The Democratic Merit and Sustainability of Participatory Public Interest Associations: A Case Study of the League of Women Voters
Cashin, Maria Hoyt
Kerch, Thomas M
THE DEMOCRATIC MERIT AND SUSTAINABILITY OF PARTICIPATORY PUBLIC INTEREST ASSOCIATIONS: A CASE STUDY OF THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERSMARIA HOYT CASHIN, M.P.A.MALS Mentor: Thomas M. Kerch, Ph.D.ABSTRACTDemocratic associations are cause for both hope and concern in contemporary America. Many groups that inspired active, bridging membership in the past to expand interest have disbanded or shrunk because of shifting social and political culture. In their place, the bulk of associations are hierarchical, without viable membership direction or participation, and cementing difference in practice. Within their company and operating in socially inclusive fashion to promote democratic process, the League of Women Voters appears assured for a "good citizen" award. Yet some critics might charge that by virtue of its association form, the League is simply another interest group and thus subject to scrutiny for self-serving purpose, fallible focus and manipulated process. This thesis considers the association's origins, evolution, record, membership, and gradually declining numbers in the context of democratic theory to understand the League's longevity and forecast through its prospects the character of self-rule through civic-focused associations.The League will be judged unusually capable of rendering internal and external democratic benefits through its enhancement of personalized and national democratic process, enablement of individual participation, reliance on consensus and deliberation, and systematic pursuit of a public interest. The fact that it faces uncertain future while other sectarian, hierarchical and, in some cases, democracy-disabling groups are thriving is due at least in part to a deep public divide on whether citizen participation is a positive element in contemporary American democracy. To strengthen both the League's future and the viability of democratic self-rule, Americans need to reinvigorate a national civic culture that tolerates difference, regulates fair participation, and look forward through deliberative process toward an enlarged public interest that breeds both legitimate citizen assent and responsible policy and governance. That form of legitimacy amounts to a definition of the League's history and promise, underlining a judgment that it should be protected for some form of Camelot-like fate through closer appreciation of its contributions to democracy.
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