In early 2022, my book CITIZENS: How to unleash the power of everyone and fix our f***ed up world is due for publication. This post is about why I’m writing it, where I’m up to, and how you can get involved. The below isn’t the final cover, by the way… thanks to those already on the mailing list, there’s a new one coming…
The day I really knew I had to write this book — both for my own sanity and as a contribution it felt important to make — was Saturday 10th May 2020.
That was the day, in case you don’t remember or don’t live in the UK, that Boris Johnson changed the UK Covid message from “Stay Home” to “Stay Alert”. As I wrote that day in a post that has so far been read over 600,000 times, this was an attempt to reimpose what I call the Consumer Story: a story that tells us that we are all individuals, that there is no such thing as society, that everything is down to personal responsibility, and that the right thing for each of us to do in any given situation is to look out for number one, because that’s what everyone else will be doing.
The thing is, there was an alternative. Britain could in that moment have stepped into the Citizen Story. We really could.
In the previous weeks, mutual aid groups had sprung up all over the country and indeed the world, millions of people had stepped forward as volunteers locally and nationally, and surveys showed that despite our fear, we felt newly united, newly empowered and excited to get involved. The initiatives and tools and processes that government could have employed in that moment — a Citizens’ Reference Panel, open data platforms, challenge prizes, the distribution of power and resources to the local level, a Basic Income— were all there, tried and tested, ready to bring a new future into being. I could see it happening in Taiwan and other places. It was within reach.
But the Citizen Story was not well formed enough, and the moment was gone. And that’s why I had to write this book. Because it’s going to take the sort of deeper work that writing demands to make sure the new story is ready and coherent and available when the next moment of disruption comes — as it inevitably will.
My great hope for the book I’m writing is that by naming the stories that shape and bind us — the stories of Subject, Consumer, and Citizen — I can help more people see them; that by helping more people see them, I can help more of us step out of the Subject and the Consumer and into the Citizen Story; and by doing that, I can do my bit to support the deep shift we can and must make to create a new golden age for humanity. I truly believe this is possible, even out of what are undoubtedly dark times.
A year on, I have a full first draft and a publishing contract; I’m on the road. I have been working with these ideas for seven years with the amazing team at the New Citizenship Project, and I’ve got this far in the writing with the help of a brilliant co-author, the self-described “book doula” Ariane Conrad.
But if this is going to land, I’m going to need a lot more help even than that, both in making the book the best it can be, and in getting it out there. Setting all false humility aside, I genuinely believe the ideas I’m working with are essential and could change the world, but I also know it’s not going to just happen — and I know full well I can’t do it on my own.
That’s why I’ve set up a website and mailing list very early in the process, and I’m starting now to experiment with how best to tap into the ideas, energy and resources of those who are signing up to get involved. In the spirit of the Citizen Story I describe in the book, I’m pretty sure no one’s done it exactly this way before, and I know I won’t get it right straight away — but I also know that the earlier I start, the more chance I have of figuring it out.
So far, I’m finding it hugely exciting. I’ve crowdsourced suggestions for the title using a tool called AllOurIdeas, and got some great feedback on draft book covers. Simply by putting the project out there, I’ve been contacted directly by several fascinating people who are helping me fill in gaps in my understanding. My editor is working on his first take over the next couple of weeks, and my intention is to sit down with his input, identify the comments and sections I’m finding most difficult to figure out, and ask the list for help. In the meantime, I’ve put out a call for ideas for who could write the foreword — it might be that a big name in this role could really help (anyone know Gareth Southgate by any chance?). Later, I’ll ask for help building a plan for a book tour, and see whether anyone on the list might want to write articles with me for any outlets they know, or can help me line up podcast appearances. I’ve also made it clear that I’m up for hearing whatever ideas people have for what I should do along the way.
The core of the Citizen Story, and therefore the message of my book, is that all of us are smarter than any of us; that when you invite people to get involved, not only do they invariably do so, they also make what you’re doing far, far better.
If you’d like to come and be part of the journey, I’d love to have you on board.
If you’d like to be part of CITIZENS, please join the list at www.jonalexander.net. If you can help spread the word by sharing this post (and the link) I’d really appreciate it. And if you can give this piece a few claps (you can clap up to 50 times), that’ll help it spread too. Thanks!