Category Archives: Uncategorized

CIRCLE survey of young voters

CIRCLE has released a national survey of 2,645 eligible voters under 30 conducted between Nov. 3 and Dec. 2, 2020. Their release emphasizes that young people–especially those who supported Joe Biden–were highly engaged in the campaign, with nearly half talking to others about voting.

CIRCLE also notes the salience of anti-racism: “68% said they saw voting as a way to stop violence against people of color, 56% talked to peers about how racism affects society, and 57% say they took action for racial justice in their communities.

I was interested in the differences and similarities between young people who supported Trump and Biden (the latter being much more numerous). As shown below, they are indistinguishable on some economic issues. They differ a lot on “law and order,” immigration, racist violence, climate, and taxing the rich. However, it’s worth noting that 44% of young Trump voters favor reducing violence against people of color and more than a third want to move to renewable energy.

7% of Americans are the hard core problem

YouGov reports: “One in five voters – including 45% of Republicans – approve of the storming of the Capitol building.” This is important and bad news. I do not want to minimize it, but I would put it in context.

A bit under half of Republicans support the riot in DC. Republicans represent about 29% of registered voters. Registered voters represent about two-thirds of adults. Adults represent about three-quarters of Americans. By the time you isolate Republican registered voters who support the riot, it’s down to about 6.6% of the population.

To be sure, some of the people in the other pie slices are also part of the problem. For instance, within the “other” slice are 2% of the registered Democrats and 21% of the registered Independents who support the riot. (A total of 10.1% of all Americans support the storming.) Most of that slice consists of people who don’t have an opinion, which is a problem in itself. And among the under-18s and the non-registered people, some probably hold views aligned with Trump.

Still, it is worth putting the hard-core problem in some degree of perspective. My guess is that the images from yesterday will basically become the capsule summary of the Trump years, except for a smallish and dwindling proportion of Americans.

(Survey data from YouGov. Registration percentages from Pew, 2018. Age distribution from Census, 2010.)

three new cases for learning how to organize and make collective change

The SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University has published three cases about the choices and dilemmas that confront groups of people who strive to make social change. These are like business-school cases: they are factual narratives that conclude with moments of choice that are meant to be discussed in groups, whether in high school, college, or in movements and organizations.

I am proud to have played a role in the project from the start. We felt that cases are really useful for teaching and professional development, but most actual cases provided by business schools, schools of public policy, and wonderful initiatives like The Pluralism Project and Justice in Schools focus on individual protagonists. We were interested in voluntary groups that must deliberate before they can choose. David Moss’s excellent Case Method Project does some of what we intended, but its focus is on high schools and American history, whereas we wanted to serve social movements with some current examples.

These are free, and we would love to know how they work in various settings.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

What objectives, targets, strategies, demands, and rhetoric should a nascent social movement choose as it confronts an entrenched system of white supremacy? How should it make decisions?

The Montgomery, Alabama, Bus Boycott of 1955–1956 is a classic example of a social movement episode that accomplished its immediate goals despite severe obstacles. It catapulted the 26-year-old Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into international prominence and launched similar episodes in many American cities across the South and then also the North. By investigating their situation and choices, you can develop skills and insights to use as activists today.

The ISAIAH Trash Referendum

Should a faith-based organization take on an issue not of its choosing? Can relational organizing help its leadership support a new mayor while also engaging their base and holding their coalition together?

This is a case study about an organization in Minnesota called ISAIAH, a faith-based organization that works to expand the power and influence of people who have often been overlooked, especially poor people and people of color.

This case examines what happened when, to support a new mayor with whom the organization wanted to work,  ISAIAH became involved in a divisive issue—not of its own choosing—that revolved around garbage. ISAIAH faced at least three choices: 1) stay out of the fight over garbage; 2) use mobilizing techniques to help the mayor win the garbage issue; or 3) use relational organizing to enter into a power relationship with the mayor in the garbage fight—even though most of the people in ISAIAH’s networks didn’t care much about the issue.

The AMOS Project and the Campaign for Universal Preschool

Can faith-based organizers garner enough support to win universal preschool in a racially divided city? How should a grassroots group manage a disagreement with its own powerful coalition partners?

This case study is about the AMOS Project, an organization in Cincinnati, Ohio, and its grassroots efforts to pass legislation that would provide preschool education for most of the city’s children. AMOS’s grassroots efforts increased the political pressure to pay for the program, but at one point, the whole effort seemed likely to fall apart. How could a grassroots network of congregations manage a disagreement with allies in the business community and achieve its goals?

American exceptionalism, revisited

“We are unique among militaries,” [Acting defense secretary Christopher] Milley said in a Nov. 12 speech at the new National Museum of the United States Army. “We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or a religion. We take an oath to the Constitution.”

This claim is very easy to fact-check. It takes seconds to find these examples:

  • Germany: “I swear to loyally serve the Federal Republic of Germany and to courageously defend the right and the liberty of the German people, so help me God.”
  • France: “I swear to fulfill my duties well and faithfully, to observe the duties and the reserve they impose on me. I will strictly comply with the orders received with respect for the human person and the law. I promise to demonstrate dedication to the public good, righteousness, dignity, prudence and impartiality. I undertake to make only legitimate use of the force and powers entrusted to me and not to reveal or use anything that will be brought to my attention during the exercise of my functions” (for reservists).
  • Israel: “I swear and obligate myself on my word of honor to remain loyal to the State of Israel, its laws and its legitimate administration and to devote all of my strength, and even to sacrifice my life, in the defence of the homeland and the freedom of Israel.”
  • Finland: “Everywhere and in every situation, whether in peace or war, I will defend the inviolability of my fatherland, its legal system of government and the legal authority of the realm. If I perceive or gain knowledge of activity to overthrow the legal authority or to subvert the system of government of the country, I will report it to the authorities without delay.” (excerpt)
  • Switzerland: “I swear to serve the Swiss Confederation with all my might; to courageously defend the rights and freedom of the Swiss people; to fulfill my duty, at the cost of my life if necessary; to remain faithful to my troops and to my comrades; to respect the rules of the law of nations in time of war.”
  • China: “I pledge to be loyal to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, safeguard the authority of the Constitution, fulfill the legal responsibilities of my position, be loyal to the Motherland, be loyal to the people, show the utmost respect for my duty, pursue public affairs with integrity, accept the supervision of the people, and to work for a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful!” (This is for the Central Military Commission, not for regular officers, to my knowledge).

I am fascinated by the tendency to assume that good things about the USA are unique in the world. My favorite example was when a judge told me and my peers on a jury pool that we should be proud to live in the only country that provides a right to trial-by-jury (overlooking about 50 others).

One interpretation is that this is just harmless enthusiasm. Instead of saying, “Yay, America!” people say, “Only in America!”, meaning the same thing.

Another interpretation is xenophobia. To assume that all other other militaries of the world (including our NATO partners) swear oaths to a “king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator” is to hold a very dark view of the world beyond our borders.

I suppose Mr. Milley’s claim could be partially defended on technical grounds. Many oaths mention the country or law, not the constitution, per se. Canadian and British officers swear oaths to the Queen, although that’s a way of expressing loyalty to a constitutional democracy. The oath to uphold the constitution of the PRC is a bit hollow, given one-party control. Then again, what about Germany, Israel, France, etc., etc.?

My own theory is anxiety. If Americans do something wise (like requiring our soldiers to swear to uphold our constitution)–and so do many other countries–then comparative questions naturally arise. How do various countries manage their civilian-military relations? How seriously do their commanders-in-chief take their oaths? Sometimes, the USA looks good in comparative perspective; but sometimes it does not look good at all. And deep down, I think a lot of Americans are conscious of relative decline compared to the competition. One way to avoid facing that anxiety is to proclaim, “Only in America!” and refrain from looking overseas at all.

I’d like to see the question of American exceptionalism become more empirical and less ideological. In what respects is the USA unique? That is a question that can be answered. Students, civil servants, judges, and all Americans should have the courage to ask it seriously and see what they find.

See also only in America!; American exceptionalism and anxieties about American exceptionalism.

on civic renewal on the threshold of 2021

Here is a recording of “The Promise of Civic Renewal to Revive our Democracy” on Dec. 10, 2020. It was the final event in the “Let’s Talk about Our Democracy” series, hosted by Mass Humanities. I talked with Program Officer Jennifer Hall-Witt about reviving our democracy, focusing on the role that ordinary citizens can play in fostering more deliberative, collaborative, and engaged communities. This conversation was based on We Are the Ones We have been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America, but we discussed ways in which the situation and my views have changed since that 2013 book.

(Incidentally, I will deliver the final manuscript of my next book, What Should We Do? at the end of this month. It is meant to complement, not replace, We Are the Ones–adopting a more theoretical and global perspective, whereas We Are the One applies the framework specifically to the USA in our time. But that means that the specific strategies of We Are the Ones need to evolve.)