Reduce Police Brutality Through Community-Building

Mar 2, 2015Andrew Lindsay

Efforts that connect police to the community in which they serve help to reduce encounters that lead to extrajudicial killings by police.

Efforts that connect police to the community in which they serve help to reduce encounters that lead to extrajudicial killings by police.

In Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony, he describes Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, as a “demon.” After he fired the first shot, Wilson says he heard a “grunting, like aggravated sound” coming from the teenager. He explains, “You could tell he was looking through you. There was nothing he was seeing.” After firing 12 rounds, Wilson eventually shot Brown in the head, killing him.

In a 911 report, a caller related that someone, possibly a child was pointing “a pistol” at random people in a Recreation Center. The caller clarified that the gun was “probably fake.” According to the responding officers, they approached 12-year-old Tamir Rice, ordering him to hold up his hands. Tamir reached to his waistband and grasped a bb gun. In a matter of seconds, one of the officers fired two shots, fatally hitting Rice once in the torso. Footage was released of the officers tackling the bereaved 14-year-old sister of Rice after they shot her 12-year-old brother. Rice’s mother said that a friend had given him the toy gun to play with minutes before the police arrived.

In these descriptions we see fewer teenagers and more vicious animals. Many extrajudicial killings of Black people share similar dehumanizing stories. Policy makers and community members need to shift this pervasive negative narrative. Micro-place community policing is one solution.

In vulnerable communities, high rates of gang violence and high rates of police bias come hand in hand. Between 1991 and 2013, there were on average approximately 400 police killings reported to the FBI from local police. Out of all these incidents reported annually, an average of 96 per year involved a white police officer killing a black person. In contrast, there were no fatal police shootings in Great Britain in 2013. In Canada, cases of ‘justifiable homicide’ hover around a dozen annually. These figures reveal a disturbing propensity for US police officers to use deadly force and a high potential for racial bias in shoot/don’t shoot scenarios.

Project Longevity in Connecticut, Operation Ceasefire in Boston, and lesser-known initiatives in Chicago and Cincinnati are organize to reduce the homicide victimization and gang violence among young people in these areas, with the help of local law enforcement and community partners. However, these programs also have unseen potential to increase police-community relationships and humanize black lives in the eyes of law enforcement. Community members not only patrol with police but also are considered equal partners.

Project Longevity is a community-oriented policing strategy to reduce gang violence in three of Connecticut’s major cities: New Haven, Bridgeport, and Hartford. It is modeled after successful efforts implemented by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and Operation Ceasefire: Boston Gun Project. Connecticut has seen dramatic declines in police and civilian violence after the initial implementation of this program.

Project Longevity directs federal and state spending to the most vulnerable communities in these cities with the purpose of steering at-risk youth and repeat offenders away from violence. A broad array of social services (housing, educational opportunities, addiction and mental/health care) are offered to those who want to end the cycle of community violence and gang activity – with the option of “receiv[ing] the full attention of the law” the next time any crime occurs.

Longevity combines social services, law enforcement, and community involvement to target crime and positively influence dynamics between residents and the police. Key to this strategy is a quarterly “call-in,” an intervention that combines local, state, and federal level law enforcement; community members; service providers; parents; and members of the clergy.

According to Tiana Hercules, “They speak to these young men and in some cases young women at the call-in and explain to them the consequences of further gun violence in the city of Hartford. Essentially, the message is put the guns down or the next body that drops in the city or person to get shot is going to receive the full focus of law attention. And not only yourself, but also those who you run with.” Violent crime in Connecticut’s three big cities after Project Longevity has decreased nearly 15 percent and crime in the state has decreased 10 percent, twice the national average. Longevity is credited with half of this overall cut in statewide violent crime.

The problem of police brutality in the United States is one of police accountability, but not in the conventional understanding of the term. The typical hypothesis is that once law enforcement is vigorously policed they will be held to a higher standard, decreasing the likelihood of police excess. This is the motivation behind the Obama administration’s $75 million push for mounted body cameras nationwide. Perhaps if Darren Wilson were monitored, he would not have so easily killed Mike Brown, or so the story goes. However, history teaches us that this conventional way of policing the police may be misplaced. In the trial of LAPD officers who beat Rodney King in 1991, videotape evidence was argued away because it did not present the full picture. This year, apparently indisputable video was refuted in the recent police killings of Eric Garner and John Crawford.

Instead of external accountability, police officers need to develop a greater sense personal accountability to the vulnerable in communities where they serve. This need for personal accountability stems from a racial and spatial separation that keeps communities and police isolated. This gap reinforces the biases that keep youth like Mike Brown and Tamir Rice dehumanized by the very people tasked with their protection. Programs that put law enforcement and communities in greater contact should be encouraged.  There is no better policing mechanism than one’s conscience. Working closely with residents provides information that can prevent dangerous encounters with police, simply by police intimately knowing community members and their families. More importantly, these programs humanize members of vulnerable communities to law enforcement. Darren Wilson was wrong. There are no demons, just police officers isolated from communities.

Andrew Lindsay, a 2015 Truman Scholarship Finalist in Massachusetts, is a junior at Amherst College, where he is an active member of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and studies Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought.

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Daily Digest - February 20: Teach Civic Engagement, Not Just Citizenship

Feb 20, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

College as a Catalyst for Civic Engagement (Medium)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

College as a Catalyst for Civic Engagement (Medium)

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member Zach Lipp builds on a recent column by Frank Bruni, arguing that liberal education should develop the skills of civic engagement, not just citizenship.

Walmart Is Giving Raises. Walmart Is Feeling the Pressure. (Gawker)

Walmart hasn't decided to raise its wages to be nice, says Hamilton Nolan. Rather, it's a sign that Walmart is giving in to the ongoing campaigns by low-wage workers, who will win.

The Gig Economy Won't Last Because It's Being Sued to Death (Fast Company)

Sarah Kessler looks at these lawsuits, which center around the question of defining workers as independent contractors or employees, and how that question is changing the gig economy already.

Why Counting America’s Homeless is Both Imperative and Imperfect (Fusion)

Susie Cagle illustrates and writes about the 2015 homeless count in San Francisco, explaining how the homeless count works, why it's done, and what she encountered.

Hospital To Nurses: Your Injuries Are Not Our Problem (NPR)

Daniel Zwerdling looks at one hospital in North Carolina that has a history of dismissing nurses' cases for medical bills and workers' compensation when they are injured on the job.

A Whistleblower's Horror Story (Rolling Stone)

Speaking to the whistleblower from Countrywide Financial, Matt Taibbi says the lack of punishment beyond fines for companies could disincline future whistleblowers from coming forward.

New on Next New Deal

Four Ways to Prune a Rose: Why the NYT Missed the Mark on the Inequality Debate

Eric Bernstein, a program associate at the Roosevelt Institute, explains why a study that claims inequality isn't rising was framed and conducted incorrectly and should be dismissed.

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Roosevelt Reacts: What Else Did We Need From the 2015 State of the Union?

Jan 23, 2015

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network members and alumni weigh in on President Obama's sixth State of the Union address.

Brett Dunn, University of Alabama '17:

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network members and alumni weigh in on President Obama's sixth State of the Union address.

Brett Dunn, University of Alabama '17:

In the face of strong Republican opposition, President Obama made his stance on many controversial topics quite clear. He outlined his views on topics such as the minimum wage, equal pay for women, LGBTQ+ rights, tax reform and more. These bold and somewhat ambitious goals for change in 2015 will require bipartisan compromise in Congress. It is likely, however, that there will be little correlation between President Obama’s bold vision for the future of the United States and Congress’ actions in the final two years of his presidency. No matter how wonderful or ambitious President Obama’s plans are for the country, the likelihood of any these issues being independently addressed by a Republican controlled Congress is very slim. Yet the president’s plans do not fall on deaf ears. President Obama’s speech gives Democrats in Congress and, more importantly, the American public, ammunition against the Republican’s inevitable inaction, which could potentially help set the stage for the 2016 election.

Chisolm Allenlundy, University of Alabama '16:

It was difficult to miss the amount of politics that happened on Tuesday at President Obama’s next-to-last State of the Union address. What might have been easy to miss, however, was the meaning of it all.

President Obama knows that his days of passing game-changing progressive legislation are over. This is a common position for 4th-quarter presidents to find themselves in, and Obama did exactly what such presidents do when they can no longer effectively push for policy change: they push for culture change.

But most Americans don’t watch the political process so much as they hear about it from media sources, which put their own spin on material. According to consumer watch company Nielson, 31.7 million people tuned in for the SOTU, and even that figure is at a 15-year low. While the president has attempted to set the direction for progressive politics for the next year, policy change will be a struggle, and he needs to reach many more Americans to steer the course on our political culture. 

Tarsi Dunlop, Middlebury College '09:

Middle class economics played a key role in the President’s 2015 State of the Union. He explained that middle class economics is about the policies needed for average American families to get ahead. These policies aren’t handouts, but they make daily life better, easier, more fulfilling. For example, what if students could graduate from K-12 with good grades and know they had the option of going to community college without the staggering cost of debt? Granted, there are certain investments that must be made to make sure that community colleges are, as an institution, prepared for the role the President wants them to serve for our nation’s youth.

The President also touched on other elements of middle class economics: key policy proposals that will help young people, new families, and the elderly. He emphasized affordable day care (right now monthly costs can run higher than a mortgage payment), as well as paid family leave and sick leave. Families shouldn’t have to choose between time with new babies and paid work, nor between working and staying home with a sick child. We need a vision and a budget to help the middle class thrive and it was great to hear concrete proposals in the President’s speech.

Hayley Brundige, University of Tennessee, Knoxville '17:

Obama's State of the Union Address illustrated just how far we still have to go in the fight for gender equality. I was ecstatic when Obama asserted that the right to quality childcare and paid maternity and sick leave are not just “women's issues” — as they are often brushed aside as — but a “national economic priority.” But in the back of my mind, I was dismayed that this concept that is so obviously a human right is still so far from being obvious to our elected officials. 

Noticeably missing from the speech was any mention of preventing sexual assault, especially on college campuses. This was particularly surprising seeing as the administration has made this issue a point of focus recently, creating a White House task force on sexual assault and investigating colleges for Title IX violations. Obama even had a readily supplied anecdote, as campus activist and sexual assault survivor Emma Sulkowicz was literally in the audience. As a college student, I applaud Obama's efforts to make community college more accessible, but it's disheartening for him to not address the importance of keeping our campuses safe. No president on record has discussed sexual assault in a State of the Union address.

Zachary Agush, Wheaton College '12:

Over the years, President Obama has always integrated personal stories into his annual State of the Union addresses to paint a visual about the troubles individuals may be facing or to explain how a certain effort can help spark further growth and development for others. I have always considered that a major strength. This year’s speech focused in particular on young families. The President knows that the new generation is quickly becoming the majority of the nation's population and that the lingering inequalities and economic hardships will definitely make it increasingly difficult for them to have the quality of life they desire. This generation is also going to struggle to maintain Social Security and Medicare for those entering these safety net programs in the coming decade. I think those stories in particular hit some members of Congress, even those of the new Republican majority, that something needs to be done to at least give the next generation a chance at success. I am cautiously optimistic that something may happen - but it will only happen if this Congress can actually stop and think about how their gridlock is directly affecting the next generation. Maybe then, there can be progress.

Sarah Hilton, Wheaton College '16:

President Obama made huge strides for education policy on Tuesday night; even raising the issue of rising college tuition is a positive step forward. However, the President hardly mentioned the K-12 system. He praised rising graduation rates and higher test scores then ever before, but ignored the staggering inequality and lack of student performance when compared internationally. Obama’s two-year community college plan, while economically beneficial for the middle class, shows that our base expectations for education continue to require more time and expense.

The focus instead should be on improving the K-12 system we already have by creating more diverse programs that train students for a variety careers from academic to vocational. Today, about half of students begin community college in remedial classes. We should be making our high schools more effective at reaching students. Vocational training for profitable and interesting jobs can be done in high school, and academic programs should be strengthen to reduce the need for remedial classes in community colleges. Strengthening the underlying K-12 system and increasing vocational training would have an earlier impact on our students’ lives.

Jas Johl, University of California, Berkeley '08:

The main rhetorical touch point for the state of the union was 'middle class economics.' Throughout the address, Obama repeatedly turned to that concept, presenting policy ideas designed to bolster it.  Of paramount importance to the ongoing success of middle class, he argued, would be to make the first two years of community college free for all. This proposal does address some of the symptoms of growing economic inequality, namely rising student debt. Nonetheless, it overlooks the underlying, systemic issues at the core of the problem: the broken state of our current education system. 

As The Institute for College Access & Success and the Brookings Institute have both argued, the majority of those attending community college are already getting their tuition covered through Pell Grants and other means of financial support. I’d argue the more pressing issue is the fact that many of the students who enroll in community colleges are ill-prepared for 4-year universities, and spend the first two years of college taking remedial college (read: high school) courses that they didn't do well in or even pass the first time. Free college doesn’t help a student who isn’t ready for it.

Obama makes the very valid point that making those colleges free would assuage the financial burden of a large number of young adults, and likely precipitate a better-prepared workforce. But a glaring absence in the president's speech was acknowledgement of the fundamental cracks in our institutions, namely, our already free K-12 educational system. Real middle class economics necessitate not just free education, but better education for all.

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Obama’s Middle Class Economics Has to be About Fairness and Prosperity

Jan 22, 2015Richard Kirsch

The more-fair "middle-class economics" described in the State of the Union are also the right policies to help the economy grow.

The more-fair "middle-class economics" described in the State of the Union are also the right policies to help the economy grow.

In coining the new term “middle-class economics” and linking it to raising wages and taxing the rich and Wall Street to put money in the pockets of working families, President Obama used his State of the Union address to ask the public that most potent of political questions: “Which side are you on?” And as Republicans say no to improving wages and making college more affordable in order to defend the super-rich, Americans will get a clear answer. That’s a sure win for Democrats.

But the President’s explanation of middle class economics downplayed an important part of the story: it’s not just about fairness, it’s about how we create prosperity.

With the term “middle class economics,” the President is creating a contrast between economic programs aimed at boosting the middle-class and the Republican agenda of shrinking government and lowering taxes for corporations. But Obama’s use of the term missed an opportunity to drive home to the American public that middle class economics is not just about fairness, but also about moving the economy forward.

Obama defined middle class economics as “the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” That is one of the President’s favorite phrases. But for all its appeal, it does not explain how middle-class economics drives economic progress and increases wealth. He fails to replace the Republican story that cutting government, taxes, and regulation are the keys to economic growth.

The President actually included such an explanation of what drives the economy in his 2013 State of the Union address, when he said: “It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class."

Democrats need to firmly claim both the grounds of fairness and prosperity. As I recently wrote, “The policies that do the most to bolster fairness are in fact the most powerful policies to move the economy forward and create broadly shared prosperity.”

This is an easy case to make, as it’s true for most of the policies in the President’s middle class economic agenda.

To take just one example, raising the minimum wage is not just about basic fairness for low-wage workers. Raising wages is about creating economy-boosting jobs instead of economy-busting jobs. When wages are raised, workers have more money to spend, essential when 70 percent of the economy is made up of consumer spending.

The President’s tax proposals are also about more than just the unfairness of a tax code riddled, as he said, “with giveaways the superrich don't need, denying a break to middle class families who do.” His proposed taxes on risky bank speculation move that money to invest in vital infrastructure. When he proposes raising taxes on the rich, who already have more money than they can spend, and using those funds to make community colleges more affordable, he’s putting that money into the economy and investing in people’s skills to contribute to economic progress.

Fairness is a very powerful American value. That’s why the most successful Democratic candidates in 2014 made it clear that they were on the side of working families against Wall Street.

But the reason that fairness is so powerful is because of the contrast between the few with vast wealth and what Americans most want, to be able to care for and support their families. We value prosperity and security. That is why it is essential that Democrats can tell a clear story about how we move the economy forward. Middle-class economics is about more than fairness – it’s about how working families and the middle class drive the economy. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - January 21: State of the Union Asks Congress to Actually Work on Policy

Jan 21, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

The Problem With Obama's Bold SOTU (MoJo)

David Corn thinks President Obama needs to advance a stronger narrative about the GOP's obstructionism preventing his policy agenda from becoming reality.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

The Problem With Obama's Bold SOTU (MoJo)

David Corn thinks President Obama needs to advance a stronger narrative about the GOP's obstructionism preventing his policy agenda from becoming reality.

In State of the Union Speech, Obama Defiantly Sets an Ambitious Agenda (NYT)

Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis call the president's tone "defiant" as he called on Republicans to join him in an extensive domestic agenda.

Rebounding Economy Gives President Breathing Room at State of the Union (AJAM)

Naureen Khan says President Obama was able to make his ambitious proposals because the economy is in the best shape it's been in his six years in office.

The Economy Has Improved. The GOP's Talking Points Have Not. (TNR)

The five Republican responses to the State of the Union show that the GOP is still claiming the president's major achievements will crush the economy – but they aren't, writes Danny Vinik.

Toward a New Solidarity (TAP)

Rich Yeselson says that if the "labor question" is to return to the forefront of political thinking, the labor movement's best shot is to fight for all workers, not just its own members.

Debunking the Chatter: The Truth About Wall Street’s Volcker Rule Assault (Medium)

Alexis Goldstein breaks down the Wall Street public relations apparatus's push against the Volcker Rule, pointing out inaccurate data and straight-up falsehoods in their fact sheets.

New on Next New Deal

The 2003 Dividend Tax Cut Did Nothing to Help the Real Economy

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal looks at the data available on the 2003 dividend tax cut, which shows that the corporations affected disgorged more cash to shareholders, but didn't raise wages or investment.

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Ten Years: Students Moving the Country Forward

Dec 18, 2014Taylor Jo Isenberg

After ten years of engaging young people in the political process, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network continues to push for a system that works for all of us.

In an email to peers at Stanford University students on November 4, 2004, a student attempted to turn the tide on the malaise setting in after a disappointing election night for progressives. He captured the sentiment of the moment:

After ten years of engaging young people in the political process, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network continues to push for a system that works for all of us.

In an email to peers at Stanford University students on November 4, 2004, a student attempted to turn the tide on the malaise setting in after a disappointing election night for progressives. He captured the sentiment of the moment:

Elections are a great time to shape the future of our country, but democracy is not something that happens every four years. We have a lot of work to do … we need to figure out how to explain what we care about in a coherent and convincing way, we need to develop a leadership network to match the conservatives of the next generation, and we need to keep public officials accountable to the issues that brought us all in.

In a follow-up email, he boiled it down to one simple statement: "I'm seeing a student-run think tank that will reinvigorate mainstream politics with a new generation's ideas."

In one of those rare occurrences that indicate that people might be on to something, others were incubating a similar concept. Two friends at Middlebury and Bates also felt compelled to respond to the political moment, and articulated their initial thoughts on a "think tank that unites college students across America under one political agenda aimed at taking back our democracy." Something similar was taking shape at Yale University.

The rest of the story is Roosevelt lore – the late nights, cross-country recruiting trips, the passionate debates about how best to position the organization to effectively elevate young people as a source for powerful ideas capable of policy change.

Yet what makes this particular story potent is that, ten years later, we celebrate not only that vision, but also today's reality. Thousands of students over the past ten years have worked tirelessly to actualize the initial vision that emerged from a bleak moment in our political history. We’ve published 600+ policy solutions that have been read over half a million times; trained thousands on how to challenge the fundamentals of our social, political, and economic systems; and catapulted young people as civic actors into key debates on the policy challenges of our day. Most importantly, the list of student and chapter successes on the ground is staggering in its breadth and depth of examples where young people have taken active ownership of their communities to bring about solutions with meaningful impact.

As a proud Roosevelter, I think we have much to celebrate. We took a few days last week to elevate our work in Washington, DC – a celebration that included a conversation with Representative Rosa DeLauro and members of Congress on how to look to best practices from Roosevelt’s model to effectively engage a new generation in policy and politics, a discussion on the Campus Network’s next ten years, and presentations at the White House featuring our student’s policy work. And of course, we hosted a party for 190+ alumni and supporters (a rockin’ one, according to keynote speaker Jared Bernstein).

Ten years is also a moment to look towards our future. It’s been a common refrain around our office and with our members that there are some unsettling parallels between the post-election reality ten years ago and the one we face today. Distrust of institutions is on the rise, policy priorities with high public support are thwarted by special interests, and our debate is seriously deprived (with a few exceptions) of a vision for what our country can build towards. We’re still in need of a shake up. The upside? Where things are happening, it’s often led or heavily supported by young people – from the ballot initiatives in the 2014 election to the sustained demand for accountability in our justice system.

It’s no secret that the political establishment is perplexed about young people. The media haphazardly jumps between two narratives, unable to decide if we’re self-absorbed, naïve and complacent in the face of our economic future, or the most civically minded quiet do-gooders since the Greatest Generation. Yet many of the major civic and political organizations are struggling with declining membership numbers. It’s not unheard of for organizations to develop “Millennial engagement strategies” to combat this problem.

We think the answer pretty simple: it’s about institutions and systems embracing the shifts instead of fearing them. From the moment they walk through the door, our members are asked to be a part of building something as equals. They’re given the tools to be the architects – and are instantly connected to a network of peers who support them. In a political system more interested in managing young people than tapping into their ingenuity and energy, Roosevelters come to us because they see the limitations of traditional pathways of engagement. As a result, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has remained a network that evolves and shifts as our students lead the way.

We aren’t, of course, the only ones – there is a vibrant ecosystem of organizations and movements that are also innovating and responding to the changing ways people of all ages are expressing their priorities. We could not be more proud of our alumni who have gone on to lead, participate in, and learn from these efforts.

Our successes also beg the question – what does this mean for the next ten years? How do we continue to amplify our strengths and evolve to reflect the moment, opportunities, and risks? That’s the conversation we’re having next – a conversation we want our alumni and supporters to be a part of. In 2015, the Roosevelt Institute will introduce our Alumni Network, which will focus on how to strengthen the Roosevelt community and its potential to influence social and economic priorities. If we are to respond to the call for an economic and democratic system that works for this century, it is going to take all of us.

It is now a Campus Network tradition to close any major convening or retreat with a passage from Jean Edward Smith’s FDR. It narrates President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepting the nomination at the 1936 Democratic National Convention. It’s a famous speech, most notably for his “This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny” quote. We start reading a little earlier – Smith sets the stage, with the country emerging from the worst of the Great Depression. Roosevelt walks to the platform on the arm of his son James. Smith details a powerful moment, where the President sees the poet Edwin Markham, author of Man with a Hoe, reaches out to greet him, and stumbles and falls. People rush to snap his braces back into place. He then proceeds to give the speech, which puts forward uncompromising and substantive statements on political and economic equality. It’s resolute, forceful, and clear – there are wrongs we must right, power that needs to be rebalanced, problems to be solved by the people.

I hope that our members take two things away from the passage. First, that every individual can’t do it alone. Second, that it is possible to stand for something that upsets the current balance of power – and to see the country move forward as a result. It’s a valuable reminder today, when all seems hopeless in the face of stagnation and entrenchment.

As we look to the next ten years, that’s the question Roosevelters will continue to ask, and will eventually answer. What do we stand for, and how will we move this country forward?

Taylor Jo Isenberg is the Vice President of Networks at the Roosevelt Institute.

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The UNC Coup and the Second Limit of Economic Liberalism

Nov 13, 2014Mike Konczal

There was a quiet revolution in the University of North Carolina higher education system in August, one that shows an important limit of current liberal thought. In the aftermath of the 2014 election, there’s been a significant amount of discussion over whether liberals have an economic agenda designed for the working and middle classes. This discussion has primarily been about wages in the middle of the income distribution, which are the first major limit of liberal thought; however, it is also tied to a second limit, which is the way that liberals want to provide public goods and services.

So what happened? The UNC System Board of Governors voted unanimously to cap the amount of tuition that may be used for financial aid for need-based students at no more than 15 percent. With tuition going up rapidly at public universities as the result of public disinvestment, administrators have recently begun using general tuition to supplement their ability to provide aid. This cross-subsidization has been heralded as a solution to the problem of high college costs. Sticker price is high, but the net price for poorer students will be low.

This system works as long as there is sufficient middle-class buy-in, but it’s now capped at UNC. As a board member told the local press, the burden of providing need-based aid “has become unfairly apportioned to working North Carolinians,” and this new policy helps prevent that. Iowa implemented a similar approach back in 2013. And as Kevin Kiley has reported for IHE, similar proposals have been floated in Arizona and Virginia. This trend is likely to gain strength as states continue to disinvest.

The problem for liberals isn’t just that there’s no way for them to win this argument with middle-class wages stagnating, though that is a problem. The far bigger issue for liberals is that this is a false choice, a real class antagonism that has been created entirely by the process of state disinvestment, privatization, cost-shifting of tuitions away from general revenues to individuals, and the subsequent explosion in student debt. As long as liberals continue to play this game, they’ll be undermining their chances.

First Limit: Middle-Class Wages

There’s been a wave of commentary about how the Democrats don’t have a middle-class wage agenda. David Leonhardt wrote the core essay, “The Great Wage Slowdown, Looming Over Politics,” with its opening line: “How does the Democratic Party plan to lift stagnant middle-class incomes?” Josh Marshall made the same argument as well. The Democrats have many smart ideas on the essential agenda of reducing poverty, most of which derive from pegging the low-end wage at a higher level and then adding cash or cash-like transfers to fill in the rest. But what about the middle class?

One obvious answer is “full employment.” Running the economy at full steam is the most straightforward way of boosting overall wages and perhaps reversing the growth in the capital-share of income. However, that approach hasn’t been adopted by the President, strategically or even rhetorically. Part of it might be that if the economy is terrible because of vague forces, technological changes and necessary pain following a financial crisis, then the Democrats can’t really be blamed for stagnation. That strategy will not work out for them.

The Democrats (and even many liberals in general) also haven’t developed a story about why inequality matters so much for the middle class. There are such stories, of course: the collapse of high progressive taxation creates incentives to rent seek, financialization makes the economy focused less on innovation and more on disgorging the cash, and new platform monopolies are deploying forms of market power that are increasingly worrisome.

Second Limit: Public Provisioning

A similar dynamic is in play with social goods. The liberal strategy is increasingly to leave the provisioning of social goods to the market, while providing coupons for the poorest to afford those goods. By definition, means-testing this way puts high implicit taxes on poorer people in a way that decommodification does not. But beyond that simple point, this leaves middle-class people in a bind, as the ability of the state to provide access and contain costs efficiently through its scale doesn’t benefit them, and stagnating incomes put even more pressure on them.

As noted, antagonisms between the middle class and the poor in higher education are entirely a function of public disinvestment. The moment higher education is designed to put massive costs onto individual students, suddenly individuals are forced to look out only for themselves. If college tuition was largely free, paid for by all people and income sources, then there’d be no need for a working-class or middle-class student to view poorer student as a direct threat to their economic stability. And there's no better way to prematurely destroy a broader liberal agenda by designing a system that creates these conflicts.

These worries are real. The incomes of recent graduates are stagnating as well. The average length of time people are taking to pay off their student loans is up 80 percent, to over 13 years. Meanwhile, as Janet Yellen recently showed in the graphic below, student debt is rising as a percentage of income for everyone below the bottom 5 percent. It’s not surprising that studies find student debt impacting family formation and small business creation, and that people are increasingly looking out for just themselves.

You could imagine committing to lowering costs broadly across the system, say through the proposal by Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall to make the first two years free. But Democrats aren't doing this. Instead, President Obama’s solution is to try and make students better consumers on the front-end with more disclosures and outcome surveys for schools, and to make the lowest-income graduates better debtors on the back-end with caps on how burdensome student debt can be. These solutions by the President are not designed to contain the costs of higher education in a substantial way and, crucially, they don’t increase the public buy-in and interest in public higher education.

The Relevance for the ACA

I brought up higher education because I think it’s relevant, but I think it also can help explain the lack of political payout for the Affordable Care Act. It’s here! The ACA is not only meeting expectations, it’s even exceeding them in major ways. Yet it still remains unpopular, even as millions of people are using the exchanges. There is no political payout for the Democrats.

Liberals chalk this up to the right-wing noise machine, and no doubt that hurts. But part of the problem is that middle-class individuals still end up facing an individual product they are purchasing in a market, except without any subsidies. Though the insurance is better regulated, serious cost controls so far have not been part of the discussion. Polling shows half of the users of the exchange are unsure if they can make their payments and are worried about being able to afford getting sick. This, in turn, blocks the formation of a broad-based coalition capable of defending, sustaining, and expanding the ACA in the same way those have formed for Social Security and Medicare.

Any serious populist agenda will have to have a broader agenda for wages, with full employment as the central idea. But it will also need to include social programs that are broader based and focused on cost controls; here, luckily, the public option is a perfect organizing metaphor.

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There was a quiet revolution in the University of North Carolina higher education system in August, one that shows an important limit of current liberal thought. In the aftermath of the 2014 election, there’s been a significant amount of discussion over whether liberals have an economic agenda designed for the working and middle classes. This discussion has primarily been about wages in the middle of the income distribution, which are the first major limit of liberal thought; however, it is also tied to a second limit, which is the way that liberals want to provide public goods and services.

So what happened? The UNC System Board of Governors voted unanimously to cap the amount of tuition that may be used for financial aid for need-based students at no more than 15 percent. With tuition going up rapidly at public universities as the result of public disinvestment, administrators have recently begun using general tuition to supplement their ability to provide aid. This cross-subsidization has been heralded as a solution to the problem of high college costs. Sticker price is high, but the net price for poorer students will be low.

This system works as long as there is sufficient middle-class buy-in, but it’s now capped at UNC. As a board member told the local press, the burden of providing need-based aid “has become unfairly apportioned to working North Carolinians,” and this new policy helps prevent that. Iowa implemented a similar approach back in 2013. And as Kevin Kiley has reported for IHE, similar proposals have been floated in Arizona and Virginia. This trend is likely to gain strength as states continue to disinvest.

The problem for liberals isn’t just that there’s no way for them to win this argument with middle-class wages stagnating, though that is a problem. The far bigger issue for liberals is that this is a false choice, a real class antagonism that has been created entirely by the process of state disinvestment, privatization, cost-shifting of tuitions away from general revenues to individuals, and the subsequent explosion in student debt. As long as liberals continue to play this game, they’ll be undermining their chances.

First Limit: Middle-Class Wages

There’s been a wave of commentary about how the Democrats don’t have a middle-class wage agenda. David Leonhardt wrote the core essay, “The Great Wage Slowdown, Looming Over Politics,” with its opening line: “How does the Democratic Party plan to lift stagnant middle-class incomes?” Josh Marshall made the same argument as well. The Democrats have many smart ideas on the essential agenda of reducing poverty, most of which derive from pegging the low-end wage at a higher level and then adding cash or cash-like transfers to fill in the rest. But what about the middle class?

One obvious answer is “full employment.” Running the economy at full steam is the most straightforward way of boosting overall wages and perhaps reversing the growth in the capital-share of income. However, that approach hasn’t been adopted by the President, strategically or even rhetorically. Part of it might be that if the economy is terrible because of vague forces, technological changes and necessary pain following a financial crisis, then the Democrats can’t really be blamed for stagnation. That strategy will not work out for them.

The Democrats (and even many liberals in general) also haven’t developed a story about why inequality matters so much for the middle class. There are such stories, of course: the collapse of high progressive taxation creates incentives to rent seek, financialization makes the economy focused less on innovation and more on disgorging the cash, and new platform monopolies are deploying forms of market power that are increasingly worrisome.

Second Limit: Public Provisioning

A similar dynamic is in play with social goods. The liberal strategy is increasingly to leave the provisioning of social goods to the market, while providing coupons for the poorest to afford those goods. By definition, means-testing this way puts high implicit taxes on poorer people in a way that decommodification does not. But beyond that simple point, this leaves middle-class people in a bind, as the ability of the state to provide access and contain costs efficiently through its scale doesn’t benefit them, and stagnating incomes put even more pressure on them.

As noted, antagonisms between the middle class and the poor in higher education are entirely a function of public disinvestment. The moment higher education is designed to put massive costs onto individual students, suddenly individuals are forced to look out only for themselves. If college tuition was largely free, paid for by all people and income sources, then there’d be no need for a working-class or middle-class student to view poorer student as a direct threat to their economic stability. And there's no better way to prematurely destroy a broader liberal agenda by designing a system that creates these conflicts.

These worries are real. The incomes of recent graduates are stagnating as well. The average length of time people are taking to pay off their student loans is up 80 percent, to over 13 years. Meanwhile, as Janet Yellen recently showed in the graphic below, student debt is rising as a percentage of income for everyone below the bottom 5 percent. It’s not surprising that studies find student debt impacting family formation and small business creation, and that people are increasingly looking out for just themselves.

You could imagine committing to lowering costs broadly across the system, say through the proposal by Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall to make the first two years free. But Democrats aren't doing this. Instead, President Obama’s solution is to try and make students better consumers on the front-end with more disclosures and outcome surveys for schools, and to make the lowest-income graduates better debtors on the back-end with caps on how burdensome student debt can be. These solutions by the President are not designed to contain the costs of higher education in a substantial way and, crucially, they don’t increase the public buy-in and interest in public higher education.

The Relevance for the ACA

I brought up higher education because I think it’s relevant, but I think it also can help explain the lack of political payout for the Affordable Care Act. It’s here! The ACA is not only meeting expectations, it’s even exceeding them in major ways. Yet it still remains unpopular, even as millions of people are using the exchanges. There is no political payout for the Democrats.

Liberals chalk this up to the right-wing noise machine, and no doubt that hurts. But part of the problem is that middle-class individuals still end up facing an individual product they are purchasing in a market, except without any subsidies. Though the insurance is better regulated, serious cost controls so far have not been part of the discussion. Polling shows half of the users of the exchange are unsure if they can make their payments and are worried about being able to afford getting sick. This, in turn, blocks the formation of a broad-based coalition capable of defending, sustaining, and expanding the ACA in the same way those have formed for Social Security and Medicare.

Any serious populist agenda will have to have a broader agenda for wages, with full employment as the central idea. But it will also need to include social programs that are broader based and focused on cost controls; here, luckily, the public option is a perfect organizing metaphor.

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Daily Digest - November 12: Cyclical History for Public Service Careers

Nov 12, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Selling Fast (Boston Review)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Selling Fast (Boston Review)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal reviews three books, using the first, a history of the shift from commission-based public service to salaries, as background for the later two, on recent changes to policing and teaching.

Obama's Net Neutrality Statement Will Start a War on K Street (TNR)

John B. Judis quotes Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford, who said the administration had avoided net neutrality for fear of "World War III," but apparently those fears are no more.

More Transparency, More Pay for C.E.O.s (NYT)

Andrew Ross Sorkin reports on a new study proving that compensation consultants, hired by companies to "benchmark" CEO pay to that of their peers, are used to justify higher pay.

  • Roosevelt Take: William Lazonick noted compensation consultants' role in skyrocketing executive pay in his recent white paper.

Voter Suppression Laws are Already Deciding Elections (WaPo)

Catherine Rampell looks at a few close races where the margin of victory lines up with the margin of disenfranchisement. Even if that changed outcomes, there's no real recourse available.

New on Next New Deal

News Flash: Progressives Have a Winning Economic Narrative -- and Democrats Who Used It Won

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch says Democrats need to focus on a message of an economy that will work for "all of us" in order to win elections.

Expand Registration Efforts on Campus to Increase Youth Turnout

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Education Megan Ernst looks at how a little-known provision requiring colleges to provide voter registration forms could improve youth turnout.

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The Federal Reserve Won't Save the Economy for All

Oct 9, 2014Joelle Gamble

Deepening political participation in and beyond voting is key to achieving policies that raise outcomes for the working class.

Deepening political participation in and beyond voting is key to achieving policies that raise outcomes for the working class.

Inflation hawks have been the talk of the town in elite economic circles in recent weeks. More liberal-leaning minds critique their (frankly) unsubstantiated concerns that the Federal Reserve is driving the U.S. economy toward high levels of inflation. Hawks are concerned that high levels of inflation due to expansionary monetary policy will lead to negative economic outcomes for major firms and, in turn, the rest of the American public.

Instead of worrying about inflation, which has remained at or below 1.5 percent for a year and a half, many prominent economists argue that we should focus on wage growth and jobs. We have seen profits for corporations rise to nearly pre-recession rates, while the poverty rate is not declining as fast as it should be. It’s clear there are some big policies that need changing: the minimum wage, the corporate tax structure, federal budget priorities, and regulations ranging across industries. So why is there so much focus on the Fed and the inflation hawks that circle it? Is there some policy lever we can pull here that would raise outcomes for the working class?

Let’s lay it out on the table: Current economic debates have focused on U.S. and global monetary policy because our fiscal policy problems appear to be inoperable. A Congressional stagnation, of sorts, has led to a fixation on a different institution, the Federal Reserve. But, overall, can this fixation actually translate into outcomes for the middle class?

With a gridlocked federal system, where can we push for substantial changes in wages and investment infrastructure that support the working class? Executive orders have their limits, of course. Advancements in cities like Seattle and New York City or states like Maryland have started to take effect. But at some point, a deeper, sustainable change must take place. This is a change in who leads in governance and who leads on policy change.

Elections are our general go-to on these matters. If political representation fails, we can just vote them out! Elections matter, but, there are some facts to consider. Currently, the average U.S. voter has an income higher than the median. This is due to lack of access, as well as the privilege of being able to make time to vote. Thus, we should open up opportunities, such as early voting, to more people. But even still, with faith in government falling, access reforms only go so far.

Beyond the act of voting itself, we have to question the responsiveness of the federal government, in particular, to voters. The growing influence of interest groups and coalitions of the wealthy make the ability to change political outcomes from the ballot box less and less secure.

We need to grow the bench. Deepening political participation in and beyond voting is key to achieving policies that raise outcomes for the working class. It is not enough to vote; government must be responsive. As Roosevelt Institute Fellow Sabeel Rahman notes, historic movements of substantial political reform have popular sovereignty and grassroots movements at their core.

Sabeel's words ring especially true in our current political climate. With congressional ineptitude and an unwillingness of the elites to take responsibility for the current state of our democracy, we must return to local movements and communities to build the foundations needed to create tangible economic change. That’s why members of the Campus Network are piloting the Rethinking Communities initiative. We recognize that democracy starts not in Washington but at home, in our own classrooms, our own cities, and our own communities.

There is no silver bullet or hero in this fight for economic justice. Not one public official, nor one economist, nor one President will solve our mess. A return to democratic principles and a deepening of participatory process is what it will take to uplift the working class.

Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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At NextGen IL Conference, Young People Set the Agenda for Their State

Oct 7, 2014Julius Goldberg-LewisDominic RusselRachel Riemenschneider

At the NextGen Illinois conference, Campus Network leaders found a policy space shaped entirely by young people.

At the NextGen Illinois conference, Campus Network leaders found a policy space shaped entirely by young people.

Last Saturday, the Midwest Regional Team of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network met in Chicago to attend the NextGen Illinois conference, the culmination of months of discussion, caucuses, and ideas from around Illinois. NextGen IL, an initiative led by the Campus Network and Young Invicibles, is working to bring young adults in Illinois together to shape a youth policy agenda for Illinois. What set NextGen apart from so many other conferences was that its content, agenda, and execution were a direct outcome of power and coalition building among Millennials. NextGen’s attendees included high school students, college students, and graduates; they were organizers, activists, and policy wonks of every kind. Throughout the day, attendees were able to vote on a slate of statewide policy proposals that were the product of the dozens of caucuses that took place over the previous few months. Young people had the opportunity to shape the outcome of the conference and take ownership of their ideas.

One common theme that resounded through the day at the NextGen IL conference was that young people are capable of making a difference in their communities. We all have the knowledge, ability, and passion to make real change. This was thoroughly underscored by the number of young people and students that were panelists throughout the day. Each breakout session featured professionals working in the field, as well as Millennials already working to change the landscape. Whether discussing environmental policy or restorative justice, the young panelists were just as able to engage their audience in a variety of statewide policy issues.

The breakout sessions gave the audience a picture of the issues being addressed on the front lines of the progressive political fight, but the plenary sessions gave us a chance to hear from the elected officials who have the power to turn our ideas into action. Will Guzzardi, a 27-year-old candidate for the Illinois House of Representatives, and Amara Enyia, a 31-year-old running for Mayor of Chicago, both spoke about how young people need to step up to make a difference. They both referenced a common realization many young adults have about growing up. When you’re young, you are told to defer to those in charge, trust your elders, and wait your turn. These candidates stressed that in order to be taken seriously and have our issues adequately addressed, our generation must step up and realize that while our parents and grandparents have a lot to teach us, they don’t have all the solutions. This realization may be scary, but it is also empowering: if no one actually has all the answers, young people have the opportunity to create just as much of an impact as older generations. We have the opportunity to think creatively, and see our age as a benefit, and not a burden to creating and realizing innovative policies that better our communities.

If there was one message that we as participants and attendees took away from the NextGen IL conference, it was an echo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 address to the Democratic National Convention: “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” Our generation faces seemingly insurmountable problems, but if the NextGen space was any indication, we can expect bold solutions.

Julius Goldberg-Lewis is the Midwestern Regional Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at the University of Michigan. Dominic Russel is the Midwestern Policy Coordinator and a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Rachel Riemenschneider is the Midwestern New Chapters Coordinator and a junior at Northwestern University.

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