Andrew Slack @andrewslack is directing the @usrebelalliance as the Civic Imagination fellow @civichall, where he is incubating a network to @imaginebetter after creating, cofounding, and directing @thehpalliance which is now in the hands of an amazing staff, volunteers, and close to 300 chapters in over 30 countries and 6 out of 7 continents (if you know someone in Antarctica they’d like to hear from you).
What is one important thing that we Americans can do together that we can’t do alone?
I have a parable for that. There was a little boy wave who was very happy, but he became nervous when he realized that he was going to crash into the shore. He was mopey and emo, thinking he was about to be obliviated. When a little girl wave came by, she asked what was wrong. He said haughtily that she didn’t understand, it was all about to be over. She said that he didn’t understand: “you’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.”
Together, we can make sure our neighborhoods are clean, we can create equality around race and economics, we can do so much. But there’s a much more meta explanation. We need to evolve from a revolution of independence to a revolution of interdependence. We are inextricably interwoven. If we don’t understand that, we don’t understand anything.
What about your country, state, or community makes you proud? How do you think government interacts with that?
I’m proud that we are a country argued into existence, built on textual arguments and ideas. And we had one of the first peaceful transfers of power in history that has continued to this day.
What do you think it means to be a good citizen?
You are not simply a wave, you are part of the ocean. That’s a scientific fact. The idea of an individual is a misnomer. We depend on other people (and bacteria) to survive. Our whole concept of individuality needs to be reframed. It is essential that you hold yourself accountable and that you also hold others accountable to create a space where we are our brother’s keeper and a part of the larger ocean. It’s more than just the Golden Rule. This is what kids learn when they watch The Lion King or watch Star Wars. And we need to not forget.
What one word describes our government as it is?
What one word do you wish described our government?
If you could run any government program or agency, real or imaginary, at any level of government, what would it be and what would you do there?
I would run the civic imagination agency. People in civics love talking about the crisis in civics, as if the problem is that we don’t know how civic agencies work as well as we did 50 years ago. Our real problem is that we have a dearth is in civic agency. Which requires civic imagination. But the way we talk about government is against civic imagination.
We talk about government of, by and for the people. But it should be government of, by, and with the people. We have to govern with the people, so that we all have civic agency.
We would create opportunities to engage more deeply and to imagine better. You can see examples of this from the Harry Potter Alliance, where we built libraries across the world, sent planes to Haiti, and did so much, inspired by the stories and messages in the Harry Potter Series. Or, the great unifier of our existence is Game of Thrones, which is stories of people vying for power as if it mattered, when there is an existential threat in the form of the white walkers on the horizon. For us, the threat is climate change. We need a bigger civic imagination, so we can see and build a better and more compassionate world.
What thing that government does do you think would surprise most Americans?
Police libraries and highways and nearly every part of their lives. It’s amazing to me when people say, “I don’t want the government messing with my Medicare.” Because nearly everything we touch and do is helped by government.
What is your first memory of an interaction with government?
Going to the library. Going somewhere in a car with my parents on a public road. Turning on a television that would never have existed without Department of Defense research. So, every memory since the time I was born.
What was your most recent government interaction?
I was on the Metro this morning. And right now I’m on a cell phone talking to you, based on Department of Defense research in the 1940s. We are on the Internet, that’s government.
What is your favorite thing that government does?
What is government and what is not government is a false dichotomy. I love TV and movies and walks in parks and reading books and there’s a connection to the government in everything. And I am a fanboy about a lot of it.
But, more specifically, I’m proud that I’m part of the ongoing American Revolution. We had one of the first peaceful transfers of power. And again and again and always.
But it continues. I am a part of the American Revolution and so are you and so is anyone that is willing to fight empire in whatever form it comes. Everything you do for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a part of the ongoing and iterative American Revolution.
Who is your government hero who is not an elected official?
The easy ones are Martin Luther King. Harriet Tubman. Ben Franklin. I think also of my mom, who’s given so much to her communities, by giving kids the space to feel with arts and education. And my friends who give their time to working in advocacy to ensure we’re living in a country that lives up to our ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
ImagineGov: If government could be anything, if government was what we want and aspire for it to be, what would it be or do?
Government would elevate the human condition so that we all feel like we have agency in our lives, community, and in the most economically and militarily powerful country in the world. We all have agency in this country. We can run for office. Our voices matter. You don’t need a lot of money to run. The interests of our community and our ethnicity are being heard now. And in the future, in the government I imagine, we will know we have the agency to make it better.
Why is the work of Indivisible so important?
Indivisible is essential. We need to change the narrative that democracy is a static spectator sport. You’re on the court right now. You can’t just stand there and watch. Indivisible reminds us that. Ben Franklin said they’ve given us “a republic if you can keep it.” The American experiment will only work if we’re all engaged.
Name someone whose answers to these questions you would like to read.
Henry Jenkins, a professor USC, who has one of the most incredible definitions of being a citizen I’ve ever read. And Micah Sifry at Civic Hall. Lennon Flowers, who used to work at ASHOKA, and is now creating a space to reinvent how our culture can celebrate our losses. And Adam Horowitz, who started the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.