2019 Speakers

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Aaron Belkin

Change is Hard

Dr. Aaron Belkin is a scholar who, since 1999, has served as founding director of the LGBT advocacy organization, the Palm Center. His 2011 public education campaign was responsible for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. As the architect and implementer of a groundbreaking shift in American military policy, Belkin will share what he learned about advocacy in our show, Change is Hard. His transformative work can be found in his book, How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Arianna Huffington called the book a “best practices guide for civil rights fights.”

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Bonnie Siegler

Change is Hard

Bonnie Siegler is a hugely accomplished graphic designer whose book, Signs of Resistance, A Visual History of Protest in America, looks at more than two centuries of protest art and design. At Original Thinkers, in our Change is Hard show, she will be talking about the real impact of art and visual imagery. An expert on art catalyzed by times of strife, Siegler describes vacillating “back and forth between rage and hope” in her work, resulting in a unique outlook on the power of gathering with a common cause. Siegler’s multi-disciplinary design studio Eight and a Half (http://8point5.com) has worked with an array of esteemed clients, and she was voted one of the 50 most influential designers working today by Graphic Design USA. Check out some of her work on her insta page: @Bonnie8point5.

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Ramy Essam

Change is Hard

Ramy Essam is a rocker, an agitator, and a force of nature live on stage. With a guitar in hand, Essam has been one of the loudest voices for Egypt’s struggle for a progressive society. He will sing and speak about using his talent to lead a revolution in our Change is Hard show, including his most notable song, Irhal. He performed it at the height of the Egyptian Revolution, demanding for the resignation of then-ruler Hosni Mubarak. Time Out has it listed as the #3 Song that changed history. “My cause is humanity and freedom and human rights. It’s very simple”. Essam experienced brutal torture and arrests intended to silence his voice because of his participation in the movement. His songs were banned and he was forbidden to perform publicly in Egypt. Undeterred, he eventually found safe haven in Sweden, and continues to perform today.

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Deborah and James Fallows

The Character of Our Country

For nearly four years, husband and wife journalists Deborah and James Fallows piloted their single-engine propeller plane to small and mid-size towns in America, reporting on innovation of all sorts, which resulted in a national best-selling 2018 book called Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America. As part of the Character of Our Country show, they will share what they learned along the way, ultimately drawing a conclusion that surprises much of the national news audience: “most parts of the United States that we visited have been doing better, in most ways, than most Americans realize.” They found that when you zoom in and spend time at the local level, Americans are actually adapting to life in the 21st century. As a widely published writer and linguist, and a longtime correspondent for the Atlantic Magazine, Deborah and James have decades of experience covering a myriad of topics from all over the world, including being on the ground for the formative years of China’s rise. Our Towns is currently being adapted into a documentary series by HBO.

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Sarfraz Manzoor

What Does Music Really Do To Us?

Sarfraz Manzoor was born in Pakistan but grew up in Margaret Thatcher’s England, which provided a variety of challenges for a young, alienated teenager until he found the music of Bruce Springsteen. Manzoor will speak at Original Thinkers as part of our show, What Does Music Really Do to Us? about the impact of the Boss’s music on his once wayward life. He will draw from his memoir, Greetings from Bury Park, as well as a new feature film he wrote called Blinded by the Light, which was a sensation at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.