Indianapolis: An Unlikely Case Study in Co-Governance
Progressive organizers have a policy problem. Left-leaning organizations often focus on electoral politics and are unable to support progressive action by lawmakers after election day. (U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is the country’s most dramatic example of the gap between electoral mobilization and policy advocacy.) But even when progressive advocates succeed in passing policy reforms, they frequently fail to ensure adequate implementation of those new laws. Policy victories by themselves don’t automatically improve lives for working people, low-income communities, and people of color: those material benefits depend on interpretation and implementation of laws by regulatory agencies and defense of laws in courtrooms. But movement organizations frequently lack the focus, resources, and knowledge to attend to implementation, and philanthropy often fails to invest in this work. As the Ford Foundation’s governance series concludes, “progressive organizing doesn’t invest adequate time and resources in the implementation of policy and practice of government.”
Community organizers are particularly prone to this error. Our organizations are often constructed with the idea that our role is outside agitation: if we bring enough power to city hall or the state capitol or Congress, our grassroots army can win the changes it seeks. A mass of angry constituents is our weapon of choice. When organizers succeed in electing progressive champions, we are sometimes baffled that their election doesn’t translate into meaningful change. At best, we fail to understand the constraints facing our would-be champions in their public roles, so we remain confused about their lack of leadership on the issues we care about. At worst, we turn our newly elected allies into targets of the same sort of outside agitation we have practiced for years. It is the only tool in our belt.
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