#98 You're More Powerful Than You Think: Eric Liu

If you're disillusioned, depressed or downright furious at the state of politics today, this episode is for you.

Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University, says that you're more powerful than you think. We discuss the stories, strategies and ideas raised in his timely new book, "You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen"

The key to fighting back successfully is to have a strategy and know how to read and write power,” but most people have no understanding of power and how to use it.  

Political illiteracy is one reason we feel so powerless. “I think the reality of American life, right now, is that so many people have neither the motivation nor the ability to read or write power,” Eric tells us. “They lapse into this “House of Cards” or dark conspiratorial vision that all politics are like "Scandal,” and out of that are born people like Donald Trump as President.” 

The truth is that ordinary people are able to accomplish extraordinary things.  We learn about Communities Creating Opportunity, a Kansas City-based campaign against predatory payday lending and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers - a surprisingly powerful movement for farmworker justice.  

For decades, poor and often illiterate migrant workers picked tomatoes in rural Florida, "laboring essentially under conditions of indentured servitude." Instead of an hourly wage, growers paid them pennies per bucket of what they picked, says Eric. The Immokalee farmworkers successfully demanded higher wages and better labor conditions. "In 2001, they organized the first-ever farmworker boycott of a fast-food company, against Taco Bell," writes Eric in his book.  Four years later, Taco Bell's parent company agreed to raise wages and reform its power chain.  

Eric's solutions:

  • Learn how power is organized. His book has nine strategies for changing the game. 
  • Vote. In his book, Eric Liu writes that voter turnout (in general) is rarely above 60 percent (at best).
  • Exercise your "we muscle.”Join a club or group and learn how to work with others on game-changing ways to improve the odds for a cause or a hobby that you care about.
  • Keep it local. Eric argues that too much attention is given to power politics in Washington D.C. Often the best way to bring about change is in the neighborhood or city where you live.
  • Schools and colleges should improve civics education, giving students a much clearer understanding of grassroots democracy. 

Learn more about citizenship and civic power from these online Citizen University videos.

Read a review of Eric Liu's new book, "You're More Powerful Than You Think," by New York Times journalist David Bornstein, co-founder of Solutions Journalism Network. David is one of our "Fix It" show guests, listen to Episode 47.
 

#91 Geoffrey Colon: Pay-to-Play: A Menace to Society?

Do you know where your information is coming from? Shadowy forces are at work to influence what we think, how we behave, and where we spend our money.

They're part of the explosion in pay-to-play. From bots and branded content to political-influence peddlers’, advertisers and even sports programs in public schools, pay-to-play is a growing influence in our lives.  

Critics of pay-to-play say that instead of "We the people,” the online world is controlled by "We the wealthiest people.” 


Geoffrey Colon, an expert on marketing, tech and how to get people's attention, is our guest. A communications designer at Microsoft, Geoffrey is the author of "Disruptive Marketing - What Growth Hackers, Data Punks and Other Hybrid Thinkers Can Teach Us About Navigating the New Normal." He's the co-host with Cheryl Metzger of the popular podcast, "Disruptive FM." We learn more about the threat from fake news and hate sites alt-right bots to our democracy. Geoffrey guides through some of the recent dizzying changes in the online landscape.

Solutions:

  • Education is first. Improvements to the school curriculum are urgently needed. They should fully take into account dramatic online changes. A recent Stanford University study found that most American students couldn’t tell the difference between carefully sourced news and flat-out lies. The authors described the results as "dismaying" and a "threat to democracy."
  • Tech companies should give non-profits the ability to use their platform free of cost; in fact, Google already does this. Google gives non-profits AdWords for free or through a Google “Ad Grant.”
  • A new look at public service announcements - PSA's. Until the 1980's and Reagan-era broadcasters were required to run PSAs in exchange for using the airwaves, which are a public resource. Policy makers and major information providers should consider a new system for the 21st century.
  • A code of conduct by major online information platforms, this would distinguish between advertising, opinion and news.