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Summer 1990

Citizen politics aims to spur a democratic resurgence at the grassroots. But as other forms of democratic participation decline, can citizen organizing make a difference?

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Unless you are an activist yourself, your personal contact with the world of citizen politics probably occurs when your doorbell rings. A canvasser, usually a young person with a clipboard and leaflets, tries to engage you in a discussion of a contemporary problem, perhaps toxic waste dumps, pesticides in the food chain, or rising utility rates. If you sign a petition or contribute a few dollars, you'll receive more material. Engage in a longer conversation and you may be recruited for active membership.

You're also likely to encounter citizen organizing by mail or telephone. There, too, you're asked for a financial contribution to help stop wars, prevent nuclear holocaust, slow ozone depletion, or protect abortion rights, free speech, gene pools, or animals. Occasionally, you may see rallies or demonstrations sponsored by these groups on television, but you will probably remain unaware of who or what is behind "Citizens for..." or "Citizens against...".

Citizen organizing, by neighborhood and by issue, is now entering its fourth decade and becoming a well-established feature of the American political landscape. Some activists and theorists see it as a big departure from conventional politics. They credit citizen organizations with reviving grassroots democracy, empowering previously marginalized groups, introducing issues to the public agenda excluded by more powerful interests, transforming passive citizens into active ones, inspiring a new populist revolt, restoring a progressive political coalition, and addressing social problems government has failed to solve.

Citizen organizations have undoubtedly increased participation, particularly at the local level. Yet any close observer of citizen organizations discerns a paradox. Their growth has occurred at a time when, by most measures, civic and political participation has deteriorated. Voting turnout rates have declined steadily even as these organizations have grown. Partisan affiliation has dwindled, as money has become the most important form of participation. Citizens consume political information mostly through one-way channels. The general public distrusts political institutions in general and politicians in particular. And while serving as a new medium of public activism, citizen organizations face some important constraints on their political role, in part because of requirements for successful fund-raising and for retaining tax-exempt status. As a result of both the larger political context and the limitation of community organizing itself, this movement has not done as much to empower the poor, revive democratic citizenship, or create new political majorities as its adherents have hoped. How to understand and remedy those limitations is the subject of a continuing debate.

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by Alexandra Atzl

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On the theming side, we knew we needed to deliver three different themes to the client (#1, #2, #3), plus an additional base theme, which would mostly mirror theme #2. We also knew we wanted to use (now that I've begun using it, I'm completely reluctant to return to plain ol' CSS, and I think all of Singlebrook agrees).

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clean water.

children that grow up strong.

crops this year and the next.

changing minds.



hunger and undernutrition.

killer diseases.

lives cut short.

drought and disaster.

ignorance and indifference.



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