On Sept. 22, the Our Towns Civic Foundation and Jefferson Educational Society presented a discussion featuring two people who have thought and done most to address the emergencies of this moment. You can stream that webinar on demand here:
The two folks featured are Anne-Marie Slaughter and Josh Fryday. Leading discussion is Our Towns’ own Jim Fallows.
Anne-Marie is best-selling author, former Princeton dean, State Department senior official, and CEO of New America. She’s written a candid and riveting brand-new book, “Renewal,” which explores the personal, institutional, political, and ethical challenges of facing failures, and opportunities.
Josh Fryday is Navy veteran, lawyer, former mayor, and now first-ever California cabinet member as the state’s Chief Service Officer. For Climate Week, he has an ambitious state model of citizen action, to scale to the national level. A year ago, Jim wrote about the ‘Climate Corp’ effort here.
The three cover a wide range of topics — from climate change, to leadership, to politics, to how work at the local level can move the larger needle nationally and globally. We hope you’ll watch.
What follows below is a rough-and-ready transcript of what Josh Fryday, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and James Fallows said during this webinar. It was produced from the audio version, with modest cleaning up, via the Otter.ai software that James Fallows wrote about here.
We provide the transcript below mainly as a guide to listening to the actual discussion — and with awareness that it contains typos and will differ in some word-by-word details from what you may hear for yourself. The time-stamp numbers you see are roughly cued to the portions of the YouTube webinar.
Josh Fryday, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Sep 22 2021
Anne-Marie Slaughter, James Fallows, Josh Fryday
James Fallows 00:33
Greetings everyone, welcome to our webinar on Renewal at all levels.
James Fallows 00:37
Hi my name is Jim Fallows I’m here under the auspices of the Our Towns Civic Foundation, and I could not be more excited or delighted about the conversation we’re about to have for the next next hour, with two people I respect greatly as leaders, both actual leaders and thought leaders in this country and also I’m glad to say two people who are my friends
James Fallows 00:58
I’m referring refer to them by their first names as Josh Fryday and Anne-Marie Slaughter. They will call me Jim and we’ll all be comrades talking about what can be done at the local level the statewide level the national level and the global level.
James Fallows 01:13
I’ll say a word of introduction about each of our guests. They come here with different kinds of extensive background for the kind of discussion we’re going to have. And with particularly good timing for our discussion.
James Fallows 01:29
Anne-Marie Slaughter you know as the CEO of New America, she’s former Director of Policy, Planning at the State Department, I believe the first woman ever to hold that role. Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, a best selling author, a longtime personal friend of my wife Deb’s mine, and as of this week, the author of the brand new and highly recommended recommended by me book, Renewal, which is a fascinating personal civic national historic and future oriented book which we’re going to hear more about.
James Fallows 01:59
Joining Anne Marie is Josh Fryday, who is California’s chief service officer, a member of the governor’s cabinet I believe the first service officer to be in the cabinet in that role. Head of the innovative Cal Volunteers program, an undergraduate and Law School graduate of UC Berkeley. A US Navy veteran as a JAG corps member, a mayor of his hometown of Novato California. And now a leading proponent of new models of engagement and service, including the California Climate Action Corps.
James Fallows 02:30
And as I said, I’m really glad that both of them I consider my good friends are here under the auspices of a number of organizations I’ll mention briefly, the new Our Towns Civic Foundation, which is designed to connect people around the country who are devoted to renewal, the Jefferson Educational Society of Erie, Pennsylvania, which is host for the webinar itself. The host institutions of our speakers, new America and Cal volunteers, and many others, including our friends at the University of Redlands my hometown in California, where some of California’s first climate action court members were deployed one year ago.
James Fallows 03:06
This is a timely moment for questions at renewal in some obvious ways, the overlapping emergencies confronting our community, communities, our states, the country and the world, but also in particular ways for both of our panelists
James Fallows 03:21
For Anne Marie, as I said it’s publication week for her new book, and we’re very fortunate to have her during her book tour. For Josh Fryday it is the one year anniversary of the climate action court in California, and he has a post today out on medium about some of the lessons of application. The title of that is California demonstrates the potential for national climate core. And it is Climate Action Week two, so connecting both of you, is the idea of renewal, what it means in practice what it means in theory how its influenced can be can be spread. And as I’ve read both of your works, and thought about the things you’re both doing I’ve come to think of you both.
James Fallows 04:03
Despite your different backgrounds in different parts of the country your different fields and emphasis, I think of you as complementary members of a choir, or an orchestra, helping us understand something better and appreciate better than we could could on our own.
James Fallows 04:18
So as a housekeeping note, I’m going to leave the discussion between Josh and Anne Marie for a while, and my friend and colleague Ben Speggen, of the Jefferson Society of Erie, will be taking questions. You can submit questions to Ben, as they occur to you via the q&a function and Ben will then feed them to me, and we’ll get to them as we go along.
James Fallows 04:40
We will have a hard stop, less than one hour from starting time. We could talk for many, many hours but that’s that’s what our conversation will be.
James Fallows 04:51
What I’d like to begin with both of you starting with Anne Marie, on the occasion of your new book is about the different kinds of leadership. Leadership and Citizenship that in a way, each of you have been discussing, thinking about and doing. Anne Marie, I was struck by a quote right in the beginning of your book. When you you’re talking about renewal at all levels. This is a very personal book about what renewal has meant in your own life and it’s also about the future of the country in the world.
James Fallows 05:22
A quote that sticks with me is when you say, renewal starts with “honesty, radical honesty.” Tell us what you think people should take from that statement which is in a way the theme of your book and tell us about radical honesty and what you would like us to know about it.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 05:41
Thank you. So Jim, first of all, I’m always happy to be in conversation with you and with Josh and particularly this week. Just for the, for our viewing public make it concrete I have to at least hold it up, it’s not very long, that’s, but So Jim, your question is, is exactly the right place to start.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 06:03
My concept of renewal itself is looking backward and forward at the same time. And the looking backward, whether it’s as a person or as an organization or as a country, has to be done with radical honesty, by which I mean, not flinching from our faults.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 06:25
It’s not natural to do, just sort of take it in and not try to rationalize not try to deny actually look at our flaws and indeed. I even talked about running toward the criticism actually finding out what people really think, and that that’s the first step toward renewal, because until you can see what’s there.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 06:51
You can’t change it, sort of the therapists mantra you have to name it to change it, but neither can you then develop the muscles and the confidence, and really the hope to build something new because otherwise it will be on a false foundation.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 07:10
So my personal examples I went through this professional crisis. As you will remember as a New America board member, one board member told me to run toward the criticism. I called every single board member and said look, give it to me straight, don’t, don’t sugarcoat it. You know, don’t be mean, preferably. Tell me what you think I’m doing well, but all above all what I’m not doing well. And the same thing with the staff and the same thing with, with, you know, other people who had watched me work.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 07:43
Then I had to really take that in, and not only take it in that moment but look for whether there weren’t patterns in earlier leadership positions. That’s what I mean by radical honesty. For people, it’s our own flaws. For our country. I think we’re in a period of radical honesty when you have people like Clint Smith or publishing you know How the Word is Passed or Heather McGee with The Sum of Us, they’re saying, Hey, here’s the part of our history we don’t tell, right, and that many of us many white Americans don’t want to tell, but we have, again, radical honesty.
James Fallows 08:22
So Anne-Marie thank you for that. I’m going to follow up with one disclosure note for this audience. In addition to being Anne-Marie’s longtime friend, we once lived in the same apartment building in Shanghai, long, long ago, I am also a board member of new America. And I believe that Anne Marie was the object of grossly unfair criticism when this controversy erupted a number of years ago. Anne-Marie talks about it with unsparing candor in her book. So I was a supporter of yours then then and now.
James Fallows 08:58
Josh, I’m going to ask you that just as sort of a parallel theme about, let’s just get on the table, what is the big idea of what you’re doing with with the climate action core and then I’ll try to move these themes together but Anne Marie has told us sort of the big central idea for a book about runaway radical honesty. What’s the big idea of what you’re trying to do as California’s chief service officer with the climate court.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 09:20
Thank you, Jim, what an honor to be here with you and Anne-Marie that sounds like that would have been a really fun apartment building in Shanghai, I wish I could have been there for that.
Josh Fryday 09:29
So thank you for this conversation, it is very timely it’s Climate Action Week here in California. We’re celebrating the one year anniversary of launching the first ever statewide climate Corps.
Josh Fryday 09:39
The big idea and the reason that Governor Newsome has appointed me to the position the state has invested so many resources is, If we’re really going to deal with the incredible division in our society, the incredible polarization the isolation that all of us feel, and if we’re actually going to solve our problems and whether our problems or climate or poverty and homelessness. We actually have to both call on everyone to step up and contribute in a meaningful way. And then we actually have to create the opportunities for them to do so.
Josh Fryday 10:13
I think if we look back with with radical honesty as Anne-Marie so beautifully puts it on the last I would say 20 years, and we just all commemorated the 20 year anniversary of 911. I think many people in in my generation, certainly, but across the country, look back with sadness that, after 911, when it was a time of could have been a time of great national unity. Many of us were asked to go shopping, instead of serving, and we remember that.
Josh Fryday 10:43
And now we have an opportunity we think here in California, which is why we launched the climate corps, to actually empower people to be, to be part of the solution to give them the opportunity to work in their community to do real things to engage to organize and connect with others.
Josh Fryday 11:00
So we created the climate Corps as a way of calling on all Californians to step up and be part of the climate solution, and then actually give them something to do and it starts with the Fellows Program, where we’ve had hundreds of fellows in the last year, in communities across the state and very diverse communities including San Jose and LA, but also places like Fresno Stockton and your beloved Redlands, of course, that, that are actually working on the ground to organize, volunteers to educate individuals and neighbors about what they can do to take climate change. But the essence in the big idea is, it is time for us to empower everybody in our country, to be part of the solution is not going to come from Washington, it’s not going to come from Sacramento, from City Hall, we got to equip everyone with the ability to feel empowered, and that’s what we’re doing here in California with the, with the climate action court.
James Fallows 11:53
And Josh, thank you for that and there’s a couple of practical, practical implication going to ask you about later. But I want to ask Anne Marie, about a theme of connection, that is, that runs through your book and also through what Josh was just saying.
James Fallows 12:09
I’ll give you two precedents for this question, or premises. One is your book is very much about connections. You start with your own personal reflections. You end up with the agenda for the United States in the year 2026 And we’re talking about global issues of inequality and opportunity and sustainability and all the rest.
James Fallows 12:30
The question of connection is fundamental to your work, and in previous discussions among you and me and wife Deb, It’s been part of the idea of the Our Towns project. At a moment of such national polarization, where are the sources of renewal and possibility and connection around the country?
James Fallows 12:52
A criticism. I have heard of things I have written in is that it’s too separate a perspective. You can’t look at things that are working well in some community without thinking about the morass of national or global politics.
James Fallows 13:14
In your book, you’ve made the connection between the personal, the global the national, what are other ways you would encourage your readers and listeners and followers and admirers, to connect, when they are doing in their communities, to the national and global level.
Josh Fryday 13:31
I would start with the idea that connection is core, a core part of resilience.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 13:39
I talk in my book about resilience. Until I really read and thought about it I thought of resilience like endurance. Make like a rock, and just get through the battering wind and rain.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 13:51
Jim, Our Towns the book and Our Towns the larger project show that again and again, because of a few people or because of a particular anchor institution, there was a way of weaving together that relate, or just weaving relationships, in what has become a deeply fragmented society.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 13:51
So that’s the I think the starting point. I don’t think it should be diminished. The communities that are renewing themselves, they are communities that are coming back, they’re innovating they’re discovering new ways to do things, but they’re also renewing the spirit of their towns.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 13:51
The broader piece though I think is, is to think about the United States, and this is how I put it in the book, as both many, and one.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 13:51
So often we think “unity”– we should all be connected, we should all be doing the same thing. The message I’d love to hear about your climate corps, my guess is that different people are doing different things in various communities, and that you can pull that together that collection of experiences without having to have them all connect to each other. Connection takes time and effort. If you’re going connecting across your community, you probably don’t have time to connect to 20 other communities, but we can see that as a narrative of much greater unity. And even as we are, as I said many and one at the same time and the connections can be a commitment to a higher ideal or commitment to the sense that finally we’re fixing the country.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 13:51
But that’s not it. That’s endurance. Resilience is actually the ability to adapt to withstand, yes, but to adapt, and really to transform.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 14:02
One of the things I say in the book is that I discovered that resilience is a team sport. It was only when I connected to my fellow leaders to others in the organization that I really wove the tissue of relationships, much more strongly that we were much more resilient than I. Which is an obvious point but not one we necessarily take on board. When you think about climate and you think about resilience in the climate context, you start really with making connections within communities.
James Fallows 15:37
And Josh before inviting you to answer that excellent question. Let me just use one of Ann Marie’s mentions of local innovators as an occasion to note today the death this week of one of the people who was a hero of our book our towns and also the movie, an artist named Charlie Jupiter Hamilton of Charleston, West Virginia. He actually narrates the final minute of the movie, when in front of this mural he’s painted in downtown Charleston he’s reading a passage from Julius Caesar, about “such a full tide..” I just wanted to mention that in his honor. He died is after effects of Agent Orange, years ago when in Vietnam. He was a wonderful person who helped change the lives of everybody else in Charleston, West Virginia
James Fallows 16:27
Josh, Anne-Marioe’s excellent question is for you. The microphone is yours.
Josh Fryday 17:18
Yeah, well, thank you for honoring him and, and for all your work to showcase what is happening around the country.
Josh Fryday 17:27
Certainly in California around climate, connection is the foundation of everything that we’re doing. So I love, Anne-Marie, that that’s where you talk about. It is absolutely fundamental to who we are in a disconnected society people feel isolated from each other, and this was before COVID.
Josh Fryday 17:45
So much of this dealing with with the COVID reality. And so what we are trying to do and what we are building and what we have built over the last year is to create opportunities for people on big issues like climate to actually work together to come together, build those connections.
Josh Fryday 18:03
And yes, it looks different in every community, what climate is how climate is talked about the work that we do around climate looks different in Fresno, from LA. One of the lessons you alluded to a Medium post that we wrote about–one of the lessons we’ve learned over the last year that we’ve shared and hope to continue to share with with Congress and the Biden administration as this idea of picks up momentum nationally in a very exciting way, we have to build programs like this and invest in programs like this that allow for local communities to define both what they think the problem is, and then also what they think the solution is.
Josh Fryday 18:40
Then we have to invest in the civic infrastructure, which does take an investment. This is a this is a lesson that we have to learn as a country, we can’t just talk about this, we have to invest it we have to put our money where our mouth is. And we have to build the civic infrastructure that actually allows people to come together, and that’s something that I would argue we haven’t done for generations in this country, and democracy, in my view, will not work, and will not continue to sustain. If we don’t invest in the ability to make these connections at a very, very local level.
James Fallows 19:11
So Anne Marie let me turn that to you. The ending of your book with your vision for 2026 is, in a way, as if what Josh is saying actually happens. Or what are the consequences if it doesn’t. You are a veteran of international and national level politics you’re a keen observer of it, you’re a historian. Is it possible for the US government at the national level as we see it in circa 2021 to do some of the things that Josh is just talking talk about and that you have mentioned in your book.
Josh Fryday 19:45
Well, I lay out a vision and I do think we should use 2026.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 19:53
This is a hinge moment between 250 years, again as a white majority Nation versus 250 years as a plurality nation. I think we can do a lot.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 20:05
Realistically, you’ve got you know a midterm election or presidential election in 2026 will be a midterm election, we’re going to have to change our political system pretty dramatically. Toward really being able to have open primaries, take the final five four or five candidates and then have ranked choice voting, all of which we can do. And I think we could probably get to 10 maybe 20 states by 2026 that would have that.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 20:32
But I think a lot of the change I’m talking about is more likely to have at the state level, the local level. In some cases the regional level. I think part of what we have to start with though, and it sounds trite but I really believe it is just changing the narrative.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 20:52
We reflexively say we’re horribly divided we can’t do anything we’re paralyzed. Suppose we really woke up in the morning and said, you know, we are united in many ways, many more ways than we recognize. There are all sorts of places where Americans are in fact coming together and making change. We are in fact passing legislation, even in this Congress, we’re passing legislation– the stuff that gets the attention but other stuff. If we started to point to it, I think it would, it would give us more agency and hope.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 21:31
This narrative of constant division just makes you feel like, All you can do is wring your hands and wonder what happened to the country. I don’t think narrative is all we need by any means. But I think we need to start with a vision of a country that is not as divided as the polls and the media would tell us,.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 21:52
I’ll say one last thing, if my colleague Lee Drutman, at New America just had this great piece in The New York Times where he said, What party are you?, And you take a 20 question quiz, and you come out as one of six parties. His point is there are parties that are more, you know on the conservative side and three, three on the conservative side three on the liberal side, but there’s a lot of overlap.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 22:18
If you had those six parties represented, you’d have the possibility of all sorts of coalition’s that you don’t have now. So, you know, we’re not the Trump folks would be about 20% the hardcore, the absolute hardcore 20% That is not this deadlocked country, that, that everybody writes about.
James Fallows 22:41
Yes, a little factoid I’ll introduce here is that the losing candidate in a presidential election has almost always gotten at least 40% of the vote, Barry Goldwater got almost 40%. Herbert Hoover got 40% against FDR etc, you know, there have always been blocks of people who have agreed and disagreed.
James Fallows 23:01
Josh, let me turn Anne-Marie’s question to you. You’re part of the government in a state where more people live than any other state, that produces more wealth than any other state, and just went through a recall election about that had a result that many of the national pundits did not forecast. And where you have open primaries. What are the lessons from California, about whether the narrative of functioning government can in fact be change, given all the problems California deals with.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 23:36
Yeah, thank you for that question. I think last week’s recall was sent a clear mandate and affirmation that, that we need to keep going bold and we need to keep going bigger and faster and that’s the lessons that Governor Newsome learned from, from the recall last week I think.
Josh Fryday 23:52
We hope that’s the lesson that the rest of the country learned that that government has played a critical role in the last two and a half years on big issues across the board– bold action on climate, bold action with COVID bold action on healthcare and other important issues. And I think that people responded to that.
Josh Fryday 24:12
We feel we feel very good moving forward. If anything we feel a sense of urgency that we have got to move faster, we’ve got to go bigger. And so, those of us who work for Governor Newsome feel that sense of urgency in a very real way.
Josh Fryday 24:26
But if I could also comment on one thing that I think Anne-Marie said so well which is that this this narrative of division, what it can do is, is create a sense of paralysis — that these issues are too big. We’re powerless, that there’s nothing I can do because we’re so divided. That’s the same thing we’re fighting against when we call when we talk about the need to empower people and ask them to serve.
Josh Fryday 24:55
It’s this idea that we have to move past the sense in our communities, that, that, that, that these issues are for someone else to solve or climate change is a global issue and it’s too big for us to take on. And we have to start saying to our people and changing the narrative in the way Anne-Marie is talking about. To say no, there’s actually something that you can do, here’s what they are and we’re going to give you the tools and the ability to take action, but that but to send the very clear message that no, you have power, you are not powerless in this situation. And that is so important, that’s a message that Governor Newsome talks about all the time. And that message was affirmed in last week’s recall election,
James Fallows 25:37
Josh, if I could just follow up for a second: I have was fascinated, and actually wrote several months ago, about the multi tiered model you have in my mind . If people can commit a couple of years, great. If a couple of hours, great. Can you just summarize briefly kind of the the the various steps that you’ve made available to people to do something about climate,
Anne-Marie Slaughter 25:58
As you’d mentioned in California, the most populous state in the Union, 40 million people and we’re trying to figure out how to activate them to take action.
Josh Fryday 26:06
We’ve set up a framework, an approach, where we like to say: whatever time you have to give, there’s something for you to do, and we need you to do it. We’ve set up a fellowship where if you give up to a year you’re going to receive a stipend to live and you’re going to seek a scholarship of up to $10,000, to go to school or pay down debt. If you have a day to give, we’re going to connect you to volunteer opportunities in your community that you can take with a climate organization or an environmental organization. And if you have only an hour to give, we’re going to teach you how to plant a tree, we’re going to show you how to how to make your house more energy efficient, we’re going to empower you with the resources to actually have a meaningful impact on climate and the message is clear to all 40 million people who call California home, there’s something that you can do, and we need you to do it today. I love that.
James Fallows 27:01
So So Anne Marie, I have a different kind of question to ask you, It’s about your, your copious work over the years about networks– about the way networks work, work within the community within a country around the world. We’ve been near coming through a time when a lot of the, the odious effects of social networks are obvious to all of us. How should people think about the positive versus the negative potential of networks, And what are both the individual ones are the policy ways that we can promote more of the positive network effects to deal with climate challenges and other ones and to reduce the, the negative ones.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 27:48
Yeah networks are like technology, right. They’re not inherently good or inherently bad For every positive network I can point to –climate action networks and on on– I can point out Al Qaeda or you know drug trafficking or money laundering. Those are criminal networks.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 28:08
We call that racketeering in this country, but those are connected people, and they have hubs. There’s no magic in a network per se, but positive networks have a number of advantages.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 28:26
One, they’re much more horizontal, right, This is not command and control. That’s a hierarchy, the hierarchy of people at the top, and they tell other people what to do. In networks you have people at the center. You have a hub, although you can have a decentralized network and have multiple hubs, and those hubs are also sort of centers of power, but they work by mobilizing, by connecting, by sort of orchestrating action and catalyzing action in various ways. By curating who’s going to be,part of the network and how is the network going to be designed.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 28:30
An activated network has a number of properties. It allows for lots of diversity in the different hubs. I’m sure I could map, Josh your climate Corps as a network and I could show you, As you said different cities would probably be different hubs or maybe different issues. Some folks are planting trees and some folks are strengthening resilience against floods or whatever it might might be. But there’s a lot of opportunity for a sort of standard template, but lots of people to do it in a different way. And there is a way of really making people feel like they’re part of something.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 29:48
And so, Jim, how do you do that is, we have to invest in the connectors. I spend my life trying to convince foundations that simply connecting people in an email group or chat or any of the ways we’re connected won’t do it right. You need active network orchestrators or systems catalysts or, you know, collaboration managers.Jim I point to your and Deb’s work where you go into these towns, and you find these people and some people do it like breathing, right? They just attract other people to them and they they mobilize them. But often it really is a set of functions and it’s work, it’s real work, and part of what we have to do is recognize that value it, In many cases, pay for it. But if we, in some cases with volunteers, you may not pay for it but you have to recognize that that is essential to making networks work positive ones.
James Fallows 30:49
So, housekeeping note before turning that same question over to Josh. A number of good questions are coming in via q&a. Please feel free to keep them coming. I’ll turn to those in a moment.
James Fallows 31:00
Josh my network question to you is there a different sort of people of my generation, those who either served in the Peace Corps or served in Vietnam –or were against the Vietnam War, or in the civil rights movement. In all cases there are lasting network effects. People in your generation, there’s a “younger veterans” bond that is very very strong and we see that you were part of that. What kind of network are you trying to create with the climate corps and what have you seen so far and that potential.
Josh Fryday 31:29
Yeah, I think I think we’ve seen something really powerful in the same ways that that we’ve seen with veteran generations of veterans who go through an intense experience together. They’re thrown together from very different parts of the country very different perspectives but are given the opportunity to have a common mission around a common purpose, and work together.
Josh Fryday 31:51
You walk away and I can say this with personal experience, having served in the military that stays with you forever. Both the personal bonds you make but also the belief that you can actually have something of similar value with people that think differently than you. To walk away with that understanding and that appreciation stays with you forever.
Josh Fryday 32:13
Some of the comments we’ve gotten from our young fellows who have been involved in climate corps is that these connections are among the most important part of the program for them. They now feel connected to people from different parts of the state that they would have never come across, and that they work together in a community that they cared about to deal with issues of social justice around tree planning, and many other issues. That’s a powerful, powerful thing that we have to keep creating and investing in to Anne-Marie’s point.
Josh Fryday 32:49
One of the things that we’re really focused on in California is not just in creating more service opportunities for people, which is important and we have to do that, and we have to we have to create avenues for people to engage.
Josh Fryday 33:04
But we actually have to invest in making sure that those that do step up to volunteer, those that do step up to serve walk away feeling connected to each other for life, and that takes additional investment. So we’re we’re very focused on that.
Josh Fryday 33:18
We also launched a, we’re really exciting part of. And one of the silver linings of COVID was the ability to test some of these things in California, but to Anne-Marie’s point of neighbors I know each other we launched the first week of COVID, a neighbor to neighbor campaign to ask everyone in California. We partnered with Next Door to reach literally millions of Californians. To call and Californians to check on a neighbor to make sure that seniors had food that they groceries that they had access to their drugs. And the program has taken off. We’re going to continue to invest in it, and to build the local leaders who can lead neighborhood programs and to ask neighbors to help each other. So really important part of the work, and it’s something that that we’re going to continue to invest in in a big way.
James Fallows 34:11
One more question for me to both of you. So Anne-Marie, a generation, people even older than I am, one of the bright sides of the horrors of the depression in the 1930s was the civilian Civilian Conservation Corps. And the ways in which it rebuilt infrastructure and built bonds among people who wouldn’t otherwise have been together. I’ve written about Joshua’s programs being a potential model, the California Statewide model having an influence nationally. What is the potential for having this kind of model get any kind of nationwide traction. Could the US use infrastructure program to actually put money into network building and service of the kind that California is showing us. Yeah,
Josh Fryday 35:07
One of the ways you can think about this is, is universities. I’m sitting in Princeton,. Princeton has the most devoted alumni anywhere because it isn’t just your current network it’s your alumni network. You know, Princeton has a whole building of people dedicated to maintaining ties among alumni right through reunions–but also ongoing education and trips. I’m just pointing out again what kind of work it takes not only to forge those ties but then to facilitate their, their deepening and their and their preservation.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 35:48
I think we’re most likely to see replication at the state level. Before we go national. And there’s some kind of critical mass there. Think of Obamacare. Massachusetts offered universal care that went pretty much directly to be the basis for parts of Obamacare. In many cases what you have are states copying one another. And then when you get to a certain number–if it’s regulation, for instance, business starts to say For God’s sake, I don’t want this patchwork of regulation let’s go national.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 36:25
But I think in other ways, what you can see now would be a framework. you’ve got this infrastructure money, the infrastructure money could be tied to say, you know, if you create state corps– and climate is great, again, care corps, they’re the same idea of taking care of neighbors, through mutual aid societies which have sprung up all over the place.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 36:51
You can imagine those people as community health workers, community care workers. Maybe they don’t have medical training but they are there to get the groceries to facilitate in so many ways. And there you could, again, allow for local and state experimentation, and you know you can build the hard infrastructure just like the Conservation Corps. As you know, I believe that an infrastructure of care is every bit as important as an infrastructure of roads and bridges and ports. And frankly broadband but access to broadband is equally important so you could have various core just as in the military, performing various functions but this sort of volunteer or, or, you know, paid enough to live wage but but not not a full job.
James Fallows 37:44
So Josh, just quickly before I turn to these fascinating questions. Is there any traction in having the California model, go national that you’ve seen?
Anne-Marie Slaughter 37:54
We’ve seen some really exciting traction, Jim. We’ve seen President Biden talk about this. In fact he just talked about it recently with Governor Newsom at a summit a few weeks ago–about the California model and how excited the President is to see this nationally.
Josh Fryday 38:09
We’ve seen felt members of Congress from AOC to Chuck Schumer, to many others talk about this in Congress and have introduced legislation and it’s moving through now hopefully tied to the, the infrastructure bill. So we’ve seen a lot of interest in this type of model of creating a National Civilian climate Corps, and I think what it demonstrates is the realization from elected officials. Finally, that people want to be asked to be part of the solution, people want to contribute, people want to be involved, and people want to feel like what they can with their time is valuable and that they can do something for their community.
Josh Fryday 38:49
And so for elected officials when President Biden and members of Congress, start to talk about creating this type of model, nationwide, that actually empowers people to be part of the climate solution. And we know that the younger generation especially is so passionate, in such a needed and important way about this issue to us is very encouraging. And again it’s going to show that California is just going to keep leaning in and going bigger and bolder with our ideas,
Josh Fryday 39:19
It helps having a vice president from California….
Anne-Marie Slaughter 39:24
…We appreciate her very much.
James Fallows 39:27
So here’s a question for both of you. Lots of questions come in about leadership about inclusivity, about equity/ A question I’ll start with Anne Marie. “How do you remain an honest and transparent leader in the field of public service or public affairs, when there are more questions than answers when people are relying on you to find solutions a massive mess of issues?” So that’s the question I’ll start with you Anne-Marie.
Josh Fryday 39:51
That’s a very good question. I do think, for public figures, you have to be savvy about where you’re you’re engaged in radical honesty.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 40:06
We are in this world of social media we’re this world of sound bites and it just drives you crazy. Jim, as a former speechwriter you know that today, you have to craft the speech so that the single line can’t be immediately edited into a soundbite and taken out of context.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 40:26
I am not advocating that public leaders particularly public officials, just start listing all their faults. I think, again, we all need to do it but you don’t have to do it in public. On the other hand I think we are in an age where honesty can be rewarded more. I think you’re seeing that with younger leaders. You’re seeing a whole new generation of people going into politics that just saying, this is who I am, and I’m not going to be airbrushed.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 41:06
You saw that actually, in the 2020 elections where you had new folks coming who just said, this is who I am. Part of that I think is acknowledging unbelievable uncertainty, I mean, the idea that you have the answers to problems of staggering complexity. It’s not credible, and one of the things I write about in Renewal is how I moved from being a sort of a single-individual leader to being much more of a collective leader. I split my job– I’m CEO I have a president, where, you know, we talk all the time. I have four other sort of vice presidents who are kind of a, my, my core group and then another circle, a larger circle around that. And I think you can say it’s gonna take many minds and many cross cutting expertises because these problems are so complex and so big. I think the public will understand that,
James Fallows 42:08
Josh, you’re a public official now. How do you deal with these issues.
Josh Fryday 42:13
Three words that, that my team hears a lot are: I don’t know.And I think that it’s okay. Luckily I have an incredible team, so they have the answers for most of the time. But I think being honest that we can’t, we don’t have all the answers.
Josh Fryday 42:28
And I also think, starting with one our own teams but then this is a message that we’re sending to all the California, is we are going to succeed and fail or fail as a team. That’s just the truth. That’s what we’ve got taught in the military you live or die as a unit, we are going to succeed or fail as a team, and that’s the message that we carry not just internally, but externally to all California which is if we’re going to succeed in protecting our communities from fire from drought from historic heat waves, we’re gonna have to do that together, all of us all 40 million of us, if we’re going to succeed in overcoming inequality and racism and sexism, and all the other injustice is a large society that’s going to be together, but we have the model that is leaders, and when it starts with our teams and it starts with sending that message to our teams, and then hopefully that reverberates to the rest of our community.
James Fallows 43:20
And that message is very much in sync with what Anne-Marie writes in Renewal. Here’s another related question get it, we’ll start with with you Anne-Marie. The question: “A Berkeley professor said that progressives have not done a good job of defining and stating what what we’re doing, while the conservatives have created good slogans and and mantras that weren’t great. An example would be the term ‘climate change.’ Is this the best way to state that we need to clean up the Earth, our home place?” This is connected to your previous point about changing the narrative. How can the sort of imagery gap between parties to political discourse be reduced.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 44:04
I love the idea of, cleaning up our home, taking care of our home. And indeed, some of the climate work, you know, in the evangelical community absolutely talks about God’s Earth, and our duty to preserve it.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 44:23
While acknowledging the complexity, you shouldn’t be giving up the kinds of slogans. Again I believe deeply in words and the power of words. It’s not enough, but it’s I think it’s necessary but not sufficient.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 44:48
I think there are so the way I would answer that question is I actually think the left needs to own a new patriotism, a critical patriotism. James Baldwin said “I love my country so much that I reserve the right to criticize her perpetually.” and Carl Schurz, who was a Union General and a senator from Missouri said, “my country, right or wrong– when right to be kept right, and when wrong to be set right.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter 45:17
I actually think we should be embracing a lot of the the words, the slogans in the Declaration of Independence: these truths, equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Or the Gettysburg Address and the Pledge of Allegiance, and talking about how we’re not living up to those. Andwhat would it take to make them true right?
Anne-Marie Slaughter 45:41
this is what holds us together. This is how we were founded. Yes, those founders were deeply hypocritical. That’s part of the complexity. There is no one beautiful Manichaean dichotomy–hich is not a term I’d use on the stump either but, but, but, but those words have inspired change makers and reformers for generations. And what does it take to make them true today, what does it take to make this country still “Oh beautiful for spacious skies”? There’s a lot to draw on. And I think the left is often uncomfortable with that language which then hands it to the right and that’s ridiculous. You know we can all be patriots in in our different ways.
James Fallows 46:31
So, Josh before asking you about the rhetoric of climate change, let me address Anne-Marie’s point about the power of words, which is limited but profound. I happen to remember in 1977 Jimmy Carter gave a commencement address at Notre Dame, essentially on exactly this point: we don’t think that words alone will change everything, but our own history opens our eyes to the power of words from Thomas Paine to Martin Luther King, etc. So yes, this is a I’m glad to hear you, emphasizing this crucial point. Josh, how do you think about imagery and words in your work.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 47:09
Yeah, really important question. This is one of the lessons we hope that the national government takes in setting up a national climate corps. We have to be very sensitive and supportive of local goals in local communities, and understand that for LA, it’s about social justice and planting trees in communities who have been discriminated against for decades, with policies that have left no tree canopy and makes the communities much hotter than than wealthier parts of the community. But and that’s because of climate change, and in places like Fresno it’s about unification and pride in your community, and it’s not about climate, it’s not about the planet, or, or the greenery, it’s about beautifying your, your street. And so giving creating the flexibility I think to say we’re going to invest in the resources for, for each community to define their what their goals are defined the problem the goals and then how to tackle it, we think is is really important. And as part of what we’re doing.
James Fallows 48:18
And Josh to follow up, you’ve begun to answer the theme of a number of questions that have come in. Let me read excerpts from a couple of them, and have you and Anne Marie respond. One question is, “How do we continue to make voluntourism attractive to underprivileged individuals without access to many basic needs. Many of these people are already engaged in unofficial volunteers in church services caring for youth in the neighborhood?”. Another says, “Josh Fryday, can you bring your program to my low income community, many people in the LA suburbs live below the poverty line and those have to wait to work two or three jobs just to pay rent, leisure volunteering is non existent here.” So, you began to talk about that but say more in response to those questions.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 48:59
Yeah, well first of all our hope in California is to bring these programs everywhere. So yes we hope to come to your community.
Josh Fryday 49:08
But it’s a really good question about how we talk about volunteerism and service, and I think it starts with, with leaders. When we say we’re calling on people to be part of the solution we’re calling you to take climate action we’re calling you to help with homelessness or to check on our neighbor. We have to point out and identify that literally everyone can do something that matters.
Josh Fryday 49:31
That’s, I think that’s also an understanding and shows appreciation that everyone’s experience has value. We launched a really incredible to give an example program that I’m very proud of called the Justice Court that takes formerly incarcerated young people and give them a stipend and a scholarship for college, to then help other people who are transitioning out of the judicial system navigate. To me what that is is that that is us saying to those formerly incarcerated young people, Your experience matters. Your experience has real value to the state of California, and to our communities, because you are going to be able to help other people transition, and to every California group again who others an hour or a year. You can do something that matters to the community that that can contribute in a serious meaningful way.
Josh Fryday 50:26
So that’s the message that we’re trying to get out now. That does take a lot of investment into thinking about how do we make our service programs more equitable how do we pay more, it’s something we talk about a lot, we have to peer service members more. We have to create incentives for people to be able to, to be able to give back. I was lucky enough, when I came home from the military to buy a home because I had access to the VA loan. So that was our country’s saying we’re going to appreciate your service and we’re going to create economic incentives, we have to do the same for volunteering and for service because it’s that critical for our democracy to be strong and for us to continue to prosper,
James Fallows 51:05
Anne Marie, I know you write about this theme a lot and renewal. Tell us how you would respond to these questions.
Josh Fryday 51:13
I was, I was thinking about the point that many people are already doing what we would call service. Absolutely.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 51:23
You know the people who are taking in children often have relatives who are either incarcerated or unfit in some way, I mean you know we’ve got grandmothers raising kids around the country. Jim you’re a grandfather I’m not. My kids are in their 20s. The idea right now of having a toddler! It’s one thing if you hand them back to your parents but…
Anne-Marie Slaughter 51:54
So there there are a lot of people who are giving care or otherwise taking care of people in their neighborhood in their community in their families. That is a form of service. That is essentially investing time in the next generation of our country or indeed easing the older generation, toward the end of their lives. I do think part of that answer is giving us an understanding that you can serve in many ways, It doesn’t have to necessarily mean you know volunteering at a local charity. There are other ways that you could do it and that we can we can get other people to help you, too, but also devalue that.
James Fallows 52:43
So Anne-Marie here’s a follow up question that comes directly for you and it’s by the same person who asked Josh Fryday of how to get you to come to my low income community. The question: “Anne Marie slaughter. How can we get you to be known in low income communities of color. In all honesty, you’re a model citizen. However, many young women in my community to look elsewhere for inspiration, do not focus or concentrate on education. What can you say or do to motivate and guide these young students to follow in your footsteps lead and educate and make positive change, generational questions here equity questions, if you’re an example to the next generations. What do you tell them?”
Josh Fryday 53:25
Well, in, so in my book actually I talk a lot about engaging with younger women I tell the story of giving a commencement address at Barnard, with a you know, very diverse student body and actually the student Barnet body had demonstrated that they didn’t want me as their commencement speaker. They wanted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie the Nigerian American novelist. Which I get she’s a fantastic novelist, and I talked about how I really misread my audience, and that I didn’t listen.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 54:00
In that context, I didn’t understand I was talking about a woman president I was supporting Hillary, they all wanted Bernie. I wanted the woman president. They wanted social justice. And so part of my answer to your question and I do try to address it in the in this book is that as a feminist, a woman who has mentored countless other women. I have not or had not fully taken on board:
Anne-Marie Slaughter 54:27
The way the younger, younger women are thinking where color, gender, sexual orientation, or intersectionality is their cry–and a sense that, wait a minute, they might well look at me and say, What do you have to say to me, your experience is so different? And to that all I can offer is again real honesty that says, You know you’re right, I’ve learned a lot, talking to all of you, I do think I know some things that will help you get ahead in the world, and maybe you want to listen to me too. But I want to start that calm conversation on the grounds of what I call confident humility. I’m confident that I have something to offer, but I’m really humble about what I don’t know. And I do think we need many more of those conversations, woman to woman and man to man.
James Fallows 55:25
So we’re nearing the end here. I’m going to ask each of you a wrap up question just just for a minute or so. Josh Fryday during this Climate Action Week, and the one year anniversary of your climate corps. What is the main message of either motivation or hope you would want people listening to this discussion to take about the possibilities for renewal, including crucially climate.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 55:53
Yeah. And the the theme and the focus on renewal is so important so it’s been such an honor to be with Anne-Marie and to celebrate her new book, and to talk about it and learn about it, Because we think about renewal a lot.
Josh Fryday 56:07
This individual renewal, renewal of hope, renewal of purpose and efficacy that we can actually make a difference in our communities. That’s something that is central to the idea of the California climate action or in all the service programs that we’re promoting, We think about communal renewal, how do we renew communities and create the kind of connections that we talked about earlier, between people have very different backgrounds and may think differently or come from different areas, but understand that they’re part of building something together, and we think about civic renewal that we can, we can build trust in each other.
Josh Fryday 56:41
First and foremost, it’s the one of the lessons of being a veteran that you learn the ability to trust other people when you have a common experience and a common purpose, but also the idea that we can trust in our ability to come together and solve problems.
Josh Fryday 56:58
So my final message to California and into our country is, we can solve climate change, people protect our people we can protect our communities we can protect our kids and our grandkids, and we can do it together by building community, and that’s what we’re doing with the California Climate Action course so join us. Go to climateactioncorps.ca.gov. You can be part of something you can be part of building a community, and you can be a part of helping us solve this really existential threat.
Josh Fryday 57:19
Thank you. I’m ready. I’ve had good in LA I think I’m going to tell the fine up.
James Fallows 57:38
So you started with radical honesty and Anne Marie, how do you how do you see us out here,
Josh Fryday 57:45
I’ll see us out on again the value of what Josh said which is connecting to something bigger than ourselves.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 57:54
I write about how renewal is very prominent in many spiritual traditions. Renewing the covenant in the Bible, but also in the Jewish tradition, and Buddhism has the whole idea of kind of constantly being being renewed. I think this is the call to our best selves, as individuals, as communities as organizations as as a nation indeed the world, and the value of believing in this bigger vision.
Anne-Marie Slaughter 58:34
You know that the book ends on what some people would say is an insanely positive note. They say, Have I read the news? Yes I read–but I screen out a lot of the news because I need to keep the faith that I can in fact make a difference. I do that by having a vision of what this country could be, and inviting others to say hey this is my vision, what’s your vision,
Anne-Marie Slaughter 59:01
Josh has just given his and I find it deeply compelling, But the point is again to bring people together. It needs to be a common vision. This is not just a better “me.” This is a better “we.” Honestly I believe in this country. As much as I face our sins, our crimes. I believe that we are I believe in our diversity, you know, my vision is a country that could reflect the whole world not just Europe, the whole world, and can connect the world and can move from, being a global policeman to a global problem solver and climate issues planetary issues, right, let’s let’s preserve the planet are a big part of that so I would end by, by saying, you know, it’s important to have a vision that for that sense of meaning and purpose and it’s critical to connect to others in the service of it.
James Fallows 1:00:02
For those wise words thank you Anne Marie Slaughter with your new book Renewal. Thank you Josh Fryday with a one year anniversary at the California Climate corps. Thanks backstage to, Ben Speggen, who has been running this. Thanks to all of you who’ve joined in. Thanks to the participating organizations the Our Towns Civic Foundation, the Jefferson educational society, new America Cal volunteers, University of Redlands, and anyone else who have joined us this. We’ve recorded the session, it will be available online, we’ll spread the word. Thank you all and let us renew our country in the world about it, Jim. It’s really an honor, really.