[sociate] To the Democrats: Light, Memory and Discourse

  • From: "Jerry Michalski" <jerry@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Sociate News" <sociate@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2004 00:35:30 -0400

Here's a suggestion that is idealistic, can't be finished in seven months,
involves unfamiliar territory and isn't proven to work. I hope you will
consider it for ten minutes, because it describes the society in which I --
as well as many alienated, non-voting citizens of both parties -- would like
to live. 

A credible and consistent commitment toward this vision would energize
voters of all kinds, in all geographies. These are game-changers, moves that
change the shape of the box in which electoral politics is currently
trapped. As long as we stay in that box, as Al Gore did in 2000, we will
lose this election. 

Three initiatives would help crystalize civic (read: voter) participation:
Light, Memory and Discourse.


As Justice Brandeis said, "Sunlight is said to be the best of
disinfectants." John Dean points out in "Worse than Watergate," that this is
the most secretive Administration ever, and he's right. Evidence is
plentiful (unlike the info being hidden). 

*       So make light a symbol of the campaign. Encourage people to bring
flashlights, caving lamps and candles to events. Hand out those new, small
LED lights with Kerry/Edwards logos. Be creative. (See Milton Glaser's
<http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml> Light Up the Sky.) 
*       Connect with watchdog agencies who bring facts to light. Back them.
Help them shine those lights. Make those people available to those in the
*       Actively shine some light. Create open, publicly available lists of
how the Bush Administration is hiding our future. Show how FOIA has been
completely undermined. File hundreds of FOIA requests.
*       Build national security into this approach, so it can't be used as
an excuse to avoid shining lights in dark places. Be clear about how and
when national security should be used to protect information. 
*       Live in the light, even if it is difficult. This is all about trust
(actually, it's about trustworthy behavior). Our system of government wasn't
designed to operate on blind trust. Make it so the other side must open up.
Change the rules. 


Shining a light is a good step toward making better decisions. What the
light discloses is far more useful if you can remember the facts you find
and put them to use in various contexts. For example, when the
<http://www.ewg.org/> Environmental Working Group published the
<http://www.ewg.org/farm/> Farm Subsidy Database, it helped legislators see
that the subsidies were going to factory farms, not small farmers. Facts
help offset lobbyist pressure. We need a great, reliable, collective
(distributed) memory for real data, plus some tools to make it all
accessible and useful for decision-making. 

*       So find and nuture sources of good data, and make that data public. 
*       Make analytic tools and experts available to more decision makers. 
*       What happened when matters. Publish event timelines, event
transcripts, raw sources of information. 
*       Journalism (including photojournalism and TV) is our best record of
what happened in our lives, yet its products are all imprisoned by copyright
and business-model restrictions. We need access, and not merely to the
four-inch photo chosen for publication. Changing this will take time, but
for now, encourage news organizations to put their materials out in the
open. Work closely with those that do already. 
*       Make the default setting for any public-policy event complete
openness and a permanent record in as many media as practical. See that the
Bush campaign does this, too. 


Small wonder that individuals feel powerless: Govenance and politics have
been taken over by consumer mass marketing. Politicians care principally
about getting money from supporters, then funneling most of those funds
directly to mass-media outlets, principally for TV ads. Republicans do it;
Democrats do it. Donors know this. They know it's expensive, necessary and
meaningless, and they thirst for something that feels more like democracy. 

Quietly, in many different places, groups are exploring ways to make
Governance more personal, more effective and more democratic. Think of it as
little "g" governance. These initiatives go by names like deliberative
democracy, emergent democracy, deep democracy, public journalism,
participatory journalism and civic journalism. 

*       Create an advisory board populated with the people who founded these
initiatives. Don't just seek their advice: try to help them with their
initiatives. Participate actively, as a peer. As a citizen. Even after you
win the election. 
*       Show these groups respect and bring them in to play a more vital
role in the future of all democracies. 
*       Treat the civic journalists as major network anchors. Find the ones
that make sense and give them face time, air time. (Bringing bloggers in is
a good first step, but there's far more to discourse than blogging.) 
*       Look to efforts in other countries that are exploring the mechanisms
of democratic participation. Let's not continue being jingoistic and
chauvinistic. Let's act like world citizens. 

*       Make these efforts local -- and global. Help connect communities
across large distances. Familiarity dissipates fear. 

*       Tie these efforts to the others: bringing light, organizing data,
and working transparently and openly. 
*       Make this all bipartisan. Reach out to people on the other side who
fundamentally understand that this is the only way forward. 

If there's a silver lining in the past four years, it is that the
<http://www.newamericancentury.org/> neocons have outed themselves. They
have uncloaked. Their agenda is public, if not in its full imperial glory.
And they do not represent the majority of conservatives, not by a long shot.

Why do this?

*       Many people aren't voting at all, an attitude that is understandable
because the current electoral and political systems are do dysfunctional and
untrustworthy. No wonder people feel powerless, disenfranchised and don't
want to be engaged. These steps would help them re-engage. 
*       The Republicans can't follow. Think of the current Administration as
vampires who have managed to set the rules of play to eternal darkness. The
Bush campaign can't stand the light. They also can't stand the examination
of real data or people engaging in civil discourse. These initiatives are
game-changers. They (re)set the rules on open, democratic terms. 
*       Many Conservatives and Libertarians will understand this process and
join it. 
*       Clearly, these goals can't be achieved in four months, but starting
the process credibly, not just talking about it, will be enough to convince
voters (and donors) to jump in. Done right, this is electrifying, deeply
inspiring to people might not otherwise talk to us. This is what our
founders would do. This is post-broadcast politics. 
*       Voting isn't enough. In order for people to feel the elections are
important, we need to show them how they can discover politics at a local,
tangible level. 
*       This is the opposite of small bore politics, which is how the
country is run today. It's the antidote to
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0471423270/jerrymichalskisr> Karl
Rove's macabre genius. 
*       Remember
Cluetrain: People are not in the market for messages. What matters is
actions, not words. It goes much deeper. It must be connected to the
leadership, or it isn't credible.

My previous open letter is
<http://www.sociate.com/blog/archives/2003_08_01_archive.html> here. The
excellent New York Times Magazine cover story this weekend on rethinking
democratic participation (go,  <http://www.augustcap.com/team/ar.shtml>
Andy!) is  <http://www.furl.net/item.jsp?id=619475> here. 

posted by Jerry Michalski at 11:50
0802> PM

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  • » [sociate] To the Democrats: Light, Memory and Discourse