Community and Political Power

August 2, 2011

Course Objectives

  1. This course is really about sources and uses of power in civic or public life.

  • What is common and what is different between political power (power exercised by an elected government (executive, legislative and administrative) and community-based power, i.e., power derived from  civic associations, formal and informal, intended to affect civic life?
  • What is the interaction between political and civic power?
  • The focus will be on local government and community – where decisions often seem to have a more proximate and immediate impact on our lives.
  1. Political Power will look at:

  • What does it take to get elected to public office?
  • What impact does the election process have on those holding public office?
  • What are the formal and informal powers of elected officials, especially at the local level?
  • What power do non-elected government officials have in influencing public policy?
  • What influence, formal and informal, do citizens play, in the policy process?  (This will transition to an examination of civic action, citizen participation and organization and, community life.)
  1. Community Power will explore:

  • How individuals and community-based groups participate in public life and policy making.
  • How the power necessary to change (or maintain) community life is accumulated and exercised.   And, how political entities (elected officials, public administrators, public boards and commissions) and other source of power in the community (e.g., business and corporate interests, non-profit organizations, religious organizations and the media) may react to community power.
  • What the field of community development brings to the table and how civic life is supported
  • How to think about creating successful community change
  • What’s the role of a “citizen” in public life


Course Methods

  1. There is no is no formal text required for the course.
  2. There will be specific, relatively short readings assigned.
  3. The primary method for learning how politic action happens is through analysis and guided discussion of a wide range of practical engagements.  This will require your complete commitment to non-classroom experiences, working with and observing political groups (campaign organizations, City Council actions, and the administration of public policy).
  4. Similarly, an understanding of community power is best learned by a combination of direct engagement with community-based initiatives and organizations accompanied by reflection, discussion and analysis of what you experience working in communities.  (Where and how, for instance, does community action become public policy?)
  5. You will most often work in teams (established in the Green Urbanism half of block) to do both political and community engagement.   Class time will be devoted to discussions of readings, in-depth analysis of practical experiences, as a forum for political and community practitioners to talk with us about what they do and what they have experienced,  team meetings as needed and, team presentations.
  6. You will be asked, in your established teams to develop a community change strategy based on an issue or topic you identify as part of your placement.  This will include developing a problem statement; creating an asset inventory and developing an action plan for positive change.  Each team will be required to present their findings and recommendations to the class.

Requirements and Expectations

  1. You are expected to commit mind, body and spirit to the political and community engagement that is the core of this course (and, a major part of the third “P” in PPP).  The nature of this work will likely be very different from anything you have done before, especially with the combination of political experiences and community-based work.  The non-classroom, team-based aspect of the course presents challenges (not the least of which is simply scheduling) and opportunities.  Most of what is achieved in the public sector cannot happen without multiple minds and hands, working in common, over a long period of time. The public sector is the world of team effort.
  2. The advantage of the academic life is the opportunity to reflect with discipline and rigor on the experiences you have and to be assisted in that examination by peers, teachers and experts.  For us, this occurs, by and large, in the classroom.  Therefore, class attendance AND participation is crucial to the learning process for all of us.
  3. Finally, your experience, reflection and learning are most valuable to the public when you can effectively communicate in a wide range of public forums (written, small groups, public media opportunities and presentations).  That is what public advocates do.  This includes community-based forums (formal and informal), political activities such as campaigning and public policy advocacy, and formal presentations in class and other academic settings.
  4. This is an honors program offering honor-level challenges and requiring consistent, honors-level performance.  You will be graded on:
  • Your commitment to and execution of the experiential requirements of the course,
  • Your preparation and participation in class,
  • Your contribution to team assignments,
  • Your individual preparation and execution in formal presentations.
  1. Students will be evaluated on the content and timeliness of their assignments, the quality of their formal presentations, their consistent class participation and team work and the final assignment for the course.   Because nature and variety of what you do does not lend itself to a numerical score, students will be evaluated on a scale of excellent, very good, good, fair and poor.

Several points about the operation of the course:

  1. At your placement you represent the University, this course and your colleagues.  No matter how varied the personalities and experiences are that you face in your placements, you are expected to conduct yourself with professionalism and to respect those you work with and encounter.  To do less will be reflected in your grade.
  2. We encourage open discussion in the classroom, including your experiences and observations from your placements.  Please remember that classroom discussion should be treated as confidential.  What is said in the classroom, stays in the classroom. Discretion is an important ingredient in building trust in the political world and in the community.
  3. Please note that, like Drs. Smythe and Fairfield, we take very seriously the policy on page 52 of the Xavier Catalog regarding standards of ethical behavior.
  4. As noted above, the political world and community is a dynamic, sometimes disorganized and often unpredictable enterprise.  The schedule we keep over the semester may need to be adjusted to match the political and public events that unfold over the next several weeks.

Addendum to the Community and Political Power Syllabus

Community and Political Power was part of an experimental “block” (i.e. two courses taught back-to-back with, in this case, four faculty and the same student cohort enrolled in both courses) that was offered with Green Urbanism (syllabus attached).

The faculty members collaborated to provided community-based placements (also attached) through the Green Urbanism and Urban Gardening course (taught by two full professors from the History Department) that had an underlining theme consistence with the academic content of the course.  Students worked in teams at these placements.  The practical engagement, which helped inform both courses, was worth 30% of the students’ grades in the Green Urbanism course.

The Community and Political course deployed these same student teams to work both sides of the 2010, highly contested race for the 1st Congressional District of Ohio (Steve Driehaus v. Steve Chabot).  In addition to campaign engagement, teams prepared sophisticated, well-researched campaign plans for their respective candidates that included voter analysis, strategy, messages and field operation. As with any campaign course I teach, the syllabus is intended to be fairly loosely structured to allow for the changing opportunities that arise in any hard-fought political campaign.

After the election, the teams were guided by the former director of City Planning in field analysis of a variety of neighborhood.  The power point that was used for the community analysis portion is attached. The third page, entitled “The Assignment,” describes team assignment for this portion of the course.

The theme of the Community and Political Power course was very hands-on with two purposes.  The first was to use both block courses to give student a wide range of public engagement: civic, political and public administration.  Second was to expose students to a great variety of ways they might enter public life when they graduate, whether as a community organizer, advocating through a non-profit, or working in the legislative or administrative branches of government.  We want our students to think critically; to see the inter-relationship of all these elements of public life. It was a successful block which we plan on offering again.

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