Skip to main content

Bypass Washington, save America

By Eric Liu, Special to CNN
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Thu September 26, 2013
The game is the same, but many of the players have changed. Congress and the president are facing off in another supreme spending showdown. This last happened in 2011, when Congress avoided a shutdown by passing a spending measure shortly after the midnight deadline hit. Who controls what happens this time? Take a look at the key players who will determine how this fight ends.<!-- -->
</br><!-- -->
</br>
-- From CNN Capitol Hill Reporter Lisa Desjardins. CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Ted Barrett contributed to this report. The game is the same, but many of the players have changed. Congress and the president are facing off in another supreme spending showdown. This last happened in 2011, when Congress avoided a shutdown by passing a spending measure shortly after the midnight deadline hit. Who controls what happens this time? Take a look at the key players who will determine how this fight ends.

-- From CNN Capitol Hill Reporter Lisa Desjardins. CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.
HIDE CAPTION
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eric Liu: Congress is heading toward another shutdown showdown
  • Liu: While our federal government is broken, cities are showing the way forward
  • He says solutions are emerging on the local level and radiating outward
  • Liu: If we live and act like citizens, we can make meaningful impact in our own cities

Editor's note: Eric Liu is the founder of Citizen University and author of several books, including "The Gardens of Democracy" and "The Accidental Asian." He served as a White House speechwriter and policy adviser for President Clinton. Follow him on Twitter: @ericpliu

(CNN) -- As Congress heads implacably toward another shutdown showdown, the fate of the federal government hangs in the balance. And America is yawning. Or, at least, not panicking. Why?

One reason is that we've all become inured to the utter dysfunction of Washington. But another is that Washington matters less every day. Even though the shenanigans of congressional Republicans make for a perfect negative civics lesson -- Don't do this in real life, kids -- in cities all across the country civic innovation is flowering, and everyday citizens are becoming newly empowered.

While our federal government has tied itself in partisan knots, cities are showing the way forward.

Eric Liu
Eric Liu

Solutions are emerging on the local level and radiating outward. This isn't just a matter of recession-era devolution, of passing the buck from the federal to the municipal. It's not some precious parochialism. The localism of our time -- and you see it in how people eat, work, move, buy, sell, grow, share, create -- is a networked localism.

New approaches to making cities more bike-friendly and walkable can launch in Copenhagen and end up in Austin or Portland. Experiments in participatory budgeting -- where everyday citizens directly decide how to allocate city funds -- have spread from Porto Alegra, Brazil, to the wards of Chicago. Ways to decentralize the electrical grid are being developed in Chattanooga and then spreading to the Bronx. Fast food workers are pushing for a living wage in Milwaukee and Detroit, inspiring others in Los Angeles and St. Louis to do the same.

All these citizens, united, are making a web -- a great archipelago of power that can bypass a broken Washington.

All of civics boils down to a simple question: Who decides? You have to learn the rudiments of power to have a shot at deciding. But you also have to have an arena where you can plausibly practice deciding. And there is no better arena in our time than a city.

Who loses if the government shuts down?
Bill Clinton on Ted Cruz

In a city, there is less time and patience for ideology and for the preening and posturing that now define national politics. You either reduce crime or not. You either create jobs or not. You either educate kids or not.

Any mayor knows this, as the political philosopher Benjamin Barber argues in the forthcoming book "If Mayors Ruled the World." The challenge of this era is to enable every citizen to think more like a mayor -- pragmatically, oriented toward solutions, willing to experiment, eager and be shameless about borrowing great ideas from other people in other places.

Picture the city where you live. Think of something you want to change in the city's common life. It can be something small, like the placement of a street lamp. Something medium, like which neighborhood's library branch should get its hours extended. Something large, like whether a rundown waterfront will become a highway or a greenway.

Now think about how you will get the change you want. Take a quick inventory of the many forms of power at play in your situation -- money, people, ideas, information and misinformation, threats of force, force of norms.

Imagine what you'd do to activate or neutralize these various forms of power. Could you put your ideas into effective practice? The best way to try is to try at home -- in your own city. The best way to learn is to learn with others -- in a city. Even in this globalizing age -- or perhaps especially in such an age -- all citizenship is local.

In my town, Seattle, I served for many years as a trustee of the public library. The voters had passed a big bond measure in the late 1990s, and for the following decade we built or renovated dozens of branches and a new downtown central library.

The way we began was to go to every neighborhood and hold "Hope and Dreams" meetings to hear from residents what they wanted their branches to look and feel and sound like. They shaped design and collections and programming. We listened. Though I've worked at the highest levels in national politics, at the White House and in the Capitol, I never learned as much about democracy as I have in trying to make the libraries of Seattle work.

The original meaning of "citizen" is a resident of a city. Washington may yet run itself into the ground, and there will be huge unnecessary costs to a government shutdown (let alone a threatened default). But most of us cannot control how this manufactured crisis will conclude. All we can do to keep our hopes and dreams alive for the country is to remember what it means to live and act like a citizen.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Eric Liu.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT