Reader’s Forum – Lowell Ward shares his thoughts on CUZ

By: Evelyn Dougherty, founder of MA Coalition of Independent Voters

I interviewed my fellow activist Lowell Ward regarding his thoughts after reading Danielle Allen’s book, Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.  

Evelyn: So, Lowell, what did you think about Danielle Allen’s book?

Evelyn Dougherty & Lowell Ward

Lowell: I thought the book was great! That the families experience, particularly his aunt’s, of pain and the devastation when he was murdered was shared so openly was what I liked and disliked. I liked it because she did such a good job of explaining the profound pain.  Pain in the black community isn’t often talked about and yet it’s lifelong. The incident may be on the news, or appear in a headline, but as the headlines fade, the families go on to grieve for the rest of their lives with what the streets took.  

Lowell: What I disliked about it was knowing that the families will be slighted and jaded having gone through this loss of their family member – it’s traumatic.  

Thank you Danielle Allen for sharing you and your families’ pain with the world.

Lowell Ward, an activist with MA Coalition of Independent Voters, Founder of Build Black Better (an initiative to stem violence, crime & poverty) had lived the street life, spent many years in prison, and is now working to make the world a better place.

Join Politics for the People Founder, Cathy Stewart for a

Virtual Discussion with

Dr. Danielle Allen

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Allen’s Run for Governor Exposes Primary Flaws

Danielle Allen ran for Governor in the Massachusetts DP primary this year and was forced to drop out of the race due to the unfair ballot access requirements.

Dr. Danielle Allen and Jackie Salit, President of Independent Voting.

Below is an article by Danielle in the Wall Street Journal outlining some of her takeaways from the race and an editorial in The Boston Herald by Independent Voting President Jackie Salit, describing the price paid by the voters of MA because of the undemocratic party primary rules.

Register HERE to join our virtual conversation with Dr. Allen on Tuesday June 21st at 3pm ET

What I Learned When I Ran for Governor of Massachusetts

American voters are hungry for common sense and purpose.
Republicans and Democrats are giving them strife and division instead.

By Danielle Allen
May 6, 2022


We often hear that America is a deeply polarized society, divided by party, region, and lifestyle. We the people, pundits tell us, are hopeless, too busy pulling down the other side to clean up the wreckage. But what if we the people aren’t really the problem? What if most everyday Americans share a moral compass, even if they sometimes approach issues from different directions? What if the real problem is that our political institutions stop us from coming together?

In December 2020, I set out to test this possibility by journeying into the heart of American politics. I launched a 15-month campaign for governor of Massachusetts. I was a political outsider and a first-time candidate. I hadn’t run for anything since secretary of communications in high school, unless you count faculty council at the universities where I’ve been a professor. When Woodrow Wilson ran for office, people asked him why he’d left the university. His answer: “I was tired of the politics.” There’s a deep truth there, but at the end of the day, I can’t pretend running for faculty council is anything like running for governor. I truly was a novice.

Which means I brought a fresh perspective. The hypothesis of my candidacy was that we Americans aren’t who our national politics and politicians tell us we are. National election results lead us to believe that we’re at each other’s throats, bitterly divided, full of hate and hostility for one another. My research and civic leadership—including practical engagement on Covid policy through a rapid response impact initiative at Harvard—taught me something different.

I had noticed one mode of political participation in which Americans often show clear agreement on issues: state ballot measures. They are used in a variety of states, and they reveal an American people with a shared moral orientation. In 2018, a 65% majority of Floridians passed a ballot proposition to restore voting rights to people who had completed their felony sentences. In 2020, more than 75% of Massachusetts voters favored the Right to Repair Initiative, which gives small auto shops a legal right to access car data, allowing them to remain competitive with auto manufacturers. In that same year, 73% of Mississippians voted in a new state flag to replace old emblems of the Confederacy with new forward-facing symbols.

These three examples give a glimpse of a people with a steady and appealing moral compass oriented toward inclusion and fairness. That’s our America.

The goal of my campaign was to sync our politics back up with that supermajority. We wanted to give voice to the commitments that more than two-thirds of voters can get behind. These include a commitment to inclusion and fairness, carried out in a spirit of unity—the same spirit behind those diverse, successful ballot measures. They include a respect for entrepreneurship and business, and the need to build partnerships that link civil society, the public sector and the marketplace in resisting the power of monopolies.

I ran on a commitment to knit the state together as one commonwealth, and the campaign launched with a video titled, “Reimagine.” It called Massachusetts to transformation in the language of the Declaration of Independence. We wanted to forge partnerships across communities and among the public sector, nonprofits and business. In the 200-some communities we visited, we encountered an appetite and readiness to build those partnerships. Everywhere across our Commonwealth, people were ready to come together and face pressing challenges—the opioid epidemic, the housing crisis, the threat of rising sea levels. People were hungry to come together. My hokey metaphor of “knitting the state together” traveled well.

At the same time, we saw how voters struggled to fit that energy into existing political institutions. Too many people no longer saw a place for themselves in political parties. Active volunteers for my campaign—ones who were willing to host organizing house parties, call voters, and tell their neighbors about us—weren’t willing to enroll in my party on behalf of our campaign. The majority of Massachusetts voters are no longer enrolled in a political party.

Yet the parties control which candidates make it to the ballot for the state primary. Party primaries are open to unaffiliated voters, but the majority of voters can’t participate in determining which candidates will be available for their consideration until the primary. Our campaign foundered inside the Massachusetts Democratic Party ballot-access process, where candidates compete with one another to get their name on the ballot in roughly 600 winner-take-all local caucuses.

Unlike the Iowa presidential caucuses, these aren’t proportional. During the caucuses, the path to ballot access disappeared. Could we have organized better? Sure, though I invite anyone to give it a shot in pandemic conditions. Could I have been a better candidate? Absolutely. But I was good enough to outraise two of the three longstanding politicians in the race. I would have liked to have had the chance to bring my message directly to primary voters, but the law of politics was that our campaign must, in such conditions, fail.

What does this experience tell us? We the people are healthy, but our vehicles of political participation need some attention. We need either refurbished or new vehicles of participation to have a healthy democracy. The parties continue to own and steer our mechanisms of representation; they are the only vehicle currently available for putting forward a case for representation. Yet the majority has turned their backs on these vehicles. Our system of representation is in crisis.

The good news is that we the people want to participate. The people of Massachusetts—and, I’d wager, of America—are hungry for common-sense representation and common purpose. But we need healthy parties, or alternatives, if we’re going to have the voice, choice, and representation we deserve. In 2021, I decided to throw my hat in the ring to give people that choice. In 2022, I hope we can reinvigorate Americans’ political participation by giving them institutions that empower participation.

Ms. Allen is on leave from Harvard, where she is a university professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.

Salit: A caucus casualty and a serious loss for democracy

By Jacqueline Salit – March 5, 2022 at 12:15 a.m.

Two weeks ago, Danielle Allen, the first African American woman to seek the Democratic Party nomination for governor of Massachusetts, ended her candidacy, just a few days into the Massachusetts caucus process. Allen, a distinguished author, educator and former director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, suspended her campaign having raised more than a million dollars and after spending a year on the campaign trail.

Allen is a leading voice on the crisis in American democracy. And now she has fallen victim to one of its most insidious practices: party control over nominations.

BOSTON, MA: Danielle Allen in front of the state house February 2, 2022. (Staff Photo By Chris Christo/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald) © 2022 MediaNews Group

Allen’s campaign was unable to secure access to the Democratic Party primary ballot because to do so, a candidate must gather 10,000 signatures from eligible voters AND 15% of the delegates at the Democratic Party nominating convention. Delegates are chosen through an arduous caucus process held in every town and every urban ward.

The caucus process is the pathway not just to a party endorsement, but to the right to put your name before the voters on the primary ballot. Relatively few registered Democrats know about or participate in this process. The Democratic party caucuses heavily favor the party machine, insiders and the party-favored candidates. In this circumstance, Allen, an African American woman who was neither a politician nor a party functionary, was unable to penetrate the “insider game” of the state Democratic Party.

As Allen said as she withdrew from the race,

“… the current ballot access procedure through the current caucus system is leading to a serious impoverishment of our democracy — fewer choices on the ballot, fewer non-traditional candidates able to enter the pipeline.

Allen has put her finger on the problem. If she had been allowed to run for governor through a just and equitable competitive gateway, she would have made those concerns a central theme of her campaign. No wonder the Democratic Party has rules to re-enforce insider control. They simply don’t want to have that conversation.

Danielle Allen did. And not having her on the ballot is a serious loss for democracy.

Jacqueline Salit is president of Independent Voting and co-author of “The Independent Voter,” to be published by Routledge Press this summer.

Copyright © 2022 MediaNews Group

Join Politics for the People Founder, Cathy Stewart for a

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Dr. Danielle Allen

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Reader’s Forum – Lou Hinman on Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus

Lou Hinman

One great merit of Dr. Danielle Allen’s book Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus is that it spells out briefly, in clear, concise language what a competent, effective, “integrative” response to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States would have looked like, and why we failed to achieve it.

Most political activists, like myself, are so caught up in trying to impact on the horrific misgovernance by the Democratic and Republican duopoly, that it’s quite refreshing to hear a thoughtful, qualified thinker about policy frankly and dispassionately remind us what good governance in a democracy should look like.

The other great merit of Dr. Allen’s book is that she shows that this failure of governance was inevitable, and doesn’t follow from any lack of policy expertise (which, her book makes clear, is available in abundance from clear thinking people like herself and her colleagues). It follows, instead, from the collapse of the social contract, and lack of trust in our political system. The pandemic did not produce these problems, but it casts a harsh new light on what lies in store for us if we don’t address them.

I think it’s clear from Dr. Allen’s conclusions that the point of address must be, not defeating Donald Trump or any other politician, but strengthening our democracy across the board. There are many ideas about how to do this, but this is where we have to start.  

A rebuilt social contract is inseparable from building the new, inclusive social and political institutions that can create it (and will, in turn, be empowered and strengthened by the process of creation).

My own view is that of the many special interests that are making an inclusive democracy (that is, a real democracy) impossible, the most destructive are the Democratic and Republican parties themselves. There are 26 million registered voters in America that cannot vote in the partisan primaries, and this effectively make makes it impossible for new political coalitions (and therefore, a new social contract) to be formed. I submit that without open primaries and ballot access reform – at a minimum – we don’t stand a chance.

Lou Hinman lives in New York City and upstate NY and is an activist with and a member of The People House of Delegates.

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Danielle Allen discusses CUZ on PBS

In December of 2017, Danielle Allen sat down with  PBS Newshour correspondent Jeffrey Brown to discuss her book, CUZ: The Life and Times of Michael A.

“You have this terrible situation, young kids are kinda caught between a fight, between these very powerful gang organizations on the one hand and a very powerful state on the other. And the state is fighting the criminal gangs of course, but the nature of the fight is so violent and so. brutal that young people get caught up in it and the course of their life is set on a very dangerous path. I think of it as a degree of difficulty question…. We have to consider the degree of difficulty that pertains to the choice set given to particular young people. And young men, ages 10-14, in the middle of a city, man the choice set that we as a society have created for them is just horrible.” Dr. Danielle Allen

Read the full transcript here.

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Reader’s Forum – Allen Cox shares his thoughts on CUZ

Allen Cox

I want to thank you Danielle Allen for writing this book. I don’t generally like reading books that I already know how they end, particularly when it’s about yet another young black man’s tragic death. However I thought this book revealed so much more.

Not only did you give us your unapologetic radical acceptance of Michael, given who you were and who you were becoming, but you also gave us a picture of the social, political and economic environment that produced him. I also thought this book was so much about you, and how Michael’s life and struggles impacted you.

As a long time grassroots political and community organizer,I am very moved by you not only as a brilliant scholar and intellectual but also as a decent, caring working class person who never gives up on her family or community. You have definitely made a fan of me and I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Allen Cox lives in the Bronx and is a lifelong independent and grassroots community organizer. He is an outreach consultant for the Black Leadership Commission on Health.

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Reader’s Forum – Bob Friedman shares his thoughts on CUZ

Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. – A Review by Publisher Weekly

September 2017

Allen, a professor of history at Harvard University and author of Our Declaration, tells the story of her late cousin Michael, who spent his years “from adolescent bloom to full manhood” in prison. In doing so, she puts a face to the numbing statistics of incarcerated young black boys and men. Michael’s story is not simple: he didn’t have a criminal history when he was arrested for attempted carjacking in 1995, but he was charged as an adult with multiple offenses, thus exposing him to California’s three-strikes law and leading to a plea bargain and 11 years in prison. While serving time, Michael flourished, becoming a firefighter and completing his GED and some college correspondence courses. After his release in 2006, and with Allen’s help, Michael obtained a driver’s license, bank account, library card, job, and housing. At the time, Allen was hopeful that with the help and support of his family “Michael could defy the pattern of parolees” and straighten his life out. Alas, in July 2009, barely three years out of prison, Michael was found shot dead in his car. Allen attributes Michael’s tragic death to two elements. One was that Michael found himself trapped in “a war between sovereigns: the parastate of a drug world increasingly linked to gangs on one side, and the California and federal governments on the other.” The other was his love for a transsexual woman he met in prison who in the end was charged with his murder. At its heart, Allen’s book is both an outcry and entreaty as she grapples with a painful reality: “I no longer knew a way of helping.”

My comments:

Bob Friedman

It was very fortunate for Michael that he had a relative able to help with all those essentials.  How could anyone foresee that a woman he loved would kill him? Maybe if the trans community was not segregated and abused, it would not be victimized. Maybe he was not reached in time by Dr. Allen to avoid the “third strike.”  No judgements here! Bad memories – prison produces them as many bad experiences do.  I wondered if Michael was offered those counseling services as part of his release.  It is my experience that bad memories are there but with help, they become books on a shelf rather than a constantly bubbling rue.

I heard a report on public radio about a church group that decided they were going to go out to the street, find groups of Black men, find out how they’re doing, what they need and walk them through getting it. Plenty churches, Black churches, could probably increase their congregations by taking to the streets. Will they?  Here in Birmingham, where shootings are daily as in most cities, congregations are shrinking as in most cities. City government moves quickly to bureaucracy and changes slowly, also as in most cities. Is this problem a runaway train? Our undemocratic institutions controlling and delegating civic power will not alter the way they do business.  How many “strikes” do they get?!  A parliamentary multi party system in this country would need an overwhelming majoritarian revolution to accomplish that – and that certainly means years of organizing at ever level of society. Yet, compare European imprisonment rates with ours. In my opinion, both the current two party obstructionists own no small part of January 6, 2021. 

As someone who has participated in insurgencies at numerous levels, I am now immersed in deadlines in order to build a permanent exhibit on the history and contributions of Black radio in Birmingham – the early days – 1930’s-1980’s – before it became corporativized, and give that history in modern and technological ways back to the community and, hopefully and creatively, to our youngest citizens as well – who are not particularly moved by nostalgia – and I wish Dr. Allen well in that she is alive with hope and using her sorrow and social location to give her strength to others. I’d ask if she could share any answers to running out of answers.  I hope her book tour changes lives.

Finally, I am a local poll clerk and June 21st is our run-off here in Alabama.  I hope to hear more from the program from others and the video of the conversation.

Bob Friedman is a lifelong independent and the Director of the Birmingham Black Radio Museum.

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Reader’s Forum – Al Bell on Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus

Al Bell

When faced with an implacable enemy, two things demand brutal clarity: 1) who the enemy is and 2) who we are. Danielle Allen brilliantly uses the enemy that has now killed over a million Americans as a lesson in that clarity. Let’s put this in perspective. All of our wars from 1776 onward have cost 1,354,664 Americans their lives. Adding to that another 40,031 who are listed as missing—and probably dead—brings the total to 1,394,695. Two hundred and forty six years. That is not to mention an estimated 1,498,240 listed as wounded. These are direct costs in lives. It took the very efficient Coronavirus only a little over two years to kill a million Americans.

In some cases, the enemy was clearly known (Revolutionary War; World War II). In others, not so much (Afghanistan; Iraq). When it was clear, we prevailed; when it was not, the result was, at best, also unclear. Even though many Americans did not support of the war for independence, those who did had enough clarity of purpose to prevail over the greatest military force on the planet. I am old enough to remember our Nation coming together from a position of deep isolationism with great clarity in World War II. We and our courageous allies changed the world. Saved it, more accurately.

Our enemy in the Coronavirus pandemic is a virus. Danielle Allen uses our performance during that challenge to remind us that, instead, we chose each other as the enemy, with catastrophic results. We are still living with that disconnect—and the virus isn’t giving up. Moreover, our experiment as a democratic republic is frayed almost beyond imagining. 

Ms. Allen uses this recent history to refocus us on what matters in the course of Our Great American Experiment. We have a great deal to learn and she proves an outstanding guide in pointing out lessons in terms that are impossible to ignore.

In just over a hundred pages, with a breadth and depth hard to imagine in such a condensed package, she offers us a wake-up call and a primer on understanding and saving our democratic republic. This is almost as breathtaking an accomplishment as the challenge it reveals.

An ideal civics class—a desperately needed experience, as she convincingly argues—could be built around this textbook. It would give the student a grounding on the very idea of America, a passion for why that matters, a window on what can go wrong if we are not paying attention, and a renewed call to action on our own behalf. This short book conveys a bookshelf-sized grasp of why we concern ourselves so much with fixing our irresponsible election systems, returning voting rights to the voter, where they belong, and outdistancing the creaking political party collusion to refresh a trajectory that honors our heritage.

In a current column, Arizona Republic media critic, Bill Goodykoontz covers the forthcoming broadcasts of the House Select Committee hearings on the January 6 insurrection. He makes this assertion: “Willful ignorance remains the greatest threat to democracy.” Yes.

Danielle Allen provides us with an antidote to that threat. None too soon, I think most of us would agree. It has never been an easy path and never will be. We can choose to walk it or not. Ms. Allen joins the many fine minds who offer insights essential to the journey. 

Now, at age eighty-eight, I am preparing a little chest of books for each of our three grandchildren. Its purpose is to give them  access to conversations I want to share with them even though I will no longer be present. Danielle’s work is now included. They will learn why their privilege of being born here is a priceless gift and why some of their most rewarding experiences will lie in how they give back in appreciation. In humility and gratitude. In admission of our weaknesses and enthusiasm for our strengths. By learning, then doing.

I do not own a more profound way of honoring Danielle Allen than to entrust my grandchildren to her guidance in understanding their pathway toward a quality of citizenship  commensurate with the benefits they enjoy as participants in Our Great American Experiment.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

Join Politics for the People Founder, Cathy Stewart for a

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Reader’s Forum – Sadie Moore Stewart on CUZ

As a former Public Defender, Director of a  Federal Community Treatment Center, Corrections Officer at the Alabama Women’s Prison , and Air Force Rehabilitation Specialist,  I can say the authors recitation of her experience within the prison system is very typical.

I especially enjoyed her perception regarding the “control” factor.

As to the lack of appreciation she seems to have for Public Defenders and the Rap Music Genre,  I  would like to hear an explanation for her opinion.

Given her education and exposure I am somewhat surprised by what appears to be the opinion expressed.

I personally am not into rap music, but I would certainly not try and compare it to some other period of expression. Though I also took pianos lessons, they were private, and involved a cursory review, and gave me somewhat of an appreciation for classical music.

Sadie Moore Stewart

Lawyers supposedly have a basic level of competency. After that it is individual performance that should be considered.

Prosecutors get the opposite consideration because they represent the state when we all  know they often fail to attract the best.

I have worked with some brilliant committed prosecutors, who love their job and could have been very successful in a private practice. And of course ditto, for Public defenders who believe in what they do and love it despite the low pay.

There is a ton of evidence that family support is crucial in rehab. However,  other evidence has proven that returning to a  familial environment contributed to high rates of recidivism. 

Based on my professional experience, I believe the latter is more impactful and outweighs the benefit of family support.

Now technology makes that support possible regardless of proximity. 

I absolutely appreciate her lack of apology and love for being fortunate enough to benefit from the background in which she was raised.

I especially love her style. Not too wordy, though not condescending either. Though she often uses phrases or references that I am unfamiliar with, it is written so intelligently that it doesn’t make you feel as if she is showing off.

Sadie Moore Stewart is a 70 year old lawyer and independent activist from Ohio.

Join Politics for the People Founder, Cathy Stewart for a

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Reader’s Forum – Frank Fear on Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus

“Everything Seemed Fine Until It Wasn’t”

By Frank Fear

Frank Fear

Over one million Americans have died from COVID-19—16% of all deaths globally in a country with 4.5% of the world’s people. The catastrophe demands careful and cogent analysis, and Professor Danielle Allen does just that in Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus. And one of the best ways to sense-make is to filter America’s devastating COVID-19 experience through an interpretive frame of reference. Dr. Allen uses a constitutional democracy framework to analyze why America was ill-prepared to respond to COVID and how we might improve our national response in future times of crisis.

“The pandemic has taught us a dark truth,” Professor Allen concludes (p. 89). America was neither prepared nor capable. Americans were in jeopardy, especially the least among us, with everybody, everywhere, trying to figure out how to cope and where to turn. Most noticeable was the lack of coordination between the Federal government and the states, and the inability to get needed goods and services organized and distributed efficiently to the public. And the harmonic balance among what Professor Allen calls “The Three L’s”—Lives, Livelihood, and Liberty—was fractured (p. 5). Lives (safety and security) and livelihood (economics) came in conflict, as did personal rights vis-à-vis collective responsibilities.

Rather than draw on a wellspring of commitment and resolve in a time of crisis, our highly polarized America—a land of partisanship and differences—pushed and pulled in different directions. Public officials carped and squabbled, “contempt media” (p. 102) ruled the airwaves, and “Facebook Warriors” battled on social media.

How could this happen? The answer, I believe, is the book’s greatest gift. And Professor Allen’s use of the constitutional democracy frame makes it so. Here is my take on why.

America’s founders went through the arduous process of figuring out what they wanted America to be and how it should function as a constitutional democracy. Then they handed over the system, trusting that subsequent generations would protect, affirm, and improve it.

In Professor Allen’s words, a constitutional democracy is “a set of institutions that give people the chance to do things well” (p. 54) and help democracy flourish. It does so by the way it is structured and operates, delineating what it means to have majority rule and minority rights, checks and balances, freedom of expression, among many things, and what is involved in exercising citizenship, including civility, open-mindedness, tolerance for diversity of thought and people, and compromise.

We know that many Americans are committed to protecting and renewing what the founders created. However, other dynamics (contrary in intent and outcome) are also apparent in America today. Professor Allen’s treatment early in the book helps bring those dynamics into focus in the way she distinguishes negative and positiveliberties (pp. 11-12).

Negative liberties are “those rights of free speech, rights of association, rights of religion and so forth, that permit us to chart our own course toward happiness, based on our own definitions of the good.

Positive liberties are”those opportunities we have in our political institutions (to participate) as decision-makers, as voters, as elected officials, and as people who contribute to the deliberations of our public bodies.”

Through the exercise of negative liberties, we are free to seek outcomes that align with what we view as valued ends. Through the exercise of positive liberties, “we have a chance to shape our collective world together” (p. 12). In a constitutional democracy, Dr. Allen continues, we should not choose one liberty form over the other because “fuller flourishing,” in her words, “requires the protection and exercise of negative and positive liberties.”

Both liberties are rights, as in the right of free speech and the right to vote. There is also the matter of responsibilities. In that regard, the person on the street is likely to interpret negative liberties as a collection of personal rights and interpret positive liberties as rights and responsibilities with the collective in mind (e.g., voting as a right and responsibility).

These distinctions are helpful because they helped me understand more clearly how and why efforts are underway to hijack our constitutional democracy. It involves imposing on the collective a partisan-informed preference regarding how we should live as a society. While it is my right to refuse to wear a mask, I also seek to impose my personal choices on the collective. Examples abound, including school children will not learn about Critical Race Theory, women will not have the ability to have an abortion, there will not be restrictive gun control, etc.

To achieve those outcomes, partisans have figured out ways to use the structures and processes of a constitutional democracy for political advantage—even if the intent and mechanisms of that system are manipulated and abused in the process (e.g., gerrymandering). Incursions on the system are coming from within the governance system and external pressure on it. Either way, the outcome is the same—to undermine, subvert, and commandeer our constitutional democracy. The actions are justifiable in Machiavellian terms because the ends justify the means. Politically, as Saul Alinsky once put it (to paraphrase), “Do what you have to do and then wrap it in moral clothing.”

I have just described an academic way of delineating what progressive activists are fighting against across the country.

What can be done to readjust America’s constitutional democracy to align with our founders’ intentions? Professor Allen writes expressively about the importance of common purpose, which she defines as “an affective connection to a common enterprise” (p. 20). A socially galvanizing force, common purpose (and resolve) is what America had 80 years ago when it fought wars on two fronts simultaneously. A generation later, it had it again when America decided to go to the moon, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

But common purpose is difficult to come by these days. Yes, there have been times when America has come together, 9/11 is one, but not with a shared commitment to common purpose. Professor Allen ends her book with a list of objectives toward that end (pp. 101-102), and I applaud and endorse each recommendation. But what is missing in America today is not a dearth of ideas about what needs to happen or how to get there. It is whether these is shared commitment to the very idea of common purpose, including whether America would be better off with it. I do not see that commitment.

Even if it were to bubble up as a priority, I do not believe we have the kind of leadership today (elective, organizational/institutional, and grassroots) to activate a common purpose. That is not to say that kind of leadership is non-existent. I have experienced it at the organizational/institutional level and (from time to time) in other contexts as well. But invariably, it is a minority approach from the government to the grassroots. evident here and there but unsustainable over time.

Why is that? There are at least two reasons—one is evident, and the other became abundantly clear during the pandemic.

First, leadership these days is mostly about getting ahead (“winning” to be more specific). We select our leaders with that in mind, and that interpretation of leadership has a significant impact on what American’s views as “a good leader” and “good leadership.” Common purpose is not about winning. Instead, it is about being, that is, who we are as a society, and our collective values, aspirations, and goals.

Second, we are victims of the conditions we experienced during the pandemic. Each person is on their own, and we should only expect limited and episodic public support in times of crisis. While many of us complain about America’s penchant for preferring “me” over “we,” the pandemic experience reinforced a me-first ethic.

So, what is the bottom line? Until enough Americans believe that what I have just described is no way to live—and is a rotten tagline for our society—the current situation is not likely to change. The only viable strategy is to continue doing what many Americans are doing currently: organizing and fighting against forces that seek to disable America’s constitutional democracy.

Professor Allen’s contribution helps stoke the fire of activist resolve, and it also gives us a roadmap for the future—should we ever walk in that direction.

Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University, where he served as a faculty member for thirty years and worked in various administrative positions for nearly twenty years. Frank also writes about issues that intersect sport and society.

Join Politics for the People Founder, Cathy Stewart for a

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Reader’s Forum – Leah Clifford on Democracy in the Times of Coronavirus

By Leah M. Clifford

In Dr. Danielle Allen’s book, Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus, she is trying to weave together the facts of the coronavirus pandemic. What did and did not occur through a lens of jurisprudence to create a framework for pandemic resilience. She draws on the works of Thucydides, Cicero, Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton bringing together a broader image of what the United States Democracy should look like in a health and economic crisis and what lessons COVID-19 can teach us. 

Crises, those awful, wonderful chances to illuminate and unify often expose our worst failings as a society. COVID-19 was a catastrophic confrontation of those failings, which almost all Americans can agree on in some way or another. Unfortunately, most feel that there is a long road ahead to sustainable, positive political and social change, myself included. The virus’s silent transmission is synonymous with the silent legitimacy crisis that was already unfolding prior to the lockdowns and economic disruption. Equally, the explosive and pervasive nature of the disease crippled our already frayed ability to recognize and fathom any form of intelligible discussion that would lend itself to the mending of our county’s partisanship. 

The virus’s silent transmission is synonymous with the silent legitimacy crisis that was already unfolding prior to the lockdowns and economic disruption.

Drawing from foundation era history, I found Dr. Allen’s inferences highly refreshing. This is how we ought to be taking advice from the founding fathers! We should be engaging in rich political and philosophical discussions about what values are at stake, especially when there is so much to lose. Of course, this message is often lost in the echo chambers of the loudest political speakers. Both parties reference the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. However, this is only to incite repugnance at assumed transgressions from the “other” side. During the height of the pandemic, we saw this with Democrats and Republicans represented in what solutions they chose to endorse to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. According to Dr. Allen, Democrats chose the “freeze” stance, which was to lock down the country and effectively freeze the economy in order to preserve life, health, and happiness. Republicans chose to “surrender” to the virus, wanting to keep the economy open and let the virus run its course because life, health, and happiness will suffer greatly if we don’t. The states vacillated quite wildly between both options, while Americans, as a collective whole, were forced ”…to contemplate, openly or secretly, the abandonment of others” (Chapter 4, pg 90).

Leah Clifford

This conflict persisted with no real improvement and was then exacerbated by the presidential elections looming in 2020. Instead of focusing on sustainable efforts to reduce stress on the country, political leaders moved away from effective policy conversations that addressed their real democratic responsibility. They moved into the land of knee-jerk reactions, securing foot-holds in ideological polarization while the media continued to promote chaos and incite anger (a topic I wish Dr. Allen explored more). Consequently, Americans continued to, and still, suffer the effects of COVID-19.

I can understand why some critics of Dr. Allen’s novel believe that its scope is too broad. The issues COVID-19 exposed are real, complex, and span across numerous sectors of our already disenfranchised society. Dr. Allen concedes this point, “Mortals- moving in temporal cadences- can repair frayed social bonds only with the speed at which trust can be grown.”(Chapter 1, pg 30). 

No health or economics expert has all the answers. No political party or leader has them either. What we need is to begin pulling back the lens of anger and fear, so we can begin to believe and trust the machine of democracy again. Then the nuts and bolts work can be smoothed by the “oil of public acceptance”. I highly recommend this book for its basis in political theory, and for it opening the floor to more discussion about the topics it holds. I am excited to hear Dr. Danielle Allen speak further on this book during the Politics for the People virtual discussion on Tuesday, June 21st at 3 to 4pm.

Leah Clifford lives in Saratoga Springs, NY and is an Administrative Assistant at Independent Voting.

Politics for the People

Virtual Discussion with Dr. Danielle Allen

Tuesday, June 21st @ 3pm ET

Register Here!

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