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GovInsights: We Need a Major Social Movement

I am pleased to launch a brand new series on GovLoop called “GovInsights” where we will interview and highlight the thoughts and perspectives of professors at colleges and universities who are researching and writing about government issues.

For our first interview, I interviewed Dr. Marshall Ganz, a Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University where he teaches, researches, and writes on leadership, organization, and strategy in social movements, civic associations, and politics.


What are the 3 biggest challenges in government right now?

1. The absence of any social movement, way of thinking, or political leadership seriously engaging the public in a deep understanding of why we need government to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and assure the blessings of liberty for our selves and our posterity.” It is both a moral, strategic and organizational challenge and one no political leader has had the courage to face since the 1960’s. Our capacity to meet our economic, educational, environmental, health care, demographic, and international challenges depend on this. The success of the conservative movement has left us with a government without legitimacy, funding, or capacity.


2. The presence of far too many veto points (e.g. filibuster, but not only) which create a deep structural bias against reform, making it far easier to stop anything from happening, than to initiate anything. This was so even before the conservative revolution of the last 30 years, but could, from time to time, be overcome with the support of powerful social movements.


3. The profoundly undemocratic and unrepresentative nature of our electoral institutions – First, by the single member districts and the electoral college to name two of them – that depress voter participation and skew electoral results so as to favor locally constructed majorities at the expense of regional and national majorities. The absence of any incentive to turn out voters for a presidential election in New York and California, for example, not only depresses turn out, but belies the promise of equal voice for all citizens, the bedrock of democratic legitimacy. And this doesn’t even begin to take on the question of funding. I actually think the structural problem is a far bigger on.


What are your proposed solutions to those challenges?

Building powerful social movements on behalf of economic justice, environmental protection, immigration reform, education reform, and genuine health care reform — in practice as well as in policy — that can generate sufficient power to enact such an agenda. This is not a marketing campaign, advertising blitz, or viral fashion, but the kind of well organized, highly motivated, base building, leadership developing, and educational effort that went into building the conservative movement, beginning in the 1950’s.

Dr. Marshall Ganz a Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University. He teaches graduate and undergraduate students organizing, public narrative, and moral leadership; trains practitioners with community based organizations, advocacy groups, faith communities and unions; and researches leadership, organization, and strategy in social movements, civic associations, and unions and their role in public life. He advised the Obama campaign on organizing, leadership development, and training. He has published in the American Prospect, American Journal of Sociology, American Political Science Review, Social Science and History Journal and elsewhere. His first book, co-authored with Theda Skocpol and Ariane Liazositalic””, What a Mighty Power We Can Be: African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality, was published in 2006. His newest book, Why David Sometimes Wins: leadership, organization and strategy in the California farm worker movement was published in May, 2009. In 2010 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity by the Episcopal Divinity School.

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Profile Photo Sam Allgood

Would be interesting to hear Dr. Ganz’s basis for saying ‘The success of the conservative movement has left us with a government without legitimacy, funding, or capacity.’