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Activisim for everybody
on October 6, 2004
Despite America's revolutionary beginnings, we tend to marginalize the radical. From the Greenwich Village freethinkers of the 1920s to the new left of the 1960's to the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990's, progressive organizing's limited regular visibility routinely has been confused with it's actual efficacy. People tend to distrust what they cannot immediately sense happening in the world.
In Going Public, Michael Gecan ( 2002) argues that progressive activism is not a time-specific aberration. Ending injustice and oppression IS everybody's business during every year. Everybody can do something-if they are not already involved within their communities.
Urging readers to "think nationally, act locally" Gecan shows political organizing is really very easy to undertake. Since politics is literally about whom you know and what you each know, relationship processes assume heightened significance in this book. Forgetting all of the glitz and special effects on cable news shows, politics is simply the art of negotiating with others to get what you need. Maintaining good relationships with all levels of government is important to achieving these goals.
Gecan is of course critical of big business for exploiting already vulnerable communities, but he also takes a critical eye to social service bureaucracies more enamored with self-preservation than providing service for humanity. Time and political/economic factors subsequently have caused even the best intentioned structures (some of which were ironically initiated by grassroots radicals!) to calcify into self-serving shells of their original mandates. Instead of being viewed as a nurturing force, government social services are thus now viewed by some politicians and constituents as inherently substandard to private sector resources. People who need to use government services (welfare...etc) have also become stigmatized as being substandard themselves. This abhorrent catch 22 keeps the United States noticeably behind our European counterparts in developing national healthcare and maintaining numerous other social welfare programs.
Pointing out their still-underutilized potential (and ideological starting point for many now-established bureaucratic agencies) Geacan wants relational culture---non-profits---- to have a bigger role in citizen lives and service delivery. Stressing the benefits of merit, he also believes the ability to reward AND punish appropriate public sector individuals can provide better results for everybody. Individuals with both incentive and room to innovate in their job theoretically develop a greater attachment to the position as opposed to people who are literally being trained in the art of being a paper-pushing drone. In a service position, this difference is critical to effective community organizing.
Focusing on methodology instead of issues, this book is a clear and enjoyable read for both activists and potential activists alike. The best activism always comes from something that participants personally have a stake in. Legitimization of political action will ultimately raise the voter turn out rate and then encourage other forms of political participation through default. THAT America will be a great place to live in.