The spread and recent eruptions of dangerous, nihilist politics in the U.S. are the culmination of a decades-long combination of intensifying, inadequately addressed inequality and relentless propagation of anti-government rhetoric and ideology. The warning signs that that combination could be combustible have been apparent for some time to those who would see and attend to the insecurity afflicting America’s workers. Working people in the United States, to an alarming degree, have lost faith in government’s ability to serve their needs. That is an understandable outcome of nearly a half-century of bipartisan government-bashing and attacks on public goods in service to a neoliberal agenda of retrenchment and privatization. If we cannot effectively address working people’s concerns with concrete, plausible programs and initiatives, those dangerous political tendencies are likely to grow in strength.
In our worker-led small-group trainings on the economy and health care reform, conducted primarily with union members, as well as in our other public education initiatives targeting workers and the general public, we at DJDI have recognized that the propaganda effort aimed at undermining faith in government has succeeded too well also in undermining the idea of the public itself. Something like historical amnesia increasingly has blocked from collective memory the fact that government has been a vehicle for improving people’s lives and providing for general security.
Our practical work has shown that reinvigorating the idea of the public – as revaluation of public goods and conviction that public, collective action is an effective domain for policy interventions to make people’s lives better – has to be an element of pursuit of the structural changes we need.
The pandemic has provided greater opportunities for discussion among ourselves and in concert with an affiliated working group of scholars and policy advocates how best to formulate an initiative on education toward the public good and integrating it into DJDI’s practical work program.
Working Group Members:
Jennifer Stepp Breen is Associate Professor of Law, Syracuse University. Her interdisciplinary research explores democratic politics in practice, including the politics of work and immigration.
Sarah Cate is an assistant professor of Political Science at Saint Louis University. Her research focuses on mass incarceration, criminal justice reforms, and political economy.
Merlin Chowkwanyun is an assistant professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University. His research centers on community health, health activism, and environmental health regulation.
Cedric Johnson is an associate professor of black studies and political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research interests include post-segregation black political life, neoliberalization and urban politics.
Gordon Lafer is a political economist and Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon and Research Associate at the Economic Policy Institute.
Willie M. Legette is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at South Carolina State University and Lead Organizer, Medicare for All-South Carolina. His research interests include black politics, southern politics and social policy.
Daniel Moak is an assistant professor of African American Studies at Ohio University. His research focuses on education policy, race, and political economy.
Adolph Reed Jr. is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include American and Afro-American politics and political thought; urban politics, and American political development.
Touré F. Reed is a professor of African American History at Illinois State University. His research interests center on the influence of US political economy on black politics and life.
Dean E. Robinson is an associate professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, at Amherst. His research focuses on health policy, race, and political economy.
Preston H. Smith II is a professor of politics at Mount Holyoke College. His research interests include housing policy, race, and urban redevelopment.
Samir Sonti is an assistant professor at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. His research interests include social and economic policy and labor history.
Mary Summers is a Senior Fellow with the Fox Leadership Program and a lecturer in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work focuses on the politics of food, agriculture, public benefits, education, and service learning.
Kenneth W. Warren is a professor of English at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on black intellectual history and the interrelation of form and politics in American and African American literature.