Tuesday, February 14, 2012

If a Community Psychologist Ran for President....

What would our candidate’s platform be?
          Suppose that platform was based on commonly-held community psychology and community practice values. And suppose the time has come to launch the campaign with a policy address. Our candidate approaches the microphone. Might the speech sound like this?  

“My fellow Americans, I stand before you at a watershed moment in our country’s history. I won’t repeat here the serious and multiple challenges that threaten our way of life; they are all too familiar by now.  But I think we can agree that both our major political parties have failed to meet those challenges; and that, as presently constituted, they are unlikely ever to meet them in the future.
“Clearly we need a new approach and a fresh point of view. And so we offer a new vision for our country’s future – a different vision, but a realistic and sustainable vision, one that, in the words of our forefathers, will promote the general welfare, establish justice, secure the blessings of liberty, and insure domestic tranquility, as well as provide for personal security and well-being, for generations to come.
          “The centerpiece of our platform is based upon strong local community life. We will help build and maintain vibrant, cohesive, and supportive communities across the United States.  Why the community? Because that’s where almost all of us lead our daily lives, and gain the satisfactions that make life worth living. That’s where we build and keep relationships with others that lead to friendship and trust. That’s where we can act together to reach common goals. That’s where we can more easily get things done, and see the fruits of our efforts. Both other parties have failed to recognize these basic truths. And so they have missed a major opportunity to revitalize and to transform our society.
          “We will work to strengthen citizen participation in community life, because all citizens must be able to participate in decisions that affect them; because participation builds relationships; and because participation is enjoyable, pure and simple. But more than that, let us say frankly that citizen participation is essential  in the budgetary hard times we live in. Participation is fulfilling, even joyful, but it  is also the obligation of a citizen living in our society. The hard truth is that we have asked little of our citizens other than to pay taxes and obey the law; this must change. We will not ask citizens to police the streets or haul the trash, but we will encourage and expect every resident to participate in his or her community to the best extent possible – not simply as a “volunteer,” although volunteering is commendable, but rather as a basic accompaniment of citizenship.
“We will aim to build competencies in every community member, and provide every opportunity to acquire competence in such fields our citizens choose – because building competence fulfills our human potential, and equally because it fosters self–reliance, independence, and personal responsibility. Building competence also empowers people, which is more than a buzz word for us; we must translate empowerment into practice. We both want and need an empowered citizenry – or as one of our other presidential candidates has put it, “people power,” echoing the words of Saul Alinsky.     
“We of course will promote diversity, not just to honor diversity or celebrate diversity, but to utilize diversity – the varied talents and interests of all members of our communities. There is something for everyone to do – we believe ‘everyone is a perfect something’ – and the tasks ahead of us are too important to do anything but maximize each person’s contribution.
          “Social justice is one of our primary values and presidential campaign themes. We will foster it by drawing on the diverse talents we have mentioned. But economic justice is vitally important as well. We care about the very poor, the near poor, the poor in substance, and the poor in spirit. By building cohesive communities, where people feel connection and kinship with each other, the wealthier among us will be more likely to share resources with the less fortunate. Yet that is not enough. Although we value entrepreneurship, and support fair profits, we stand behind national and local policies that ask the wealthy to pay more – because morally that is the just thing to do, and because pragmatically, as we have learned in recent books such as The Spirit Level, a more equal society is also a healthier and more robust society in virtually every way. 
          “We stand neither for big government nor for small government, but for generative government – for government as catalyst, government as partner, government as facilitator.  Government must ensure provision of basic needs, and beyond that help support other activities in the public interest.  Toward that end, we will teach and train. We will consult and advocate, stimulate and energize, collaborate whenever we can. We will give technical support, and offer modest monetary incentives, especially for new creative solutions. We will evaluate results and be guided by actual data, for we are committed to scientific method and to evidence-based practice. And we will provide moral leadership for our community vision, helping to realize it in every community across the United States. These are not empty words, for our party’s leadership is made up of community psychologists with tested skills for creating community change.  Who knows better than community practitioners how to strengthen community life?
“How much will this cost? The good news is comparatively little. Our vision will be cost-effective in the long run. For when communities and community members are energized, organized, and active, we are certain that dollar costs to maintain our quality of life will be significantly less than when the community is indifferent, fragmented, and passive.
“Finally, through these combined efforts, and throughout our villages, towns, cities, and neighborhoods, we will build a strong sense of community. Because with that sense of community, we are more likely to comfort and support our fellow community members, and be supported by them, in times of need. Because that sense of community will sustain us in times of adversity. And because it will make our lives fuller and richer. The most important resources in our communities are our community members themselves; and so a primary goal in our platform is to identify and utilize all our capacities and skills – our best human qualities, qualities that have for so long been unrecognized and untapped in our communities.   
          “So when we take office, we will build communities that will meet our material needs, but that will be especially rich in social infrastructure and in human relationships. They will be what our colleague John McKnight has called “abundant communities” – abundant in our ties to each other and in the great pleasures that come from being connected to something larger than oneself.
          “It is true that we are late entrants into this race. Realistically, there may not be time for us to win this particular election. But, mark my words, our ideas and our focus on strong community life will be the wave of the future, by necessity if not also by choice.  Community life will and must be the foundation for a new society that will be sustainable, secure, self-renewing, and deeply satisfying. We hold that vision high. And we invite all of you who are listening to share that vision with us and help transform it into reality.”  

The speech concludes. What is your reaction?
Do you support such a platform?
Would this community psychologist candidate win your vote?

Bill Berkowitz
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts Lowell 


  1. Absolutely! Berkowitz for president!

  2. This individual would not only win my vote but I will be a convert from my political party completely. This is absolutely wonderful and I can see someone taking this text and doing some sort of Augusto Baul material...some sort of liberatory theatre here.

  3. Can I reprint this in our graduate student newsletter?

  4. Have you read Walden II by BF Skinner? This really reminds me of it.

    I would definitely vote for this person, but I'm not sure there is really a science there for solving most of our problems. I feel that it's anyone's guess, really, because there is so little that has actually been tried on a large scale. Our government has been making the same mistakes over and over since the beginning. But I do think it would be commendable for any leader actually to be thinking about these issues and wanting to improve them, particularly the sense of community.

  5. Yes, Bill for president! I also vote that we use an excerpt from this for the "About" page of this block. Well said.