Solidarity is a project

Progressives are really good at identifying, analyzing and proposing specific policy solutions. Give us climate change and we’ll give you a carbon tax and solar energy subsidies. Give us police shootings and we’ll give you implicit bias training and body cameras.  Give us lack of access to health insurance and we’ll give you the public option and a ban on screening for pre-existing conditions. Just watch last Monday’s debate: for every issue, Hillary Clinton had a list of three or four solutions, devised by experts and backed up by binders full of white papers.

But when it comes to the cultural phenomena that are preventing these policy solutions from getting a fair hearing in our legislatures, we turn off.  When Republicans keep winning state houses, we have no words. When voters keep re-electing do-nothing Congresses, we retreat into snark. When 40% of the country thinks Donald Trump would be a good President, we are confused. When people don’t trust fact checks from the national media, we throw up our hands.  It’s as if every public problem can be bent to our will, but addressing any cultural challenge is insurmountable.

But this is not the case. As conservatives know — and discuss frequently amongst themselves! — our nation’s moral and political culture is quite susceptible to change: we can have a hand in cultural revival, decline or transformation, but only if we care to work on it. Continue reading “Solidarity is a project”

Towards Participatory Care

In the Democratic Alternative Intervention‘s section on building Strong Communities, we discuss humanizing the caring economy:

We need to return to our heritage of participatory direct care. We should support projects that humanize the support for our sick, imprisoned, young, old, mentally ill, and destitute. The third-party bureaucracies that we currently pay to unburden us from responsibility towards one another should be supplemented with a culture of widespread participation in direct care for each other.

This plank was inspired by an oft-overlooked idea in the political thought of philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger:

In principle, every able person should have a position in both the production system and the caring economy. The objective of this effort is to ensure the practical organization of social solidarity in a fashion that directly engages people in one another’s lives beyond the limits of the family.

Here’s one way to tell the rough story of this idea:

Those on the margins of our conception of “normal life” — the physically and mentally ill, the imprisoned, the very young, the very old, the destitute, the displaced — used to be wholly and directly cared for by their families and neighbors.  In recent centuries, three trends changed this: (1) old models of family (e.g. multi-generational households) and community (e.g. caring about your neighbors) began to change; (2) we developed public standards of care that cast light on the failures of local, organic systems to adequately care for those in need; and (3) we developed modern state and commercial bureaucracies capable of funding, engineering and providing care.

However, in transitioning away from a model of participatory and community care and towards an institutionalized and bureaucratized model of care — one managed by a mix of professional experts and mistreated, low-wage workers — we lost many of the benefits of the old model.  If we can develop systems that supplement the current model of care with more opportunities for community members to participate in their neighbors’ care, we could preserve the benefits of our current model while salvaging the benefits of the old.  Not only would those being cared for be helped by more organic, neighborly relationships; those doing the caring would also be served by re-engaging in our most human practice: caring for each other.  Even more, our anxieties stemming from the “abnormal” elements in our own personal and family lives would lessen as the normal abnormalities of life move out of the managed shadows. The solidarity and understanding of a shared, sacred project replaces the fear and isolation of a universal, shameful secret. Continue reading “Towards Participatory Care”

Deepening Democracy: The Varieties of Participatory Institutions

When most people imagine deepening democracy — increasing citizen participation in power — their mind often jumps to the furthest extreme of direct democracy: endless meetings of every citizen ignorantly voting on every issue.  If this is what deep democracy means — all of us taking time to discern the right policy regarding inland fisheries regulations and medical device taxes — then deep democracy is ridiculous.

But this is the wrong way to think about deepening democracy. Rather than seeing a deep democracy as a system where every citizen has a vote on every issue, we should imagine it as a system where every citizen has a variety of open avenues to having their voice heard and ideas realized. To deepen democracy is to open up power — the power to start projects, change projects, and stop projects — to more people in more ways.  

The mechanism for deepening democracy is the participatory institution: a system that gains political power for the purpose of distributing it to a wider variety of people. A deep democracy would consist of a dense array of interconnected participatory institutions. Continue reading “Deepening Democracy: The Varieties of Participatory Institutions”

Juliet Schor at “Beyond Sanders and Clinton”

This past February, the Democratic Alternative co-sponsored “Beyond Sanders and Clinton: Visionary Futures for Democratic Economics” at Harvard Law School.  Here is the video of Juliet Schor’s speech at the event:

Juliet Schor is a Professor of Sociology at Boston College. She is the co-founder of the Board of the Center for a New American Dream and the author of many influential books, including: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure; The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need; and Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth.

Greg Watson at “Beyond Sanders and Clinton”

This past February, the Democratic Alternative co-sponsored “Beyond Sanders and Clinton: Visionary Futures for Democratic Economics” at Harvard Law School.  Here is the video of Greg Watson’s speech at the event:

Greg Watson is the former Commissioner of Agriculture of Massachusetts and now the Director of Policy and Systems Design at the Schumacher Center for New Economics. He has been a public voice for sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, new monetary systems, equitable land tenure arrangements, neighborhood planning through democratic processes, government policies that support human-scale development, cooperative structure, and import replacement through citizen financing of new enterprises.

Gar Alperovitz at “Beyond Sanders and Clinton”

This past February, the Democratic Alternative co-sponsored “Beyond Sanders and Clinton: Visionary Futures for Democratic Economics” at Harvard Law School.  Here is the video of Gar Alperovitz’s speech at the event:

Gar Alperovitz was legislative director for Rep. Gaylord Nelson and is now a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland. He is the co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, which aims to develop practical, policy-focused and systematic paths towards ecologically sustainable, community-oriented change and the democratization of wealth. He has spent recent decades aiming to answer the question: “If you don’t like corporate capitalism and you don’t like state socialism, what do you like?”

Encouraging entrepreneurship: First steps in the Open Economy Project

This post expands the discussion of practical first steps to the Open Economy Project. In the same way that many of the first steps for getting money out of politics and resolving congressional gridlock have been taken up by others, albeit in a minimalist context, as previously discussed, many practical economic ideas also circulate, and are even part of the political rhetoric of both parties–one need look no further than the bipartisan discourses of support for small business and the importance of entrepreneurship.

At the Democratic Alternative, we advocate the creation of more economic opportunities for more people through a democratization of the market. Towards such ends, one of our key proposals is broadening access to capital so that all citizens–not just those with connections to private equity and venture capital–have equal opportunity to invest in their ideas and move quickly and easily from conception to realization. One way of achieving this outcome is the creation of a public fund that is managed professionally, and returns and risk management kept on par with that of private venture capital funds. Such a plan would spur startups and entrepreneurial activity, giving more people more access to more markets. Continue reading “Encouraging entrepreneurship: First steps in the Open Economy Project”

Reducing the influence of money and raising the temperature of politics: Practical first steps

The Democratic Alternative is based on a vision. It is a vision to open politics to everyone, to democratize the economy, and for the empowerment of communities and citizens in the building of a freer, more just, and engaged society. This vision is often criticized as utopian. We are told that our ideas are too grandiose and vision too broad; we are told that our program is impractical in politics as it exists today. What is needed, critics say, are political managers that know how to get bills through congress, pass progressive legislation, and work with the political parties. Even if our politics are more desirable, they are deemed impractical. Such critiques have dogged radical reformers and revolutionaries throughout history, and they are critiques that we reject.

Continue reading “Reducing the influence of money and raising the temperature of politics: Practical first steps”

Against Mansion Politics

At a $500-a-head fundraiser in Charleston, South Carolina yesterday, Ashley Williams, a Black Lives Matter activist, confronted Hillary Clinton about her support for the 1994 Crime Bill as well as for her comments at the time parroting the racist media hype that some youth were “superpredators” who needed to be brought to “heel.” Clinton — who in a public speech in Harlem in the past weeks said that “White Americans need to do a better job at listening when African Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers they face every day… practice humility rather than assume that our experience is everyone’s experiences” — did not answer the protestor’s questions, acquiesced the crowd’s boos, allowed someone to escort the protestor out of the mansion, and then said, “Now let’s get back to the issues.” See the video here:

There is a lot that is going to be said about this clip, which should be widely seen. It’s best for others to comment about what this clip says about the Black Lives Matter movement or Hillary Clinton’s campaign. However, I will say this: this incident is a perfect example of the campaign finance system’s distortion of politics. Continue reading “Against Mansion Politics”

Roberto Unger on the past and future of the Democratic Party

Professor Roberto Mangabeira Unger just released two videos on the past and future of the Democratic Party.

In the first video, Unger explains what the Democratic Party can learn from Franklin Roosevelt, who, in his view, was the last prominent Democrat with structural vision:

In the second video, Unger explains why the agendas of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are too minimalist and proposes a broader, deeper vision for the Democratic Party: