The United States is living through a period of polarization and upheaval. We hunger for new solutions, yet too often turn to the same people, somehow expecting different outcomes. How can this be? This book takes a different angle. It features award-winning social innovators with decades of experience of working across America with people from all walks of life. In twenty deep, idea-packed conversations, they share their analysis, practical insights, and policy recommendations—on how to gain common ground, get the country unstuck, and increase prosperity and well-being for all.

Baratunde Thurston, Author and Host of
How to Citizen with Baratunde

Grab this book! It dives into the wisdom of nearly two dozen Ashoka Fellows whose solutions are alive and working in today’s America. These stories should be filling our news feeds.

Chapters

  • Albert Fox Cahn

    Albert Fox Cahn
    Being anonymous in a big city—that’s a notion of the past. Nowadays, surveillance technology allows law enforcement to track people’s activities with a few strokes of a key. Albert Fox Cahn, a lawyer and privacy activist, lays out why many surveillance practices infringe on constitutional rights and why we need more citizen oversight and a recalibration of the social contract.
  • Alison Lingane

    Alison Lingane
    There is a near universal concern about the growth of wealth inequality in the U.S. So what are doable, practical pathways for creating better jobs, sharing profits, and keeping small businesses alive and jobs local? Let’s focus on ownership, not just wages, says Alison Lingane. A conversation about solutions with political appeal for all sides, and the opportunity to build a more equitable economy.
  • Angelou Ezeilo

    Angelou Ezeilo
    The environmental sector in the U.S. is predominantly white. When Angelou Ezeilo set out to change this, she focused on opening up new career pathways for young people of color. But she soon realized that it would take more than supporting Black and Brown people to diversify the environmental movement. A conversation about history, outdoor recreation, power, and the privilege of roaming around freely.
  • Brandon Dennison

    Brandon Dennison
    Brandon Dennison’s family ties to Appalachia date back to the eighteenth century. A proud local entrepreneur and changemaker, he tells a story of the region that goes beyond the tropes of coal and poverty: of people making informed choices to stay, of creativity and business acumen. And of politicians on the right and left who instead of understanding what is happening at the grassroots resort to ideologically colored instruments that fail to yield results. A conversation about small businesses, local employment, and unlocking pride and purpose.
  • Bren Smith

    Bren Smith
    Bren Smith is a fisherman turned ocean farmer. On vertical farms below the sea surface, ocean farmers grow kelp, oysters, and scallops—with zero fertilizer, freshwater or feed—in a way that sequesters nitrogen and carbon out of the ocean. The winning argument for ocean farming is not the appeal to save the planet. It’s the appeal to save oneself, to lead a self-determined life, to earn a living. A conversation about the need to reconcile ecology and economics, and overcome the class divide.
  • Casey Woods

    Casey Woods
    The debate about guns is one of the most polarizing in America. Casey Woods works from within the gun-owning community on making the country safer. A conversation about empathy, pragmatism, fear, and the overlap in motivation that drives both opponents and supporters of firearms.
  • Danielle Sered

    Danielle Sered
    Does incarceration make us safer? Or repair harm? If so, why do a majority of survivors of crime opt for an alternative to prison for the person who hurt them when given the choice? A conversation with Danielle Sered about what breeds violence, the pragmatism of survivors, the transformative power of genuine remorse, and what it takes to build safety for all.
  • David Lubell

    David Lubell
    David Lubell has nearly two decades of experience helping cities and towns embrace new immigrants. In this conversation, he shares his lessons from the Trump years, the role that empathy plays in his approach, and why there is often a difference between national populist rhetoric and what is happening at the grassroots level.
  • Denisa Livingston

    Denisa Livingston
    Denisa Livingston is a proud Diné member who quietly rallied her people to pass the first tax on unhealthy food in the United States—part of a broader movement to build a culture of health rooted in traditions and Indigenous wisdom. A conversation about community health, history and how food has been instrumentalized as a tool of oppression—and how planting and cooking can be a means of liberation, nourishment, and joy.
  • Eric Liu

    Eric Liu
    Democracies are sustained not just by laws and elections, argues Eric Liu, but by a culture of powerful, responsible citizenship. With democracy under threat in the United States and around the world, how do we create the spaces and habits for rekindling and nurturing that culture at the local level? A conversation about faith, responsibility, power, and America as an ongoing argument.
  • Laura Emiko Soltis

    Laura Emiko Soltis
    Undocumented young people have the right to public K-12 education in the U.S.—but not to higher education in all states. Laura Emiko Soltis’s university classrooms are exclusively filled with Dreamers and undocumented youth. A conversation about the country’s history of exclusion, the outsized personal risk many undocumented young people experience, and why education should lead to freedom for all.
  • Mauricio Lim Miller

    Mauricio Lim Miller
    Based on his own life experience, Mauricio Lim Miller argues against well-intended poverty reduction approaches led by people with an underlying class bias. In this conversation, he explains why people considered poor are the experts of their own lives, why so much goes wrong when we treat them differently, and how to overcome a class divide that is compounded by race and gender.
  • Raj Jayadev

    Raj Jayadev
    Most Americans facing criminal charges—especially people of color— never have access to strong legal representation. But what if ordinary citizens can help? Tapping into the organizing capacity of communities, Raj Jayadev unlocks the knowledge and wisdom of those with a loved one accused of a crime to shift the outcome of cases. A conversation about chronically overworked public defenders, the imbalance of power in our courts, and the impact of prison—and prison time saved.
  • Rosanne Haggerty

    Rosanne Haggerty
    Fighting homelessness is expensive: Pre-pandemic, the U.S. was already spending $12 billion annually on emergency responses to homelessness— without much impact, or worse perhaps: without any expectation of impact. We can do so much better, says Rosanne Haggerty. A conversation about the relevance of real-time data, what we can learn from public health, and the importance of setting ideological battles aside in order to focus on the task at hand.
  • Sarah Hemminger

    Sarah Hemminger
    How is it that a small organization achieves staggering results of high school and college graduation rates among students in Baltimore? Sarah Hemminger argues that a key determinant of success in life is being surrounded by people who never give up on you. A conversation about showing up, commitment, and the necessity of changing our vantage point and learning from people with different lived experiences.
  • Sixto Cancel

    Sixto Cancel
    The example of foster care shows what can go wrong in the welfare system when paperwork and bureaucracy dominate children’s lives—and what opportunities open up when young people are trusted to be drivers of their own destiny. A conversation with Sixto Cancel, who grew up in foster care, about replacing micromanagement with autonomy, and how we can improve policies and save taxpayer dollars if we enlist the help of those closest to the problem.
  • T. Morgan Dixon

    T. Morgan Dixon
    Tapping into the changemaking potential of 1.5 million Black women, T. Morgan Dixon is mobilizing against exhaustion and oppression by fueling a movement that prioritizes joy, health, and self-determination. A conversation about culture change, Black history, the power of self-care, and the radical approach to fighting hatred with hope and love.
  • Tim Lampkin

    Tim Lampkin
    How can we close the racial wealth gap? Start by making it easier for Black Americans to access capital and build assets, says Tim Lampkin. A conversation about expanding Black business ownership across the Mississippi Delta, reimagining collateral, and why poverty is not an outcome of individual choices, but a function of a biased system.
  • Trabian Shorters

    Trabian Shorters
    Why Asset-Framing matters: Trabian Shorters unveils how popular narratives have contributed to upholding racial hierarchies by characterizing Black people and communities almost exclusively in stigmatizing ways, and why the time is ripe for change. A conversation about the opportunity that opens up for America when we define people by their aspirations and contributions before noting any challenges.
  • Will Jackson

    Will Jackson
    How can we create classrooms that all learners, including Black learners, can relate to and thrive in—and transform the education system in the process? Will Jackson shares his insights about the lived experience of Black learners, the assets and aspirations of Black parents, and the power of connections and collaborations. A conversation about culture, why our ideas of expertise need updating—and how we can all win.

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