UD speaker encourages students to strengthen ‘citizen muscle’

By: Julia Hall – Staff Writer

During the University of Dayton Speaker Series event on Nov. 12, civics educator and entrepreneur Eric Liu encouraged the students at University of Dayton to exercise their civic power by participating in their communities and country.

This request is founded in Liu’s hope that the next generation will become active members of society.

His personal career has mimicked his desire for an enthusiastically involved and empathetic American culture. Liu was a speech writer for former U.S. President Bill Clinton and founded a nonprofit organization, Citizen University.

“I started Citizen University to not only build skill, but to create a culture where people start talking about this stuff again, caring about this stuff again,” Liu said in an interview with Flyer News. “People from the left and the right coming together and realizing that even though they differ on issues, they share an interest in making sure that the game is healthy. That the underlying game of American democracy is not rigged or broken.”

He depicts the apathy of modern-day America through a metaphor: “People are losing their citizen muscle.”

In order to exercise our civic muscles, Liu indicates that the public must condition them. To partake in society, people must make themselves aware of current events, history and culture.

“I think being informed, not only about the news, but about our history and our common culture is so important because this is a country that has nothing holding it together but a few ideas on paper and a shared history of dealing with these ideas,” Liu said.

Liu also joked, “Many times people can name a judge from American Idol before they could ever name a justice of the Supreme Court.”

Liu bridged a connection between awareness and power.

“If you do not know what is going on, and you do not know who is deciding stuff and who has the power to do that,” Liu exclaimed, “or, if you say you don’t care, all you are doing is handing power over to someone else to run your life, to make your choices or determine what your frame of possibility is.”

Liu works with his organization, Citizen University, not only to inform, but to generate excitement surrounding the opportunities to become responsible and active citizens.

“In 2016, we will be launching projects in a few cities around the country to rekindle the joy of voting, and return to what used to happen in this country until the arrival of television,” Liu said.

To reinstate such an atmosphere, he strives to reinvent, “This festive, creative, raucous, participatory feeling in the best way tribal kind of stuff like you would see before a football game or MLS soccer game. [We want to return] some of that spirit to elections in cities.”

Additionally, Liu explained his work on another project.

“We created this project, Sworn-Again American, which takes the precedent of naturalization ceremony,” Liu said. “We came up with something like that, a ceremony, a shared ritual, for everybody – not just for new immigrants becoming brand new Americans, but for all of us who have had the dumb luck to be born here, but have never thought of the content of our citizenship or never have in a sense been asked to renew our vows.”

While at the University of Dayton, simulating excitement for participating in the democratic process, Liu shared in a dinner and discussion with a group of students and faculty discussing citizenship.

Jeff Malik, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in public administration participated in these events.
“Eric Liu reminds us of the necessity of becoming active, engaged citizens in our communities,” Malik said. “Especially at a time in which major political and social conversations are revolving around immigration, race, economic status, and even what it fundamentally means to be an American, he encourages us all to be more than observers.”

Liu offered suggestions not only to these students, but also UD’s campus, concerning how to begin transforming into informed, engaged citizens.

“Do not feel like you need to become a super-citizen all at once,” Liu reassured. “Start with what you care about and start small.”

Flyer News: Univ. of Dayton's Student Newspaper