Larry Schooler is a Senior fellow at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, UT-Austin

Larry Schooler is a Senior fellow at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, UT-Austin

Larry Schooler is the father of two, husband of one. Oh, and Manager of the Public Engagement Division for the City of Austin, Texas. There, I come up with ways to allow those affected by a decision to affect that decision and create activities that let citizens give their input to make Austin better.

What is one important thing that we Americans can do together that we can’t do alone?
We can solve our collective problems. We can talk to one another in ways that help and don’t hurt. We can collectively change the way things get done in this country.

What about your country, state, or community makes you proud? How do you think government interacts with that?
I’m really proud to live in a country that respects freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of press. I’m proud to live in a state that stands alone, can’t be put into buckets like the West or the South. I’m proud that Austin, my city, has its own identity within the state, so that all kinds of people can find a home here and make their dreams come true here, from musicians to mobile app developers.

What do you think it means to be a good citizen?
A good citizen takes an active interest in her or his fellow citizens by talking with them, reading and listening and watching what’s going on, and doing his or her part to make the collective citizenry more prosperous. When they contribute money, time, and passion, they can even become supercitizens. Supercitizens fundamentally understand that we live in community with others and they’re responsible for helping others realize their dreams and live better lives, as much as they are taking care of their own.

What one word describes our government as it is?
Challenged.

What one word do you wish described our government?
Consensus.

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 an office of public engagement for the White House or for the federal government. There technically is an office like this at the White House, but I would run it as a tool to truly engage citizens in an ongoing conversation around the country, rather than just as an outward communications tool. Mobilize volunteers to actually find out what people thinking so policies are responsive to their needs.

What thing that government does do you think would surprise most Americans?
Government does more for business than many people think. There’s a very narrow conversation about the public v. the private sector, or lax regulation or low taxes as the ideal business climate. But I live in a city that helps businesses with financial and other programs to help them start out strong, and Austin is not unique in this.

What is your first memory of an interaction with government?
I remember going to the state capitol when I was 12 or 13 and meeting a justice of the Supreme Court and seeing the House and Senate chambers. From then on, I started seeing government as an important institution, based on the grandeur of the architecture. And when I was 18, I put together a rally about black/Jewish harmony on the steps of Houston City Hall with the police chief and other religious and cultural leaders in attendance.

What was your most recent government interaction?
This morning, I distributed an online discussion for our citizens about our 311-customer service line and got direct feedback from the citizens about their needs. I also took the bus, , for free, based on a deal that our semi-governmental transit authority has with Austin.

What is your favorite thing that government does?
I am a fan of the government’s ability to help people gather. Running parks, swimming pools, and libraries and making them open and accessible to all, regardless of their interests and needs.

Who is your government hero who is not an elected official?
I always think about Walter Cronkite’s role influencing President Johnson on the Vietnam War. There are always a handful of journalists who can raise issues that no one else has heard about without the media. They play a critical role in moving public policy forward and Walter Cronkite was the standard bearer for work.

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 do what the public collectively wants it to do. The government does a lot of things that the public doesn’t want it to do and doesn’t do a lot of things the public does want it to do. Government should be a much better listener and have its hand much closer to the pulse of the public so it can shift its services to be closer to the actual needs of the public rather than guessing.

Why is the work of Indivisible so important?
Indivisible is helping to change the conversation about government. Government has evolved into a dirty word in some circles. Indivisible can help people in all parts of society take steps to make government better. And then to make it into something that they can treasure.

Name someone whose answers to these questions you would like to read.
Bono.

An Interview with Indivisible.

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