As the COVID-19 pandemic and economic collapse continue to ravage the country, it is increasingly clear that this crisis is not just a public health and economic crisis. America’s worst-in-the-world outbreak reflects a crisis of democracy. At every step of the way, failures of governance have magnified the devastation. The Trump administration has consistently failed to respond forcefully and effectively, from the delays in invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to accelerate production of urgently needed medical equipment to the failures to heed early warnings about the impending pandemic. These moves are not unique; Trump has made a practice of gutting the federal bureaucracy and undermined the role of science in shaping administrative policies. These policy failures have fueled a call for a “return” to government that puts scientific experts like COVID-19 advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci in charge. It is true that, if there is a new administration after November, it will not only have to listen to experts but rebuild the federal civil service to ramp up a more effective response. 

Yet the failures of government in this crisis are not just failures of an overridden technocracy. The failures are also fundamentally failures of democratic accountability. Big business has continued to lobby successfully for exemptions to legislation in Congress offering critical protections for workers. We know that these economic and public health policy failures are directly driving devastating sickness, death, and economic calamity among Black and brown communities in particular, magnifying existing economic inequities in our public policy. As we consider amid this calamity what a more effective government might look like, it is critical that we look not just to restoring civil service expertise but also to building new forms of accountability and civic power that ensures federal agencies are responsive to communities bearing the brunt of America’s poverty, dislocation, and, now, disease – especially for working families, women, and Black and brown communities. 

First, that means we need to expand investments in grassroots civil society organizations that are key to magnifying the voices of workers and frontline communities to better ensure greater democratic accountability. Such grassroots power is key. Whose voices are not being heard in Washington or in state houses right now? It is the voices of those who make up the hardest hit constituencies in this crisis. The mortality rates in the Black community are a devastating indictment of the systemic racism shaping the impact of the crisis. In Milwaukee, for example, ProPublica reports that Black Americans make up over 80% of fatalities from COVID-19, despite accounting for a quarter of the county population. All workers in certain jobs are vulnerable, but many of these riskier jobs, populated by women and people of color, are especially vulnerable. These are the “essential workers” who are the delivery workers, grocery store workers, healthcare workers, and domestic workers who not only often lack fair wages and access to healthcare but are also most at risk in the face of this pandemic. For many of these workers, social distancing is a luxury they cannot afford.

In response, workers are quickly mobilizing to organize in new ways. Coworker.org, a platform for organizing non-union workers, has seen dramatic increases in workers using the platform to organize, demanding basic health and safety protections from their employers. From Whole Foods and Amazon to Instacart, workers are striking for hazard pay, better health protections, and sick leave and benefits for part-time workers. Redressing this disparity in political voice requires resourcing the work of these membership-based grassroots communities. 

Second, this increase in organized demands by the most affected communities needs to be met with structural changes to how our government functions in order to create greater voice, influence, and, ultimately, accountability to these frontline communities. Imagine how different the policy response to COVID-19 and the economic collapse underway would look if our bureaucracies – from HHS to Treasury to the CDC – were run by more decision-makers who feel primarily answerable to these communities. Or how different policy debates would be if frontline communities had a seat at the table within these agencies, able to demand greater accountability and bring their experiences and urgent needs to the forefront. Across the country, we have a range of models for this kind of more inclusive governance, such as cities using participatory budgeting to allocate public spending dollars to state and local governments creating labor boards that include representatives from labor to set worker safety policies.

As we have argued in our book and in these pages: What we need is an approach to reforming government that focuses on shifting power to frontline communities.

What does this look like?

Institutional design is central, particularly in creating visible targets for mobilization, advocacy, and participation. American governance is highly fragmented: political authority is divided vertically, between federal, state, and local bodies as well as horizontally between legislative, executive, and judicial branches – and then further fragmented across a confusing multiplicity of different regulatory and enforcement agencies. This makes it extremely difficult for constituencies, even well-organized and durable ones, to participate and exercise political influence. By contrast, creating highly visible institutions can significantly overcome this opacity and fragmentation, making it clear where to go for making particular claims. A good example is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. At its height, the CFPB not only created a strong federal agency that moved aggressively to combat disparities of economic power in consumer finance (for example, by working to curb predatory lending practices and forced arbitration clauses in consumer contracts); it also provided a more visible focal point for grassroots groups and consumer advocates to bring claims and express grievances. 

These governmental institutions must combine authority and accountability. The issue of the scope of institutional authority is closely related to the question of its scope of jurisdiction. Where institutions lack the actual authority and capacity to shape social or economic conditions, they are less useful levers through which interests and constituencies can exercise power. This authority and state capacity is a critical complement to visibility condition; if constituencies have a visible target to bring claims but that target lacks the power and capacity to actually do something about the issues raised, then the result is a weak form of participation and accountability. To return to the CFPB case, a big part of what made the CFPB successful in the Obama era was its combination of presenting a clear target for bringing claims of consumer misconduct with strong authority and capacity to actually do something about the issues raised. Stated another way, the promise of influence over state power creates powerful incentives for participation. This facilitates the capacity of constituencies, especially Black and brown communities, to mobilize, organize, and exercise power. 

Third, this authority must be complemented by institutionalized points of leverage that assure the accountability and responsiveness of policymakers, whether in the form of dedicated representation as described above, or in the form of more participatory processes. Without points of real leverage, it is difficult for community groups to force policymakers to respond. 

Fourth, these mechanisms of participation and leverage need to be systematized, rather than ad hoc. Part of demonstrating that the community’s participation is being taken seriously must involve moving from pilot, ad hoc programs to structured, sustained institutional processes that can be relied upon by communities as ongoing spaces for dialogue and contestation. Creating legitimacy and buy-in from communities themselves requires efforts by government officials to show what government can do – and to show that the community’s participation is being taken seriously. This in turn makes participation more worthwhile and legitimate within the bureaucracy as a real and important part of policymaking, rather than merely an extra layer of work.

Fifth, we suggest a radically different way to approach the internal organization and culture of bureaucracies. If participation and civic power are taken seriously, democracy reforms must move beyond the focus on expertise, efficiency, and conventional understandings of improving and modernizing government. A truly democratic institutional ecosystem requires governmental bodies that do more than simply provide services efficiently. They must also create meaningful points of leverage and mechanisms for participation through which communities can exercise a share of decision-making power. The restructuring of government agencies that these approaches require is not cosmetic. These changes require significant investments of staffing resources and internal capacity, which will be more challenging than ever post COVID-19. Therefore, engagement must be viewed as integral to the core functioning and goals of governance.

Finally, this approach to participation necessarily requires personnel who view themselves as not only efficiently delivering public services, but also as enthusiastically applying new methods of governance, from digital tools to ethnography to civic engagement and organizing. This reorientation requires a very different approach to recruiting, training, and retraining personnel. Much more can and must be done to train and invest in existing staff while creatively bringing in a crop of new public servants. Outreach to traditionally marginalized communities – for example, through developing dedicated training and recruitment programs, moving staff from unpaid to paid internships, and creating more diverse “on-ramps” to government service – will be crucial. 

***

The next administration will need to quickly restore government and reinvent public service that is more reflective of the most affected communities and more responsive to all of us. This requires moving beyond the trappings of technocratic bureaucracy. Expertise is critical, especially in a public health emergency. But experts alone cannot resolve the failures we have seen. These are failures not just of expertise, but of values, arising from a woefully unequal distribution of political and economic power. We need an inclusive democracy where frontline communities not only can organize and make demands but have the civic power to shape the actions of their government. 

 

 

Share

Created with Sketch.

Related Articles

Comments

Create an account to save your username.

Registration

Corina (not verified)May 10, 2020 - 19:19My partner and I stumbled over here from a different page and thought I may as well check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to looking over your web page repeatedly. My website news
May 10, 2020 - 19:19
Corina (not verified)May 10, 2020 - 19:19My partner and I stumbled over here from a different page and thought I may as well check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to looking over your web page repeatedly. Feel free to surf to my webpage - news
May 10, 2020 - 19:19
Sanora (not verified)May 11, 2020 - 01:53Everything is very open with a very clear clarification of the challenges. It was truly informative. Your site is very helpful. Many thanks for sharing! Also visit my web page ... blog
May 11, 2020 - 01:53
Sanora (not verified)May 11, 2020 - 01:53Everything is very open with a very clear clarification of the challenges. It was truly informative. Your site is very helpful. Many thanks for sharing! My web-site - blog
May 11, 2020 - 01:53
Franklyn (not verified)May 13, 2020 - 04:59I wass excited too discover this great site. I want tto to thank youu for your timne just for this fanhtastic read!! I definitely really liked every little bit off it and I have you book marked to look at nnew stuff in your blog.
May 13, 2020 - 04:59
Franklyn (not verified)May 13, 2020 - 04:59I wwas excited to discover this great site. I want to to thank yoou for your time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely realy liked every little bit of it and I have you book matked to look at new stuff in your blog.
May 13, 2020 - 04:59
Elouise (not verified)May 24, 2020 - 00:32Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your weblog posts. In any case I'll be subscribing on your feed and I hope you write once more soon! Feel free to surf to my site: write my essay
May 24, 2020 - 00:32
Elouise (not verified)May 24, 2020 - 00:33Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your weblog posts. In any case I'll be subscribing on your feed and I hope you write once more soon! My web page; write my essay
May 24, 2020 - 00:33
Trena (not verified)May 25, 2020 - 03:03It is appropriate time to make some plans for the long run and it's time to be happy. I've read this post and if I could I wish to counsel you some interesting issues or tips. Maybe you can write subsequent articles relating to this article. I want to read more issues approximately it! My web site blog3004.xyz
May 25, 2020 - 03:03
Trena (not verified)May 25, 2020 - 03:03It is appropriate time to make some plans for the long run and it's time to be happy. I've read this post and if I could I wish to counsel you some interesting issues or tips. Maybe you can write subsequent articles relating to this article. I want to read more issues approximately it! Feel free to surf to my blog post; blog3004.xyz
May 25, 2020 - 03:03
Angelica (not verified)May 28, 2020 - 12:56Hello, i think that i saw you visited my site thus i came to “return the favor”.I'm attempting to find things to enhance my site!I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!! Feel free to surf to my homepage ... blog3004
May 28, 2020 - 12:56
Angelica (not verified)May 28, 2020 - 12:56Hello, i think that i saw you visited my site thus i came to “return the favor”.I'm attempting to find things to enhance my site!I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!! Feel free to visit my web-site - blog3004
May 28, 2020 - 12:56
Twila (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 02:01Hello, i feel that i saw you visited my weblog thus i came to return the choose?.I am trying to in finding things to improve my site!I assume its adequate to make use of a few of your concepts!! Here is my website ... blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 02:01
Twila (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 02:01Hello, i feel that i saw you visited my weblog thus i came to return the choose?.I am trying to in finding things to improve my site!I assume its adequate to make use of a few of your concepts!! Visit my web-site - blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 02:01
Harry (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 02:57I absolutely love your site.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you develop this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I'm looking to create my very own site and would like to find out where you got this from or what the theme is called. Cheers! My web-site; blog3004
June 2, 2020 - 02:57
Harry (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 02:57I absolutely love your site.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you develop this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I'm looking to create my very own site and would like to find out where you got this from or what the theme is called. Cheers! Also visit my page ... blog3004
June 2, 2020 - 02:57
Shanon (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 17:03Pretty! This has been an incredibly wonderful article. Many thanks for supplying this info. my web site ... blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 17:03
Shanon (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 17:03Pretty! This has been an incredibly wonderful article. Many thanks for supplying this info. Check out my website - blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 17:03
Christoper (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 17:18Thanks , I've recently been searching for information approximately this subject for a long time and yours is the greatest I have discovered till now. But, what about the bottom line? Are you positive concerning the supply? Also visit my blog: blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 17:18
Christoper (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 17:18Thanks , I've recently been searching for information approximately this subject for a long time and yours is the greatest I have discovered till now. But, what about the bottom line? Are you positive concerning the supply? Also visit my page; blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 17:18
Rachel (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 18:33I am regular reader, how are you everybody? This post posted at this website is really nice. Also visit my site - blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 18:33
Rachel (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 18:33I am regular reader, how are you everybody? This post posted at this website is really nice. My web site - blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 18:33
Harry (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 21:13Very good site you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I'd really love to be a part of community where I can get feedback from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Kudos! Feel free to visit my blog post blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 21:13
Harry (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 21:13Very good site you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I'd really love to be a part of community where I can get feedback from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Kudos! Here is my web page blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 21:13
Reagan (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 21:20Hello! This post couldn't be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing! Also visit my web blog; blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 21:20
Reagan (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 21:20Hello! This post couldn't be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing! my blog; blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 21:20
Chang (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 22:10That is a great tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere. Brief but very precise info… Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read post! Feel free to surf to my web page - blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 22:10
Chang (not verified)June 2, 2020 - 22:10That is a great tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere. Brief but very precise info… Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read post! Feel free to visit my web-site :: blog3004.xyz
June 2, 2020 - 22:10
Nancy (not verified)June 3, 2020 - 08:43Wow, that's what I was seeking for, what a stuff! present here at this blog, thanks admin of this site. Here is my site :: info
June 3, 2020 - 08:43
Nancy (not verified)June 3, 2020 - 08:43Wow, that's what I was seeking for, what a stuff! present here at this blog, thanks admin of this site. Have a look at my homepage: info
June 3, 2020 - 08:43
Teri (not verified)June 4, 2020 - 06:17Hey there exceptional website! Does running a blog similar to this require a massive amount work? I've very little expertise in programming however I had been hoping to start my own blog in the near future. Anyways, should you have any recommendations or tips for new blog owners please share. I know this is off topic however I simply wanted to ask. Thank you!
June 4, 2020 - 06:17
Teri (not verified)June 4, 2020 - 06:17Hey there exceptional website! Does running a blog similar to this require a massive amount work? I've very little expertise in programming however I had been hoping to start my own blog in the near future. Anyways, should you have any recommendations or tips for new blog owners please share. I know this is off topic however I simply wanted to ask. Thank you!
June 4, 2020 - 06:17
Edmundo (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 02:12Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read? Also visit my webpage blog3004.xyz
June 5, 2020 - 02:12
Edmundo (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 02:12Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read? Feel free to visit my web page :: blog3004.xyz
June 5, 2020 - 02:12
Marc (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 02:26Marvelous, what a webpage it is! This web site provides helpful facts to us, keep it up. Also visit my web-site - blog3004
June 5, 2020 - 02:26
Marc (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 02:26Marvelous, what a webpage it is! This web site provides helpful facts to us, keep it up. Here is my page ... blog3004
June 5, 2020 - 02:26
Fleta (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 09:39Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't appear. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say excellent blog! Look into my website: blog3004
June 5, 2020 - 09:39
Fleta (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 09:39Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't appear. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say excellent blog! Here is my web site; blog3004
June 5, 2020 - 09:39
Kendrick (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 09:53I was able to find good information from your blog articles. My page blog3004.xyz
June 5, 2020 - 09:53
Kendrick (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 09:53I was able to find good information from your blog articles. Here is my web page; blog3004.xyz
June 5, 2020 - 09:53
Riley (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 23:01I'm now not certain where you're getting your information, but great topic. I must spend a while finding out much more or understanding more. Thank you for wonderful information I was in search of this info for my mission. Visit my blog post :: blog3004.xyz
June 5, 2020 - 23:01
Riley (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 23:01I'm now not certain where you're getting your information, but great topic. I must spend a while finding out much more or understanding more. Thank you for wonderful information I was in search of this info for my mission. Also visit my webpage; blog3004.xyz
June 5, 2020 - 23:01
Quinn (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 23:49Please let me know if you're looking for a article author for your blog. You have some really good articles and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I'd absolutely love to write some material for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please shoot me an email if interested. Regards! Feel free to visit my page :: blog3004.xyz
June 5, 2020 - 23:49
Quinn (not verified)June 5, 2020 - 23:49Please let me know if you're looking for a article author for your blog. You have some really good articles and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I'd absolutely love to write some material for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please shoot me an email if interested. Regards! Feel free to surf to my blog post; blog3004.xyz
June 5, 2020 - 23:49
Etta (not verified)June 15, 2020 - 08:07Helpful information. Lucky me I discovered your website by chance, and I'm stunned why this coincidence did not happened in advance! I bookmarked it. My site: g
June 15, 2020 - 08:07
Etta (not verified)June 15, 2020 - 08:07Helpful information. Lucky me I discovered your website by chance, and I'm stunned why this coincidence did not happened in advance! I bookmarked it. Here is my webpage; g
June 15, 2020 - 08:07
Brandy (not verified)June 16, 2020 - 04:17Howdy exceptional website! Does running a blog like this take a lot of work? I've virtually no knowledge of coding however I had been hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyway, should you have any recommendations or tips for new blog owners please share. I know this is off topic nevertheless I simply wanted to ask. Thank you! My web page; g
June 16, 2020 - 04:17
Brandy (not verified)June 16, 2020 - 04:17Howdy exceptional website! Does running a blog like this take a lot of work? I've virtually no knowledge of coding however I had been hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyway, should you have any recommendations or tips for new blog owners please share. I know this is off topic nevertheless I simply wanted to ask. Thank you! Here is my web page ... g
June 16, 2020 - 04:17
Joseph (not verified)June 16, 2020 - 12:22Good day! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group? There's a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Thank you Feel free to visit my homepage; wordpress
June 16, 2020 - 12:22
Joseph (not verified)June 16, 2020 - 12:22Good day! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group? There's a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Thank you Also visit my homepage: wordpress
June 16, 2020 - 12:22

Pages