all walks of life to run for office, and reduces the possibility of corruption. The New York City Campaign Finance Board boasts a campaign finance program that matches each dollar that is donated with an $8 contribution from public funds.

Women Can Win

Women have a right to run and to be elected. The record number of women elected into Congress in the 2018 midterm election proves that women can win. Still, women are reluctant to jump into the fray, and have to be asked 5 to 6 times to run for office. Women candidates benefit from being mentored, gaining the skills and understanding about what it takes to run for office, and an effective campaign finance program.

Find out more:

Melissa Mark-Viverito is a leading progressive voice in New York. She made history in 2005 when she was elected as the first Latina to represent Spanish Harlem/El Barrio in the New York City Council. In January 2014, she was unanimously elected to serve as New York City Council Speaker. Melissa championed women, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, and black and brown New Yorkers that were historically ignored by city government. She called for closing Rikers Island, demanded the city decriminalize low-level offenses, and fought for lawyers for all undocumented immigrants. Learn more about her public service record here.

Melissa is currently serving as the Interim President of Latino Victory and is Co-Founder of the 21 in ’21 Initiative.

Follow Melissa Mark-Viverito on Twitter @MMViverito.

Jul 27, 2019
Trailer: Probable Futures
Jul 20, 2019
Census 2020: Ashley Allison (Rebroadcast)

Census data supports communities

Government and businesses rely on census data to provide the necessary services that make healthy and vibrant communities possible. The data reveals how many grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, or schools are needed, and even influence public transportation routes and budgets. An accurate and fair count will ensure that adequate resources are allocated.

Undercounting and the citizenship question

Asking whether the census participant is a citizen could decrease the count because people are afraid that it would undermine their safety and privacy. Undercounting hurts all communities because it will imply that they need fewer resources. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, a bipartisan body of mayors, has joined a lawsuit to take the question off the census.

The basis for political power

Political redistricting happens as a result of significant demographic shifts. After the 2010 census, 18 states changed their number of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, starting with the 2012 elections. Texas gained four seats, and Florida gained two. Another 6 states gained on seat each, while 8 states lost one seat, and New York and Ohio each lost two.

Find out more:

Ashley Allison is the Executive Vice President of Campaigns and Programs at The Leadership Conference, the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition. It works on a wide range of issues, representative of the breadth of today’s civil rights movement from immigration to disability rights, to the census and religious freedom. If you’re interested in getting involved, email information@censuscounts.org and check out the Census Counts 2020 website.

Jul 13, 2019
Micah White

The crisis of our time

People have very little political power beyond voting on election day. Current governing structures are incapable of changing the world and solving the big problems that we face, such as the climate crisis. The solution is to form a social movement – perhaps through revolution – that can make good decisions and achieve its goals, such as win elections, take sovereignty, and maintain power. A notable example is the Five Star Movement in Italy, which directs policy and takes control away from elected representatives when they violate the core principles of the movement.

The limitations of contemporary protest

Occupy Wall Street did not achieve its goals of ending the power of money over our democracies or give more power to the 99 percent. However, it did reveal that both the strategy of street protest as well as the way of protesting are broken. In addition, current activist culture is producing consensus-driven activism that is looking for incremental change and reform within the existing system. A true activist used to be someone who stands outside of the status quo and is not afraid to go against a movement’s consensus.

The nature of social change

A strong theory about how social change comes to fruition revolves around structural forces beyond human direct participation, like an economic crisis. This argues that it’s the combination of the crisis and people in the streets that achieves change. Two more ways of thinking about effecting change are subjectivism and theurgism. Subjectivism believes that change is a process that happens within us. When we change the way we are, then we transform how we see the world. Theurgism believes that social change and revolution are a process of divine intervention, by forces that are completely outside of our control.

Find out more:

Micah White is the lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street, a global social movement that spread to 82 countries, while he was working as an editor of Adbusters magazine. He is also the co-founder of Activist Graduate School, an online school taught by, and for, experienced activists.

His book, The End of Protest, A New Playbook for Revolution has been translated into German and Greek. His essays have been published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, and beyond. He has been profiled by The New Yorker, Esquire, and more.

Follow Micah White on Twitter @beingMicahWhite

Jun 29, 2019
Dave Archambault II

Financial risk and social cost

Engaging in early and constructive dialogue between indigenous communities and corporations is crucial for success. Big companies involved in infrastructure projects that affect indigenous lands have the resources for careful research and negotiation to mitigate potential financial risks and social costs. Educating both indigenous people and corporations about each other’s interests protects indigenous rights and values, and increases the chances of fruitful negotiations and mutually beneficial projects.

Respect the environment

The sun, earth, air, and water are essential and universal elements that make life possible. Indigenous communities have respected and honored their land and rivers for centuries as the source of life. It is necessary for all of us to recognize the importance of a healthy environment and act to protect it. If we all agree to work together, we can improve the lives of our communities and that of future generations.

Youth leadership

The community’s youth took a leading role from the beginning of the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. They delivered letters of protest to the district office of the US Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha, Nebraska. They also took a petition with over 160,000 signatures to the Washington, D.C., office, demanding that the lands and waters of the Great Sioux Nation be respected. Finally, they took the fight to social media, which raised awareness on a national and international level about the environmental risks of the pipeline.

Find out more:

Dave Archambault II is a global leader for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and the former Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, where he led the #NoDAPL movement to prevent the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

He is now the Senior Fellow at the University of Colorado’s First Peoples Investment Engagement Program (FPIEP), a project of First Peoples Worldwide that focuses on educating industry groups and stakeholders about the rights of indigenous people and fostering dialogue between them to transform business behavior. The FPIEP conducted the “Social Cost and Material Loss: The Dakota Access Pipeline” case study.

For more information to protect water for indigenous people and to defend indigenous rights, visit Honor the Earth and Water Protectors.

Follow Standing Rock Sioux on Twitter @StandingRockST and First Peoples Worldwide @FirstPeoplesWW.

Jun 22, 2019
Bearing Witness
Jun 15, 2019
Jackie Zammuto

See it, film it, change it

Video documentation of injustice and systemic abuse can be a powerful tool for holding offenders accountable. The key is to present and disseminate the video effectively and strategically so that it is seen by the people who are moved to effect change. When the footage of an incident captures enough detail, it can be used as evidence in a court of law and positively affect the outcome of the trial.

Think before sharing

After recording human rights abuse, take the time to make sure you are not putting yourself, the subjects of the video, or anyone else in danger by releasing it. Rushing to post the video can weaken its impact because the perpetrators may have a chance to influence the narrative around the event. Careful and thorough planning can be the difference between a video that becomes a catalyst for change, and one that is easily dismissed or discredited.

We need to be accountable

Video alone is not sufficient to bring about social justice. We need to be accountable ourselves for how we conduct our daily lives. When we are not directly affected by police abuse, it’s easy to turn a blind eye, which in turn upholds systemic abuse. A much broader understanding of human rights issues is the starting point for a deep commitment to making change and for building bridges with the communities that are most affected. 

Find out more:

Jackie Zammuto is the U.S. Program Manager at WITNESS, where she focuses on the use of video for advocacy and evidentiary purposes. In 2018 she launched Profiling the Police, a collaboration with a Brooklyn-based community to explore new methods of using video to expose abuses by the NYPD. She has also worked in the production of materials like the Video as Evidence Field Guide and Forced Evictions Advocacy Toolkit.

Jun 15, 2019
Alan Yarborough and Bill Steverson

Enhance understanding

The purpose of civil discourse is to enhance understanding, not to change minds. It’s always helpful to have a diversity of ideas, understand different perspectives, and potentially learn flaws in our own thinking. The pursuit of understanding is in and of itself a worthy endeavor.

Civil discourse curriculum

The five-week curriculum on civil discourse for the Episcopal Church is designed to facilitate productive conversations about society’s important issues. The curriculum focuses on creating dialogues in church communities where people can come together free from the constraints of political affiliations.

Sacred space for debate

Successful civil discourse creates a safe space for debate. Truly listening to another person’s thoughts and feelings is an important pathway towards finding common value. Coming to the table with respect and humility facilitates the sharing of ideas without judgement, and working through disagreement to unlock a way forward.

Find out more:

Alan Yarborough is the communications coordinator and office manager in the Office of Government Relations of the Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. He is also the co-author of the Civil Discourse Curriculum, a five-week masterclass on how to communicate as a society even when disagreeing and treat each other with respect and dignity. Bill Steverson is a parishioner in the Episcopal Church in Signal Mountain, Tennessee where he organized and led the Civil Discourse Curriculum in his local community.

Jun 08, 2019
María Urbina

Grassroots power

Grassroots movements believe that change starts on the local level. Indivisible started with sharing a Google doc guide to empower everyday people to now having over 4,000 groups throughout the country. Indivisible’s website features information that demystifies Congress and turns everyone into the insiders that they should be. Candidates who are in regular community with the grassroots become better at making a case for bringing voters along to join them in their vision.

Speak with one voice on important issues

Citizens hold the power to effect the change they want to see in their local governments and beyond, especially when they unify around an issue. Many Americans rallied together on healthcare since early 2017. Constituents attended town halls, met directly with elected representatives, and organized protests to deliver their expectations and ask clear, specific, and pointed questions about the Affordable Care Act. Speaking with one voice often and strategically was so powerful that it stopped Congress from reversing protections in healthcare.

Inclusive democracy

Endorsing candidates based on the nominations from local Indivisible groups helps the movement grow because these endorsements support local leaders and energize the electorate. Candidates who truly represent the community are more likely to succeed. When every day citizens organize, knock on doors, and raise awareness on important issues, they cultivate a stronger bond to their communities and motivate others to share in getting engaged. The more people participate, the more likely we will create a vibrant and inclusive democracy.

Find out more:

Marí Urbina is the National Political Director of Indivisible. Before joining the Indivisible Project, Marí ran the 2016 cycle of Voto Latino’s political strategy and national campaigns as Vice President of Politics and Campaigns. She spent over seven years on Capitol Hill working in the Office of the Democratic Leader Senator Harry Reid. In her final years on the Hill, she was part of the senior legislative staff advising the Leader on strategy, media and policy that disproportionately affected Latino, AAPI and immigrant communities. Follow her on Twitter @TiaMari489


Jun 01, 2019
Bradford Fitch

Meet your Member of Congress

If a lawmaker has not yet made a firm decision on an issue, an in-person meeting has a ninety-four percent efficacy rate as an advocacy strategy. It’s important for constituents to connect a personal story to pertinent information of how proposed legislation will impact the local community. This is what the lawmaker wants to know. Showing up at town hall meetings is also an effective way to share the needs and concerns of the community to the member of Congress.

Congress works for us

Most members of Congress are decent people trying to do the best they can for their constituents. Engaging with them in a polite manner can be the best way for them to truly hear and understand the concerns of the people they represent. Congressional staffers are the unsung patriots of our democracy, who are dedicated to make the world a better place even though they often take a lot of grief on behalf of their members of Congress.

Virtual protest and dialogue

Virtual protest is one of the most effective ways to interact with members of Congress. After the lawmaker has made remarks on a specific issue, posting comments on Facebook or Twitter that pertain to that issue will be seen. Email petitions also work as long as they are personalized so that they don’t end up in a junk folder. Moderated online town hall meetings and telephone town hall calls are also good ways to dialogue with the elected representative. 

Find out more:

Brad Fitch is the President & CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation. He has spent 25 years in Washington as a journalist, congressional aide, consultant, college instructor, Internet entrepreneur, and writer/researcher. He is the author of Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials Opens a New Window. Click here to read CMF’s 2017 report, “Citizen Centric Advocacy: The Untapped Power of Constituent Engagement.” You can follow Brad on Twitter @bradfitch

May 25, 2019
Julianne Hoffenberg

Effective advocacy

The Gathering excels at bringing coalitions together with a common agenda; rapid and urgent response to crisis situations in communities; organizing, like marching in protest to Washington, D.C., from New York; and advocacy for criminal justice reform bills with members of Congress. In addition, it works with incarcerated youth through cultural education and non-violence training, and facilitates dialogue between communities and formerly incarcerated people.

Kingian nonviolence

Kingian non-violence is the practice of de-escalating tensions between groups who disagree and discussing their differences peacefully. Some of the principles are to suspend first judgments and to attack the forces of evil not the people doing evil. Meeting people where they are creates a level playing field, which makes it possible to champion others to your cause. In 2010 North Lawndale High School had the highest instances of daily violence in public school in the Chicago area. After training students in Kingian non-violence, the school went two academic years without a single violent incident.

The power of storytelling

At the intersection of art, theater, and activism, our stories can be shared for powerful effect. The Exonerated, a play of monologues by inmates on death row successfully showed their humanity and helped change the misconceptions and conversations around the death penalty. Bringing the stories of the actual, lived experience to the public provides a perspective that raises awareness and expands our discourse beyond stereotypes.

Find out more:

Julianne Hoffenberg is the Director of Operations of The Gathering For Justice. She is also Co-Founder of Project A.L.S.; theater and film producer; Advisory Board member of SAY, an artistic home for children who stutter; and member of the theater company, Naked Angels. You can follow Julianne on Twitter at @JulesHoffenberg.

May 18, 2019
L.A. Kauffman

1963 March on Washington

The 1963 March on Washington was the first mass protest in America. Due to the anxiety around such a massive group descending on Washington, the March was carefully planned from the top down by both the organizers and the Kennedy administration. The route was mapped out to march by the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, away from the White House and the Capitol. All the signs were made by one entity and bore uniform messages.

Women’s March

The Women’s Marches of 2017 were a decentralized, grassroots effort that yielded 5 million protestors nationwide, in red states and blue states, in urban as well as rural areas. In many small communities, the Marches of 2017 were the largest protests they had ever seen. The geographic spread is as significant as the total number of marches.

The power of protest

Protest can be a powerful tool to effect change in many forms. It can raise awareness on an issue and shift the debate surrounding it. Protest can intensify the urgency of an issue and expand the ideas of political possibility of public policies. On a personal level, protest is an act of faith, a way of registering discontent or stand behind an issue, and even a way to connect to something larger than ourselves.

Find out more:

L.A. Kauffman is a longtime grassroots organizer who has mobilized mass protests against the war in Iraq in 2003-2004 and most recently collaborated with the artist Nan Goldin to hold a protest against the Sacklers at the Guggenheim Museum in February 2019. She is the author of How to Read a Protest, The Art of Organizing and Resistance and Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism. She also contributes to The Guardian. You can follow her on Twitter @LAKauffman.

May 11, 2019
L.A. Kauffman
May 11, 2019
Trailer: The Power of Protest?

Our new season examines the power of protest and other civic action. Guests include activists who protest and advocates who don’t, from Brad Fitch of the Congressional Management Foundation and Jackie Zammuto of WITNESS to Micah White, co-founder of Occupy Wall Street, and more.

May 04, 2019
Democracy Works: David Frum

This is a bonus episode from the Democracy Works podcast, which examines what it means to live in a democracy. Host Jenna Spinelle interviews David Frum, the author of Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. He discusses how we can use the tools of civic engagement to build the democracy we want for ourselves and for future generations.

David Frum is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. In 2001 and 2002, he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. 

Apr 27, 2019
Beto O'Rourke (Rebroadcast)

Rebuilding democracy from the ground up

We need representatives who truly represent the people by directly engaging with and listening to their constituents. Removing the power of political action committees (PACs), special interests, and corporations is vital to getting our democracy back and making sure that elected government is responsive to the interests and concerns of human beings.

Work together and set aside differences

Achieving bipartisan collaboration comes through putting the small differences, including parties, behind us. Compromise is key in being able to pass legislation that will benefit all Americans on issues as diverse as healthcare, the cost of higher education, and immigration.

Big Money corrodes our democracy

Our representatives are not corruptible on the issues that they really care about, but they often vote along with special interests when they are not experts, and don’t have a specific need to vote a certain way. It’s these little decisions in the aggregate that create dysfunction and disconnect between Congress and the people.

Find out more:

Beto O’Rourke is the former US Representative for El Paso, TX, and is running for President. He regularly shared his thoughts from his Senate campaign on Medium.

Apr 20, 2019
Beto O'Rourke (Rebroadcast)

Rebuilding democracy from the ground up

We need representatives who truly represent the people by directly engaging with and listening to their constituents. Removing the power of political action committees (PACs), special interests, and corporations is vital to getting our democracy back and making sure that elected government is responsive to the interests and concerns of human beings.

Work together and set aside differences

Achieving bipartisan collaboration comes through putting the small differences, including parties, behind us. Compromise is key in being able to pass legislation that will benefit all Americans on issues as diverse as healthcare, the cost of higher education, and immigration.

Big Money corrodes our democracy

Our representatives are not corruptible on the issues that they really care about, but they often vote along with special interests when they are not experts, and don’t have a specific need to vote a certain way. It’s these little decisions in the aggregate that create dysfunction and disconnect between Congress and the people.

Find out more:

Beto O’Rourke is the former US Representative for El Paso, TX, and is running for President. He regularly shared his thoughts from his Senate campaign on Medium.

Apr 20, 2019
Season Round Up: Poverty

Revisit some of the highlights of this season that gave us so much insight into poverty in America, added to our discourse, and helped us revise our thinking.

Apr 13, 2019
Kathryn Edin

The end of welfare

Welfare ceased being guaranteed after reform in 1996. Although the safety net for the working class was strengthened through tax credits, the safety net for those who are jobless disappeared. In its current state, the welfare system is overwhelming and underfunded. States are given block grants that they can spend at their discretion. For example, Louisiana spends its money on anti-abortion clinics. As a result, over the course of a year, about 3.5 million children live in households with virtually no cash income for at least 3 months.

Cash is king

Cash has the ultimate function: it can be used to pay rent, utilities, food, school supplies, and more. Although food stamps (SNAP) and Medicaid help needy families, these cashless forms of assistance cannot address other necessities in life. Access to cash can be pivotal to keeping a job – to fill your car with gas so you can go to work – or a roof over your head while you look for a new job after being downsized.

The poor are true Americans

America’s poor are the very embodiment of American ideals. Living in poverty is incredibly complex, a daily challenge to which the poor rise. They take pride in their work and find purpose at the workplace. They are hard-working, resourceful, and enterprising. Poor families spend their money wisely to keep their children fed and sheltered, and they stretch every dollar to make ends meet.

Find out more:
Kathryn Edin is one of the nation’s leading poverty researchers, working in the domains of welfare and low-wage work, family, life, and neighborhood contexts through direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income populations. A qualitative and mixed-method researcher, she has taken on key mysteries about the urban poor that have not been fully answered by quantitative work, such as how do single mothers possibly survive on welfare? Why don’t more go to work?

She has authored 8 books and some 60 journal articles. $2 a Day: The Art of Living on Virtutally Nothing in America, co-authored with Luke Shaefer, was met with wide critical acclaim. It was included in the NYT 100 Notable Books of 2015, cited as “essential reporting about the rise in destitute families.”

Apr 06, 2019
Stephen Pimpare

Poverty is widespread

Hardship in America is common. In all of rich democracies, we have the highest rates of poverty among the elderly and also among children. In fact, the majority of Americans will be poor for a significant period of time over the course of their lives: 62% percent will have their income at the bottom 20 percent for a year or more in their adult life, and 42% percent have income for a year or more at the bottom 10 percent of the distribution. About 21% of children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level.

Misconceptions about poverty

Americans perceive poverty to be the result of bad decisions and judgments, a moral failure of an individual. Most poverty is, in fact, insecurity because the poor do not have stable, well-paying jobs. Most of the poor do have jobs, but they slip in and out of the official poverty rate on a regular basis. They are living on the margins and are one crisis away from devastation. The immense stress due to being poor causes a cognitive impairment load in both children and adults that reduces their ability to engage in good decision making. Finally, inequality makes it difficult for democratic political systems to function effectively.

Assistance that works

There is a convergence among researchers that the single most efficient and effective means of reducing poverty is cash assistance. Successful public policy examples include the GI Bill after WWII, which provided free college education, a living stipend, free medical care, and subsidized mortgages; Social Security lifted 27 million people above the poverty line in 2017; and in the same year, the Earned Income Tax Credit that benefits the working poor with a tax refund helped 8 million Americans out of poverty.

Find out more:

Stephen Pimpare is a nationally recognized expert on poverty, homelessness, and U.S. Social policy. He is also a Faculty Fellow at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire and teaches courses on American Politics and Public Policy. His second book, A People's History of Poverty in America, received the Michael Harrington Award from the American Political Science Association “for demonstrating how scholarship can be used in the struggle for a better world.” His most recent book is Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens: Down & Out on the Silver Screen, a history of poverty and homelessness in the movies.

Mar 30, 2019
Gail Joseph

Invest in early learning

Because the foundation for all of life’s successes -- whether academic, social, or emotional -- is laid in the first five years of life, it is critically important to invest in early learning. This is especially true for children from low income homes, who often do not have access to high quality early learning programs. As early as kindergarten, underprivileged children can be as much as 1.5 years behind the average child and it is very difficult for them to catch up. High quality early care and education is an act of social and educational justice.

Invest in teachers

The early learning workforce is largely female, very diverse, and often paid low wages. Because there is also a gap to access high quality professional development and college degrees, much of this workforce is poor. In a high-quality early learning preschool program, the teachers are well educated and fairly compensated. The quality of early care and education is almost entirely dependent on the teacher in the classroom.

The foundation of a strong society

Developing social and emotional skills through high quality early learning is strongly linked to civic engagement in adults. The role of government is to subsidize access to high quality early learning. Supporting early care and education directly supports our society and our economy. When children reach their fullest potential, they have higher rates of graduation and jobs. The ultimate act of Homeland Security is to invest in our very youngest learners.

Find out more:

Gail Joseph is the Founding Executive Director of Cultivate Learning at the University of Washington College of Education as well as the Bezos Family Foundation Distinguished Professor in Early Learning.

She teaches courses, advises students, provides service, and conducts research on topics related to early learning and equity, child care quality, teacher preparation, early childhood mental health, and school readiness. Gail is also the 2018 recipient of the David R. Thorud Leadership Award at the University of Washington.

Mar 23, 2019
Dan Weissmann

Picking an insurance plan is nearly impossible

Although it is no surprise that picking an insurance plan is complicated, it turns out it is nearly impossible. A study by George Loewenstein at Carnegie Mellon reveals that a majority of Americans will choose a suboptimal plan. With access to a full analysis of all the costs and regulations, 80% of us can make a sound decision.

Insurance companies drive up costs

Insurance companies are not motivated to keep costs down because they can pass them on to us, their customers. Large hospital groups and pharmaceutical companies are also active participants in driving up costs. Patients and independent doctors have no influence in negotiating overall costs down. This is why premiums, deductibles, and co-pays are increasing.

Be vigilant

Always do good research before seeing a doctor to make sure you are in network and you understand how much you’ll need to pay out of your own pocket. Always double check the bills afterwards. Invariably, mistakes are made and it will take a lot of effort to rectify the error and not overpay. In cases of emergency this is extremely difficult. Remember that you can negotiate the rates with the hospital if you cannot pay the entire bill.

Find out more:

Dan Weissmann is a radio producer and reporter in Chicago. He’s got a strong nerd streak and an artsy side. He has won awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, column writing, and for producing and hosting live radio.
Dan has worked as a staff reporter for Marketplace and Chicago’s WBEZ, and his work has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition, the BBC, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s show Reveal, and 99 Percent Invisible.

Mar 16, 2019
Maria Foscarinis

The housing crisis started with a policy decision

The leading cause was cutbacks to federal funding for housing for poor people starting with the Reagan administration. In 1978, the federal government was funding about over 300,000 new units of affordable housing each year. In 1983, that number had decreased to under 3,000 each year. Currently, only one in four poor people who qualify for federal housing assistance actually receives it. Working men and women who do not earn enough to pay for housing, such as minimum wage workers, cannot afford housing based on affordability guidelines set by the federal government.

Housing is a human right

Without housing, nothing else is truly possible. Housing is essential for families, children, adults, the ill, and the disabled. Housing is recognized as a human right by the UN and by international treaties, including some that the United States has signed on to. However, even though Congress has set a goal for decent, affordable housing for every family 50 years ago, it has not made it a right. A large and growing percentage of the homeless are families with children. Studies have shown that childhood homelessness is a risk factor for adult homelessness.

The criminalization of homelessness

A wide variety of laws criminalize homelessness by making it a crime for the homeless to be in public spaces, such as sleeping in public, begging in public places, sitting down in public, or living in yofour car. Cities have fined the homeless, arrested them, and put them in jail. Studies show that these measures are not cost-effective. It is more expensive for the police to arrest or cite people, put them through the court process, and jail them. Moreover, when the people are released, they are still homeless, but now have an arrest record, which makes it more difficult to find a job or housing. It is more cost effective to provide housing, and it solves the problem.

Find out more:

Maria Foscarinis is the founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, and has advocated for solutions to homelessness at the national level since 1985. Among other honors, Maria is the recipient of the 2006 Public Interest Achievement Award from the Public Interest Law Foundation at Columbia Law School and the 2016 Katharine and George Alexander Law Prize from Santa Clara University’s School of Law.

Mar 09, 2019
Max Kenner

Max Kenner is the founder and executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, a college that is spread across six interconnected prisons in New York State. We discuss the enduring value of the liberal arts, the immense power of an education on reducing recidivism, and the critical importance of deep investments in human beings.

Education must be high quality

The students at BPI have a drive to learn that reflects their awareness of the stakes of their education for the future. Thanks to the high-quality education that BPI delivers, students are able to compete for coveted spots for graduate programs at universities like Columbia, Yale, and NYU, and successfully complete their degrees there. Many BPI alumni go on to careers in the public sector that affect their home communities.

Be Fearless

Despite the many naysayers and the persistent cynicism that Max faced, he marched on and did what was said to be impossible. He was so successful at convincing the United States that higher education should be returned to its prison systems, that the Bard Prison Initiative is now collaborating with the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison to launch and sustain college-in-prison programs across the country.

Prisons are human institutions

The time that human beings spend incarcerated is as real and as relevant as any other time that is spent anywhere else, as opposed to lost or wasted time. Providing college education in prison is an opportunity to invest in the people who we know will eventually rejoin, and increase the likelihood that they enrich, our communities as fully participating members of our society.

Find out more:

Max Kenner is the founder and executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, a college that is spread across six interconnected prisons in New York State. He is also co-founder of the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, and recipient of numerous awards, such as the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Education.


Mar 02, 2019
Stephen Bright

Stephen Bright served as the director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, and is currently a lecturer at Yale Law School, as well as professor of practice at Georgia State College of Law. We discuss the death penalty in the United States and its relationship to poverty, race, and disadvantage.

Poverty and Competent Representation

The Supreme Court only decided in 1932 that a person in a death penalty case had a right to a lawyer. However, the government has competing interests when it must provide legal representation to a person whom it is trying to execute or imprison. Many court-appointed lawyers are not competent to represent someone accused in a capital case, ranging from falling asleep during trials, showing up drunk, or being plain inexperienced for capital cases. In a system like this, the people on death row are largely the most vulnerable in our society: extremely poor, victims of racism, suffering from mental illness, or with limited intellectual capabilities. 

Race and the Death Penalty

Justice Douglas pointed out that the defendant’s race was a key determinant in who received the death penalty. The criminal justice system is a part of our society least affected by the civil rights movement; the judge, the prosecutors, the court-appointed lawyers, and the juries are often all white in capital cases. In addition to race, location plays a huge role. Eighty percent of all the death sentences come from the South. Some prosecutors are more zealous than others in seeking the death penalty. A crime that is committed in one county might result in capital punishment, but not if it happened in a neighboring one. 

A Fair and Impartial Court System

Competent legal representation is the foundation for justice in the courts because it provides protection against an innocent person being convicted. A competent lawyer investigates a case thoroughly, makes sure there really is a charge against the client, and presents all of the relevant evidence. Further, although there is little diversity among judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, a least the juries should represent the diversity of the community.

Find out more:

Stephen Bright is a lawyer, lecturer at Yale Law School, and professor of practice at Georgia State College of Law. He is a passionate advocate of a public defender system, and has also served as director, president, and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.

Feb 23, 2019
Ross Morales Rocketto

Ross Morales Rocketto is co-founder of Run For Something, an organization that supports diverse, young progressives running for state and local office. We discuss which candidates win, why building a bench of local and state politicians is important, and how an increase of candidates leads to better voter turnout.

The Importance of State and Local Office

Eighty percent of the laws that are passed in this country are passed at the state and local level, which include the big issues of the day, such as health care, education, or criminal justice reform. Victories in these races have real impact. For example, as a result of elections in 2017, Medicaid was expanded for tens of thousands of families in Virginia.

Successful Candidates

What the winners have in common are that they are truly representative of their communities, both in their racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as in their lived and shared experiences. They all work really hard to get elected. And finally, these candidates are not running to be something, but to do something. They are running to solve an issue that they’re passionate about in their community.

The Big Picture

Lowering the barriers to voting makes it possible to build a bench of Democrats who are actually representative of the communities and experiences of America. Moreover, we know that a one-on-one conversation with a voter is the most effective way to get someone to turn out to vote. The more candidates run, the more one-on-one conversations are happening every single day, and the more people are going to turn out to vote.

Find out more:

Ross Morales Rocketto is co-founder and chief program officer of Run For Something, an organization that recruits and supports diverse, progressive, young folks who are running for state and local office.

Feb 16, 2019
Season 5 Trailer: Ross Morales Rocketto

"Telling these types of stories, showing people that it's not just white dudes who are lawyers, who have a lot of money, that can do this type of work is one of the most effective ways for us to try to show folks they can do it too."

Ross Morales Rocketto, co-founder and chief program officer of Run For Something, kicks off the new season with a conversation about diverse, young candidates for state and local office.

Tune in on February 16 for Season 5 of Future Hindsight!

Feb 07, 2019
Ted Dintersmith

Human Potential

Education should be a path for children to develop into self-directed, self-supporting, skill-equipped young adults. This may or may not include a college education, but will require high levels of critical thinking skills. Creativity and innovation will be an integral part of any job in the future.

Standardized Tests and College Readiness

The norm today is to teach what is easy to test, such as narrow arithmetic, instead of what’s important to learn. This turns the purpose of education on its head. Standardized tests and much of college ready content are not well retained by students and do not serve them to be ready for life.


A healthy democracy thrives when citizens can think critically and independently. Education must make teaching citizenship skills a priority. Our collective humanity depends on a society of creative and conceptual thinkers who are committed to making positive contributions to their community.

Find out more:

Ted Dintersmith is an avid advocate and change agent focused on the impact of education and innovation on the future of civil society. He has produced several films and written two books on education. The most recent is What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America.

Nov 17, 2018
Ben Theodore

Local Politics

The impact of individual and group efforts can be decisive in local political races, such as in the elections for a judge, a district leader, or in the State Assembly. Having one-on-one conversations about what is happening in our own community is powerful because we discuss the policy choices that directly affect our lives.

Get Involved!

Citizens are the players in politics. They have the opportunity and the responsibility to determine who is elected into office. When citizens are involved, they are taking part in shaping public policy decisions. When they choose not to be engaged, they are assenting to the status quo, as opposed to fighting for the way that things could be.

Public Policy and Politics

We live in a society that is shaped by our public policy choices, which are directly derived from the results of political elections. We need idealistic people in both government and politics, who care about the outcomes and the policy choices that we make as a society.

Find out more:

Ben Theodore is a passionate community activist in Brooklyn, New York, as well as a program associate at the NYC Department of Education. He has previously worked as a campaign staffer and a teacher with the District of Columbia Public Schools and Teach for America. You can follow him on Twitter @btheodore.

Nov 10, 2018
Robert P. Jones, Ph.D.


People broadly agree that voter turnout should be higher and that voting should be easier, for example by making Election Day a holiday. Although everyone over age 30 is convinced that voting is a fundamental way to create change, only half of young people agree. Surprisingly, a quarter of Americans are unsure about the most fundamental requirement to be eligible for voting: you have to be a citizen.

Demographic Changes

America is no longer a majority white Christian country. However, the diversity in the American religious and ethnic landscapes today will not show up at the ballot box until 2024, if current turnout rates stay the same. Because the voting population is primarily older and whiter, the ballot box rewinds the demographic change clock by about a decade. Bucking the trend this year, black women are poised to turn out at much higher rates than they historically have.


Our nation’s tribalism has devolved to the point where many have stopped examining the issues and instead have used them to indicate their partisan loyalty. Seven in ten Americans have said that they need a break from the news because it is so exhausting. Public schools are less integrated than in the 1980s, and churches are becoming increasingly partisan as well as mono-racial. One sliver of hope is that at the local level, people are putting aside their differences to make their communities better.

Find out more:

Robert P. Jones, Ph.D. is a leading scholar and CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.

Nov 03, 2018
Max Feldman

The Powers of Voting

Voting is our civic duty and our opportunity to participate in our democracy. We can hold our leaders accountable and also express what we believe this country can and should be. Voting means a lot to people in traditionally disenfranchised communities because it serves as an important expression of who we are as citizens. If it weren’t powerful, nobody would try to suppress our right to vote.

Voter Suppression

Strict voter ID laws, voter roll purges, early voting cutbacks, and documentary proof of citizenship are the most effective ways to disenfranchise voters. Since the wave election in 2010, at least 23 states have enacted voter suppressive laws that are in place for this year’s election. This trend was made worse when the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 in “Shelby County vs. Holder” in 2013, which eviscerated the pre-clearance process and made room for states to enact stricter voting laws without oversight from the federal government.

Expansive Pro-Voter Laws

The most promising and bipartisan way to expand the electorate is through modernization provisions, such as online voter registration and Automatic Voter Registration (AVR). Some studies in Oregon have shown that AVR also boosts voter turnout. With increased adoption of AVR across states, it will be more widely implemented over time. Other effective measures are Election Day Registration, expanding Early Voting, and restoring the right to vote to former felons who have completed the terms of their sentence.

Find out more:

Max Feldman serves as Counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, where he focuses on voting rights and elections.

Oct 27, 2018
Cristóbal Alex

Political Power

The proactive strategy of Latino Victory to build power through elections is a recipe for success. They focus on grooming and training candidates who represent their community’s values, empowering Latino voters, and developing a pipeline of Latino donors. The proof is in the pudding: great Latino candidates are exploding Latino turnout.


Latinos represent 18% of the U.S. population and natural-born Latinos are the fastest part of demographic growth. Half of them live in states that are not battleground states, which means that most candidates ignore them. In addition, Latinos only make up about 1% of all elected officials. The 2016 election shook this dynamic up, the way that Prop 187 mobilized Latinos in California. Four of the most competitive U.S. Senate races are in Latino states: Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada.

Latino issues are American issues

Surveys show that Latinos prioritize on the issues just like most other Americans. Healthcare tops the list, followed by a strong economy, good jobs, education, and the environment. “You could just as easily call a Latino Victory Fund, "American Victory Fund”.”

Find out more:

Cristóbal Alex is the President of Latino Victory, an organization that works to grow Latino political power by increasing Latino representation at every level of government and building a base of donors to support this critical work.

Oct 20, 2018
Phil Polakoff

Phil Polakoff is a physician with a distinguished career in public health and clinical medicine, the CEO of A Healthier We, and a consulting professor at Stanford University of Medicine. We discuss how an emphasis on prevention coupled with innovations in healthcare access and delivery can help us share greater health and equity for all Americans.

Demand Better Healthcare Policies

We need a more efficient and effective health delivery system that encompasses all of us. Follow political candidates who are engaged in nuanced discussions about access, quality, and costs, instead of simple slogans. Social determinants such as housing, income, transportation, education, and the environment must be a part of any debate on healthcare. State or local level initiatives might lead on innovation.

Opportunities for Reform

Good health must start with personal responsibility and an emphasis on prevention. Access to healthcare should be optimized, both to avoid under utilization or over utilization and to address shortages of medical expertise, such as in mental health and elder care. Pilot programs that offer a holistic, team-oriented approach and use innovative technology are a good way to discover what works.

Healthcare is a right

We can engage along many points of the ecosystem that contribute to healthy living. Addressing all of the inequities in our healthcare system requires us to take part and hear each other’s ideas out, share past experiences, and find culturally appropriate solutions in each community. We can achieve greater health and equity for all Americans when we share health as a universal value.

Find out more:

Phil Polakoff is a physician with a distinguished career in public health for over 35 years and an affiliated scholar at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University.

Oct 13, 2018
Ashley Allison

Census data supports communities
Government and businesses rely on census data to provide the necessary services that make healthy and vibrant communities possible. The data reveals how many grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, or schools are needed, and even influence public transportation routes and budgets. An accurate and fair count will ensure that adequate resources are allocated.

Undercounting and the citizenship question
Asking whether the census participant is a citizen could decrease the count because people are afraid that it would undermine their safety and privacy. Undercounting hurts all communities because it will imply that they need fewer resources. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, a bipartisan body of mayors, has joined a lawsuit to take the question off the census.

The basis for political power
Political redistricting happens as a result of significant demographic shifts. After the 2010 census, 18 states changed their number of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, starting with the 2012 elections. Texas gained four seats, and Florida gained two. Another 6 states gained on seat each, while 8 states lost one seat, and New York and Ohio each lost two.

Find out more:
Ashley Allison is the Executive Vice President of Campaigns and Programs at The Leadership Conference, the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition. It works on a wide range of issues, representative of the breadth of today’s civil rights movement from immigration to disability rights, to the census and religious freedom. If you’re interested in getting involved, email information@censuscounts.org and check out the Census Counts 2020 website.

Oct 06, 2018
Esther de Rothschild and Aicha Cherif

The power of love and relational organizing
When people realize that their vote matters personally to others, they are more likely to show up and exercise this right. Ineligible voters, such as teenagers or formerly incarcerated people, can make an impact on elections by drawing attention to how election results concern them and move their network of eligible voters to show up at the polls.

Amendment 4
There are over 1.4 million people who are disenfranchised for life in the US, most of them for a small felony conviction. Amendment 4 is an initiative in Florida that aims to restore the right to vote to former felons. If we believe in second chances and the capacity of people to change for the better, a more representative voter pool would include those who have paid their debts to society.

Understand the issues
The disenfranchised have a variety of policy issues that are often overlooked by those who do have the right to vote, such as on immigration or youth. “Movers” bring attention to the issues that affect them through their messaging. A wider perspective and a deeper understanding on the policy proposals of candidates on the ballot are additional reasons to turn out on Election Day.

Find out more:
Esther de Rothschild is the founder of The Love Vote, a platform where people who cannot vote use love to mobilize those who can. Aicha Cherif is the Outreach Director, as well as a mover.

Sep 29, 2018
Brian Miller

Brian Miller is the Executive Director of Nonprofit VOTE, an organization that partners with other nonprofits to integrate voter engagement into their ongoing activities. We discuss the importance of promoting voter registration to achieve full representation in excluded communities, and the benefits of a non-partisan, in person approach to do so.

Nonvoting feedback loop

The main reason people don’t vote is that nobody has reached out to them and asked them to vote. Furthermore, most non-voters are not affiliated with either party. Anyone with a history of voting is more likely to be contacted by campaigns, increasing the odds that this person will vote. If a person does not normally vote, campaigns are unlikely to reach out, which in turn reinforces the non-voting habit.

Asking to register and to vote

Many studies show that face-to-face engagement is one of the most effective ways to get people to show up at the polls. Making eye contact and asking someone to register and to vote because his or her opinion is valuable, increases the likelihood of that person showing up at the polls.

Nonprofit advocacy for voting

Nonprofit service providers, such as health centers and food pantries, are trusted messengers in the communities they serve because they have an established relationship. Communities who participate and vote, help nonprofits achieve their missions, and empower themselves by having their voices heard.

Find out more:

Brian Miller is the Executive Director of Nonprofit VOTE, the leading source of nonpartisan resources to help nonprofits integrate voter engagement into their ongoing activities and services, and the managing partner of National Voter Registration Day. The organization works with America’s nonprofits to help the people they serve to participate and vote.

Sep 22, 2018
Season 4 Trailer: Brian Miller

A sneak peek of the first episode of Season 4: Brian Miller makes a
case for registering and voting. National Voter Registration Day is on
September 25, 2018.

Sep 15, 2018
Pam Elam and Namita Luthra

Pam Elam and Namita Luthra serve on the Board of Directors of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Fund. Their Monumental Women campaign will bring the first statue commemorating real women to New York City’s Central Park in 2020. We discuss the importance of honoring women and their contributions to society in public spaces.

Rethink history to shape the future
Women and people of color have been largely left out of our nation’s narrative, instilling the impression that they made no significant contribution to our society. Rethinking history in a more inclusive way allows us to see that a diverse group of people made a difference, and that all of us can shape our world and our future. It matters who we honor with monuments in public spaces.

The worth of women
The Monumental Women campaign to honor Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony with a statue in Central Park encountered an uphill battle that reflects how women continue to be excluded. The dearth of women in boardrooms, in the highest echelons of government, and in public monuments, confirms that women are still widely regarded as worth less than men.

Women are ready to advocate for themselves
The women’s suffrage movement is the largest nonviolent revolution in the history of the US. It took 72 years for women to achieve the right to vote. Recent marches and the rise of new movements for women’s equality are proof that women have a renewed commitment to augment their role in society and put their issues first.

Find out more:
Pam Elam and Namita Luthra are members of the Board of Directors of The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Fund, Inc. Their work has been key for the success of the Monumental Women campaign to bring the first ever statue of women to New York City’s Central Park.

Aug 25, 2018
Michael Faye

Michael Faye is the president and co-founder of GiveDirectly, an organization that sends cash directly to people living in extreme poverty. We discuss why we should use cash as a new benchmark for international aid, unpack false assumptions about decision-making, and examine the benefits of universal basic income.

Prioritizing individual needs is effective
Humans largely make creative and wise decisions for themselves and their families. Despite a common belief to the contrary, the poor are good decision makers. Their track record in maximizing positive utility out of the funds they receive is better than aid organizations. Moreover, the freedom of choice provides dignity to the recipients. We need to empower more people with the agency to do what they consider best for themselves.

Cash as a new benchmark
In theory, we can end poverty today. Over $140 billion in global aid money is spent per year, while the global poverty gap is now estimated to be about half that amount. The data has shown that cash transfers work. Now that we have mobile money and other digital financial tools that make direct cash transfers possible to a large number of people in remote areas, we should include cash as a benchmark in measuring the efficacy of aid programs.

The promise of universal basic income
Universal basic income is a type of cash transfer that is given to everybody within a population and that covers basic needs, over a long period of time. It incentivizes work because the program is unconditional. Recipients can use the funds to supplement consumption, as investment to improve their homes, or as capital to increase income.

Find out more:
Michael Faye is the co-founder and president of GiveDirectly, an organization that sends cash directly to people living in poverty and that works to reshape the way we think about international donations.

Aug 18, 2018
Maria Yuan

Maria Yuan is the founder of Issue Voter, an organization whose mission is to make civic engagement accessible, efficient, and impactful. We talk about the importance of being informed on the bills before Congress, communicating your priorities and opinions to your representative, and understanding whether your rep is truly representing you.

Our voice matters
One of the benefits of living in a democracy is making our voices heard. In fact, representatives keep track of constituent contact in order to better understand how their community prioritizes issues. They also appreciate expanding their communication beyond the actively engaged core constituents. Technology enables voters to have efficient and impactful communication with their representatives.

Today’s technology helps us track how representatives vote, so we know if they are truly representing us. Based on a representative’s legislative voting record, we can make an educated decision on whether to re-elect our representatives or vote them out of office. When voters are aware and engaged, outside money doesn't have as much of an influence in keeping incumbents in power.

Better-informed citizens are better voters
Over 10,000 bills are introduced in one session of Congress, which means that we don’t hear about most them. The more we inform ourselves, the more we will be able to engage on issues beyond the ones featured in the news, understand the various perspectives, and then vote knowledgeably.

Find out more:
Maria Yuan is the founder of Issue Voter, an organization whose mission is to give everyone an equal voice in our democracy by making civic engagement accessible, efficient, and impactful.

Aug 11, 2018
Rachel Leyland and Dr. Kendra Abel

Rachel Leyland and Kendra Abel are public school teachers in Oklahoma City who participated in the walkout in April of 2018. We discuss how the walkout shed light on the problems caused by chronic underfunding of public education, the power of standing together to demand change, and the importance of supporting pro-education candidates for office.

Support for Public Education Bolsters Democracy
Chronic underfunding and continued cuts to public education have grave consequences. In Oklahoma, teachers and parents are supplementing educational programs out of their own pockets in order to level the playing field with education in other states. Teachers are underpaid and are forced to take second jobs, or even leave the state for better pay.

Our Humanity
A good education transforms lives. Our humanity is at stake when we forsake the future of our children. We need to teach them to have critical thinking skills, a vision for a better tomorrow, the tools to participate in our democracy, and an innate understanding that their voice is important. What we do today will affect us for generations to come.

The Power of Civic Action
The teacher walkout in Oklahoma raised awareness on the issues facing public education, ranging from large class sizes to hostile state representatives. The public now understands how meager the education budget is and what that means, as well as how their elected representatives have voted on education. Oklahomans are now engaged in an open conversation about how to improve public education.

Find out more:
Rachel Leyland and Kendra Abel are both teachers in the Oklahoma City Public School system. They participated in the teachers’ walkout that took place in Oklahoma in April of 2018. They continue to be involved with this issue through the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the OKCPS Board of Education.

Aug 04, 2018
Scott Warren

Scott Warren is the CEO and co-founder of Generation Citizen, an organization that works to ensure students in the United States receive an effective civics education. We talk about the unique power of political action to bring about change and the need to teach our youngest generations how to be active participants in our democracy.

Political action is still king
All of the important issues that affect our daily lives touch the government in some way. Politics is a powerful agent for systemic change within government. The more frustrated we are, the more imperative it becomes to participate.

The problems in our democracy run deep
One of the most reliable predictors of voting behavior is income: the participation rate is 80% at $80,000 or more, and only 40% at $40,000. We need to invest in teaching all citizens, and especially young people, their rights and responsibilities in a democracy.

Action Civics is an essential part of the answer
Action-oriented civics education in school should be prioritized like STEM subjects. Without the knowledge and practice, we cannot expect the population to be engaged. Students should learn by doing in the classroom: identifying an issue they care about, devising a plan of action, and following through with elected officials.

Find out more:
Scott Warren is the CEO and co-founder of Generation Citizen, an organization that works to bring civics education to middle and high schoolers in the US.

Jul 28, 2018
Brent Wilkes

Brent Wilkes is the former CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and a lifelong advocate for Latino rights. We discuss what fair and comprehensive immigration could be, the positive impact of immigrant labor in the US economy, and how we can demand sound immigration policy at the ballot box.

Our economy depends on immigrant labor

Immigrants are doing some of the hardest jobs in America for the lowest amount of pay, such as producing food, building houses, and providing care. Labor abuse is common with undocumented workers, as their status makes them particularly vulnerable. Providing a path to legalization for these individuals is the least we can do.

Comprehensive immigration reform

The goal is to help out-of-status residents, those who work hard and contribute to the economy, to get right with the law. Three major focus areas are: the Dreamers, children who were brought to the US by their parents as minors; the agricultural sector, which produces major exports to the rest of the world and is a traditional employer of immigrants; and the rest are laborers in other industries, such as care giving or construction.

Voter turnout is the answer

Immigrants have historically come to America from all over the world to pursue their dreams. We need to remember that our ancestors were once immigrants too, and be more welcoming to those who are pursuing the American dream today. The best way to win on immigration and encourage people to vote is to raise awareness, talk to people who are different than you, and show them that they are included in the process.

Find out more:
Brent Wilkes is the former CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). He was recently given the Lifetime Achievement, Excellence in Community Service Award by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Jul 21, 2018
Mark Hetfield

Mark Hetfield is the President and CEO of HIAS, the oldest refugee assistance organization in operation. We discuss our humanitarian obligations to refugees, the tremendous benefits that they bring to American society, and bust the misconceptions about the current refugee situation in the US.

Taking refugees is an act of humanity:

Refugees have escaped persecution, their country, their homes, and their jobs in order to survive. The Refugee Convention of 1951 is an international law that requires countries to give them protection. We bring refugees to the US because it’s a way to protect human rights and our collective humanity.

Refugees are a tremendous positive force:

They are among the most productive members of society because they have lost everything, and they know that they can’t take anything for granted. In the US, refugees have contributed many billions of dollars more than they take in services. Some of our most successful companies, such as Google and Intel, were started by refugees.

We have enormous untapped capacity to resettle refugees:

The US can take in hundreds of thousands of refugees without noticing the impact or the stress. Many faith-based agencies are clamoring to welcome and help more refugees, but the exhaustive and extreme vetting process to enter the country and the cut in funding will result in the resettlement of less than 20,000 refugees in the US this year.

Find out more:

Mark Hetfield is the CEO and President of HIAS, a refugee assistance organization, and a major implementing partner of the United Nations Refugee Agency and the U.S. Department of State.

Jul 14, 2018
Paul Lagunes

Paul Lagunes is a Columbia University political scientist whose scholarship focuses on corruption in the Americas. His current book project is Corruption and Oversight: Insights from Field Experiments. We define corruption, discuss how it relates to democracy, and learn that voting is a tool to fight against it.

Corruption is a contingent behavior
In a world of multiple equilibriums, the rules of the game differ from place to place, thus it may be rational to engage in corruption in certain contexts. The same individual will behave one way in one setting and another way in another setting. Corruption involves costs for societies at large. The losers are every day, law-abiding citizens.

The Watchful Eye and the Cracking Whip
Both transparency and punishment are essential. We need to make clear and visible that everyone who participates in corruption is punished because revealing corruption without punishment emboldens bad actors. They feel and seem empowered. Government agencies and oversight non-governmental organizations can effectively work together to satisfy both roles.

How citizens can fight corruption
We need to be informed, care about curbing corruption, and make our voices heard on the issue. The best way to do so is to vote on Election Day and to use public forums, such as town hall meetings, to confront and engage public officials. Democracy’s promise to solve corruption hinges on the premise that officials are the agents, and citizens are the principals.

Find out more:

Paul Lagunes is a political science and an Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. His work has been widely published, and he is currently working on a book titled Corruption and Oversight: Insights from Field Experiments.

Jul 07, 2018
Ian Bremmer

Raise consciousness:

Globalists have been willing to stand by while many people were left behind. Elites need to acknowledge their complicity in order to reverse the increasing division between us and them, as well as make clear to people in power that the current version of globalism is not acceptable.

More experiments are necessary:

The only effective way to tackle global issues is to start experimenting around possible solutions, each of us in the ways that we can. There are already many interesting projects ranging from continuing education for workers to flexible employment. Everyone who has the ability to do something on this issue, must do so.

Invest in humans:

The role of the government is to promote equal access to opportunity, so that all people are included in the system. Maximizing profit is not human, but it is capitalist. Injecting humanity into public policies on diverse issues like refugees or free community college will create a society where a gig economy can support families and provide a public good.

Find out more:

Ian Bremmer is the president and founder of Eurasia Group, and the foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at TIME Magazine. His latest book "Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism" is a New York Times bestseller that explores the rejection of globalism as an ideology and possible solutions for a more equitable world.

May 26, 2018
Shafi Goldwasser

Shafi Goldwasser is an award-winning mathematician and computer scientist and the Director of the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at UC Berkeley. Her most notable work is in cryptography and zero knowledge proof. We discuss the promise of cryptography to make our society more secure. 

Data privacy and you: 

Cryptography is the field that deals with the privacy and correctness of how our information is used. It makes our data more secure, with a range of tools such as encryption, authentication, and verification. Every time we are online, we need to be vigilant about what private information we share and with whom. We should use the tools of cryptography and be careful about giving permissions for apps to access our data.  

Algorithmic Fairness and Data Bias: 

We have an idea that algorithms are fair because they are machine computations. However, algorithms do no account for actual individuals, so the data is trained with existing societal norms, which can perpetuate unfairness. Data can also be poisoned once people figure out what algorithms are used by tweaking the information in order to get the desired outcome. 

Demand accountability: 

We must demand that our personal information is only used in ways that can keep our identity private. There are already collaborative platforms using various encryption methods that are effective for governments and companies to use. “If companies get into trouble because of fiascos having to do with private data you don't just blindly continue supporting them.” 

Find out more:

Shafi Goldwasser is the Director of the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at UC Berkeley, the world’s leading venue for collaborative research in theoretical computer science. She is also the Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, and professor of computer science and applied mathematics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. She is currently working on the project "Splinter: Practical Private Queries on Public Data"

May 19, 2018
Jennifer March

Jennifer March is the Executive Director of the Citizen’s Committee for Children of New York. This non-profit and nonpartisan child advocacy organization combines public policy research and data analysis with citizen action. We discuss family homelessness, juvenile justice, and the power of effective advocacy.

Growing up poor likely leads to long term damaging outcomes:

Every child should be guaranteed a prosperous environment with proper access to health care, housing, education, and safe living conditions. Children in poverty often face multiple risk factors such as poor quality housing and low-quality schools.

Effective child advocacy requires a coalition:

A virtuous circle of a large group of people with a common interest is the most effective in pushing for change. Everyone ranging from service providers and beneficiaries, advocates lobbying the government, volunteers writing letters and making phone calls, social media, as well as participants in visible rallies come together to be heard.

A holistic approach:

We need to focus on pragmatic solutions that we know will serve a holistic approach to help provide stability and promote wellbeing, such as a housing subsidy or affordable childcare. Universal systems of early education and healthcare are fundamental building blocks for children to evolve and develop into thriving adults.

Find out more:

Jennifer March is the Executive Director of the Citizen’s Committee for Children of New York (CCC), a non-profit advocacy organization that works to ensure that every child is healthy, housed, educated, and safe.

May 12, 2018
Beto O'Rourke

Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke represents his hometown, El Paso, TX. Currently a Candidate for US Senate, he is running a people-powered campaign, visiting every single county in Texas and listening to the needs and concerns of the state’s constituents. We talk about how to rebuild our democracy, the necessity of bipartisanship, and how big money corrodes our political process.

Rebuilding democracy from the ground up:

We need representatives who truly represent the people by directly engaging with and listening to their constituents. Removing the power of political action committees (PACs), special interests, and corporations is vital to getting our democracy back and making sure that elected government is responsive to the interests and concerns of human beings.

Work together and set aside differences:

Achieving bipartisan collaboration comes through putting the small differences, including parties, behind us. Compromise is key in being able to pass legislation that will benefit all Americans on issues as diverse as healthcare, the cost of higher education, and immigration.

Big Money corrodes our democracy:

Our representatives are not corruptible on the issues that they really care about, but they often vote along with special interests when they are not experts, and don’t have a specific need to vote a certain way. It’s these little decisions in the aggregate that create dysfunction and disconnect between Congress and the people.

Find out more:
Beto O’Rourke is the US Representative for El Paso, TX, and is running for US Senate for Texas.

May 05, 2018
Ruth Milkman

Ruth Milkman is a sociologist of labor and labor movements, and Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center and at the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. We examine the role of unions for workers, the main factors of de-unionization, and the potential leadership by millennials in this space.

It’s safer to speak up as a group:

The purpose of unions is to give workers a collective voice in relation to their employers. They also negotiate contracts and collective bargaining agreements, and promote and defend workers’ concerns in the public and political spheres.

Factors that led to the decline of unionization:

Employer opposition is at the heart of the de-unionization. They have successfully mounted a series of direct attacks against them, such as double breasting in the construction industry. Two other big factors are the decline of manufacturing and deregulation.

The time to engage is now:

Many workers experience precarious labor conditions, such as in retail, where they often don’t know their schedule from week to week and they don’t know how many hours they will end up working. Teachers in non-union states are striking instead of collectively bargaining, which is more disruptive than organizing.

Find out more:

Ruth Milkman is a Sociology Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and at the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.

Apr 28, 2018
Robert Hammond

Robert Hammond is the executive director and co-founder of Friends of the High Line, which was the driving force behind turning an abandoned elevated railroad in New York City into a public park. We discuss the essential role of a city’s public open spaces and how exhilarating it is to pursue your dreams.

Parks are at the intersection of social issues:

Parks have a role in our social issues from economic injustice to education and the environment. A city’s true ingredient is people, and parks allow for the ultimate human experience of people watching, voyeurism, and interacting with others. All communities benefit from having safe, free, and open public spaces.

Get involved in your city:

Community board meetings are open to the public, and they always need people to get involved. They’re only as good as the people who participate. Many opportunities exist to volunteer in your area of interest and expertise.

Go after your dreams:

Pursuing a crazy idea is freeing, fun, and exciting. Perseverance and skepticism are a part of this process. Even if your specific vision does not come true, there is still value in thinking, talking, and organizing around the issue of public open spaces.

Apr 21, 2018
Nick Ehrmann

Nick Ehrmann is the founder and president of Blue Engine, which was borne from the discovery that the strongest predictor of college completion is sustained academic rigor in high school coursework. The organization re-imagines the classroom in order to teach students how to master core academic skills and be truly ready for college.

Prepare for success

College readiness is defined by the ability to persist and complete degrees. We need to equip students with skills and habits of mind that allow them to have true choice at the cusp of adulthood, whether it is in college, a technical trade school, or the work force.

Proximity matters

Education systems need to be designed with the students at the center. Strong, integral, human relationships between educators and students are directly correlated with high levels of academic rigor and success.

Taking action can take many different forms

Get out of your space, fight stereotypes, and challenge your assumptions. Do something where you are informed, proximate, and engaged.

Nick Ehrmann is the president and founder of The Blue Engine.

Apr 14, 2018
Tyler Ruzich

Tyler Ruzich is a 17-year old Republican candidate for governor of Kansas, one of eight teens in the race this year. We discuss what it means to be a Republican of the next generation, why it’s important to get involved now, and what young people can do to become more engaged.

Young people offer fresh perspectives:

We can make better decisions when we are well informed and more educated. Young people bring ideas and perspectives that may not have been considered before. They’re eager to do something and bring authenticity to the table.

Evolve and Change:

Political parties need to shift along with cultural and societal changes. Addressing the issues that are important to young people – LGBTQ rights, gun control, education – is a way to prepare for the future.

Be Responsible, Get Involved:

Take charge, do good, and take accountability for yourself. Serve on a teen council and learn how governmental issues are addressed. Volunteer for a congressional, state, or local race in 2018 or 2020. The best person to fight for the issues that are important to you is you.

Find out more:

Learn about Tyler Ruzich's campaign for governor of Kansas at https://www.ruzichforgovernor.com/

Apr 07, 2018
Season 2 Trailer

A sneak peek of our next episode: civic engagement requires no minimum age. Tyler Ruzich, 17-year old Kansan, shows us how.

Mar 31, 2018
Ai-Jen Poo

In the 8th and last episode of Season 1, we discuss the elder boom, and the increasing importance of home care and domestic work in our society.

Award-winning activist Ai-Jen Poo, a leading advocate for domestic workers’ rights and family care, discusses the challenges of the elder boom. She lays out how home care can help us face the coming demographic change and the ways in which we can engage to demand a new Caring infrastructure.

The Care Crisis is Here:

Baby boomers are aging at a rate of 10,000 people per day. This means that 4 million turn 65 every year. The 85 and older demographic is the fastest growing demographic in the country. The demand for care workers is exploding, but we have no program in place to support these people to be able to afford elder care. 

Home Care is the Future:

Elders want to age at home. It is cheaper and has better outcomes. Good care giving is the best prevention, which avoids unnecessary and expensive end-of-life hospitalization or institutionalization. We need a Care infrastructure that provides affordable, high quality care for families and creates professional jobs for care workers with dignity, benefits, and a living wage.

Demand a Solution:

Track and follow Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Create demand by supporting political candidates who are champions for a care agenda. States can be a laboratory for federal policy. Hawai'i passed a family caregiver benefit program in 2017. Maine has a ballot initiative called “Home Care for All” in November.

Find out more:

Ai-Jen Poo is the Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the Co-Director of Caring Across Generations.

Mar 10, 2018
Andrea Miller (Part 2)

Andrea Miller is the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health. We talk about the broad support among men for Roe vs. Wade, the Hyde Amendment, and the two most damaging misconceptions about abortions.

This interview belongs to a two-part episode in which we discuss the importance of reproductive rights and why we should engage with this issue for the general welfare of our communities. Listen to the first part here.

Men Are Supportive:

There is no huge gender gap in attitudes and opinions about support for Roe vs. Wade. Men are also outraged by laws that shame, pressure, and punish women who have decided to have an abortion. They care about health and safety, individual rights, and autonomy.

Hyde Amendment:

Federal government health coverage does not cover abortion care. This affects a wide range of women from those who work for the federal government or serve in the military to those who receive healthcare through Medicaid and Indian Health Services. The amendment is a rider, which means that it is attached to budget bills every year. We can demand that the rider not be put in.

Have a conversation and bust the myths:

In an environment where people don’t talk about abortions, damaging misconceptions and falsehoods are easy to spread and thus easy to believe. The real attitudes and public opinion are pro-choice. Access to abortion is important to the women who are a part of our daily lives.

Find out more:

Andrea Miller is the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health and a nationally recognized expert in reproductive rights and women’s health for more than two decades.

Mar 06, 2018
Andrea Miller (Part 1)

Andrea Miller is the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health. We talk about the impact that reproductive legislation has in society and how it’s historically been affected by safety and public health concerns. 

This interview belongs to a two-part episode in which we discuss the importance of reproductive rights and why we should engage with this issue for the general welfare of our communities. Listen to the second part here.

Learn the Facts:

Polls show that 80% of the public supports safe, affordable, quality abortion care, as long as it is legal, which it is. The percentage of women who are already mothers and obtain an abortion is 59%. The highest abortion rate is among women who are 20 to 29 years old. A woman spends approximately 30 years of her life trying not to get pregnant. 
Say no to taboos:

Treat talking about reproductive rights and health like talking about healthcare issues that affects all families in our communities. One in four women have an abortion in their lifetime. Over 90% of poll respondents say that it should be supportive, safe, and informed by medically accurate information. 
Talk to your elected officials:

There is a divergence between policymakers and the public. Be informed about ballot initiatives to roll back rights and be engaged in the voting booth. Have a direct conversation with your elected representatives and communicate your priorities.


Find out more:

Andrea Miller is the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health and a nationally recognized expert in reproductive rights and women’s health for more than two decades.

Mar 03, 2018
Joe Hartigan

Joe Hartigan has cracked the code on how to effect change. He is a retired NYC Fire Department lieutenant and community activist since 1995. His passion, dedication, and consistency over many years brought about ferry service for the residents of Rockaway, Queens. Every community would benefit from a fervent advocate like Joe. We can become advocates for our communities by focusing on specific issues, joining forces, and staying persistent.

Show Up:

Showing up and pushing the point helps you to stay focused and keep going. Planning meetings, community board meetings, and conferences are excellent opportunities to speak to officials, share your priorities, and demand accountability.

Use Your Passion:

Pick something that is important to you because not everybody is going to be as committed as you to show up consistently. Be willing to dip into your own pocket. Do your research and become an expert. Learn how others have achieved their civic goals.

Make Your Cause a Political Issue:

Push your civic agenda by highlighting its importance for your community’s citizens. With attention in local elections, there is more likely success for your issue to be addressed.

Find out more:

Joe Hartigan was the driving force behind getting ferry service from Rockaway to Brooklyn Army Terminal and Wall Street, Pier 11. He is also been a tireless advocate for the revitalization of the Rockaway area after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and the Jacob Riis Park in his community.

Feb 24, 2018
Roland Augustine

Roland Augustine is an art dealer, tireless activist, and active member at the Bard College Prison Initiative. We discuss the necessity of finding new ways of activism for social justice in our daily lives.

Be an Advocate:

Civic engagement means becoming an advocate for social equality and social justice. It can begin at the most basic level such as your town or school. You can give hands-on support and/or money to a cause that is important to you. Consistent and rigorous advocacy creates more knowledge and inspire change.

Art Matters:

The visual arts can effectively transform one’s thinking. There are many powerful works of art, from paintings to monuments, that serve as beautiful and potent reminders of inhumanity in our collective history.

Use your voice:

Our silence on the world’s humanitarian crises is deafening. Use your voice in your community to start a conversation about what we can do right now. Start with forwarding this podcast to your friends and family.

Find out more:

Roland Augustine is on the board of trustees at Bard College, where he is actively involved in the Bard Prison Initiative, as well as in supporting refugees at Bard College Berlin. He is also an active member of the Equal Justice Initiative in the US.

Feb 17, 2018
James Doty

James R. Doty, MD, is a neurosurgeon and clinical professor at Stanford University. He shows us how to shape our own lives and of those around us by reframing, practicing compassion, and living with an open heart.


Negative talk dominates our narrative. What we tell ourselves manifests in our lives. Positive talk is based on kindness towards oneself.  
Practice Compassion

When you change the way you look at the world, then the world changes the way it interacts with you. Accepting the reality of a situation means that we can be free of reacting with anger. We can be compassionate and kind. 
Live with an Open Heart

When we are kind and respectful, and treat every human being with dignity, people will bend over backwards to help us. The greatest gifts in life often come through painful events, which give us character, depth, wisdom, and insight.

Find out more:

James R. Doty, MD, is the founder of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University. He is also the author of "Into the Magic Shop", a book about how we can change our lives by practicing compassion and mindfulness.

Feb 10, 2018
Richard Betts

Richard K. Betts, Ph.D, is the Director of the Saltzmann Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. We talk about how we can be meaningful stakeholders in foreign policy by voting and supporting political movements.

Vote & Support

We must use our power to vote and support political movements in order to activate fundamental change in our world.

Be an active volunteer in an organization

Historically, the United States has been a country of joiners in various organizations to promote solutions to public policy programs. People joined organizations and devoted their volunteered time in large numbers because it is one of the basic ways in which people indirectly affect bigger issues that they don't feel much direct control over. Don’t take it for granted!

Demand and create a more peaceful future

It's very damaging to the political process when people participate irresponsibly. Make the effort to learn enough to make responsible decisions. Read newspapers, inform yourself, and stay curious about what is going on.  Then vote for the candidate that comes closest to your point of view.

Find out more

Richard Betts is the Director of the Saltzmann Institute of War and Peace Studies, and the Director of the International Security Policy Program at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University in New York.

Feb 03, 2018
Matt Kalmans

Matt Kalmans is the CEO and co-founder of Applecart, a strategic political consultancy and lab. We discuss the power of voting, how social pressure can influence our actions, and the ways in which science and technology can help us understand our political behavior. 

Human communication is the strongest tool for high civic engagement

Most decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are based on what our friends and co-workers tell us. Real life conversations are deeply influental in our political behavior. Social pressure can bring about social change.

Voting is our political power!

Voting is our civic duty and is a matter of public record. Changing behavior from not-voting to voting continues in the long term. Higher voting turnout will lead to radically different people being voted into office. People who are not only solution-oriented, but will also be a better representative of us as a society!

We respond to social pressure for civic duty

People respond to social pressure for higher civic engagement and voter participation. Voting is understood to be a social good, and studies have shown that we respond to social pressure for higher civic engagement and voter participation.

Find out more

Matt Kalmans is the CEO and co-founder of Appelcart, a strategic political consultancy and lab that aggregates and processes publicly available online and off-line data with the goal to redefine how political organisations mobilize voters, how nonprofit organisations fundraise or how advocacy groups lobbies elected their officials.

Jan 27, 2018
Bernard Harcourt

Bernard Harcourt is an author, lawyer, and critical theorist. In our conversation, we discover that civic engagement is a learned skill, the power of collective action, and the importance of remembering our truths and values.

Voting is a learned skill 

A study showed that children who experienced the voting process or political conversations with their parents showed more civic engagement. It's a skill that can be learned and should be promoted. Children and young people should learn that they can, how, and where to participate. Civic engagement is a fun, interesting, and important activity.

Civic engagement is our daily bread 

Speak with others about political questions and social justice issues. Communicate with a representative or senator -- even if it’s not your own -- and share what we are thinking will influence the way they engage in debates. Writing reflections and thoughts about the political situation in local newspapers or online is another way to engage. And remember to vote. Every vote counts!

Take a step back and remember your truth 

Once a day, try to center yourself and go through your comments and thoughts of the day. "Did I say the things that i believe in?" Take a step back and determine what is important, what your values and ethical beliefs are. Then recalibrate life, work, and personal communications in order to reflect your values. It's an important, challenging, and time-consuming process.

Find out more

Bernard E. Harcourt is an author, justice advocate, and critical theorist specialized in social and political theory, the sociology of punishment, and penal law and procedure. He is the Executive Director of the Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights, and the founding director of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought at Columbia University.


Jan 20, 2018
Premier Trailer

A sneak peak of the first episode of Future Hindsight — Bernard Harcourt discusses why and how civic engagement matters.

Jan 18, 2018
Future Hindsight Trailer

The Future Hindsight podcast launched on January 20, 2018. Join us for our premier episode where we interview Bernard Harcourt to speak about civic engagement and The Holder Initiative.

Jan 08, 2018