Solidarity is a project

Progressives are really good at identifying, analyzing and proposing specific policy solutions. Give us climate change and we’ll give you a carbon tax and solar energy subsidies. Give us police shootings and we’ll give you implicit bias training and body cameras.  Give us lack of access to health insurance and we’ll give you the public option and a ban on screening for pre-existing conditions. Just watch last Monday’s debate: for every issue, Hillary Clinton had a list of three or four solutions, devised by experts and backed up by binders full of white papers.

But when it comes to the cultural phenomena that are preventing these policy solutions from getting a fair hearing in our legislatures, we turn off.  When Republicans keep winning state houses, we have no words. When voters keep re-electing do-nothing Congresses, we retreat into snark. When 40% of the country thinks Donald Trump would be a good President, we are confused. When people don’t trust fact checks from the national media, we throw up our hands.  It’s as if every public problem can be bent to our will, but addressing any cultural challenge is insurmountable.

But this is not the case. As conservatives know — and discuss frequently amongst themselves! — our nation’s moral and political culture is quite susceptible to change: we can have a hand in cultural revival, decline or transformation, but only if we care to work on it. Continue reading “Solidarity is a project”

Towards Participatory Care

In the Democratic Alternative Intervention‘s section on building Strong Communities, we discuss humanizing the caring economy:

We need to return to our heritage of participatory direct care. We should support projects that humanize the support for our sick, imprisoned, young, old, mentally ill, and destitute. The third-party bureaucracies that we currently pay to unburden us from responsibility towards one another should be supplemented with a culture of widespread participation in direct care for each other.

This plank was inspired by an oft-overlooked idea in the political thought of philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger:

In principle, every able person should have a position in both the production system and the caring economy. The objective of this effort is to ensure the practical organization of social solidarity in a fashion that directly engages people in one another’s lives beyond the limits of the family.

Here’s one way to tell the rough story of this idea:

Those on the margins of our conception of “normal life” — the physically and mentally ill, the imprisoned, the very young, the very old, the destitute, the displaced — used to be wholly and directly cared for by their families and neighbors.  In recent centuries, three trends changed this: (1) old models of family (e.g. multi-generational households) and community (e.g. caring about your neighbors) began to change; (2) we developed public standards of care that cast light on the failures of local, organic systems to adequately care for those in need; and (3) we developed modern state and commercial bureaucracies capable of funding, engineering and providing care.

However, in transitioning away from a model of participatory and community care and towards an institutionalized and bureaucratized model of care — one managed by a mix of professional experts and mistreated, low-wage workers — we lost many of the benefits of the old model.  If we can develop systems that supplement the current model of care with more opportunities for community members to participate in their neighbors’ care, we could preserve the benefits of our current model while salvaging the benefits of the old.  Not only would those being cared for be helped by more organic, neighborly relationships; those doing the caring would also be served by re-engaging in our most human practice: caring for each other.  Even more, our anxieties stemming from the “abnormal” elements in our own personal and family lives would lessen as the normal abnormalities of life move out of the managed shadows. The solidarity and understanding of a shared, sacred project replaces the fear and isolation of a universal, shameful secret. Continue reading “Towards Participatory Care”

Deepening Democracy: The Varieties of Participatory Institutions

When most people imagine deepening democracy — increasing citizen participation in power — their mind often jumps to the furthest extreme of direct democracy: endless meetings of every citizen ignorantly voting on every issue.  If this is what deep democracy means — all of us taking time to discern the right policy regarding inland fisheries regulations and medical device taxes — then deep democracy is ridiculous.

But this is the wrong way to think about deepening democracy. Rather than seeing a deep democracy as a system where every citizen has a vote on every issue, we should imagine it as a system where every citizen has a variety of open avenues to having their voice heard and ideas realized. To deepen democracy is to open up power — the power to start projects, change projects, and stop projects — to more people in more ways.  

The mechanism for deepening democracy is the participatory institution: a system that gains political power for the purpose of distributing it to a wider variety of people. A deep democracy would consist of a dense array of interconnected participatory institutions. Continue reading “Deepening Democracy: The Varieties of Participatory Institutions”

Juliet Schor at “Beyond Sanders and Clinton”

This past February, the Democratic Alternative co-sponsored “Beyond Sanders and Clinton: Visionary Futures for Democratic Economics” at Harvard Law School.  Here is the video of Juliet Schor’s speech at the event:

Juliet Schor is a Professor of Sociology at Boston College. She is the co-founder of the Board of the Center for a New American Dream and the author of many influential books, including: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure; The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need; and Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth.

Greg Watson at “Beyond Sanders and Clinton”

This past February, the Democratic Alternative co-sponsored “Beyond Sanders and Clinton: Visionary Futures for Democratic Economics” at Harvard Law School.  Here is the video of Greg Watson’s speech at the event:

Greg Watson is the former Commissioner of Agriculture of Massachusetts and now the Director of Policy and Systems Design at the Schumacher Center for New Economics. He has been a public voice for sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, new monetary systems, equitable land tenure arrangements, neighborhood planning through democratic processes, government policies that support human-scale development, cooperative structure, and import replacement through citizen financing of new enterprises.

Gar Alperovitz at “Beyond Sanders and Clinton”

This past February, the Democratic Alternative co-sponsored “Beyond Sanders and Clinton: Visionary Futures for Democratic Economics” at Harvard Law School.  Here is the video of Gar Alperovitz’s speech at the event:

Gar Alperovitz was legislative director for Rep. Gaylord Nelson and is now a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland. He is the co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, which aims to develop practical, policy-focused and systematic paths towards ecologically sustainable, community-oriented change and the democratization of wealth. He has spent recent decades aiming to answer the question: “If you don’t like corporate capitalism and you don’t like state socialism, what do you like?”

Introduction to the Strong Communities Project

Citizens desire stronger communities, but are lacking in meaningful connections. Local communities throughout America have eroded as more and more people find the places where they live as spaces devoid of meaning and relationships. As American towns increasingly rely on distant corporate supply chains for their communal survival, a nation whose power grew from its multiple centers now feels centralized and managed from afar. Groups that could benefit from dense, varied, and empowering community networks are herded under corporate, media, and government bullhorns, unable to talk back in significant ways. On the national level, social solidarity is limited to cash transfers, as we pay the government to pay others who are in need, rarely meeting our fellow countrymen in authentic ways, and thus resenting the payments. The once-communal labors of caring, teaching, healing, feeding, sheltering, and serving have been bureaucratized and hidden from view.

The Strong Communities Project is researching policies that work to:

  • Revitalize Local Communities: Efforts should be made to transform meaningless spaces into meaningful places by developing initiatives that strengthen people’s ties to both their neighbors and towns.
  • Increase Communal Self-Reliance: We should work to better distribute industries and opportunities beyond major coastal cities so as to decentralize economic and cultural power throughout the nation. Local self-reliance movements, fromcommunity-sponsored agriculture to local green-energy initiatives, should be better funded and proliferated.  Special attention should be given to ensuring that the lives of rural communities suffering under de-industrialization are not wholly dependent on the placement and displacement of factories, stadiums, bases and prisons controlled by distant governments and corporations.
  • Create Participatory Counterbalances to Corporate and State Power: We should work to enable the routine organization of democratic counterbalances to undemocratic corporate and state forces. Through updated legal, funding, web, and media structures, we should fortify and promote the organization of such participatory interest groups, such as veterans organizing into federated societies, fans of sports teams organizing into fan unions, consumers of products organizing into consumer purchasing cooperatives, and tenants of public housing organizing into tenant associations. In addition, we should promote experiments in moving such counterbalances into full-scale alternatives, such as consumer groups moving from a product boycott to launching their own product.
  • Humanize the Caring Economy: We need to return to our heritage of participatory direct care. We should support projects that humanize the support for our sick, imprisoned, young, old, mentally ill, and destitute. The third-party bureaucracies that we currently pay to unburden us from responsibility towards one another should be supplemented with a culture of widespread participation in direct care for each other.
  • Build Programs for National Solidarity: National solidarity should be promoted through broader opportunities and stronger incentives to spend periods of one’s life engaging in American communities different than one’s own. Attempts to address national divides of race, culture, and class through the law and mass media should be supplemented with projects that encourage sustained, authentic in-person interactions in shared missions among individuals from divided groups. Such interracial, intercultural, and cross-class sports, music, conservation, education, worship, and service groups should be promoted and expanded.

Stay tuned to this section of ProgressiveAlternative.org to follow our work on building this Strong Communities Agenda. To join the Strong Communities Project, contact Pete@ProgressiveAlternative.org. To submit an independent post to this section, contact Macabe@ProgressiveAlternative.org.