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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.