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October 8, 2008


I am grateful that my job pays me to crisscross the country listening to Americans talk about politics, social issues, service, and the news. Since the beginning of last week, I have heard more than 200 different people talk about these topics--in a meeting room at the University of Washington, Seattle restaurants, a classroom at Tufts University in Massachusetts, an airport hotel conference room near Baltimore, and a focus group space in downtown Baltimore. Here are some of the faces and voices that I recall ...

A middle-aged white man in a checked shirt and glasses, with a James Stewart drawl, who is trying to organize discussions in his Kansas town of 750 about how to stem population-loss. An African American Baltimore mother, about 20 years old, who--after saying that she doesn't do anything related to politics, volunteering, activism, or "giving back"--adds that she once "made a difference" to someone else. Her own childhood was scarred by drug abuse, but she found a younger person in the same plight and took in her in, "even though we just have one room to live in." A distinguished professor defending his provocative thesis about citizenship in a room full of people whose open laptops are bedecked with bumper stickers about "free culture" and Obama '08. A young Baltimore woman who says she wouldn't ever vote because of the risk of jury duty; but she did once help to build a Kingdom Hall. A New Orleans community organizer who complains that public discussions of land-use and zoning issues suppress the topic of unions and other mechanisms for raising incomes. A Latino community organizer (one of two Hispanics among all the people I'd met) who pleads for other Latinos to be included in future discussions. A Tufts undergraduate who explains that she understands the financial crisis (better than I do) because her father took hours to explain it to her.

Say what you will--it's a most remarkable country. I can report savage gaps and terrible wastes of human gifts; yet people of every kind want to make things better.

October 8, 2008 4:30 PM | category: populism | Comments


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