Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant's policy approach as an illustration of what I call the issue continuum

My first job in DC was for a consumer group that had Nader lineage (the founders denied that the group was a "Nader group" although all had met while working for consumer advocate Ralph Nader and split off on their own). I mostly did what I called "thinking level staff support," although I was considered part of the "program staff," even though I didn't work on policy.

One of the things I figured out while working there, although it was through observation, it wasn't something that the organization taught to its staff people.

Basically, you need to treat an issue as a continuum of positions, with a variety of policy/proscription points. I prefer to think of it as a kind of scatter plot, with the most conservative position on the far left of the line, and the most progressive position on the far right of the line, and all sorts of positions, all over the map, in between.
Scatter Plot - Issue continuum
This scatter plot illustrates the issue continuum concept.

I learned that the best way to get the most movement towards the most ideal outcome was to stake out the hard core, toughest, most progressive position.

You do this because in the end, you get much more movement towards the ideal, in comparison to being willing to compromise early and staking out a lesser position.

To get the change in legal, legislative, and regulatory positions, usually there is a lot you have to give up.  But the end result is far better than if you caved earlier.

Relatedly, I have a line about this:

When you ask for nothing, that's what you get. When you ask for the world, you don't get it, but you get a lot more than nothing.

You need people and organizations out there willing to stake out the harder core position in order get a better result.

The world is better as a result. Even if you personally are still disappointed, seeking more.

2.  Not being in Seattle, I only hear about Socialist Alternative Council Member Kshama Sawant from the Seattle Times (a somewhat conservative newspaper) and the alternative weekly, The Stranger.

Obviously, she's very interesting, because no other major city in the US has a socialist councilmember (we're not the UK where hard core Councilmembers are the norm and party affiliation is the key defining element for political and policy control).

(The Stranger has a funny parody advice column seemingly authored by Councilmember Sawant, which is a fun read.)

There is a lot of talk out there that she is too hard core, "isn't having that much impact" because she's "so out there," and she won't be successful in getting re-elected--the city is moving mostly to a district based Council system, away from at-large--even though she lives in Capitol Hill, considered the city's most liberal area.

But the Seattle Times has an interesting analysis piece, "Socialist Kshama Sawant: Action-now approach gains influence," which illustrates the point I make about staking out hard core positions along an issue's continuum of policy positions, in order to get much more movement towards it in terms of final outcome. From the article:
The Indian-born former computer engineer and community-college instructor, who knocked off incumbent Richard Conlin in 2013 under the banner of the Socialist Alternative Party, has rapidly become one of the council’s most influential members. 
“Without a doubt, Kshama has moved the council in a new direction,” said Councilmember Nick Licata. “More progressive. More sensitive to social and economic justice. The other members are inclined to go there, but Kshama is pushing them. Kshama has made things happen that never would have happened before.” 
Skeptics say the council member wields limited power. She rarely casts a swing vote, and some of her ideas, such as her push to revamp Seattle City Light’s electricity-rate structure, have flopped. 
But the bully pulpit, not the legislative sausage factory, is where Sawant is most effective and where her star power is an asset. The same week as the Chamber conference, a poll showed Sawant had the most name recognition on the council.

It also indicated how polarizing she is: Sawant had the council’s second-highest favorable rating and, at the same time, the highest unfavorable score. Sawant’s supporters praise her for bucking “The Seattle Process,” while her detractors roll their eyes at her righteous rhetoric and claim her approach does more harm than good.
As progressive as Seattle's elected officials are, having a hard left Councilmember means that the Council is forced to address social and economic issues that in most places, end up getting if not ignored, get dealt with in a pretty cursory way.

That distinguishes Seattle from most of the other major cities across North America.

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