Holding My Breath
Here it is. I’m putting it out there in the world.
The trick at this point is going to be to get other people on board. Of course, I’m still developing the idea, I’m still working on a body of explanatory literature that will eventually be enough to fill a book, and there are still a lot of specifics that need to be filled in. But the rough outline of what I mean by Democracy Straight-Up is pretty much in place. At some point, you just gotta jump in!
This project started to take shape for me 30 years ago when I was in grad school. I was studying sociology.
I had a great English teacher when I was an undergrad–I took three courses he taught, so I tapped him for a recommendation when I applied to grad schools. He obliged, but he wrote me a personal note, one line of which I will never forget: “Your pursuit of a graduate degree is laudable, but I can’t agree with your choice of sociology, which I see as a haven for mediocrities and unclear thinking.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Notwithstanding that, I entered sociology with good intentions: I felt like there was clearly something wrong with society, and I wanted to help fix it. It seemed that, with all our prosperity, and even with our long experience living in a democracy, we Americans were still making each other miserable.
My focus on Direct Legislation grew out of my frustration with all of the social theory I was ingesting. I became suspicious of any effort to improve our democracy through ideological efforts. That’s a nice way to put it. Our go-to technique for improving democracy in America is to fashion a great, big, really judgmental, ideological hammer and start pounding on people’s thick skulls with it. Not that I don’t have an ideology. I’m a human being and, like anyone else. I have my political opinions. But after a while, that hammer gets so heavy. So very, very heavy.
So, I asked myself, what if it were possible to improve democracy in America–in a way that would make like better for everyone–without changing anyone’s political beliefs? How would one go about achieving that?
It struck me that there was a huge disconnect between the ‘will of the people,’ on the one hand and our system of representation and legislation on the other. So, I started casting about for solutions. Often, the problem of representation is addressed by shouting, “Kick the bums out!” This places the blame on the legislators themselves. But this always struck me as a poor solution. There is a reason why legislators tend to be the way they are; it doesn’t really have much to do with their personal character. Even people with good intentions have a hard time getting things done. And, it is worth mentioning that, as much as people say they want to replace the congress with a better crop of people, they never do, do they?
But if the legislators aren’t to blame, then are the voters to blame? After all, they keep voting for the crooks! Well, is that’s your diagnosis, what would be your next steps? You’d need to run around motivating and educating people so that they make better decisions. Get involved in the civic life of their community. And…zzzzz….oh, sorry, just fell asleep for a second there.
Of course, many people do that kind of work. It’s unclear how effective it is. But more to the point, what if ‘blaming the people,’ from the get-go, is a wrong-headed solution to the problem? Then we are left at a bit of an impasse. It’s not the politicians. It’s not the voters. Then what could possibly becausing the problem?
The problem is not the participants, but the structure of the system. Specifically the disconnect between any given legislative representative and the people they represent. And the solution to that is actually fairly straightforward. Simply to build a connection. A direct connection. Not encouragement, not education, not taking measures to ensure a representative made a real effort to stay in touch with the voters, not employing opinion polls, or even, God forbid, referendum. Just a direct link, as direct as possible–cut out all the messiness and uncertainty in the middle.
That’s why I started thinking about a system of Connected Representation. And that is what the Democracy Straight Up Project is putting in place. It eliminates the need for campaigning, and therefor fundraising (and to some extent, even political parties) and just puts the best candidate in your district’s seat in the House. Obviously there is a lot more to it than just that. People will have a lot of questions–that’s what The Project is for. But for now, just imagine the House Rep for your district is ‘put forward’ by the voters of the district, in truly meritocratic process, without anyone having to make speeches or raise a dime. Many evils inherent in the process of campaigning would be wiped out in one fell swoop.
Now, once you dig into the specifics of Connected Representation, you may realize that it makes something else very possible–inevitable really. Namely, direct legislation.
Not a system of referendums. Just a system where every voter can vote directly–yea, nay, etc.–on every piece of legislation that comes up for a vote before the US House of Representatives. Now, many people–including and especially the founders of American democracy–have had qualms (many, many qualms) about such a system. Believe me, when I started thinking about it, I had those qualms. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized that the system of Connected Representation alleviated most of them. Also, I discovered that all of us have had, for a long time, the wrong idea when it came to this kind of ‘direct democracy.’ There’s a reason why we don’t see it as a solution–it has been chased out of our conscience minds by misconceptions and baseless fears. And, of course, the Democracy Straight Up Project will have its work cut out for it when it comes to addressing those misconceptions and those fears. But it’s totally doable.
And there we have it. Take a system of Connected Representation (starting at the national level), let it do what it does naturally, which is allow for Direct Legislation, and that gives you what I am calling.Democracy Straight-Up: Direct Legislation combined with Direct Representation. Hit the Explore button up above, and start learning more, if you like. Or not. It’s a free country.
And it is about to get a lot freer.