The big ideas behind the founding of the United States, noble ideals of freedom and self-government, came from a specific set of white male property owners whom we now revere as the Founding Fathers. The past year of upheaval has proven that we need new ideas and new voices to positively #ResetAmerica. So instead of Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton, our next framers should be people like filmmaker Ava DuVernay and OZY reader Tori Barnes. People like you! Each week in this newsletter, we’re going to elevate big ideas for Resetting America from some people you know and some people you may not. Beyond merely talking, we hope this will be a force for getting America on course to realize our best selves. We hope this will drive real positive change and healing — government policy, individual actions and new ways of thinking. This is only the start of our conversation: Please reach out and email me your thoughts to keep it going.
If robots are taking over, shouldn’t those robots reflect the people they serve? The founder of Accel.AI, Montoya is tackling the thorny issue of bias in artificial intelligence — a field still dominated by white men — by building accelerator programs to get more diverse groups of people into the field. “AI tech is a direct reflection of the people who are engineering it, so any bias by these individuals will be reflected in the products they create,” Montoya says. With well-documented problems around facial recognition software and racial biases of the programmers as well as noninclusive data sets or training models for people with darker skin, her work is vital.
Kill hero worship! No statues, no commemorative art “or anything that deifies,” Coates says on The Carlos Watson Show in the ultimate buzzkill for history buffs — before he takes it even further: “I would probably get away from the term ‘founding fathers’ and ‘founding mothers’ in and of itself.” For the acclaimed author, such individual accolades distract from the fact that ideals are much more important to America than the people behind them. “On examination, inevitably, what you’ll find is that that person wasn’t worth the statue. Who can be worth a statue?” he says. Returning to an egalitarian democracy, both in attitude and in practice, could allow people an equal chance to participate in determining the destiny of their country. Coates believes this would lead to progress in everything from access to health care to fighting racism and misogyny.
Elliott Segelbaum, 49, retired computer programmer, Philadelphia
This OZY reader has a simple solution: Nuke some classic American institutions! Starting with the two-party system, Segelbaum wants to take a sledgehammer to the Electoral College and switch to a ranked-choice voting system. The latter idea has grown in popularity in the United States in recent years, with Maine being the first state to use it in a presidential election in November. Alaska will be joining next time around after voters supported the measure at the ballot box, while a similar ballot referendum in Massachusetts was soundly rejectedby approximately 10 percentage points — showing that many Americans still remain split about tweaking the election process, no matter how flawed it feels at times.
To truly grapple with America’s racial history, some have suggested forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similar to that of post-apartheid South Africa. Anderson, an OZY reader, adds something a bit simpler: mandatory diversity and inclusion training for all Americans. “Beginning with those in high school,” she writes, or, on second thought, “maybe even starting in middle school.” Getting in early seems smart: On the collegiate level, such programs have been shown to benefit not just the students; training proved to broaden the ideological diversity of faculty while also improving their skills and personal development. Americans could start by looking to Australia and Canada, where damage done to Indigenous peoples is publicly acknowledged, and where the legacies of those historic grievances are explored in the classroom (even if imperfectly).
This movement can’t be led by people of color alone, and we can’t shut out segments of the population, according to the former Fox News and NBC News host. Kelly says on The Carlos Watson Show that Black Lives Matter has been co-opted by extreme elements, and alienating white citizens will cost them. “And I think the reality of our racial struggle right now, in part, is for Black people to ascend in a meaningful way ... the truth is you need white buy-in too,” Kelly adds. “And so it has to be a collective, collaborative approach. Let’s keep talking. Let’s stop judging. Let’s not be cruel. Let’s be open-minded, and let’s say all this stuff we’re afraid to say.”
The groundbreaking artist behind Selma, 13th and When They See Us says the words from those in power during this past summer’s racial justice reckoning came off as “disingenuous.” As she reveals on The Carlos Watson Show, DuVernay has had to fight to rise up the Hollywood ladder as a Black woman — and she’s not seeing enough being done to tackle the systemic barriers she faced. “That is particularly true for the studios, particularly true for networks, particularly true for all of these brands. What did you do about that thing? If you thought that just a social media post was enough, you were wrong.” Do you agree with DuVernay?
Chuck Hillestad, 75, photographer and retired attorney, McMinnville, Oregon
Or perhaps we decide that truth and reconciliation aren’t really possible. “How about let’s stop pretending we are [the] United States?” writes Hillestad. The country could be partitioned, this OZY reader suggests, just as the Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan separated after the retreat of the British — with notably bloody results. It may be even trickier in America, where the divides are less between states than between urban and rural locales spread randomly across the country. Still, the great American experiment could be just that — an experiment. Rather than raise kids in a dysfunctional household, perhaps it’s better that the parents break up for the sake of everyone involved. “We could treat it like a no-fault divorce,” Hillestad writes. “Divide up the marital assets and go our separate ways.”
Maybe it’s time for Congress to phone it in.“I would argue Congress already should just move to videoconference,” says Khan, founder of free online education company Khan Academy, on The Carlos Watson Show. Despite its simplicity, the idea has potentially fascinating side effects. It could make legislative leaders less susceptible to the lobbyists that patrol the corridors of the U.S. Capitol, keeping representatives from becoming isolated from their constituents. Plus, it could restore the idea of politics as something somebody does, not a career choice, giving lawmakers time to pursue side gigs that may broaden their perspectives. Rather than dining out in D.C. on the taxpayer dime, members of Congress would be more like, “‘Yeah, no, I’m a schoolteacher, but I can show up and vote over Zoom once a week amid some issues,” as Khan imagines it. “I think we could get better representation then.”
Davis has a big idea to revive one of the oldest all-Black towns in Indian Territory, the land once set aside for Native Americans: a boarding school. Davis, a former teacher, sees the potential in a beacon of Black excellence for students from all over who have been failed by traditional public schools, as she works to make Kingdom Come International a reality. The idea actually draws substantially on history: Before the Brown v. Board of Education decision and its resulting desegregation, there were more than 100 Black boarding schools in the United States. “I originally thought this was revolutionary, but then after doing research, I realized this is how we used to do things,” Davis says.
Tori Barnes, 55, retired CPA and bookseller, San Diego
If the political establishment needs shaking up, why not start with term limits? “Officeholding was never intended to be a career position. It’s called public SERVICE for a reason: You take a number of years out of your career to SERVE your country,” this OZY reader writes. “You don’t do it to become rich and/or famous and/or influential, but to be a temporary voice or leader in Washington.” There has long been a pro-term-limit vein among ordinary Americans, from both the left and the right, that could be tapped to establish an expiration date on U.S. leadership — the tricky part has always been that it will take those same leaders to agree to set limits on their power to get it passed. Still, turn politics from a career into a noble hobby, and maybe America can restore a sense of civic engagement that works for all.
Which of these ideas do you like most, and what big ideas do you have for helping Reset America?