Who are the 99%: We the People — A Tribute to Ed Schwartz and the Institute for the Study of Civic Values
Amidst the dispersion of local Occupy sites, an open session on civic education, a local community group electronic posting, and some online disappearances conspire for a recovery and renewal.
"The Fate of Civic Education in a Connected World," an open public affairs panel/seminar event sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University on December 5, was notable for the minimal time it spent on things technological and its preoccupation with active, in-the-world learning in contrast to the more traditionally academic approaches to civic education. There were, to be sure, points and comments about the role of the university, departmental offerings and curriculum, but references to learning by doing, service learning and AmeriCorps, and participatory community activism, were more frequent, and the Occupy movement was the most cited event of the night, though the specific occupation most frequently referred to was the Harvard one, not too surprising given that the discussion was taking place a block away, on the north campus on the other side of the Cambridge Street overpass, just east of Mass Ave., across from the Cambridge Commons, in the Austin Hall Law School Building.
The next day, a posting from Brookline PAX, announcing a list of committees just formed to help sustain Occupy Boston and directions on how to become involved, concluded: "For those of you who have wondered 'Who IS the 99%?' here's the answer: …" The blank lines after the colon suggested that one of the committees was focused precisely on answering that question.
And, thinking back to Monday, one could say the answer was, next to references to the Occupy movement, the most frequently cited expression of the night: We the People.
If you ask, who are the 99%, or who IS the 99%, the answer is: The 99% are the People. The People, the people. Whatever the variation, it's We the People, any of the various capitalizing ways that the Preamble to the Constitution begins, as in: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice...
"We the People" has a number of organizational standard bearers and curricular approaches associated with it, of special note being those developed by the Institute for the Study of Civic Values, ISCV.org, an organization and web site only recently removed from active availability, due to infirmities suffered by founder and director Ed Schwartz, but sustained and kept accessible viaarchive.org, at wayback.archive.org/web/*/http://iscv.org directly. Thank goodness for the saving graces of the creators and caretakers of the Wayback Machine that has, if not speedily at least substantially, preserved so much from oblivion.
Pick one of the later ISCV home pages from the indexed list with most of its links preserved. The main website offers a red, white, and mostly blue welcome, just below the flag blowing in the wind, Independence Hall, the Statue of Liberty, and a multitudinous array of side bars and boxed resources whose threads start to emerge… civic education rooted in civic values — with a civic values blog and a civic values campaign, subsites in civic idealism, community, opportunity, and democracy, a myriad of national projects and Philadelphia projects, a blur of links and technology resources, no less than three separate links — in the side bar, mission statement, and national projects description — to the Social Contract Project, helping citizen organizations in Philadelphia and throughout the country define how "we the people" can build communities that "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" and "promote the general welfare."
Ed at the CTC VISTA Project Preservice Orientation in 2005
Ed Schwartz, Edward A. Schwartz, a mid-60's graduate of Oberlin College, Ph.D. in Political Science from Rutgers University, visiting lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple, and Haverford College, has specialized in clarifying the framework of America’s historic civic ideals around "we the people" for scores of years, and he founded ISCV in 1973 specifically as a way to use it to develop new strategies for building community, expanding economic opportunity, and strengthening democracy in Philadelphia and elsewhere across the country. Within three years, the Institute helped build a city-wide Philadelphia Council of Neighborhood Organizations; in 1984 he was elected a City Councilman At Large advocating a "Neighborhood Agenda." Ed later served as the City’s Director of Housing and Community Development, and before becoming Chairman of Philadelphia's Tax Reform Commission in 2003, had returned as full time ISCV Director, developing numerous projects such as a city-wide grassroots neighborhood network to gain better service from city departments, developing "PhillyBlocks" by integrating an online discussion list with community meetings and other traditional organizing methods and setting up the "Neighborhoods Online" Internet portal for neighborhood activists throughout the country. Ed literally wrote the book on using these tools, NetActivism: How Citizens Use the Internet, published by O’Reilly & Associates in 1996.
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The civic education provided through ISCV.org and the life of its founder is an informative combination of traditional academics and participatory community building and learning in the field in a way that builds upon and solidifies the meaning of "We the people" and exemplifies some of the strategic uses of technology in helping democratic rule become a reality.
The intellectual foundations of the Institute are rooted in what certain academics within the discipline of Political Science have referred to as "the Berkeley School of Political Theory," the school of thought that provided a critical yet sympathetic portrait of the new left movement and the campus rebellion and activism that gave it much of its character and definition, a school of 60's radicalism that is distinguished by a reverence for a certain kind of conservativism in contrast to what most radicalism of the day grew out of, a quality exemplified by the inclusion of tributes and resources such as thememorial section for Wilson Carey McWilliams, the Institute's vice president, and his essays on, among other themes, "Values and Politics" and "Justice: Ancient and Modern," offering substantial sections from John Schaar's "The Case for Patriotism," promoting Sheldon Wolin's The Presence of the Past, preserving a major address by Norman Jacobson, "On 'Modernization' in America: A New World Passional." In this, Schwartz not only built on the Berkeley School, he in fact developed one of its most vital depositories and testimonies to its on-going relevance and vitality.
Beyond this, Schwartz's contribution included integrating the Berkeley School with some of its natural allies and collegial schools of thought — found at the strengthening democracy resource site and elsewhere — Robert Bellah and his work in establishing the field of American Civil Religion, Amitai Etzioni and the school of Communitarians, Benjamin Barber and his conception of strong democracy, Robert Putnam and his warnings about isolation and privatization represented by "Bowling Alone," and Saul Alinsky and his contribution to community organizing.
Schwartz added these resources to a classical curriculum on American Political Thought that he updated with a diversity of democratic perspectives developed during the sixties and later. Throughout the pages of ISCV.org there are numerous sidebar riffs, lists of links to key documents and speeches that make up the basic guides to American political life, from the Mayflower Compact through the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers to John Kennedy's Inaugural address on the Civic Education page; from the Preamble to the Constitution to Tocqueville on America's Free Institutions to Barbara Jordan's 1976 Democratic Convention speech on the Civic Values page; from Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, "What is an American?" in Letters from An American Farmer to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation to Martin Luther King's American Dream on the Opportunity page. Gathered up and put in chronological order, they provide a substantial 400 year basic curriculum on America's political life and identity.
Schwartz's curriculum for the American political tradition includes a strong dimension of racial and ethnic diversity, women's movement resources, and radical political organizing. Along with Frederick Douglass's 1852 address on "The Meaning of the 4th of July for the Negro," the Martin Luther King material, Barbara Jordan's 1976 Democratic Convention Keynote, and Barack Obama's Inaugural Address (2008), there are integrated links with LibertyNet's Black History Month page, the Library of Congress's African-American Odyssey, and the African-American History Project. It's got the Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill-sponsored Documenting the American South, Washington State University American Study Program's MultiCultural West site, the Japanese American Network's Asian American Community Links page, and the New York State Library'sHispanic and Latino Web Sites page. Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Address to the First Women's Rights Convention in 1848 (in Seneca Falls, NY, in the news last year for voting to dissolve its village government) and Susan B. Anthony's 1892 speech on "Women's Right to Vote," ISCV online source materials also include The National Women's History Project and National Archives and Records Administration's Resource guide to "Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment."There's a list of key events in U.S. Labor History, a US Labor Study Guide, and Union Songs. Along with the Populist Platform and William Jennings Bryan's Behold a Republic speech — including an audio mp3 excerpt reading of the August 8, 1900 address — there are selections from Saul Alinsky'sReveille for Radicals and Schwartz's own essay on "Caesar Chavez: Leader as Organizer."
The notion of curriculum is prominent with the Institute for the Study of Civic Values. Its resources guides and curricular articles are numerous and include:
- Building Community in the American Tradition — an online manual and discussion guide that uses principles of the Preamble to the Constitution as a civic framework for building community on our blocks and in our neighborhoods.
- Social Contract Project Discussion Guide — for neighborhood leaders and activists to develop social contracts with government and the private sector for broad-based neighborhood improvement.
- Civic Ideals and Modern Institutions — a study guide that examines how we can work to fulfill America's historic ideals through existing institutions.
- "On Teaching Democratic Ideals" — an article that discusses how to use civic values as a framework for examining political issues in America.
- "The Case for Political Education" — an article that calls for a fundamental reconstruction of civic education in America.
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To see how Schwartz has developed these guides and brought all these resources to bear upon active civic education, consider what it means to "build community in the American tradition." The introductory chapter to the guide for this topic — "From 'Me' to 'We the People' — A Civic Framework for Community"— spells out its basic philosophy and approach.
For most of us, the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence summarize what we think of as being distinctly "American" values. "America is the only country in the world that is founded on a creed," G.K. Chesterton observed in What I Saw in America, written around the turn of the century. "That creed is set forth with theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence... It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just." Letters to the Editor defending individual rights and condemning inequality still appear in the nation's newspapers every day. We remain quite clear as to what we expect from America as individuals.
What, however, provides a basis for collective action in this country — what we call "community"? The First Amendment freedom of association is one indication, a protection of our basic right to associate with others in common cause, the "right of people peaceably to assemble," about which Tocqueville observed that the United States was the "only country on the face of the earth where the citizens enjoy unlimited freedom of association for political purposes." But an even stronger, more compelling statement about "we the people" is to be found in the Preamble to the Constitution, along with a more positive statement of principles about our identity and collectivity and creed, the purposes for which we associate. Especially where there are a wide range of differences and diversity among various people, from a neighborhood level on up, the principles of the Preamble, Schwartz encourages us to believe, can form a common framework for civic coming together and action. It can provide answers to the following:
- Who are "we the people" of the neighborhood? What are their backgrounds, their views, their relationships with one another. Do people, in fact, respect one another as equal partners in making the community work?
- What values do you share as citizens that might help you create a "more perfect union?" Especially if the neighborhood is diverse, is a shared commitment to America's civic ideals a sufficient basis for building community among the people who live and work there?
- Is there "domestic tranquility" among the distinct organizations within the neighborhood, or are they in constant conflict with one another? What is the nature of these conflicts? Can they be resolved? On what basis?
- What needs to happen in the neighborhood to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity?" What are the major obstacles to "the blessings of liberty" and how might they be overcome? What specific strategies and programs are needed?
- How can everyone with a stake in the neighborhood be persuaded to "promote the general welfare" as you have defined it? What should individuals, organizations, businesses, agencies, and government be doing to achieve the goals that you have set for yourselves?
What's especially notable about the questions here are the links to the accompanying resources that Schwartz provides. So in looking at the first, questions about "we the people" in your neighborhood or community, there's a mixture of traditional historical resources (e.g., Frederick Douglass' 1841 Independence Day speech and Susan B. Anthony's Women's Right to Vote address in 1892) and links to current information and resource pages to help clarify particular questions — the latest census date retrieval by tract; HUD enforcement of Fair Housing Laws and questions about whether tough enforcement would result in opposition and what this suggests about your neighborhood's attitudes about "we the people"; the overview of the Americans with Disability Act and a question about people with physical or mental disabilities; the ACLU on the Rights of Lesbians and Gays and a question about people with varied sexual orientation.
In fact, it's precisely these latter resources and the practical community organizing efforts behind them that are the point of the Institute's existence and purpose. For Ed Schwartz and the Institute, it isn't a case of academic or in-the-field practice, but the combination of the two, a combination that results in active community building and political organizing.
In moving "From Community Theory to Democratic Practice," as Schwartz titles one of his articles, it is, finally, the practical application of the Institute's radical democratic theory that marks its distinctiveness. The citywide Philadelphia Council of Neighborhood Organizations (PCNO) it helped build "spearheaded major campaigns for neighborhood involvement in community development, transportation planning, economic development, and education." Benefitting from the way the party system operates in the city, with 69 wards and more than 1700 voting divisions, PCNO elected a significant group of committee representatives in the Democratic Party ward system, and it was the widespread and targeted participation of those behind the "Neighborhood Agenda" that led to substantial rehabilitation and development and Schwartz's election to the City Council in 1984. His later tenure as the City's Director of Housing and Community Development (1987-92) saw the rehabilitation of more than 3,500 houses and the beginning of most of the city's leading community development corporations. His return to the Institute in the 90's witnessed, among other projects, the development of a welfare-to-work community service jobs program known as “PhillyCorps,” a youth urban affairs arts program ("YouthRAP"), and “UrbanVoters Campaign” that increase voter participation by at least 15% in more than 250 voting divisions in the city.
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In moving from community theory to democratic practice in the early-mid 90's, Ed Schwartz found that many of the limitations on political organizing — accessing information quickly and easily, sharing information and ideas in a timely fashion, holding collective discussions at a distance — could be met with emerging technology tools and technology-based community organizations and networks.
Like ISCV, these institutions, too, are now accessible only via archive.org, where one can seephillyneighborhoods.org, established for local communication and organizing, andneighborhoodsonline.net, for national ties and connections, reflecting some of the earliest bringing together of political theory, community organizing, and technology usage, an integration spelled out in NetActivism: How Citizens Use the Internet in 1996.
NetActivism reflects the enthusiasm, excitement, and energy associated with the initial burst of activity supporting prospects and possibilities in using technology for community organizing and democratic renewal in this emerging arena at its point of origin fifteen years ago. The book is still vital, especially in its later sections on neighborhoods, virtual politics, concluding chapter —"We the People."
Ed foresaw how the explosion of available information — and there would be lots more to come — created a glut of questionable usefulness, and he demonstrated time and again how to find and present it in useful ways, reflecting the primary concerns of neighborhood and community organizations.
He reminded us about the centrality of politics, beginning with a critique of the curious twist to the attitude of a number of activist groups involved at the neighborhood level, those who want to influence government, but avoid politics," an attitude, Schwartz tells us, that is nothing short of a disaster. "First, anyone who thinks you can divorce politics from government is just fooling himself… Second, contempt for politicians leads to defeat… Third, avoiding politics protects the powerful from the powerless. The only thing that pleases a politician more than the support of friends is the non-involvement of his enemies." So Schwartz pointed to and linked with a number of organizations and projects that were providing models and leadership in the mid-90's and examples of ways to extend political participation.
Finally, the online projects Ed and the Institute were involved with were all collaborations. In Philadelphia community organizing-Internet activist efforts were undertaken in partnership with LibertyNet, the city's regional community network; NonProfit Technology Resources, established to provide technology support groups in the city along with free or low-cost recycled equipment; and other volunteer and support programs that extended technology training and access to those ordinarily disenfranchised from its benefits, at libraries and community technology centers, places supported by federal Technology Opportunities Program and AmeriCorps program grants.
In the closing chapter of NetActivism, "We, the People," Schwartz summarizes all the lessons about what can and should be done.
Using the Internet for political empowerment is…about building discussion lists of activists from all over the country who share the same goals and want to work together to achieve them. It's about being able to keep track of government programs and pending legislation even if they don't appear in the newspapers every day… It's about creating networks among organizers in their own neighborhoods and communities who go online to maintain contact with each other even when they're not in a position to meet.
"The Internet empowers us when it expands the range of partnerships available to us and enables us to work together on behalf of common goals." And the key partnerships, Schwartz tells us, are with Internet/Activists, service providers, software developers, and policy advocates who are the de facto proprietors of the Net, with a program of universal access tied to an expansion of libraries and community technology centers, Internet Activist Support Centers, networked with community groups, organizers, and activists, those who are rooted in their neighborhoods and communities, especially those who are rooted in decidedly politicalways, connected to the government and its full range of public services, budgets, and programs.
It's as concise a statement of the promise of the community technology movement and guide for building it as the mid-90's period of its revolutionary explosion and growth provided and still holds lessons for today.
The vitality of phillyneighborhoods.org was rooted in important ways in the still-active Phillyblocks yahoogroup discussion list, as busy as ever, with almost 1,000 members, an exemplary model of neighborhood and community exchange that has retained its political focus. The extensive and detailed listing of resources in neighborhoodsonline.net includes a still-active network of historically-rooted organizational links in the community building and community organizing resource world — e.g., Comm-Org: the On-Line Conference on Community Organizing, the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, Everyday Democracy, the Center for Community Change, the Asset-Based Community Development Institute, the National Civic League, the Center for Civic Partnerships, the Wade Rathke Chief Organizer Blog, the Highlander Research and Education Center, the Midwest Academy,the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, and idealist.org — and these are ones just from neighborhood online's Organizing link.
Schwartz had an opportunity to update his work in "NetActivism 2001: How Citizens Use the Internet" in Advocacy, Activism, and the Internet, edited by Steven Hick and John McNutt, with a foreward by Noam Chomsky. A great deal had happened in five years. The problem with e-mail — "still the most powerful online tool for activism" — had transitioned "from receiving no e-mail at all to dealing with an e-mail glut that is a major challenge for us to manage." The case no longer needed to be made that the Internet could be useful for community organizing and building. MoveOn's petition on the impeachment debate — two million emails and a quarter million phone calls to Congress to censure President Clinton and then "move on" — had come to stand as the "undisputed watershed in the use of the Internet to empower citizens in the political process." Online campaigns around specific issues — "flash campaigns" — with online petitions targeted to elected officials who are appropriate to receive them (e.g., only from their own constituents), with periodic reports back to supporters to help build a responsive, active membership were among the rule early in the new millennium — all this before the rise of social media.
In 2005 and 2006 Ed Schwartz was able to both influence and refine his grasp of community technology in his capacity as community organizing priority area coordinator for the CTC VISTA Project. There's a video of Ed's preservice orientation presentation where he provides an overview on using the web for communication, information, and organizing, and coverage about Ed's work here in Danielle Martin's summary overview that includes links to the top ten web sites Ed uses that show "how information can be reorganized for local organizing purposes, including demonstrating the local extent and effect of budget cuts in federal programs that often seem so distant and unrelated to actual lives" and a summary of articles on "Community Organizing and Development in the Community Technology Review" from 2002-05.
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The neighborhood movement is hardly languishing. Far from it. In the Boston metropolitan area, there are no less than five multi-neighborhood, multi-community information, communication, and news networks: the wickedlocal.com sites of the Community Newspaper Company; the AOL-supported Patch.com network; the Knight Foundation-funded Boston Globeproject to develop and expand its local offerings; the community sites supported by SocialCapitalInc.org; the Boston-wide neighborsforneighbors.org.
Ed Schwartz offered numerous warnings about the apolitical dimension of most neighborhood organizing; those established by corporate sources have modest community development ambitions and no claims to be community organizing forces at all; the more genuine community oriented efforts can still benefit from this lesson.
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The advantage of the ISCV's website aesthetic —the poor design with its busy-ness, clutter, font selection, thick text boxes without padding, stock clip art, color and composition — is that it encourages one to consider alternatives that integrate and take account of the radically diverse dimensions of its content, to imagine a presentation of transformed fonts, spacing, formatting, color, and design. Consider the possibilities with its maps, images, audio, and multimedia expanded and differently integrated — Schwartz did moderate a monthly radio program of town meetings on issues of democracy from Philosophical Hall that won the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters' Award as the Best Public Affairs Program of the Year in 1993 — he was a multi-media producer before the concept developed — his work merits a design that provides a sense of movement, a new organization and guide to content that incorporates and conveys its democratic depth and diversity.
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"For those of you who have wondered 'Who IS the 99%?' here's the answer: …" The insertion link/information that the Brookline PAX memo had intended to provide after the colon was to a descending listing of income percentiles showing that the top 1% consists of those whose yearly income is $507K and above, taken from a Wall Street Journal article and blog site that let's you enter a household income and find its percentage ranking. But perhaps more is called for and these things might be useful yet.
The Occupation in downtown Boston at Dewey Square across from the Federal Reserve and South Station was cleared out later that week. On December 17, the Boston Globe announced that Occupy Harvard would begin removing tents on Monday, calling it "a transition, not a retrenchment." The Berkman Center is giving the Occupy movement good attention in places beyond the civic education forum, the December 16 Berkman Buzz featuring Sasha Costanza-Chock surveying Occupy demonstrators worldwide and Dan Gillmor exploring Big Media and the Occupy movement.
Among the myriad directions that the Occupations are now moving out into, perhaps some will take a more in-depth look at the Institute for the Study of Civic Values resources for considering the 99% as "We the People." After all, one of its projects isfreeschooluniversity.org — "Occupy Your Mind" — with its link to other Occupy Boston working groups and its wiki. And the Declaration of Occupation does begin: "We, the people…"
Peter Miller (email@example.com) edited the Community Technology Review from 1994-2005; he has been a contributor to Open Media Boston, with pieces on the Grassroots Use of Technology Conference X, the Journal of New Organizing, and this year's National Media Reform Conference in Boston. His essay on "Carl Davidson: From SDS and The Guardian, tocyRev and CyberRadicalism for the 21st Century" was recently published by Comm-Org, the Online Conference on Community Organizing.