A How-to Book for Wielding Civic Power

Interview by David Bornstein at the New York Times: “Last year, the RAND Survey Research Group asked 3,037 Americans about their political preferences and found that the factor that best predicted support for Donald Trump wasn’t age, race, gender, income, educational attainment or attitudes toward Muslims or undocumented immigrants. It was whether respondents agreed with the statement “People like me don’t have any say about what the government does.”

A feeling of disenfranchisement, or powerlessness, runs deep in the country — and it’s understandable. For most Americans, wages have been flat for 40 years, while incomes have soared for the superrich. Researchers have found, unsurprisingly, that the preferences of wealthy people have a much bigger influence on policy than those of poor or middle-income people.

“I don’t think people are wrong to feel that the game has been rigged,” says Eric Liu, the author of “You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen,” an engaging and extremely timely book published last week. “But we’re in a period where across the political spectrum — from the libertarian Tea Party right to the Occupy and Black Lives Matter left — people are pushing back and recognizing that the only remedy is to convert this feeling of ‘not having a say’ into ‘demanding a say.’ ”

Liu, who founded Citizen University, a nonprofit citizen participation organization in Seattle, teaches citizens to do just that. He has also traveled the country, searching across the partisan divide for places where citizens are making democracy work better. In his new book, he has assembled stories of citizen action and distilled them into powerful insights and strategies….

Can you explain the three “core laws of power” you outline in the book?

L. No. 1: Power compounds, as does powerlessness. The rich get richer, and people with clout get more clout.

No. 2: Power justifies itself. In a hundred different ways — propaganda, conventional wisdom, just-so stories — people at the top of the hierarchy tell narratives about why it should be so.

If the world stopped with laws No. 1 and 2, we would be stuck in this doom loop that would tip us toward monopoly and tyranny.

What saves us is law No. 3: Power is infinite. I don’t mean we are all equally powerful. I mean simply and quite literally that we can generate power out of thin air. We do that by organizing….(More)”