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More on Jon Denn’s Catalyst Awards proposal: aGREATER.US

Jon Denn of A Greater Publishing (an NCDD organizational member since October 2011) is looking to build a team of NCDD members for a Catalyst Awards proposal that supports his website aGREATER.US. Please read over this post by Jon and let him know if and how you’d like to be involved, or share whatever questions you may have with him.

You can add a comment here on the blog, or help develop the proposal at CivicEvolution at www.ncdd.civicevolution.org/proposal/10113.  See all the proposals that are being developed at http://ncdd.civicevolution.org.

From Jon Denn…

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he outlines what is needed for an idea to tip—to become reality. There needs to be three groups, collectors of data, answers, and people. And then in a small group of about 150 committed folks the catalyst can be had. Anti-PIPA and anti-SOPA tipped with less than 1% of the population jamming Twitter streams, and clicking on petitions.

I came to NCDD as a collector of data and answers. aGREATER.US is about a year old. I worked on it for a couple years before that with three iterations of a reality TV show pitch—essentially American Idol for transpartisan public policy. WGBH Boston was interested but had no funds to devote to it. I know CBS looked at it a couple times but no response. So, I decided to launch it as a website instead.

Its unique and emerging development in democracy is that the opinions of liberals, conservatives, and independents (both or neither) are poetically given equal weight. Also, as editor I do much of the choice creation with an eye on the unique, outside the box, and compromise. I am an independent. I also favor getting advise or permission to post the work (with or without credit as requested) from experts. Another one of Gladwell’s books Blink discusses the mastery that comes from 10,000 hours of experience.

aGREATER.US has changed me. I had to lose a number of deep beliefs, some held for decades, because after I studied the work of people who were masters in their areas—they convinced me. I have come to love being wrong, because afterwards I have a stronger context.

A couple examples: I have been for the National Popular Vote for decades. Even wrote a paper on it in high school. This year I met folks from the Declaration of Electoral Methods Reform Activists. And came to learn that the real issue is Banning Single Mark Ballots. Any other reform is really a band aid on a festering sore. Why? Vote splitting for one. If you’d like to research this you can at http://agreater.us/billpage.php?id=400 . There are lots of links to drill down.

I was originally for Decriminalizing Personal Drug Use, but after reading the work of a trio of professors, realized they were correct to instead have a Drug War Against Chronic User Behavior by exhausting all best medical technique, and frequent short imprisonments before long incarcerations. Again, if you want to follow these masters’ work you can at http://agreater.us/billpage.php?id=396 .

Don’t get me started on Citizen’s United vs Freedom of Speech & Rights to Assemble. This is a quagmire. Great grievance, mostly lousy solutions, although they exist just probably not anything you’ve heard of yet in the media. Why, they are the beneficiaries of the billions. By the way, I think electoral reform is probably the most important work that can be done on the planet, today. Why? Without that, the rest will always be tainted by crony capitalism.

I have been involved in four or five, left/right/center efforts over the past couple of years. One or two look like they’re going somewhere, the others flamed and died quickly. Most people don’t fear change anywhere near as much as loss. If you change your mind you may lose your job, friends, your very identity or ideology. Policy work is hard. While a participant in their first hour or two of a policy session may be brilliant once, I can almost guarantee that most people will be spectacularly wrong twice. By wrong I mean basing arguments not on data or facts or best practice, but ideology they have been fed by whichever cheerleader media outlet is their frequent haunt. This work is not for the thin skinned.

In Robert Goodin’s fine book, Reflective Democracy, he makes an early point that the populace need not be well informed policy wonks, but they do have to trust sources that are. I have a very dim view of the media in this country. I sincerely doubt that the populace can get a balanced in depth view or conclusion on the most pressing issues of the day. The left have their hot buttons. The right, ditto. It’s like a football game. Government is not a sport. Or at least it should aspire to something, well, greater.

aGREATER.US is aspiring to be a trusted source of policy work.

So, want to collaborate with ME on the Catalyst Award or otherwise? Here’s what I have in mind.

  1. Do you wield the “ax” on an issue, have a well reasoned nonpartisan left/right solution (the overlap)? One that would/could garner supermajority support. Please post it.
  2. Do you have a great bipartisan solution. One that could squeak through the gridlock? Please post it.
  3. Are you interested in being on a citizen’s jury, or pair up, on an issue or editorial board? Please let me know.
  4. Do you want to help turn aGREATER.US into a reality series, like American Idol for Public Policy?
  5. If you have some time, just sign-up and rate some ideas, maybe submit an op-ed.
  6. I wrestled with the “forum” aspect. I know I need one. But I got stuck in the closed loop of “if I moderate” I could be taking on liability and what if it got even modestly busy, how would I keep up. Also, how to deal with trolls. I’ve been on some nice forums where the trolls just chase everyone away. Advice welcome.
  7. If you see a way for me to collaborate with YOU, please let me know.

One aspect worth exploring is using these choice creations as the basis for a “book club” model of discussion. It is my experience that most ad hoc policy work rarely gets passed the data gathering phase.

In closing, I want to congratulate NCDD for becoming a group of this size and expertise. I do believe that NCDD and all the group members have far exceeded the critical mass necessary to achieve any action we choose. Members of Congress must have a very dim view of Americans’ activist prowess. There are dozens of items that already have the necessary support to either become constitutional amendments, or easily pass with a majority in both chambers, or squeak through in a bipartisan fashion. Items that Congress can’t or won’t pass.

Why don’t WE make them?

– Jon Denn
The Politics of WHAT—then Who.

Andy Fluke
Andy Fluke is the co-founder of NCDD and currently provides creative support to many of NCDD's publications and events. He also works with a handful of other NCDD members on a variety of projects as consultant and designer. More about his work can be found at www.andyfluke.com.

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  1. Hi, Jon —
    I have 4 suggestions for a bi-partisan project. I am currently working on all of these, at various levels of engagement.

    1. Food councils. Community food security (also known as local food and farm systems, food democracy, food sovereignty, food justice, etc.) has threads throughout the history of the U.S., in various iterations. The latest movement has taken it mainstream since about 1996. Food councils (often called “food policy councils”) are springing up all over the U.S. and Canada, at municipal, county, regional, and state levels. Food as a practical topic of human attention connects to every other human arena, and everyone wants a seat at the food council table — farmers, consumers, processors, distributors, retail, schools, chefs, public health, environment, emergency preparedness, etc.

    Evidence of bi-partisanship: In Illinois (a notoriously gridlock state), we passed two bills, one unanimously (Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act, 2007) and one minus one vote on a technicality (Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act 2009).

    2. Public banks. Banks owned by municipalities, counties, and states that (a) handle the government’s money, and (b) have banking operations that align with the jurisdiction’s policies. North Dakota has had a state-owned bank for about 95 years. Its function is primarily to serve as a bankers’ bank, as long as community banks’ operations are congruent with North Dakota policies. Public Banking Institute and Public Banking Coalition are taking the lead on this nationally and internationally.

    3. Participatory budgeting. Promote participatory budgeting in any and all government levels, especially the local level (municipality and county). Can also be promoted in non-government situations, e.g., a foundation whose resources support affordable housing can run a PB session for applicants, a community, etc. This is a brilliant model that shows its effectiveness immediately and that can be adapted to almost any pot of money.

    4. National book club to read the U.S. Constitution. Facilitate local book groups everywhere + larger events over the course of a year. with The end goal of every group being to (a) propose a Constitutional amendment, or (b) affirm that the Constitution is fine just the way it is. The larger goal would be to have a Constitutional convention, but I’m not sure we’re ready for that yet. (I proposed this to Move to Amend a few months ago. They were interested but busy with the election.)

    Debbie Hillman
    Evanston, Illinois
    D. Hillman Strategies: Food Policy for Voters
    FoodVote.2012.com (http://DHillmanStrategies.com)

  2. Very interested in the reality series idea. Love the general idea of exploring the complexity of issues, in a way that one might actually (gasp!) change one’s mind… i.e. learn something!!! Love the idea of citizen juries, especially ones that use creative deliberation. Lots of good work being done in Europe with “creative insight councils”… I.e., dynamically facilitated microcosms. Would love to help have some of that happen here.

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