The Radical Center

From the executive director.

Has the political center become the most radical place to work? In this time of piqued partisan rhetoric, it may be.

Working at the radical center does not mean that each of us should become a centrist. Nor does it mean that every answer will be found in the political center.

Rather I mean to draw attention to something that has become a radical act: coming together to acknowledge and honestly assess challenges we face and working cooperatively on solutions.

Writing about the concept of the radical center for the Quivira Coalition, William deBuys suggests four characteristics of the work:

(1) Work in the radical center involves a departure from business as usual.

(2) Work in the radical center is not bigoted. You don’t question where somebody is from or what kind of hat he or she wears, you just question where that person is willing to go and whether that person is willing to work constructively on the question at hand.

(3) Work in the radical center involves interesting tools. There is not one way of doing things. There can be many ways of doing things. We need to have large tool boxes and to lend and borrow tools freely.

(4) Work in the radical center is experimental. It keeps developing new alternatives every step along the way. Nothing is ever so good that it can’t stand a little revision, and nothing is ever so impossible and broken down that a try at fixing it is out of the question.

Here deBuys is discussing the work of land conservation in the American West, but the concept applies to any contemporary challenge we face. 

From the local to the national level, challenges we face have been solved when people of diverse interests took a pragmatic and cooperative approach. 

Medicare, the Endangered Species Act and the State’s Children Health Insurance Program were all major bipartisan initiatives in D.C. 

The Endangered Species Act passed with overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle. Imagine sweeping reform of environmental regulation attracting such support today.

And deBuys correctly adds, “When we are smart enough to separate our interests from our political positions, then we can really do some good work.”

At the Center for Rural Affairs, we believe in the power of people of diverse political constituencies working together to advance our values of community, opportunity and stewardship.

We walk the walk too. Most of our major initiatives have been anchored by bipartisan support in the countryside and in Washington. And at last survey, 39 percent of Center supporters self-identified as Democrats, 23 percent as Republicans, and 20 percent as unaffiliated.

Rural people have a long history of coming together to solve collective challenges. Barns were raised with the help of neighbors. Electric poles were sunk in the ground and wires strung thanks to local co-ops.

If states are the laboratory of democracy, perhaps small towns can be the laboratory of a new cooperation.