Ideas that Inspire

October 3, 2018  • Daniel R. Porterfield

Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield spoke at the 2018 Atlantic Festival in Washington, DC. Follow Dan on Twitter @DanPorterfield.

Thank you so much, and welcome back from lunch. It’s a privilege to be here on the second day of the Atlantic Festival—the 10th year of an extraordinary partnership between Atlantic Media and the Aspen Institute to deliver big ideas on big topics on one of the biggest stages in Washington, DC.

My thanks to all who have made this partnership a success—the wise and remarkable David Bradley and Laurene Powell Jobs and the Atlantic dream team of Jeffrey Goldberg, Margaret Low, and Bob Cohn—as well as our generous underwriters.

The Atlantic provides exactly what our democracy needs right now: journalism that is fact- and evidence-based, honest, balanced, important, and brave. I admire the values and integrity of journalists. We take this profession for granted in easier, more stable times—but the political and social upheaval of these times reminds us that a free press is both a core premise of democracy and the evidence of its existence.

The Aspen Institute, which I lead, is not a media organization. We’re a non-profit, non-partisan convener that gathers well-meaning citizens together to frame problems and find solutions.

We’re proud the variety of initiatives we’re leading to improve the economic value of the entry-level job, to protect our fragile ocean, to promote social and emotional learning with academic learning, and to increase by 50,000 the number of low-income students enrolled in our nation’s top colleges.

The Aspen Institute is also promoting strong civil society in places like Central Europe and Kiev. We’re putting 300 professionals and entrepreneurs per year through 18-month leadership development programs to help them enhance their social impact. And we’ve recruited the journalist David Brooks to interview grassroots changemakers making a difference all around the United States to draw out our common identity and reweave our social fabric.

In the years to come, you can expect of the Aspen Institute more focus on children, youth, and families, more focus on community, more focus on bridging divides, and more focus on results.

Part of what we do with Atlantic Media is convene broadly in pursuit of the most compelling ideas, the most impactful speakers, and the most important solutions.

I hope that you leave this convening with one of these voices echoing in the chambers of your mind as you go back to your-day-to day work and lives. A single idea expressed in its finest and purest form can change our lives, and the affective experience of hearing something radically new can remake our assumptions about this world and our place in it.

I had precisely that experience this summer when The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute convened a panel on young peoples’ experiences with gun violence at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. Two young women from Parkland and one young man from Chicago shared stories of how gunshots ripped holes in the bodies of loved ones and in their own souls as survivors—survivors, first, of violence and, secondly, survivors of apathy, cynicism, and denial.

After these courageous survivors opened their hearts and shared their pain with an audience of adults they will probably never see again, there was a long round of applause. And then three teenagers from rural Colorado rushed the stage and shared with the Parkland and Chicago panelists their own experience of losing five friends to gun-enabled suicide.

Watching those young Americans from three parts of our country—rural, urban, and suburban—share in human terms an issue we adults too often think about only in terms of politics—and maybe policy—reminded me of how much more we need to do to draw out the truly eminent voices too often unheard in our society because of the power of all the other voices, many of which represent special interests, that dominate the way we think about the issues.

I hope that you have one of those moments during this festival of being moved, disrupted, changed and inspired by something you have heard. Thank you so much.