Citizen Lobbyists: Local Efforts to Influence Public Policy

Citizen Lobbyists: Local Efforts to Influence Public Policy

Citizen Lobbyists: Local Efforts to Influence Public Policy

Citizen Lobbyists: Local Efforts to Influence Public Policy

Synopsis

Citizen Lobbyists explores how U. S. citizens participate in local government. Although many commentators have lamented the apathy of the American citizenry, Brian Adams focuses on what makes ordinary Americans become involved in and attempt to influence public policy issues that concern them. It connects theory and empirical data in a new and revealing way, providing both a thorough review of the relevant scholarly discussions and a detailed case study of citizen engagement in the politics of Santa Ana, a mid-sized Southern California city. After interviewing more than 50 residents, Adams found that they can be best described as "lobbyists" who identify issues of personal importance and then lobby their local government bodies. Through his research, he discovered that public meetings and social networks emerged as essential elements in citizens' efforts to influence local policy. By testing theory against reality, this work fills a void in our understanding of the actual participatory practices of "civically engaged" citizens.

Excerpt

Why do some local issues generate significant participation while other do not? Citizens—with limited time to devote to politics and an endless array of issues—need to decide on which issues they will participate. Why do they choose to participate on issue a and not issue B? My goal in part ii is to understand the variation in participation across local public policies and to analyze the choices that citizens make when they decide to participate in local affairs.

Typically, questions concerning participation patterns are cast in terms of personal versus community interests: do citizens participate on policies that affect their own personal interests (such as the amount of taxes they pay or the level of services they receive) or is their participation prompted by broader community concerns, such as maintaining a healthy environment or assisting those in need? This conceptualization is not very productive because distinguishing between personal interests and community interests is problematic. Are citizens' concerns about air pollution personal interests (they want to breathe clean air) or are they community concerns (they want to maintain a healthy environment for everybody in the community)? Personal interests are interrelated with community interests: since citizens live within a community, their own well-being is tied— at least to some extent—to the community as a whole. Determining whether citizens base their participation on personal interest or community concern is impossible because their interrelationship prevents us from developing adequate measures of each. Furthermore, we cannot ask citizens whether they are driven by personal or community interests, since many citizens equate their own personal interests with the community's interests—a variation of the now cliché “What's good for gm is good for America.”

Understanding the participation choices that citizens make, therefore, cannot be done using a framework of personal versus . . .

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