This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.

I just wrote the following blog article for my website, and felt that it would make a worthwhile topic for discussion here.  The article is called "Ethical Business in Your Town" and it explores moral principles that shape how people think about business in their communities.  I see this as a core issue for any advocacy effort that addresses systemic problems (like climate change).  We need to practice a "populist politics" that engages people in collaborations at unprecedented scales in order to build an ecologically (and financially) sustainable global economy in the coming decades.  To do so, I believe we'll need to explore the role of values and identity in our advocacy efforts.


At Cognitive Policy Works we realize that people everywhere need help thinking through the issues that matter most to them. This is why we tailor our services to allow atypical clients to be served. While high-powered consultants shape the elite politics in Washington D.C., there is little assistance for the progressive activist in small-town America.

This is more than “politics-as-usual.”  It is part of an intentional plan designed and implemented throughout the mid-20th Century to build a professional apparatus for politics that stands between citizens and their government.  (I am currently reading about this important history in S.M. Amadae’s scholarly work, Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy: The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice Liberalism.)

Such an elite system of governance is inadequate for the challenges we face going into the 21st Century.  The old paradigms of “self-interest” and “elite rule” fail to galvanize the public into action and engage us all in the solving of our problems.  Confronting  issues like global warming, international terrorism, dwindling water supplies,  financial meltdowns, and volatile energy markets will require nothing less than planet-wide cooperation at unprecedented scales.  Leaving these problems to an elite class - no matter how well educated - is not enough.

We’re going to need civic engagement that is widespread and innovative.  Citizens will need to have skills at organizing, communicating, and collaborating.  This is where we come in.  Our work is focused on preparing the next generation of political and social change agents.  We offer deep critiques of standard practices, insights into patterns of social change, and powerful new tools  to be used on-the-ground by people everywhere.

Our latest consulting project exemplifies this process.  We were approached by a politically engaged citizen in Wilmington, OH to help think through the morality of business in small towns.  The project was small enough to be funded by discretionary funds of a small non-profit, the Empathy Surplus Campaign.  And the outcome is a strategy memo designed to stimulate discussions about the ethics of business in local communities:

Ethical Business in Your Town - A Conceptual Campaign for Grassroots Activism

This strategy memo briefly introduces a few ideas to think about regarding the morality of business in your town.  It culminates in a set of simple questions that fuel conversations about a topic that is relevant at local, regional, national, and global levels.

We invite you to read it, share it with your friends, and comment here about what you consider valuable in it (as well as what you feel should be the next steps in expanding its usefulness for grassroots activism).  Maybe you’ll even feel inspired to commision the continuation of this work with emphasis on your own situation.  Together we can change the way politics is done.

In the service of humanity,

Joe Brewer

Founder and Director, Cognitive Policy Works