Back in 1960, I was just out of college and my employer sponsored a program entitled the Action Course in Practical Politics, published by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. The Action Course was a eight or nine week moderated program of eight study booklets and an optional ninth program where local and area politicians were invited to answer questions that featured study guides and real world assignments. The Action Course went through nine printings but ceased to be published and promoted by the Chamber of Commerce by 1969.
One of the early class assignments given to us by our Action Course moderator was to talk to the local committeeman of the party of our choosing. Up to that point in my life I had been pretty much apolitical, so I just chose the Republican party for a contact. When I went looking for my local committeeman, I could not find anyone.
Apparently there was no ward or precinct chairman appointed in my county, so I ended up talking to the County Chairman. This was in Kentucky in the early 1960s, when you could not get a job in the state government without approval of the County Democratic Committee. I must have appeared competent to the Republican County Chairman, or he was desperate for help, so he appointed me precinct chairman.
The Action Course lit a fire in me and I went on to promote the course and act as a moderator of a number of the Action Course programs in both Northern Kentucky and later at the University of Kentucky.
For the first time, I began to gain an understanding that there is a vast gulf between the knowledge of how government works and how politics works. Too often for most of us, there is no difference between government and politics. We often, and in the current political climate almost always, complain about how our government works at the local and national level. Few of us realize that it is not so much government that we are unhappy with, but rather the political process that gives us the people that run for office and ultimately who govern us.
Much has changed in the 50 plus years since the publication of the Action Course in Practical Politics but the fundamentals remain the same. It takes votes to win elections and all elections are won or lost starting with the precinct. Yes, money (gobs and gobs of it) and the advertising it buys has to a great extent replaced political get out the vote organization at the grassroots level. But, short of a constitutional amendment or an overturning of the Citizens United decision, the sure way to fight the power of money and the disconnect from the people is go back to the basics – citizen involvement in the political process starting at the precinct level.
It is time for a re-birth of the Action Course. The approval rating of almost all who govern us is at the lowest level it has been since statistics have been kept. All citizens need to take the time to understand the business of politics and do their share to be involved. There is no better way to start than the use of this material. Much of the Action Course material has been retained in its basic format, but many things have changed in the years since the original publication. Fundamentally, politics remains the same; however, society has evolved in the past half century. Every effort has been made to incorporate these advances into this edition, including advances in the social standing of women and minorities, campaign finance changes and the widespread use of technology and social media.
Informed and engaged citizens are the only ones who can create a government that serves all people. As such, the intent and purpose of this course is as relevant and meaningful today is it was more than five decades ago: …better government – government truly representative of all the people.
Roger Schnitzler, Editor