The 20th Annual Anti-Corruption Awards

On October 25th, Independent Voting hosted the 20th Annual Anti-Corruption Awards.

The hour long program also shines a spotlight on the growth and power of the independent voter at a moment when 41% of Americans refuse to define themselves through the political parties.

The event honored three significant innovators in the political arena — Each challenging the status quo in creative ways:

Katherine M. Gehl of The Institute for Political Innovation (IPI), Farhad Mohit of The Good Party and Gaby Cardenas of the Colibri Collective.

You can watch the full event below:

If you would like to donate to Independent Voting’s annual fundraiser, please go to

If you want to stay connected with Independent Voting, go to to join our mailing list and subscribe to our newsletter, The Hub.

And if you would like to take part in our leadership programs, please email!

The 20th Annual Anti-Corruption Awards and a message from Frank Fear!

Please join Politics for the People host and founder Cathy Stewart for Independent Voting’s 20th Annual Anti-Corruption Awards!

Co-hosted by Stewart and independent activist Amikka Burl, this virtual event will be an inside look into the 45% of Americans who refuse to define themselves through the political parties, and the groundbreakers giving a voice to these independent voters.

Cathy Stewart
Amikka Burl

Tune in for this virtual event Monday, October 25th at 6pm ET to hear the new conversations and see the new activities and campaigns that are challenging the status quo of American politics from the organization that is winning recognition and respect for the independent voter.

The event will also present three Anti-Corruption awards, Cathy Stewart explains:

For twenty years the Anti-Corruption Awards have honored groundbreakers and change-makers in independent and reform politics. Some were famous, some were infamous, and some were people who never made headlines, but who made all the difference. This year, we’re honoring three outstanding innovators who are taking our movement to the next level.”

Amikka also shared her excitement for the event:

This virtual event is a fundraiser, so we’ll be asking folks to give to support this movement. And it’s also a spirit raiser. We all know that if you turn on the TV or check out social media, you see a lot of negative political commentary that goes nowhere and does nothing for our country. But, if you tune into our event, the Anti-Corruption Awards, you will see Americans working together from all walks of life to build something new, beautiful, and strong. So, we want everyone to tune in!

Register here!

The Anti-Corruption Awards will premier a new video —

What does America need to know about independents?

Independent Voting’s video was produced using dozens of videos submitted by independent activists and independent minded thought leaders from across the country. Frank Fear, professor emeritus, Michigan State University, shares his response with us below:

REGISTER TODAY for October 25th’s Anti-Corruption Awards!

2034 – A Politics for the People conversation with Authors Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis

On Thursday, August 12th, people from across the country joined Politics for the People host Cathy Stewart for a conversation with Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis, authors of 2034: A Novel of the Next World War.

You can watch the full video below:

Cathy kicks off the discussion with a question for Admiral Stavridis about the book’s origins:

Let me kick us off with a question for you, Admiral, about the origins of 2034. How did the collaboration with Elliot come about and why did you decide to tackle the fault lines in US-China foreign policy through a novel?”

Admiral Stavridis points to his love of literature and it’s potential to deter future conflict for an answer:

Yeah, I get the question a lot. You know, ‘You’ve written nine books of non-fiction. Why all of a sudden have you decided you’re a novelist?’…I’m an aficionado of cold war literature…because I felt if we could imagine how terrible a war would have been between the US and the Soviet Union, we had a better chance of avoiding it – it kind of acted in a deterrent kind of way. So reflecting on that, Cathy, it occurred to me that there’s really no comparative body of literature about how terrible a war between the US and China would be. And unfortunately, I think we are clearly finding our way in at least a cold war with China…”

To expand more on the origins of the authors’ collaboration, Elliot steps in:

…we share an editor at Penguin Press, a fellow named Scott Moyers, and so Scott came to me with this idea that the Admiral had had. And I don’t think he understood that the two of us had known each other for the better part of a decade and were already friends. When Jim was Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, He invited me to serve as the writer in residence for a semester…And so we started talking about this project – very quickly, we realized that, you know, we were aligned in what we wanted this book to be…It’s a lean book and, and it’s focused on a few principle characters…”

Cathy’s next question touches on the subject of independents, both in 2034 and 2021:

One thing I was struck by in the book that I wanted to ask you both about is the president is a woman and an independent, and I wanted to ask you why those choices, and also to comment on a growing trend…the trend towards independence among our veterans. Right now, 45% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans are identifying as independents. Why do you think that is and why the choice to have the president be both a woman and an independent?”

Admiral Stavridis offers his experience with the shift in people’s views of the two party system and his feelings on what that means for the future:

The choice of a woman was not even really a choice. I think I’d be shocked if we don’t have a woman president by 2034, the more carefully thought through choice was to make her an independent. And I, I had that idea from the very beginning, it aligned with Elliot’s views of things. I have two daughters in their late twenties, early thirties, millennials. They look at both political parties and they just shake their heads…We didn’t start out with Republicans and Democrats. We started with Federalists, wigs, independence. You know, it was a hodgepodge of political parties, took us almost a hundred years to really firmly solidify the grip that these two parties, in my view, unfortunately have on the political systems. And as a result, it’s going to take a while to undo that grip efforts like those represented by this group, I think are extremely important. So making her an independent was a foreshadowing of something I firmly believe will unfold probably by mid-century or so – we’re going to find our way to thinking very differently about a political process that I think most on this call would agree is almost irretrievably broken.”

Elliot offers his own experience with partisanship in the military:

…the observation that an increasing number of military veterans identify as independents, to me, that is not surprising. Politics is culture and in the military, you’re reared in, I would say a different – if even a subculture of American society and it is a culture that is very intentionally nonpolitical in that individuals are welcome to have their politics – and of course do have their politics as they should – but are taught that politics and partisanship are not first and foremost in the pursuit of the collective good necessarily, and that we suspend those beliefs to work towards a higher purpose. So I think after whether it’s four years or 40 years of inhabiting that culture, it then becomes very intuitive to take that way being that way of citizenship and have it extended to you in in civilian life. So to me, it’s no surprise that you see a high a high correlation between independence and veterans existence.”

And finally, Stewart asks:

What do you hope that readers will take away from 2034?”

Admiral Stavridis opens up with his hopes for the readers’ impressions of the book:

…my hope is that people will say, ‘This is a cautionary tale. This is what we don’t want to happen.’ And then they will begin to think more seriously about ‘How do we avoid it?’ How do we reverse engineer ourselves back from the calamitous year we described in 2034 and avoid sleepwalking, stumbling into a war with China?…The other echo you ought to get in this book is 1914, The Guns of August – Barbara Tuchman’s magisterial treatment of how Europe, which had all these intertwined economies, royal families related by blood, and yet they managed to stumble into [an] apocalyptic war that killed 20 million people…The world really spins on this axis, so we don’t want this. So how do we avoid it? And we don’t have time to unpackage all that, but I’ll simply say we need a strategy. We need a strategy for interacting in dealing with China. That is not premised on military dominance – cause that’s not gonna work. Nor is it premised on economic imperialism – that’s not gonna work. It’s not going to be strictly premised on waving our hands and saying ‘We’re just better because we’re Democrats and libertarians, and we have freedom in our society.’ That’s not gonna work. We need a clever nuanced strategy to face up to China. If we don’t, I fear we’re going to stumble right in the direction of 2034.”

Elliot then adds that he hopes the readers take the experiences of the characters in the book with them:

I would only add that as a novelist, I hope you walk away caring about these five characters and you feel like you spend a bunch of time with them and you know them – this story ends differently for each of them, some better, some worse. So I hope you remember what happens to them…And then I would only add to that as a reader, you’re walking, you’re taking that journey with them, and this kind of goes to your, your comment before Cathy about veterans and political independence. There’s something that that’s really struck me many years ago was when I first went to war when I went to Iraq, and I remember we flew over there. I led a platoon of about 45 Marines…there are a number of a handful of Marines who had never been on an airplane before. So their first airplane ride in my platoon was to go to Iraq. But then there were many more, obviously, who’d never left the country before. And so if you’ve never left the country before, and your first experience with foreign countries is a war in Iraq, I think for many veterans it’s a jarring experience, but in some ways, something good that comes out of that is it’s a very stark reminder that the nice life we enjoy in America, despite our dysfunction, needs to be earned. And 2034 is creating an alternate reality that’s very frightening, but there are many realities of how countries behave and reform that are there, you know, right outside of our borders, if we allow ourselves to get too dysfunctional. And so, again, for veterans, I think we often understand this intuitively because we’ve had these very formative experiences of going and trying to do something good in those countries, even when it doesn’t work out perfectly. And so I think, you know, if you’re going to read the book 2034, whether you’ve traveled all over the world or you’ve never left the United States before, I hope it gives you a glimpse into an alternate reality that we should be doing everything we can to avoid – and is avoidable.”

Cathy then opens up the discussion to Q&A questions from participants – the first of which comes from Dennis Flaherty in Arizona.

Gentlemen, it’s my honor, as an air force retiree, to be able to participate in this discussion. My question is, what should our response be when so-called ransomware attacks are suspected of being the camel’s nose, probing our cyber defenses?”

Admiral Stavridis takes the lead on this answer, saying:

…First of all, there is a national level response to not just ransomware, but these probes that are coming at us and therefore the National Security Agency, US Cyber Command and other government entities have a very strong responsibility to do everything they can to attribute these attacks. Secondly, when they can be successfully attributed, we need to begin by publicizing where they’re coming from. So most recently we’ve seen a spate of these coming from Russia, typically from criminal gangs that are operating with at a minimum, the acquiescence of the Putin government, probably with their encouragement. So we need to identify them. Number three, we need to respond nationally…Without getting into classification, I’ll simply say the US government has the ability to respond the trickier part of this…And your question implies it correctly is whether or not we then ought to have a kind of reckoning with the government. I’ll close on this by saying private companies have a responsibility here as well to protect themselves, to ensure they’re using good cyber hygiene to take advantage of firms that can provide tools to the individual companies because the threat surface is so vast here that the us government isn’t going to be able to prevent every attack. That ought to be private, public cooperation, both sides have to work together on that.”

The next question comes from Bob Perls in New Mexico.

As a former US diplomat, I agree that we’ve seen the state department’s influence reduced over the years. I’d love to hear the two authors’ thoughts about whether you think the balance between defense and Department of State needs to be better aligned – more in balance in the future – to avoid a 2034 scenario, or do you think it’s much more complex than that? What are your takes about the influence of state versus the Pentagon?”

Elliot leads the discussion, tapping into his military experience to address the question:

I would say in my experience representing and serving in the US military overseas, very often on the ground in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, young, on the ground troops were being asked to shoulder civic responsibilities at the local level that typically, one would imagine, would be handled by civilian agencies. And in many regards, you would see infantry men or special operations doing an admirable job starting a waterworks program or managing a road construction program. But these are not necessarily the things that they signed up – the missions they signed up to perform. So there was a lot of sort of ad hoc work going on. Now, the question then begins, do we need to make our state department more robust and give it kind of more granular tactical development capabilities? And I think there certainly is room for that, and I think there is definitely a downside in having the first and most forward facing portion of US engagement, in many places, be our military. I think anywhere we can have the face of America not necessarily be our military is probably a good thing because it is a less intimidating face.”

Admiral Stavridis concurs and adds his own remarks:

Could not agree more…Let me quote, Bob Gates, secretary of defense, former director of the CIA, one of my life mentors. Bob Gates was fond of pointing out that we have more people in military bands than we do foreign service officers. What’s wrong with that picture in my view? Quite a bit. Or my, my friend and contemporary general, later secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, who often said, ‘Look, if you don’t spend the money on diplomacy and development, you’re going to end up buying me more ammunition.’ And so here, I like to use the analogy that we’re all kind of familiar with, which is medicine, between soft power and hard power. So hard power, the use of the military instrument, is like at the end game in medicine – it’s when you have let things go, or you’ve been struck by a terrible disease and you have to undergo a difficult operation. The road to recovery is long. The chances of success are uneven. You really don’t want to be in that world. Over here, soft power, which is diplomacy and development…This is preventative care. This is taking a baby aspirin every day. This is taking a walk every day…It doesn’t cost very much. It’s not very painful to do it. It’s actually quite enjoyable and it is so effective. So cost-effective. So the point here Bob is yes, I would say take some resources…take it out of the hard power side of the equation and get it over here on the very soft power, highly cost-effective side of the equation. And as you deeply appreciate, it’s not just diplomacy it’s development to different things. Let me close by saying, I don’t want to imply that you don’t need hard power…You’re going to need hard power at times. But that long game combines them both – hard power and soft power together. That’s smart power as some have called it. I’m a strong proponent of finding that balance. We don’t have it right at the moment.”

Tiani Coleman from New Hampshire asks:

My question is related to this idea that I, as an individual who’s not involved in national security, all I can really think of that I can do, and that we can do, is to try to be better peacemakers in our own lives…try to be the kind of people who always want to bring about a peaceful solution in our own lives to try to create a culture of peace. But as your book suggests, things can turn south very quickly and we don’t have time to slowly create a better culture of peace. We have to know what we can do immediately. So I’m wondering, what can be done immediately to…try to avert this type of disaster? And in asking that question, I’d just like to point out Sarah Hunt, for example – she was actually portrayed as a very likable character of high integrity in my view, although she was also at the center of this and…made decisions that apparently caused a lot of this, some of them without her really even realizing what she was doing…what else would you have someone like her do differently?”

Admiral Stavridis gives the first answer to her question:

First of all, I resonate to your point that there’s a long game being played here of developing a culture that’s smart enough to avoid war. And that’s important both here in the United States, in China, in Russia, all around the world. And obviously we’re still falling into wars and there are conflicts all around, but compared to the 20th century, the 21st century is unfolding in, in my view, a somewhat better way then it did a hundred years ago when the world, literally, found itself sleepwalking into a war. So yes, there’s a cultural component to this, I would say…The immediate thing you can be doing is voting for candidates who make sense to you…I think the ballot box is a very strong place that all of us can register a desire for the kind of leadership that we want and need in the country.”

He then develops on his answer in regards to the choices Sarah Hunt makes in the book:

In terms of Sarah Hunt, yeah, she makes several crucial mistakes in the beginning of the book and later on. And so does Sandy Choudhry, the national security advisor in Washington DC. And the reason is because they’re human and humans make mistakes and mistakes lead to miscalculations from the other side…But that spark, that miscalculation, that human mistake, can we avoid those? I think we can help avoid those by how we train, in this military context that we’re discussing, how we train our military, how we train our diplomats, how we train Americans who go abroad in the service of the nation – their training, their experiences have to include mechanisms that help them avoid the mistakes that Sarah Hunt tragically makes, particularly in the opening pages of the novel.”

Carl Farmer from Rhode Island asks:

I was finishing up reading Thucydides and Herodotus, who are meant to be the beginning of history or the beginning of historical recounting. And it seems in that war, which was the Peloponnesian and Persian war between Greece and Persia, basically one good guy beats up the other good guy, and then eventually becomes very powerful. But then they fail later from rotting from within, which is, I think, a point of your, your book and so forth. I wish I knew exactly how we could make this better, other than all the things that are believing in like independent voting and things like that. The other thing is my granddaughter’s reading 1984 this summer for her summer read. And it’s 50 years on for your book. So two questions, how do we keep ourselves so that we don’t fall into that age old trap? And the other thing is, was this a bit of an homage to Orwell?”

Elliot tackles the answers to these questions, stating:

…When we began working on this book…the date wasn’t 2034, and the more drafts we did actually, we were – I think we began somewhere in the 2050’s – and the more we kind of played out the scenarios, the day kind of kept coming closer and closer…And it seemed to make sense, ‘Well, what year in the 2030s will we pick?’ ‘Well, let’s pick 2034, there’s nice echoes, nice sort of apocalyptic echoes there from 1984.’ And that seemed appropriate.”

He continues:

…With regards to your reading of the Thucydides…I think that one of the interesting things that comes with studying, thinking and writing about war is as much as things change, nothing changes. And it’s this age old human enterprise that we do generation to generation. So if you want to understand humanity, in some ways you can understand us through the ways we keep engaging this enterprise excessively over, over the millennia. And when it comes to Thucydides, there’s obviously this idea of the Thucydides trap, which many of you may be familiar with, which is this pattern of what occurs when a rising power challenges and established power…And so when you come into 2034, that is sort of the construct we’ve put into the book. Established power, The United States, is challenged by rising power, China…neither of them wins…You see, there’s a third party who is really the beneficiary of this conflict…oftentimes, it’s not very good to be the one who starts a war, but you always want to be the one who finishes the war…”

The next question comes from Independent Voting’s President Jackie Salit in New York:

The issue of US China relations – it seems to me it’s becoming more and more of a political football in the country. And I wonder if you could both speak to what it is you think that the American people most misunderstand about China?”

Admiral Stavridis is the first to answer, outlining American’s attitude of dismissal towards China:

I think the American people underestimate China. I think they have this sense that China for the last several hundred years has really not been a significant international actor…And that would be a mistake for any number of reasons that are becoming increasingly obvious…I think Americans tend to underestimate – not be aware of – those collective things and kind of have a feeling that, ‘What’s the big deal with China?’ Watch out. And I don’t say that in the sense of, I’m worried that China’s going to overtake us in zoom by us on the world stage. I don’t see that happening, but I think if we consistently underestimate China, they will, over time, become a much more capable actor who can shape the international environment in ways that are not to our advantage.”

Elliot joins the conversation, taking a look at the other side of the issue:

On the flip side of that coin, I think there is a strain in American culture right now, too, that is also quick to look at China, particularly with regards to the coronavirus and our two nations respective responses, as being sort of 20 feet tall. China is not 20 feet tall…And so much of that sort of broader framing is again, this sort of question of what are the most effective means of government and the most effective means of unlocking collective human potential? Is it through directing it in an authoritarian way, or is it through creating a system that allows individuals to flourish and focuses on the individuals?…And it seems as though, you know, we’re entering into that type of a conflict, not necessarily a military conflict, but a real conflict of thinking and conflict of ideas again. And I think, once again, the United States will be on the vanguard of trying to prove that a liberal world order is the one we should all be embracing.”

Admiral Stavridis jumps in to add one final thought:

…Can our ideas compete – democracy, liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, gender equality, racial equality? Look, we execute them imperfectly. They’re the right values, can they compete on the international stage? And you know, people sometimes say to me, ‘You know, Admiral you’re right, it’s a war of ideas.’ No, it’s a marketplace of ideas. We’ve got to compete. We’ve got to recognize that China is very capably creating a narrative that says ‘A much better system for your country is a streamlined system of governance with the power of capitalism harnessed to it. Look at how America is falling apart because Republicans and Democrats can’t get together and solve problems.’ …That’s the narrative they’re putting out. We better have the counter narrative…We’ve got to construct the arguments to compete because it is not self-evident around the world that we’re the right answer anymore.”

The next question comes from Reed Flory, who asks:

What, optimally, should our future military look like?”

Admiral Stavridis responds:

We should invest more in cyber, both defensive and offensive. We should invest more in hypersonic cruise missiles…We should invest more in unmanned vehicles from space to the bottom of the ocean, because unmanned vehicles are not tethered to human endurance…We need more maritime platforms because that’s where these conflicts going forward, I think are going to be centered. And I would argue we need more special operations, more elite human teams to operate all of those systems…You’re not going, just get rid of all the aircraft carriers, get rid of every tank, get rid of third-generation fighter pilots. You’re going to still need some of those systems, but we ought to be spending more on the systems that I outlined a moment ago.”

Elliot brings the conversation back to the previous topic of history, adding:

We talked a little bit about history, and one of the themes in the book I hope comes across is it’s not just enough to have the latest and best technology, you gotta have the right technology…we, the United States, need to be very careful as we invest in our legacy platforms…that we’re not investing in the wrong technology.”

Our final question is from Harry Kresky in New York, who directs his question to Admiral Stavridis:

It’s not every day that an Admiral writes a book about history, future, politics. What kind of pushback, if any, have you gotten, Admiral?”

Admiral Stavridis acknowledges the feedback he’s received, responding:

I’ve gotten positive feedback from a wide variety of folks. I asked my team to look for other admirals who’ve written novels, and there are a handful, and most of them are historical fiction. I think I’m the first Admiral to write a book about future fiction. So we’ll put that one in the record book, but at least so far.”

Admiral Stavridis on the Importance of Reading

A Navy Admiral Who Reads 100 Books A Year
Reveals The Essence Of Leadership

Admiral James Stavridis speaks with german troops in RC N HQ , Masar E Sharif, Afghanistan. Picture by Sgt Emily Langer (DEU-Army).

Carmine Gallo • July 15, 2021

In my career as a communication specialist working with CEOs and successful entrepreneurs around the world, I’ve reached one firm conclusion: great leaders read far, far more books than the average person.

For example, retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis reads at least 100 books a year, nearly ten times the number of books the average American adult reads in the same period. “I can tell you with direct knowledge that by the time someone has ascended to four-star rank as a full general or admiral, they are profoundly deep readers,” he says.

I caught up with Stavridis upon the release of his New York Times bestselling novel, 2034. Novelist is just his latest title. Stavridis has commanded destroyers in combat, served as a four-star admiral and the Supreme Allied Commander at NATO. These days he’s an executive at the Carlyle Group and Chief International Security Analyst for NBC News.

Stavridis doesn’t expect other leaders to read two to three books a week or to amass a library of 4,000 books like his collection. But he does urge aspiring leaders in any profession to read far more books—fiction and nonfiction— than others in their field.

According to Stavridis, there are three big reasons why the best leaders are voracious readers.

1. Books are simulators for the mind.

Stavridis says that books function as mental simulators, placing you in the middle of events the book’s characters face. So as you read about characters in a novel or real-life heroes in non-fiction books, you should ask yourself, What would I have done in that situation?

A little over two decades ago, Stavridis prepared himself to take command of a Navy destroyer by reading the classic sea novels of Patrick O’Brian, beginning with Master and Commander. He was also inspired by Steven Pressfield’s epic novel, Gates of Fire, about the Spartans who make the ultimate commitment to fight and to die at the battle of Thermopylae.

“When reading that book, you can put yourself in their shoes, understand their motivations, and ask yourself, would I have had the courage, and the commitment, and the honor to undertake that mission?”

2. Books offer perspective.

Successful leaders have a different perspective than others. Leaders who read history books or historical novels can apply the lessons of the past to navigate contemporary events.

“Books provide the chance to experience an enormous variety of life experiences without leaving home or school,” says Stavridis. “How else can a young aspiring leader learn how Ernest Shackleton managed to save his entire crew after his ship, Endurance, was crushed by ice and destroyed in Antarctica in 1915?

As I think back on my lifetime of reading, many of the people I admire most deeply are known to me only through books—either by them or about them.”

3. Books improve writing and communication skills.

According to Stavridis, “Good leaders must be good communicators, and the hard work of writing is best sharpened on the whetstone of reading.”

In my own experience, CEOs and leaders who stand out as public speakers draw stories, quotes, and examples from the many books they’ve read. Although I read at least 50 books a year, these CEOs almost always teach me about books that have yet to cross my radar.

Simply put, people who read a wide range of books in both fiction and nonfiction categories have a broader, more interesting variety of stories from which to pull. “The essence of leadership is the ability to communicate and inspire and to do that, you have to be a good speaker and a good writer,” says Stavridis.

The single best way to learn and grow as a leader is through reading, adds the admiral. By adding more books to your daily routine, you’ll stand out as a person others want to follow.


The recording of our P4P conversation with authors Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis is coming soon.

Stay tuned!



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Reader’s Forum — Lou Hinman

Lou Hinman

In 2034, I thought the choice of “Wisecarver” for the name of the National Security Advisor who is leading humanity to destruction was a nice touch – not his fault if he doesn’t make it all the way!

2034 has been called a wake-up call, and I think for independents, like myself, this has a very particular meaning. Elliot Ackerman and Admiral Stavridis have made the U.S. president the first woman and the first independent (without party affiliation) to be so elected. (She is also said to have, as her first concern, not being seen as “weak”.)

What? Are we to believe that our successful struggles for open primaries and other structural political reforms that empower the voters are not going to stop a nuclear holocaust? (Fifty million or so incinerated is certainly a holocaust, even if it’s not the end of the human race.) Yes, for me, that is precisely the message of 2034.

Structural political reforms are absolutely essential to break the stranglehold of the duopoly on the political process. But to put the Wisecarvers out of business, we must do more. We must fight for these reforms in a way that simultaneously builds a new political culture. The how is even more important that the what. Without a more humane political culture, we will always be threatened with nuclear annihilation.

Lou Hinman lives in New York City and is an activist with and a member of Independent Voting’s Welcome Committee.


Thursday, August 12th at 2pm ET
For the Politics for the People ZOOM Event
With 2034 Authors Elliot Ackerman
and Admiral James Stavridis


Reader’s Forum — Tiani Coleman

Are We Really Committed to Peace?

Tiani Coleman

How grateful I am for having had the opportunity to read 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis. Admiral Stavridis remarks, “This is not predictive fiction. This is cautionary fiction.” In other words, it is within us to chart a better future.

Jackie Salit sent the book, “In the hope that peace will prevail.” Yes, thank you, Jackie, that is my hope, too.

At first it seemed that the book was about the danger of a technology-dependent society, including a technology-dependent military. About our exposed vulnerabilities when we lose our competence and ability to operate without technology, always open to a rapid turn of events, with the devastating consequences that could so quickly befall us in the event of an “enemy” shrewdly hacking the important infrastructure we rely upon.

But this book is about more; it develops a bigger picture and has opened up my imagination as to who we can become.

The book is about people we recognize; it is about us. All of us.

It is about the tension that can be found between honorable patriotism and ultranationalism; self-defense and aggression; loyalty and conscientious objection.

It is about the tragedy of decisions being made with political considerations outweighing “what is right,” what is “moral,” what is humane.

It is about myopia: people only looking out for themselves and how things will affect THEM, or their Party, or their OWN country, or, people only thinking about the immediate benefit or consequence, and failing to look at the big picture, the greater good, the long-term consequences.

And it is about the need for individual and systemic change.

War is a terrible thing. So many lives lost. So much suffering. So much destruction. Senseless. It breeds anger, hate, sadness, regret, isolation. So much lost potential, lost beauty, lost creativity.

Any and all war should be avoided . . . at all costs. Are we truly committed to that?

We have developed, and cling to, our exceptions and “buts” — theories of “just war,” confidently rationalizing why war is so often unavoidable. And certainly, there are people who commit evil acts against innocent people: how do we protect innocent life without destroying more life or entering a never-ending cycle of aggression?

When we are so sure we are on the right side, the just side, and then we are confronted with a threat against “the right,” that undermines “the right,” or is hostilely opposed to us, then we feel it becomes our “moral duty” to “fight” that enemy. It becomes “us” versus “them.” And in the process, “they” are otherized, dehumanized, and not to be listened to, respected, valued or cared about. They are to be “destroyed.”

To some degree, we seem to romanticize war. Too often we find a kind of “heroism” in war, a satisfaction in “victory,” almost a longing or nostalgia for the good old days of “strength.”

When it comes to two or more nations going to war, many decisions are made that are out of our control. So what can we, average people do, to help ensure peace? Obviously, this isn’t an easy answer. But the more of us who are committed to peace, at all costs, the more likely such a mindset will play out on the world stage.

It starts by looking within. I can talk all I want about our public officials needing to be committed to peace. But am I a peacemaker in my daily dealings? Do I care about relationships more than about being right? Do I care about the big picture more than about how things affect me or my direct interests? Do I care about the process and the means more than about the ends? Do I value others as much as myself? In promoting my causes, do I remember the REASON why they are important to me, or do the causes become an end in themselves? Do I seek to implement my causes, my vision, through persuasion and cooperation or through tension and victory over others? Do I allow contempt to arise within me towards those who I find to be “in opposition” to me, my ideas, my causes, my well-being? Do I seek mutual value and edification with all those with whom I interact?

The truth is: although I believe in being that kind of person, and want to be that kind of person, I cannot say that I always am. When we care deeply about things, and I do, it’s easy to feel “outrage” towards those who appear not to, or who appear to be working directly against all that is good, all that is true and valuable, all that is important. We need to learn to not make things personal, about us or about them.

There was a point in the book where Lin Bao “allowed himself to conjure an alternative history, one in which the miscalculations of the past four months had not occurred . . . .” As he witnessed “the single greatest act of destruction in the history of mankind,” he couldn’t help but wonder if “[p]erhaps a single dissenting voice, properly applied, [could have] prevented this collective madness.”

Many of us have perhaps already learned that lesson of the need for dissent in the face of injustice, moral failings, or abuse of power. But how will we dissent? Can we do it without our own form of violence? In our “demand” for peace will we foster lack of peace? It will require much from us to be examples of how to stand up for goodness, truth, justice, mercy and peace without undermining those very things. To seek understanding of those who are opposed to us. When we are in the heat of conflict, it’s often too late. We have to start NOW.

My favorite part of the book was how it humanized those on all sides. That is the true tragedy of war. Everyone has value: a story, a family, strengths and weaknesses. It is up to us to bring out one another’s virtues and strengths. It is up to us to help create a world where instead of pitting ourselves against one another, we seek to build. At our core, we are One. If some of us lose, we all lose. There are no winners in war.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and President of New Hampshire Independent Voters and New Hampshire Ranked Choice Voting.


Thursday, August 12th at 2pm ET
For the Politics for the People ZOOM Event
With 2034 Authors Elliot Ackerman
and Admiral James Stavridis


Reader’s Forum — Frank Fear

2034: Familiar Storyline, Powerful Lessons

Frank Fear

When I read fiction, I almost always take a backward-looking glance, getting a handle on the world that was and then comparing it to the world today. I especially enjoy reading British novelists and playwrights, such as Anthony Trollope in The Way We Live Now (1875), J.B. Priestley in An Inspector Calls (1945), and Caryl Churchill in Top Girls (1982). 2034 travels in the opposite direction, of course, speculating about what the future might bring based on what is going on today.

Irrespective of direction—back-glancing or forward-looking—I found the storylines to be the same. One thing is constant amid all the changes between now and then, and between what Ackerman and Stavridis depicted in 2034 and what life is like today. It is us. Many of the values and attitudes, what we squabble over and about, and our attachment to power/control and ‘being on top’ … the list is long … persists.

One reason is that The Seven Virtues—prudence, justice, temperance, courage/fortitude, faith, hope, and charity—are always in jeopardy because The Seven Deadly Sins—pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth—always get in the way. And what we say about individuals applies to institutions, organizations, and society, too. Why? They are populated with (drumroll, please) people.

I began noting all the passages in the book where ages-long mindsets get in the way, dangerously so at times—things like arrogance, hubris, and complacency. Of all the passages of note, one stood out. In it, Lin Bao imagines he is teaching a class….

Students would ask, “Why had it (a nation’s reign) ended?” His answer: “The end came—as it always does—from within.” …. “He would explain this patiently, like a father telling a beloved child that the Easter Bunny or another cherished tale didn’t exist, and while his students’ puzzled expressions fixed on him, he would tell them about the Spartans …Athens … Britain … Rome … and the empire always rots from within…. They would start back in disbelief, or even hostility. Their assumption would always be that the time in which they lived could never be usurped; it was singular, as they believed themselves to be singular. Endemic dysfunction in America’s political life hardly mattered because America’s position in the world was inviolate. But a few of his students, their faces clear in his imagination, would return his star as if his understanding had become their own.”

(Hardcover version, p. 223)

Soon after finishing the book, I asked: “What does 2034 teach me about what I need to do?” One lesson screamed for attention: I cannot stand there, do nothing, and accept where things might lead, hoping that they will not. Through silence and inaction, bystanders become enablers, and, with that, they share in the blame.

Then I thought about how important it is to act with prudence (one of those seven virtues). Pulling that off requires an elevated way of engaging others and the world. Voilà! The Serenity Prayer came to mind. Written by Reinhold Niebuhr nearly a century ago, The Serenity Prayer begins with this well-known passage:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

Niebuhr’s words, although easy to affirm, are difficult to put into practice. Discernment (another virtue in my book) is required. So how might we proceed? One way is to use spaces, places, collaborations, and opportunities to advance ideas and approaches to reform, innovate, and transform whenever and wherever possible. The italicized words are critical because (per Niebuhr) we also need to acknowledge and accept what we cannot change. Anything but automatic, that ability resides at the sweet spot of ego management and accurate social analysis/pulse-taking. Brilliant people with great intentions can fail when dealing effectively with one or both sides of those demands.

John Duley

I credit my colleague, John Duley, for helping me understand that matter. Niebuhr, by the way, taught Duley in the late 1940s at Union Theological Seminary, and Duley, who lived his life in testimony to the virtues Niebuhr espoused, became my mentor thirty years later. John taught me (and others) many things over the years, and I spent a good share of summer 2020 interviewing him about his life and work. I documented it by way of oral history. I’m glad I did. Last month, John passed away at 100.

Life connects people and experiences in unexpected ways, in this case connecting 2034, Reinhold Niebuhr, John Duley, The Politics for the People Book Club, and me. 2034 and The Book Club played pivotal roles, providing content and a platform to sharpen my thinking and express my thoughts. That is a powerful endorsement, showing what literature and a book club can do.

Kudos to Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis for writing such a stellar piece, and to Cathy Stewart, for making it this month’s selection. And—I might add—let me tip my hat to the genre of the text. Fiction contributes in ways that non-fiction cannot.

Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University, where he served as a faculty member for thirty years and worked in various administrative positions for nearly twenty years. Frank also writes about issues that intersect sport and society.


Thursday, August 12th at 2pm ET
For the Politics for the People ZOOM Event
With 2034 Authors Elliot Ackerman
and Admiral James Stavridis


Reader’s Forum — Sadie Moore Stewart

Sadie Moore Stewart

I would never have read this book had it not been sent to me by Jackie Salit. I do not read much fiction. However, this book read so fast, I finished it in 2 days, a record for me. Even though there were several technical explanations that were absolutely foreign, it did not become tedious.

Ditto to all the other comments. With a repeat specifically of the fact that this book serves as a wake up to an awareness of the underlying issues so cohesively presented in this novel.

Now for some observations that I would like to address regarding the plot.

Why was there practically no dialog regarding Hunts decision to break with procedure? Said procedure was stated clearly on page 9.

Yet less than 3 paragraphs later she decides to divert. And the perfunctory “question” from Miller was disposed of without any input, or consideration.

As an Air Force Veteran, I know you do not question command decisions. But seeing as she did explain her rational, maybe some input was warranted.

Or is this one of the flaws of the command structure?

One last observation. Was the fact that the president and Hunt are both females, sending a subtle, or maybe not so subtle message?

Sadie Moore Stewart is a 70 year old lawyer and independent activist from Ohio.


Thursday, August 12th at 2pm ET
For the Politics for the People ZOOM Event
With 2034 Authors Elliot Ackerman
and Admiral James Stavridis


Reader’s Forum — Alice Rydel

I was riveted by 2034. At first, I mistakenly pigeon-holed the characters’ roles: Chowdhury and Hendrickson: bureaucrats; Lin Bao: sinister with idyllic aspirations; Frankenstein Farshad: another bad guy; Hunt: heroine; and Wedge: eager to follow in his father’s, Pop’s and Pop-Pop’s footsteps. Then I started empathizing with the players, their situation and whether or not I liked them the scenario became all too real. As others have said, this is a brilliantly written book and an alarm call regarding the real possibilities of nuclear war.

Alice Rydel

Personally, I opposed the Vietnam War, but have a lot of respect for our military. I never cared much for the phrase “The Greatest Nation on Earth.” At some point, I think it was something to be proud of, but other nations scoffed, vied for or assumed the title. And “The Greatest” now clearly means power and power means might.

When millions upon millions of people are annihilated in seconds, there are no heroes or heroines. There is no greatness.

Alice Rydel is an activist with Independent Voting and lives in Manhattan.


Thursday, August 12th at 2pm ET
For the Politics for the People ZOOM Event
With 2034 Authors Elliot Ackerman
and Admiral James Stavridis


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