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Citizen Solution

How You Can Make A Difference

Harry C. Boyte

Publication Year: 2008

Nationally known community organizer and activist Harry C. Boyte incites readers to join today’s “citizen movement,” offering practical tools for how we can change the face of America by focusing on issues close to home. Targeting useful techniques for individuals to raise public consciousness and effectively motivate community-based groups, Boyte grounds his arguments in the country’s tradition of “populism,” demonstrating how mobilized citizens can be far more powerful than our frequently paralyzed politicians. He offers practical tips on identifying potential citizen leaders and working through cultural differences without sacrificing identities. Each point is illustrated by inspiring real-life examples of Minnesotans who have prompted change: An immigrant community that created a cultural wellness center. An organization of multiracial, multifaith congregations that is tackling tough social problems. A cluster of suburban neighborhoods that came together to take back Sundays from overzealous youth-sports organizations. For readers doubting their ability to make a significant difference in our world, this how-to book will show the way. Praise for The Citizen Solution "The Citizen Solution should be on every activist's book shelf--consider it the practical progressive's Bible for making things happen."—Daily Kos “The Citizen Solution brings Minnesota's rich civic traditions to life. In this stirring book, Boyte describes how people of diverse backgrounds are once again coming together to address the challenges we face.”—Walter Mondale, former vice president of the United States “In a time of great political division, The Citizen Solution offers individuals a path to make change on the issues they care about. Only through civic engagement can we build the power to improve our communities.”—David Wellstone, co-founder of Wellstone Action! “The Citizen Solution is a great resource for thoughtful people. Harry Boyte provides hope, principles, and examples to encourage families, peer groups, and neighborhoods to solve problems for the common good.”—Al Quie, former governor of Minnesota “Boyte's practical and inspirational book is essential reading for anyone concerned with the future of American democracy.”—Cecilia Marie Orphan, National Coordinator, American Democracy Project

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

The Citizen Solution grows out of a long collaboration between the Center for Democracy and Citizenship (CDC) and our colleagues at the Kettering Foundation. Kettering has supported many CDC research projects into topics as diverse as populism, community-based learning, patterns of decision making in immigrant communities, young people’s...


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

The Citizen Solution: How You Can Make a Difference is a deceptively simple title for a book. Most of us cut our civics baby teeth on the notion that we, the people, navigate our ship of state. What, then, could this book teach us? Harry Boyte doesn’t teach us, so much as remind us, that citizens produce our society and government and do not simply consume...

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Introduction: Beyond Slash-and-Burn Politics

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pp. 3-9

The Citizen Solution tells about an emerging citizen movement that is beginning to overcome people’s feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness about the large problems facing us. The Citizen Solution describes what makes for effective civic action and civic organizations through which successful action can be sustained. It also shows why...

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1. Working Together

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pp. 11-34

The civil rights movement that shaped me as a young man was full of faith in the capacities of people without degrees, formal credentials, or celebrity status—in this case, African Americans in the South, radically devalued by segregation. It was also full of leaders who illustrated the substance of this faith. Oliver Harvey, a janitor at Duke...

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2. Minnesota’s Living Civic Culture

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pp. 35-45

When the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed on August 1, 2007, people around the world were riveted by scenes of the spectacular disaster. They were also struck by something else: the amazing outpouring of volunteer and professional citizen energies. Hundreds of people in passing cars...

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3. Breaking the Silence

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pp. 47-59

Today in Minnesota, as elsewhere, powerful trends threaten civic life. The Minnesota Community Project, created by former vice president Walter Mondale at the Humphrey Institute, noted disturbing trends such as “divisions into increasingly irreconcilable [political] camps . . . deep skepticism about public institutions, and...

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4. A History of Adventurous Experiment

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pp. 61-76

Civic efforts like the Citizens League, organizing to fight global warming at Macalester, the Warrior to Citizen campaign, and Balance4Success build on the state ’s rich civic heritage. This heritage has combined the efforts of the rich and famous with populist energies. It has also reflected a diverse cultural mix...

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5. Cultural Leaders

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pp. 77-88

In today's dominant culture, strong attachment to community values can actually doom kids to failure. Low-income and working-class children are often likely to do poorly in school and later careers, feel powerless in relation to institutions, and get little encouragement for educational and civic uplift of the sort that once animated places...

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6. ISAIAH’s Worldview

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pp. 89-105

On October 10, 2004, less than a month before the 2004 election, more than four thousand members of the ISAIAH group gathered at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul to proclaim their faith in democracy. ISAIAH is a multiracial, nonpartisan, economically diverse organization with eighty member Protestant and Catholic congregations...

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7. Everyday Politics

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pp. 107-123

Today, many people feel like spectators to what's happening in the larger world. People almost everywhere, from inner-city neighborhoods to suburbs and rural communities, feel powerless to do anything about problems in major institutions and the larger culture. For the last twenty years, the Humphrey Institute ’s Center for...

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8. From Isolation to Neighborhood Communities

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pp. 125-142

Americans today need to remember the purposes of education envisioned by early educators. Benjamin Rush, a founding figure in American education, argued that public schools were the crucial bulwark against tyranny. “Where learning is confined to a few people, we always find monarchy, aristocracy, and slavery,” he...

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9. Citizen Professionals

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pp. 143-157

Despite the ways in which our world is technocratic, with experts in charge, broad forces are also at work to democratize knowledge. While large institutions try mightily to keep secrets, they find it harder and harder to do so. One of the distinctive features of the knowledge revolution today is that information is harder and harder...

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10. Renewing Government of the People

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pp. 159-173

For all it might seem that the war between liberals and conservatives is entrenched in Minnesota and elsewhere with no resolution in sight, I believe a Star Tribune editorial of 2005 headlined “Minnesota Shows Signs of Civic Revival” had it right. The paper’s editors pointed to a civic stirring that is profoundly important. This is much more than increasing...

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Afterword: Culture and Power

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pp. 175-187

The citizen movement in Minnesota spans the conventional left-right spectrum. The widely different ideological perspectives represented by Wellstone Action and Republicans like former governor Al Quie and state senator Dave Senjem suggest the depth of the civic and populist tradition in Minnesota, and highlight the...


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pp. 189-200


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pp. 201-207

E-ISBN-13: 9780873516624
E-ISBN-10: 0873516621
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873516105
Print-ISBN-10: 0873516109

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1