How to Make Change: Civic Engagement

Uploaded by whitehouse on 05.07.2011

Kalpen Modi: Well, good afternoon, everyone.
Audience: Good afternoon.
Kalpen Modi: That's it? That's all we get?
Audience: Good afternoon.
Kalpen Modi: You've got to do it in unison.
Good afternoon, everyone.
In Unison: Good afternoon!
Kalpen Modi: Yes. That's what I'm talking about.
Welcome to the White House, for folks in the room,
for everyone joining online at and
on Facebook, welcome.
We've got a great event lined up for you all today.
And it's a very historic day that we're doing this youth
civic engagement event.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the certification of the 26th
Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
The President signed a proclamation that he put
out on July 1st, which was the date of the ratification.
So we'll get you guys copies of that via email,
if you are not already on our list.
The other piece that brought us all here
today is the President's 100 roundtables initiative,
which I know a lot of you, and the folks at home
participated in.
Between March and May of this year,
the White House Office of Public Engagement, that's our office,
held 384 roundtables in 46 states, plus D.C. and Guam,
and thousands of you all participated in that.
You sent in your feedback.
You gave us a lot of different types of feedback,
including a desire to get more guidance on the civic
and advocacy process and some more clarity on the difference,
for example, between the branches of government,
what the executive branch of the White House can or can't give
you guidance on, what the role of advocates in this process is,
and then effective points that can lead to some of the change
that everyone wants to see get done.
I'm going to introduce our welcome speaker here,
who is Jon Carson.
He's the Director of the Office of Public Engagement,
and one of my bosses.
So Jon.
Jon Carson: How are you this afternoon?
So I'm Jon Carson, the Director of the Office of Public
Engagement, and my job here is to get you all engaged in the
governing of this country and moving our country forward.
To do that, our job is to create concrete opportunities for you
to do that, just like the youth roundtable program,
which we did and launched at
If you're concerned about issues from the economy to immigration,
we've put together concrete ways you can part of this process.
If immigration is something you're interested,
In fact, we've created so many of these opportunities that we
realized my speeches would startincluding about eight
different links.
So today is the first meeting where I'm announcing
one-stop-shopping on,
where you can go to find all the different concrete programs that
our office is putting together so that people like yourselves
-- young people, everyone across this country -- can be a part of
the governance process.
And that's
Take a look at it.
Learn about the different opportunities to be a part
of moving this process forward.
And spread the word about what people can do.
And this is a group, and this is a generation that knows how
to get that done.
The youth roundtables program that many of you in this room
participated in that we had administration officials at over
100 of these sessions across the country, were, I think,
a fantastic example of what this is all about.
A two-way conversation of explaining to people how
government works, what is going on.
But mostly, I think, this federal government listening
to and learning from people and the experiences they're having in
their own communities, finding solutions,
and being specific about what the federal government can do
to bring young people into this process.
And what we took away from that was the need for programs
exactly like this.
To not just talk theoretically and not just talk about ideas,
but talk about concrete ways you can all be a
part of this process.
I'm incredibly excited about this.
I'm excited about what's coming out of the youth roundtables
program, because this is a generation that knows how
to get stuff done.
This is a generation that knows how to find solutions,
knows how to tackle problems, whether they be local or
regional or national.
And unlike, frankly, any generation in the past,
they know how to share that success with each other and
keep spiraling and moving the ball forward.
So first of all, thank you for everything that you did to make
the youth roundtable program a success.
Thank you for the work you do every day.
And of course, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't have
a specific ask for you right here and now.
So that is whether you're watching this on Facebook
or whether you're here today, please tweet about, write about,
blog about, talk about, sing about, whatever it takes,
the fact that you are here, the fact that you're a part of this,
and how other people can be involved.
Because I think there's two reasons for that.
The first is you're going to learn specific information we
want you to share with everyone in your neighborhood,
everyone in your building, everyone in those enormous
networks of yours that you've created.
But beyond just the specific information that you're sharing,
we need you to share the idea that everyone in those networks
can be involved, too.
I think sometimes federal government and what we're
all talking about here in Washington,
D.C. can sometimes seem like some bad reality TV show that
doesn't have anything to do with people's day-to-day lives.
But you can break that barrier down and explain to people how
they can be a part of all of this,
no matter what side of the political spectrum they fall on.
So thank you for everything you've done so far,
and thanks for the great work we're going to get
done together.
Kalpen Modi: Thanks, Jon.
So Jon just touched on something that is the impetus behind this
how to make change series that we're launching.
It started with the conference call the President did on Friday
with young folks and it's carrying on through today.
That was the analogy to maybe a not-so-good reality TV show.
So over the last two and a half years,
a lot of you who have participated in some of
our conference calls or web chats had said that you enjoyed it but
it was really boring.
So we're hoping to make it less boring.
And one of the ways we wanted to do that was by making it much
more interactive; didn't want to just talk at folks.
Thought obviously pushing things out over email is a great place
to start and then the follow-up can be conversations like this.
So I don't want to talk too much.
I want to give our panelists a chance to make some opening
remarks, and then we'll turn it over to the folks in the room
and everyone at home to ask some questions.
Folks at home, if you have questions,
go to or the White House Facebook page,
White House dot --
And let's start, I guess, right over here.
I'll intro the panelists.
We have Aaron Smith at the end, who's the Executive Director for
Young Invincibles.
He was a strong advocate around everything from health care
reform to Pell grants and student aid.
We've got Tobias Barrington Wolff,
who is a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania,
was a big advocate around "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
and LGBT issues.
In the middle there is Zakiya Smith,
who is the White House Senior Policy Advisor for Education.
Next to her is Congressman Cedric Richmond from Louisiana.
And we've got my colleague, Kyle Lierman here,
who is going to be taking all the questions via Facebook
and online.
Congressman, why don't we start with you, some introductions,
and then continue on down.
Congressman Cedric Richmond: Well, first of all, thanks for having me and thank you all for
coming in, especially those that are at home, at work, at school,
who are participating via the Internet.
I will just say that I am so excited to see you all here.
And I want to stress, and you hear me talk about over and over
again the fact that you all really can make a difference.
And you all are already making a difference.
So please stay engaged and stay involved and make your voice
heard, because there are people that are listening.
And I can tell you as a freshman Congressman that represents
roughly 720,000 people in the Second District of Louisiana,
which is really the metropolitan area of New Orleans,
that we take calls from young people,
just as much as we take calls from older people and advocacy
groups and all of those things.
Another thing that we do a lot of is we reach out and go to
high schools and talk to our kids.
It's very refreshing to talk to people who really are searching
for a way to make this a better place.
So as we talk to them and listen to them,
it only fosters the conversation and encourages me.
Because it goes back to -- and that's why I'm so excited about
this White House and what they're doing,
because I really think that the big message and the big fight
right now is about how to put purpose back in this country.
And you all are going to have a lot to do with whether we put
purpose back in this country.
And I mean making sure that the things we do,
we do them because it makes the world a better place.
And going back to the age where we stress loving our neighbor,
helping our fellow man, our fellow woman,
maybe helping opening the door for an older lady or older man,
the day when we would help people with their groceries,
those types of things.
Now, for your generation it's going to be a lot different,
because you're smarter than every other generation.
So the question becomes what are you going to do with it?
You can be very, very smart and not use that talent,
and it's just a big waste.
But we have some needs from you all.
I mean, we need the cure to cancer,
we need the cure to AIDS, we need the cure to diabetes,
a whole bunch of things.
And the answer to a lot of that is locked up in you all's brain.
So the question is will you spend the time on Angry Birds
or something like that or will you put that down and
really get engaged.
So I'm happy to be here and I'll stop now because for me it's a
lot more fun to take questions and answers.
So thank you again for inviting me here.
It's our off day, so I flew in just to talk to you all.
We actually start work tomorrow.
And the fourth of July celebration went on a very
long time in New Orleans, during Essence Fest -- so you can tell.
So once again, thanks for having me.
Zakiya Smith: All right. Are you all excited to be here?
It sounds -- okay.
So some of them had a long Fourth of July.
Okay, I see.
Well I'm just going to tell you a little bit about why I do what
I do in hopes that there are some of you out there who also
have a cause that you care deeply about and want to
figure out how to get engaged.
Maybe not as a career, as I've chosen,
but as a thing that you care about and you take with you
throughout your life.
And I'll do it very briefly, in less than three minutes.
So when I was in school, I kind of wanted to be a teacher,
I wanted to help other students, I felt like I had a knack for
teaching people how to do things.
But when I kind of looked around and was like a teacher's helper,
I won't say a teacher's pet, but I was a teacher's helper,
and one thing I noticed was a lot of teachers were frustrated
by kind of societal constraints or things that were larger than
their classroom that were having an impact on their ability to do
one thing or another.
So that was one thing that I thought about, like, huh,
if I went into this field, there would be things that are bigger
than what I can change from the teaching profession.
That said, I found it -- I did go into major in education in
college and found my student teaching experience greatly,
greatly helpful and I really enjoyed it and maybe one day
after 2016 I'll go back to the classroom and live that out.
The one thing that especially stuck with me was that some of
my peers who seem to have just as much ambition and drive,
but didn't have some of the supports that I had,
went on different paths.
And it was interesting to see how the choices of adults
impacted the lives of my fellow classmates.
So for instance there were some teachers that were less helpful
to someone that might not have parents that were willing to do
their homework with them at home or things like that.
There were some -- sometimes you wanted to go to the guidance
counselor and just talk but they were overburdened.
And those were things that weren't the faults
of the student.
But because the adults made different choices in how to
arrange the school or how to arrange the district or what our
curriculum was, people's lives veered in different tracks.
And that seemed odd to me and a little bit unfair,
more than a little bit.
And so that became my issue, knowing how important education
is to having basically a middle class lifestyle today,
I wanted to make sure that everyone had the opportunity
for the American dream, no matter what background they came from,
whether or not their parents or grandparents went to college,
that they would have the ability to do the same thing.
So what I do here now is basically sit around all
day and think about more ways to create educational opportunities
for young Americans.
And I think it's the best job in the world and I wish I could do
it forever and ever and ever.
But what I hope is that you guys leave here today with a similar
passion, maybe not the same one I have,
but something that you're passionate about and get
something concrete from this conversation that can spark
you to go on and make change in your own area.
Tobias Barrington Wolff: My name is Tobias Wolff.
I'm very honored to be included in this panel,
both just because, you know, it's the White House,
but also because speaking to audiences like this is in some
sense what I do.
I'm a teacher.
And talking to a broad array of people and helping or at least
trying to inspire them to think in new ways is,
believe it or not, what I get paid to do.
It's kind of the best gig in the world.
And I think that I was asked to be here in part because of
the work that I've done on LGBT equality.
I've been a civil rights lawyer on LGBT issues,
and continue to do civil rights cases as a law professor.
I've had the great privilege to, first,
play a role in the Obama campaign in 2008.
I was the chair of the LGBT advisory committee for the
campaign for a year and a half.
And I've gotten to play a role in the political work of the
administration as an outsider, but sort of providing my input,
on a range of issues including the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal.
And, you know, my reasons for wanting to do this work are
really easy to explain, you know.
I am a second class citizen in this country as a gay man.
And I am very happy to say that I am much less of a second class
citizen today than I was two and a half years ago because of the
work of this administration and our leaders in Congress.
But there's more work to do.
And getting to play a role in the work,
which in some sense is the mission of your life,
is an extraordinary privilege.
And I'm kind of living a very fortunate life right now.
What I think I can offer to you all,
and I'll make a couple of introductory observations
right now and then we can pick this up in questions,
is to start thinking in a new way about your ability
to actually be a part of the process.
And I think that it's important to recognize that the things
that are distinctive about you are the things that will
make you effective so long as you recognize how you
can be effective.
And I think it's important to ask yourself three questions
when you're thinking about becoming engaged in social
change or in politics.
One question is: What are you good at?
And everybody has different answers to those questions.
And there are things that you're good at that the people around
you are less good at.
And there are different skills needed for different parts of
the process.
And nobody is good at everything.
There are things that I'm very good at and I've gotten to focus
my efforts on legal analysis, for example,
which sounds kind of dry, but I'm good at it.
But knocking on somebody's door whom I don't know and
trying to strike up a conversation with them,
one of the hardest things in the world for me to do.
And for other people, it comes as naturally as just falling off
of a wagon, right.
Well, that's not a good --
-- falling off of something.
Figure out what it is that you're going at and then figure
out how what you're good at can translate into actually getting
important work done.
That's number one.
Number two, figure out what you care about.
You need to answer for yourself the question what is it that's
important enough to me to get me out of my normal routine and
into a process for trying to change the world around me,
even if the world around you is just defined in terms of four
neighborhood blocks, right.
Some tasks are big.
Some tasks are small.
But all tasks that make other people's lives and your life
better are important tasks.
And figuring out what you care about instead of thinking that
there's something you're supposed to care about is,
I think, empowering because you're going to put a lot of
your heart and soul into this work.
And you need to believe in what it is that you're doing and you
need to be able to say to yourself and the people around
you, this is why I'm doing this work and this
is why it's important.
So that's the second question.
And quickly, the third question that I think you should ask
yourself is what kind of person am I?
And what kind of approach is the one that works the
best for me and for the kind of work that I want to do.
Broadly speaking, I think that efforts at social change can
either be based upon forging relationships and building
consensus, or they can be built upon trying to exert pressure.
And those are both very important tasks and they
can sometimes overlap, right.
But, you know, different people are naturally inclined towards
different approaches to social change.
And once again, figuring out which of these approaches is
best suited to you and then recognizing when it's a very
powerful tool is one of the ways that you will feel like you're
using your efforts wisely and using your efforts well in
social change efforts.
And if you ask yourself those three questions and then start
looking actively into the world to figure out where your
particular configuration of talents fits best into a need
for something that you care about,
then I think you're going to feel empowered in trying to
change the world around you, and then the sky's the limit.
Aaron Smith: So I want to start with a number.
That's how many young people have gained insurance,
thanks to the new law that lets you stay on your parents'
plan to 26.
And it came as a result of a small section in a much,
much larger law.
But I think it's a great example of the power that government can
have and the power that young people can have when they get
involved in the process.
So as Kalpen said, I'm the co-founder and Executive
Director of Young Invincibles.
Young Invincibles is a national nonprofit that focuses on
expanding opportunity for young adults ages 18 to 34.
And we got started in the summer of 2009 during the health care
reform debate.
I'm sure many of you remember that.
We were students, we were young workers.
We felt like young people's voices weren't being heard in
that debate at all, even though we were the largest group of
uninsured in the country.
So we decided to get involved.
We started collecting stories from our friends about the
health care system and then shared those stories with
reporters so that they could put a face to reform.
We gathered about 200 young people and went to the Hill
and actually met with members of Congress and their staff to talk
about, you know, our health care stories.
We even did a joint press conference with Nancy Pelosi
when that part of the law that lets you stay on your
parents' plan to 26 was actually introduced,
because we wanted to show that young people were key advocates
for that part of the law.
It was a very inspiring time.
And I think one of the most inspiring things for me is to
know that that type of activism is actually happening all over
the country.
So whether it's young people here in D.C., you know,
fighting for youth summer jobs programs,
or whether it's young people in Arizona fighting for the Dream
Act, I think it's something naturally young people that we
do get involved and we do try to make a difference.
Now, the difficult thing is to go from trying to get involved
and making a difference to actually having an impact.
I think that's one of the things we all struggle with,
because there are powerful interests that don't want
to change things.
So my advice from my own experience,
the thing I've learned is you have to ask yourself: Where is
the source of the power?
Who has control over the thing that you want to change?
And then think about the tactics that can help you
create that change.
So take health care.
After the health care law is passed,
actually the power over the health care reform law lies
primarily in the agencies.
It's not in Congress anymore.
So when our members came to us and said, you know,
we have problems with our college health plans,
some of these plans aren't very good,
we had to organize a campaign targeted not at Congress,
but at the agency itself.
So we went to the agency and talked about how there are three
million students on these plans and they have serious problems,
like discrimination based on pre-existing condition.
And ultimately, the outcome of some of those efforts was that
they announced proposed regulations that will actually
dramatically improve college health plans so that in the fall
of 2012, students are going to see significant improvements,
whether it's no discrimination based on pre-existing condition
or free preventive care.
And I think the target of your advocacy will change based on
the campaign that you're trying to run.
So another example is Pell grants.
Right now there's about 9 million students across the
country who rely on Pell grants to help them afford college.
And there are proposals in Congress to actually slash Pell
grants, which would literally mean that millions of young
people would have a much tougher time going to college.
So for that campaign, our focus is on Congress,
because that's where the decision makers are and that's
where we can have the biggest impact.
So I'll stop there.
But I think it's important to recognize in your own community
who are the decision makers, who has control over the thing that
I want to impact and how can I go about having that impact.
Kalpen Modi: Thanks, Aaron.
And thanks to all the panelists.
We're going to open it up for questions now.
Kyle, I'm going to defer to you for the first one.
I don't know if you guys want to share the mic so I can run
out there with the wireless.
Kyle Lierman: Right. So we're going to go back and forth between
audience questions and questions from Facebook.
I'm going to paraphrase here a little bit because this is a
question we've been getting from a lot of folks.
What is the White House doing to help young Americans with
employment and could the White House keep us posted on progress
for youth employment?
Kalpen Modi: That's a good question.
Maybe I should have stayed up there to answer it.
We've been doing a little bit; I know some of the panelists up
here have partnered with us on a few of the items.
But, yes, youth employment is obviously jobs and the economy
is sort of the number one driving issue here,
particularly now for folks who were college bound and are
graduating college, you know, it's a particular concern if
you're graduating if you don't have a job.
There are a couple of things we're doing.
Most of it is focused on youth entrepreneurship.
So the White House, the White House Business Council,
and the Small Business Administration recently
partnered for a whole series of events.
We kicked this off with a young entrepreneur event in New York
last month.
And they're going to be followed by at least five regional events
with young entrepreneurs to not just discuss youth employment and
various youth employment, but also talk about the
tangible solutions.
A lot of them with the Small Business Administration have to
do with pools of resources that are available today, right now,
to young folks that want jobs.
But the second component of that is that we've also been hearing
from young people who have started their own businesses
that are looking to hire other young people.
So making that connection between folks who are looking
for jobs and folks that are hiring,
and then part of the long-term commitment -- and this tends to
get overlooked a lot in the broader kind of policy
conversation -- but when you see the President investing,
you know, $3.4 billion in STEM, for example, science,
technology, engineering and math education,
a lot of that has to do with our manufacturing and development
here in the United States.
So there's a great conversation that I heard about folks at Apple.
Apple produces iPods and iPads, they're manufactured in China.
And one of the reasons that they have to go overseas to do this
is not because of environmental regulations,
not because of the cost of labor here.
The greatest driver is that the United States doesn't have the
30 to 300,000 mid-level engineers that are required
to be on site in these manufacturing plants.
So by investing in science, technology,
engineering and math, we're bridging that gap,
making it smaller, and hopefully allowing companies to come back
to the United States and produce here.
So in a nutshell, those are the things.
What you can do to actually stay in touch with us,
if you go to,
it's a pretty bare bones page right now,
but you can sign up for our newsletter.
By the end of the week, you'll have a nice,
fancy page to look at, including resources on youth employment
and entrepreneurship.
And we'll continue to send out notices,
including a notice on the five regional summits that I
mentioned, including something that we have coming in about two
weeks here at the White House.
So stay tuned for that.
Zakiya or others, I don't know if you wanted to add
anything to that.
Zakiya Smith: I think you did a good job of summing it up.
I mean, I think we're also doing things on the employers' side as
well, so trying to make it easier for businesses to hire,
in addition to like helping people have the skills that they
might need to become employable again.
So trying to free up some capital so that they can just
basically get money to hire you.
But in terms of investing in people,
that's a long-term thing that will make sure that America has
the jobs we need for, you know, 21st century and beyond.
Congressman Cedric Richmond: Go ahead.
Aaron Smith: One thing I'll add is so Young Invincibles has been
doing these roundtables around the country.
Starting a business, the idea of starting a business comes up
over and over and over again.
Young people are very interested in that.
The cost of higher education is something that comes up over and
over and over again.
And how those things -- I mean, I think it all comes back to the
economy and how we can actually create jobs for young people.
So one of the things we're going to be doing is not only
listening to some of the problems and the challenges
that we have as young people, but also asking young people,
you know, what are some of those solutions that you see,
whether it's -- how can we actually make college more
affordable, or how can we actually increase funding for
programs that put young people to work like AmeriCorps and,
you know, other programs.
Or whether it's actually encouraging youth
entrepreneurship by, for example,
forgiving your student loans if you try to start a business.
So that's part of the process that I think we're going to be
going over for the next six months.
And if people have ideas on that, you know,
I welcome -- I'd love to hear them.
Congressman Cedric Richmond: I was just going to add that that
question is also one that is consistently heard in Congress.
And I can just tell you through a lot of my colleagues and
especially the Congressional Black Caucus,
we are now trying to work on an initiative for youth employment.
And the benefits of it are just tremendous in just a number of
ways, whether it's decreasing the dropout rate,
whether it's making the country more competitive.
But I think that what you can help in this area is to continue
to talk about the investment that the country still has to
make in your future.
You will hear people all the time describe what your future
is and how we have to cut to make your future
a better future.
The truth of the matter is if we don't invest in you all,
and we don't invest in creating opportunities for you all to do
whatever you want to do, and succeed however you define
success, but to give you that opportunity,
then we're failing you.
And if you look at every other generation,
government invested in their future.
So if we're talking about STEM, if we're talking about
maintaining Pell grants, whether we're talking about all of those
things, and then we can even go further down to programs like
Head Start, which the return that we get on investing in
early childhood education is almost a nine to one return,
that's smart investment in your future.
And I think that you all should lead the conversation
about your future.
I shouldn't lead the conversation about what
your future should look like.
My colleagues on the other side of the aisle shouldn't lead the
conversation about what your future should look like.
You should lead the conversation of what you want your future to
look like, whether you are willing to sacrifice some
cuts for some investment or some investment for some cuts.
But there are a bunch of people around this country having a
conversation about your future, and I think that you should lead
that conversation.
So I would just continue to encourage you to get engaged,
start talking a lot, and talking loud so that people
are listening to you.
But there's an active debate going on about your future that
you're not participating in, and I think that's unfair.
So as you talk and hear about winning the future,
we're going to win the future and you're going to allow us to
win the future, because we're going to invest in your future.
But we need your input in that.
And I think that just picking up the phone,
calling your Congressman, calling your U.S. Senator,
makes an extraordinary difference.
So get your friends, get together,
and do it because you want to participate in
that conversation.
Kyle Lierman: Let me see if some folks in the crowd have --
Kalpen Modi: Right here. All right.
And can you tell us your name and where you're from?
Chris Golden: Hi, my name is Chris Golden.
I'm from an organization called "".
Aaron, you just brought up AmeriCorps,
and that's one of the programs that a lot of members of our
generation have gone into seeing,
both our economic conditions and also the state of our
communities in wanting to serve our country stateside
with national service programs.
But sometimes the investment of those programs,
the fact that it's investing in our future but also in the
future our communities and our country with that return,
is hard to demonstrate.
So two-part question to the full panel: What's the best way that
we can help to demonstrate that return on investment,
that impact?
And to the Congressman in particular,
the role of national service that you've seen in Louisiana
and in New Orleans?
Thank you.
Kalpen Modi: Thank you.
Tobias Barrington Wolff: Well, I would say that one of the most powerful techniques
that I've seen to actually demonstrate how important
some of these programs are are the stories of young
people themselves.
I always feel like the young -- young people are impacted by
these program should be the ones speaking.
They should be the one on TV.
They should be the one talking in front of congress,
because they know exactly how important these programs are,
and they've seen the impact.
So, to the extent that you out there have those stories,
you know, first of all, collect them,
but also then think about how to get those out there,
whether it's putting it on a website, putting it on Facebook,
calling reporters and offering these stories,
because reporters are dying for these kind
of real people stories.
So that's what I would focus on to start.
Congressman Cedric Richmond: I will tell you, representing New Orleans, Louisiana and the
metropolitan region, New Orleans would not be where it is today
but for the million volunteers that gave up a spring break or
gave up vacations to come down and volunteer and help rebuild
the city after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
So, when you talk about service and you talk about real life
stories, I can tell you that on a daily basis,
we see it in New Orleans, which is what makes this
country great, which is why I get excited,
because this generation, your generation, you all get it.
You understand it and you're willing to give what have you
to give, and that's not money.
You all only have time and energy at this point.
And giving that makes an incredible difference.
And I watched it hands on as people would come down and help
people do things as simple as gutting out a house and taking
out all the sheetrock and all the wet material so that they
could start rebuilding their lives.
So when you talk about AmeriCorps,
Habitat for Humanity, when you talk about all these
service organizations that give time and resources,
it makes a big difference, and it makes this country
what it is.
So we just had the opportunity to host a convention of all our
service organizations, and that's the thing we just have
to do more of, and that is talk about those things.
And I'll just deviate for one quick second,
which I think you all should lend your voice to,
especially when you're talking about service.
Right now in congress, we're debating whether we should have
a pay for or whether we should have to cut things in order to
put money in FEMA's budget for disaster response.
There's a presidentially declared disaster in every state
in this country, and if we have to get democrats and republicans
to agree on what to cut in order to give people help
from tornadoes or from floods, those people are never going
to get help.
I mean trying to get democrats and republicans do agree on what
to cut takes years if not decades.
So why would you make American citizens wait for us to decide
what to cut in order to help someone who has water rising
in their home or someone whose house was just blown
over by a tornado.
Those are the types of things that you all can weigh in on
and, I think, affect the decision,
because I think it's morally wrong.
And as a country, when we have so many people volunteering to
go help and send care packages to these cities and these
communities, government should participate at the same level,
and we shouldn't have to wait.
So I know that that wasn't directly tied to the question,
but all of that is what makes this country what it is today.
So those service organizations, AmeriCorps and all of them are
very important to this country, and you're talking to someone
who benefited from it firsthand.
Zakiya Smith: And I'm just going to try to actually wrap the two
things that you said together, because you asked what can you
share to show the value of these things.
So, for instance, if you have stories about working,
particularly -- I think there's something about numbers and
tangible pieces of evidence to say, like,
we rebuilt 300 homes or something like that,
but when it hits closer to home, sort of say, you know,
I have friends that did this, right,
like I have friends that went down as part of our AmeriCorps
program to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and helped
with X Y and Z, and we did that on this level.
So we did X number of homes.
We went to this many ZIP codes.
And that starts to really resonate with people on a
personal level, but then they start so see the magnitude of
what that could mean if more people were doing
that and more communities.
And I think, especially when you're talking to people from
different places that are not just from where you're from,
you're talking to somebody from Idaho and they need to relate to
-- they can relate to flooding, but maybe they haven't had
AmeriCorps in their place, that starts to be able to see how
they can, how they can benefit from something that initially
worked somewhere else.
Kalpen Modi: Thanks, everyone.
Kyle, you want to take something from online?
Kyle Lierman: Let me take something from online.
This is coming from Mark.
What is the Obama administration doing to get youth involved in
the African peace negotiations in Darfur, for example?
Kalpen Modi: Those are -- that's a great question.
We actually have a very specific web chat coming up on Thursday
that talks about how young folks can get involved and what we've
been doing on international aid, the millennium development goals
in Darfur, and that's with Administrator Raj
Shah from USAID.
It's at 1:30.
I'm going to defer most of those questions for folks online who
have them to him since he's the President point person for that,
but there's a -- were you going to say something?
Speaker: No.
Kalpen Modi: Okay. There's a lot that we've done.
I mean, the President talked about this on the call on
Friday, the role that young people have played in getting
that movement accomplished in Darfur,
ongoing movement in Darfur.
And the thing that I would say that kind of resonates, Zakiya,
with what you just said is that as a generation or several
generations, there's relatively little attention paid to
follow-up oftentimes.
So, for instance, the last ten or 15 years of really strong
youth advocacy that went into the "save Darfur movement" and
Sudan in general, you know, we're seeing the fruits of
all of those efforts now.
You had electronics in Sudan.
We've got, you know, a two nation solution to
the conflict in Sudan.
You know, very little of that would have been as tenable,
I think, if it weren't for the really strong advocacy and work
that young people have done.
But ten years ago, you know, somebody who was 20 years old
working on that might be 30 now, might be a lot more settled,
may not necessarily give themselves the pat on the
back that they deserve, but it's a great question,
because it's a prime example of youth advocacy and some really
strong solution that is have come out after decade of that.
So that's 1:30 on Thursday, same place,
Zakiya Smith: I'm going to give myself a pat on the back,
because several years ago I was advocating in college
for Darfur stuff.
So I'm going to -- that should be all of you on
some issue today.
Kyle Lierman: I'm going to go ahead with one more,
and this is a comment but I think very relevant to the
folks we have up here today.
Coming from Janice: A great idea.
Many schools today either do not have civics anymore or
offer watered down versions hooked on to another course.
So what would we do about that?
Zakiya Smith: So this is actually a good, I would say,
lesson in the different roles of the federal government.
So the federal government doesn't mandate what the
curriculum is, and there's a lot of good reasons why we don't
say, have you to learn this, or you have to learn that.
I think civics education, as we all know,
is extremely important in building well-rounded
individuals, individuals that have the ability to advocate
and actively participate in the democratic society,
like all of you are doing, and like you're training
other people to do.
So we want to have that as a part of what we think is
important in America.
In particular, though, we have something called the elementary
and secondary education act, and that has different funding
streams, some of which are for different -- teaching different
types of subjects, like teaching American history, for example.
And what we want to do is make that a more well-rounded funding
stream to let schools have money to teach a well-rounded
curriculum, whatever that may be in their different local areas.
So, for instance, I grew up in Atlanta,
and civics education in Atlanta had a little bit of a southern
twinge on it, not a southern revisionist twinge,
but we learned about different ways that people have been
active in southern areas, like the civil rights movement,
with something that happened in a lot of southern areas,
that maybe I learned a little bit more about because I'm from
Atlanta and could connect to it as a young person there.
And in a similar way, we wouldn't want to say that
somebody in, I don't know, Yonkers, New York,
has to learn about -- I think they should learn about the
civil rights movement, but they don't have to necessarily learn
about it in the specific way that I had to learn about it.
But giving them funds to provide,
especially in low income and under resourced area that need
a lot of federal intervention because they don't have the same
money coming from their local communities from the property
taxes there, giving them money to be able to provide those
students and those communities with a well-rounded education
that includes civics is something that we're committed
to and have increased, actually asked for increased funding for.
Tobias Barrington Wolff: And can I just add briefly to that that I think that
cynicism in people's attitudes towards their
government is one of the most insidious and dangerous trends
in American popular and media culture today,
because cynicism is what keeps people from sticking up for
themselves in the process.
And I think that civics education -- and, you know,
I'm a law professor, I teach constitutional law,
and that's a lot of what I in some sense do is a very advanced
form of civics education: This is how government works,
and this is how power is, you know,
apportioned in our government, right.
Civics education is partly about teaching you not only what the
government is supposed to be doing for you but also how you
can affect the levers of power, right.
And, you know, if anybody says to you,
that's not worth learning about, what they're saying to you is,
I don't want you to have the power that will be in your hands
if you have this knowledge and if you have this education.
And so civics is not just about educating good citizens
in the abstract.
Citizens is about -- civics is about educating voters
and about making people engage participants in their community.
And I have to say, I think it is -- I'm going to use a strong
word here, but I think it is unpatriotic to try to make
people cynical in the process of government.
I think that we have to criticize when there's reason
for criticism, but I think that our job is to get people to
recognize their opportunities for exercising power rather than
trying to make them feel like they're a chump if they get
involved in the process.
Kalpen Modi: Great. One from the audience, let's go back here.
Sorry. Go ahead.
Just tell us where you're from, as well.
Lilian Rodriquez: Actually, I'm from Philadelphia, P.A.
My name is Lilian Rodriquez, and I have a question for the panel.
Earlier you were talking about service,
and I would actually like to know the definition of service
to you and how the youth currently right now can actually
connect with congress to change our communities,
whether it be in Philadelphia or New Orleans,
because clearly communities are not as healthy as they
used to be?
Kalpen Modi: Great question. Thank you.
Zakiya, I don't think you and I are allowed
to answer this question.
I'll defer to others.
Congressman Cedric Richmond: Well, I'll just tell you, I didn't do you the best service
in the world, because I didn't tell you how I got involved in politics.
I mean, the good thing for me is when my father died,
I lived across the street from a playground,
and those coaches over there really became mentors and role
models to me.
So at 16 when I couldn't play anymore,
I started coaching teams.
So during my last year of law school while I was still
coaching, I realized that over the past couple years every
uniform, every trip, everything that I had to buy for my little
league team, either I paid for it or my mom
and dad paid for it.
And at 26 I was just so frustrated that I couldn't
get a result or our kids weren't getting the proper attention,
and I just called it lip service that we would always say our
children are our future but we didn't invest in them.
So at 26 I decided to run for office,
and I ran against a 13 year incumbent.
And I think we got somewhere almost around 70% of the vote,
and we won, and it was strictly because of my inability to get
funding for my little league team.
So I say that to tell you when you pose the question how to get
involved and what do I define service as,
I really just define it as helping people in whatever
sense that you can.
And that's why you hear me say, we have an obligation here to --
and when I say here, on this earth,
especially in this great country -- to give what we have to give.
And this is not a popular view, but it's one I believe.
If you have an abundance of time, you should give some time.
If you have an abundance of money,
you probably should give a little bit more than people
who don't have any money.
And that, I think, you can do to make the biggest difference.
But if you want to talk about communities and especially urban
communities, the one thing that we can do right now,
and I say we because I'm still kind of close to your
generation, the one thing we can do to make those urban
communities better is to raise our standards and
raise our expectations.
So we're raising the bar for you all.
But you have to raise the bar with your friends.
And have you to make sure that we don't accept the same,
lack of a better word, the same foolishness that we used to.
We have cultural norms and other things that we allow to persist
that we don't, that we let go unchecked, and we have to do that.
So the best thing we can do is raise the bar for ourselves and
for our friends.
You shouldn't be the smartest one in your group,
and you know people that are not doing what they should be doing,
and at some point you have to break your ties with them,
because you have a lot to offer to this country.
So the higher we set the bar for ourselves,
I think that the better that our communities will be and the
quicker we will see a change.
So part of it is just us making sure that we change what we're
doing and what we're allowing people around us to do.
Aaron Smith: I guess I would say the first step is just sort
of having conversations.
So talk to your friends, talk to people in your community about
what they're going through, what they see as the issues that are
most pressing or that they would like to make a change on.
I remember, you know, one of the things I did when I graduated
from college was there was a real need for cleaning up in
our community, just, you know, taking out trash and fixing up
gardens and that sort of thing, and that was a form of building
community, it was a form of service.
But I think it's really important that our generation
realizes too is that we also have to ask the hard questions
about, okay, how do we really get at the root of some of the
problems that we see, and you mentioned congress,
and congress is a big part of the solution for a lot of the
problems, but it's not the only solution.
It might be your City Council.
It might be the, you know, your teacher.
It could be all kinds of different people.
And have you to -- well, I say have the conversations,
because once you have those conversations,
you can start to really pinpoint, you know,
where are the sources of some of these challenges and then have
the conversation about how we can make a change.
And really get off the side lines and go out there and
try to have that impact.
Kalpen Modi: Great. Thanks.
Kyle Lierman: Let's do another one.
Kalpen Modi: Yep, sure. Who's got a question here?
Go ahead.
Linda: I'm Linda from Charleston, West Virginia.
And I want to know what the White House is willing to do
to help engage the youth that have dropped out of school and
gotten a GED?
Kalpen Modi: Great question.
Zakiya and I have been in several meetings about this.
There are a few things that we're doing in terms of
investments across the federal government.
We've made significant investments.
I think the most recent was $14.6 million that came out
of the Department of Labor about two weeks ago for an
organization called Youth Build, and that's being targeted some
specific regions, particularly for folks that are at risk and
folks that are not college bound and not in the workforce and not
in the military.
On the other side of the coin, we're pushing a lot of
educational and technical training that is not necessarily
for your college bound.
So we've got that component to it, as well.
You probably have a lot to add.
Zakiya Smith: And one of those things that was a huge investment that I
think went largely unnoticed was another thin at the Department
of Labor, trying to match community colleges with job
training so that they're providing very quick but
very effective job training that gets people
certifications that they can take to any different employer.
And this is not just for people that have GED's.
Anyone that's enrolled in a community college and improving
their programs and having programs that are more targeted
to the jobs that are in demand right now.
So I think that's one of the thing that we're doing,
but also things for people that are not looking for further
necessarily post-secondary education to get involved in
the workforce right away, things like Youth Build
and stuff like that.
Kalpen Modi: And then I should also stress when we talk about
youth entrepreneurship, and this has come out in a lot of our
smaller roundtables when we've brainstormed what do young
people actually want us to do more of in terms
of entrepreneurship.
There were two big trends.
One was the feeling that especially for young woman,
the term entrepreneur, inherently folks feel
like that does not include women.
So we need to do a better job at making sure folks know it
includes both men and young women.
And also this feeling that, you know,
when we do an event with Facebook or when we do an event
with a large company that young people have started that the
perception there is that maybe entrepreneurship is only for
folks that go to an ivy league university or that have a
four-year education or more than that,
and that's actually not true.
We want to make sure there's a focus on urban and rural
entrepreneurship on clean technology,
on some of our veterans, and that certainly affects folks
that are not just college bound or have graduated.
So you'll see a lot more of that coming out of the White House,
as well.
Kyle Lierman: This question is for Tobias.
What has the President done for LGBT equality?
Why hasn't he done more?
And does his position on marriage equality make
everything else unimportant?
Tobias Barrington Wolff: I'm shocked, shocked that I got this question.
I've got to tell you, part of my great sadness in the last
two-and-a-half years is that the LGBT community and leaders in
the LGBT community have not, I think,
done as good of a job as we need to in both on the one hand
continuing to push very hard on the issues that still remain to
be resolved for gay, bi-bisexual,
lesbian and transgender people in terms of our inequality both
at the state and the federal level,
but at the same time really giving people an understanding
of the fundamental transformation that this
president has been responsible for in the position and the
relationship with government of LGBT Americans.
The everyday business of this administration,
not just as White House, but the agencies where a lot of the work
gets done, and people up and down the line, senior people,
mid level people, entry level people,
people have been focused on a day-to-day basis on
the question, what are the ways in which gay and transgender people
have been invisible to their government,
or have been discriminated against by their government,
and how do we remediate those problems?
And the list of ways in which the everyday lives of LGBT
people are being impacted from putting in place protections for
residents of HUD subsidized housing so that discrimination
against gay and transgendered people is now going to be a
violation of the terms of HUD subsidized housing.
I'm going to forget his proper title.
I think it's Deputy Assistant Secretary TrasviƱa
from HUD wrote an extraordinary essay on huffing ton post the
other week talking about transgender homelessness in the
United States and talking about the extraordinary rates at which
transgender people are evicted or denied housing or are
experiencing homelessness in the United States and has both made
it a priority of HUD to deal with that problem and also
begun to elevate his visibility in a way which
is totally unprecedented.
Health and Human Services just released a series of new
guidelines for collecting data on LGBT specific health issues.
It is phenomenally important, sort of boring sounding policy,
but a phenomenally important policy that is actually going
to both make health delivery to LGBT people more of a reality
and to make LGBT people visible in the process
of setting health policy.
I could literally spend the entire rest of our time talking
about those kinds of day-to-day changes in the relationship of
LGBT people with our government, and it is difficult to overstate
how much this -- I mean, this is what it looks like to have
a government that actually cares about you and to have
a government that is actually working to figure out what your
needs are and to address those needs,
and we've never had that before, and it could not
be more important.
Look, on the issue of marriage equality, this is the one issue,
the rare issue, where I have had in the past and at this point
continue to have a very respectful disagreement
with my president.
And look, it's not an unimportant issue,
and I would never take away from anybody's sense that they have
to prioritize that issue and keep pushing on it.
But I think part of activism and part of working towards social
change is both, you know, making choices about what issues you
push on but also learning to recognize victories and learning
to recognize that there's nothing inconsistent with
continuing to have needs that are not being properly addressed
and that you need to push on but, nonetheless,
recognizing when have you a victory,
and taking that into your soul.
And look, the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy,
if people want, I'd be happy to talk more about that.
The position that the president and the attorney general have
taken on the defense of marriage act is horrible discriminatory
statute from 1996.
These are about defining the administration,
the federal government's view of the equal citizenship of gay and
lesbian people and transgender people under federal law.
And I will tell you frankly, you know,
I have spent much of my adult life both working on and
studying these issues and also being a gay man and advocating
on these issues.
I wasn't sure that I would ever live to see the day when my
government would speak in the terms that my government is now
speaking about my dignity and my equality.
And, you know, there's more work to do,
and I personally hope that there will come a time when there
isn't that little caveat in some people's mind about, well,
there is this marriage equality issue and doesn't
that overshadow everything else.
But if you let that one issue overshadow everything else,
then you're missing an opportunity to both get
some real change done and also to recognize the ways in which
you are becoming an enfranchised citizen for the first time,
and it doesn't involve -- you don't have to let that issue
go to recognize that we've made progress that is simply
breathtaking in the last two-and-a-half years.
So my answer to the question is, no,
it doesn't overshadow everything else and it never should.
Kyle Lierman: Thank you.
Kalpen Modi: Take one more from this side of the room.
Jorge Gomez: I'm Jorge Gomez from El Paso, Texas.
I understand the investment, the need for investment in STEM,
but coming from an institution that is addressing that,
but if you have -- but where we live (inaudible) which the
media portrays as the most dangerous city in the world.
What good would all those engineers and mathematicians
be if you know right across us people are dying every day and
actually two students have been killed because of that violence
but through no fault of their own.
And as Terrence McKenna once said,
"The engineers of the future will be poets."
So to that end, what about the need for investment in the arts,
literature, poetry, and film?
Because I feel that what America needs more than STEM is a kind
of arts renaissance, just like in Europe.
I think that is what is going to address this like moral vacuum
that we see in America currently.
So that's my question.
Kalpen Modi: I am perhaps horribly biased in answering that,
as I used to be an artist and used to work on the
arts portfolio here.
I definitely appreciate that question.
And much like a lot of other investments,
it's a really tough fiscal time right now.
Nobody is going to lie to you about that.
The President had to make very tough cuts in the arts,
in community development programs,
some of which he worked on for decades before he was
in elected office.
And that's something that we're working to get past so that this
is not a long term cut, that these are short-term.
Now, despite that, on the arts, Zakiya, on the policy level,
you probably have more to share, but the President's committee on
the arts and humanities, for example,
has done a tremendous job at producing what I think is the
first in almost two decades report on the state of arts
education in the United States with a particular focus on state
and local communities and what can be done in those communities
to reinvest in arts education with the understanding being
that a holistic approach to learning, you know,
when you have access to a dance class,
your physics scores go up, because you suddenly are
contextualizing physics through dance or music and science or
reading and poetry.
Those are all interlinked, and so this holistic approach to
learning that the President very much agrees with is something
that we have not forgotten despite some very tough cuts
that may have had to been made in the past.
There are folks like the President's Committee on the
Arts and Humanities, the Office of Science and Technology Policy
that runs a lot of these STEM programs has taken several
meetings with art stakeholders who have been asking for
something called STEAM, so turning STEM into STEAM by
adding the A for arts.
You know, despite that talking point, it's very tangible.
If you go and apply for some of these STEM-related programs with
a focus in the arts, which of course then puts the impetus on
local communities, as it should, because you were talking about a
very specific community with specific challenges,
you can access a lot of those grants if you have a science or
arts based program with some of that
cross-component that's there.
So there are resources available.
I'd be happy to talk afterwards to outline some of the more
specifics, but, Zakiya, do you want to talk about that?
Zakiya Smith: I think that's the important thing is that a focus in one
area doesn't mean that we don't care about another area.
So the arts, just as we talked about civics education and have
how having a holistic education is extremely important to
building well-rounded individuals that function
well in society and don't just do well in a job is
extremely important.
So it's no good to have a bunch of engineers if no one is going
to be a poet or if no one is going to write about the
injustices of our society.
So we need all of those different pieces.
But what I think the President's investment in STEM realizes is
that looking forward we have a huge kind of chink
in our armor, so-to-speak, and there are those chinks
in several different places, and I think in the arts the
investments that the President has worked on throughout his
whole career are something that we want to continue to look and
see how we can build on, and the pairing of the arts with
engineering and STEM is something that is actually
a good way to blend those two, and those are things that we're
thinking about actively right now.
Congressman Cedric Richmond: Well, one thing you can help with, especially as we start
this conversation of reauthorizing and revamping
or what to do with No Child Left Behind, which did a complete
disservice to a generation of young people, because it took
creativity out of the classroom and it took
the emphasis away from arts.
So you have a large number of kids who went to school during a
time where those creative ideas and that creative push was just
not supportive.
The good thing for me being from New Orleans, I mean,
we embody the arts, culture, music, dance,
all of those things in our city.
And so we, I understand the importance of it,
but you will see that this debate as we talk about
revamping No Child Left Behind will include a specific
conversation about, do we want creativity and culture and the
arts back in the classroom.
So that's another area where you can get engaged as that's going
to be legislation that comes down the pipe soon.
So that gives you an opportunity to be involved.
Kalpen Modi: There's also -- I'll turn it back over to you,
Kyle, in a second, but there's also no shortage of scalable
programs like this, right?
So programs like Music National Service that's run by a guy
named Kiff Gallagher that has a branch in New Orleans and a few
other places around the country, they work on finding artists to
teach art in places that have cut the arts from their program.
Now, the challenge there in scalability is obviously you
don't want to then scale it such an extent that it encourages
school districts to cut the arts.
You don't want them to say, okay,
we're going to have these professional artists come in.
So it's always a little bit of a dance and a balance.
But there are great programs like Kiff's that are scaled all
around the country that I would urge you to look at as well for
the other piece of this.
Kyle Lierman: This one is coming from Cody online.
When are we going to stop playing politics and do what
is right for the people?
And when are folks going to stop voting on party lines?
I think we know who this one is going to.
Congressman Cedric Richmond: The short answer is not soon enough.
As a freshman in Congress, it's very frustrating.
I spent eleven years in the state legislature in Louisiana
where we were not, at the time, very, very partisan.
And then after the storm, we didn't even have the luxury to
think about being partisan because we had people who
had real needs.
And if you look at this country right now,
we're in that exact same place that we have real needs.
And people are stuck on talking points.
And the question becomes -- and people will have
their own opinions.
The question becomes whether the parties will watch the
destruction of the country just to gain an advantage over the
other party in upcoming elections.
And if you look and pay attention to what's going
on in the country right now, we're at a very dangerous point.
And the debt and deficit and the debt ceiling vote that's coming
up is a very grave issue for the country.
The question becomes do you use that issue to promote social
change and other changes that you've been trying to accomplish
for years and years and years?
Do you put the full faith of the United States at risk to do it?
I have some very strong opinions about that,
but I will tell you this.
And both parties share some blame.
Congress is most basically dysfunctional because of a
number of reasons.
But it's almost like a full-time campaign because you run every
two years.
But the other part is just the need of parties to stay in
control and to always talk about what the other party is not
doing or to talk about what the President is not doing.
I'm a member of the 112th Congress.
The 112th Congress is controlled by Republicans.
It is what it is.
But the question then becomes, well,
if the President is not doing it right,
then where's the jobs agenda that we can all get behind?
Where's the youth employment agenda that
we can all get behind?
And to the extent that I'm there, I don't see it.
But I think it's going to come from people saying
enough is enough.
And I think that's where your generation has the most power
to affect change.
And if you look at what's happening around the world
and how young people are demanding change,
I think that gives us the best ability to do it.
And that's going to come from you all saying we're not
interested in party affiliation, we're interested in platform,
we're interested in accountability,
we're interested in transparency,
we're interested in results.
That, I think -- when that happens and it comes from you
all, I think that you'll start to see the people that control
the parties, especially in Congress,
start to change their idea.
And I'll just quickly tell you about one little thing that I'm
doing now which I've decided to step out from
So every other Thursday on the House floor in Congress,
I go down for 30 minutes and I just speak to the American
people and I ask them for ideas.
Facebook or Twitter or e-mail me, and it's
I just want to have a conversation with everyday
people who want to get engaged in finding some solutions.
And I don't care whether they're Republican or Democrat.
And we talk about all the issues.
And as people send in information,
we put it out there.
We'll print up boards, where they're from and their thoughts,
and we talk about it.
I think that can get us past the party politics of Congress.
But what's going on in Congress now will keep the President from
being successful.
It's going to keep the country from moving forward.
And it's all based on politics and who's going to stay in
control, how do they stay in control,
and how do they show the country that the President is not
effective, not taking into account the role of being
obstructionists and so forth.
But if we're going to change that, which we have to do,
you all have to get involved and say enough is enough,
this is where we think the country should go.
It can be in line with the President.
It can be in line with Congress.
But get involved and let people know that you're tired of it and
that you're paying attention.
And I think you'll be surprised how things change,
simply because you all want it to change.
Tobias Barrington Wolff: Can I just ask something really quickly which is --
I think Cody poses a great question.
I want to, a little bit, put the question back on Cody,
which is become a much better consumer and demanding consumer
of media, because let me tell you the White House and members
of Congress can push out discussions,
vitally important discussions, about policy issues,
and they do.
And that's not what gets reported on for the most part.
What gets reported on is he said this about his opponent and she
said this about her opponent and look at this big political fight
that's going on.
That's what we've gotten, this kind of full body contact,
you know, blood sport expectation about what we're
going to see when we turn on the news that we watch.
And, you know, if we start telling news outlets with our
voices and with our dollars, I want you to educate me on the
issues, I don't want you to just have two people trying to scream
over each other for 25 minutes and then pat yourself on the
back and say that you had both sides.
I want you to teach me something so that I can make an informed
choice about what policies matter to
me in the upcoming election.
And I think that we as American consumers of media have not done
a good job of telling our media outlets,
you're not serving us well, and that is interfering with
our ability to engage in the political process.
Kalpen Modi: Thank you.
I'm going to bring up a last question that partially came out
of the roundtables that we did.
And this was asked in a bunch of different ways,
so I'm paraphrasing probably 30 different feedback sheets
that we got.
But it has to do with something the President talked about as
well on his call on Friday.
For those of you who joined the call,
you know that he said it was very important for folks to
reach out and talk to people that disagree with you.
So if you're having these town halls or if you're having
roundtables in your communities or if you're writing an op-ed,
and if you're putting it in a paper or on a blog or if you're
having a roundtable with folks that already agree with you,
then the political process will always disappoint you.
And he encouraged folks instead to reach out to folks that
disagree with them.
So my question for all of you is,
do you encounter disagreement and hostility?
I would imagine the answer is yes for everybody.
And if so, how do you handle people who disagree with you or
strongly held point of view when you engage in a reform effort,
a social change effort, something budgetary?
And how do you deal with people who's views you disagree with?
Aaron, you want to start?
Aaron Smith: Well, I think this relates to actually the last question.
It's a lot less about politics and partisanship as it is about
the specific issues that you are concerned about or you're
working on in your community.
So there is going to be disagreement,
but we can't -- there's not going to be disagreement over
the fact that young people have twice the
rate of national unemployment.
Or there's not going to be disagreement over the fact
that our generation has more college debt than
any generation in history.
So I think if you start from the issues rather than sort of,
you know, ideology or party politics and you
have conversations about those issues,
then we find that you quickly forge agreement.
We found tremendous agreement that we need to do more to
control the cost of higher education.
You know, Pell Grants, for example,
for decades has been something that's been
completely bipartisan.
It affects everyone, all different types of Americans
from all over the country.
It's only become partisan, in some ways,
because we've let it become partisan.
So going back to Kyle's question,
I think when you focus on the issues,
when you focus on sort of the challenges that unite us and
less of the sort of ideological differences,
usually you find success in forging consensus.
Tobias Barrington Wolff: I actually have an answer to that question.
It's something I thought about a lot.
And my answer is largely influenced by the example of
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and his teachings and the study
that he did with Bayard Rustin and others on the
philosophy of nonviolence.
And for me, a very important part of what the teachings of
Dr. King on the philosophy of nonviolence involve is forcing
yourself to recognize the humanity of people that you are
struggling with or people that you disagree with.
And you know, Dr. King and the people who worked with him were
engaging in an existential struggle over the most
extraordinary stark issues of survival and humanity in
American society.
And they were confronting people who had terrible,
terrible ideas about him and about his community.
And you know, there are always people out there who are sadists
and sociopaths and who are bad people.
And you have to recognize them as such.
But that's not the vast majority of people who are
going to disagree with you.
The vast majority of people who hold views that you may think
are terrible views and dehumanizing and how can you
possibly think that way about me and my family and the people I
care about, are coming to those views from their own personal
history, from, you know, whatever has lead them to
the beliefs that they have.
But they're coming to it from a place of humanity.
And if we simply demonize people who disagreed with us,
that's not a very good strategy often for actually moving them
past a set of views that you think are really problematic.
And, I mean, I encountered this with my work on LGBT equality.
And I remind myself frequently that with some exceptions,
with very few exemptions, most of the people who I encounter
who don't have the views that I would love them to have on LGBT
equality are good people.
And they need to be engaged with.
And you know, it is -- I'm getting back to the question the
young woman from Philadelphia asked a little while ago,
what is your idea about service.
I mean, my idea about service is to do the hard work of rising to
the challenge of talking to people that I disagree with and
recognizing their humanity and being the first one to do that,
rather than waiting for somebody else to recognize my humanity
before I'm willing to talk to them.
And that's not always easy, and it's scary sometimes.
But that, I think, is one of the great lessons from Dr. King is
that that is a powerful engine for social change.
And we don't do a lot of that, it seems to me,
in American politics today.
And I think we can do it more.
Zakiya Smith: I think the first thing that came to mind when you asked this
is to -- you said how do you deal with people that disagree
with your views or your policies or whatever.
And my first thought was, see if they actually have a point.
So I think one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to
think that -- and so there are some things that are very civil
rights oriented that are just like, you know,
people are people and they're human and they should be valued.
But sometimes there are things that are less -- I find that in
education policy landscape, for instance,
there's like -- you know, I think everyone thinks people
should be educated.
It's hard to find somebody who thinks I actually think that it
would be better if we didn't have good schools,
if we just close them all down.
So you're kind of starting from a similar place of agreement in
the first place.
So most of the time, when I'm dealing -- in my job,
it's like they disagree on how to get there.
And that's something that you can kind of change if you get
to the root of the problem and to say,
do you have the same information that I have,
do you have information that actually tells me that there's
a reason that I shouldn't be trying to increase Pell Grants?
Has every state committed, all of a sudden,
to providing free college education for all of its
students and we don't need it anymore?
Is there something that I'm not getting that you're --
you have to offer.
So that would be the first thing I say,
sometimes to have an open mind.
And then also to see people as people and to try to meet them
where they are because I realize,
especially with education, everybody's been to school.
And they have an image of how they went to school and
what their life path was.
And they usually think that I'm a pretty good person,
I've ended up all right, so if this worked for me it will work
for someone else.
So meeting people where they are and trying to understand where
they're coming from often helps you to get to a place
of agreement so that you can say oh,
well -- also facts are really important sometimes.
Although you went to a private school and your parents were
both there and they helped you with homework every night,
not everyone has that.
And this is the percentage of students who don't.
This is the percentage of families that are living
under the poverty line.
And that can help people move their image of what normalcy is
and get to a place of understanding and coming
to some common ground about trade-offs or how we can solve
a common issue.
Like I said -- actually, like Tobias said -- if there's
somebody that's just a terrible person and doesn't like --
doesn't stand for the same things you stand for at the end
of the day -- It may be hard to negotiate with Sadam Hussein on
torture or something like that.
But usually, most of your disagreements aren't going
to be at the same level of core venom and hate.
And so if you can find the place of agreement and kind of come to
it with a place of love actually for your common person and
understanding that they probably have some views that were shaped
by their experiences just like you have views that were shaped
by your own.
Congressman Cedric Richmond: Well, I would agree. And as a Congressman now, you know,
we deal with some very hostile people on occasion.
And I would just tell you that --
-- the best thing you can do is to be respectful.
And don't let their approach or their attitude dictate how
you respond.
And that is a very, very, very difficult thing to do.
Everyday, when we walk over to vote,
if we walk outside -- and I generally like walking outside
because I like fresh air and I like seeing people.
So when we walk outside to go vote,
there's a guy that stands at the steps everyday who calls you by
name and screams that you're stupid,
that you're letting the country go to hell and
all these other things.
And it is very hard to do that.
But I'll tell you the day that really changed me,
because I was walking over there and it was the first day that he
really called me by name and called me stupid.
But I was working with John Lewis who is a great American
hero, who exemplifies everything that makes this country great.
And he was calling John Lewis stupid.
And I was just heated.
Then I looked and I said, you know,
he may even have a point calling me some names but he shouldn't
call John Lewis this name.
Then I thought and said, if John Lewis is taking this and just
walking by and not paying any attention to it,
then I certainly can do that.
So part of it is just rising above and being respectful.
Then engage people in the conversation.
And if you do that, I think you start to make some headway.
But the most important part of both engaging and being
respectful is also be big enough to change your mind
if you're wrong.
I have, since I've been in congress,
changed my position on something after being
better educated about it.
I took a congressional delegation trip to Afghanistan
with a group of Republicans.
And it changed my view on what we're doing in Afghanistan,
how soon we need to get out, and just the approach there.
But part of it is just being willing to have a conversation
with people you don't agree with and being big enough to
say there's a possibility that I may be wrong or that I can
tweak my view.
So you all in this room, all of you all are going to be leaders.
Part of being a leader is recognizing that you don't know
everything and you're not always right and when you recognize
that you made a mistake or that you have the wrong
view to change it.
And I think that when people see that and they see a willingness
on your part to do that, then they open up.
Now, I will never ever recommend that you compromise
on your principles.
Absolutely not.
Those core values that you have, stick with them.
Fight for them.
Die for them, because that's also what makes
this country great.
But just be smart enough to know what you know and know what you
don't know and be open to those people who can help you.
And just have a conversation with anyone,
as long as you keep in mind being open minded,
being respectful, and letting people call you stupid every
once in a while.
Kalpen Modi: Thank you.
We're a little bit over time, so I was just going to see if
you guys had about a minute of closing remarks,
anything that you wanted to add, then I'll wrap it up as well.
You want to start over there?
Aaron Smith: Sure. I would just say two final things.
First is don't wait.
There's a big election coming up in 2012.
But that doesn't mean there aren't issues right now that
we need to have an impact on.
And there are issues in your community that desparately
need your help right now.
So don't wait until 2012.
The second is, don't be afraid to lose.
You know, one of the -- some of the young organizers that I find
most inspiring are actually some of the organizers around
The DREAM Act.
And these are young people who put so much on the line
to support something.
And unfortunately, the first time it came up,
it lost in Congress.
But they're going to keep trying.
And eventually, they're going to succeed.
And I think -- whether it's at your local community level or
here in D.C., that's a powerful lesson.
You can't stop trying.
You can't be afraid to lose.
And eventually, you will win.
You will have an impact.
Tobias Barrington Wolff: Look, I'll just say, it really is an honor to have
been included here today and to have a chance to speak to all of you.
There's a very special young person in the audience by the
name of Chapin who came here today to support me.
So Chapin, thank you for being here.
And go out there and be true to yourselves because that is
what's going to make the country a better place.
Thank you.
Zakiya Smith: So I would just say don't give up.
Whenever you find what it is that you're really passionate
about -- and it shouldn't take too long,
because I'm sure that there are a lot of things,
as you go throughout your day, a lot of like minor inconveniences
or major inconveniences.
Figure out what level it is.
So if you really hate that your trash is only picked up
on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when those are the days that you have
to be at work at 6:00 a.m.
and you want it to be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,
that's a change that's tangible that you can make.
You can call your city councilor,
your commissioner or something, and try to make it happen.
So find whatever it is in your life and figure out the
latchpoint to make it happen.
So for me, it's like educational opportunity and college
completion, which may take a little longer than getting the
days that my trash gets picked up.
But don't give up.
Have that tenacity.
And figure out what are the pieces of information
that you need.
The points that Aaron made earlier are spot on,
in terms of getting the information,
knowing who the changemakers are,
and going to make it happen.
But that's what I would leave with you.
And think about the time that you have.
I think -- I hope to think I don't waste time,
but one of the biggest things that I think was a change in
my life when I started making a difference or feeling like I was
more effective was when I thought about the span of my
day that I'm not asleep and what am I doing to achieve my goals,
quite honestly.
And when you think about your life -- I mean,
you can spend so many time on Angry Birds, on Facebook,
doing these other things that, if you're doing them for a
purpose maybe that's great.
But you would just be amazed at the potential that you have when
you use your time in an efficient manner and go at
something with all you've got.
That's what I would do.
Congressman Cedric Richmond: I will close with just a couple of quotes that
are very small but I think they say a lot.
And one is from the movie "A Bronx Tale".
One of the quotes in the movie was,
"The biggest sin in life is wasted talent."
And as I look out at the audience,
and see so many incredibly talented people,
I would just tell you, you know, pursue your dreams, work hard,
change the world, because you can do it.
When you start measuring what you achieve,
Vince Lombardi -- and I'm paraphrasing here --
used to say, It's not what you accomplished,
it's what you could have accomplished with the
talent you have.
Just because you're good, don't stop, because you can be great.
And just keep pushing because we're going to need that.
And as we fight -- or as I fight for you all everyday --
especially not to make sure that we cut you out of a future and
we don't invest in your future -- but we need you all to be
active participants because I will say again,
the same challenge I gave you when I opened,
we expect big things from you all.
There are seniors out there, there are people out there who
invented the internet, airplane, peanut butter,
Super Soaker watergun, all of these things that make your life
what it is.
And you owe them a debt.
Part of that debt is to find a cure to some of those things
that are ailing them so that you don't have to say good-bye to
your grandparents so soon, you don't have to say good-bye to
mother so soon.
So when I talk about what you all can achieve,
just think about the person who gets to stand up and say,
I found the cure to breast cancer.
I mean, those are just things that should really
make you excited.
And I doesn't have to be in Science.
It can be in a number of different areas.
It can be just getting the country to love each
other again.
But just know that you have the ability to do it.
And now with social media and with the internet,
you can affect the world.
And you can certainly affect the country.
But what I would just close by encouraging you to do,
affect your friends.
And then they'll affect theirs.
And then, before you know it, your community
will have changed.
And then your city will have changed, and then your state,
and hopefully your country.
But that's how we're going to make this country a better place.
And I would just encourage you all again,
especially as I'm getting up in age before you all,
to invest in STEM and go find the cures to some of
those things that I know are in your head.
So thank you for letting me participate in this.
Kalpen Modi: Anything you want to add, Kyle?
Kyle Lierman: No great Facebook comments.
Kalpen Modi: All right. No concluding Facebook comments.
I don't think I can properly follow our panelists,
but I will close with just a quick thank you.
Over the last two and a half years, the President,
the Administration with our partners in Congress and our
advocates, have been able to achieve some really tremendous
things in partnership with young people.
And I just wanted to extend a thank you,
from those of us at the White House, from the President,
on the work that you all have done on that.
Everything from being able to stay on your parent's plan until
you're 26, our friends coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan,
repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," getting $60 billion more into
your pockets for financial aid, things going on in Darfur.
These are things that, without strong advocacy
from young people, probably wouldn't have happened,
certainly not as quickly as the way that they have happened in
just two and a half years.
So thank you for that.
When we started this Youth Roundtables initiative,
we were even curious who's going to participate.
We weren't going out and telling people to host roundtables.
We didn't want big government to go tell you what you should
talk about.
On the contrary, we just put up a website and a web form and a
feedback sheet and said, tell us what you want to talk about,
tell us what you want us to do better at,
and help us highlight some solutions.
And 384 people around the country,
which included thousands who joined their respective
roundtables, highlighted for us very tangible solutions that
were going on in their communities,
really inspiring things.
When the President was on the call on Friday,
he talked about how inspiring it was every time he got a chance
to talk to young folks and be in the room with them.
So on behalf of him, thank you for everything you're doing.
Continue to partner with us.
We have three great events coming up in the next two weeks,
one on the How to Make Change series.
One is a -- tomorrow there's a Twitter townhall at 2 p.m.
That will be live streamed on
USAID webchat with Administrator Shah coming up on Thursday at
1:30 for millenium development goals and
international conversation.
And then on the 13th, we're having a youth entrepreneurship
event here at the White House.
It will also be on
Hopefully you can join that, tweet about it,
Facebook about it.
As Jon said, help us get the word out.
And thanks so much for the advocacy that you're
continuing to doing.
And thanks so much to our panelists here today.