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Telling the American Story: a Webinar

Telling the American Story: a Webinar

Two leaders in renewal at all levels—personal, local, national, global—share their views of how narrative shapes possibility. Especially on issues of justice and sustainability. A podcast.
“In the life of the human spirit, words are action.” Thus did a president from Georgia talk about an American leader from Georgia. (Martin Luther King Jr. in front of the Lincoln Memorial during his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Photo CNP/Getty)

On Wednesday evening, September 22, two people I respect and have learned from joined for an hour-long webinar on the subject of “renewal,” at all levels. I was the emcee.

One of them was Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America and former senior State Department official and Princeton dean. Her latest book, Renewal, was published just the previous day.

The other was Josh Fryday, Chief Service Officer for California. He is a Navy JAG corps veteran, a former small-town mayor, and now the leader of California’s innovative Climate Action Corps. I wrote about that Corps when it was founded, one year ago.

The discussion covered many themes but went in depth into the importance of “narrative”—the stories we tell about ourselves, our communities, our nation, our pasts and futures, our limits and our possibilities. I found it enlightening, since that has been one of the through-lines of my work over the years.

A YouTube video of the event is now available for free streaming at the Our Towns Civic Foundation site. That link also has a searchable text transcript of the event, produced by the software I wrote about recently. It has time stamps to guide you to certain parts of the discussion.

A podcast version of the the event is available above. Sound engineers will recognize that audio quality here is of the computer-microphone-and-speaker level, rather than from a recording studio. But I found the ideas enlightening and inspiring, and hope you will too.


Bonus historical reference: During the webinar, around time 46:30, I mention that in 1977, then-president Jimmy Carter gave a commencement address at Notre Dame. His theme was the role of human rights in American foreign policy. I worked for Carter at the time and was involved in this speech. The full speech transcript is here.

Here is the passage from that speech I was alluding to:

I understand fully the limits of moral suasion. We have no illusion that changes will come easily or soon. But I also believe that it is a mistake to undervalue the power of words and of the ideas that words embody. In our own history, that power has ranged from Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream."

In the life of the human spirit, words are action.

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