Changing the ConversationJanuary 14, 2010 Leave a comment
The photo above was sent to me by my father, who is also the photographer. In fact, he is also the sign maker. This statement currently sits by the roadside in front of my parents’ house in upstate New York. When I asked what sparked this action, he wrote:
There really wasn’t a single event that brought this about. I got increasingly frustrated with the so-called health care reform debate, knowing that wealthy corporations had donated millions of dollars to the “campaign funds” of many legislators. Citizen groups retaliated by collecting millions of dollars to counter the corporate propaganda. What a waste of money! Then I saw an interview on PBS with , Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. The interviewer pointed out that Committee members had received 30 million dollars from banks and financial institutions. Dodd himself had received 7 million dollars. When asked if this might not influence his decision, he replied something like “Of course not”. That was probably the straw that broke this camel’s back.
And he is not alone. What frustrates many I know the most, is how those of us who are outraged no matter our political leanings then end up taking it out against one another, through media-manufactured circuses and so-called public “hearings” (just who is really listening?). In many cases it’s not that we fundamentally disagree, but that we are seemingly set up to fail by the existing structures and processes. As Judith Innes and David Booher say in a critique of public participation processes in this country, many of these create or reinforce an us-them dynamic that ends up (pre)serving the status quo and eroding trust across the board. Ultimately, everyone involved is in some sense demeaned.
Innes and Booher go on to advocate for a multi-stakeholder (multi-way, not just two-way) collaborative approach to public political participation. They promote authentic dialogue (not rigid “hearings’) between these multiple perspectives as a process that yields the learning, networks, and social capital that is required to build civic capacity for problem-solving and the realization of shared visions. In this complex networked world, that is both the need and the opportunity in front of us– self-organization and political design must go hand-in-hand.
My father ended the explanation of his signage by saying: “I would love to see this go viral in some way, prompting a grassroots movement for publicly funded elections.” That would be our cue, you self-organizing blue and red signmakers out there. So what do you say? How do we change that conversation or others that move you? Where do WE THE PEOPLE go from here?