Introducing: Social Justice -> Local Government

Posted on January 17, 2020

Matt Hirschinger

This guest blog is by ELGL member Matt Hirschinger, the Assistant to the Town Manager in Hudson, Colorado. Read Matt’s writing about criticizing other cultures professionally, understanding privilege, understanding identity, and impressing in meetings. Read all of Matt’s other articles at the Social Justice –> Government homepage.

My name is Matt Hirschinger, and I had the opportunity to write a few blog posts for ELGL last year mostly covering insights I learned during my Peace Corps service. Moving forward my posts will be part of a series I’m calling “Social Justice -> Local Government” as I pursue a graduate degree in the Humanities with a specialization in social justice, which will be released every third Wednesday of the month. Through this degree and blog series, I hope to address what I see as a disconnect between my two professional backgrounds of local government administration and cross-cultural facilitation and make a greater whole by bringing them together.

In this series I will take the most critical, interesting, and relevant lessons I learn in my coursework and research and apply them to a local government context.

For this introduction though, I’d like to spend a little time discussing my motivations and expectations for this series as both will have a significant impact on what I write. After all, the intent of this series isn’t to be a definitive, all-encompassing narrative on how local governments can best tackle issues of equity and diversity, but instead to be a single niche among many great sources and perspectives.  

One Perspective

Imagine a bridge being built in the community. That bridge will mean different things to different people. It will make for a faster, safer commute to some. For others, it will be a part of the scenery as it has no direct impact on their travel. To the construction workers it’s employment, to the Public Works Director it’s their source of pride or frustration (or both), and to the small business owners in the path of what’s being built, it’s a threat to their livelihood. All of these perspectives are different and each of these perspectives is true. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts for ELGL, I fall under almost every single privileged demographic both obvious (Caucasian, male, in my 30s) and subtle (extroverted, stable family background, higher education) and so on. Many of my loved ones do not. As an example my wife is not Caucasian, she is not U.S. born, and any children we have will be mixed-race. From my years abroad teaching me the inherent value of engaging other ways of thinking and living, to listening to the hardships and barriers family and friends face that I don’t, much of my perspective on issues of equity is shaped from second-hand accounts instead of personal experience. This will be reflected in how Social Justice -> Local Government comes across, what is prioritized and what is emphasized.

For the topics, I’ll cover from feminism to race theory, to matters of economic and social inequality my perspective will hold truth to it but will not cover every truth, every potential angle that exists. It’s my expectation that those of you who read the posts will help fill in those gaps as you take these lessons back your organizations, will add your own experience and understanding to the conversation to turn one perspective into many.

Tangible, Implementable Solutions

Though there is a personal, moral component to my motivation, the focus of Social Justice -> Local Government will be on projects and programs we can enact. As local government professionals, we are the implementers, the doers, the shepherds guiding ideas to reality, and it’s the intention of this series to take foundational theories and concepts and apply them to our field. Land use, capital improvements, code enforcement, budgeting, HR, the list goes on and on. I expect it will take me three years to complete my degree, giving us time to cover many different aspects of our industry.

My hypothesis is those communities who tackle the difficult conversations of equity, who make serious and measurable strides to improve services for underserved populations and hire a more diverse workforce will be repaid tenfold. On the flip side, those communities who spend their energy and time digging their heels in and resisting change will fall behind, will fail to recruit and retain the best talent. For me, a degree in the Humanities is very much a calculated, intentional effort to make myself marketable, to be well-versed in the skills and knowledge that will become more and more desired in our profession. With matters of equity, I believe that moral and practical considerations are one and the same.

As an administrative generalist, there will be a limit to what I come up with though, and it’s my request that those of you with more experience, more resources, and different specializations expand and improve on what I write, to come up with more efficient, more effective, more inclusive endeavors than I do for your citizens. 

What Comes Next?

As this will be a learning process for me, I can’t predict what the coming topics will be specifically. My first two subjects starting later this month will be Methods and Practices of Graduate Interdisciplinary Humanities (a core class) and Methods and Theories of Feminism and Gender. Hopefully Social Justice -> Local Government can offer some specific ways for us to improve our communities and organizations, but falling short of that can provide some good food for thought from a graduate program. It will be one perspective both personally and professionally, but with your help can become a much more whole, more rewarding series for all of us.

Thanks all, and see you next third Wednesday!

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