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Batten professor offers new course on political action and engagement

“From Inequality to Action” will address historical political movements and modern applications

<p>Paul Martin is an assistant professor in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy</p>

Paul Martin is an assistant professor in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

Paul Martin, an assistant professor of public policy, will be teaching “From Inequality to Action” this fall — a new course based around case studies of political mobilization.

Under course mnemonic LPPP 3559 in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the course will focus on historic and modern examples of political action around the world as it pertains to political mobilization and the struggle for equality.

The class will address the theme of political mobilization by focusing on six main cases — the civil rights movements in the United States, tax revolt movements in California in the 1970s, labor and union movements in coal mining regions of West Virginia, southern Virginia and Tennessee from the 1930s to the 1980s, Irish nationalist movements in the early 1900s and from the 1960s to the 1990s, the advocacy moment in Charlottesville post-Aug. 12 and the #MeToo movement.

Martin shared his reasons for designing the new course in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

“I would say that my thought process behind proposing the course stemmed from watching student frustration with the state of the world around them,” Martin said. “It is easy to see the political world as impossible to change — and we have lots of evidence of how difficult change can be.”

Martin’s choice to design this course was largely prompted by the fears and frustrations about political issues that he was observing in students, like climate change and police brutality.

“I want students to feel empowered to make the kind of changes that these big problems demand,” Martin said.

There are two overarching perspectives that Martin hopes to impress on the students who take this course. The first of which is an appreciation for the effort required by past social reformers to create and maintain current policy.

The second perspective, Martin said, is “a deeper understanding of the strategies and tactics that helped organizations and movements achieve policy successes.” 

“We...tend to underestimate the importance of the strategic and tactical decisions of successful advocates,” Martin said. “For example, the strategy of advocates pushing for the recognition and legalization of marriage between same-sex couples depended on both brilliant legal minds and a strong understanding of how best to push for the extension of those rights using the courts rather than legislatures.”

Martin said students have experiences and perspectives of political issues that have yet to be addressed. 

“Students see widespread racial injustice within the criminal justice system, but conventional politics is only just now starting to address issues of mass incarceration of African Americans that have been building since the 1960s,” Martin said.

Some of the students who signed up to take Martin’s class spoke with The Cavalier Daily about what they makes them excited for the class.

Madeleine Mayhew, a third-year Batten student who has taken a class with Martin before, said the course’s focus is relevant.

“[I] have been talking about all these things that are happening around us, particularly related to inequities in our current system and being frustrated and feeling like there was nothing that we could do that would help fix these things,” Mayhew said. “This course was supposed to give students tools to in order to start addressing these everyday inequities that we see around us, so it kind of seemed like the perfect thing to take in the current climate.” 

Madalene Danklef, a third-year Batten and College student, is also signed up to take Martin’s class. She said she is excited to learn the history of these political movements from Martin.

“I think that what makes me interested in this class is that too often those that really need benefits from legislation don’t get them because they don’t have a voice in the political sphere or they’re unable to mobilize collectively,” Danklef said.

To counter the difficulty of effective political action, Martin emphasized how the class will focus on practical application skills for students to better engage with or be aware of these issues. Martin is currently considering training methods that the class can explore that will address tactical political advocacy skills. 

There will also be an opportunity for students to evaluate the University itself.

“[The projects] asks hard questions about inequalities that remain within our university’s policy, practices, and customs,” Martin said. “Universities have served as important learning laboratories, and I see opportunities for groups of students to identify problems on Grounds, mobilize solutions, and advocate for positive change.”

In addition, although he is still working on the syllabus for the course, Martin hopes to have classes near the end of the semester be student-driven, giving students an opportunity to display their own knowledge about current political issues.

There will be an expectation of strong student commitment to the course and the formation of a collaborative classroom community for the purpose of sharing perspectives and learning from one another. In addition to this, the course will also teach applications that extend beyond the classroom and focus on community engagement and awareness. 

“I like to bring a ‘live’ element into the class where we work through projects outside of the class that creatively apply what we have learned (and evaluate how well we’ve learned them),” Martin said. “I also see the [U.Va.] community as a fruitful learning environment, and many of my classes draw on student experiences within the University or facilitating experiences beyond the Corner and within the larger community.”

These aspects of the course are designed with the intent of giving students the ability to better understand and to more effectively confront what so often seems to be a hopeless state of political immobility in the world.

“I wanted to introduce a course that offered a bit more hope that change was possible even in exceptionally difficult situations,” Martin said. “We have amazing cases of radical policy transformations that have transpired in our recent history. I think we can learn from looking at those cases.”