"Protest is what people normally think about when they think about citizen politics. Such protests are found on left and right: they include demonstrations against the World Trade Organization and also against abortion clinics. Yet since the 1960s far more sophisticated citizen efforts have developed beneath the radar screen of mainstream attention to protests and related strategies like the canvass, direct mail, or more recently, internet mobilization.
"While populist appeals of left or right spread across the spectrum, under the surface of most political commentary a different kind of politics has grown, a politics that is, at once, neither professionally dominated nor partisan and also often more effective. Times of populist ferment create a context for such everyday politics because they raise to explicit attention the role of ordinary people in public life, but everyday politics is not partisan populist politics of left or right. Everyday politics involves people reclaiming politics as an activity owned and engaged in by citizens, in environments that reach far beyond the formal political system. These are the settings where people live, work, learn, worship, and play, social spaces such as neighborhoods, workplaces, families, schools, religious congregations, civic groups and sports clubs. Everyday politics, in the sense used and argued for here, requires learning the skills of negotiation among diverse interests among citizens of relatively equal standing, across partisan and other divisions, to accomplish tasks or to solve problems. In the process, if such settings are explicitly tied to the work of building and sustaining the broader society, people often learn what the political theorist Hannah Arendt called 'care of the whole,' or in the American idiom, the public good or commonwealth.
"As everyday politics has grown in recent years, it begins to form a counterweight or balance with large democratic potential because it creates a dense network of thick horizontal public and political relationships that are not state-centered or based in narrow partisan or issue identities. Everyday politics is the practice necessary to move from a nation of crowds and aggrieved consumers to a nation of publics. Everyday politics will make populism productive.
"Everyday politics is visible in unlikely alliances between cattle ranchers and environmentalists in Montana, in community health programs where citizens are recognized as co-producers of health, and in the best community policing efforts, which create sustained partnerships between police officers and community members to address problems like racial profiling and enhance overall neighborhood safety. All such efforts, implicitly or explicitly, use a more horizontal and interactive concept of politics rooted in local cultures, a politics that places the citizen, not the formal political process, at its core, a politics that emphasizes negotiating a plurality of interests, not the mobilization of the like-minded.
"The British theorist Bernard Crick’s book, In Defense of Politics, is used widely by contemporary citizen organizing groups, and his work can be taken as an account of their understanding of politics. Crick defines politics as negotiation and compromise among diverse views and interests, the alternative to violence in complex, modern societies of great heterogeneity, and a deeply civilizing activity. Drawing on Aristotle, Crick argues that politics is about plurality, not similarity. Crick defends politics against a list of enemies including nationalism, technology, and mass democracy, as well as overzealous partisans of conservative, liberal, and socialist ideologies.
"Today’s citizen organizing groups teach a view of the public world as full of ambiguity, diverse perspectives, and different value systems — a sense of politics that has proven crucial to their political effectiveness."