Posts Tagged ‘Theory’

Participatory Democracy

January 29, 2018

Excerpts from On Prison Democracy: The Politics of Participation in a Maximum Security Prison, an essay by Christopher D. Berk (Critical Inquiry, Winter 2018). March 14, 1973 the Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Walpole entered into a protracted strike by its prison officers. Commissioner John Boone decided “Instead of sending in the state police he turned over the management of the prison to the newly formed and elected prisoners’ union (the Walpole chapter of the National Prisoner Reform Association [NPRA]), a skeleton crew of officers and trainees from other institutions, and civilian observers.” “At the time, Walpole was the most violent prison in Massachusetts, perhaps even the most violent in the country.” “The inmates were now running the asylum, so to speak.” “Between 15 March and 19 May, the NPRA was the central force governing the inmates at Walpole. There were no murders and little violence, and the prisoners ran the kitchen and foundry, maintained security, deliberated over policy and action, and negotiated with the prison administration.” To paraphrase Hillary Clinton – “What happened?” Again, Berk writes: “This account usually takes one of two forms, either a call to increase law and order within prisons or a push to reallocate goods and services to the task of treatment. In other words, inmate participation is understood as a symptom of a failed treatment or control regimen. Call this the conventional liberal narrative. However, an alternative account emerges from a close reading of the Walpole episode. In this narrative Walpole is an experiment in participatory democracy and community control. Call this less familiar view the radical narrative.” In a book entitled Not A Crime To Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America (The New Press 2017) Peter Edelman describes the poverty pipeline to prison that has America leading incarcerations in the world (up through 2017). The first part of the book statistically and factually recounts the various techniques involved with the U.S. system of debtor’s prisons (“Ferguson Is Everywhere”). These include money bail (both private as well as government sourced), criminalization of mental illness, benefit programs and child support, education (“Go Directly To Jail”, see recent Florida handcuffing of a 7 year old), housing ordinances (This blog already wrote about nuisance properties) and homelessness. The second part (Ending Poverty) deals with contemporary efforts to shut off the prison pipeline through not only legal strategies and actions, but also community based initiatives. He narrates actualities of the following programs: Community Action Program Tulsa (OK), Chicago’s Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Minneapolis’ Northside Achievement Zone, Brooklyn’s Community Solutions and The Brownsville Partnership, The New Haven (CT) Moms Partnership, The Alameda Health Consortium (Alameda County CA), and the Youth Policy Institute of Los Angeles. Most of these are centered around supplementing the care and education of pre-school through high school youth through the interaction of their parent or guardian. These in turn receive some tangible benefit for their involvement as well as job training, psychological and economic counseling, including hands on aid in housing, legal concerns etc. The organization’s originating emphasis may be youth, or housing, or physical/psychological health issues brought on by the stress of poverty, but they all treat the concerns holistically – through addressing all the individual’s various interlocking components perpetuating poverty. More importantly, they address this through some full time/part time staff, (some of whom previously were recipients of the organization’s care) as well as a large number of those for whom the service is directed acting on their own behalf providing service to their peers (facilitating, counseling, educating, mentoring). Analysis finds this to be the correlation linking Edelman’s Ending Poverty with Berk’s liberal narrative “call to increase law and order within prisons or a push to reallocate goods and services to the task of treatment” and its alternative account of “an experiment in participatory democracy and community control.”

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Analysis Goes Way Back In The Way Back Machine

June 18, 2017

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interest and they lack that specific class articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.

It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention. The result was that the majority of their membership consisted of people who never before had appeared on the political scene. This permitted the introduction of entirely new methods into political propaganda, and indifference to the arguments of political opponents; these movements not only placed themselves outside and against the party system as a whole, they found a membership that had never been reached, never been “spoiled” by the party system. Therefore they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistently preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with other parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”

pg.311-312, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, 1951

DIY Analysis

February 19, 2016

Analysis and theory, can’t find one without the other. Apple’s dictionary defines theory with “a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained” as well as “an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action”. Theory is often disparaged in favor of action or tradition, but even extreme conservatism (“because that’s the way it’s always been done”) is a theory in itself (“an idea used to…justify a course of action”). Sometimes theory is obvious, as in Kent Mallett’s “Land bank to eliminate Second Street eyesore” (2-18-16 Newark Advocate). Mallett quotes Newark Mayor Jeff Hall as saying “The purpose is to put properties back on the tax rolls.” That’s the theory. But wait, elsewhere Mallett writes “After the building has been razed, the vacant land will be sold to nearby business Gutridge Plumbing for $100.” and a little after that “He [Gutridge] said if the vacant building next to the Elks can someday be removed, the open space would be a good spot for a community center.” Does a community center put a property “back on the tax rolls”? Here’s another one for you. “CEO channels Bernie Sanders in opposing AEP and FirstEnergy plans” by Tom Knox for Columbus Business First (2-17-16). It covers the ongoing PUCO petition by AEP and FirstEnergy to bill Ohio electric users for keeping active and maintaining redundant coal fired power plants which are unnecessary and not profitable (kinda like a spare tire or battery, just in case…). Knox quotes competitor Dynergy Inc. CEO Bob Flexon as saying “For the Democrats, Flexon cited a way for Sanders to highlight his frequent and fervent lamenting of the country’s income inequality. “Bern runs around and he talks about how the game is rigged,” Flexon said. “The middle class is getting screwed. And quite honestly, folks, that’s how I feel about these PPAs. These only exist for Wall Street.” PPAs are power purchase agreements, long-term contracts that Ohio utilities American Electric Power Company Inc. and FirstEnergy Corp. want with their subsidiaries to reduce risk and guarantee income.” At the end he quotes him again with ““When Bernie Sanders says the middle class is getting screwed and Wall Street’s winning, this is an example of that,” Flexon said. “That’s what’s happening here and the only way you can fight it is to speak up. I’m going to lose the battle if it’s just Dynegy. We’ve been carrying the sword on this thing, fighting this thing and we’re just getting streamrolled by it.”” Which brings us back to theory, “a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained” as well as “an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action”. Sanders’ theory is the foundation of his presidential wannabeism. It certainly is not “the way it’s always been done”. Flexon’s theorizing about AEP and FirstEnergy’s proposed PPAs inadvertently exposes the more important, underlying theory of democracy (which Flexon appears to share with Sanders). Democracy itself, as a way of governing, is a theory, made possible only by a self governance through the active involvement and engagement of the governed into the affairs of governing (“That’s what’s happening here and the only way you can fight it is to speak up.” Sanders repeats an analogous appeal with all of his stump speeches.) Is AEP and FirstEnergy’s PPA proposal an example of the middle class getting screwed for the benefit of Wall Street? Is the game rigged?