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Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy 2 – Day One

Sandy Heierbacher, NCDD’s director, is in Washington DC this week attending Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy 2 — a working session organized by AmericaSpeaks, Demos, Everyday Democracy and Harvard University’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation.   Sandy will be sharing her notes via Facebook and Twitter throughout the event and we will be collecting them here along with any comments we receive.

6:43 pm –  Opening speakers at SOND2 (Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Miles Rappaport, Martha McCoy) all pointing out that this is a time of unprecedented oppty, but also a time of grave problems.  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 6:43pm)

6:44pm –  Participants are asked to focus on looking for affinities as well as forging a common agenda – among leaders in the democracy mvmt. It’s about finding new ways to work together.  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 6:44pm)

6:45pm –  Remarks of Obama admin folks will be off the record, so they can be open participants in this process.  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 6:45pm)

6:47 pm –  Tina Chen, director of office of Public Engagement and Sonal Shah, director of office of social innovation and civic participation will be speaking soon – but I won’t be posting details.  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 6:47pm)

6:49 pm –  What, in the past year, has given you a sense of hope that we can take a giant step in American democracy? What one thing has made you worry?  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 6:49pm)


1. We can’t take a giant step – now. 2. OBAMA  (Added by Gregory Plank on 8/2/2009 at 7:22pm)

1. That we can imagine we can—vision comes before reality. 2. Unfiltered, unrestrained discourse on blogs. We’ve allowed hate speak a new and powerful venue in which to masquerade as truth and fact. It is almost impossible to “inform” this viral opinion machine or to slow it down for the dialogue and reflection that democracy requires.  (Added by Barbara Raye on 8/2/2009 at 7:32pm)

1. Obama bringing openness, substance, and nuance back to the ways we engage with the world’s heads of state, and particularly the muslim nations. 2. The cacophony of crises’ that make it extremely difficult for the disengaged public to incrementally re-engage. A good example is the tipping point of awareness about our impact on the earth, drowned out by the financial crises. (Added by Alisa Oyler on 8/2/2009 at 7:54pm)

1. Obama 2. Hate propaganda  (Added by Cindy Wold on 8/2/2009 at 8:14pm)

1. “Giant step”? Unsure. Good steps relate to better cohesion among paticipation/engagement/”improve democracy” forces, to some extent and a more fertile Obama Administration. 2. Worry – lack of attention to serious campaign finance fairness (RE: a true public option that is seriuos for Congress and Presidential candidates) and immigration reform — cannot have a shadow class of non-citizens and be a strong democracy.  (Added by John B. Stephens on 8/2/2009 at 8:14pm)

1. shifting demographics and more women getting engaged in leadership roles, 2. nastiness especially “otherization” as Oxford U Press science writer Kathleen Taylor calls it in Cruelty, e.g. ad hominem, disgust provoking attacks rather than direct, candid, difficult, respectful, neighborly debate. Thanks for asking Sandy and cool depiction of you…..  (Added by Thomas A. Fee on 8/2/2009 at 8:18pm)

Rethink: 1. Rhetoric and jargon that skirts around issues without ever openly and honestly addressing those very same issues – that started to worry me last November and continues to worry me today.  (Added by Gregory Plank on 8/2/2009 at 8:22pm)

1. That there is someone who wants to cut through the red tape and just get things done without every person getting their own little adjustment in. 2. That there are those who are on a mission blind to the fact that sometimes the ends do not justify the means.  (Added by Heather Popp-Lewis on 8/2/2009 at 8:28pm)

Greg – I agree we need a reality check on the rhetoric and jargon. How do we use straight talk to talk about complex issues in this sound byte culture, though?  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 8:36pm)

One of the things that gave me particular hope in the last year is a collaborative project my community took on to create Core Principles for Public Engagement we could all agree on. Our field really came together around those principles, showing an unprecedented level of unity. www.ncdd.org/pep (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 8:38pm)

One thing that gives me pause is some Obama admin decisions that conflict with their values of openness and transparency (like not agreeing to release the list of visitors to the White House).  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 8:40pm)

In today’s governmental structure, straight talk to talk is simply not realistic. Especially, when the Government is more focused on passing personal agendas based on the sole premise that they are giving America what is needs. The real problem that exists with this ideology is that America has not and never will be given an open, honest and unbiased forum to let the Government truly know what we the people need or desire.  (Added by Gregory Plank on 8/2/2009 at 8:44pm)

Greg says “America has not and never will be given an open, honest and unbiased forum to let the gov’t truly know what we the people need or desire.” The public engagement field is all about trying to provide such a forum, and we’ve certainly had more success at the local level and community level than the national level.  But can gov’t ever TRULY know what The People need or desire? Interesting question! What do others think? I think it’s worth trying.  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 8:56pm)

For sure it is worth trying. And it is indeed the work of the D&D field. The People have a role if not a responsibility to have their voices heard by government/s and in between elections too. It is a governance thing – the space and processes need to be created to allow government/s and the people to work together on a variety of issues which each can bring to the attention of the other. In Canada, we have had some success at the national level as well, but not lately with the current government. In the US, I would say that there is an opening to figure out the new goverance framework and players and how the governance players will relate to each other and work together. My goodness, look at the conference you are currently having and who is invoved. Good for you and will follow with great interest.  (Added by Sandra Zagon on 8/2/2009 at 11:00pm)

8:46 pm –  Archon Fung (Harvard’s Ash Institute) speaking now, responding to Sonal and Tina’s talks. Just made the point that committing to share power (which is what public engagement is all about… sharing power among citizens, not just gov’t leadership) takes real courage.  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 8:46pm)

9:01 pm –  A lot of talk tonight abt the importance of community organizing groups. Basically, we can give people info, opportunities to deliberate, etc. but if we really want to empower people to take responsibility for problems in communities/society, we need to help them work together. I don’t see the public engagement community working much with the community organizing folks. How can we change this?  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 9:01pm)


Sandy, lots of posts; you must be inspired. I should be writing a blog but I’m not insipired. “How can we change this?” I follow Peter Block and I like that he points out the ease with which we ask “how” questions. He believes, and I concur, that we should be asking “why” more often than “how.” Try it. “Why should we change this?”  (Added by George Moskoff on 8/2/2009 at 9:10pm)

Posting like this is helping me think thru what I’m hearing during this more didactic segment. I’ll have to ask “why” more often; I’m definitely a “how” person. Interesting thought.  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 9:14pm)

Community organizing can indeed be authentic engagement. It can also be people with an agenda focused on building grass roots political support among those who would not have done so on their own. I probably agree with most of the political agendas of organizers, but there is still sometimes a bit of “we know better than you” or “we have an idea that will help you” component that I don’t think is in the public engagement principles as much. I’ve done both. The inherent power in an organizing model calls for even more attention to ethics, self-reflection, and the meaning of neutrality.  (Added by Barbara Raye on 8/2/2009 at 11:45pm)

9:03 pm –  Why is community participation seen as such a liberal thing? To me, having people work together to solve local problems is kind of a basic American value.  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 9:03pm)


Might depend on how community participation is defined? If the starting point is using the ‘democratic’ process to increase state power than that would be a problem for folks on the right.  (Added by Michael Ostrolenk on 8/2/2009 at 9:08pm)

It is seen as a liberal thing because actually communicating with people within the community requires being able to set aside assumed paradigms and work with others who are different economically, socially, culturally. There are very many people who are not able to do that – just think of how difficult it is getting people who work in the same department to work cohesively in teams.  (Added by Heather Popp-Lewis on 8/2/2009 at 9:42pm)

9:01 pm –  Point was just made that legalization of marijuana was the #1 issue brought up in online forums both during the transition and after, because of the socioeconomic status of the citizens who are participating in online forums. People in very poor communities wouldn’t identify this as the core issue to be worked on, but they’re not part of the online discussion. Interesting…
(Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 9:01pm)


With the facist FDA trying to ban acetymetaphin, how can we possibly expect the legalization of marijuana to get anywhere near being passed?  (Added by Heather Popp-Lewis on 8/2/2009 at 9:37pm)

Yep. Folks in poor communities are not online. As Abraham Maslow might say, maybe their needs require they are working a little lower on the needs hierarchy?  (Added by Debora Liddell on 8/2/2009 at 9:42pm)

California will lead the way. We need the taxes 🙂  (Added by Kathleen Marvin on 8/2/2009 at 10:15pm)

Reminds us to use caution about making conclusions based on online discussion processes and to continue to seek more ways to genuinely engage and listen to each other.  (Added by Barbara Raye on 8/2/2009 at 11:50pm)

Even in f2f the problem is who participates in the conversation. Often those who are not present have an important voice that is lost. It is and always will be a problem.  (Added by Lisa Singh on 8/3/2009 at 7:01am)

9:47 pm –  From Carolyn’s good-bye… We need to be focusing on all levels of govt – not just national. Not just local either. And our processes, techniques, strategies, regulations, etc. will need to be different for all levels.  (Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/2/2009 at 9:47pm)


Ah, the one world thing. Way to go, Sandy.
(Added by Nancy Peden on 8/2/2009 at 11:45pm)

I disagree. We are all unique, but individual. There should not be something called the New World Order. Thank you, but I prefer to keep my Nationality and not have it watered down with everyone else in the world and then we all become ONE big melting pot.
(Added by JoAnn Arnold on 8/3/2009 at 1:01am)

General response to event: Sandy, is there any way to slip a note to Barack? Let’s see if we can get him to ponder something: if our “representatives” in Washington, and even more locally, were to limit their incomes to the average income of their constituents, perhaps those said representatives would have a different perspective when voting on policies. Or does that sound too much like common sense? Then it may follow that those who enter the political forum would be there to make a difference and better their communities just as, say, social workers who do their jobs for the intrinsic value rather than the monetary reward. No?  (Added by Heather Popp-Lewis on 8/2/2009 at 9:47pm)

12:01 am –  Final thought before bed… struck by some of the struggles articulated abt the transition from campaign to administration. The presidential campaign did engage unprecedented numbers of citizens, but the administration must engage people on all sides of the political spectrum now. The campaign had staff and volunteers in every state; the administration has understaffed offices limited by regulation and red tape.
(Added by Sandy Heierbacher on 8/3/2009 at 12:01am)


Agree. This is an opportunity !  (Added by Reynolds-Anthony Harris on 8/3/2009 at 2:00am)

Tape designed to get you stuck in the system.  (Added by Tia Carr Williams on 8/3/2009 at 2:15am)

This is an opportunity. But, how it is managed will make all the difference.  (Added by Lisa Singh on 8/3/2009 at 8:00am)

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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