We the People Politics: The Populist Promise of Deliberative Public Work


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In this Kettering Foundation report, Harry Boyte argues that it is crucial to recover and expand on a politics of deliberation and public work, with deep roots in the populist tradition, if Americans are to re-create civic agency and turn around the sense that we are losing control over our collective future.  “We the People” politics, or civic agency politics, involves people’s capacities to work collectively and reflectively across differences to cope with common problems and to build a democratic life together, capacities long of central concern to the Kettering Foundation. Such populist politics has formed an important—if now partly forgotten—alternative both to state-centered technocratic approaches and to the unbridled market in American history, stretching from farmers’ self-education and cooperative movements of the 19th century to efforts to build educational cultures of civic learning and empowerment in our time. We the People politics returns us to the insight of the Constitutions’ Preamble, that “we the people” create government as a meeting ground and an instrument of our common life, neither the problem nor the solution to our challenges. In We the People politics citizens play central roles as co-creators of democracy, rather than appearing only in supporting roles as volunteers, consumers, victims, voters, or protestors. The report includes a foreword by David Mathews, president of the Kettering Foundation.

Harry C. Boyte is founder and codirector of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship based at Augsburg College and a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute.

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Theory and Practice

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