With HRC’s presumptive nominee status, people have been remember Shirley Chisolm, who was the first woman to run for president (in 1972). These conversations, and the upcoming convention, have me thinking about Barbara Jordan. I remember her 1976 convention speech like it was yesterday: I was only just in elementary school, but my father was a local politician and he watched the conventions, both sides, obsessively. I thus did, too. To a little kid with a bad stutter and poor diction, she lit up my mind.
Barbara Jordan’s speech was a work of art. And I loved it: I loved the way crowd came alive. I loved the Texas theme song. I loved her pastel mint suit with the unapologetically frilly neck doodad. I loved how the crowd loved.
I still make my students in my social policy class watch the speech because it wasn’t always shameful to discuss the welfare state in American politics, and people should see and remember the work of Black of politicians. I still point people to it whenever I can because she was incredible. It’s also good to remind people that many of the problems we think we only have today have been with us awhile.
Less well known is that Ms. Jordan seems to have had a lifelong partner, which makes me happy.
She only lived another 19 years after this speech, which she gave when she was 40. Too young, damn it. Neither she nor Representative Chisolm lived to see President Obama in the Oval Office, which makes me sad, because they helped him get there.
It was a historic moment, it was a very good vision for the welfare state, and she was magnificent:
You should hear the Bedrosian Center podcast about the Last Days of Ptolemy Grey where we discuss end of life planning, and how most people say they want to die at home–but that doesn’t happen. Our discussion can be found here.
One of my favorite jokes goes something along these lines. Once, during a terrible flood, a rescue boat came upon a true believer who refused the help. “God will save me!” She declared, refusing the spot in the rescue boat. The waters rose still more, and then the true believer was approached by yet another boat. “No, she said, I don’t need you. God will save me!” She said. Eventually, the flood waters rise so high that she has to get onto the roof of her house. A helicopter comes and throws her a rope. “No,” she says “God will save me!” Eventually, she is swept away in the flood, and she dies. When she reaches heaven, she looks at God and says “Why didn’t you save me? Wasn’t I a good servant? Did I not believe?” God threw up his hands and said “Lady, what do you want from me? I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”
The point being that end of life decisions are in our hands, too. When life ends and death begins is as thorny a philosophical problem as when life begins.
Harvard’s Alnoor Ebrahim gave a very nice talk during our our Philanthropy and Nonprofit seminar yesterday; I feel rather bucked in that I lured a number of my planning colleagues to attend and a bunch of my PhD students. Alnoor was one of my favorite colleagues when I was at VT, and his talk was really quite informative. He focused in depth on the extent to which foundations and nonprofits attempt to formulate performance indicators for social phenemena in order to nail down both controls and causality. Many organizations can’t go that deep: they just count clients served or outputs in some way. Still, others do try to measure such abstruse things as child poverty reduction or economic development, and he is attempting to derive theory about what leads organizations to do that, and what organizations–funders or the nonprofits themselves–are really in a position to examine outcomes.
He started us off with a question that I found myself rather fascinated with: is performance measurement impossible or essential? He referred us to some lectures worth listening to by Onora O’Neil for the BBC called “A Matter of Trust.” Alnoor raised her points about the problems with performance measurement, but he never really returned to them as, from there, he focusses in on the state of the practice in the field. The two big concerns about the measurement focus that I gleaned from O’Neil were:
1. It’s possible that our focus on measurement causes us to disregard what is difficult to measure about progress in the social sphere, and thus, the missions and strategies of helping institutions become rather small and constrained. That is, the bean-counting causes us to focus on beans that can be counted, rather than seeking to deal with social issues in all their difficult-to-measure complexity; and
2. There are transactions costs and compliance costs associated with all these performance measures, and the more of our resources we expend on measuring how well we’ve done at delivering service means fewer resources with which to actually deliver service. Making funding contingent on the ability to demonstrate that service is delivered in a particular way may favor those institutions who are good at #1 (cherry picking easy things) and #2.
Neither of which strike me as particularly good for social policy, though you can measure the last one.