Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
McAvory is an asssistant professor of Social Studies Education at North Carolina State University.
When Congress weighs whether to impeach the president, it is a question of national urgency.
Teachers can help their students understand the impeachment hearings by cultivating the skills required to consider the evidence. They can also help young Americans understand why people see this process in different ways – often based on their political views. Many teachers do this by devoting some time every week to helping students make sense of what is happening.
I've been either teaching social studies or researching civics education for the past 25 years. Based on this experience, I have three suggestions for teachers who are grappling with the challenge and ethics of bringing politics into the classroom at this divisive moment in the nation's history.
People in the democracy reform movement, both old and new, must sometimes feel like they are trying to empty the ocean with a slotted spoon.
But while change may sometimes happen slowly, there are plenty of reasons for democracy reformers to be thankful this year. So enjoy that extra turkey leg or slice of pumpkin pie, with the knowledge that progress is being made across the country.
Here are five reasons reformers are giving thanks this holiday season. What did we forget? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talisse is a philosophy professor at Vanderbilt University.
An internet search for "surviving Thanksgiving politics" returns more than 10 million results. The major news venues have run autumn columns on navigating political debate over Thanksgiving dinner for several years running. The advice offered is sensible: Remain calm, listen respectfully, seek common ground and so on.
But many of the most recent columns offer an additional tip. Noting that Donald Trump's presidency might have made Thanksgiving civility impossible, they suggest skipping the holiday altogether.
Something strange is afoot when America turns to journalists for advice in surviving a holiday devoted nearly entirely to eating good food. Politics has rendered Thanksgiving something to be dreaded. Given the purpose of the holiday, this is tragic. Can anything be done to save Thanksgiving from our partisan divisions?