Skip to main content

Bypass Washington, save America

By Eric Liu, Special to CNN
September 26, 2013 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
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
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT