A Yale law professor argues that we’re not doing enough to empower the minority voices in America—and change should start at the local level:
The ideas Gerken is known for first took shape, appropriately enough, as a disagreement. Several years ago, not long after she’d been hired as a young professor at Harvard, she sat in on a pair of lectures by Cass Sunstein, the influential law scholar who was then a professor at the University of Chicago. What she heard Sunstein say, in brief, was that societies in which dissenting voices are encouraged tend to be more prosperous than ones where they are not. Gerken sat in the back of the hall with a notepad and listened, writing furiously. “If you had looked back,” Gerken says, “you would have wondered, why is that junior professor sitting there scribbling like a crazy person? Is she transcribing this speech? But it was just the opposite.”
In fact, Gerken was writing down all the ways in which she thought Sunstein was wrong. What Sunstein didn’t seem to realize, she wrote, was that in order for minority groups to have real influence in politics—in order for them to make meaningful contributions to the way society works—they had to have more than the right to make their voices heard. They had to have the power to actually do things their way.