2022-23 Social Justice Debates

The 2022-23 Social Justice Debates will challenge students to engage the question of whether worker cooperatives are a desirable priority in the fight for social and economic justice in the United States.  The 2022-23 Topic and Topic Statement were developed by Morehouse College Director of Debate Ken Newby with input from Civic Debate Conference participants.

Selected Scholar

Professor Jessica Gordon Nembhard


The worker cooperative model is preferable to the traditional firm model in the United States to promote a more equitable economy.

Topic Statement

“Bossing people around, of course, predates capitalism by millennia. However, capitalism has achieved something quite remarkable: It has managed to disguise the most authoritarian variety of bullying—i.e., the power of capital—into something that passes credibly as the exercise of freedom in a setting of equals.” -Yanis Varoufakis

The 2022-23 Social Justice Debates Topic was inspired by the scholarship of Professor Jessica Gordon Nembhard and her seminal book, Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice (you can find a summary here). Professor Nembhard’s book highlights the role of Black cooperatives as a force for change in critical periods throughout American history, especially during the 1880s, 1930s-40s and 1960s-70s, and argues that, by promoting horizontal accountability and shared voting power, worker cooperatives are powerful tools for challenging economic injustice and encouraging just conditions of employment.

Worker cooperatives are businesses owned and managed in material part, or in whole, by the workers themselves with the intent to meet the social, economic and environmental needs of its members and community. This business model stands in contrast to traditional firm models in which employees supply labor in exchange for compensation, but do not necessarily possess ownership or management rights over the business for which they work. While there are other types of cooperatives owned by the people who use their services, we are specifically focusing on worker co-ops in this debate, as opposed to mutual aid societies or credit unions. Mutual funds (for example a retirement pool) and credit unions (for example, a union of internal lending by workers to the business) can exist within a cooperative structure, but teams who only restructure investment within businesses, have not provided an adequate worker cooperative model. Since this debatea ddresses the economy in aggregate, agricultural cooperatives, which fall under the umbrella of worker-owned businesses, are considered worker-coops.

Specifically, the 2022-23 Social Justice topic challenges students to assess the desirability of the worker cooperative model as compared to traditional firm models or other alternatives. This should include affirmative teams defending the proposition that it would be desirable for worker cooperatives to supplant traditional firm models as the dominant economic model across most if not all sectors of the U.S. economy. In order to promote focus on this core topic proposition, Affirmative arguments regarding the desirability of policies and measures unrelated to or related to, but above and beyond the implementation of worker cooperatives, should be deemed irrelevant to the judge’s decision.

Negative teams may win by rebutting the proposition that the worker cooperative model is more desirable than traditional firm models. This may include either successfully defending the proposition that some form of traditional firm model is as - if not more - desirable than the worker cooperative model across most, if not all, sectors of the U.S. economy or by winning the argument that a competitive alternative to the worker cooperative model other than a traditional firm model is more desirable than the worker cooperative model; i.e., by winning the argument that the negative’s counter proposal is a superior alternative to either the worker cooperative model alone or some combination of the worker cooperative model and elements of the counterproposal. Because the topic directly raises a comparison between worker cooperative and traditional firm models, negative teams defending the traditional firm model do not have to win that the traditional firm model is competitive with the worker cooperative model, only that it is more desirable; competition between these two models is presumed for the sake of these debates.

Examples of negative arguments include arguing that the focus on worker cooperatives is a mistake, contending that they undermine and distract from efforts to address more serious, underlying problem(s), and that even a mass cooperative movement can never pose a legitimate challenge to the economic injustice. For example, some argue that by withholding labor, workers can interfere with the capitalist logic of profit maximization and advance workers’ interests and demands. Worker cooperatives, on the other hand, can be characterized as a retreat from the class struggle and can be argued to entice workers into participating in the “real enemy” - the capitalist system.

While the topic statement provides that Affirmative should promote a more equitable economy, the Negative can argue for any goal that it desires as equity is not a presumed goal for the debate. Negative teams may want to promote a desirable economy and not necessarily an equitable one, for example. If the Negative’s goals are different than the Affirmative, it should be prepared to justify why its goals are more important seeking to achieve economic justice through creation of a more equitable economy. In this sense an equitable economy can be understood as one that meets human needs, enhances the quality of life and allows us to live in balance with nature. It aims to create jobs that provide fair wages and desirable working conditions that support workers, their families and communities.

Helpful topic literature includes, but is not limited to:

1. Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice by Jessica Gordon Nembhard

2. Social Justice and Worker Cooperatives by Gurveer Shaan Dhillon

3. Humanizing the Economy by John Restakis

4. No Bosses: A New Economy for a Better World by Michael Albert (Prefaces By Noam Chomsky and Yanis Varoufakis)

5. Stolen by Grace Blakeley

6. Building the New American Economy by Jeffrey D. Sachs (Foreword by Bernie Sanders)

7. Another Now by Yanis Varoufakis8. Democracy at Work by Richard D. Wolff

Social Justice Debates Fall Opener, September 16, 2022

Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction, 525 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019


Orientation - 8:30 am (auditorium)

Round 1 - 9:00 am

Round 2: - 10:30 am

Lunch - 11:45 am-12:30 pm

Exhibition - 12:30-2:30 pm

School Dismissal - 2:41 pm

Round 3 - 3:00 pm

Round 4 - 4:30 pm

Tournament Championship - 6:00 pm (auditorium)

COVID Safety Information

As per the requirements of the building the tournament is taking place in, all participants must provide proof of vaccination to participate.

Accessibility and Accommodations

Please contact us regarding specific accessibility requirements (e.g. limited mobility) prior to the tournament.


Tournament fees for participating schools are $65/Team.

Social Justice Debates Fall Championship, November 12-13, 2022

The George Washington University, Washington DC

Social Justice Debates National Championship, February 2023

Morehouse College, Atlanta GA

Judge Handbook 

Elimination Round Judges


Each round will last about an hour and will involve two competing teams of two or three debaters each. You will be judging on a panel of 3 jurists. Although the debate format is specified below, the debaters will be responsible for timing and attending to the order of their speeches and/or there will be a timekeeper in each round. Your only responsibility during the round is to listen with an open mind and take notes on the debate.

The Social Justice Debates provide college debaters a rare opportunity to test their skills debating for judges from both inside and outside of the college debate community, including distinguished professionals and topic experts. Please do not worry if you do not have experience judging college debate rounds. The most important thing to remember when judging a debate is that if a team convinces you they have won the round, they have won the round!

The primary question you should ask yourself as a judge is which team has done the better debating on the question raised by the tournament topic. First and foremost, this question asks which team has been more effective in meeting their basic burdens of advocacy and rejoinder. This means “constructing” complete and persuasive arguments supported by logic and evidence, as well as directly responding to the key arguments constructed by their opponents. Secondarily, judges should consider factors such as public speaking skills, organization, and command of the subject matter.

There is no single formula for determining which team did the best debating. In short, you are attempting to assess which team presented the most powerful advocacy when considering all of the many factors that advocacy entails.

Although judging is subjective, it is important that you do not allow personal bias or beliefs about the issues being debated to influence whom you choose as winner. Indeed, you may conclude that a team has been more powerful in making its case even if you do not personally agree with the team’s arguments.

Topic Interpretation

Although it is discouraged and should be disfavored by judges, debaters will sometimes attempt to interpret topics in a manner that “tilts” the playing field to their advantage. A topic statement provided above has been provided to all judges and all teams to clarify the topic’s intended meaning. As a judge, you should attempt to interpret the burden the topic places on the Affirmative and Negative teams in a manner consistent with the topic’s plain language and the context provided by the topic statement. When in doubt as to the plain meaning of the topic, you should adopt a “centrist” interpretation of the topic that allows both teams a fair chance to engage the core questions raised by the topic as described in the topic statement.

Cross Examination

Cross examination is an essential element of the debate format chosen for this weekend’s competition. It is also an element that requires debaters to cooperate in good faith with their opponents to some extent, which may be a complicated proposition in a competitive debate. Cross examination can be an invaluable tool for moving debates “forward” by clarifying areas of agreement, isolating areas of dispute, and allowing rigorous examination of opposing arguments. Cross examinations may be far less productive, however, if debaters waste cross examination time and avoid having their arguments clarified and scrutinized by answering questions that haven’t been asked, filibustering, and otherwise failing to directly and succinctly answer questions to the extent possible. In such cases, debates may even become hostile as cross examiners may be forced to talk over their opponent to prevent their opponent from dominating the cross examination period.

In a court of law, judges will often instruct hostile witnesses (i.e. witnesses who are bias or adverse to the cross examiner) to directly and succinctly answer questions to the extent possible so as to avoid wasted time and to allow cross examiners to clarify the facts and arguments relevant to the judge’s or jury’s decision. “To the extent possible” is an essential qualifier to this requirement. Debaters should be allowed reasonable time to answer “open” questions or any other questions that cannot be answered in a straightforward manner.

Equity Statement

While a judge may not consciously privilege the arguments or positions of particular groups of people over others, studies have shown that decisions nevertheless may be influenced by societal biases or prejudices in regards to, inter alia, race and gender. Daniel Kelley and Erica Roedder (2008) have found implicit bias in a number of settings analogous to debate including job hiring practices, grading, and sports officiating. Deborah Tannen (1998) has shown that in the field of competitive argument men are sometimes presumed to be more reasonable and less emotional and that these presumptions may lead a judge to implicitly give more weight to a man’s argument than a woman’s. We therefore ask each judge to consider their implicit biases in evaluating participants’ arguments and performance before making their decision.


1st Affirmative 6 Minutes

Cross examination by 2nd Negative 4 minutes

1st Negative 6 minutes

Cross examination by 1st Affirmative 4 minutes

2nd Affirmative 6 minutes

Cross examination by 1st Negative 4 minutes

2nd Negative 6 minutes

Cross examination by 2nd Affirmative 4 minutes

2 minutes of preparation time

Affirmative Rebuttal 6 minutes

2 minutes of preparation time

Negative Rebuttal 6 minutes

Students will compete in teams of two or three debaters each.

Teams will be assigned to affirm or negate the topic.

On teams of two, each speaker will give one 6 minute speech, be cross examined for 4 minutes, and cross examine an opposing debater for 4 minutes. In addition one speaker on each team of two will also give a 6 minute closing rebuttal. Over the course of the four preliminary rounds, each speaker on teams of two must give two closing rebuttals for their team and their partner must give two closing rebuttals for their team. 

On teams of three, in each round each debater will give one 6 minute speech, be cross examined for 4 minutes, and conduct one 4 minute cross examination.

Thank you again for the generous commitment of your time to this program and the wonderful students involved in it!

Additional Instructions for Preliminary Rounds Judges

Elimination rounds will be judged by panels of topic experts who will be given the SJD topic, topic statement, and judge handbook provided above. This means that as a prelims judge you are preparing students to debate before topic experts who will be using the published topic, topic statement, and judge handbook to guide their decision making process. Your most important task as a prelims judge is to judge rounds in a manner that prepares the students advancing to elimination rounds to excel in these debates.

Judges are asked to interpret the research questions raised by the topic in a manner consistent with the topic statement. Students are responsible for analyzing the topic and topic statement and understanding the research questions raised for debate. Students may quote from the topic statement as necessary to establish the parameters of the research questions raised by the topic.

Debaters are asked to provide direct, succinct responses to direct questions in cross examination. Filibustering, answering questions that haven’t been asked, and otherwise failing to provide direct, succinct answers to direct questions should result in lower speaker points and--in very close debates--assigning a loss. (Obviously open ended questions may require open answers.)

Students introducing evidence should be ready to provide copies of relevant portions of the introduced sources to their opponents for review upon request.

Speaker points should be assigned on a scale of 90-100 with no ties. Judges should be "reluctant" to give speaker points between 97-100; i.e., absent an exemplary performance reflecting high level research, argumentation, delivery and performance, judges should not give speaker points in this range. "Very Good" performances should receive scores in the 95-96 range. "Good" performances should receive points in the 93-94 range. Performances reflecting a serious lack of preparation or need for obvious improvement should receive scores in the 90-92 range. No ties. Half points are allowed.

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