Saturday, August 16, 2008

Things I wish I'd said

During campaign seasons, I work with community groups that are trying to ensure that the people they organize find a way to make their concerns heard in elections. They aim to leverage the fact they have organized memberships, people, to make sure the politicians listen; and they take advantage of the opportunity elections offer to talk with people who might want to join them in working for community friendly policies.

Trouble is, too often, folks who work in these groups have struggled very hard to learn how to deal with policy wonks, government bureaucrats, and funders -- and in the process they've forgotten how to talk the language of the people they want to mobilize. So they use language like:
  • "single payer health care"
  • "affordable housing set-asides"
  • or even the fuzzy notion of "high quality jobs".
The targets of their persuasion too often just scratch their heads. What was it that nice young girl who came to the door was talking about?

Theda Skocpol, in a review of an economics book I probably will never get around to reading, says the same problem afflicts national Democratic policy makers who aim to use government to advance economic equality.

But since the 1960s, working-aged, working-class voters have not had the benefit of ... visible, easy-to-grasp support from the U.S. federal government. When it occurs at all, redistribution for them often takes the form of opaque budgetary or tax measures such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or subsidized bank loans to college students.

Arguably, the U.S. federal government has done little in recent times for average non-elderly Americans, and what little it has done is often hard to decipher without advice from a tax attorney. The problem, in short, may not be as much citizen myopia as timid and opaque government, not to mention wimpy Democrats.

No wonder we don't think government will do anything for us. Even the good politicians, the ones whose programs really might help, have not managed to make their programs visible, felt, and understandable. So folks don't even know they exist.

EITC, wassat?


joared said...

Often it is all about language which I came to realize long ago. I continue to stress the same if we hope to change cultural perceptions of aging and those on other issues. Continue your efforts to aid others to shape their language to their listener.

Kay Dennison said...

You have this right! And it isn't only young, educated mothers feeling the pain!!!!

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