Evolving Beyond the Two-Party Duopoly

Two Projects to Represent US and
“WE-Distribute” Political Power in America

“We don’t need a revolutionary uprising to overthrow the system. We need an evolutionary upwising to help us overgrow it.” — Swami Beyondananda

Every now and then, there is a defining moment that coalesces an idea that has been cooking over low heat for a while. And while we can point to the current “government shutdown” as one final straw to bring together our collective disgust from all sides, the defining moment I am referring to came last October when Green Beret and former NFL player Nate Boyer wrote this open letter to Donald Trump, Colin Kaepernick and the American public in general. Writes Boyer:

Simply put, it seems like we just hate each other; and that is far more painful to me than any protest, or demonstration, or rally, or tweet. We’re told to pick a side, there’s a line drawn in the sand “are you with us or against us?” It’s just not who we are, or at least who we’re supposed to be; we’re supposed to be better than that, we’re Americans. This doesn’t even seem to be about right or wrong, but more about right or left.

Here we have a mainstream American, a conservative probably, who is affirming and lamenting that the average American from all sides has just about hit “peak disgust” at our corrupt, dysfunctional system that pits one side against the other so that the fundamental things we agree about get obscured, making it impossible for us to act as a single coherent body politic to hold our governance accountable to any standard whatsoever.

While that’s not the exact focus of Boyer’s letter, the subtext is we have an untrustworthy government, and untrustworthy media. And all this upwelling frustration has turned us against one another, when it would be much more practical and sane for us to work together for solutions rather than defending our positions.

Were we to state the obvious — that our government is run by the power of money and is so beholden to special interests that we the people have been effectively disenfranchised — the majority of Americans would say, “Yeah … that’s right!”

Signs of the Upwising

So before we move on to two different — and worthy — strategies to address the disenfranchisement of “we the people” from government of, by and for the people, let’s take heart at the awakening that I call “signs of the upwising”.

Consider these news items:

News Item #1 The first story, in response to the government shutdown, appeared in Axios and is a quote attributed to “a senior GOP House aide”: “The largest country in the world, with global responsibilities, shutting down the government over a squabble … 100% for short-term political gain.”

News Item #2 One year after Donald Trump’s inauguration, a new poll says that 82% percent of Republicans age 18-24 want another Republican candidate to challenge Trump in the 2020 primaries.

News Item #3 According to an NBC News poll this past November, 71% of millennials don’t like either of the two major parties and would prefer a new third party.

News Item #4 On the eve of Election Day 2016, pollster Frank Luntz put together a focus group for “60 Minutes” with 25 voters from all sides. He asked, “How many of you will be voting for your candidate of choice on Tuesday?” Three raised their hands. “And how many of you are voting against a candidate?” The other 22 raised their hands.

News Item # 5 A 2014 Princeton University study concluded that the US system of governance is an oligarchy, not a democracy: “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

So … what can we conclude?

Young people in particular are disgusted and discouraged by the two-party duopoly and the candidates they put forth. By a ratio of more than seven to one, voters last year voted AGAINST the other candidate rather than FOR “their” candidate. Those involved in government who haven’t been “ethically cleansed”, are frustrated by two entrenched parties duking it out at our expense. And finally, even the establishment (Princeton University) acknowledges that the power of money and influence has caused our democracy to devolve into “mockracy” — a toxic mimic of what it was created to be.

OK, that’s what’s so. So what? Other than complain or protest or withdraw, what can be done?

Two Chances to Overgrow the Two-Party Duopoly

This New Year brings two heartening solutions, one strategic (good) and the other meta-strategic (even better) to “represent US” and to “WE-distribute” political power.

The first project is called in fact Represent.us.

Founded by activist Josh Silver and based on the work of Harvard law Professor Lawrence Lessig (Please watch this clarifying 18-minute TED talk), Represent.us is designed to address what Lessig and Silver both agree is the one thing that has disenfranchised the people: corruption.

Josh Silver

I like the word “corruption”. It doesn’t single out one party as the culprit but rather points to a system that has for all intents and purposes “legalized lawlessness.” While no legal authority would call our pay-to-play system outright “bribery”, when 30% to 70% of an elected representative’s time is spent raising money for re-election, it becomes obvious that much of what legislators do — or don’t do — is for money.

Represent.us advocates a grassroots campaign of citizen-led ballot initiatives passed at the city and state level to build momentum towards national reform. Writes Josh Silver:

Every municipal and state Anti-Corruption Act creates common-sense ethics, conflict-of-interest, transparency, and campaign finance laws. State Acts create the opportunity for federal candidates from that state to campaign on the anti-corruption platform – accountable to their constituents, not special interests.

Candidates who win election on this platform have a built-in incentive to champion Anti-Corruption laws in Washington, D.C. (because that’s what got them elected). Every state we win gets us one crucial step closer to passing the American Anti-Corruption Act in the federal government.

To move forward their agenda that transcends party lines and ideological positions, Represent.us is holding their Unrig the System Summit February 2nd to 4th in New Orleans to gather energy and awareness and is focused on shaping the future of: “Money in Politics, Gerrymandering, Citizens United, Voting Reform, Transparency and more.”

I will be there to interview presenters and participants, and the Wiki Politiki radio broadcast on February 13th will focus on the summit and the implications. I suggest you watch Lawrence Lessig’s TED talk (see above), check out the Unrig conference, and if it suits you, come join us.

At a time when too few projects and programs are strategic, this one is. With enough participation, it can and will move the dial.

Richard Lang

And now … another program that is not only strategic, it’s meta-strategic. In other words, it offers a platform that has the potential to transform the system from the outside, through totally legal means that requires no act of Congress, no government participation, no new laws, no corporate ownership and no media buy in.

It’s called the National Town Square and is the brainchild of software developer Richard Lang (Burst.com, Democrasoft) whose new book Virtual Country: Strategy for 21st Century Democracy lays out the plan for this entirely new and transformative institution that can be considered “Freedom of Assembly 3.0”.

Writes Richard, “For the first time in known human history, it is now possible to convene an unlimited number of citizens, in one place, at one time, to cast collective, non-binding, advisory votes on any issue of collective concern or importance.”

He continues, “National Town Square is a new national institution for civic engagementfocused on issues instead of political parties and blind ideology — a powerful new counter-balance to the corrupting influence of big money in politics.”

Imagine … a space — nongovernmental, non-corporate, nonpartisan, independent of the mainstream media — where each citizen can have a voice and a verifiable vote , and these votes can be tabulated to indicate not just how citizens feel about certain issues, but how strongly they feel.

What if ten million or twenty million or fifty million American voters declared, “We want this”? While that vote would have no legal standing, simply recognizing the overwhelming support for a certain policy would provide pressure on legislators to adhere to the people’s will. Or face opposition at the polls.

Another important feature / factor of National Town Square. Each citizen who participates has a verifiable and secure (as secure as a bank card) vote on any issue that can be changed, should new information emerge. No “bots” about it, only real people.

I have been watching this project develop for three years, and I am so heartened by its potential that I’m devoting TWO Wiki Politiki broadcasts to it. The first, tomorrow Tuesday, January 23rd (http://omtimes.com/iom/shows/wiki-politiki-radio-show/ scroll to next episode) is an interview with Richard. Then in two weeks, on February 6th Richard will be joined by Rev. Lupton Abshire, National Town Square’s Director – Strategic Outreach and we will be taking phone calls from listeners!

After the broadcast, this (and all other shows) will be available on the Wiki Politiki archives and on iTunes.

And so finally … this American evolution we’re hinting at requires that we evolve from helpless and hopeless victims of a bad system to aware, awakened advocates and activists for a new one. Here are two chances to make one!

Yours for an evolutionary upwising,

Steve Bhaerman

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