Everyday Politics

Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life

Harry C. Boyte
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Everyday Politics
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0421-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: Developing a Theory and Practice of Everyday Politics
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Chapter 1 The Stirrings of a New Politics
    (pp. 1-16)

    The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once argued, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.”¹ Today, politics, as conventionally understood, illustrates the unspoken dangers in Moynihan’s observation. Current politics reflects broad cultural trends that point not toward success but toward social failure.

    Elections are the only way in which whole societies can decide about the future. Yet increasingly over the last generation, electoral debates have become polarized and the outcomes less productive. Today’s problems—whether corporate scandals or global warming—often quickly become yesterday’s forgotten headlines.

    This unproductive politics...

  5. Chapter 2 Populisms
    (pp. 17-35)

    For those who identify with the progressive populist tradition of challenge to corporate power in America, Bill Moyers’s “Take Back America” speech to 1,000 grassroots activists at a Campaign for America’s Future conference on June 9, 2003, was a bracing tonic. Moyers delivered a call to arms against “government of, by, and for the ruling corporate class.” He charged that the Bush administration, if unchecked, would privatize America’s public things in order to enrich corporate interests. He pointed out that White House political doyen Karl Rove’s hero was Mark Hanna, the Ohio political boss who managed the campaigns and presidency...

  6. Chapter 3 The Growth of Everyday Politics
    (pp. 36-56)

    Protest is what people normally think about when they think about citizen politics. Such protests are found on left and right: they include demonstrations against the World Trade Organization and also against abortion clinics. Yet since the 1960s far more sophisticated citizen efforts have developed beneath the radar screen of mainstream attention to protests and related strategies like the canvass, direct mail, or more recently, internet mobilization.

    While populist appeals of left or right spread across the spectrum, under the surface of most political commentary a different kind of politics has grown, a politics that is, at once, neither professionally...

  7. Chapter 4 Citizenship as Public Work
    (pp. 57-76)

    Everyday politics, spread by broad-based citizen organizing into community and civic institutions, represents an implicit challenge to theories of citizenship that neglect power and politics, and also to theories that oversimplify cultural dynamics with accounts of dominant culture as monochromatically oppressive. Conventional civil society theory, an approach that now shapes the civic agenda with its emphasis on citizens as volunteers, is an example of the former. Left wing theory, which seeks to find in civil society a space for radical opposition to cultural patterns, exemplifies the latter.

    Civil society theory’s influence vividly illustrates the power of ideas to structure resources...

  8. Chapter 5 Citizen Education as a Craft, Not a Program
    (pp. 77-94)

    Robert Putnam’s famous argument that Americans are increasingly “bowling alone” reflects wide concern about the state of America’s civic culture, especially in regard to young people. In recent years, a chorus of critics and educators has expressed alarm about the disengagement of young people generally from politics and public affairs in the United States, as well as about growing divisions among young people along class and racial lines. Bill Galston pointed out the pattern in the Annual Review of Political Science in an important overview argument. “[While] anxiety about the civic engagement of young adults is nothing new . ....

  9. Chapter 6 The Jane Addams School for Democracy
    (pp. 95-112)

    It was a hot and humid day on July 26, 2003, in Parque Castillo on the West Side of Saint Paul, but the weather didn’t dampen spirits as several hundred people gathered for the Fifth Annual Freedom Festival.

    For more than 100 years, the West Side has been a port of entry for new immigrants, sometimes called the “Ellis Island of the Midwest.” But changing colors, tones, and textures, vivid in the day’s events, marked the shifting patterns of immigration in the United States. In the early twentieth century, most West Side immigrants were Jewish, escaping a wave of bloody...

  10. Chapter 7 Professions as Public Work
    (pp. 113-133)

    It is in the long-range self-interest of many professionals to become more interactive with citizens in order to accomplish the broader public purposes of their craft. Nevertheless, in their normal training, professionals learn to see ordinary citizens in a particular fashion that greatly limits such interactions—as needy, victimized, and requiring rescue by educated elites. Incorporating the concept and practice of public work into professional cultures, using concepts and practices of everyday politics, unleashes the democratic potential of knowledge power and thus points toward a different sort of professional practice. Public professional work frees the powers not only of ordinary...

  11. Chapter 8 “Architects of Democracy”
    (pp. 134-159)

    In 2003 the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the New York Times joined together to create the American Democracy Project, to foster institutional change at more than 150 AASCU member schools. AASCU is an association of 430 public institutions in the United States, representing more than 3.4 million students. Many of its member schools are regional colleges and universities—sometimes called the “American Dream” colleges, since many of their students are the first in their families to go to college. The AASCU commitment to the civic education of its students prompted its interest in the project....

  12. Chapter 9 Spreading Everyday Politics
    (pp. 160-182)

    In the face of overwhelming power, it is a human impulse to “retreat back and take care of what you know you can take care of,” as the Richmond woman in the Kettering study described in Chapter 1 put it. In the early twenty-first century, the cultural and political force of the market is like a tidal wave rolling across the world. To many the civic identity of consumer seems set in granite. The idea that citizens might be producers and co-creators of the world sounds far fetched.

    More, if the forces undermining strong conceptions and practices of citizenship are...

  13. Chapter 10 Freedom
    (pp. 183-194)

    In South Africa in the early years of the twenty-first century, against the background of continuing poverty, high unemployment, the AIDS epidemic, and other social ills, left wing critics attack the African National Congress-led government for not solving the problems. One vignette, from a piece of satire often heard, tells of a group of unemployed people interacting with their legislator. “‘What shall I tell them back in parliament?’ the legislator asked. The unemployed people thought for a moment. Then, a mother of four, wearing a small green hat, spoke, ‘Tell them that we fought for freedom. All we got was...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 195-224)
  15. Index
    (pp. 225-236)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 237-239)