Special Feature



Volume 50 Number 4 
Fall 2017

Special Feature

Written by Christopher Corbett, chris_corbett1994@hotmail.com  

Community Psychology and the Resist Movement: Do Community Psychologists Have A Moral Obligation to Resist?

Christopher Corbett, MA Community Psychology is a longstanding member of the Practice Council, Public Policy Committee and more recently, the Investment Committee. He can be reached at: chris_corbett1994@hotmail.com.  


Every day we read in the press, or fake press, about political chaos that seems to apply cross-nationally.  It is, no doubt, that the United States (US) is responsible for more than its fair share, particularly given the surprising election of President Donald Trump.

For those of us with the luxury, or burden, of US citizenship therein lays a particular dilemma.  On the one hand we, as citizens, have a responsibility to support our elected leaders abiding by the process and outcomes of our democratic processes. Yet on the other hand, there is a responsibility, or burden, to speak out when we as citizens find our elected leaders are wrong or mistaken in the decisions that they make. As citizens of the US, we have an obligation to participate in our democracy, mindful of the best interests of our country, as well as our families.

As community psychologists (CPs) such matters seem quite different and complex. I was trained that our responsibilities are much broader.  My introduction to CP, taught me CPs are concerned with the health and well being of all community members (Heller et al. 1984, p.4). There is a far broader moral responsibility than as a US citizen. CP is a cross-national field where CPs are duty bound to consider beyond nation based self-interests in our actions and interventions-- that is to consider the implications of our actions on all community members. CPs appear duty bound to be fully cognizant of what constitutes the broader public interest or public welfare and to be willing to speak up, or out, and act accordingly, including by criticizing or disagreeing with our elected leaders. This requires the capacity to object, oppose and/or resist.

Community Psychologists and the Obligation to Resist

This responsibility seems to fall heavily on CPs. Not only are we concerned about all members of the community, we appear duty bound considering the recent movement to identify, and self-impose, core competencies, including Core Competencies #5 and #7 (Dalton & Wolfe 2012).  Under Core Competency #5: Ethical, Reflective Practice, CPs are subject to a process of continued ethical improvement including the ability to identify ethical issues in one’s own practice, and act to address them responsibly (p. 11). While we each have different areas of practice, in those areas of expertise comes an obligation to identify where ethical conflicts or dilemmas arise and ways to address them. Regarding Core Competency #7, Prevention and Health Promotion, CPs must have the ability to adopt a prevention perspective and implement prevention and health promoting community interventions (p. 11). While these are just two of the Core Competencies, they illustrate how CPs must be able to identify ethical dilemmas and act on them consistent with CP values and considering the implications of interventions and public policies on the health of communities.  Where CPs perceive harm to the public health, particularly when it applies cross-nationally, there appears an obligation to expose, oppose or resist destructive public policies and practices consistent with CP values and competencies.

One Illustration: President Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

One area where CPs and their research organizations appear to have a burden to oppose or resist is President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on June 1, 2017 as reported by Viscidi (2017).  This brings the US in accord with Syria and Nicaragua as opponents of the Paris Agreement (Rucker & Johnson 2017, June 1). The crisis of the earth’s warming due to human activity is well documented and by some 18 scientific institutions (NASA 2017, p. 2-9). The world wide consensus evident by the Paris Agreement to prevent and mitigate climate change (UN Secretary General 2016, October 5), along with the US withdrawal, is particularly ironic given the US leads the world in carbon emissions (Kortenhorst 2017).  The US withdrawal both undermines and jeopardizes the Paris Agreement and presents grave risks to the public health —it is clearly contrary to the public interest and harms the public welfare.

President Trump’s Basis for Withdrawal

On June 1, 2017, President Trump explained the basis for the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change as follows: “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris” (Watkins 2017, June 2). As President of the US, this could be an arguable position as withdrawal could save the US billions of dollars that were committed to fight climate change.  As reported by Viscidi, the Trump administration is eliminating climate change funding, dropping payments to the United Nations climate change programs and will no longer make its pledged payments to the Green Climate Fund (2017, June 23, p. 3).

Should CPs Resist?

CPs are concerned with the health and well being of all community members (Heller et al. 1984).  CPs and all concerned about climate change world-wide seem to have no alternative but to oppose and resist withdrawal-- acting to implement the Paris Agreement. (Note 1)

What Strategy is Most Likely to be Effective?

Given likely futility of spurring President Trump to change his mind, the best use of resources is to proceed to intervene and devise interventions that implement the Paris Agreement.  While there are many challenges, overcoming them is very feasible given the values and skills of CPs (Corbett 2017).  Many roles have been identified for bachelor, master and doctoral level CPs to intervene at the grassroots level to influence local policies, empower and educate citizens, while promoting prevention, and citizen participation in renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions.  For a list of specific roles, policy interventions, draft local renewable energy policy along with letter to the editor and Op-Ed examples, see Corbett (2017; Note 2).


Given the values and core competencies of the field, CPs bears a heavy moral burden.  This involves an obligation to consider the broader public interest and public welfare, moving beyond self and parochial interests, as well as considering the implications of our interventions-- and the implications, and culpability, for inaction.

As argued here, as CPs there is an obligation to oppose, speak out, or up and resist, at times, and also considering your particular area of practice. While this provides one illustration, pertaining to global climate change, clearly we all have our own areas of practice where our unique insights and values as CPs help us identify areas of moral obligation, and opportunity. That is, where applying our own unique values and competencies can truly make a difference by actually devising interventions that truly advance the public welfare.

I have identified preventing climate change as an action area for myself (Corbett 2017). Are there areas within your practice, where you see the need, or obligation, to Resist Trump?

Note 1: The use of “resist” here should not be misconstrued as condoning violence or violation of law. Well designed community interventions are non-violent and do not violate laws that are created to protect the public welfare which CPs are always concerned with.

Note 2: The Workshop Public Policy 601: Climate change and grassroots advocacy was presented at SCRA’s June 2017 Conference held in Ottawa, Canada (Corbett 2017).  It provides a practical guide and identifies fourteen  roles for CPs and citizens concerned about climate change to implement the Paris Agreement using various specific grassroots intervention strategies, applied at region/state and local levels including towns, cities and villages.


Corbett, C. (2017). Public Policy 601: Climate change and grassroots advocacy. Workshop presented at the Conference of the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA), Division 27, APA, Ottawa, Canada, June 20-24, 2017. 1-40.

Dalton, J. & Wolfe, S. (2012). Joint column: Education connection and the community practitioner. The Community Psychologist, 45(4), 7-14.

Heller, K., Price, R.H., Reinharz, S., Riger, S., & Wandersman, A. (1984). Psychology and community change: Challenges of the future. Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press.

Kortenhorst, J. (2017). “Statement on U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement”. Rocky Mountain Institute’s response to President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Accessed from: www.rmi.org.

NASA (2017). Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming. Accessed from: https.https.climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

Rucker, P. & Johnson, J. (2017, June 1). Trump announces U.S. will exit Paris climate deal, sparking criticism at home and abroad. The Washington Post, 1-6. Accessed from: www.washingtonpost.com.

UN Secretary General (2016, October 5). Statement by the Secretary-General on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Accessed from: https.unmi/.unmissions.org/statement-secretary-general-paris-agreement-climate-change.

Viscidi, Lisa (2017, June 23). Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement challenges Latin America. The New York Times, Op-Ed, 1-4.  Accessed from: www.nytimes.com/2017/06/23/opinion/paris-agreement-climate-change-latin-america.html.

Watkins, E. (2017 June 2). Pittsburgh mayor hits back after Trump invokes city in climate speech.  Cable News Network (CNN), 1-3. Accessed from: www.cnn.com.