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In Defense Of The Public Square

A robust and vibrant public square is an essential foundation of democracy. It is the place where the important public issues of the day are subject to free and open debate, and where our ideas of what is in the public interest take shape. It is the ground upon which communities and associations are organized to advocate for policies that promote that public interest. It is the site for the provision of essential public goods, from education and healthcare to safety and mass transportation. It is the terrain upon which the centralizing and homogenizing power of both the state and the market are checked and balanced. It is the economic arena with the means to control the market’s tendencies toward polarizing economic inequality and cycles of boom and bust. It is the site of economic opportunity for historically excluded groups such as African-Americans and Latinos.

And yet in America today, the public square is under extraordinary attack. A flood of unregulated, unaccountable money in our politics and media threatens to drown public debate and ravage our civic life, overwhelming authentic conceptions of the public interest. Decades of growing economic inequality menaces the very public institutions with the capacity to promote greater economic and social equality. Unprecedented efforts to privatize essential public goods and public services are underway. Teachers, nurses and other public servants who deliver those public goods are the object of vilification from the political right, and their rights in the workplace are in danger. Legislative and judicial efforts designed to eviscerate public sector unions are ongoing.

In response to these developments, a consortium of seven organizations—the Albert Shanker Institute; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the American Federation of Teachers; the American Prospect; Dissent; Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor; and the Service Employees International Union—has organized a to bring together prominent elected officials, public intellectuals, and union, business and civil rights leaders “in defense of the public square.”

The conference will take place at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The first sessions will be held from 3:30-6:30pm on Friday, May 1, and 9:45am-5:30pm on Saturday, May 2. For more information, or to register, please visit the conference webpage. The event will also be livestreamed at that link. The full agenda is below.

AGENDA

IN DEFENSE OF THE PUBLIC SQUARE

Friday, May 1  and Saturday, May 2

Edward B. Bunn, S. J. Intercultural Center (ICC Auditorium)

Georgetown University, 37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington, DC 20057-1047

Friday, May 1 (3:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.)

CIVIC CULTURE, CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AND THE PUBLIC SQUARE

  • Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers; president, Albert Shanker Institute

THE VITAL ROLE OF THE PUBLIC SECTOR IN THE ECONOMY

  • Mary Kay Henry, international president, Service Employees International Union
  • Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor, American Prospect; distinguished senior fellow, Demos
  • Jeff Madrick, director, Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative; senior fellow, Century Foundation

Saturday, May 2 (9:45 a.m.-5:30 p.m.)

AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND PUBLIC EDUCATION

  • Deborah Meier, founder, Central Park East Secondary School; senior scholar, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, New York University
  • Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, New York University; executive director, Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, New York University
  • Tina Trujillo, assistant professor of education, University of California at Berkeley

Break

THE ATTACK ON THE PUBLIC SECTOR AND PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS

  • Craig Becker, general council, American Federation of Labor, and Congress of Industrial Organizations
  • Joseph McCartin, director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor,Georgetown University
  • Lee Saunders, president, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

Box lunch

THE PUBLIC SECTOR, SOCIAL SERVICES AND RACE

  • Marian Wright Edelman, founder, Children’s Defense Fund
  • Douglas McAdam, Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Sociology, Stanford University
  • John Powell, professor of law, professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, University of California at Berkeley

Break

CLOSING SESSION

  • Rev. William Barber, pastor, Greenleaf Christian Church (Goldsboro, N.C.); leader, Moral Mondays Movement
  • E. J. Dionne, columnist, Washington Post; senior fellow in Governance Studies, Brookings Institution

 

Conference webpage (registration, information, and livestream)

For more information or questions, e-mail vthomas@ashankerinst.org

Issues Areas

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