This is an outline of a class discussion that seemed to work pretty well this morning. The reading is T.M. Scanlon’s “When Does Equality Matter?” Scanlon offers five reasons that a given difference among people may be unjust, and I add a sixth:
- The difference reflects suffering by the less advantaged–suffering that could be remedied.
- It is humiliating, conveying disrespect.
- It allows, or reflects, “dominance”: one person’s being able to control the other without giving reasons or being accountable.
- It shows that people lack equal opportunity.
- An institution is violating an implicit or explicit promise to treat its members alike.
- The difference reflects a past injustice that must be remedied.
For each of the following differences among people, debate: 1) Is it an injustice? 2) If so, for which of the six reasons listed above, or for other reasons? 3) What is unequal? (For instance, a measured outcome, a good, a right?) Who or what is responsible for remedying the injustice?
- Men in the US live 37 years longer than men in Malawi (from Scanlon).
- White men in the healthiest US counties live 15 years longer longer than African American men in the least healthy counties (from Scanlon).
- American CEOs are paid 341 times more than average workers (Scanlon example; updated stats).
- Kids from households in the 99th income percentile have a 94% chance of completing college. Kids in the lowest percentile have a 22% chance (Raj Chetty).
- Amish kids are much less likely to go to college (from Scanlon).
- Tufts faculty are 2.7% African American; 12.1% of the US population are Black.
- Ninety percent of Tufts students come from the USA. Four percent of the world population is American.
- A (hypothetical) teacher treats one of his students better than others.
- A (hypothetical) teacher treats all of his students better than people not in his class.
- In a doctor’s office, everyone calls the physician “doctor”; the nurses are called by their first names.
- Among young Americans, roughly 75% of those with BAs vote, versus 25% of those without high school diplomas (CIRCLE).
- One in four Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss “important matters” (GSS). They are lonelier than the other 75% of Americans.
- There aren’t enough good jobs for all the people. Today 62.7% of Americans are in the labor force (BLS); that could fall with automation and AI.
So what might the commons actually achieve for you if you live in a city? How might you experience the joys of commoning? Check out Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons, a fantastic new book that describes more than 100 case studies and model policies for urban commoning. Researched and published by Shareable, the book is an impressive survey of citizen-led innovations now underway in more than 80 cities in 35 countries.
We all know about conventional approaches to “development” championed by investors and real estate developers, usually with the support of a city’s political elites. Much less is known about the commons-based agenda for improving cities. Sharing Cities is an inspirational reference guide for creating such an agenda. It details a great variety of policies and projects that are empowering ordinary citizens to improve their own neighborhoods, reduce household costs, and make their cities fairer, cleaner and more liveable.
I was thrilled to learn about Kitchen Share, a kitchen tool-lending library for home cooks in Portland, Oregon; the consortium Local Energy Scotland that is orchestrating shared local ownership of renewal energy projects; and the “community science” project run by Riverkeeper that carefully collects data about the water quality of the Hudson River.
For urban residents who have to contend with unresponsive, high-priced broadband service, how exciting to learn about Freifunk, a noncommercial grassroots project in Münster, Germany, that has built a free Internet infrastructure for everyone. Like Guifi.net in Barcelona, the project converted routers into WiFi access points, creating a “mesh network” of over 2,000 nodes that has brought the Internet to places with no connectivity. Freifunk is now the largest mesh network in Germany.
Or what about the Nippon Active Life Club in a number of locations in Japan? This project is a timebanking system that helps people cooperate to provide eldercare. If you help an elderly person with yardwork, cleaning or general companionship, you earn time credits that you can either redeem for services or gift to older family members living in other cities. In 2016, the network of timebanks had nearly 18,000 members in 120 locations around Japan.
The book documents many other great projects and policies, all of them divided into thematic categories such as housing, energy, mobility, food, waste, land, etc. The book itself is the product of commoning among 18 Shareable staff and fellows as well as book production experts.
You can request a free download of Shareable Cities as a pdf file (the book is licensed under a Creative Commons license, Attribution-ShareAlike. But the printed version is so handsome and well-designed that you may well want to acquire the hard copy and make a donation to Shareable for all the great work it does.
As the field continues to grow and address the deep divides in our country, we wanted to share this thoughtful piece written by NCDD member, Ashley Trim, Executive Director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. In the piece, she talks about how building and bridging civic engagement in this country is very similar to building actual bridges. She writes that for a long term solution to be able to support the community, both sides of the bridge need to meet in the middle in order to function. We encourage you to read the piece in the post below or find the original on the New America blog here.
Building Bridges from Both Sides
This blog is part of the civic engagement blog series released in tandem with the “Building Civic Capacity in a Time of Democratic Crisis” white paper. To read the rest of the series, click here.
Today, we face an interesting political challenge, not just in our legislation, but in how we address the strength and capacity of our civic processes. It has become clear that our country must consider more than just physical infrastructure to truly address the nation’s durability, endurance, and stability.
However, infrastructure and architecture can offer useful sources of inspiration.
The arch-style bridge is one of the most ancient, used in the aqueducts of Rome and in designs from the present day. Building these bridges has become more efficient with modern technology, but the original design is still so commonly relied on because of its natural strength. However, it must be built from both sides. It bears tremendous weight across chasms, but only when both sides meet in alignment. What a beautiful picture of what renewed civic engagement must look like here in the United States!
In June, we welcomed an extraordinary group of men and women to Pepperdine’s beautiful Malibu campus for a deep dive into public engagement. The cohort were majority city government professionals. And one thing was clear: They were eager to build their civic muscles.
“This is how you build a civic engagement bridge from both sides,” I thought as I listened to their struggles, insights and enthusiasm throughout the three-day course.
Too often on both the right and the left, community organizing models have taken a combative approach to engagement between the people and the government – drafting demands, recruiting or band-wagoning behind outsider candidates, developing “tactics” and “strategies.”
Instead of building an arch, we seem to dig the chasms that divide us deeper and wider.
This blog highlights a number of ways that civic entrepreneurs such as Participatory Budgeting’s Maria Hadden, New York City’s Regina Schwartz, and the City of Baltimore’s Rev. Kimberley Lagree are offering new models of engagement. In my near-decade of working with local governments to improve public engagement practices, I can attest that a growing number of local government staff and elected officials at home and abroad are also looking to bridge the divide. For them, however, using this ancient approach can be done with some new, innovative strategies:
Following the great scientific advances of the 19th and 20th centuries, educators began to apply scientific methods to other fields: professional schools of public administration were established to turn out experts who would analyze the problems facing communities and implement solutions accordingly.
Then the 21st century arrived with a revolution in communications technology, an economic recession and recovery, and increased diversity of every kind in communities across the country. With its questions of culture and community, this new context proved too complex for the expert analysis model of simply solving issues from a scientific approach. Many local government practitioners are now seeking a new model that sees government less as a problem identifier and solver, and more as a convener and facilitator of difficult and rewarding conversations about the appropriate responsibilities of the whole community in creating and delivering a vision for the future.
Experimenting with New Processes
If you’ve ever seen an episode of NBC’s Parks and Rec you may recognize the traditional engagement process. An elected body on a dais, staff flanking them with notebooks or computers, a nearly empty council chamber or auditorium. Everyone gets 3 or 5 minutes at the microphone. The decks are easily stacked. The local government has done its legal duty and everyone goes home. Rarely is a heart or mind (or even a policy) substantively changed.
Over the past decade, more and more city governments have started looking at new ways of engaging residents – from participatory budgeting to pop up engagement stations to online platforms. Many are realizing that true engagement comes not when residents feel heard, but when they are heard; when government poses the right questions and is open to creative answers. True engagement also involves residents talking to each other. Only when this happens are community members invited into the hard work of governance, made aware of competing priorities and stories that may not parallel our own.
City staff calls them the “usual suspects” — the same dozen residents that show up at every council meeting. They are predictably old and white, far from an accurate reflection of the population of most cities.
Across the country, cities are exploring ways to make engagement reflect the community. They know that inclusivity means more than not turning someone away at the door. It requires proactive efforts, often overcoming deeply-rooted mistrust. Some of the processes mentioned above are ways of breaking down barriers, as are offering materials in relevant language translations, orally or visually; holding meetings in different locations and at different times of day, partnering with cultural leaders, providing food and childcare. When they are honest, even cities on the cutting edge of public engagement know they have a long way to go, but they’re working on it.
Which leads to a final thought:
Building Strong Bridges is a Rickety Business
Building bridges is hard work. With arch bridges, the structure is only stable when the two sides finally come together. We could say the same for building engagement. As we build toward each other, we rely on support from a variety of sources: community leaders, thought leaders, individual citizens, champions within the government. Sometimes it may seem like all our efforts are going to holding up what little structure is currently in place. Our best efforts may feel rickety at best. But we must persevere through the unstable stage, until the spans meet in the middle. If we do so, we’ll create valuable infrastructure that can bear the weight of community long into the future.
You can read the original version of Ashley Trim’s piece on the New America blog at www.newamerica.org/political-reform/blog/building-bridges-both-sides/.
Techniques for mobilizing citizens to vote in elections have become highly sophisticated in large part thanks to get-out-the-vote (GOTV) research, with fascinating experimental evidence from interventions to increase turnout. Until recently, the use of these techniques has been mostly limited to electoral processes, often resorting to resource intensive tactics such as door-to-door canvassing and telemarketing campaigns. But as digital technologies such as email and SMS lower the costs for targeting and contacting individuals, the adaptation of these practices to participatory processes is becoming increasingly common. This leads to the question: how effective are GOTV-type efforts when using technology outside of the electoral realm?
One of the first (if not the first) efforts to bring together technology and GOTV techniques to non-electoral processes took place in the participatory budgeting (PB) process of the municipality of Ipatinga in Brazil in 2005. An automated system of targeted phone calls to landlines was deployed, with a recorded voice message from the mayor informing residents of the time and the location of the next PB meeting closest to them. Fast forward over a decade later, and New Yorkers can receive personalized text messages on their phones indicating the nearest PB polling location. Rather than a mere coincidence, the New York case illustrates a growing trend in participatory initiatives that – consciously or not – combine technology with traditional GOTV techniques to mobilize participation.
However, and unlike GOTV in elections, little is known about the effects of these efforts in participatory processes, the reasons for which I briefly speculated about in a previous post. We have just published a study in the British Journal of Political Science that, we hope, starts to reduce this gap between practice and knowledge. Entitled “A Get-Out-the-Vote Experiment on the World’s Largest Participatory Budgeting Vote in Brazil”, the study is co-authored by Jonathan Mellon, Fredrik M. Sjoberg and myself. The experiment was conducted in close collaboration with Rio Grande do Sul’s State Government (Brazil), which holds the world’s largest participatory budgeting process.
In the experiment, over 43,000 citizens were randomly assigned to receive email and text messages encouraging them to take part in the PB voting process. We used voting records to assess the impact of these messages on turnout and support for public investments. The turnout effect we document in the study is substantially larger than what has been found in most previous GOTV studies, and particularly those focusing on the effect of technologies like email and SMS. The increase in participation, however, did not alter which projects were selected through the PB vote: voters in the control and treatment groups shared the same preferences. In the study, we also assessed whether different message framing (e.g. intrinsic versus extrinsic) mattered. Not that much, we found, and a lottery incentive treatment had the opposite effect to what many might expect. Overall, our experiment suggests that tech-enabled GOTV approaches in participatory processes are rather promising if increasing levels of participation is one of the goals. But the “more research is needed” disclaimer, as usual, applies.
Listening to an interview yesterday with Susan Striker, Associate Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies and author of the (recently updated) book Transgender History, I was struck by the core of her argument:
Transgender people have always been around, it’s just that now they are more visible than they used to be.
And they are visible – just last week, five openly transgender candidates won local or state elections. But such recently visibility shouldn’t be confused with “newness.” This isn’t some hot modern trend, but an intrinsic element of human nature that can be traced back throughout western civilization.
And perhaps paradoxically, at a time when advocacy for gay and lesbian rights has come so far, when the same-sex marriage is universally legal – transphobia and transmisogyny are on the rise.
Striker argues that this is the result of visibility – being out has serious costs in a world that prefers you stay hidden.
It’s a double-bind, really – there is well documented evidence that staying closeted results in real psychological and physical damage, yet the costs of being open – individually and collectively – are high.
This week is Transgender Awareness Week, an opportunity, as GLAAD says, to “raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces.”
Yet, it’s no accident that this week culminates with Transgender Day of Remembrance – a day to recognize and morn those who have lost their lives to anti-transgender violence.
Visibility has its costs.
And that, perhaps, is what make some of the critiques of the transgender community seem so laughably strange to me. Transgender people are harassed, harmed, and go through a whole lot of difficult stuff in the process of becoming themselves. Why on earth would anyone put themselves through that if the costs of remaining hidden weren’t higher than the costs of being seen?
Visibility has it’s costs, yes, but it’s also critically important.
It’s important for individuals because of the real harm caused by staying hidden, and it’s important for communities because this is how things change. Because as long as the norm continues to go unchallenged, more people will have to remain hidden; more harm will be done.
I am so impressed by the work of my transgender brothers and sisters. I don’t know where they find the strength to engage in this difficult work, to face such tremendous hate, every day.
Transgender Awareness Week is an opportunity for the transgender community to be visible, yes, but it’s also an opportunity for all us cisgender allies to ask ourselves, seriously and critically, what we have done to make a difference. What have we done to elevate the voices of transgender people, and what have we done to lower the cost of visibility; to educate and inform ourselves and those around us.
The green belly of a wave stretches, tautens
Under its own mass–filaments or nerves
Of paler green stretching to their limits
As the body, relentless, falls forward.
But the wave is a hybrid creature, its
Sober underside carrying a head
That’s white and airy, that boils steadily,
And the head grows as the belly slides under,
And the whole thing gives up, flopping itself
On the rattling shingle, tossing froth,
While behind, what had seemed a mere bulge
Is the new wave, its skin stretched to breaking.
A recent poll found that 37% of evangelicals are more likely to vote for GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore following allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
That makes for a nice clickbait headline.
It sounds appalling, and it is appalling, though perhaps not for the reasons one might think.
The question alluded to in the lede read: “Given the allegations that have come out about Roy Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct against four underage women, are you more or less likely to support him as a result of these allegations?”
Among all respondents, 29% responded that they were more likely to vote for Moore, a number which rises to 37% when considering the responses of self identified evangelicals. (Incidentally, 28% of evangelicals said the allegations made them less likely to vote fore Moore.)
It’s further notable that there is no gender variation in response to this question. 28% of men and 30% of women report being more like to vote for more, 39% of men and 37% of women report being less likely, and 33% of men and 34% of women say it makes no difference.
The poll asks no questions about why respondents are more or less likely to vote for Moore, though JMC’s results summary gestures towards a possible explanation:
Those more likely to support Moore over the allegations favor him over Jones 84-13%. However, the numbers are just as polarized (81-9% for Jones) among those who say the incident makes them less likely to support Moore.
This poll result isn’t about religion, it’s about partisanship.
That’s not to say those who support Moore are just dirty partisans who need to get their priorities in order. Indeed, if I may venture a guess, I’d imagine that supporters who find themselves on the side of “more likely” interpret this whole thing as a partisan stunt meant to weaken the Republican party.
Importantly, such a view does not intrinsically require doubting victims’ legitimacy – indeed, it might better be interpreted as a doubting our collective democratic legitimacy. It’s not a sign of a healthy democracy when people – of all parties – imagine our national politics to have the cloak and dagger character of House of Cards.
That makes me sad.
It makes me sad that we’re so caught up in the politics of partisanship that we can’t engage seriously with the real work of democracy; of working together to figure out how we all get by in this messy world.
Headlines and memes which indicate that Republicans or Evangelicals support child molestation do a disservice to democracy.
They make me tired. We have serious work to do.
And some of that serious work stems from the fact that there are terrible people in all parties. Seriously, there are terrible, abusive men everywhere. Everywhere. We can’t pretend that such abuse is relegated to one party, one state, or one denomination.
The first step, as they say, is admitting we have a problem.
With any hope, there is a great reckoning coming. As we finally start listening to women, and believing women, and building a non-patriachial society where such terrible abuse isn’t built into the fabric.
But as part of that reckoning, we’ll need to figure out how to collectively respond when abuses by celebrities, politicians, and other men of power, come to light. Neither steadfast solitary nor internet-mob panic seem the optimal way to go.
Personally, I’d like to see Alabama Republicans given the opportunity to replace Roy Moore on the ballot. Turns out he’s a terrible person. That happens some times. Reschedule the general if you need to. The system should support voter choice, not constrain it. I’d like to see a system which allowed voters to respond to this issue in a thoughtful, responsible way.
After all, while I wish this abuse were an isolated incident, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we’d know – this is going to happen again, and it could happen with a candidate from any party.