[This was originally posted on Sat, 19 Mar 2011 and is reappearing here as part of a website rebuilding process...]
We Americans recall with a chuckle that when this country started, the law prohibited you from voting if you did not hold property rights. Before we get too comfortable with our progress, though, consider this: On January 21, 2011 Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge John Gallagher ruled that today in California, if you do not hold at least a minimal property right for some sort of residence, the law prohibits you from sleeping anywhere, whether on private or public property. This is cruel and myopic, like many of our other public policies.
If we want to face up to the political and economic derangement that surrounds us, the question arises: What can we do to promote the common good? Because we are a democracy, the answer has to come from the collective wisdom of all the people. No single citizen or faction could possess or impose THE ANSWER.
But how do we marshal that wisdom? What process will produce the soundest recommendations that the great mass of citizens consent to? As citizens in the political arena, we are reduced mostly to the role of spectator or drum-beater, ill-equipped to provide wise advice. We need to clear the fog from the arena that keeps us from seeing who the crucial players are and how the game is really played. We have to monitor the players continuously, and periodically get them to answer tough questions. To accomplish that I suggest a new process found at www.FullSpectrumDemocracy.org. It requires amending the Constitution to prescribe two new duties for every elected officeholder at all levels of government, from the President on down.
The first duty would require that every time the officeholder discusses any public business with anyone, whether in person or by telephone, by letter or internet, or any other way, the public will be there via electronics to hear it, read it or watch it, either while it is happening or later, by consulting the public archive. What better way could there be to both inform ourselves and discourage lobbyists from seeking special favors? If our elected representatives are talking about public business, the public should be there.
The second duty would require every elected officeholder to appear on radio and television once every month across the table from a citizen (who’s been chosen by lottery from among all volunteers) for a thirty-minute conversation, and then another thirty-minute conversation with another citizen. The citizen would have the option to appoint any willing spokesperson to appear in his/her place - for example, Rush Limbaugh or Arianna Huffington. Soon, all voices and points of view along the entire political spectrum would have the chance to engage the officeholders in genuine dialogue. Today, so often the only messages we get from our politicians, whether on TV, at a press conference or a town hall meeting, are predigested sound-bites that do more to confuse than inform us. These dialogues would be a great leap forward in our political-economic education, and would have a unifying effect on the body politic - reality television for everyone.
Let’s convince our congress members - who initiate constitutional amendments - that these two new duties will provide the informed, civilized dialogue they say they want, and finally put to good use the cheap and ubiquitous camera/microphone and internet technology which the government and corporations now use so effectively against private citizens.
We the people could start to set the national agenda and create more humane and rational public policies. Eventually, we might even begin to see the poor and the homeless as equal to everyone else. Then we could all sleep a little more soundly at night.