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Monday, August 25, 2014

Democratizing Power

The process of turning potential into power

Power. We rail against it. We write about it. We complain about it. We are abused by it. We feel helpless against it.

Why can't ordinary citizens wield that power just as easily? How can just one person, in one town, make a difference?

Let's start with the basics of policy. You know people. You have more influence than you recognize. And influence is all you need. How does a friendship become a subsidiary? When you build on your common ground, and agree to a strategic partnership, anything can happen. The power of the people, once organized, is boundless.

It has to be ok for each of us to be each other's teachers and each other's students.

How does a symbol inspire a people? The Tea Party was able to take a symbol, the Don't Tread On Me flag, to rally and activate a portion of the citizenry. A fear based, anti-government section of the population, but engaged now under a single banner. They think together, and they vote together.  This strung together quilt of crazies, of fringe militias, and martial law expecters, created a power block that has worked to shape policy.

How does a bias become a policy? Incideously. Like stop and frisk. Or racial profiling.

There are some millenials who want to opt out of voting all together, and simply engage in volunterism. There are techies who think all we need is more data and transparency. There are liberals who think voting is for the blind, the sheeple, the lost followers. They've disengaged completely, and tend to advocate no political party over any political party.

Each side is blinded by their selective outrage. The fortunate and the unfortunate alike who think they get what they deserve, that's the status quo we need to shake up. All generations of citizenry in the United States need to wake up and realize that civic engagement, civic awareness has fallen into the hands of so called "professionals." Professional message makers like Karl Rove, and his predecessor Lee Atwater. It's Crossroads, FOX, the Kochs, and The Heritage Foundation who have accessed the public dialogue, and run with it. Their poster boys Sen. Ted Cruz, and Rep. Eric Cantor, and let's not forget the ladies like Rep. Michelle Bachmann and former Gov. Sarah Palin, raise tons of money just appearing and talking smack. They belittle, demonize, and name call with abandon. There is very little push back, and that's why they have so many followers repeating their words, exactly, word for word. Obamacare is horrible. Big government is the problem. Never compromise. That's against God's will. Never negotiate. The founders wanted us to be obstructionists. And it goes on and on and on, with the benefactors being mostly carpet baggers selling gold, safe rooms, and disaster shelters, trying to rewrite a country's history by spewing out a constant barrage of misinformation.

It's all too much, all the uninformed voters showing up to vote. It's overwhelming. The general public, the young millenials who need to participate, and those unregistered, are now unmotivated to even figure out how things work. We begin to opt out. Willful ignorance is a cause and a consequence of the power grab of the greedy. We have to wake up before we get left out. Heck, we've already been left out. They control Congress by simply sitting in the middle of the road, blocking traffic.

To start with, there's a need to put an end to all this rage against the machine. What works best, tested by the people in power for thousands of years, is to rage within the machine. We need a real arena where we can plausibly practice the power of decision making. Congress obviously isn't cutting it. It turns out, there is no better arena in our time for the practicing of power than at the city level. Think about a common problem in most cities. Like ...where a streetlamp should go or which library should have its hours extended or cut. Should every business in your town be required to pay a living wage? Should water conservation be part of the planning of your city? Are your bridges safe? Do you need another school? Do your schools require more funding, a better arts program or an after school program? Do you want your local police force to wear cameras while on duty?

Think about the change you want in your city, and then think about how you would get it, how you could make that happen. Here's a list of the possible tools you will need to control or confront:

  • money
  • people
  • ideas
  • information
  • misinformation 
  • threat of force (including boycotting and protests)

How would you activate the tools that you need, and/or neutralize those tools used by your opponents? Power brokers do this everywhere on the planet, and more and more recently, there have been stories of power changing hands. Their is skill and engineering involved that needs to recognized, and some basics you need to know before stepping up to the line of battle. All you need is power literacy. These are the elemental factors of power.

What is your objective?

What strategy are you going to use?

What tactics work most often in your area?

What is the terrain? Will your neighborhood or community support the change required to better the quality of life in your town? With these answers, you can tip the scales in your favor, every time.

Who are your enemies, and who are your allies? Most importantly, who can you recruit as an ally, what groups, what religious organizations, what unions? Are there existing systems of government you can engage? Can you use the marketplace, the media, faith institutions, and social institutions to accomplish your goal? Do you need to resort to sit-ins and marches? It just might be something as basic and simple as getting people to register to vote, and luring them to the polls.

Take Power From Power

As national politics has become more and more partisan, as we deal with obstructionism at every turn, civic imaginations are being activated, emerging from local ecosystems and radiating outward. Finally trickling out instead of trickling down. Things are changing, like where people are moving, what people are buying, what travel sources people use. Things are changing, like people petitioning the White House, turning ideas into laws.

Decide where you want your tax dollars to go. Now isn't that novel. But when you, and those around you, start caring, you can invent systems that allow the local constituents to decide that for themselves. We vote on bonds. We vote on judges. We can decide to vote on whatever we want.

Power To The People.
This is the challenge and the opportunity. Generating a web of power that can take away the strangle hold of those who have had the monopoly until now. We can create something that is powerfully collective. We can become We.

We can proactively seek out those with the same values, we can learn about systems, work within them, and change them. They are just skills that need to be mastered, like riding a bicycle, or doing a handstand. Practice makes perfect. When something is done that works, share that info with the world. When something is done that doesn't work, share that too. We can all learn from our mistakes. We can also learn from someone else's mistakes.

Eventually, you local leaders will tip the balance of power, take the reins. We need to actively negotiate, motivate, frame issues, while navigating diversity and conflict, before we can legislate. That's the slog, But if they can do it with money, we can do it with people, time, and effort.

How does change succeed? Well, we very successfully voted for change. We were told that we had to participate. Well, now is the time.

Figure it out. What are the values of those who can be activated to join you? What could be the sense of moral purpose you are able to stir in those you need to engage? Actually make it your business, your hobby, or your raison d'ĂȘtre, as an American, as a policy geek, as a wonk, to make the change you want to see.

All power to the people and the policy they create.

The Policy Geek

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