About That Democracy Thing...

Maybe we should get more invloved.

Mar 04, 2004

I've been thinking about the "social mechanics" of a true democracy: the institutions; the process; and most of all the level of public participation. I have an idea for Web-based citizen collaboration on social and economic policy with the specific goal of crafting complete legislation--over a period of months or years--that elected officials and candidates can grab a-la-carte for their platform. And why wouldn't they, since the legislative initiative will have already been studiously analyzed and ratified by their constituents.

I came to the realization that members of Congress are not the managers or administrators that I think most people presume them to be. They do have some administrative duties, such as formulating budgets; but these, too, are wholly political in scope and process. Members of Congress, like lawyers, function first and foremost as advocates--in the deepest sense of the word. They, like lawyers, do little until someone comes to them with a request, soliciting them to be their advocate on an issue. Business interests have understood this implicitly. Their well-financed and organized lobbying initiatives dominate the political and legislative agenda of Congress. No substantial change in the democratic landscape will occur until citizen groups organize and take back the advocacy agenda of members of Congress (and local and state legislatures).

In order to achieve this, we must go beyond our previous best efforts of simply saying "Halt!", "Red flag!", and complain about bad legislation. Let's do more than react; let's initiate. Let's do as the business lobby does: develop our own initiatives to the point of drafting complete proposed legislation. Let's provide our advocates with a clear path of purpose and action; let's provide them with legislative initiatives that have already been reviewed, debated, and popularly ratified by constituents; let's make their decision to take up our causes a no-brainer (i.e., will secure the people's vote). We must make it as easy as possible for our advocates to take up our causes. We must do the work of generating consensus among us.

The type of organization I imagine is something similar to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), , an Internet standards organization that organizes working groups (WG)--actually they form themselves--who, over time, publish a working draft (WD) of a new standard or protocol, and finally a Recommendation. The W3C has no legal powers. But, since the recommendations represent a broad consensus agreement of the interested parties, the recommendations are naturally embraced and adopted as standards by the industry.

I propose a "Democracy Working Group" where people can sign up to participate in any WG they like. They can start a new WG by drafting a document of purpose and scope and obtaining enough participants to demonstrate sufficient interest and qualify for listing in the organization and for access to online collaboration services and, in some cases, partial funding. The W3C provides full documentation on their organization, procedures, and philosophy. Let's ask the W3C, and similar groups, about their experience with, and recommendations for, such forms of organization.

The organization should remain weak at the top, with very little funding and very little authority (no legal/governmental authority). Fund-raising might be on a per initiative basis to fund that initiative, and with a small percentage accruing to the organization to pay for general support and online collaboration services. There may be some paid organizational (leadership) positions; but there should be minimal asset ownership--to minimize the number of needed paid administrative positions and to minimize entrenched interests. The organization should be as flat as possible and should itself reflect a truly democratic process.

This approach to organization and decision making is repeated in large and small free software projects around the world, in which developers collaborate and share their time and knowledge to build the tools they need in their profession. The public benefit of the resulting freely available software is enormous. Most people don't realize that the development of the Linux operating system and the many thousands of free applications that work with it have greatly accelerated technological and economic development in less developed countries (as well as in developed ones).

People-power remains the underused, unharnessed, latent political power of our society. If we begin talking to each other intelligently---instead of being lulled into debating the simple-minded paradigms the mainstream media thrusts upon us---I believe 95% of us would come to realize that we believe in, and wish for, essentially the same things in life; and that there are intelligent solutions to issues which we can expect to agree on with a very high degree of consensus the vast majority of the time.

I would gladly combine my efforts with others who would like to develop such an organization.

Carlo Moneti
Syracuse, NY