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A citizen solution for tough economic times

March 11, 2010

In his blog for the Star Tribune, Northwest Area Foundation president Gary Cunningham draws connections between difficult policy decisions– how to maintain public services with looming budget deficits–and citizen responsibility. Read Cunningham’s full post, Minnesota: Land of 10,00 cuts.

Explicit in the solution to our current dilemma is a return to our basic values of democracy, where every citizen shares in the responsibility for sustaining the public good. This means seeing citizens as democratic co-creators in the solutions. According to Harry Boyte of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, “This is simple in rhetoric but difficult in practice. The idea that democracy is a cornucopia of benefit packages – coupled with the view of politics as distributed activity, ‘who gets what, when and how’ – is entrenched in the famous formulation of Harold Laswell (1936). Politics as it is conventionally understood neglects where public wealth comes from.” What many of us fail to recognize is that our democracy is largely the work of citizens.

Instead of looking at people that use public services as a drain on the system, we could start looking at citizens as resources. The current users, clients and/or patients are critical components to the success or failure of public service professionals. Each user of the system is the building block of our missing neighborhood-level support systems – family and community – which underpin economic activity, as well as social development. …

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