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Op-Ed by NCDD’s Sandy Heierbacher for the Patriot News

This article was written as part 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.

The following was published in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Patriot News on October 25, 2007.

Town by town, city by city, democracy has quietly been growing stronger in America. Stronger because everyday people are coming together to tackle their communities’ most challenging problems. And I am excited to say that Washington is finally starting to wake up and take notice.

At a speech in Keene, New Hampshire on Saturday, John Edwards unveiled a proposal to “return Washington to regular people.” He would accomplish this, in part, by using large-scale methods for getting people talking, thinking, deciding and collaborating together. Methods that I and my organization’s 700 members have seen work at the community, state, and even the national level.

We all know that special interest groups have come to dominate national politics. By flooding the capital with paid lobbyists and flooding the airwaves with one-sided advertisements, special interest groups prevent our nation’s leaders from finding common ground and working in the public interest.

To remedy this, Edwards said that every other year he would ask one million citizens (it can be done!) to participate in Citizen Congresses – networked meetings across the country where regular Americans tackle national issues together, without the usual filters of interest groups and the media. At these meetings, Americans will discuss the challenges and trade-offs facing our country and offer advisory opinions to leaders.

Edwards recognizes that his “One Democracy Initiative” is part of an emerging movement to enable people to practice democracy beyond elections. Citizen-centered projects have given ordinary people a voice in designs for the World Trade Center memorial, the redevelopment of New Orleans, health care reform in California and myriad local issues in towns across the country.

Top-level politicians in countries like Canada, Australia and Denmark have supported this kind of public engagement in national issues for years now. Sadly, America is not leading the way in involving citizens in important policy discussions.

I congratulate John Edwards for understanding that democratic reform doesn’t just mean reforming our electoral system. It means utilizing today’s technology and know-how to find new ways to enable people’s voices to influence decision-making at the local and national levels.

The Harrisburg-based National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, and its hundreds of members from across the country, encourage all presidential candidates – from the left, right and center – to go beyond rhetoric and propose their own concrete solutions for bringing the people back into politics. And we encourage you to demand the same from your favorite candidates!

Sandy Heierbacher
Director, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD)
sandy@thataway.org

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