I have two principles which drive my actions in the political/policy sphere: citizen voice and democratic engagement. It is very useful to have principles which inform decision making, if for no other reason than that the existence of principles tends to confuse bad actors, who tend to be un-principled. They don’t understand what makes you tick.
Principles also provide a filter to evaluate policy. When examining education or union policy, I have a two part test: 1) Does this empower teacher voice? 2) Does this enhance democratic engagement of teachers and other stakeholders such as parents and students? If something can pass this test I’m all ears. If not, it’s time for push back.
The development of voice means helping others grow a capacity for advocacy and activism. This can mean learning to speak in public, to write for publication, to make phone calls, to knock on doors – the nuts and bolts take many forms.
Democratic engagement looks like people simply taking interest, acting with passion and commitment about the issues which affect their lives. Cynicism and disengagement, the sense that nothing can be done, that bad policy is inevitable and must be suffered silently, is a path to totalitarianism.
The beauty of this approach is that it is relatively content neutral. I don’t worry so much about what your voice advocates because it is more important that you are engaged. Engagement is critical to great public policy because it brings information to the table. Decisions based on incomplete or degraded information tend to have negative consequences.
Of course if you advocate a Grover Norquist style drown-the-government nihilism you don’t have a place at the table because you are trying to burn it. You are a vandal.
While I am a denizen of the political left, I appreciate real old-fashioned conservatives, the ones who advocate for great policy from the perspective of individual freedom, personal responsibility and sound fiscal management. I share those values too – I just have different beliefs about how they should play out. There is common ground.
The cacophony of a democratically engaged citizenry is messy and inconvenient. Sort of like a Vermont town meeting. Too bad. Get over it. Great public policy requires the participation of the public. As it says in The Declaration of Independence:
“….Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”
What principles guide your actions?