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Civic responses to Newtown

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Over at his blog, CIRCLE director Peter Levine looks at the tragic Newtown school shooting and discusses some of the different kinds of civic responses that are available. “Addressing a brutal threat together,” he notes, “is civic work that can help repair the torn fabric.” And there are many ways that citizens can come together and engage in this important work of self governance.

He writes:

One approach is grassroots mobilization in favor of some particular reform, such as gun control legislation. I don’t think serious reforms can pass without mass protest and advocacy. This approach would be divisive, but as long as it is peaceful, there is nothing “un-civic” about divisive politics. Debate and competition are good for democracy. [...]

A second approach is to deliberate about the issues that Newtown has put on the national agenda. By definition, a deliberation is open to all people and all views. Thus a deliberative response would welcome both gun opponents and gun supporters. It would not aim at perfect consensus but might generate mutual trust, good new ideas, and perhaps enough political will to enact them. [...]

Note that “naming and framing” an issue like this is difficult and important work. Kevin Drum wrote a post entitled, “If You Want to Regulate Guns, Talk About Guns. Period.” The President, however, tried to broaden the topic to children’s safety (which is much worse in inner-city neighborhoods than in suburban schools, but for different reasons). Even though Drum and Obama are on the same general side politically, they named this issue differently. There is no single correct name, but the [Deliberative Democracy Consortium's] guide would give many people points of entry. [...]

A third approach is to strengthen civil society to reduce violence. I have blogged several times already about Robert Sampson’s Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect. Sampson finds that “collective efficacy”–having a reasonable expectation that neighbors will act to address local problems–powerfully predicts whether neighborhoods thrive or decline. In turn, the strength of nonprofit groups and the number of well-connected leaders powerfully affects the level of collective efficacy. [...]

[A]ll these efforts (and more) can happen at once. The vision and effort they would require would itself be an appropriate civic response to Newtown.

Obviously, the approaches that Levine highlights are not limited to civic action regarding Newtown; they can be applied to many civic problems, from neighborhood crime to your community’s schools. Read the rest of the post here.

AEI