Doers and thinkers, artists and officials, and leaders of all stripes took the stage at Aspen Institute events in 2017 to give audiences insight into some of the most difficult and pressing issues facing our country and our world. These were some of the best moments from a year full of necessary dialogue and conversation.
Justice Sotomayor on why education is the key to solving inequality
The Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program hosted Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor for a conversation on the role of civic engagement in American life. Justice Sotomayor stressed that lack of education is the primary reason that inequality persists in America. That will need to change in order to promote civic participation. Active participation in our communities allows us to create the kind of world we want to live in.
The art of public memory
The 9/11 memorial took 10 years to build amid public controversy and turgid decision-making. Now more than 30 million people have visited it. The arduous but rewarding process of creating public memorials was discussed by Kate Levin, Tor Einar Fagerland, and Esther Shalev-Gerz at CityLab Paris. These experts talked with Atlantic correspondent and editor James Fallows.
Congressman James Clyburn on the racial wealth gap
For decades, Congressman James Clyburn has fought to build equity into our systems. When the 2009 stimulus package was being drafted, he convinced President Obama to include the 10-20-30 federal funding formula that directed funds to communities with the most persistent poverty. At the 2017 Symposium on the State of Race in America, Clyburn explained how the racial wealth gap contributes to the financial insecurity of many minority families.
Elizabeth Alexander on facing our history
Poet Elizabeth Alexander joined legal history professor Annette Gordon-Reed, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and The Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg onstage at the Aspen Ideas Festival to discuss Landrieu’s decision to take down Confederate monuments in New Orleans as well as the state of race in America more broadly. Alexander stressed the importance of voicing unpopular truths and embracing the difficulty of grappling with the country’s past, since there are always people listening — including ones you might not expect.
Sally Yates tells the story of how she learned about the travel ban
Sally Yates described a fascinating behind-the-scenes political moment at the Aspen Ideas Festival. On stage with law professors Geoffrey Stone and Neal Katyal, Yates recalled how, as acting attorney general, she learned of President Trump’s travel ban. An urgent call arrived from an assistant, reading about the development in the New York Times. Yates went on to explain the difficulty of coming up with a legal strategy for an executive order she first had to track down online.
Tony Vinson talks culinary altruism
Inmate turned DC Central Kitchen recruiter Tony Vinson says one of the most rewarding parts of seeing former prisoners succeed as chefs is recognizing the transcendent sense of personal and professional growth that cooking offers them. José Andrés, Mike Curtin, and Vinson spoke with the Aspen Institute’s Corby Kummer about the food industry’s potential to do good at the 2017 Summit on Inequality and Opportunity.
Adam Hamilton on creating social change in religious spaces
Reverend Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection ministers to a congregation founded upon inner spirituality. While Hamilton favors church policies that are inclusive and affirming of LGBTQ people, he understands that changes in church policy will not happen overnight. Instead he fosters change through relationship-building, encouraging members of his congregation to get to know one another.
Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on cities and identity
At Citylab Paris, Ta-Nehisi Coates took on the idea of a “creative class” and what it means in terms of gentrification and inclusivity. He and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked cities, the urban/rural divide, and the writing environments they love with Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic.
Jennifer Doudna on the ethics of gene editing
Jennifer Doudna, who pioneered a new gene editing technology called CRISPR, talked with Institute CEO Walter Isaacson at the Aspen Ideas Festival about the stunning speed of recent advances in tech. Her field puts the power of evolution in the hands of scientists — but it’s increasingly difficult to keep regulatory organizations up to speed.
Chris Kluwe says we need more Colin Kaepernicks
Outspoken former NFL player Chris Kluwe joined the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program’s 2017 Project Play Summit. Afterward he opened up about his own activism and how the NFL can make life difficult for athletes who want to protest. He praised Colin Kaepernick, who has yet to be signed by an NFL team. Kaepernick and other athletes used national anthem protests to focus public attention on police violence and racism. Kluwe called his former NFL colleague a role model, inspiring fans to work toward change in their own communities.
Jon Batiste plays “What a Wonderful World”
Renowned musician Jon Batiste regaled the Aspen Ideas Festival crowd with an extended version of Louis Armstrong’s hit, a request from Institute CEO Walter Isaacson. During Spotlight Health, Batiste discussed ways music can improve people’s health and well-being, healing the body and the spirit.
John Brennan calls on Congress to support Robert Mueller
Former CIA director John Brennan addressed members of Congress from the stage at the Aspen Security Forum, imploring them to stand up to President Trump if he attempts to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Brennan, in conversation with former director of national intelligence James Clapper and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, called Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election a nonpartisan issue.
Sheila Hoyle on the importance of access to child care
As the director of the Southwestern Child Development Commission, Sheila Hoyle has spent her career investing in quality child care and education. Hoyle joined the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group and Rural Development Innovation Group for a dialogue on how to help workers get ahead in rural jobs. Child care is currently the top barrier to employment for America’s working poor. By training and offering technical assistance to providers, Hoyle and her team are promoting high quality care that is accessible and affordable. Quality care is not only essential for promoting trust, autonomy, and happiness in children, Hoyle said. It also prepares the future workforce.
Pages Matam on using art to talk about race
Poet Pages Matam joined the Aspen Institute for the 2017 Symposium on the State of Race in America. Matam uses his poems to contribute to discussions about race and inequality. Art can not only record history, it can give disenfranchised populations a voice. It also allows us to share human experiences involving racism and injustice on a larger platform.
Tanya Wallace-Gobern on redefining the American worker
Black workers encounter unique challenges in today’s labor market. The primary challenge is that our definition of the American worker does not evoke images of a black worker. On a panel hosted by the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program and the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, Wallace-Gobern demonstrated how the National Black Worker Center Project is pushing back on this mindset and raising awareness of the contributions of black workers to our economy.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez’s one-minute climate idea
16-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez took the stage at during the Aspen Ideas Festival’s Afternoon of Conversation to make a brief but vitally important call for environmental stewardship. Martinez, a hip-hop artist who runs conservation advocacy group Earth Guardians, stressed that climate change is “bigger than politics” and called on audience members to do their part to leave future generations a healthy planet.
Joelle Emerson on diversity in tech
After the release of the Google memo, the tech industry was forced to reckon with policies that inhibit women and people of color from obtaining and retaining jobs. At the 2017 Washington Ideas Forum, Paradigm CEO Joelle Emerson explained that implicit and unconscious bias in hiring practices is still a problem for many companies. Tech workers of color in particular are underutilized in today’s workforce.