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How to revive your belief in democracy

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    I bring you greetings
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    from the 52nd-freest nation on earth.
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    As an American, it irritates me
    that my nation keeps sinking
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    in the annual rankings
    published by Freedom House.
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    I'm the son of immigrants.
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    My parents were born in China
    during war and revolution,
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    went to Taiwan and then came
    to the United States,
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    which means all my life,
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    I've been acutely aware just how fragile
    an inheritance freedom truly is.
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    That's why I spend my time teaching,
    preaching and practicing democracy.
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    I have no illusions.
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    All around the world now,
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    people are doubting
    whether democracy can deliver.
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    Autocrats and demagogues seem emboldened,
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    even cocky.
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    The free world feels leaderless.
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    And yet, I remain hopeful.
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    I don't mean optimistic.
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    Optimism is for spectators.
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    Hope implies agency.
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    It says I have a hand in the outcome.
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    Democratic hope requires faith
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    not in a strongman or a charismatic savior
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    but in each other,
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    and it forces us to ask:
    How can we become worthy of such faith?
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    I believe we are at a moment
    of moral awakening,
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    the kind that comes
    when old certainties collapse.
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    At the heart of that awakening
    is what I call "civic religion."
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    And today, I want to talk about
    what civic religion is,
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    how we practice it,
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    and why it matters now more than ever.
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    Let me start with the what.
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    I define civic religion as a system
    of shared beliefs and collective practices
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    by which the members
    of a self-governing community
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    choose to live like citizens.
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    Now, when I say "citizen" here,
    I'm not referring to papers or passports.
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    I'm talking about a deeper,
    broader, ethical conception
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    of being a contributor to community,
    a member of the body.
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    To speak of civic religion as religion
    is not poetic license.
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    That's because democracy
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    is one of the most faith-fueled
    human activities there is.
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    Democracy works only when enough of us
    believe democracy works.
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    It is at once a gamble and a miracle.
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    Its legitimacy comes not from
    the outer frame of constitutional rules,
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    but from the inner workings
    of civic spirit.
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    Civic religion, like any religion,
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    contains a sacred creed,
    sacred deeds and sacred rituals.
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    My creed includes words like
    "equal protection of the laws"
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    and "we the people."
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    My roll call of hallowed deeds
    includes abolition, women's suffrage,
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    the civil rights movement,
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    the Allied landing at Normandy,
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    the fall of the Berlin Wall.
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    And I have a new civic ritual
    that I'll tell you about in a moment.
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    Wherever on earth you're from,
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    you can find or make
    your own set of creed, deed and ritual.
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    The practice of civic religion
    is not about worship of the state
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    or obedience to a ruling party.
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    It is about commitment to one another
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    and our common ideals.
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    And the sacredness of civic religion
    is not about divinity or the supernatural.
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    It is about a group of unlike people
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    speaking into being our alikeness,
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    our groupness.
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    Perhaps now you're getting
    a little worried
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    that I'm trying to sell you on a cult.
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    Relax, I'm not.
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    I don't need to sell you.
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    As a human, you are always
    in the market for a cult,
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    for some variety of religious experience.
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    We are wired to seek
    cosmological explanations,
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    to sacralize beliefs
    that unite us in transcendent purpose.
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    Humans make religion
    because humans make groups.
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    The only choice we have is whether
    to activate that groupness for good.
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    If you are a devout person, you know this.
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    If you are not,
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    if you no longer go to prayer services
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    or never did,
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    then perhaps you'll say
    that yoga is your religion,
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    or Premier League football,
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    or knitting, or coding or TED Talks.
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    But whether you believe in a God
    or in the absence of gods,
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    civic religion does not require you
    to renounce your beliefs.
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    It requires you only
    to show up as a citizen.
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    And that brings me to my second topic:
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    how we can practice
    civic religion productively.
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    Let me tell you now
    about that new civic ritual.
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    It's called "Civic Saturday,"
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    and it follows the arc
    of a faith gathering.
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    We sing together,
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    we turn to the strangers next to us
    to discuss a common question,
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    we hear poetry and scripture,
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    there's a sermon that ties those texts
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    to the ethical choices
    and controversies of our time,
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    but the song and scripture and the sermon
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    are not from church
    or synagogue or mosque.
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    They are civic,
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    drawn from our shared civic ideals
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    and a shared history of claiming
    and contesting those ideals.
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    Afterwards, we form up in circles
    to organize rallies, register voters,
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    join new clubs, make new friends.
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    My colleagues and I
    started organizing Civic Saturdays
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    in Seattle in 2016.
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    Since then, they have spread
    across the continent.
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    Sometimes hundreds attend,
    sometimes dozens.
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    They happen in libraries
    and community centers
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    and coworking spaces,
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    under festive tents
    and inside great halls.
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    There's nothing high-tech
    about this social technology.
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    It speaks to a basic human yearning
    for face-to-face fellowship.
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    It draws young and old, left and right,
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    poor and rich, churched and unchurched,
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    of all races.
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    When you come to a Civic Saturday
    and are invited to discuss a question
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    like "Who are you responsible for?"
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    or "What are you willing to risk
    or to give up for your community?"
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    When that happens, something moves.
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    You are moved.
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    You start telling your story.
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    We start actually seeing one another.
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    You realize that homelessness,
    gun violence, gentrification,
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    terrible traffic, mistrust
    of newcomers, fake news --
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    these things
    aren't someone else's problem,
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    they are the aggregation
    of your own habits and omissions.
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    Society becomes how you behave.
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    We are never asked to reflect
    on the content of our citizenship.
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    Most of us are never invited
    to do more or to be more,
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    and most of us have no idea
    how much we crave that invitation.
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    We've since created a civic seminary
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    to start training people from all over
    to lead Civic Saturday gatherings
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    on their own, in their own towns.
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    In the community of Athens, Tennessee,
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    a feisty leader named Whitney Kimball Coe
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    leads hers in an art and framing shop
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    with a youth choir
    and lots of little flags.
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    A young activist named Berto Aguayo
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    led his Civic Saturday on a street corner
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    in the Back of the Yards
    neighborhood of Chicago.
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    Berto was once involved with gangs.
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    Now, he's keeping the peace
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    and organizing political campaigns.
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    In Honolulu, Rafael Bergstrom,
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    a former pro baseball player
    turned photographer and conservationist,
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    leads his under the banner
    "Civics IS Sexy."
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    It is.
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    (Laughter)
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    Sometimes I'm asked,
    even by our seminarians:
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    "Isn't it dangerous
    to use religious language?
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    Won't that just make our politics
    even more dogmatic and self-righteous?"
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    But this view assumes that all religion
    is fanatical fundamentalism.
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    It is not.
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    Religion is also moral discernment,
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    an embrace of doubt,
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    a commitment to detach from self
    and serve others,
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    a challenge to repair the world.
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    In this sense, politics could stand
    to be a little more like religion,
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    not less.
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    Thus, my final topic today:
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    why civic religion matters now.
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    I want to offer two reasons.
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    One is to counter the culture
    of hyperindividualism.
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    Every message we get
    from every screen and surface
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    of the modern marketplace
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    is that each of us is on our own,
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    a free agent,
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    free to manage our own brands,
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    free to live under bridges,
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    free to have side hustles,
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    free to die alone without insurance.
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    Market liberalism tells us
    we are masters beholden to none,
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    but then it enslaves us
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    in the awful isolation
    of consumerism and status anxiety.
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    (Audience) Yeah!
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    Millions of us are on to the con now.
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    We are realizing now
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    that a free-for-all is not the same
    as freedom for all.
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    (Applause)
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    What truly makes us free
    is being bound to others
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    in mutual aid and obligation,
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    having to work things out the best we can
    in our neighborhoods and towns,
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    as if our fates were entwined --
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    because they are --
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    as if we could not secede
    from one another,
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    because, in the end, we cannot.
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    Binding ourselves this way
    actually liberates us.
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    It reveals that we are equal in dignity.
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    It reminds us that rights
    come with responsibilities.
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    It reminds us, in fact,
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    that rights properly understood
    are responsibilities.
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    The second reason
    why civic religion matters now
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    is that it offers the healthiest
    possible story of us and them.
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    We talk about identity politics today
    as if it were something new,
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    but it's not.
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    All politics is identity politics,
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    a never-ending struggle
    to define who truly belongs.
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    Instead of noxious myths of blood and soil
    that mark some as forever outsiders,
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    civic religion offers everyone
    a path to belonging
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    based only a universal creed
    of contribution, participation,
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    inclusion.
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    In civic religion, the "us"
    is those who wish to serve,
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    volunteer, vote, listen, learn,
    empathize, argue better,
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    circulate power rather than hoard it.
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    The "them" is those who don't.
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    It is possible to judge the them harshly,
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    but it isn't necessary,
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    for at any time, one of them
    can become one of us,
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    simply by choosing to live like a citizen.
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    So let's welcome them in.
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    Whitney and Berto and Rafael
    are gifted welcomers.
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    Each has a distinctive, locally rooted way
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    to make faith in democracy
    relatable to others.
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    Their slang might be Appalachian
    or South Side or Hawaiian.
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    Their message is the same:
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    civic love, civic spirit,
    civic responsibility.
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    Now you might think
    that all this civic religion stuff
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    is just for overzealous
    second-generation Americans like me.
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    But actually, it is for anyone, anywhere,
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    who wants to kindle the bonds of trust,
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    affection and joint action
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    needed to govern ourselves in freedom.
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    Now maybe Civic Saturdays aren't for you.
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    That's OK.
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    Find your own ways to foster
    civic habits of the heart.
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    Many forms of beloved
    civic community are thriving now,
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    in this age of awakening.
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    Groups like Community Organizing Japan,
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    which uses creative performative
    rituals of storytelling
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    to promote equality for women.
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    In Iceland, civil confirmations,
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    where young people are led by an elder
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    to learn the history
    and civic traditions of their society,
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    culminating in a rite-of-passage ceremony
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    akin to church confirmation.
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    Ben Franklin Circles in the United States,
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    where friends meet monthly
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    to discuss and reflect upon the virtues
    that Franklin codified
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    in his autobiography,
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    like justice and gratitude
    and forgiveness.
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    I know civic religion is not enough
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    to remedy the radical
    inequities of our age.
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    We need power for that.
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    But power without character
    is a cure worse than the disease.
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    I know civic religion alone
    can't fix corrupt institutions,
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    but institutional reforms
    without new norms will not last.
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    Culture is upstream of law.
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    Spirit is upstream of policy.
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    The soul is upstream of the state.
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    We cannot unpollute our politics
    if we clean only downstream.
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    We must get to the source.
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    The source is our values,
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    and on the topic of values,
    my advice is simple: have some.
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    (Laughter)
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    (Applause)
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    Make sure those values are prosocial.
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    Put them into practice,
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    and do so in the company of others,
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    with a structure of creed,
    deed and joyful ritual
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    that'll keep all of you coming back.
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    Those of us who believe in democracy
    and believe it is still possible,
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    we have the burden of proving it.
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    But remember, it is no burden at all
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    to be in a community
    where you are seen as fully human,
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    where you have a say
    in the things that affect you,
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    where you don't need
    to be connected to be respected.
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    That is called a blessing,
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    and it is available to all who believe.
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    Thank you.
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    (Applause)
Title:
How to revive your belief in democracy
Speaker:
Eric Liu
Description:

Civic evangelist Eric Liu shares a powerful way to rekindle the spirit of citizenship and the belief that democracy still works. Join him for a trip to "Civic Saturday" and learn more about how making civic engagement a weekly habit can help build communities based on shared values and a path to belonging.

more » « less
Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
14:33

English subtitles

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