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The Politics of Politics


The heat and little light of the past few weeks of the present political tournament in the USA has reminded me recently of what I do miss about teaching at Compton College, Cerritos College, L.A. Southwest College and finally, California State University, Northridge. Each semester, I’d get the opportunity to be creative in teaching mainly youthful minds about the essence of politics in the U.S. — what it is, how it has operated, how it operates now, and what’s in it for Black folk, Latinos and other Americans.

The predominantly democratic politics dominant in the country since it became a recognized state, required its creators and early acolytes to conquer land belonging to others and to subject those previous owners to a lifetime of servitude and oppression.

As with any governmental system, at least one group has always had to either substantially out-maneuver another, or conquer another, in order to install and maintain a political order that consistently rewarded the conquerors. Being able to maintain that dominance institutionalizes the favored political system, in this case, democracy — government based on citizens regularly choosing their own leaders.

Without outright authority to regularly impose solutions on citizens, democracy depends on several essential skills. One of those is diplomacy.

Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between parties with different interests,  goals and needs, including representatives of competing nations/states. The negotiations are aimed at achieving a series of interlocking agreements between the participant parties. The term diplomacy generally refers to international relations and negotiations either conducted by skilled strategists, or professionally trained diplomats.

The diplomatic method or process usually includes the following essentials:

1.  Recognition and initial agreement by the participants/stakeholders of the problem or issue at hand.

2.  Awareness of the interests of the participants/stakeholders and who they represent.

3.  Establishment and maintenance of mutual respect for the positions of each stakeholder.

4.  Clarity of the goals deemed as success in the negotiations (Mutuality of where the process should lead).

5.  A commitment to being able to listen to all participants’ points of view.

6.  Establishing and maintaining the credibility of the engagement.

7.  Establishing and maintaining a sense of “trust” between the participants—avoidance of moves to dominate/belittle the other participants.

8.  Avoidance of “insulting” the positions held by other participants.

9.  Recognition of “traps” in the negotiations and opportunities for resolution.

9.  Decisiveness and respect in moving towards achieving a goal from which all sides will benefit to some degree.

10. Establishing and maintaining mutual trust between the participant parties that an agreement can both be reached and carried out.

These are a packet of qualities the next Mayor of Los Angeles has to bring into the job — the art of diplomacy — in order to raise L.A.’s status as a livable city. There are issues aplenty already waiting and demanding attention, and more than enough adherents tightly wedged to their positions just moving around the ether, waiting to pounce on the “new kid.”

One of these issues is the continuing disassociation of District 10 councilman Mark Ridley Thomas. Made worse recently by the vile ethnocentric comments scandal involving several city council members (with one resigning office because of it), the issue of whether to pay Mr. Thomas’ salary, including backpay, as he awaits a federal court date to determine his guilt or innocence on bribery and other charges, is a major issue of contention currently, and has been for several months.

The City Council quickly asserted its authority to suspend Mr. Ridley-Thomas from his duties as an elected official and to bar him from attending council meetings. In addition, the city controller halted payment of Mr. Ridley-Thomas’ substantial monthly salary, and several members of the community remain up in arms over that issue. They question whether the controller has the legal authority to stop the councilman’s salary.

A prominent group of clergymen and other city dwellers are part of a lawsuit against the controller, and the new president of the city council has asked for a legal opinion on the issue.

Like a mugger in the dark, this issue awaits the new L.A. mayor.

Whether Bass or Caruso, the new mayor will have to utilize enormous diplomatic skill to handle that issue, and the larger problem of helping the city council regain its positive reputation.

Hey. This is like a new Netflix movie in the offing.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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