Synopses & Reviews
Chronic unemployment, deindustrialized cities, and mass incarceration are among the grievous social problems that will not yield unless American citizens address them.
Peter Levine's We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For is a primer for anyone motivated to help revive our fragile civic life and restore citizens' public role. After offering a novel theory of active citizenship, a diagnosis of its decline, and a searing critique of our political institutions, Levine-one of America's most influential civic engagement activists-argues that American citizens must address our most challenging issues. People can change the norms and structures of their own communities through deliberative civic action. He illustrates rich and effective civic work by drawing lessons from YouthBuild USA, Everyday Democracy, the Industrial Areas Foundation, and many other civic groups. Their organizers invite all citizens-including traditionally marginalized people, such as low-income teenagers-to address community problems. Levine explores successful efforts from communities across America as well as from democracies overseas. He shows how cities like Bridgeport, CT and Allentown, PA have bounced back from the devastating loss of manufacturing jobs by drawing on robust civic networks. The next step is for the participants in these local efforts to change policies that frustrate civic engagement nationally.
Filled with trenchant analysis and strategies for reform, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For analyzes and advocates a new citizen-centered politics capable of tackling problems that cannot be fixed in any other way.
"Political philosopher and activist Levine (The Future of Democracy) argues that global problems can best be addressed by a targeted increase in deliberative democracy and citizen action. But the U.S. is currently marked by a decline in civic engagement, Levine notes, resulting largely from structural changes since the mid 20th century that have eroded many working-class organizations. Wielding an impressive command of research and statistics, as well as finer points of moral and political philosophy, Levine's discussion of the benefits and contours of public engagement draw on lucid analogies and real-world examples (like the annual budget summits convened by Washington, D.C., mayor Anthony Williams, which empowered groups of citizens to deliberate on an area of central import to the whole community). Throughout, the message is that deliberative action among diverse networks of citizens goes beyond injecting public influence into the formal policy apparatus. The necessary goal, Levine writes, 'is to democratize the whole process of shaping our common world.' Free market libertarians and others wary of civic engagement especially where it impinges on market forces or the operation of business will raise objections, although Levine anticipates these arguments to some degree. Broad in scope yet eminently practical, this book should be an enduring contribution to the study of democratic theory and social action." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Wielding an impressive command of research and statistics, as well as finer points of moral and political philosophy, Levine's discussion of the benefits and contours of public engagement draw on lucid analogies and real-world examples..Broad in scope yet eminently practical, this book should be an enduring contribution to the study of democratic theory and social action." --Publishers Weekly
"Peter Levine is a remarkable asset-a scholar whose research is rigorous and unflinching but whose passion for democracy brims with optimism and engagement. In this book, he catalogues all the ways our institutional systems discourage engagement among citizens. But he finds and lifts up a million people doing civic work for a better world, and asks us to join and harness that energy for real change. It's clear-eyed and a clarion call-and a must read whether you're a full time advocate or 'just' a citizen hoping to make a difference." --Miles Rapoport, President, Demos
"We know what it means to get better leaders. But how are we supposed to produce better citizens? That's the question Peter Levine brings into focus. If the examples he describes can spur the one million most active citizens into a movement for civic renewal, we will all benefit from communities that are more deliberative, more collaborative, and more engaged." --Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
"In an America now rife with inequality, institutionalized corruption, a jobless recovery and more prisoners than any other country, many sense that we stand at a nadir of democracy. With inspiring erudition, Levine points to an unlikely solution: the people themselves. Drawing from experiences from schools in Washington, D.C. to neighborhoods in San Antonio, he develops a pragmatic approach to civic revitalization that builds upon developments in organizing, deliberation, civic education, and public service, but goes far beyond any of these to reach for an ambitious vision of participatory democracy. He asks us to join the emerging civic movement he describes, and we all should." --Archon Fung, Ford Foundation Professor of Citizenship and Democracy, Harvard Kennedy School
"As America has wallowed through an unprecedented decline in civic engagement, Peter Levine has been a lighthouse warning of the dangers of civic alienation. Now, he makes the encouraging case that although we will live for a while with the consequences of past mistakes, the worst of the storm is over. Professor Levine concludes with ten common sense strategies that can energize the people and their governmental institutions while preparing a new generation of Americans with the values and competencies to sustain our reinvigorated democracy." --Bob Graham, United States Senator (1986-2004)
America's most serious social problems require citizen action. Traditional civic organizations have shrunk and weakened; the government ignores and sometimes frustrates constructive civic engagement. But Americans have been experimenting with new forms of active citizenship, mostly at the grassroots level. Their experiments are deliberative, convening diverse citizens to discuss goals and strategies without ideological constraints. They are collaborative, involving actual work that builds and sustains public institutions and creates public goods. And by talking and working together, these citizens build civic relationships, which are marked by virtues such as loyalty, respect, and hope.
Peter Levine is a philosopher who has been engaged with such civic renewal efforts for twenty years as a theorist, an empirical researcher and evaluator, and a participant. In this book, he offers an original theory of civic engagement, informed by political philosophy and practical experiments. He critically examines public policies that have discounted citizenship and corrupted the relationship between citizens and the state. He assembles evidence that recent efforts to renew citizenship have engaged at least one million Americans and have made tangible improvements in communities and institutions. He ends with a strategy to turn the scattered efforts at civic engagement into a broad movement for civic renewal that will tackle America's most serious social problems.
About the Author
is Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs in the Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University and Director of The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). He is the author most recently of Reforming the Humanities: Literature and Ethics from Dante through Modern Times
and The Future of Democracy: Developing the Next Generation of American Citizens
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Overview: The Public and Our Problems
Chapter 2: How to Think About Politics: Values, Facts, and Strategies
Chapter 3: Values: Collaboration, Deliberation, and Civic Relationships
Chapter 4: Values: The Limits of Expertise, Ideology, and Markets
Chapter 5: Facts: The State of American Democracy
Chapter 6: Facts: A Civic Renewal Movement Emerges
Chapter 7: Strategies: How to Accomplish Civic Renewal
A Note on the Title of this Book