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The Concept and Philosophy of Public Work

The Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship has long utilized the concept of public work as an philosophy and approach to our work with individuals and communities. Public work is sustained, visible, serious effort by a diverse mix of ordinary people that creates things of lasting civic or public significance.

The ultimate goal of public work is a flourishing democratic culture, created through a different kind of politics in which citizens take center stage. We believe citizenship is best seen as work, whether paid or unpaid, that has public meaning, lasting public impact, and contributes to the commonwealth. Public work is different than citizenship as charity,  volunteerism, or protest politics. Instead, public work stresses the contribution of individuals in their everyday lives to shaping a common way of life together.

Public work teaches people to work across party lines and partisan differences. Diverse groups have come together to create parks, schools, and libraries, to organize civic holidays or movements for social reform. Institutions such as political parties, religious congregations, unions and commercial associations, settlements, cooperative extensions, schools, and colleges were once “mediating institutions” that connected everyday life to public affairs. They also taught an everyday politics of bargaining, negotiating, and problem solving. People learned to deal with others that they may disagree with on religion or ideology. They gained a sense of stake and ownership in democracy.

Such experiences of everyday political education and action have declined. Many institutions have become service delivery operations in which experts or professionals deliver the goods to clients or customers. Many forms of citizen politics have been reshaped as large-scale mobilizations, in which issues are cast in “good” or “evil” terms, and solutions are often vastly oversimplified. Public work politics aims to renew the civic muscle of mediating institutions and to teach the skills and habits of navigating many-sided public projects.

Public work is also a philosophy, a theoretical framework that draws upon diverse intellectual traditions and aims to have broad explanatory power about the craft of democratic action. Public work understand humans as creative agents, and emphasizes developing human talents, connecting people to each other and to society, and generating a sense of the world as open-ended and co-created by human beings. People are contributors, rather than victims, volunteers, or consumers. People are part of a relational public commons, in which our thriving is mutual and interconnected.

Public work is an evolving framework that speaks to the central challenges of our time. Public work dissolves the distinction between a separate government, a “them” responsible for our problems, and “the people,” innocent and aggrieved. Our government and our democratic way of life become what we make them, and are a reflection of ourselves.

Workshop Offerings

The Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship offers workshops and training sessions on topics related to civic, community, and political engagement for students, community members, staff, and faculty. See upcoming workshops on our events calendar.

 

Basics of Organizing: Public vs. Private, Power, and Self-Interest

Interested in learning about community organizing but don’t know where to start? This workshop is for you. Learn some of the foundational concepts of organizing to get started on your change making journey. Participants in this workshop will gain an understanding of relational power, the difference between public and private relationships, and how self-interest motivates us to act.

Deliberative Dialogue

According to research through the National Issues Forum, Americans are deeply worried that the social fabric may be unraveling due to polarization. A deliberative approach helps to address the problem of polarization. Deliberative practice promotes learning, listening, and understanding across lines of difference, and can lead to collective action. This experience-based training for moderating deliberative dialogues offers the opportunity for participants to engage in a deliberative dialogue, and to develop facilitation skills for moderating deliberative dialogues.

Democracy and the Philosophy of Public Work

In this dynamic workshop, participants will learn about the theory and practice of public work. Participants will leave being able to distinguish between three ways of conceptualizing democracy and what it means to be a citizen, and will understand civic agency and its role in public problem solving.

One-to-One Relational Meetings

If you want to create change, few things are more important as one-to-one relational meetings. One-to-ones are at the heart of community organizing and leadership. These conversations are about establishing a public relationship with someone, and sharing stories as a way to understand their motivations and self interests. They can uncover common values and interests that might lead to collaborative work in support of the change you are trying to create. This mix of personal, sometimes intimate knowledge leading to public action holds unique value. Participants in this workshop will learn and practice one-to-one relationship building for organizing and public work.

Orientation to Community-Based Learning

Through community-based learning, students engage with a local community or organization around co-created goals. These experiences do not take place in a vacuum and have potential for substantial impacts making it important to do thoughtful preparation. Participants will engage in reflection about the skills, capacities and lens they will be bringing to their work, reflection about their pre-existing knowledge and remaining questions about the community they’ll be working in, and learn helpful practices for navigating collaborative work in a new context.

Power Mapping

People interested in promoting positive social change— through public work, civic action, advocacy and other vehicles—need to be aware of who else cares about their cause, and the political and social power structures in play. Social change agents need tools to access resources and to put their ideas into action. Power mapping gives participants a way to think about different kinds of power, and a set of tools to access the power needed to make things happen.

Public Narrative

Using Marshall Ganz’s framework for storytelling as a catalyst for social change, participants in this workshop will learn about the power of the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now, and will begin to develop their own public narratives.

 

Sabo Scholars

Photo of Martin Sabo with students.Yearlong student seminar exploring civic and public life.

The Sabo Scholar program provides a unique opportunity for students to engage in civic life, study the political process, work on public policy, and explore careers in public service. The cohort meets on Thursday nights for academic seminar and civic engagement project work with the cohort.

Current 2nd or 3rd year Augsburg students who have an interest in politics, community, and civic life are encouraged to apply. To be enrolled in the Sabo Scholars course you must plan on studying on-campus for the entire school year (i.e. not going abroad or student teaching for part of the year) and be available for the class period on Thursday nights. Any eligible student is welcome to enroll in the course whether they receive the scholarship or not.

Benefits:

  • Unique opportunities to explore civic engagement and politics as a cohort
  • Earn upper-division credit (4 credits) in the Political Science Department
  • Seminar setting that is small and supportive
  • $2000 scholarship
  • Opportunities to formally develop civic leadership skills

The Sabo Scholars is one of three public leadership scholars programs at Augsburg.

Please check out the Christensen Scholars and the Interfaith Scholars.

Learn to Communicate Across the Political Divide with the Better Angels Workshop

A Democracy Augsburg Workshop

Blog post by Emily Braverman  Poster: Better Angels Workshop

“Political ideology” is a term used frequently by political activists, students, and generally by anyone who considers themselves a political enthusiast. What exactly does it mean? Simply put, it is a term describing a person’s political views.

As a myriad of recent examples from American politics display, when diverging political ideologies collide the result is not necessarily respectful or peaceful. Even some of the most qualified politicians have not mastered the skill of respectfully engaging in conversation with those who have a different political ideology.

In response to this challenging reality, The Sabo Center is partnering with Better Angels to offer a workshop where participants will learn effective ways to communicate with others who differ from them politically. Better Angels is a national citizens movement that aims to reduce political polarization in the United States by bringing together liberals and conservatives to understand each other beyond stereotypes, to form red/blue community alliances, to teach practical skills for communicating across political differences, and to make a strong public argument for depolarization.

Come join The Sabo Center for a fish bowl-style discussion in which an equal number of self-declared conservatives and progressives join together in conversation about their differences and how to embrace each other’s side:

Wednesday, October 17, 3:30pm – 5:30pm, Old Main Room 105.