Civic Entrepreneur is a podcast hosted by Dr. Josh Franco, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Cuyamaca College, that focuses on civic entrepreneurship, grassroots organizing, and public policy with diversity, inclusion, and equity at its core.
Episode 2: Individual and Community defines individual, community, and common purpose; discusses common purpose; describes how civic entrepreneurs navigate the tension between individual and community; and shares how students organized to advocate for increasing investment in education during the 2008 California state budget crisis.
Hello and welcome to Civic Entrepreneur, a podcast that focuses on civic entrepreneurship, grassroots organizing, and public policy with diversity, inclusion, and equity at its core. I'm your host, Dr. Josh Franco, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Cuyamaca College. Welcome to Episode 2: Individual and Community. In this podcast we'll be discussing individual and community, and why there's tension between the two. We'll also explore common purpose and what it means for civic entrepreneurs to overcome the tension of individual and community to help bring about change. To start, I like to define three terms: individual, community, and common purpose. What is individual? The individual level centers on the person. Each person is unique. So, when using this framework, the goal is to explore the self-interest of the individual, given their observable behaviors and actions. Additionally, we can explore an individual's unobservable values and beliefs by assuming them from the observed behaviors and actions. In scientific studies of politics, the concept of observable and unobservable is related to the public and private spheres of individuals. Next, let's define community. What is community? the community level focuses on groups of people who relationally are proximate to each other. A common example of the community level is your immediate or your extended family. It also includes your physical neighborhood as defined by streets, blocks, or other landmarks, or even your school or your college community. Now, the community level can also center on group of people who knowingly share common interest. For example, if you're a member of the marching band, a part of a dance group, or playing into video gaming team, you can consider those your community as well. Our third term is common purpose. Common purpose as a shared vision, mission, or goal of a group of individuals. There are a range of common purposes, from the mundane to the righteous. Let me offer a few examples. Imagine it's lunchtime. And after working all morning, everyone in your family forgot to prepare the lunchtime meal. Now, the family has a shared goal: moving from hangry to happy. Let me give another example, consider that you live next to a highway. So it's a bit noisy. People living next to the highway, have a shared goal: getting quiet pavement installed to reduce the traffic noise so that I can sleep more peacefully. Let me offer one last example. Think about how the Native American peoples have the vision that there is an open acknowledgement of their ancestral lands. The community has a shared mission: encourage local state and federal governments, along with schools and associations and even sports teams, to offer a land acknowledgement at the beginning of their meetings or events. Now that we've defined the terms of individual, community, and common purpose. A key question we want to ask ourselves is: how does common purpose emerge? Now, if every individual in a community has a similar self-interest in a mission, vision, or goal, then it's the self-interest that binds everyone together. On the other hand, if every individual in the community is willing to sacrifice part of their self-interest in helping fulfill the vision, mission or goal. Then it's the altruism that binds everyone together. In most cases communities have a common purpose with a mix of self-interest and altruistic individuals. When it comes to the emergence of common purpose, there's regularly a debate about motives. For example, why is this individual getting involved? Or why is this organization supporting this effort? These are fair questions to be asked of any individual or organization that's involved in contributing to and building a common purpose. But, it shouldn't distract from the fact that someone's willing to be engaged, to be involved, and to speak up whether they're agreed with or not. When it comes to building common purpose, the effort is to achieve a shared mission, vision, or goal. If an individual is willing to show up, put in their 2 cents, and get the work done, then that's all that matters: is that they are contributing positively to the effort of building common purpose. There can be a tension between individual and community for a variety of reasons. Individual self-interests can be diametrically opposed to the community interest. Arguments about special interests versus the greater good can permeate throughout efforts to build common purpose. And in many instances, if the community feels overlooked or overpowered, they may withdraw from the process. It's useful to recognize that the tension between individual and community is a natural part of the process of building common purpose. So, the point is not to eliminate the tension. The point is to acknowledge that the tension is there and sometimes it can be high, and sometimes it can be low. But as you're able to traverse it are you able to work towards building that common goal, mission, or vision. How do civic entrepreneurs work with this tension between individual and community? First, they acknowledge that different communities, different individuals, and different sectors have varying interests. And that's okay. We have to acknowledge that everyone's coming at a common purpose building effort from a different perspective, from a different way of thinking, from a different way of being. Secondly, civic entrepreneurs do the hard work of finding commonality between individuals, within communities, and between sectors. It is very difficult to understand where anyone or any organization is coming from, but with time, and effort, and energy, it could be better understood. And it's that expenditure of time and effort and energy, which makes the difference. Because when people demonstrate that they're willing to put in the effort, there's an acknowledgement that comes with saying: hey, this person's getting it together, let's see what we can do. I want to share an example of how common purpose can be built. And I'm going to draw on my library of life and use my experiences and my examples to help illuminate these concepts of civic entrepreneurship. Now, obviously there's a multitude, and infinite, number of examples. Those of you listening can probably think of half dozen or a dozen of them in your own life that either you've lived or that you've observed. So I don't want to take away from that, but I do want to speak from a place of experience and have confidence when it comes to civic entrepreneurship, so i'll draw on my well of experiences to do that. So I want to transport us back in time, to 2007-2008. So, I just recently graduated from UC Merced with my bachelor's degree in public policy. I secured an internship and then eventually full employment in the Office of Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi. And this was a time of great struggle. So, if you remember from 2007 to 2009, we were in a great recession and it took us about a decade of climb out of it. Now as this recent graduate from the newest University of California, I was quite excited to enter the State Capitol working for a long time public servant. And in these trying times, one of the challenges that came forward was: how do we bring the voice of students to the State Capital in a way that demonstrates their power? Especially in time when we're seeing dramatic cuts to higher education. And I was tasked with organizing, the student associations of the University of California, the California State University system, and the Community College system to come together, and say, let's work together to advocate for what we need, which is increased investment in higher education Surprisingly enough, at the time, the three soon associations didn't regularly meet or convene with one another. So there wasn't a degree of cooperation that was necessary in order to have a common purpose of advocating at the state level to increase investment in higher education. So what I set out to do was to reach out to the leadership of each of those groups, ask them to come together on a conference with the Lieutenant Governor, and then begin the hard work of seeing how we could work together more effectively to help bring more awareness and greater urgency to the needs of students in the higher education systems. After that first conference I worked to set up conference calls with the student leaders. So I reached out to UC Student Association President Louise Hendrickson, student Regent Ben Allen, Regent Designate D'Artagnan Scorza, CSSA President Dina Cervantes, and Student Senate of California Community Colleges President Frank Fernandez. It was hard work to reach out to these individuals and to say: hey what can we do to work together with our colleagues across the systems in order to advocate for our common needs? Now, what were some of the practical things I did to help bring together these student leaders and help form the coalition Students for California's Future? First was using the power of an elected official to convene a disparate group of people together to identify a common interest. Secondly, doing the leg work of reaching out and building consensus on when we could meet together, on when we could discuss things together, and on when we can push for events or other activities together. Third, was supporting student leaders who wanted to take action. And I want to give a call out to my friend Dina Cervantes of the California State Student Association. She was the one who said: we, as an association, are ready, willing, and able to drive this conversation, literally with a bus, actually 40 buses, from all parts of California, to Raley Field and to do a march on the Capitol. That leadership helps spark the other two associations to say, let's make this happen. And so we went from an idea, to a group of people talking, to a formalized coalition, to eventually marching on the state Capitol in April of 2008. Reflecting back, it's pretty awesome to think that you can have a role in shaping the efforts of leaders and of organizations. And what I saw was that there were student leaders hungry to get into the fight, hungry to challenge the status quo, and really look at the situation and say: we have to do more than just sit by and let our systems, and our classes, and our peers get cut because the state isn't willing to invest in higher education. And so there was this common purpose that was drawn from exterior forces and then internalized by these student leaders. There was a sense of individuals, right? Each of these association had their own interest. And there was a sense of community because we all knew that in this boat together, we would sink or that we would swim. And so it's up to us to acknowledge that going forward, that when you have challenging times, student leaders are an excellent example of civic entrepreneurs because they will find a way to make it work. In future podcasts, we'll be exploring trust and accountability, economy and society, people and place, change and continuity, and idealism and pragmatism. Thank you for taking the time to listen in on this episode of Civic Entrepreneur. I welcome your feedback, thoughts, comments, and suggestions. If you're interested in being interviewed as a part of this podcast, feel free to send me a message on Twitter or visit our website at www.civicentrepreneur.com. Thank you and take care!