Author Paul Loeb is one of the United States’ leading advocates for citizen responsibility. He’s spent the last 30 years researching and writing books. He published his first, “Nuclear Culture,” in 1986. His work has been cited in Congressional debates and his books have been praised and quoted by the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, among others.
Loeb is also working on updating his 2004 anthology, “The Impossible Will Take a Little While.” The new edition is due out in May.
Loeb will be in La Crosse on Thursday to speak at Viterbo University. Loeb, who also visited Winona State University earlier this week, spoke with the Winona Daily News recently about his writing, travels and activism on the modern college campus. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Are you looking forward to your visit?
I’ve visited somewhere near 500 schools by now. Rochester Community Technical College used my book “The Impossible Will Take a Little While” for a school-wide read — lots and lots of schools use one of the books for a common read.
Everyone on campus had to figure out an approach to do a report on it. Art students wrote poetry, theater students acted out scenes. They went to town on it. It was totally amazing. That’s probably one of my favorite experiences.
What’s your favorite part about lecturing to college students? What do you want them to take away from your books and your presentation?
The interactive stuff. Generally, I say the same stuff on a Monday as I would a Tuesday, so the questions I get after talks and going to classes make me think about the answers. I want students to take away a sense of responsibility and possibility. Take something like climate change. It’s so urgent and it’s not easy to deal with. It’s possible to do things that are really powerful. What you can do can actually matter.
What’s the biggest difference in activism today on college campuses compared to 10 years ago?
I think the level of activism is similar. Students are engaged, but still a minority. Has it increased? Obama probably increased some hope for change, but it might have been dashed. Can you really do anything against a billionaire (to change policies)? You can with people, but it makes it harder.
Finding hope maybe is a little more illusive. Something like gay marriage a dozen years ago, politicians were getting heat for proposing civil unions. Ten years later there’s acknowledgment from the IRS and the state. It’s a measure of distance traveled.
Is there any evidence that people can change? Yes.
How can a city combat the restraint politics can put on activism?
The participatory tradition in Minnesota helps. A small town in Minnesota doesn’t feel like a small town in Alabama. An active community helps. The challenge is the group of “us” versus the outsiders. People seem to rise to the occasion.
A lot can be done in small towns. But sometimes you’re going to win and sometimes you’re not. That’s the way history works.
You can’t predict the tipping point. You can’t map things out.