Baratunde explores how, in the absence of national leadership, determined, newly-minted leaders are problem-solving and mobilizing people around them to protect and save lives during this pandemic. Danielle Allen breaks down what has ACTUALLY been happening with regional leadership and how she stays hopeful in the work of protecting all of us during this pandemic. Emergency medicine physician, Dr. Amy Aminlari, shares her experience standing up a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) operation and finding community. We have an abundance of wealth and resources in this country, and yet, it has come down to very local and regional cooperation based on existing networks of trust. In this episode, we continue to learn how individuals with varied backgrounds are showing up to fight, leaving their comfort zones, and using the power of their voices, knowledge, and relationships to ensure no one is left unprotected. As our guest, Danielle Allen, put it in her recent Washington Post op-ed, “There is only one real silver bullet. It’s called grit. This is a can-do country, and our determination to beat the disease is our ultimate weapon.”
Baratunde Thurston 0:05
Welcome to How to Citizen with Baratunde, a show where we reimagine the word citizen as a verb, reclaim it from those who weaponized it and remind ourselves how to wield our collective power. This is a new episode. I'm Baratunde.
Like any healthy democracy, this show is stronger when you participate. And we have a number of ways for you to do that. If you're on the social media, use the hashtag how to citizen when you post about the show, and we will lift up as many as we can. If you want to be more direct, you could always reach out to us via comments at howtocitizen.com. We still check email around here. And if you're doing the actions that we asked you to at the end of each show, let us know what you did send an email to email@example.com I am loving seeing your reflections, the organizations you're starting. It's really great. Let's keep it up. And speaking of keep it things up, we would be remiss if we didn't ask you to rate and review the show, wherever you're listening to it. I suggest five stars. But that's up to you, citizen. A quick word on how we make this show. We do most of them live in Zoom with a visible cameras on chat room fired up audience, which could include you, you have a chance to ask our guests questions, and literally help make the show. You can sign up for these invites, by going to howtocitizen.com and joining my email list. And yes, I love the live audience experience. But you're special, because you're right here. So don't worry, I'm going to be back. check in with you certainly at the end of the show, where I give you particular ways that you can citizen Now allow me to pass the mic to myself. As I set up this episode. We're still living with COVID. And we're not living great with it in the United States. But I've said this for a while that what we have lacked in national leadership we have in abundance on the ground in local and regional cooperation. It's not always those with the most resources, getting the job done. It's those willing to work hard, use their networks, and step up. In this episode, we're going to meet two of these individuals, people who've left their comfort zones tapped into their contact list and leverage everything and everyone they know to fight this disease so that no one is left unprotected. Our guest Danielle Allen said it best in her washington post op ed, where she Quote, there is only one real silver bullet. It's called grit. This is a can do country and our determination to beat the disease is our ultimate weapon. We'll get to Danielle later. But first, I need to introduce you to Dr. Amy. I'm in Laurie. I actually know Dr. Amy personally because of New York City. Back in March 2020, Elizabeth and I have returned from our last trip to that city this year, it seems. And when we departed, it was a very different city than when we had landed. And we knew we were in for a ride, but our friends in New York were in for a much worse one. And within a month in that city got crushed by COVID-19 one of our friends in Brooklyn, Tricia Wang stood up to help and she formed this network of volunteers to get personal protective equipment PP door directly into the hands of frontline health workers. early in the process of setting that up knowing that this disease was going to come for LA and other cities later, Trisha reached out to Elizabeth, the same Elizabeth, who's an executive producer on this show full disclosure to help start an LA version of the network. They would call this effort last mile, pp. Now, it's simply known as last mile. And Yo, I saw our house transformed into a PP coordination hub. There were zoom calls and whatsapps and inspections and vetting of shipping manifests was wild. And in the process of running the LA chapter, Elizabeth met Dr. Amy and Laurie, a San Diego doctor, who had joined the LA effort but would eventually create her own in San Diego to meet the needs of her community. Here's my conversation with Amy
I'm Amy I'm and Laurie. I am an emergency physician. And I'm also a medical director and part owner of coastal family Urgent Care here in Carlsbad. I am the founder and lead of last mile San Diego. So I want to start back in the beginning of this whole covid 19 coronavirus pandemic mess because you're an emergency medicine doctor. And I'd love your tank, as someone who's been on the frontlines of this battle. What Take me back in time, and tell me what that was like for you in the beginning, as a doctor and just as a me?
Dr. Amy Aminlari 5:44
Well, you know, back in March, it was very difficult working in the front lines, because myself and my colleagues felt a lot of stress and anxiety was obviously this pandemic coming out that nobody really knew much about and inflicting data. And to make things worse, we felt kind of unprotected because we felt like these n 95 masks, which we use to use daily and toss out after one use not think about it. And all of a sudden, we're not readily available, and were really scarce. And it was difficult to be able to even get one oftentimes. So that was the beginning of what started my thinking about how to address this problem that I saw affecting my peers affecting colleagues and other hospitals across San Diego. And it was very real and I could you know, I experienced it firsthand. So what ended up happening was I said, Well, what is the most scarce PP that we need and that was n 95. masks and they still are scarce
Baratunde Thurston 6:54
and I just want to cut in here real quick to say Amy is an ER doctor Yet took on more work, because she experienced a problem firsthand affecting her and her peers. She knew there was a lack of awareness about PP shortages. So she gets involved and she starts by simply reaching out to a friend.
Dr. Amy Aminlari 7:16
So myself and my friend grace, my good friend grace, who also has a lot of family members who are in emergency medicine, frontline providers, she and I decided to undertake, vetting or sourcing vetting is like the improper term, but sourcing and trying to find legitimate and 95 ourselves. We decided to just try to take it into our hands, try to get a 95 and try to get it to people that needed them. So that's search. What did that look
Baratunde Thurston 7:46
Dr. Amy Aminlari 7:46
That was crazy. So she has two kids, I have three. And you know, we have families so we would every night after they were all to bed and everything was done in the house, we would we would just sit together. On the phone and on the computer, and just search and search until like two or 3am every night looking for, you know, legitimate suppliers looking for sources. And then really we just got into the minutiae of what is a real and 95 and what is a fake one. And we came up with a protocol on how we would determine this. And in the end, honestly, what happened was we came to dead ends, because most of them 95 out there were counterfeit. And we decided to kind of think outside of the box, and we thought, Well, what in 95 would be legitimate? And we thought, Well, why are there counterfeit and 95 Now to begin with, it's because of the pandemic. So we reached we're thinking let's try to reach the 95 that were pre pandemic because there was no motivation to make them counterfeit at that time. So this was like the seed for last mile San Diego, we started reaching out to the community We reached out to surfboard shapers, construction workers, families who had earthquake kits and emergency kits that they happen to have a bunch of and 90 fives in their garage and didn't even realize it. So we really kind of did this large scale community based mission to gather and 95 of the community had to donate to us. So if you've got counterfeit and 90 fives, there's no proof that they can filter, the SARS Coby to virus, and there's no proof that they're actually protecting anyone. So we wanted verified and legitimate masks, and obviously, it's not helping anyone to distribute something that's not going to protect us against the virus.
Baratunde Thurston 9:44
Did you set up a phone tree? Did you put up an ad on Facebook? Like what did that outreach look like? And who else was involved?
Dr. Amy Aminlari 9:52
So honestly, it was a lot of just interpersonal connections. We reached out because Grace's family is very involved in surfing and the surf community. So she reached out to surfboard shapers that were like prominent in our community. I actually had a banner in my backyard because my backyard faces the trail. So we got this huge banner made asking for help. And people would walk by on the trail and myself or my husband when we'd stop by and talk to them because they would ask me what is this about. And so we kind of spread things, word of mouth through the community, and people that were walking by, and they actually showed a lot of interest, they would post on the next door app, they would post on their social media, we posted on our personal social media because at that time, we hadn't organized our last mile social media. So that's really how it began, very grassroots, very community oriented. And just from that, we went from 20 masks to hundreds of masks that were like dropped at my doorstep at all times of the day. And it was very inspiring to see and like very touching to see that people really cared Even if it was five masks, they would come and just bring whatever they had people in Orange County who saw my Facebook post would, you know, offer their masks? And that was really, you know, that was pretty amazing.
Baratunde Thurston 11:14
Did you did you feel a bit like a drug dealer accepting these packages dropped off at all hours? It was
Dr. Amy Aminlari 11:20
weird. There would be like random people parked in front of my house. And yeah, it was very, it was kind of a little weird because he's 95. That's like they were so precious and they are.
Baratunde Thurston 11:30
So how has this effort evolved from strangers dropping off? unmarked packages in your front yard? to something even more today? What does it look like now?
Dr. Amy Aminlari 11:42
We realized that we needed to, you know, expand our efforts. So we started reaching out each of us to our friends and family and contacts. And eventually one connection after another I ended up getting linked to last mile 11 Which I'm so grateful for, and linked to Stuart, the prior leader of last mile LA. And that was a very pivotal connection. She took us under her wing, and was already connected to last mile national last mile New York, New York City. And we became a part of her group just because of just by talking to friends and being interconnected. So with last mile LA, Elizabeth showed us what they were doing. We were involved in their whatsapp group and zoom meetings, and from their grace and I decided that San Diego needed to have a similar chapter. Their philosophy was to deliver PP directly into the hands of providers because what I was seeing at the hospital was that hospital administration for whatever reason, wasn't giving us PP and even if they were donated, we don't know what the reason is. But we didn't receive them. So we felt the best way to help us to deliver directly into the hands of people that needed them. So we donated to 13 hospitals and clinics in Tijuana. We've been doing that for a few months, because they have so little resources and so little peepee. And, you know, we wanted to reach out and help them. And we were able to do that. And we're continuing to do that every week. We have batches of donations going to them. And we're also focusing on areas near the border. Recently, I was excited. We have open connections to Barrio Logan.
Baratunde Thurston 13:38
Dr. Amy Aminlari 13:40
Barrio Logan is the southern portion of San Diego. It's part of the Promise Zone. I think there are 22 Promise Zones in the US, which are identified by the government as the most impoverished communities under most duress. And this area is the most highly afflicted with code But this area includes parts of Chula Vista National City. And so we have currently been able to tap into that region. And we just actually hosted and help to host a drive by donation drive for the community members is 35% of the children there are homeless. People are living in their cars. They don't have CPE when they're going to work. The particular organization we're collaborating with is called the good neighbor project. And it's headed by john Alvarado, who was born and raised and it's like you, I was there last weekend at the drive and he's like the mayor of Barrio Logan, he was walking around, he knew everybody's name. And you know, so we're working with him because he's part of the community. Yeah. And he's opening doors to let us try to help including Santa see dro health clinics, which is right at the border, and they are a super hot spot with I think they that area has the highest number of COVID deaths.
Baratunde Thurston 14:54
The show was about the power that we have as citizens to help shape our communities to help each other out to put the benefit of the mini ahead of the few. And so what you just articulated feels very much aligned with the mission of this show. How do you think in light of your answer about your power as a citizen
Dr. Amy Aminlari 15:16
honestly, it's been an amazing journey just like for myself as a person, but also in the way that I see the community and people in general. I never thought I would be a leader in this capacity and be able to do what we've done. I think that people underestimate the power they have as individuals. You know, I came into this Oh, I didn't mention I don't think I mentioned that. I had COVID
Baratunde Thurston 15:42
know that little that small detail. You did not say that earlier. We to bury the lead Dr. Amy? nervous. No, that's all right. You're you're relaxed. Now. Let these dramatic facts fly. So also,
Dr. Amy Aminlari 15:55
I was I was sick with COVID after being in the ER and I was sick for two months to the point that my pulse ox, like, you know, my oxygen level was in the 80s. When I would walk up a flight of stairs, I thought I had to go to the hospital and be admitted. And this went on for two months. And I was really worried. And so that was the time when grace and I started our journey started sourcing and 95. But yeah, that was a huge impetus was like, I was a patient and a provider. And I, I saw both sides of it. And you know, I didn't want anyone else to be at risk for that. That was a huge thing. I missed that.
Baratunde Thurston 16:36
So you were starting to say that you think we underestimate the power that we have?
Dr. Amy Aminlari 16:41
Yes, absolutely. I have no background in being a leader or a nonprofit organization or anything. Similar to what I'm doing now. Not even close. And I think that if you believe in something, and you just take the steps to communicate with people and make connections and relationships, I think that's one of the most important things staying positive. Believing that you can make a difference and take whatever role you want to take it, whether it's leadership or contributions. I think that everybody can do a lot more than they realize as a citizen. This is exactly what we did. And we just found ways that were Uncharted, and we were able to do a lot in our time. I mean, we're just for numbers sake, we've delivered 44,717 pp, to 19 hospitals, and 217 providers in San Diego.
Baratunde Thurston 17:36
For someone listening to this, who is motivated by your story and connects with it, and wants to help their community through this pandemic, that some of us feel somewhat abandoned by whether it's a hospital administrator, or a layer of our government, but wants to tap into that power they have. What advice would you offer them? What would you ask them to do? To help their community,
Dr. Amy Aminlari 18:01
honestly, I would tell them to look into local groups and local organizations close to them. And it depends on their level of how involved they would want to be, whether it's financial donations, volunteer work with their, you know, expertise, their strengths, or if they want to take a leadership role and, you know, form their own group, I think at any level if they reach out and take some kind of action and communication. And I think that that's really key. And I think that they will find that they have a lot more power to affect change than they realize, because that's my experience, I did not realize that we could do so much at the outset of this journey, like just one connection leads to another connection, which leads to important collaborations, and the power to take action on those relationships and what they have to offer. So I would invite people to not overlook discussion, joining local groups reaching out to them, and not feel that just because you are one individual in the community that you can't make some kind of difference. And on top of that, just even more simply as a citizen, even being a responsible citizen, and this time taking the proper precautions, you know, adhering to public health guidelines, and just being a responsible person for yourself, impacts a ton of people, you know, masking etc, distancing. So, even just that makes a big difference. So that's what I would say.
Baratunde Thurston 19:40
Well, you have definitely inspired me, Amy. And I already knew a bit of your story, but I learned a lot more just now. Thank you for sharing your time. Thanks for sharing your story. Really appreciate
Dr. Amy Aminlari 19:51
Absolutely. I think that everybody can make a contribution and I definitely believe this, from what I've experienced.
Baratunde Thurston 20:08
All right, so I'm back. It's just me and you for a second. If there is anyone who could have called it a day in the middle of a pandemic, I think is an emergency medicine doctor. I think they've got enough to be like, I'm gonna take a nap now. I'm on the front lines and Dr. Amy I'm and Laurie did not do that. She kept going. She kept giving. She kept learning and pushed herself well out of her comfort zone. All while she had the Rona, did you hear how she almost forgot to tell me that she had COVID herself. I didn't know that going into that interview. Amy's not alone. There are so many others out there who are tapping into their networks of valuing the collective over themselves as individuals. And another such person is Danielle Allen. An ethicist, a professional ethicist. Now what us doesn't ethicist have to do with the pandemic? Keep listing and let's find out. Danielle Allen is the James Bryant content university professor at Harvard University. I know it sounds fancy, it's Betty. She's also the director of Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, where she now spearheads their COVID-19 response initiative. Her team published the roadmap to pandemic resilience. It was the nation's first comprehensive operational roadmap for mobilizing and reopening the US economy in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. If you saw my Instagram videos on when can we go out and how we reopen. They were powered by this work. As if her expertise on the road no response weren't enough. Danielle served as the co chair of the bipartisan commission on the panel Practice of democratic citizenship, and co authored its 2020 report titled, our common purpose, reinventing American democracy for the 21st century. She co chaired that, along with our episode one guest, Eric loop. So take a listen. Danielle is an expert on justice, citizenship and democracy. She's authored several books on all those topics. She's a contributing columnist to The Washington Post. Basically, her life's work has made her perfect for how to citizen and for how to approach this moment, this pandemic moment from the lens of people power. Welcome, welcome. Welcome, Danielle.
Danielle Allen 22:43
Thank you Baratunde. It is great to be here. I am so glad to talk with you. I love the title of your new podcast.
Baratunde Thurston 22:50
Thank you. Thank you, and it's good to see you again. Thank you for saying yes. And I want to jump right into it because your work center On justice, democracy and equality, and none of those is the word epidemiology. So what do justice, democracy and equality have to do with a pandemic?
Danielle Allen 23:14
Well, the pandemic, I think, right from the get go showed us that there are these incredibly horrible ruptures, our social contract. We've known that in some ways for a long time, but I think it just really put it right in our face. So for me, in the very, very beginning, I was shocked by how quickly some people moved to saying, wow, you know, maybe if older people get it worse, maybe it's just their time. Well, you know, people are incarcerated. Well, you know, they get the punishment. There's just this really rapid move to abandon parts of our society to this really terrible disease. And that was very, very shocking to me. And so as somebody who is the head of an ethics center, I reached out immediately to people that I knew We're working on pandemic response to ask a question, have an ethics center help? Because I think we need to pursue answers that start from the proposition that we don't abandon anybody.
Baratunde Thurston 24:11
What does it mean? When a society when a government starts to say that this loss is acceptable starts to abandon entire swathes of society? What does that do to the legitimacy of the project?
Danielle Allen 24:25
From my point of view that it means it's not legitimate, you know, right at that point. In other words, you know, this is where I am at some level of deep traditionalist, I go back to the words of the Declaration of Independence. And in that text, it articulates a theory of revolution, the right of revolution, but that right of revolution is grounded on the idea that human beings build governments in order to secure the safety and happiness of the people. That's the language of the Declaration, the safety and happiness of the whole people. And it's not about individual happiness, there is that individual element to that Sub procedure. of happiness. But it's connected to the idea that we secure the constitution to secure our safety and happiness. So when a government's not doing that, when it is self consciously not pursuing the safety and happiness of the whole people, it's by definition violated the sort of terms of its original employment to the people from my point of view, at that point, need to reorganize, they need to redesign rebuild, so that they have institutions that are actually pursuing and delivering safety and happiness for all.
Baratunde Thurston 25:30
You use this phrase, you see, I asked myself, how can I help? And then my exposure and experience to you like literally a friend sent me a white paper via text message, which lets you know, a little something about who my friends are big nerds.
Danielle Allen 25:45
This is a geek central Here we go.
Baratunde Thurston 25:48
And so for clarification and disclosure to the listener, I read this paper I was moved, and I reached out and someone there reached out and I got roped in to part of your efforts. Danielle,
Danielle Allen 26:00
yes, I was wondering if you're gonna fess up to that.
Baratunde Thurston 26:03
I am good. I will confess my sins of citizenship and civic mindedness. And and I jumped on, you know, video calls with you and your team and saw drafts of things. And what impressed me was this coalition that you had assembled, I think when I heard that someone from an ethics department at Harvard University, had something to say about pandemics. I'm like, great, more ivory tower thinking, how's that gonna help on the ground? But then I looked at the participants, and you had technologists and you had biologists and public health officials. You had lawyers, you had economists, conservative, and liberal. And so talk to me about the relationships that you leaned into forged or built on to be helpful and what you wanted that form of help to look like.
Danielle Allen 26:54
Well, thank you for sharing all that. I'm glad that you did fess up to your own participation. Barrington Davis. Critical in the effort of a big network of people to figure out not just, you know, what's the right answer to the pandemic, but also, how do we communicate broadly to the public and get people on board for a shared purpose of responding in ways that are about the safety and well being of everybody. So we needed Baratunde's voice there to help us think through that project of communication and telling a story about all of us together. So Baratunde you were fundamental to our work. I hope you know that.
Baratunde Thurston 27:31
Thank you for saying that. I'm going to make that the headline of this episode. We're done here. Thank you so much. Our guest today was Danielle Allen. I saved America by bear attack. But please continue with the part that I'm really interested in, which is not about me.
Danielle Allen 27:44
I love the question. And I think I can start from at the end at the beginning because great, we did build a huge network of incredibly, very people from epidemiologists and public health folks and doctors and clinicians to mayors to counties. public health officials to visual artists to YouTube stars, you have served million subscribers to their YouTube channel, the whole gamut technologists. And what I learned from the experience of doing this was to have great faith honestly. And all of us, in people and Americans from all over the place who all kind of ran to a fire and said, Here are the specific skills I can bring to bear. How can I help? So that was the sort of what everybody was doing? Why did we start building a big network? It was in the beginning, a very simple reason was just because we heard our elected officials giving us false choices. They were setting a situation where it was no people kept saying over and over again to pick between protecting lives and protecting livelihoods, health or the economy. That was a false choice from the very beginning that was a false choice. And in order to be able to prove that it was a false choice, it is actually possible to align the objectives of pretty Protecting life, protecting livelihoods and protecting liberties. We needed people who were experts across all of those different dimensions. So it wasn't enough just to have a health conversation or just have an economists conversation. We needed like every kind of piece of expertise that was being touched by the pandemic. And when you sort of started to tally up all the different kinds of expertise that were relevant, it was basically everything. So we were looking for people who are really smart and really creative. But we're just across the board in areas of expertise. And so, and the messaging and communication mattered a lot. Because at the end of the day, I think what our fundamental belief came down to was that the quality of our response would depend on how strong a sense of mutual commitment we could inspire among Americans to one another. And at the end of the day, the people who do build that foundation of mutual commitment amongst us our artists, our communicators are storytellers. That work is just so important. mutual commitment is a great phrase. And it leads to my follow up, which
Baratunde Thurston 30:07
has to do with what you're seeing that maybe many of us are not. As I look at the home pages of major news outlets and listen to the various feeds, I see a failure. And I hear a negative message. But I'm hoping you have seen this mutuality. You just described this social contract at work in some region in some way. Is there good news to share on that front?
Danielle Allen 30:34
There is good news. I can't say it's everywhere. I have to agree with you that at the end of the day, we have to admit that as a country, we failed. I mean, 170,000 people are dead. This was unnecessary and preventable. And I do think that the failure falls on the charge accounts of our elected officials have leaders of a variety of different organizations. And I do actually think that The country deserves something like this the 911 Commission. That's not a lot of time to hear what happened, what went wrong, that we failed as badly as we did. So if you think that's important, at the same time, that's true, one of the glimmers of hope. I mean, we have seen communities come together in remarkable ways. And we have seen mayor's who have called out volunteer organizations and figured out how to deliver food and housing options for people who need to deal with quarantine and isolation.
Baratunde Thurston 31:29
Can I ask you to name names? This is the opposite of shame. Like I, I'm eager to hear who's doing it right. What can you share with?
Danielle Allen 31:37
Well, I want to call out, Mayor Steve Benjamin from Columbia, South Carolina. And when I call out somebody that doesn't necessarily mean that that case incidence is low in their community, because sometimes they're struggling against a larger system, where they're not getting support. So Marcy Benjamin in Columbia, South Carolina, has worked incredibly hard to keep his community safe. He has brought me All this community has activated resources, volunteer services, even though he had a governor who was saying we're not shutting down, you know, we're not doing masking, etc. So he was putting out the masking messages, all kinds of things, even though he's governor wasn't America baldan in West Sacramento, California has been extraordinary. He is somebody who has a deep understanding of HIV AIDS and how that devastated communities and how contact tracing in that context turned the tide and the fact that it required ownership by local communities in order to turn the tide on the disease so that people affected by disease needed to own the process of compact racing, for example. So he really drove a big project of education and dissemination around what contract racing is for the US Conference of Mayors and I think he really transformed the conversation within his community of municipal leaders on that point. So those are just two people to start. I could go on I think, I've seen mayor's do remark Couple things over the course of this pandemic,
Baratunde Thurston 33:02
there had been caused by you and others for a while for regional response, you know, in the absence of an organized federal government response, I even joked that maybe states could get together and form their own more perfect union. That's sort of federalized system of service delivery. Is that something you're seeing happen above the level of Mayor but below the level of, say, a White House on Pennsylvania Avenue,
Danielle Allen 33:29
it is happening. It's absolutely happening. You know, states have built up capacity. I mean, I'm very fortunate to live in Massachusetts, which has built up a pretty robust infrastructure of testing and contact tracing and supported isolation and actually has COVID under reasonable control at the moment. We did also managed to achieve bipartisan legislation introduced in both the Senate and the House to deliver testing funds to states and funds to support contact tracing a compromise amount today Pass the past $75 billion in this work in May. And then the Senate Republicans passed 16 billion in the form of the hills action heroes act. And the heels act in this bipartisan legislation introduced in early August is a $50 billion package. So compromise package, and it rewards regional collaboration. So it's also incentivizing the sort of further formation of regional collaborations. And this package has been held up because of negotiations in Congress and because of the bitterness of our polarization and all honesty. So the Democrats, as you know, are fighting to protect voting and to protect elections. There's also a fight around employment, insurance and so forth. And the bitterness of that fight those issues is literally blocking investment in our public health response. For me, this is where I have to really I just like to shake our entire country and say like, Look, you know, we have weather Our polarization gets so bad that it's like literally killing us. And so then there's a long debate in the habit who's responding to that, I understand that, we start to recognize the magnitude of the problem.
Baratunde Thurston 35:12
We have a definition of citizenship at this show, which is to see it as a verb. And there's kind of four components. As we've emerged into it. One is to citizen is to show up, right? It's to participate in the process and not just totally outsource things, to citizen is to relate to other people and see, our interconnectedness as an essential part of who we are to citizen is to understand power, and the different ways that we can use it and wield it in the society and to citizen is to put the benefit of the many above the interest of just oneself or the few. So I'm curious, given your work given your perspective, and given your years of study. What is your definition of a citizen or To citizen.
Danielle Allen 36:01
But yours is beautiful and it captures a lot of what I focused on. So my definition of the citizen is to contribute to shaping the decisions of one's community. So to be a co creator, I like the vocabulary of wb Dubois and talked about being a co creator in the kingdom of culture. And I do think that to be a citizen to be a co creator, in the kingdom of culture, in our society of law, in our society of social norms and expectations. So that's, for me the core of the idea of CO creation.
Baratunde Thurston 36:33
Yeah. What is your day to day like with all this work? I mean, you have a couple of jobs. You write these Washington Post columns, you huddle with mayors, apparently, like how is your day shifted throughout this crisis? What does it look like now?
Danielle Allen 36:50
Um, well, the biggest change is that until about a week ago, I have a daily meeting 9pm every day for the first three months of the crisis and At 5am every day for the second half with core members of my broad Response Network. So that was a different thing for me. So every day was kind of organized by what we were trying to move forward. And so our life in my network has been in, I think, sort of the alphabet soup of our country's connective tissue. What do I mean by that? So we all know we have the federal government, we've got the states, we've got cities, and many of us know we have a National Governors Association, nga. But did you know we also have the National Association of State procurement officers and the National Association of City County Health officials, and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the National Association of County officials. It just goes on and on since the alphabet soup of professional associations that connect elected leaders and appointed officials at all levels. And it turns out that that world is a beautiful place because the people in those associations They love this country. They love their fellow Americans. And they have all been working their hearts out to do the right thing and to deliver an effective COVID response. And so that's, you know, my day has been living in that alphabet soup. And it has showed me where power is that people often have not recognized. You know, you don't think about the National Association of State procurement officers as your first stop when you're trying to citizen is Baratunde says, but it's actually a really great place to send us in, in fact,
Baratunde Thurston 38:29
yeah, I appreciate this. Shout out to procurement officers. It has never been a headline I have seen celebrated in any publication I've ever read. So thank you for recognizing that semi secret power, that we have this concept of CO creating a kingdom of culture that you cite to boys for what does the CO creation of our culture look like in this moment?
Danielle Allen 38:52
So I think, for me, one of the most important things there is the concept of power sharing Martin Luther King In one of his essays set a certain point, you know, everybody thinks that someone writes about laws changing laws. Actually, what we really have to do is pursue organizational transformation across all organizations in our country. And I do think that's true. And so when I think about what it means to be a co creator in the kingdom culture, it's about art and language and the way in art language, we share power and learn the vocabulary of power sharing. And then it's about how we take that vocabulary and ethical commitment to power sharing into every organization that we're part of
Baratunde Thurston 39:34
power sharing. Yeah, sounds really great for those who haven't had it historically and really threatening to those who have all too often.
Danielle Allen 39:43
But that's the thing is it needn't be because there is this incredible beauty that comes from bringing people together across incredible diversity and empowering them to work together because you get more connected gets more from that collaboration across lines of diversity. And for me, this is sort of how human potential is realized to its fullest. So it's true. I know that when people aren't used to power sharing, or whether they're used to work in kind of more homogenous context, it can be scary. But that's where for me as I figure out how to open up people to anticipate the beauty and the power of results is critical.
Baratunde Thurston 40:27
Yeah, well, you know, it is a big project. And I got some thoughts on it. The show was one of those thoughts stretched out over multiple episodes with many talented people trying to make it happen. And I think it's about writing a new story of ourselves, that expands the opportunity and doesn't see that expansion as a threat but as like more riches for us all, everybody rich now, as I said in one of my talks a while back, we got to keep a promise on this show to give people action that they can take to be a contributor. To be a citizen in the big sense, not the legal status sense, but the active sense. And in your words, I guess, to co create this new story. So given the context of why you're here, given your expertise and your deep knowledge of democracy, justice, and now pandemics, what would you give someone listening to this to do to help out with this response to the pandemic, specifically or more broadly with creating a healthier democracy to live in?
Danielle Allen 41:26
Well, I think I would give people two jobs. That's okay. is plenty you could give seven, you know, two is a good number. One of my jobs is 31 parts. Okay. But one job is just what I'm doing inventory in your mind of the organizations that you're a part of, that you're already a member of, whether that's a church or a workplace, or a community organization or an arts society theater group, and ask yourself, can you see room for improvement with regard to How people share power in that context and space and take that conversation forward with the people around you. That would be job number one. Okay. And job number two can Smith 31 part job is I would love it if you visited the website, our common purpose at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, I think it's just actually our common purpose if you Google that it should show up. And we have made 31 recommendations for institutional reforms for investment in society, its capacity to support bridging relationships across lines of difference, and for transformations to our political and civic culture. And they're telling a new story of ourselves telling a rich story, a complete story, an accurate story and clear eyed story of ourselves. And look at those and figure out if there's a list of 31 recommendations, which is the one that speaks most to you. And you'll find on the website as well champions organizations that are working on that particular level. form, reached out to them sign up. Maybe they need a volunteer, maybe they could use a donation. Maybe they just need you to spread the word. There's all kinds of jobs to do. So think of that website as a job shopping list, find the right one for you. And then work on power sharing in your own organizations.
Baratunde Thurston 43:18
I love it. It's like a small d democratic task rabbit. Scope what it is.
We're going to transition into questions that have been coming from our live studio audience. This question is from Josefina Reis in Brooklyn. A CBS poll recently revealed that 57% of Republicans believe the pandemic has been handled in an acceptable way. Only 10% of Democrats do. How do we co create our culture when we are so far away? Part of something as fundamental as a pandemic.
Danielle Allen 44:03
I do like to observe, when we hear those kinds of statistics that the Republican Party's been shrinking so well, it's true that 55% of Republicans have that view, or maybe I presume it's true. It is a smaller group of people than it was a few years ago. It's important to keep that in mind. And at this point, more Americans are not affiliated by party than are in a party. And so I do think if we focus on all those folks who are not affiliated with a party, I think we find that there's a lot deeper bass for connection with one another than it looks. When we really focus on the parties and how the parties are expressing themselves and interacting with each other.
Baratunde Thurston 44:47
That will go to you you could ask your own question in your own voice.
So when there is so much selfishness, from people who are resisting things like wearing masks or pushing them To get back in school, I don't want to be inconvenience, I don't want to be bothered. And if some people die, some people die. If part of our task is telling that new story, how do we do that without just yelling at people? Because it's so infuriating to just butt into that kind of self centeredness?
Danielle Allen 45:19
That is a great question. And I have a friend who is lives in South Carolina, and she's been sending me as our email snippets for the last few months of conversations that she's tried to have, or she's tried to convince people to take the pandemic seriously. This is where I use the language of social contract. And I'm not saying that this is vocabulary words, one's trying to have this conversation. But for me, it's useful to remind myself what I'm trying to do, which is to say, I have to recognize that we've reached a place in the country where at a deep level, we're not committed to each other. And that is exhibited in any number of ways and it's also exhibited in our kind of idealized polarization. And so I tried to make myself my own kind of test case. So that like I try to like literally just feel commitment. Sounds kind of bizarre but that to say what I'm feeling infuriated, I tried to, like register that and ask myself Well, what would a commitment feel like? And if this were a person in my family and I was infuriated about them for something else, how would I work through that theory in order to still try to do the right thing by them in terms of if I need to bring them along or whatever else it is I need to do? So I literally do just try to tap into my own emotional being to find reserves of felt feeling that can be hard to tap into and try to like think through those feelings to figure out what the right response would be. And
Baratunde Thurston 46:47
see you answer the question I for kind of didn't realize I had maybe forgot I had, which is looked at my image of you as as this person who's been trying to save the country. Despite The country's on willingness to be saved, right? You'd be dropping these papers, you're on these conference calls, you're rolling with procurement officers and mayors. You've got plans and maps. And I know you didn't do all this yourself. I'm not trying to give you credit for everything. But you're associated with so much labor on behalf of the many. And I'm like, how does she keep going? Because I'm seeing elected officials and budget, you know, deciding people saying, this doesn't matter. It's not real. It's a hoax, and yet you keep going. So can you offer a little bit more about what keeps you encouraged because you're even more exposed to the frustration from my perspective than most of us?
Danielle Allen 47:43
Well, I mean, you know, I think it's pretty basic, which is, I think, every now and then you kind of encounter something where? Yeah, I think the only possible as important is failure is not an option. So you know, it's like, I can't go one way I'll go around. Failure is not an option that looks fine. No. So you know, the road is long longer than I ever imagined or hoped for, but I just, from the bottom of my heart believe failure is not an option. So you know what, I don't know how long it will take us till we get to the right place. But I know there's a right place for us to get to.
Baratunde Thurston 48:18
Thank you, Danielle Allen, from the Edmond J. Safra Center at Harvard from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from the washington post from the Society of state procurement officers secret semi secret zoom meetings. Thank you for sharing your way of citizen being with us. We look forward to doing more and looking forward to see what else you do with us. It's really been a pleasure and an honor to have you here.
Danielle Allen 48:45
Likewise, it's been really terrific. Thank you Baratunde.
Baratunde Thurston 48:51
Hey, you, it's me again, and it's just us again. Amy and Danielle are clearly fighting COVID with everyone and everything. They know, pushing beyond their comfort zones digging into their Rolodex of their networks to help us all. And I want to tell you, we share these stories, not because we're trying to put on some kind of citizen Olympics, we're only medal winners get to show up. It's actually the opposite. We can all citizen, as long as we remember the four elements of how to citizen that we laid out at the beginning of this series, four parts, show up and participate and invest in relationships, recognizing our interconnection to others to understand power, and use it and use that power for the benefit of the many, and not just the few. That's it. That's the formula. Now it's your turn. In every episode, we share things you can do to strengthen your citizen practice. And you can find the Complete Guide to what I'm about to say, at how to citizen.com so here are some things you can do on The internal front we got two things. First, make a list of all the ways you've helped others during this pandemic, since March, write it down. I don't want you overlooking what you think of as the small or the easy things, it doesn't matter. Take a look at that list and be proud of your citizenship number to reflect on how else you can use who and what you know, to make a difference during the pandemic. What kind of knowledge or people do you have or know that could uniquely benefit your unique community. And then outside of yourself in this reflective exercise, we got three things lined up. First, support the Amy's in your community. There is somebody around you right now who was practicing how to citizen in a really deep way who's organized something, if it's not you, find out who it is and figure out how to support them. Number two, a little more work here. Start a civic service. This could be a happy hour group. This could be a bridge club. This is people you know when love but set an intention of gathering with them on a weekly or every other week basis. To talk about what you're up to make it cool make it a part of your check ins about how you are getting involved during this crisis. If you do it on Sundays, it can substitute for church or brunch. Trust me, I miss brunch. Last, check out the report that Danielle Allen co authored our common purpose. Look at those 31 recommendations and commit to helping implement just one of them in your local community. Again, visit how to citizen comm for links and a bigger explanation of all of these actions. And when you do them and share them with the world posted to the social medias, hashtag how to citizen or you can just tell us, email us at action at howtocitizen.com help us out By putting COVID in the subject line, we're collecting all this cool stuff you're doing by the way is beautiful. If you liked this show, please share it rate and review it and sign up for my newsletter at baratunde.com, where I announce upcoming live tapings and a lot more. How to citizen with Baratunde is a production of IHeartRadio Podcast executive produced by Myles Gray, Nick Stump, Elizabeth Stewart and Baratunde Thurston, produced by Joelle Smith, edited by Justin Smith powered by you
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