Practicing democracy, 'til we get it right. January 24, 2021
Advocates for progressive change could be hampered by the January 6th Capitol Insurrection. For the moment, the moderate middle seeks "unity," nevermind about injustice and inequality. In reality the "unity" within our democracy is the allegiance to a process for resolving differences. In the US, unity is our allegiance to the Constitution and "the rule of law." The term "the loyal opposition" refers to parties with different views, constituencies, and interests, who are nevertheless loyal to the principles in the Constitution.
Ironically, the HUD guidance on tenant organizing provides a microcosm for these "constitutional" principles. In an era when many citizens have not had the benefit of high school civics or student councils, joining a citizen's organization may be the first opportunity for learning the principles of civic engagement.
Principle #1: Meet regularly, not just when there is a crisis or when it's convenient. Structured interactions in groups provide an assurance that belonging matters. Unlike mobs or movements, citizen organizations have a stability that maintains stability.
Principle #2: Operate democratically. In citizens organizations, this means creating a set of ground rules (bylaws or charter) that define who owns the organization and sets up a deliberative process for how decisions are made. The document which operationalizes these principles of majority rule and minority rights is created before conflicts arise.
Principle #3. "Inclusive of all the residents" operationalizes the definition of "who owns the organization" in the founding document. Citizen organizations are challenged to make that definition as broad as possible or risk becoming an affinity group. Saul Alinsky's organizing practice was based on harvesting the activism of homogeneous social clusters into a broadly inclusive "people's organization" which could speak with authority.
Principle #4: On its face "be completely independent of management," seems to contradict the principle of inclusivity. In reality, distinguishing between the public interest of a citizens organization and private interest of a business is a practical recognition of the structural differences that exist between the public and private interests
Alas, Constitutional decisions have undermined this distinction in our national life and contributed to much of the present polarization. Granting "person" status to corporations has led to unrestricted financing of political campaigns and businesses winning the right to claim legal exemptions on the basis the corporations' religious beliefs!
Unexamined calls for "unity" can carry the risk of further eroding the power of citizen engagement. Almost before the ink was dry on the Constitution, founding parent, John Adams supported the creation of the Alien and Sedition Acts to deal with his political opponents. In the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus (arbitrary incarceration) in DC and General US Grant expelled Jews from areas of the South. In the wake of WW1, zealous politicians promoted the Red Scare to quash the aspirations of Labor and Civil Rights organizations. Within days of the Capitol Insurrection, NYC police arrested peaceful BLM demonstrators who were too close to City Hall. A fearful moderate middle seeking "unity" can provide an excuse for repression.
What unites citizens as Americans is our commitment to resolve our differences Constitutionally. It's symbolic that we celebrated MLK Day one week after the Capitol Insurrection amidst a National Guard lockdown. Dr. King never gave shelter or comfort to the enemies of justice even as he claimed the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. In the Letter from a Birmingham Jail King wrote:
"I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice...."
Footnotes to today's rhino!UP
JAN 22, 2021. Slate.com. The GOP Is Complaining That Joe Biden Is Being “Divisive” by Governing Like a Democrat. JORDAN WEISSMANN explores the relationship between unity and difference. "...the whole point of Biden’s inaugural was that we need to coalesce around some of the basic civic and democratic ideals that Donald Trump tried to shred so that we can go back to disagreeing about policy without trying to murder one another. As the president put it: “Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.” He asked Americans to relearn how to love their neighbors; he did not promise to make Republicans happy with every executive action. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous."
Jan. 23, 2021. Washington Post. Smart people say better civics classes will cure our political ills. Really? "Giving good teachers more time to explore civics with their students can’t do any harm. But I suspect how we vote will be more affected by slow changes in who we voters are than by better civics lessons for us in school" RHINO argues that everyday civic engagement will teach the civics principles that most citizens need. Your thoughts?