At a time of political unrest, one group is hoping to rekindle people’s faith in the power they hold as ordinary citizens.
Through a new event series called Civic Saturday, the nonprofit Citizen University is inspiring hundreds of people in Seattle to learn to become more powerful, active citizens. Just days after President Donald Trump’s election, the initiative began bringing people together to discuss the polarized political climate and what everyday Americans can do to create change in their communities.
“[The event] is renaming things we’ve taken for granted, which under this administration are being challenged: not just inclusivity, but rule of law,” Citizen University founder Eric Liu told The Huffington Post. Liu, author of You’re More Powerful than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen, is the executive director of the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity program.
“[Civic Saturday events] are about what it means to be responsible for one another in a community,” Liu said. “What will you do when roundups happen of your undocumented friends? What will you do when budgets get slashed for causes you believe in? What happens when a disfavored group that’s not yours feels the heat? How will you show up for others?”
The gatherings have grown rapidly: At the first event on Nov. 12, organizers expected 50 people, but 200 showed up. Around 800 attendees are expected at the next event on April 8.
The events ― held in churches, bookstores and community centers around Seattle ― are not religious, but intentionally echo the structure of faith-based gatherings, and include a sermon, songs and readings, followed by a social hour.
“Religion, at its best, satisfies a need for purpose,” Liu said. “America is becoming less formally religious ― but that doesn’t change the fact that humans are wired to yearn for purpose. [Civic Saturday] speaks to the unrequited yearning Americans have of reckoning with moral questions of ‘What am I doing here? How can I be useful?’”
The sermons discuss how the Trump era fits into American history and America’s promise as a democracy founded on the principles of freedom and equality, according to Liu. The readings range from the Declaration of Independence to contemporary poetry to Frederick Douglass’ speech asking, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?”