Urban Agenda -- 21st Century Political Renewal


Reprinted w/permission-Washington Post Writers Group & the artist

Building a pro-city platform and Urban Agenda for the next Presidential campaign & locally.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

How ordinary, organized citizens can seize political power

(reprinted from Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space)
Today's Chicago Sun-Times has an op-ed by Mike Gecan, of the national staff of the Industrial Areas Foundation,* the community organizing entity created by Saul Alinsky, about how:

...[D]irect citizen organizing and dramatic public action is steadily losing ground to other political approaches. What authors Ben Ginsberg and Martin Shefter called Politics by Other Means rules the roost these days. That politics includes legislative investigations, judicial proceedings and media revelations. We would add a fourth form -- celebrities adopting causes -- to the list. ...

The problem is that the general public has only one real role in each of these events: the role of spectator. We watch the U.S. attorney. We follow the trials. We line up to get a glimpse of a star. The message to citizens is that the action is somewhere else: in the smoke-filled room; in the whispered phone call of a fixer; in the cubicles of the federal prosecutor; in the studios of the stars. Not on your block. Not in your neighborhood or subdivision. Not in your workplace.

So, the more traditional politics falls short, the more ''politics by other means'' will fill the vacuum. The more ''politics by other means'' fills the vacuum, the more disconnected and passive the public becomes. How to get out of this cycle? The first way is for organized citizens to continue to analyze the issues that affect their lives and to make that analysis public. ...

The second way is to keep doing what the 1,500 leaders of United Power will be doing today: gathering in a public setting, doing public business, pressing candidates for public commitments. No winks. No nods. No back-room anything. And the third way is to continue to exercise the democratic muscle of voting. Without these three habits -- analysis, public engagement and electoral participation -- it won't matter what the prosecutors and movie stars do. The center of our democratic life will continue to shrink. And the politics of the future will bear little resemblance to the world invented by our Founding Fathers and protected from extinction by the greatest president of all, Abraham Lincoln.

He's a man who modeled the kind of politics you'll find in the auditorium at Trinity High School in River Forest Sunday afternoon. And he's the person who knew what the goal of political life could be and should be: ''to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.''

What Gecan calls the three habits of "analysis, public engagement, and electoral participation" are foundational principles of the approach espoused by this blog.

See "Study: Housing costs force moves" from the Chicago Tribune about the study mentioned above.

(Note that the DC Fiscal Policy Institute has been pretty successful garnering similar ink in the Washington Post, see "Separation Between Rich, Poor Widening in D.C., Study Finds," although I would aver that it appears as if the Washington Post and other area newspapers report less on press conferences and similar activities, by either national advocacy groups or local advocacy groups. When I first came to the city, and worked for a consumer advocacy group, we could count on newspapers and local television coverage of our various press conferences. This is less the case today.)

* In DC, the very effective Washington Interfaith Network is an IAF affiliate.

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