Wednesday Dec 02

50th Anniversary of Social Policy: A Social Policy Reminiscence

Social Policy (SP) was one of the great experiences of my life, living those years among new good friends and close colleagues, political mentors and intellectual giants from among academics and organizers.

I came to SP after the first issue. My first job was to edit and rewrite #2 which was in galleys but largely to be published as received, as was #1. Soon writers came to value the editorial team we put together and SP grew in strength through direct subscription, libraries, and a controlled circulation to about one thousand well placed policy and media folk. When the NY Times began its Op Ed page, we editors appeared there frequently and leveraged others onto the page too.

We could be surprising: we took on the Bell Curve big time and the spate of books that described a benign side to slavery. Conferences and articles brought attention to the racist nonsense that was rebuilding. Similarly, with the surge in testing which we met with exposes on the racist dimensions of IQ and altitude testing in prisons, in immigration policy, and in schools. Fran Piven and Richard Cloward introduced their agency-based voter registration proposition for massive turnout and system disruption in SP.

We pioneered tax exempt status for publications, we published books before that was common, we made convening and conversations for special issues part of our signature: on education, China, race and media control without the fairness doctrine, pornography, film criticism and even the introduction of acupuncture and self-help to the quiver of health care options. Our board was diverse in multiple dimensions (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, sectoral influence, activist politics, academic discipline, and organizing traditions). Frank Riessman was a skillful movement thinker and his deep humanity taught me much. Alan Gartner’s friendship was a lifetime gift.

It was through SP that I met David Ramage at New World Foundation. He invited me to chat after reading an education editorial I had written. After a few years of monthly lunches, I joined him at the Foundation. In Social Policy tradition, New World then sought to commit its strategic thinking to paper, hence we wrote and published Funding Social Movements and Choosing Equality: The Case For Democratic Schooling.

A quick final recall...perhaps a dismal thread connecting the late 1970s with today and the ugly political swamp that has roiled in between. Bertram Gross wrote an article I entitled “Friendly Fascism.” In it he described a lurking undercurrent in the US mainstream.

Soon it was an Op Ed in The Times and a book...and soon forgotten.

And now there is now.

Glad SP is still here to contest the legacy of what Bert saw.

COLIN GREER is president of the New World Foundation in New York City

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