Good "Policy Relevance" Card

Scott posted some good cards in his Framework Throwdown that indict “policy relevance”; here’s a good (new) card for the other side. Have a favorite “framework” card? Post it in the comments.

Bruce Russett, Dean Acheson Professor of International Relations at Yale University, Editor of the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and former President of the International Studies Association and the Peace Science Society, et al., with Harvey Starr, Dag Hammarskjld Professor in International Affairs in the Department of Political Science at the University of South Carolina, and David Kinsella, Professor of Political Science in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University, 2009
[“Thinking About World Politics: Theory and Reality,” World Politics: The Menu for Choice, Ninth Edition, Published by Cengage Learning, ISBN 0495410683, p. 44-46]

Social scientists often work at levels of analysis different from those that policy makers find most relevant when facing situations requiring immediate decisions. This difference can be illustrated by comparing the work of a medical researcher and a practicing physician both concerned with coronary illness. Research scientists have established that a number of personal characteristics and environmental conditions contribute to heart disease. They now know that an individual’s probability of suffering a heart attack is greater if that person is male and middle-aged or older and if one or both parents suffered heart attacks. Factors that increase the likelihood of heart disease include being overweight, smoking, a diet high in cholesterol-rich fats, and lack of exercise. High blood pressure also contributes to the likelihood, as do stress and anxiety at work or at home. Finally, some people with aggressive, hard-driving personalities appear especially prone to heart disease. For the scientist, all these influences may seem interesting and provide information that may, at some point, prove important.

For the physician who must treat patients, however, different influences are not of equal interest. Some are beyond the control of the individual patient or doctor: The patient cannot stop aging or change sex—at least in a way that would affect coronary health—and cannot change biological parents. A patient, to some degree, [end page 44] may be able to change lifestyle or even quit a stressful job, but most people cannot do much about their basic personality. A doctor may actually increase the danger of a heart attack by frightening an already worried or anxious patient.

Other influences, however, can be more readily controlled. High blood pressure or high cholesterol, for instance, can be reduced by medication. A patient can be told to lose weight, stop smoking, change diet, or get more exercise. Controlling just one of these conditions may be enough, especially if two contributing influences, such as smoking and obesity, interact. In a particular patient, heart disease may be “overdetermined”; that is, any one of the several contributing conditions is sufficient to produce a high risk of disease, and therefore all must be eliminated. Here, very careful theory, as well as detailed understanding of a particular case, is essential for responsible treatment. Patients who refuse to take any steps to reduce their risks can at least be advised to keep their life insurance premiums paid up—prediction is of some value, even without control over the medical events! Finally, some ethical considerations may also apply. Suppose a patient also suffers from a painful and terminal cancer. Should that patient be saved from a heart attack only to be faced with a difficult death from cancer shortly thereafter? Neither the doctor nor the patient can be indifferent to such a question, whatever their answers.

In our concern with world politics, we must take into account many considerations similar to those facing the physician.17 At times the student of world politics proceeds chiefly with the kind of concern typical of scientists—at other times, with that typical of policy makers, policy advisers, or citizen activists. A scientist wants to understand the causes of a particular outcome. Because both the causes and the outcome vary (they are “variables”), we hope to find those causes (or “independent variables”) that make the greatest difference in bringing about that outcome (the “dependent variable”). In other words, certain causes may account or most of the variation in the outcome. These causes, therefore, should figure most prominently in our theory. The social scientist may not be immediately concerned with whether those causes identified as most important are readily manipulable by policy makers. If pure knowledge is what interests us, then, in principle, there should be no reason for preferring an explanation that highlights one set of independent variables over another. Of course, because most scientific endeavors are driven partly by practical concerns, the social scientist will care about finding ways to make a difference (say, in promoting peace or justice). But the social scientist is not necessarily looking to put acquired knowledge to immediate use.

The policy maker, by contrast, *is* centrally concerned with putting information to use, especially with an eye toward changing outcomes from what they might otherwise be. To change outcomes, the policy maker must identify variables that are not just important but also manipulable. Explanations that identify causes that are controllable are more useful to policy makers than those that identify broad historical forces on which policy makers can have little impact. They are likely to [end page 45] be much more interested in explanations about how a crisis can be resolved short of war than in knowing about the sociological developments that brought about the crisis. Although “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” often drives social scientific research, the fruits of that research are not always immediately useful to foreign policy makers.

Suppose we can show that states with systemwide interests are more likely to be involved in world-endangering military crises. Would a policy maker for such a government want to fundamentally alter the state’s alliances and other international relationships, even if the necessary steps could be identified? An explanation of how decision makers perceive and act under crisis conditions may seem more pressing. Suppose we are fairly certain that the growth and liberalization of global financial markets increase the likelihood of future currency crises. Does that mean policy makers will want to find a way to return to the days when states could better manage currency exchange rates? It’s probably not possible, so it is more useful to know how to calm volatile markets when a crisis seems to be brewing. Or suppose we conclude that Islamic terrorism has its roots in political repression and the lack of economic opportunities available to young males in some Middle Eastern societies. Policy makers in countries targeted by terrorist organizations would like to see these social problems addressed, but their immediate concerns are more likely to be securing their homelands. In short, policy makers may have little control over the external environment but may believe that it is possible to exert substantial influence over the decision processes that operate in times of crisis, whether in governments or markets, in order to improve crisis management.

9 thoughts on “Good "Policy Relevance" Card

  1. Layne Kirshon

    It seems like most of the arguments in this card b the q – the entire last paragraph centers around the claim

    "An explanation of how decision makers perceive and act under crisis conditions may seem more pressing"

    and then goes on to list a bunch of examples

    seems like most Ks of IR call into Q what a "crisis condition" is and how we prioritize what is "pressing" – the whole thesis of this card is "root cause like high cholesterol don't matter, it's about treating the heart disease" – this b's the q of whether a) the judge is a policymaker b) those problems exist/are not manifestations of some bull$h!t K argument – you have to win those args to win the warrants in this card are true, at which pt you would win anyways

  2. miles

    i don't think most negs would charecterize the alt as the pursuit of "knowledge for knowledge’s sake"

  3. Layne Kirshon

    <blockquote cite="#commentbody-8912">
    miles :
    i don’t think most negs would charecterize the alt as the pursuit of “knowledge for knowledge’s sake”

    ya, i agree with miles – i think that further proves why this argument relies on winning other external arguments against the alt that would win you the rd anyways

  4. Alex Zavell

    The main problem with a lot of the academic lit on "policy relevance" these days (and there has been a ton recently…Nye had 2 articles in major news sources about it and a lot of journals are printing articles about it) is that its coming from people who are criticizing MAIN STREAM IR academics for their work not being policy relevant or criticizing main stream IR people for not participating in government institutions. This means that a lot of the cards, as Layne points out, do not on point address the arguments that the K is making.

  5. Bill Batterman Post author

    @Alex Zavell

    Agreed. The best "policy relevance vs. the K" card is still probably from Jarvis's 2000 book (International relations and the challenge of postmodernism). Does anyone know any more recent cites?

  6. TimAlderete

    I don’t think that this card is very good. It says that Political Scientists would look at an issue differently than Policy Makers. That a Political Scientist would look at root and “true” causes of problems; that a policy maker would look at how their decisions will have some impact during crisis situations. The Policy Maker might ignore some of the root causes that the Political Scientist examines, because he or she cannot impact/change them. The Political scientist might similarly ignore the arguments by policymakers, because they don’t contribute to developing a political theory.

    It does not answer the question: Should we examine the resolution from the position of a Political Scientist, or that of a Policy Maker? From each perspective, the issues raise by the other are less important than their own issues.

    The reason, in the evidence, for why policy makers cannot afford to be distracted by the political scientist’s root causes is that they have the Urgency of a Crisis facing them, with real consequences. That rationale doesn’t seem to hold up for debaters, who don’t find themselves in urgent crises, nor are there real consequences to the “plan passing”. The position of the political scientist seems more appropriate for an Academic Activity, as we tend to discuss the plan in the abstract. Not that the plan Is abstract – it is a specific course of action. But it is abstract in the sense that the debaters are not discussing whether They should adopt the policy, but rather whether Policy Makers should adopt the policy. I don’t know if that is a warrant for adopting the position of the Political Scientist (if it is, it is a weak one), I’m just pointing out that it might be more Appropriate to the Academic setting.

    I think that the best Aff frame work card is the Giroux evidence. He is a progressive educator, and he is explicitly discussing how to make education more relevant to students. He says that we have to recognize that the theories used in education, the pedagogies, are always political. He then says that we should always tie criticisms of positions or arguments to concrete policies, because this avoids abandoning hope that the government can be effective. The alternative, he says, is giving up hope which empowers corporatist, militarist, neoliberal control of politics. So, he is like an education specific, better worded, better warranted Cede the Political/Rorty card.

    Henry A. Giroux, Professor of Education at Boston University, 2004
    “WHEN HOPE IS SUBVERSIVE”, 40 TIKKUN VOL. 19, NO. 6
    Is it possible to imagine hope for justice and humanity after the torture of Iraqi detainees (including some just in their teens) by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison? What does hope mean when the United States is virtually unchallenged as it incarcerates unprecedented numbers of young people of color? What does hope teach us at a time in which government lies and deception are exposed on a daily basis in the media and yet appear to have little effect on President Bush’s popular support? What resources and visions does hope offer in a society where greed is considered venerable and profit is the most important measure of personal achievement and social advance? What is the relevance of hope at a time when most attempts to interrupt the operations of an incipient fascism appear to fuel a growing cynicism rather than promote widespread individual and collective acts of resistance? It is hard not to believe that politics in American life has become corrupt, that progressive social change is a distant memory, or that hope is the last refuge of deluded romantics. Civic engagement seems irrelevant in light of the growing power of multinational corporations to privatize public space and time. We have less time—and fewer civic
    spaces—for experiencing ourselves as political agents. Market values replace social values. Power has become disconnected from issues of equity, social justice, and civic responsibility. People with the education and means appear more and more willing to retreat into the safe, privatized enclaves of the family, religion, and consumption. Those without the luxury of such choices pay a terrible price in what Zygmunt Bauman, in his book Globalization, has called the “hard currency of human suffering. ” Given these social conditions, some theorists have suggested that democratic politics as a site of contestation, critical exchange, and engagement has come to an end. We must not give up so easily. Democracy has to be struggled over, even in the face of a most appalling crisis of educational opportunity and political agency. Cynicism breeds apathy— not the reverse. The current depressing state of our politics and the bankruptcy of our political language issues a challenge to us to formulate a new language and vision that can reframe questions of agency, ethics, and meaning for a substantive democracy. Crafting such a new political language will require what I call “educated hope.” Hope is the precondition for individual and social struggle. Rather than seeing it as an individual proclivity, we must see hope as part of a broader politics that acknowledges those social, economic, spiritual, and cultural conditions in the present that make certain kinds of agency and democratic politics possible. With this understanding, hope becomes not merely a wistful attempt to look beyond the horizon of the given, but what Andrew Benjamin, in Present Hope, calls “a structural condition of the present.” The philosopher Ernst Bloch provides essential theoretical insights on the importance of hope. He argues that hope must be concrete, a spark that not only reaches out beyond the surrounding emptiness of capitalist relations, anticipating a better world in the future, but a spark that also speaks to us in the world we live in now by presenting tasks based on the challenges of the present time. In The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, Bloch argues that hope cannot be removed from the world. Hope is not “something like nonsense or absolute fancy; rather it is not yet in the sense of a possibility; that it could be there if we could only do something for it.” In this view, hope becomes a discourse of critique and social transformation. Hope makes the leap for us between critical education, which tells us what must be changed; political agency, which gives us the means to make change; and the concrete struggles through which change happens. Hope, in short, gives substance to the recognition that every present is incomplete. For theorists such as Bloch and his more contemporary counterparts like Michael Lerner, Cornel West, and Robin D.G. Kelley, hope is anticipatory rather than messianic, mobilizing rather than therapeutic. Understood this way, the longing for a more humane society does not collapse into a retreat from the world but becomes a means to engage with present behaviors, institutional formations, and everyday practices. Hope in this context does not ignore the worst dimensions of human suffering, exploitation, and social relations; on the contrary, as Thomas Dunn writes, it acknowledges the need to sustain the “capacity to see the worst and offer more than that for our consideration” (in Vocations of Political Theory, edited by Jason A. Frank and John Tambornino). Hence, hope is more than a politics, it is also a pedagogical and performative practice that provides the foundation for enabling human beings to learn about their potential as moral and civic agents. Hope is the outcome of those educational practices and struggles that tap into memory and lived experiences while at the same time linking individual responsibility with a progressive sense of social change. As a form of utopian longing, educated hope opens up horizons of comparison by evoking not just different histories but different futures. Educated hope is a subversive force when it pluralizes politics by opening up a space for dissent, making authority accountable, and becoming an activating presence in promoting social transformation. There is a long history in the United States of hope as a subversive force. Examples are evident in the struggles of the Civil Rights and feminist movements in the 1950s and 1960s against racism, poverty, sexism, and the war in Vietnam. More recent examples can be found among young people demonstrating against multinational corporations and the World Trade Organization in cities as diverse as Melbourne, Seattle, and Genoa. Hope was on full display among organized labor, intellectuals, students, and workers protesting together in the streets of New York City against Bush’s policies and his followers at the Republican National Convention. This is not to say that a politics and pedagogy of hope is a blueprint for the future: it is not. What hope offers is the belief, simply, that different futures are possible. In this way, hope can become a subversive force, pluralizing politics by opening up a space for dissent, contingency, indeterminancy. “For me,” writes Judith Butler, “there is more hope in the world when we can question what is taken for granted, especially about what it is to be human” (cited by Gary Olson and Lynn Worsham in JAC 20:4). Zygmunt Bauman in a conversation with Keith Tester (in Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman) goes further, arguing that the resurrection of any viable notion of political and social agency is dependent upon a culture of questioning, the purpose of which, as he puts it, is to “keep the forever unexhausted and unfulfilled human potential open, fighting back all attempts to foreclose and preempt the further unravelling of human possibilities, prodding human society to go on questioning itself and preventing that questioning from ever stalling or being declared finished.” The goal of educated hope is not to liberate the individual from the social–a central tenet of neoliberalism—but to take seriously the notion that the individual can only be liberated through the social. Educated hope as a subversive, defiant practice should provide a link, however transient, provisional, and contextual, between vision and critique on the one hand, and engagement and transformation on the other. That is, for hope to be consequential it has to be grounded in a project that has some hold on the present. Hope becomes meaningful to the degree that it identifies agencies and processes, offers alternatives to an age of profound pessimism, reclaims an ethic of compassion and justice, and struggles for those institutions in which equality, freedom, and justice flourish as part of the ongoing struggle for a global democracy.

    Another good card, saying the same.

    Henry A. Giroux, Professor of Education at Boston University, 2005
    “Cultural Studies in Dark Times: Public Pedagogy and the Challenge of Neoliberalism”

    As the Right wages a frontal assault against all remnants of the democratic state and its welfare provisions, the progressive Left is in disarray. Theoretical and political impoverishment feed off each other as hope of a revolutionary project capable of challenging the existing forces of domination appears remote. Militarism increasingly engulfs the entire social order as matters of “war and national security” become “consuming anxieties” that provide the “memories, models, and metaphors that shape broad areas of national life” as well as drive American foreign policy (Sherry 1995:xi). As U.S. military action expands its reach into Iraq, Afghanistan, and possibly Iran and Syria, under the guise of an unlimited war against terrorism, public spaces on the domestic front are increasingly being organized around values supporting a bellicose, patriarchal, and jingoistic culture that is undermining “centuries of democratic gains” (Buck-Morss 2003:33). As politics is separated from economic power, the state surrenders its obligation to contain the power of corporations and financial capital, reducing its role to matters of surveillance, disciplinary control, and order. Market fundamentalism and the militarization of public life mutually reinforce each other to displace the promise, if not the very idea, of the Great Society—with its emphasis on the common good, basic social provisions for all, social justice, and economic mobility. Fuelled by dreams of empire as well as the desire to mask the shape political power is taking in a period of economic and social decline, militarism and neoliberalism cloak themselves in the discourse of democracy in order to hide the barbarism being reproduced in the torture prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the spread of wage slavery in the interest of capital accumulation, and in the carceral surveillance and disciplinary measures being imposed on the nation’s public schools. Democratic political projects appear remote and give rise to either cynicism, solipsism, or reductionistic ideologies on the part of many progressives within and outside of the academy. The crucial task of theorizing a politics suitable for the twenty-first century has fallen on hard times. Economistic theories return to dominate much of the Left, reducing politics to a reflection of economic forces, interests, and measures. Within the university, critically engaged intellectuals appear in short supply as most academics, especially in the humanities and social sciences, bid a hasty retreat to arcane discourses, retrograde notions of professionalism, or irrelevant academic specialities (Agger 1989; Said 2004). Rather than reinventing and rethinking the challenge of an oppositional politics within a global public sphere, the academic Left appears to be withdrawing from the demands of civic engagement by retreating into what Susan Buck-Morss (2003) calls “theory-world,” a space where the “academic freedom of critical theorists coincides with our lack of influence in public and political debate”(p. 68). Hope, once embodied in the politics of persuasion, the drive for instituting critical education in a diverse number of public spheres, collective efforts to organize struggles within major institutions, and the attempt to build international social movements seems, at best, a nostalgic remnant of the 1960s. The naturalness and commonsense appeal of the neoliberal economic order produces a crisis of political and historical imagination, on the one hand, and an educational crisis on the other. It is in opposition to the current turn away from matters of history, culture, and politics that I begin with a quote from Susan George, a powerful critic of neoliberalism and a leading voice in the anti-globalization movement. She writes:

    In 1945 or 1950, if you had seriously proposed any of the ideas and policies in today’s standard neoliberal toolkit, you would have been laughed off the stage or sent to the insane asylum. At least in the Western countries, at that time, everyone was a Keynesian, a social democrat, or a social Christian democrat or some shade of Marxist. The idea that the market should be allowed to make major social and political decisions, the idea that the state should voluntarily reduce its role in the economy, or that corporations should be given total freedom, that trade unions should be curbed and citizens given much less rather than more social protection-such ideas were utterly foreign to the spirit of the time. Even if someone actually agreed with these ideas, he or she would have hesitated to take such a position in public and would have had a hard time finding an audience (George 1999, para 2).

    Times have changed and altered historical conditions posit new problems, define different projects, and often demand fresh discourses. The complex theoretical discourses fashioned in the academy in the 1980s and 1990s seem hopelessly disconnected, if not irrelevant, in the current moment. And the space of democratic political and social thought now appears exhausted by a panoply of military, religious, and market fundamentalisms that refuse to question their own assumptions and instead appeal to the naturalness and inevitability of their ascendancy and the historical struggles that produced it. George’s comments are instructive because in resurrecting historical memory, they not only point to a current period in American history in which the seemingly impossible has become possible (Giroux 2004), but also gesture towards those forces that must be named in order to become the object of resistance and refusal. The impossible in this case is the specter of authoritarianism replacing a weakened and damaged liberal democracy. With the election of George W. Bush to the presidency in 2000, the United States finds itself in the midst of a revolution in which the most basic, underlying principles of democracy have begun to unravel. The nature of this right-wing revolution resides in the lived relations of the contemporary social order and the ways in which such relations exacerbate the material conditions of inequality, undercut a sense of individual and social agency, hijack democratic values—such as egalitarianism and dissent—and promote a deep sense of hopelessness and cynicism. Resuscitating a deeply anti-modernist past as a way to command the future, the Bush administration has evoked the cult of traditionalism, religious fundamentalism, and the absolute reign of the market as central features of an emerging authoritarianism designed to “roll back the twentieth century quite literally”(Greider 2003:11). The alliance of militant neoconservatives, extremist evangelical Christians, and free market fundamentalists imagines a social order modeled on the presidency of William McKinley and the values of the robber barons. The McKinley presidency, which spanned from 1897 to 1901, “had a consummate passion to serve corporate and imperial power” (Moyers 2004). This was an age when blacks, women, immigrants, and minorities of class “knew their place”; big government served the exclusive interests of the corporate monopolists; commanding institutions were under the sway of narrow political interests; welfare was a private enterprise, and labor unions were kept in check by the repressive forces of the state—all while an imperialist war raged in the Philippines. With the geographic shift to Iraq, all of these conditions are being reproduced under the leadership of an extremist element of the Republican Party that holds sway over all branches of government. One of the central elements of the new authoritarianism is a structural relationship between the state and the economy that produces rigid hierarchies, concentrates power in relatively few hands, unleashes the most brutal elements of a rabid individualism, destroys the welfare state, incarcerates large numbers of its now disposable populations, economically disenfranchises large segments of the lower and middle classes, and reduces entire countries to pauperization (Harvey 2005; Giroux 2003). Neoliberalism not only dissolves the bonds of sociality and reciprocity; it also undermines the nature of social obligations by defining civil society exclusively through an appeal to market-driven values. At the same time neoliberalism feeds a growing authoritarianism steeped in militarism, Christian fundamentalism, and jingoistic patriotism, encouraging intolerance and hate as it punishes critical engagement and questioning, especially if they are at odds with the reactionary religious and political agenda being pushed by the Bush administration. Increasingly, education appears useful only to those who hold political and economic power, and issues regarding how the academy might contribute to the quality of democratic public life on a national and global level are either ignored or dismissed. On the Right, neoliberal cheerleaders are pushing hard to turn the university into another outpost of corporate learning and training. On the Left, education as a site of dialectical struggle, persuasion, and critical engagement is all too often reduced to ritual debunking and demystification, revealing the political logic of a debased capitalist system. But revelation guarantees nothing and in this case substitutes a limited form of reportage for the hard pedagogical work connecting empowering forms of knowledge to the realities and social forms that bear down on students’ everyday lives (Freire 1998). The collective struggle to widen the reach and quality of education as a basis for creating critical citizens—so alive in the sixties— is rendered defunct within the corporate drive for efficiency, downsizing, profits, and an utterly instrumentalist notion of excellence. Cornel West (2004) has argued persuasively that just as we need to analyze those dark forces shutting down democracy “we also need to be very clear about the vision that lures us toward hope and the sources of that vision”(p. 18). I want to act on West’s utopian call by recapturing the vital role that an expanded notion of critical education might play for educators, students, cultural studies’ advocates, and other progressives by providing a language of critique and possibility which addresses the growing threat of free market fundamentalism to an inclusive democracy and the promise of a cultural politics in which pedagogy occupies a formative role in shaping both critical agency and the radical imagination.

  7. Scott Phillips Post author

    Giroux is weak
    – it gives many examples (WTO protest) that are more like the K then the aff.
    – never really gives a warrant for “engage the state” other than “hope” and “cynicism”
    -quotes people like Butler (though in fairness he quotes someone quoting butler so he prob hasn’t read it) who’s entire body of work goes the other way (most explicitly her article in the 1998 new left review which is a critique of the very ideas expressed in these cards)

    This is the card I think is the best, it is basically the Murray/Guzzini of FW cards- PM inev, must engage it etc.

    Themba-Nixon, Makani. Executive Director of The Praxis Project, Former California Staffer, Colorlines. Oakland: Jul 31, 2000.Vol.3, Iss. 2; pg. 12
    The flourish and passion with which she made the distinction said everything. Policy is for wonks, sell-out politicians, and ivory-tower eggheads. Organizing is what real, grassroots people do. Common as it may be, this distinction doesn’t bear out in the real world. Policy is more than law. It is any written agreement (formal or informal) that specifies how an institution, governing body, or community will address shared problems or attain shared goals. It spells out the terms and the consequences of these agreements and is the codification of the body’s values-as represented by those present in the policymaking process. Given who’s usually present, most policies reflect the political agenda of powerful elites. Yet, policy can be a force for change-especially when we bring our base and community organizing into the process. In essence, policies are the codification of power relationships and resource allocation. Policies are the rules of the world we live in. Changing the world means changing the rules. So, if organizing is about changing the rules and building power, how can organizing be separated from policies? Can we really speak truth to power, fight the right, stop corporate abuses, or win racial justice without contesting the rules and the rulers, the policies and the policymakers? The answer is no-and double no for people of color. Today, racism subtly dominates nearly every aspect of policymaking. From ballot propositions to city funding priorities, policy is increasingly about the control, de-funding, and disfranchisement of communities of color.
    What Do We Stand For? Take the public conversation about welfare reform, for example. Most of us know it isn’t really about putting people to work. The right’s message was framed around racial stereotypes of lazy, cheating “welfare queens” whose poverty was “cultural.” But the new welfare policy was about moving billions of dollars in individual cash payments and direct services from welfare recipients to other, more powerful, social actors. Many of us were too busy to tune into the welfare policy drama in Washington, only to find it washed up right on our doorsteps. Our members are suffering from workfare policies, new regulations, and cutoffs. Families who were barely getting by under the old rules are being pushed over the edge by the new policies. Policy doesn’t get more relevant than this. And so we got involved in policy-as defense.
    Yet we have to do more than block their punches. We have to start the fight with initiatives of our own. Those who do are finding offense a bit more fun than defense alone. Living wage ordinances, youth development initiatives, even gun control and alcohol and tobacco policies are finding their way onto the public agenda, thanks to focused community organizing that leverages power for community-driven initiatives.
    – Over 600 local policies have been passed to regulate the tobacco industry. Local coalitions have taken the lead by writing ordinances that address local problems and organizing broad support for them. – Nearly 100 gun control and violence prevention policies have been enacted since 1991. – Milwaukee, Boston, and Oakland are among the cities that have passed living wage ordinances: local laws that guarantee higher than minimum wages for workers, usually set as the minimum needed to keep a family of four above poverty.
    These are just a few of the examples that demonstrate how organizing for local policy advocacy has made inroads in areas where positive national policy had been stalled by conservatives. Increasingly, the local policy arena is where the action is and where activists are finding success. Of course, corporate interests-which are usually the target of these policies-are gearing up in defense. Tactics include front groups, economic pressure, and the tried and true: cold, hard cash.
    Despite these barriers, grassroots organizing can be very effective at the smaller scale of local politics. At the local level, we have greater access to elected officials and officials have a greater reliance on their constituents for reelection. For example, getting 400 people to show up at city hall in just about any city in the U.S. is quite impressive. On the other hand, 400 people at the state house or the Congress would have a less significant impact. Add to that the fact that all 400 people at city hall are usually constituents, and the impact is even greater.
    Recent trends in government underscore the importance of local policy. Congress has enacted a series of measures devolving significant power to state and local government. Welfare, health care, and the regulation of food and drinking water safety are among the areas where states and localities now have greater rule.
    Devolution has some negative consequences to be sure. History has taught us that, for social services and civil rights in particular, the lack of clear federal standards and mechanisms for accountability lead to uneven enforcement and even discriminatory implementation of policies. Still, there are real opportunities for advancing progressive initiatives in this more localized environment. Greater local control can mean greater community power to shape and implement important social policies that were heretofore out of reach. To do so will require careful attention to the mechanics of local policymaking and a clear blueprint of what we stand for.
    Getting It in Writing
    Much of the work of framing what we stand for takes place in the shaping of demands. By getting into the policy arena in a proactive manner, we can take our demands to the next level. Our demands can become law, with real consequences if the agreement is broken. After all the organizing, press work, and effort, a group should leave a decisionmaker with more than a handshake and his or her word. Of course, this work requires a certain amount of interaction with “the suits,” as well as struggles with the bureaucracy, the technical language, and the all-too-common resistance by decisionmakers. Still, if it’s worth demanding, it’s worth having in writing-whether as law, regulation, or internal policy.
    From ballot initiatives on rent control to laws requiring worker protections, organizers are leveraging their power into written policies that are making a real difference in their communities. Of course, policy work is just one tool in our organizing arsenal, but it is a tool we simply can’t afford to ignore.
    Making policy work an integral part of organizing will require a certain amount of retrofitting. We will need to develop the capacity to translate our information, data, and experience into stories that are designed to affect the public conversation. Perhaps most important, we will need to move beyond fighting problems and on to framing solutions that bring us closer to our vision of how things should be. And then we must be committed to making it so.

  8. TimAlderete

    I like the Themba-Nixon card, although for different reasons than why I like the Giroux evidence. Themba-Nixons is poverty and welfare specific, which I think is particularly helpful to this season, and I think is an important comparison with generic framework cards. It is also very good about explaining how policymakers go beyond just Washington, and that protesters / activist groups are engaging in "policymaking" when they make demands on policymakers. (I think that Giroux is also saying something similar to that when talking about the WTO protesters.) And it gives a very good, offensive warrant – the "Inevitable/To Defend" argument.

    It does somewhat beg the same question as the Russett card. It says "From our Position as Activists/Advocacy Groups, we should engage policymakers over critical protest" which doesn't necessarily say why debaters should be in the position of Activists/Advocacy Groups. Giroux says "From our position as Students, we should engage policymakers over critical theory" which seems more appropriate to a debate round – debaters Are always in the position of Student. (Although, in fairness, someone pointed out to me in a backchannel that Giroux Actually says "From our position as TEACHERS, we should TEACH policymaking over critical theory" which shifts the focus from students to teachers, and perhaps the activity should be more about students. I think that that is a fair criticism, although I am still thinking about it)

    But that aside, I think that Themba Nixon is a very good card.

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