Eric Liu tells street papers “How to talk about power”

By Keegan McChesney

On the first day of #INSP2015, keynote speaker Eric Liu inspired his diverse global audience to not just express their voices, but to demand power.

Liu is the founder of Citizen University, a bestselling author, a world renowned journalist, a professor at the University of Washington and the former speechwriter for President Clinton.

Eric Liu speaks to a global audience at #INSP2015
Eric Liu speaks to a global audience at #INSP2015 Photo: Keegan McChesney

“No narrative is fixed,” Liu reminded us with passion. “Every narrative can change… we can change it.”

Using pointed examples of “old, ingrained, stuck, fixed narratives [that] are beginning to crumble,” such as the recent movement to abolish use of the confederate flag, Liu drove home the importance of outspoken citizenship in the fight against injustice.

In the capitalist era, vendors, homeless and impoverished individuals have been confined to a particular narrative, Liu explained. This narrative has been dominated by perceptions of laziness, criminality, drug use and tough luck.

Street papers, however, have the unique opportunity to create a new narrative in an era of international social organization.

“You have incredible power in our society,” said Liu, addressing the delegates. “You are making narrative. You are bringing together people… My job in part here today is just to remind you of this power that you have to set and to create and to remake narrative.”

The narrative, Liu insisted, must be about power.

Liu defined power as “the capacity to have others do as you would have them do” and emphasized the importance of creating conversation and stories around power.

As an engaged Seattleite, Liu praised Real Change for their loud, active voice in the PNW (Pacific Northwest), and rejoiced in INSP’s ability to bring together members of the international community to discuss people, progress and power.

Liu concluded his speech by outlining the three things that vendors, cities and the present generation need to do: talk power, teach power, take power.

The crowd in Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium nodded and applauded vigorously at this framework. Liu’s talk taught the crowd how they can take power. The aura in the auditorium was that of a group of bison bracing an attack from a pack of hungry wolves, but after being reminded of their horns and numbers, began running in full force to drive off the beasts.

History is an unfinished book. Street papers and engaged citizens have the power to author the next chapter of this book. We are at an unprecedented point in human history, where inequality and activism are forces increasing exponentially as parallel foes.

“What do you do after the moment of revolution?” Liu asked in closing. “The revolution that we’ve got to have here can’t just be about knocking down all that is diseased and broken about modern capitalism as we experience it, but it’s also got to be about what is going to be the new alternative that we build together.”


Follow #INSP2015 to find out more about what’s been going on during our Global Street Paper Summit.