Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life

Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life

Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life

Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life

Synopsis

Increasingly a spectator sport, electoral politics have become bitterly polarized by professional consultants and lobbyists and have been boiled down to the distributive mantra of "who gets what." In Everyday Politics, Harry Boyte transcends partisan politics to offer an alternative. He demonstrates how community-rooted activities reconnect citizens to engaged, responsible public life, and not just on election day but throughout the year. Boyte demonstrates that this type of activism has a rich history and strong philosophical foundation. It rests on the stubborn faith that the talents and insights of ordinary citizens--from nursery school to nursing home--are crucial elements in public life.

Drawing on concrete examples of successful public work projects accomplished by diverse groups of people across the nation, Boyte demonstrates how citizens can master essential political skills, such as understanding issues in public terms, mapping complex issues of institutional power to create alliances, raising funds, communicating, and negotiating across lines of difference. He describes how these skills can be used to address the larger challenges of our time, thereby advancing a renewed vision of democratic society and freedom in the twenty-first century.

Excerpt

Everyday Politics began as a series of action research projects on civic engagement in higher education supported over several years by the Kettering Foundation. In 2002, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) awarded a grant for this research as well, especially for study of the public engagement efforts at the University of Minnesota. As the research unfolded, it became clear that a broader study of democratic politics was important in order to situate higher education’s civic engagement efforts in a larger context. Thus, Everyday Politics was conceived, drawing on work over the last sixteen years at the Humphrey Institute.

In 1987, at the urging of Harlan Cleveland, then dean of the new Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, I began a project aimed at finding workable remedies for democracy’s troubles. The challenge was daunting, but resources for such an effort on democracy had been accumulating in the civic experiments of recent decades at the grassroots of society, resources which I believed had many lessons for theory about democracy and politics. This effort became the Center for Democracy and Citizenship (CDC).

The most effective civic efforts, especially broad-based citizen organizations in networks such as the Industrial Areas Foundation, the Gamaliel Foundation, and the Pacific Institute for Community Organization, had accumulated evidence in support of Thomas Jefferson’s profession of faith in the people as the repository of the powers of the society. Though Americans’ penchant for self-directed action to solve public problems in general seemed to be in decline, powerful countertrends had also developed. Citizens in communities across the country were successfully taking up tough problems, from crime to economic development or environmental restoration. It was clear from their experiences that an increasing number of challenges that cannot be solved by government action alone (even though gov-

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