What is Our Best New Jersey? It is a place and a process where the people of New Jersey—or at least an open, representative cross-section of it—can discuss what we like most about the state and how we think it might be changed for the better.
Over the next few months, faculty and students in the Rutgers department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations, as well as members and guests of Rutgers LEARN—the Labor Education and Research Network—are invited to explore these questions here.
This exploration is to be informed by the best thinking and the most reliable knowledge to which we have access. But consistent with the public mission of a land-grant university like Rutgers, it is also intended to be of immediate use to the citizens of the state. Hopefully, it yields insights and proposals to which all New Jerseyans can give serious consideration.
To serve this latter purpose, Our Best New Jersey will be organized in order to help accomplish the following practical tasks: first, to formulate and affirm a basic People’s Charter (a new “social contract,” perhaps), summarizing the basic values by which we think we ought to live; second, to write a People's Platform detailing policies and programs that embody the Charter's values; and, third, to develop a People’s Program containing our best ideas about how we can begin to address the problems that are of concern of us without having to wait for other people to get their act together.
The overriding goal of these projects is to ensure that New Jersey truly is a state “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
We need such a charter, such a platform and such a program, I believe, to help us think more clearly about how we want to live together and to serve as a guide for our political representatives and others who are, or at least are supposed to be, working on our behalf at the municipal, county and state level.
As LEARN's Director, I will launch and moderate the discussion. But the effort will only be successful to the extent that others join in. A People’s Charter, Platform and Program have to be the products of many minds, if they are truly to be of, by and for the people.
In order to encourage this participation, I propose to lay down a few initial guidelines and signposts to help us find our way. I have been inspired in this regard by a similar and—at least from an educational standpoint—spectacularly successful earlier effort along similar lines: the English People's Charter of 1838, which articulated a set of six principles that Chartists (those who supported the principles) believed would make Parliament a more representative and democratic body.
In a similar fashion, I propose to organize the opening conversations about Our Best New Jersey around a set of nine goals, continuing progress toward which would help to make our society a better place to live. They are:
1. Better Work
2. Fair Pay
3. Equal Rights
I will offer shortly my own thoughts about these areas, what each is intended to include, and how they each would contribute, if achieved, to ensuring Our Best New Jersey.
I will also invite other members of LEARN to add their reflections or comments to these pages in the days and weeks ahead.
This main page will be the meeting place for this discussion, where people will share general concerns and stories about their encounters with the best (and worst) of the state.
Each of the areas above will also have a dedicated sub-page set aside for more in-depth or at-length consideration, which can be reached by clicking on the buttons in the left-hand sidebar.
All of these areas are public, in the sense that they are visible to any and all who find their way to them. But they are also moderated, in the sense that only members of LEARN or their invited guests will be able to post comments and further reflections on the pages.
In other words, while everyone will have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion, only LEARN members will be able to so without the prior approval of the pages' moderator.
To facilitate our conversations, and to attempt to place it on the securest possible foundation, I have also invited other members of the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations to moderate different areas and to contribute their own thoughts to the general project.
Finally, in order to ensure as much participation as possible in the conversation, from as many different points of view, and work to promote a conversation is civil, constructive and productive of results, these pages and the conversation they are meant to record and sustain, every contribution will be tagged with key words and themes and listed in alphabetical order in a right-hand sidebar, forming an archive of our discussions.
By clicking on one of these key words or themes, all the contributions to it will appear, either chronologically (so that one might enter or catch up with a particular conversation at any moment), or alphabetically (so that one might easily read everything that a particular contributor has to say on a given topic).