Reading Recommendations: Campfire Fellows from Cohort V Weigh In

The latest Campfire Fellows created quite a reading list before leaving Savage River Lodge. We’re pleased to share their list:

  • What You are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

  • The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives by Sasha Abramsky

  • How The Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York by Jacob A. Riis

  • The People of the Abyss by Jack London

  • Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

  • Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit Banarjee and Esther Duflo

  • Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America by Mary Otto

  • Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy

  • Love Your Enemies: How Decent People can Save America from the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks

  • The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

  • Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

  • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

  • Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

  • Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse by Timothy P. Carney

  • The Fabric of Character: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Supporting Social and Moral Renewal by Anne Snyder

  • Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

  • Seven Types of Atheism by John Gray

  • The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life by Shawn Achor

  • Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics by Salena Zito and Brad Todd

Robert D. Putnam        

  • Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

  • Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

  • American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us

  • Better Together: Restoring the American Community

 Jonathan Haidt            

  • The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure          

  • The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

What gives you hope?

This question is at the core of our work. What gives you hope about our democracy?

This weekend, our Campfire Fellows shared a few things that give them hope:

  • More people running for office

  • More people registering to vote

  • Restoration of voting rights

  • Gen Z taking action

  • Bipartisan legislation

  • More happening on the local level

  • The Preamble to the Constitution

  • “Events like this.”

What gives us hope? For our democracy, our future, and our nation? Our Campfire Fellows.

Campfire Night 2: Wind, Rain, and Snow

The weather was magical all day. You looked out the window and felt like you were the main attraction in the middle of the snow globe. And the child that globe was just gifted to continued shaking and shaking and shaking so the snow continued to flutter and flutter and flutter around the windows all day long.

(On the down side, you know what that means: no Campfire. We’ll have to hold off on s’mores one more day.)

This morning, the Fellows came down to breakfast, convening quietly before the real convening.

At the outset of Campfire, Lori opens with the extraordinary story of Jake’s life, his accomplishments, his trajectory. She sets a tone of vulnerability and trust by sharing the details of Jake’s tragic and unexpected death. And then she invites the latest Campfire Fellows into his legacy. “Jake was my first loyal antagonist,” she says before breaking into a longer explanation of loyal antagonism as exemplified by Al Smith and Belle Moskowitz, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia.

The Fellows all sit in a circle so that they can see Lori and each other. At the risk of sounding cultish, there is a magic rock, an opening mantra, a sort of liturgy to move through to get yourself centered. To become, as Lori reminds us, fully present. We’re all so often in the past or the future. We have our faces tilted at an angle - toward our devices - and when we’re not on the tilt, we’re thinking about our inbox or our mailbox or something that ensures we are decidedly not present in the present. So we repeat the prescribed phrase, state our intention, remind ourselves, “In this moment, I…” before we settle into the moment and repeat, “And, with that, I am checked in.”

And checked in is where everyone stays. Through the magic of the mantra and the circle and the activities and the facilitators and the Fellows, everyone stays fully present and attentive through what might otherwise be a long day of leadership and storytelling and development. This is a new way of being for almost everyone and Campfire Fellows are always improbably well-suited to it, hungry for the opportunity, insatiably curious, and willing to find (and push) their own edge.


Campfire Night 1: The Fellows Arrive

All day, the weather was horseshit.

Forgive the swearing; consider it a technical weather term. Heavy rain, occasional fog, intermittent relief for just long enough to give you hope that you’d gotten through the worst of it before cycling back to heavy rain, occasional fog. Some people got traffic, too, or darkness, or horseshit weather plus those other two, to add insult to injury.

It is nearly midnight and the last of the Campfire Fellows are slowly driving up the dark dirt road to get to cabins and yurts. Intrepid travelers rolling into their rural weekend home.

Campfire always happens in the spring and the fall. Always at the Savage River Lodge in Frostburg, MD at a remote spot (with great food and a well stocked bar) surrounded by 700 acres of state forest and excellent hiking trails. And Campfire Fellows always come with only a limited sense of what they’ve agreed to and no idea who else might be joining them for their time off-the-grid. Intrepid indeed.

Already, the Fellows’ conversation cuts to the heart of things faster than anywhere in their everyday lives. Because they know they’re here to go deep, and do it quickly, they just get after it themselves. It is amazing to watch. These leaders are game, they’re up for anything, they’re humble and brilliant and kind.

And they’re grateful. Because the word is out: Campfire is transformational and an invitation to be a Campfire Fellow is a tremendous gift.

Follow us as we head into the weekend with Cohort V. We’re excited to share the journey with you - and then track what our leaders do once they leave. We have a feeling that our democracy is in good hands.

Have A Great Weekend.

We’re heading into the weekend thinking about Loyal Antagonists, bipartisan efforts, kabuki theater in Congress, and whether Americans live in bubbles of their own making. We’ve been reading Emma O. Green’s piece in The Atlantic and recommend you do, too: These Are the Americans Who Live in a Bubble.

Here’s how she frames it:

"One of the many questions the Trump era has raised is whether Americans actually want a pluralistic society, where people are free to be themselves and still live side by side with others who aren’t like them."

So now we’re thinking about it and asking you:

Do we want a pluralistic society? What do we need to do to get from here to there? What does that mean in the context of our political debates? How is that the same or different from our social or religious debates? Where do we need to look for an answer?

We’re also checking out the great work of our CtK Alums and colleagues:

Bishop Garrison writing in Blavity: Why Congress Must Protect Black And Latino Americans From Russian Operatives’ Social Media Experiment In 2020

And also featured for his national security expertise on ABC: North Korea summit's impact beyond nuclear weapons

Sarah Hunt writing in Axios: DOJ indictment reveals threat of Chinese IP theft to U.S. energy innovation

Sarah Longwell writing in The Bulwark: Byron York Is Just Asking Questions and being quoted by Charles Sykes (and cited for her masterful answer), also in The Bulwark: What’s the Endgame of Trumpism?

Jenn Brown has big news: “It has been a true honor to lead Civic Nation as Executive Director over the last three and a half years. While I never planned on leaving Civic Nation, with the 2020 election heating up, I received a job I just couldn’t turn down. I'm not able to announce my new position yet, but I will be very excited to share it with you soon!”

Alum and activist Maria Town with a reminder about public spaces and access: “Inaccessibility creates emotional burdens in addition to physical barriers. The calculation to stand & wear yourself out or sit & struggle to get back up & possibly miss the bus again. If you don’t have to think about it, it seems small, but it’s my life.” Houston Metro investing in sidewalks so elderly, disabled can get to bus stops

And, as always, we’re happy to feature bipartisan work. Here’s the latest example from the Senate: Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) have reached across the aisle to team up on the Senate version of legislation disapproving of President Trump’s border security national emergency.

In a political era when the vast majority of Americans believe the country is divided over issues of race, politics, and religion, relationships across lines of difference could foster empathy and civility.
— Emma O. Green, The Atlantic

Have a great weekend!

Have A Great Weekend!

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it.
— Abraham Lincoln

We kicked off the week with President’s Day.

And then the huge news that Jose Antonio Vargas and Define American recently named by Fast Company as one of The World’s Most Innovative Companies. Kudos to their entire team and the vision they’ve enacted.

Sarah Hunt in Axios: DOJ indictment reveals threat of Chinese IP theft to U.S. energy innovation

Sara Holoubek from Luminary Labs writing a chapter in “Perspectives on Impact”: A ‘Goldilocks’ problem statement is the first step toward designing a successful prize competition.

From the NYT: The Good-Enough Life

It remains to be seen if we as a society can establish a good-enough relation to one another, where individuals and nations do not strive for their unique greatness, but rather work together to create the conditions of decency necessary for all.
— Avram Alpert

New research from PRRI: American Democracy in Crisis: The Fate of Pluralism in a Divided Nation

Always pleased to see bipartisan efforts from U.S. Congress. In this case, U.S. Sens. Collins and Hassan tackling The Looming Retirement Crisis.

We hope our colleagues on both sides of the aisle will take the Patriots’ mantra to “do your job” to heart and work with us to pass this important, commonsense bill.
— U.S. Sens. Collins and Hassan

Have A Great Weekend!

We’re heading into the weekend thankful that a shutdown was averted but wondering where the loyal antagonists are in the Federal Government right now as we stand on the precipice of a Constitutional crisis.

Some of our Alums weighed in.

Bishop Garrison on ABC.

Sarah Longwell, key conservatives, and Republicans for the Rule of Law with some tweets, retweets, and video for historical context:

At the same time, some great news for paid family leave. Hats off to Alum Katie Bethell and her organization Paid Leave US for her work on this issue and recent wins. It was a big week for conversations that have really moved the needle on this issue.

Alum Katie Harbath and her team continue their work on elections around the world. Here’s the latest from her:

Lori Brewer Collins and Loretta Yenson are getting ready to announce the next 24 leaders invited to 2019’s CtK.Campfire. Look for that announcement March 1st!

Have a great weekend!

Have A Great Weekend

We sat down to reflect on another week of shutdown. And found ourselves faced first with the bad news that the FAA had halted flights into LaGuardia due to a lack of air traffic controllers.

What seemed like moments later, the government reached a tentative deal to reopen the government. A three week spending deal will bridge us over into the next phase of our shared experience of a challenged democracy.

We’re thrilled for everyone impacted by the impasse—which is everyone—and especially for those who have wondered how they might pay for food and medicine, mortgages and gas. Our hope is that loyal antagonism might prevail and leaders who believe themselves to have little in common will use their patriotism to elevate their conversations.

As we gear up for another Alumni Working Session (next week), the next Campfire (mid-March), and the Alumni Retreat (late March), we’re thankful for nearly 100—soon to be 125—Loyal Antagonists. We appreciate that what CtK asks of you is complicated and we know that you are up to the task. Thank you for carrying this vision into your life and work.

Have A Great Weekend: The View from The Road

This week, Lori’s been on the road. She criss-crossed from DC to TN to ORD and back again. We asked her to reflect on her time with diverse groups of leaders. Here’s what she told us:

First, it is important to remember that CtK is not about civil discourse, which suggests an insipid middle ground of non-opinion. (Forgive me for not having a non-opinion on what “civil discourse” is or isn’t.)

Our goal is to elevate the collective conversation - to create smarter conversations among national leaders. We exist to help leaders grasp the range of thinking on issues by developing the maturity to listen deeply to opinions and approaches much different than your own.

Second, it is convenient and a little simple to talk about finding common ground—even if that ground isn’t always easy to find or reach. For CtK and our leaders, it's not about finding common ground.  Common ground is a negotiating tactic to influence people to your point of view. That's not what we're doing. CtK is about enriching our collective understanding of the ground we're all standing on.

The range of leaders I worked with this week was geographically, ethnically, racially, religiously, politically, socioeconomically, and chronologically diverse. They ranged from smart, insightful, engaged students to established leaders in one of America's most influential cities to elected officials who have an opportunity to create Loyal Antagonists as they approach their next two years in elected office.

I said to each and every one of them, “You know as well as I do that America is stuck in a strange place where we seem to have lost the ability to work out our basic disagreements and tackle our biggest problems. The problems that, by definition, require some measure of bipartisan cooperation.” I applauded them for their idealism, their optimism, for being the best kind of contrarians.

Every day, as if we needed a reminder, experts on both sides keep telling us that the very idea of cross-party collaboration is dead, that it’s a relic of a bygone era, that voters don’t actually want it from their leaders…but we do. And our leaders do. We are all hungry for possibility, for transformation, for hope.

My biggest takeaways?

That our leaders are smart, insightful, engaged, and hopeful for the future. That good people have not been entirely put off from public service. That transformational leadership is possible and our best leaders—both emerging and seasoned—are up to the task.