What can today’s public leaders do to strengthen democracy? With the rise of authoritarianism in the United States and beyond, public leaders must help citizens understand—through words and deeds—why democracy matters. In this Wiener Conference Call, Deval Patrick discusses why public leaders must increase voters’ faith in democracy.

Wiener Conference Calls recognize Malcolm Wiener’s role in proposing and supporting this series as well as the Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

Ariadne Valsamis:

Good day, everyone. I'm Ariadne Valsamis from the Office of Alumni Relations and Resource Development at Harvard's Kennedy School and I'm very pleased to welcome you to this Wiener conference call. These calls are kindly sustained by Dr. Malcolm Wiener who supports the Kennedy School in this and many other ways and we're deeply grateful.

Today we welcome Deval Patrick, who is co-director of the Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership and a professor of the Practice of Public Leadership, a lawyer by training, Governor Patrick's career combines corporate and public service. He was a staff attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, an Assistant Attorney General for civil rights in the Clinton administration. He's been a partner at two Boston law firms and a senior executive at two Fortune 50 companies. In 2006, he was elected governor of Massachusetts becoming the first black person to hold this role in the commonwealth and during his two terms, he focused on healthcare, public schools and public infrastructure and launched initiatives to advance clean energy and biotechnology. We're so fortunate that he's agreed to share his expertise today with the Kennedy School's alumni and friends. Governor Patrick.

Deval Patrick:

Ariadne, thank you for the warm welcome and thanks especially to Malcolm Wiener for making this series possible. Thanks to everybody for joining.

I want to keep my remarks relatively brief. I'm interested in what's on everybody else's mind. I much prefer conversation to speech making anyway, but just to set the tone, maybe I'll start with a few comments about what's on my mind.

I think it was advertised I would give a talk about the state of democracy. I will say simply that I'm uneasy about the state of American democracy. Like most, I want to believe that we'll be all right in the end so I seize on all manner of good news or even close to good news just for reassurance. I was thinking in the last midterms, the outcomes were different than forecasts, mostly because so many election deniers and related cranks, if you will, lost their bids.

Many commentators expressed relief and I felt it too, and even some were ready to proclaim American democracy safe. I'm not quite ready for that because despite those election outcomes, and I should say I'm a Democrat. I'm not the sort of Democrat who thinks you have to hate Republicans to be a good Democrat, but I've been worried about the lack of seriousness frankly, to some extent, in both parties. But on the question of democracy, it feels to me overweighted on the Republican side, and I hope those who have a different view will push back and reassure me, but despite the outcomes, not enough has changed. If politics is about how democracies mediate their differences, there's still reason to worry about the state of our politics and there has to be more to it, in my view, than name-calling and one-upmanship, those breathless fundraising and fearmongering emails and the whole idea of raising as much money as possible so that candidates can build relationships with their would-be constituents through 30-second ads in the last few weeks of a campaign. I think there's got to be more to our politics than and more to talk about than outrage.

I still believe, despite all the reported division between Americans and among Americans, that there are ties that bind; common understandings of and aspirations about being a citizen of the United States, and I want to just say in a minute about some research that we are doing to test that hunch, if you will, but I want to explain why I start with this civic notion of citizenship because if we want better policies and better politics, ultimately, we're going to have to challenge ourselves and each other to become better citizens.

When I was a kid on the south side of Chicago, and I happen to be in Chicago today, there were material shortcomings to be sure, but we were rich in community because that was a time when every child was under the jurisdiction of every single adult on the block. If you messed up down the street in front of Ms. Jones, she'd go upside your head as if you were hers and then call home so you often got it two times.

From the ways the family shared food or old clothes to the looks that the old ladies in church would give you if you fidgeted, you were made to feel made to that community at some level was about the ways in which we belonged to each other. And those folks in that community were modeling citizenship. Democracy fundamentally depends on it. And to be a citizen in democracy, it seems to me, is to accept certain responsibilities in exchange for the rights and privileges of American democracy. These include the responsibility to be informed and discerning, to engage and to be a good steward for your own and future generations. To see ourselves as members of community where each of us sees and accepts the stake we have in our neighbors dreams and struggles as well as our own.

And in my view, herein lies the root of the troubles in American democracy. We face two big challenges to our democracy as I see it. The first is to make it function, how to make it straightforward, transparent, and reliable to register, to stay registered, to vote, and to have that vote counted. This first challenge is serious and has gained attention mainly because of the many states that have enacted new laws to frustrate, complicate, and when they want to, even overturn the vote. Those measures are just the latest really in a prolonged series along prolonged trend toward encumbering American democracy. Other measures include hyperpartisan gerrymandering, the widespread purging of registration roles, the flood of money, much of it dark, into politics and policymaking, and the persistent and recently successful efforts to weaken the Voting Rights Act. Disinformation amplified by social media is another part of what we're up against.

The point is that for a long while now, we've been treating the functions of our democracy, as a friend of mine, put it as if it would tolerate limitless abuse without breaking whether this is all part of a grand strategy or just a series of unfortunate coincidences, they add up to serious constraints on participation and representation that make democracy weaker.

So there is important work to do there, but making our democracy function is not the only big challenge we face as I see it. The second big challenge is to make democracy matter. How to make the vote, indeed citizenship itself, meaningful. This challenge is even more insidious than the other in my view, and yet on this we hear hardly a word. What do I mean by that? Fully a third of eligible Americans simply don't vote in presidential elections, even more skip state and local elections, not just because it's harder than it ought to be to do so, but because they are not convinced that it makes any difference at all. Unkept promises, inauthentic candidates and uninspiring campaigns, insurmountable odds, impenetrable political establishments, change that's slow to come. Add to that the prognosticators who keep telling us what the outcomes will be months and weeks before anyone casts a ballot, and all of it serves to convince a lot of people that our civic duty to vote is a waste of valuable time. I understand that. I'm sure you do too, but none of us can accept it because there is too much at stake.

I mentioned growing up on the south side of Chicago. Even so, I got my chance to serve as a civil rights and business lawyer, as an executive, as Ariadne was saying, in two Fortune 50 companies as an investor, an entrepreneur, and a two-term governor. Now the students call me professor. My story in many ways is one, maybe like some of yours, of not being either defined or limited by my circumstances of birth. It's a story that has never been told often enough in this country, but once upon a time, it was told more often in this country than any other place on earth. It's an American story. But over the last few decades that story is lived less and less often. Income and wealth inequality, economic immobility, wage stagnation, call it whatever you want, the American dream, as I have lived it and described it, is a defining aspiration of American citizenship. And yet it is in real terms further and further out of reach for more and more Americans.

It's not because of any decline of personal responsibility. I hear that explanation from time to time, but it's not what I see. Grit, determination, family, hard work, mental discipline, ambition, luck and grace, all of it played a role in my story as they do in everybody's American story. Those qualities are in no less supply today than they were in the 1950s and 1960s when I was coming up. What my grandmother used to say to me was hope for the best and work for it. When it comes to hoping and working hard, people still do or try to do their part. But as a society, as citizens working together, we've stopped doing a lot of our own.

Like I said, I had grit and determination, but I also had great teachers in my public school, teachers who were well-prepared and who raised our expectations of ourselves even in that poor community. I had family support and encouragement and my grandparents and mother worked hard to provide, but we also had housing we could afford and food assistance when we were hungry. I was diligent and disciplined, but I also had scholarships and college loans that I could afford to pay back. I had ambition, but I also had an economy expanding out to make a place for me when I was ready, not just up and a bus or subway to get me to that job and home again safely.

I'm not saying that anybody that I've ever met wants government to solve every problem in everybody's life. I'm talking about government doing its part to help people help themselves. Government that invests time, ideas and money in the public schools and housing, transportation, healthcare and similar kinds of public initiatives that are what enable private investment and personal ambition. I'm talking about government the way former Congressman Barney Frank used to describe it, as the name we give to the things we choose to do together.

When instead, our leaders relentlessly focus on the next election or news cycle instead of the next generation or the needs of this one, when substance, integrity, duty and honor seem like corny old phrases and always secondary to political performance art, it's a small wonder that so many have lost confidence in democracy as a path to a better future. And here, I believe, is where we come in as citizens.

Citizenship is an act, a thing we do, not just a thing we are. It's privileges and responsibilities are interdependent, each one making the other possible and meaningful, so we ought to act like it. We ought to make our citizenship personal instead of letting our neighbors' dreams and struggles be a purely abstract concern, let's start by asking ourselves what we can do and do it. In spite of what too many political figures seem to want today, let's challenge ourselves to turn to one another instead of on one another and hold ourselves and our office seekers accountable for that. I'm not talking about any one candidate or political party. No one person and no one party has a corner on all the best ideas. I'm talking about habits of mind and behavior, learning to listen, to paraphrase Robert Frost, without losing our temper or our self-confidence. Learning to see each other as more than one dimensional cartoons that fit neatly into an oversimplified box.

I started this personal level because I think it might help us examine more critically what passes for political leadership nowadays. Think for just a minute about the litany of false choices, many of our would-be leaders on the right and the left pedal to us today. Who says we have to hate the other political party to be a member in good standing of our own? Who says we have to hate business or the wealthy to work for social and economic justice or to crash the economy to have a livable planet? Who says we have to abuse the outcast and the vulnerable to secure the border or to hate police to believe black lives matter?

Yes, of course we need rules and laws and norms that make it easier to register, to remain registered, to vote and to have that vote count. That's the least we can do to show our respect for participatory and representative democracy, but to address the challenge of making that vote meaningful, we as citizens need to reclaim our voice. We need to push through the noise and our own discouragement and frustration to quit confusing cynicism and indifference for sophistication and act like citizens. Because only by acting like citizens, working together in the spirit of community, will we see and lift up leaders who are prepared to deliver the promise of democracy, and this is the point.

What are we asking of our democracy? To bear that old lesson we learned from our grandparents every one of us, which is that we are supposed to do in our time what we can to leave things better for those who come behind us. Now, I want to be clear. I'm not letting government off the hook. The people we elect have to deliver. We have tangible opportunities right now that we've not seen in my memory with all kinds of resources available to elected leaders to reinvest in each other and leverage the power of the private sector, in doing so, expanding opportunity to people and places that have been missing out for a long time. I really envy the governors and mayors in office right now with the kind of options in front of them so different than governing during the great recession.

That's why I think it's so critical to have leaders in office right now who are in it to help us get and keep our next job, not just their own. Leaders who serve for the common good, not for the cameras or the Twitter and Metaverse, but at the same time, again, I'm not letting ourselves off the hook as citizens. Restoring meaning to our democracy requires us to talk to and listen to our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, even that cranky uncle at your Thanksgiving table, to model that we don't have to agree on everything before we can work together on anything. That's not easy. I know it. I think we just lost the narrative, as the professionals sometimes describe it.

We've forgotten how to speak with each other about our common aspirations, and that brings me finally to the research project I mentioned that we've undertaken at the Center for Public Leadership. We call it the Shared America Project. And with a team of researchers, pollsters, grassroots organizers among others, we are embarked on a program of deep listening. Instead of asking people set questions about specific policies or party politics, we ask open-ended questions about what they are worried about or hopeful about or wishful for. Open-ended questions in smaller settings all over the country into which we are introduced by trusted members of that community.

First, we gain trust and then we get down to what's really on people's minds, the same way that any of us make friends and build relationships in normal life, with patience, honest curiosity and respect. We're listening for consensus points and insights in common across different communities. That's how I think we find the language and the sentiments that tell us what aspirations we still share and how to talk about them in ways that draw others in and draw us together. That's the project. I'm happy to talk more about it. It's very much in development, but I'm incredibly excited about it and I'm delighted to join you today. Thank you.

Ariadne Valsamis:

Thank you so much, governor, you're so inspiring. We'll open the session up now. For questions to ask a question, please use the virtual hand raising feature of Zoom, and please in good Kennedy School fashion, keep your question brief and end it with a question mark. You'll be notified via Zoom's chat feature when it's your turn to speak. Please be sure to unmute yourself when you hear from the staff and finally, all of us on the call would appreciate it if you could state your Kennedy school affiliation. And I'll start things off with a question submitted earlier by Gail Murray. Gail has a Mid-Career MPA from 1992 and her question is the national media focuses on conflict. How do we compete with or moderate the focus of the media to convey the message that public participation is vital to the survival of democracy?

Deval Patrick:

Isn't it interesting. Two things come to my mind whenever the question of the media behavior arises, and a third really should come to my mind first, which is stay as far away from that question or similar questions as possible. But the first I think that comes to mind is sensationalism has always been the preferred diet, if you will, of the media. Good news, it's hard to get attention and I think this has been compounded by what social media has become, because social media, through most of the algorithms, and I've come to learn this through work as co-chair of something called the Future of Tech Commission, is designed to amplify outrage. Say something kind and your half a dozen friends who have liked your page or who follow you, they will hear about it. Say something outrageous and the machine does the work for you.

And so we are left, I believe, with the impression that there is a lot more outrage and anger and division than in fact there is. We are in some quarters, I think, beginning to feel the fatigue of that and express that fatigue by turning away, turning it off. Sadly, not enough young people are doing that. You think about the degrees to which depression around body type and image and so forth has become a serious and growing issue among teenagers, especially teenage girls, and the connections to the rising rates of suicide on account of that. I take some comfort, as I said earlier, that some of the most outrage-laden candidates were among the most unsuccessful in the last round of elections. That's encouraging, but I think that the content moderation is tricky because of the First Amendment.

Now, most of the platforms and the networks have their own rules. If they would enforce those rules, we'd be on a better path, but I think what we can do, if you do have a right to free speech, you don't have a right to free reach. In other words, you don't have a right to an algorithm that amplifies hate and outrage. That can be moderated within the law and should be moderated, and it's very much related to the amount of private and personal information that is harvested frequently without our knowledge and sold certainly without our knowledge. It's the business model, frankly, of some of the biggest social media platforms and we should worry about that.

By the way, there are some good bipartisan bills in the Senate and the House that speak to this in this way. It's a mystery to me why good ideas don't move in the Congress. As I say, there is bipartisan support.

Ariadne Valsamis:

Thank you. We now have a participant ready to ask a question. Please identify yourself, state your affiliation with the Kennedy School and ask your question.

Dwight Hutchins:

Thank you, Dwight Hutchins.

Deval Patrick:

Hi, Dwight.

Dwight Hutchins:

Governor, pleasure. Mid-Career '96. I'm currently on the Dean's Leadership Council. Governor, you made some great points a couple of days ago at the Black Economic Alliance around wages, wealth, and work, and the dean is coming out with some research on the wealth gap. Two things strike me there is one, the gap hasn't moved in 50 years, but also the wealth of White Americans has declined significantly, which creates a tinderbox for frustration with, as you said, the American dream not working. What powerful positive actions can be taken and what by government and particularly, ideas from "the left" to try to recapture and redirect that frustration and turn that outrage into action?

Deval Patrick:

Well, Dwight, it's such an interesting question and a challenging one because if you step way back what is described today in political circles, and sometimes, media circles, as the grievances of White working people, right? The economic uncertainty, the social isolation, the despair as measured by addiction rates and suicide rates, and frankly, even the cynicism about politics because those issues are issues at election time and then they disappear in between, that's the same stuff that Black and Brown people in cities have been feeling for generations. The notion that our leaders are missing the opportunity to acknowledge the hurt across differences, across communities and demographics and offer solutions that are about all of us because we all have, I believe, those aspirations and we all hurt in the same or similar ways right now, we're frustrated in the same or similar ways, is a huge missed opportunity.

I will say I think that the president is as good at it as anybody on stage today. And the resources that are available to state and local leaders today and frankly, the resources always available to political leaders, which is the convening power, the ability to get public and private and social sector leaders around the same table to problem solve together, it's an opportunity calling out to leaders today, and I hope it's not missed. To the extent that I get anybody to pay attention to me in Washington these days, this is the thing I keep preaching. Use that convening power to bring folks around the same table frequently, folks who wouldn't on their own sit at the same table, and acknowledge the common hurt that so many people are feeling across so many different differences, apparent differences, and then see how you use the tools that we already have, some of them once in a generation, and cut through the noise and the rules, in many cases, to deploy those resources in ways that deliver tangible results in the short term. I think it's just a huge opportunity.

Ariadne Valsamis:

Thank you. We have another participant ready to ask their question.

Monte McMurchy:

Monte McMurchy, Toronto, Canada, Mid-Career '82. First of all, Governor Patrick, I agree. I applaud everything you say. My only comment or question is politicians are relatively simple people. They follow the voters. If voters go out and vote, they will follow. Civics is basically courtesy and consideration and ideally, ought to start in daycare where Susie understands be kind to Johnny because Johnny is qualitatively different. Share your cookies or food with Sam who may not have that, and continues on in terms of middle school, high school and on to university. Voting is the criteria. If people vote, they are part of the system. How can one engage in terms of not only transactional, but leading on to the transformative where citizens are civic participants? As Robert Putnam put quite ably in Bowling Alone, "When you are part of the problem, you are also imperative in the solution." And I thank you, Sir, and I applaud your good work. Please continue.

Deval Patrick:

Thank you. Thank you, Monte. I think we are aligned but I want to say that I think there is a virtuous loop here. It's hard and I've done it. I've been out in neighborhoods talking to people about voting in my own elections and in others, where folks have not voted in the past, and I've made the point about how in a democracy, you get the government you deserve. If you want better government, then you got to go get it. You have to invest the time and the inconvenience and so forth of voting. I will tell you that in some places where you have that conversation, whether it's at home in Massachusetts or in other places in the country where I've campaigned for other candidates, you can't start the conversation there because you're sometimes talking to people who have inconvenienced themselves and invested their hopes and their dreams in a vote and they've gone and voted and sometimes, their candidate has won and hasn't been able to deliver.

It's not that folks expect instant arrival in the promised land. It's that there is so much that encumbers the ability of what most people want to come out of their government. And there are reasons for that, having to go back to some of the functional thing. I didn't even talk about the extent to which lobbying, but it was when I referred to money in policymaking, I was getting part at that. You add to that the fact that we keep making it more inconvenient to turn out and vote. And so I do think the reforms on the table, and there's some good ones that make voting more straightforward and reliable are incredibly important. They are linked. I'm not talking about the one or the other.

So I couldn't agree with you more that in a functioning democracy, we do get the government we deserve and I think people want a government more aligned with the fundamental goodness of our people and our communities, but we have not made it so that it's a functioning democracy in the United States, and I think that part has to be confronted.

Ariadne Valsamis:

Thank you. Governor, I want to go to one of our pre-submitted questions that's about noting that you've moved back and forth between public and corporate leadership. What have you learned about how the two sectors can work together or ways they should work together?

Deval Patrick:

I love the question. I have problem solved all over the world and this is the only country where the line is quite so bright between the public and the private sector. In other words, in lots of other places, whether it's infrastructure or to some extent, social services to varying degrees, social services, or other kinds of civic things, there's much more fluid engagement between the public and the private sector. In the United States, that line feels brighter, seems brighter, like it's a line you can't cross. You'd be surprised, maybe you wouldn't, how many of my own students really are, at the Kennedy School, are struggling with do they choose the one or the other? And they come for career advice and I say, "Well, don't ask me because I've zigzagged all over the place." Just don't take a job where you have to leave your conscience at the door.

There are lots of ways to serve, and when you think about it, the scale and scope of the challenges that face us as human beings today from the climate crisis to the crisis of confidence in democracy to sectarian division of various kinds, they're not going to be solved by one sector on its own. It's going to require collaborative solutions, and that's back to my point about the convening power of elected officials. They have to be used. Sometimes I think leaders feel like they have to show up at the table with the answer rather than showing up at the table with the problem and humbly seeking others' views on the answer. Everybody knows who gets decision-making authority on this or that issue. It may be a private sector leader, it may be a public sector leader, but everything is to be gained, I guess I would say, in my experience, in being able to bring all those different voices together, and I'll give you two quick examples.

Senator Romney, when he was governor, signed our health reform bill, the access bill in Massachusetts. This was three years, I think it was, before the ACA at the federal level. It took effect the day I took office, so it was up to us to implement it. And in a very short time, we got to and have since sustained 99%, I think it is, levels of insurance. I still don't think there's another state that is as high as that even after the ACA. When folks ask why did it work the way it worked in Massachusetts and why was it so different at the federal level, what I will tell you is, first of all, I think the ACA actually made ours better, but it worked two years before the ACA in part because there was a very broad coalition of legislators, of hospital and healthcare providers, of labor, of business leaders, employers, of patient advocates, of workers and so forth who were at the table to invent our healthcare reform and then they stuck together to refine it as we went.

I signed, I think, three major health reform bills after the first one because we were learning things and all of these sectors we're learning things and we were learning things from other sources, so we kept at it. We kept trying to improve it. That was a luxury that the president didn't have, President Obama didn't have, but it makes our, and frankly, it makes any big initiative work. You keep learning and you keep people at the table. It's not perfect, but it's better than it was the day it went in on account of that.

The second was an initiative that we undertook coming out of the recession, as part of our strategy to come out of recession, which was to create a real global home for the biotech industry. We had a lot of the bones that existed to begin with, great hospitals and 175, I think it is, universities and research institutions and teaching hospitals and laboratories within 45 minutes of downtown Boston. There were things we didn't have. The collaborative gene was not very well developed, but we thought here's a real sector we could lay claim to. How do we build it?

And we got a lot of people around the table, not because I believed or do believe that government can substitute for the private sector. The question is where are the holes and how do we help close them either as government or through introductions, and we came up with a bill that was 10 years in duration that was just about plugging those gaps and we went to work with the industry building it. Now we are the undeniable global destination for the biotech industry. That wasn't government all by itself. That wasn't the private sector all by itself. It was a lot of different people collaborating all the time and figuring out who could do what.

And one of the best outcomes from that, we had a little bit of money that we made available to an independent commission led by a Nobel laureate, to invest in companies who were in that valley of death. They had a great idea, but it hadn't been really proven out for commercialization and we made a little grant to a struggling enterprise.

Oh gosh, I'm forgetting the name. Who created one of the vaccines? One of the COVID vaccines? Help me. It wasn't Pfizer, but it was...

Ariadne Valsamis:

[inaudible 00:39:29].

Deval Patrick:

See you've all forgotten COVID already. Moderna, thank you. It was a little enterprise called Moderna. Look at it now. By the way, for those of you who don't forget things in the middle of a sentence, this will happen to you one day.

Ariadne Valsamis:

Well, thank you for that. We have another participant ready to ask a question. Please identify yourself, state your affiliation with the Kennedy School and ask your question.

Dean Kaplan:

Hi Governor, this is Dean Kaplan.

Deval Patrick:

Hi, Dean.

Dean Kaplan:

Mid-Career, mid MPA from 1991. Great to have you here with us and thank you for doing this.

Deval Patrick:

Thank you.

Dean Kaplan:

I wanted to hear a little bit more about your project, but put it in some context. I've been doing some public outreach the last several years on a consultant basis, working with local governments and school districts and have found myself increasingly in positions where our motives as independent experts are questioned. It's assumed that we are biased, that we are looking for outcomes that will enhance our financial position eventually and that we're not independent actors or couldn't possibly be independent. In addition, there's a very high level of vitriol and personal attacks, including, in some cases, doxing of family members, things like that, and I noted the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision the other day, which normally at least allows unfriendly words to be uttered in the public domain in public meetings.

So clearly, there's a free speech right, and you've touched on that and clearly, there's a need to allow, if you can't engage with people and if you can't understand some of their concerns and what their worries are, but at the same time, we still need to have dialogue and I'm fighting it very difficult, in some cases, to get people past their assumptions of bias to listen to each other. It sounds like that ties into what you're doing and I wonder if both of you could comment on that in general, your tactics you have as an experienced speaker in dealing with that and then how your project might address that as you go forward [inaudible 00:41:46].

Deval Patrick:

Thank you, Dean. These are serious. It's so interesting that we have used or come to use the freedom to speak as an excuse for a lack of decorum. It's like you can't make a point without insulting the person to whom you're trying to make the point, but that's reality. Wishing that the unwritten rules that are so necessary for democracy could be rewritten and understood isn't going to make it easier to engage.

I think what we have found is that we have to start the conversations through trusted members of the community. In other words, we have to be vouched for. We can't just show up and say we want to come to your meeting and start asking questions. We have to spend time with those leaders. There's so many interesting leaders we are meeting already as we're getting this work started. In one community, I think it was in Macon, we were told that if you really wanted to understand what folks living outside of Macon in rural communities were thinking and who to engage with and in what order, you needed to go meet the local undertaker because as they said, he knows who's coming and going and he's close to everybody. He knows who can afford the funeral when it comes and who can't, and there were insights like that.

There was a group we've come to know, I think it's called Black Women who Walk and it started... I think that's the name of the organization. I'll get it if you're interested. It started outside of Atlanta and it was about health issues and getting women in neighborhoods to commit to themselves and to their friends that they would take a walk every day of a certain length. And then what happens is that they'd go on these walks and they'd start talking. And as they'd send in to central command, wherever it was, confirming what they've done, it's a little like Noom, if you know that diet app, you got to say you did what you promised you would do on a daily basis. As that information would go in, they'd also say, "And you know what? We were talking about the school today and such and such a teacher," and then that would get picked up by a similar group that was walking someplace in Missouri and that would get picked up, it turns out, by another group that's walking someplace in Alabama.

And they're harvesting all this information about women who are walking but also talking. And they're learning these sort of consensus points, if you will, Dean. The folks who organize that, and they are up to several hundred thousand women around the country and a couple of chapters overseas, and they are all kinds of women from all kinds of backgrounds, they have a lot of credibility with the folks who walk. They introduce us to communities of folks who walk. Do you understand what I'm saying?

So it's finding the right channels, the right inroads and the right doors to open rather than just showing up saying, "I'm from Harvard and I want to help you." And we'll see. It's early days, so I don't want to declare victory yet.

Ariadne Valsamis:

Thank you. Governor Patrick, I want to ask about a specific experience, and that is you were governor when the Boston Marathon was bombed and that had to be one of the greatest challenges that a public leader could face. Can you share with us what that was like and what leadership lessons you draw from it?

Deval Patrick:

Well, we're coming up on I think the 10th anniversary, so I should start to collect my thoughts because I have a series of interviews I promised to do or been asked to do. It was an extraordinary experience. It's so interesting, when I think back on it, how those who remember it say, "Well, there were two guys, two bombs, and we found these terrorist needles in a haystack in about 100 hours." In fact, we didn't know most of that until after the second bomber was arrested, and I think one of the takeaways is just how much happens without sufficient information and how many decisions have to be made without adequate information. Of course, that's true generally in leadership. It's more and more true the more and more senior leader you become. There's never perfect information, but there's also a sense of timing that you have to be sensitive to.

We were doing press avails when we didn't have answers to questions, but there was such a clamoring for time and there was so much attention. Well, I don't know if it was attention paid, but it was so important that the tone be right, that we not turn fear into panic, and there was a lot of fear and anxiety, that we show that we were responding at all of the levels, at the level of law enforcement, at the level of recovery, that the medical teams were doing what they needed to do. And my style of leadership is not to, as I said earlier, not to pretend like I have all the answers, but I'm good at asking questions, and I was constantly asking the different teams. Mind you, we had federal, state, local resources, we had agencies from the federal government I didn't even know existed, intelligence agencies and so forth, and the question I kept asking is, what do you need? What do you need? How can you help? Where's your place?

The law enforcement part, the actual criminal investigation, I had some experience with, because before 9/11, I co-chaired a task force that investigated rash of attacks on Black churches and synagogues in the south. It was the largest criminal investigation in federal history before the 9/11 task force, the 9/11 response. And what I remember from that was having these, at that time, really two major agencies, the ATF and the FBI, and they spent an amazing amount of time competing with each other. And as a result, the co-chair and I spent an awful lot of our time just managing that, and so right after the first press avail and we still had a mess on Boylston Street, which had been sealed off at that point, three bodies and body parts, and it was grizzly.

We had all these law enforcement folks who wanted to help and I said, "Look, everybody has a role, but one agency has to be in charge. I don't care which one. You all decide." And what I also discovered, I shouldn't say I discovered, what I saw, and it's not unusual, is that folks weren't stepping up to take the lead because frankly, nobody knew what the outcome was going to be and that there are hazards of leadership. It could go sideways and you're the face and the blame comes back on you. So the consensus was it should be the FBI and the FBI lead was there and I said, "Are you okay with that?" He said, yes. And then I looked every other agency head in the eye and I said, "Are you okay? Are you okay? Are you okay?" And on the whole, they stuck together and I think that's one of the reasons why the criminal investigation was so incredibly efficient.

The other thing I will say was a takeaway, I got some great advice from a young man who was my chief of staff at the time. He said, "Every time you go out and you talk about the casualties, the deaths, the injuries, the numbers in the hospitals and what have you," he said, "Call attention at the same time to the acts of kindness and grace that people were showing to one another," because we were learning about that. And if you're from or you spent any time in the Boston area, we're not famous for our warmth and welcome, not at first. But in fact, the race was stopped. We had people running who were trained forever. They were exhausted and so forth, and they were told miles from Boston, the race is over. And total strangers brought them into their homes and warmed them up and hydrated them and turned on the television and explained what was happening and gave them updates and then ultimately, helped them get to places where they could get reconnected with their families or with their property or both. We took care of each other.

We got thousands of photographs and videos from the finish line, the composite of which enabled us to identify not just what the perpetrators looked like, but who they were. And rather than turn on every Swathi-looking person in the community, we were very specific about how this was a time, as I said earlier, to turn to not on each other. And I will tell you telling those stories, lifting up those acts of kindness, kind of goes back to the question about conflict at the beginning, they begat, as the Bible would say, similar acts. And I think that had as much or more to do with Boston Strong and the speed and the strength of our recovery as anything else or more.

Ariadne Valsamis:

Well, thank you for that, and thank you for this wonderful session, Governor Patrick. And thank you to everyone who called in to listen to the Wiener Conference Call, and of course, a very special thank you to Malcolm Wiener again. Our next call is April 7th, featuring Megan O'Sullivan, the Jeane Kirkpatrick professor of the Practice of International Development, who was recently named director of the Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. We look forward to having you back with us. Governor Patrick, thank you again so much.

Deval Patrick:

Pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

Ariadne Valsamis:

Bye-bye all.