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ICYMI: Renew America

Photo: New America

Close your eyes. Now, conjure an image of a conference—any type of conference will do. What do you see? My guess: Probably nothing you'd describe as a hipster farmers market of big ideas.

Yet that's just what New America served up at its annual conference on May 18. (Major kudos to Baratunde Thurston for the description.) Conceptualized to fuel engagement in the most literal sense—see picnic-style lunch baskets—the one-day event convened some 300 activists, fellows, researchers, technologists, and writers to sleuth out a weighty topic: American renewal.

Or put another way, all of the problems—and opportunities—that have cropped up in this era of rapid political shifts. Indeed, since its inception in 1999, New America has taken on the role of the politically curious think tank that's sought to investigate solutions to some of tomorrow's most pressing challenges. Now, 18 years later, that credo has hardly changed. From media literacy to racial justice to the future of work, conference attendees sat in on panel discussions and participated in workshops that probed major economic, political, and social issues.

But I know what you're thinking: I missed the conference.

Be cool. This edition of the New America Weekly has been specially curated to give conference non-attendees a glimpse of the day of discussion. Jonathan Moyer recaps a conversation between Jose Antonio Vargas and Cecilia Muñoz that reconsiders how we think about what makes someone an American (hint: holding national citizenship is only part of the equation). What's the forecast for the future of technology? Emily Fritcke takes a closer look at the moves being made to retool technology in the public interest. To mind the yawning populist gap and move away from the politics of division, writes Chayenne Polimedio, we must have a radical reckoning with the fact that our fates are tightly woven together. Can the very act of planning for a specific kind of disaster build capacity to respond to any sort of disaster? It can. And Hana Passen explores how. The "politics of responsibility" is specious—but that hasn't stopped it from permeating public policy discourse, Alysha Alani reports. Given the present political landscape, a shadow loomed large over much of the day's conversations. So from austerity to math mistakes, Krish Lingala gives us a quick run-down of experts who can guide us through the minefield that is the Trump administration's budget proposal. And last, Emefa Agawu walks us through the conference closer: Anne-Marie Slaughter and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in conversation over the nature and trajectory of public discourse in our fear-inflected political season.

The spectacle of our current political climate is, at best, deeply discouraging. But after putting together this admittedly small project, I'll say that I'm also inspired by how much good work is already being done—and how this work signals that everything might, in the end, be OK.


Brandon Tensley is the assistant editor at New America.