If you read some major media outlets, you may hear an endless chorus of complaints about how the little person will always lose to powerful moneyed interests. “America is not a democracy,” thunders Yascha Mounk, in the Atlantic magazine. “The levers of power are not controlled by the people,” says the professor whose website touts himself as “one of the world’s leading experts on the crisis of liberal democracy and the rise of populism.” Except that, done right, citizen advocacy is alive and well in America.
For example: A classic case of citizen advocacy produced a solution to a common exercise in today’s communities: what to do when a property developer wants to use land in a way that the surrounding community doesn’t like? In Issaquah, Washington, east of Seattle, three residents with no political experience went head-to-head against a local property developer with deep roots in their community. The result? The community has a new park, the developer “has no animus” and walked away with a satisfactory amount of money, and lots of Americans have a new understanding of the power of advocacy to affect public policy.
Their tools? As the Seattle Times says: “an army of supporters, a nearly endless string of meetings, and an 84-foot scroll of signatures.”
A glass half-full/half-empty problem, with the definition depending on perspective? Perhaps. But it’s just as likely that the problem, as defined by Prof. Mounk and others, is that their favored solutions are not, in fact, as popular or as legitimate as they think. Not that they are worse or better, but that their proponents choose force, including the use of government power to limit and mandate actions, rather the classic American forms of persuasion and education.
In other words, advocacy. Classic. It works. Still.