DCN Topic 4: Strengthening the Relationship Between Citizens and Government
This was the fourth topic of the “Democracy Communications Network,” a 2007-2009 project that encouraged leaders in deliberative democracy to periodically write op-eds and blog posts as part of larger, collaborative media campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of quality public engagement. Use the “Democracy Communications Network” tag to see the articles written in association with this project.
In the aftermath of an historic election, the Obama Administration is poised to move from a new and more democratic style of campaigning to a new and more democratic mode of governing. Already, an ambitious attempt to involve large numbers of citizens in the health care policy debate has been launched through the change.gov website (see http://change.gov/page/s/hcdiscussion).
NOW IS THE TIME for all of us who have expertise and experience in this area to make our voices heard. We urge you to join us in writing op-eds on this topic, giving your best ideas and drawing on the best examples of democratic governance that you know about. There are many possible questions and angles:
- How should the new administration address the challenges and opportunities of democratic governance in the 21st Century?
- Is the health care initiative a good step forward? (How might it be improved?)
- Is the Agenda for Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy a promising set of proposals?
More ideas and talking points are outlined below.
We encourage you to…
- Write an op-ed (or blog post) on this topic, giving your best ideas and drawing on the best examples of democratic governance that you know about. Feel free to use the ideas/talking points/fodder below, and our tips for writing op-eds.
- Submit your op-ed to your local papers, or get it posted to some blogs.
- Email your piece to Sandy Heierbacher at email@example.com so we can track what’s been submitted and published, and add it to the website.
- Also submit your piece on the Change.org transition website.
And if you’ve already written something along these lines and you’d like to see it posted here, send it on over!
If enough articles are written, we also hope to literally “hand them over” to our contacts on transition team, with a brief summary letter.
Op-Eds written/published so far…
- An op-ed by Mica Stark in the Sunday Portsmouth Herald
A few ideas and talking points…
Use the comment field below to submit your own ideas for talking points!
- “I will open the doors of government and ask you to be involved in your own democracy again.”
- “This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.”
- “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
“Public engagement” or “citizen engagement” is more than just getting people to vote and to volunteer in their communities. Government must also engage citizens in the policy decisions that affect their lives.
Our nation is at a unique point in its history. We face great, unprecedented challenges, but we also have remarkable opportunities for change. Now is the time to come together to advance the ideals that we all share.
There are many meaningful and exciting ways the new administration can build on the citizen engagement it began in the election campaign and carry it into governance.
A new civic engagement agenda signals a new way of governing.
Now is the time to broaden and deepen federal agencies’ commitment to public engagement. Federal agencies and officials should reach out to citizens and include them in policy making, strategy development, and service delivery. This is not only important to the health of our democracy; it strengthens our country’s capacity to solve important public problems. Greater engagement and inclusion will improve decisions, reduce the risk of political gridlock on difficult questions, and increase the legitimacy of government action.
A healthy democracy needs the capacity to involve its citizens in key decisions. Government cannot be left to leaders, experts, and pundits with the public only weighing in on election day. People from all walks of life should be encouraged to wrestle with tough questions, seek common ground, and develop and articulate their views. Policymakers should see themselves as part of this larger process, not as a world unto themselves.
The government must build an infrastructure of participation that provides a voice for everyone in the policy making process. True democracy requires ensuring that the voices of the powerful are not unduly elevated. Public, open and participatory processes are essential. We envision an America that practices people-centered governance. One that actively seeks and genuinely values everyone’s participation.
Talking Points on the Idea of National Dialogues…
The new Administration should call for regular national discussions on the issues of highest public concern, like foreign policy, energy, taxes, health care, and jobs. Every citizen should have a seat at the table. National discussions could be another one of the signature initiatives of a new civic engagement agenda that signals a new way of governing.
More than 80 percent of the respondents in a recent survey expressed support for the idea of organized national discussions on critical issues. The sentiment was bipartisan: 60 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats described themselves as “strongly” in favor of the idea.
National discussions would:
- Provide policy makers with an independent, non-partisan means of assessing the informed opinions and collective priorities of the American people
- Help public officials – and the nation – get past instinctive (and often adversarial) positions on difficult questions
- Dilute the influence of special interests and build political will for policymakers to act in the common good
- Stimulate local and regional action on national problems by public agencies, private businesses, nonprofits and citizens themselves
- Forge a stronger link between Americans and their government, while providing policy makers with positions that command wide public support
Initiatives You May Want to Promote or Mention…
The Agenda for Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy
The Agenda, posted at www.americaspeaks.org/StrengtheningDemocracyAgenda, recommendations (among other things) establishing a White House Office of Civic Engagement, a call for regular national discussions, and a unique set of policy reforms to increase participation in public life. The Agenda was developed by a diverse group of 49 thinkers, advocates, and academics who came together from across the fields of electoral reform, deliberative democracy and community development. The three convening organizations were AmericaSpeaks, Everyday Democracy and Dēmos: A Network for Ideas.
The Transpartisan Alliance’s American Citizens Summit
In Denver, Colorado this February, the first-ever American Citizens’ Summit seeks to catalyze a nationwide, transpartisan partnership among citizens, organizations and businesses seeking to empower grassroots solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges. Learn more at www.transpartisan.net.
Various Offices and Departments People are Calling For
There are many other initiatives out there you may want to mention in your op-eds. Many are being kept fairly private, but you may want to support the Peace Alliance’s ongoing campaign to establish a U.S. Department of Peace. You may want to write about Search for Common Ground and Rob Fersh’s idea of a U.S. Consensus Council. Tom Atlee of the Co-Intelligence Institute has called for a Department of Democracy, with offices such as an Office of Democratic Culture and an Office of Public Participation and Citizen Engagement, and that may be something you’d like to mention.