edited with IaWriter
We want to start a new political party that will focus on formulating political agendas rather than fielding candidates for election. The Participatory Democracy Party (PDP) will be a genuine grass roots effort; the party membership, organized into task forces focused on particular areas of concern, will identify problems that the political system can address, evaluate proposed solutions, and define a political agenda to apply the best solutions to the problems. The party's influence on events, then, will depend on its ability to get elected officials to adopt and implement the agendas it develops. The work of the party task forces will be done through email and telephone conferencing, managed and facilitated by web-based technologies. The PDP will be a transparent effort: all party communications will be publicly archived.
This site presents a proposed structure and operational methodology for establishing the PDP.
This site is not the PDP membership site. That site has not yet been created. This site is intended to outline a basic structure for a new kind of politica party and to allow people who might be interested in working on that to identify themselves and coalesce as a working group.
The party system in the US is badly damaged, to the point where it has become the second-most serious threat to the practice of democratic self-government. (The most serious threat, I contend, is the corporate concentration of public media communications channels.)
Part of the problem, as I see it, is that the two parties have become entirely focussed on winning elections, with the result that they have failed to articulate clear principles that define their positions in a political spectrum. In addition, the winner-take-all mentality that is the inescapable product of the US electoral process has made it impossible for the parties to cooperate in crafting a consensual public policy on any important issue. The exclusive focus on elections has also reduced member participation to the single act of voting; the only responsibility that accrues to being a good party member is to vote for the party's candidates. Most of the work involved in organization, communication, fund-raising, and even the crafting of party platforms and legislative agendas is contracted out; it all becomes, quite literally, hack work.
The Progressive Democracy Party aims to do it differently and to bring responsibility, principle and citizen participation back to party politics.
The goals are ambitious; if we succeed, we will change a lot of things in the life of the United States and perhaps the world. We hope that the change will be for the better.
Here's what we want to do:
- Recruit a large and diverse membership to the PDP
- Facilitate the formation of member Task Forces that will identify problems, recommend solutions, and develop political agendas to implement those solutions
- Solicit commentary on and response to the developing agenda from the larger citizenry, from elected officials, and from the news media
- Monitor the progress of the agenda as it makes its way into the platforms of existing political parties and through the legislative process
- As an essential part of everything we do, we will reframe discourse on matters of public concern, to free ourselves from non-productive debate on the issues that are defined by corporate media.
And this is what makes us different:
- The Progressive Democracy Party is focused on developing policies and political agendas rather than selecting and marketing candidates
- It is genuinely grass-roots; rather than establishing an ideological agenda and recruiting “grass roots support”, it starts by empowering the grass roots and counting on their intelligence, imagination, goodness and practicality to create a relevant and progressive ideology and a workable agenda
- It is transparent; party activities are conducted in public, and party communications are publicly archived, accessible to all
- It is oriented toward cooperation rather than competition; it does not seek power to coerce, but rather seeks common ground to persuade
The rest of this document explains, in moderate detail, how I think we might do those things and realize those principles. I believe that the process outlined below is possible using existing information technology, but there are a lot of gotchas in the proposal. (I will try to call these out as the document unfolds; still, the most dangerous gotchas are the ones I don't even know are there.)
We will need some serious help implementing this.
One may participate in PDParty activities as a Member or as a Friend.
Membership entails acceptance of certain defined responsibilities and commitment to a certain level of participatory activity. Friends may participate in public discussion forums, but they have no particular responsibilities and make no commitment; they may participate actively, as observers, or not at all.
There are two categories of Membership: Citizens and Mavens. Each has a distinct set of membership requirements, a distinct role to play in realizing the party's purpose, and distinctive rules of participation in party activities. As a result of their participation, Members can accumulate [karma], awarded by the other Members with whom they work. Friends do not accumulate karma.
- Citizens participate in Task Forces to identify problems, investigate proposed solutions, and articulate agendas. Citizens participate in party communications using pseudonyms but expose demographic details about themselves (age, location, gender, ethnic identification, etc.)
- Mavens provide expertise, experience, and learned skills to assist Task Forces in their efforts. Mavens participate under their real names.
- Friends contribute to discussions and provide commentary, support, and constructive criticism of the agendas developed by the Task Forces. Friends may identify themselves, participate under pseudonyms, or participate anonymously; they may provide profile information about themselves, but that is not required for participation.
This is (at least for the time being, subject to review by a developing Membership) a US Party, and full participation in Party deliberations will be limited to those who assert that they are full-time residents of the United States. (There is, of course, no practical way to prove such an assertion, and it's not worth the time to worry about.)
All participation in Party affairs by Citizen Members is done pseudonymously, using Member Names that are chosen at registration.
Registration for Citizen Membership requires that the registrant select a Member Name and provide certain demographic information:
- Ethnic Identity
- Geographical location
- State and (optional) region (e.g. Western NY, Southern Nebraska), plus:
- Type of community (e.g. Urban, Suburban, Rural)
In addition, Citizen Members will be asked to identify one or more [[Areas of Concern]], which will determine the Task Force(s) to which they will be assigned.
From the Member Name and the Geographic information, a unique Member ID will be created, eg. harriet.madison.wi, zorro.urban.western.ny, frankharris.rural.nd, frankharris.fargo.nd.
Each Member will receive an email address, derived from the Member ID; the one frankharris would have the email address email@example.comParty.net, and the other would be firstname.lastname@example.orgParty.net.
Every Member Email will be aliased to that Member's actual email address, provided at the time of registration. The Member's actual email address is never exposed; in fact, it would be a good thing to try to host the PDParty.net mail servers offshore to give as much protection as possible to the Members' actual email identities.
Most Member-to-Member communication is via Member Email addresses, and that is the only traffic that flows via that channel. Email sent to a Member Email address from a non-Member account will be bounced, with a message inviting the sender to join the Party or communicate via the Party Forums.
In accordance with the principle of transparency, all messages sent using Member Email will be publicly archived. If a Party Member needs privacy for his communications, he must use a different channel.
Members will be asked to create a Profile Page, which contains their demographic information plus additional information, if they choose to provide that:
- Educational level
- Special interests
Maven Membership is open to anyone who asserts some special expertise that might help Party Members accomplish their tasks. That expertise might be in some field of knowledge that the Members will need to access in their deliberations: we will need History Mavens, Economics Mavens, Sociology Mavens, Philosophy Mavens, etc. We will also need Mavens with the special skills to specify, configure, install and manage the software that will control Party communications and support Party Activities. Other Mavens will bring management experience to help the Party develop effective policies, resolve disputes, and handle relations with outside organizations. Mavens may bring teaching experience to develop Party training and educational programs, legal experience to help the Party avoid legal shoals, financial expertise to help the Party operate an ambitious agenda on a modest budget.
Anyone can be a Maven; US residence is not a requirement. Mavens who are US residents, however, can participate as Citizen members as well as Mavens.
Maven members (even participating as Citizens) must use their own names. Other registration details are the same for Mavens as they are for Citizens.
Maven Member IDs will be formed from the Member's name and primary area of expertise. If Sara Patel registers as a Foreign Policy Maven, for example, her Member ID might be sara.patel.foreign.policy; her member email address would then be email@example.comParty.net.
Mavens may register more than one area of expertise; just one area, though, will be defined as the primary area for the purpose of creating an ID.
In addition to the information they provide on their Member Profile page, Mavens will be asked to create a separate Maven Profile, with links to any web-accessible material they've created or helped to develop, and to a professional resumé, if that is available in web-accessible form.
Anyone can register as a Friend of the Party. As a Friend, one may post to the PDParty Forums.
Friends have no particular registration requirements; they are asked to fill out a Profile page, but the only information that's required for Friend registration is a valid email address and a selected user name.
There are several types of Party activity. Activities are structured to make Party Membership as efficient and involving as possible.
+ **Two types of Task Forces**
+ **Agenda Development Task Forces** are composed of Members who are working to identify problems and solutions and to define political agendas for their solution within particular Areas of Concern.
+ **Resource Development Task Forces** are composed of Mavens, with Citizen support, working to compile or create the resources (research archives, collaborative software, access to expertise, communications channels, or political processes, etc.) to give other Task Forces what they need to accomplish their tasks.
+ **Administrative and Operational Committees** may involve Mavens, Citizens, or Friends in the process of defining specific policies and rules of participation, adjuticating disputes, developing and maintaining infrastructure, overseeing communications between the party and other organizations, etc.(The main thing that distinguishes Committees from Task Forces is that Committees have a longer life span. The experience that a participant is expected to bring to a Task Force is experience that the person has gained outside the party. The experience most relevant to committee work is likely to be the experience a participant has acquired as a committee member.
+ **Discussion Forums** are public forums in which anyone may participate (although Members may act as moderators or organizers of the discussions).
While all of those activities are important, the work of the Party begins and rests in the work done by the Agenda Development Task Forces. In a very real sense, all of the other activities exist to support that work.
As a result of their work on Task Forces and Party Committees, Members may accumulate [[**karma**]], awarded by those with whom they work. Friends do not accumulate *karma*.
## Agenda Development Task Force Structure and Process
When a Citizen registers as a Party Member, she provides certain demographic information and identifies one or more [[Areas of Concern]] that she is interested in working on.
Within each Area of Concern, we will set up a number of Task Forces, each composed of a small number of Citizens (I think that 6-20 members per Task Force will be a good target to start with).
Each Task Force will be selected to be as diverse as possible; each will be given a mail list, to which the individual members will be subscribed. Most communication within each Task Force will be via email sent to the list.
In addition to email lists, Task Forces will use real-time conferencing tools (comparative lists of available tools [here], [here], and [here])to hold meetings, share documents, and otherwise collaborate. There are a variety of such tools, and one early Task will be to decide which of those to use, and to prepare guides to help Members use them most effectively.
An Administrative Maven will be assigned to each Task Force, with severely limited responsibilities:
+ Make certain that each member of the Task Force understands how to use the mail list, the mail list archives, the conferencing technology, and the resource libraries on the PDParty website.
+ If the Task Force doesn't begin deliberation within some reasonable period of time after its formation, toss out a few questions to get things started.
+ If the Task Force or an individual Task Force member gets stuck on an matter of procedure or is having trouble getting information about some subject relevant to the Task Force purpose, help the group or individual make contact with one or more Mavens who might be able to help.
+ Once things are moving relatively smoothly, back off. The Task Force has ultimate authority on the direction it takes.
Publicly accessible mail list archives will permit Task Force Members to keep track of their Task Force's deliberative history; since any Party Member can access all mail list archives, I would expect that a productive cross-fertilization process would begin to occur between Task Forces, and that a fairly broad consensus would begin to emerge regarding the substance of the Task Force work.
Each individual Task Force will select one of its Members to represent it at a higher level Task Force; that Task Force, in its turn, selects one if its Members to represent it at a still higher level, and so on. Each higher level Task Force might be a little larger than the one beneath it. Each higher level Task Force is responsible for compiling the work of its component Task Forces and crafting that work into a single document, making certain that nothing is lost in the compilation process - that no problem identified by a lower level group is dismissed or neglected; that the agenda which emerges at each level faithfully reflects the agendas defined by the levels beneath.
At the highest level, then, the problems that are discovered, the solutions that are considered and evaluated, and the agenda that is defined, represent the best thinking of all of the individual Members who participated in the Task Force process.
Remember, again, that all this work is done in public, and that all Task Force deliberations, at every level, are saved in publicly accessible archives. That gives every Member who is interested in how his point of view and his contributions are being represented in the emerging agenda a chance to keep track of that, and to communicate directly with his Task Force representative if something needs clarification, or if he feels that his ideas are being slighted or not being represented fairly; again, that communication, in its turn, is publicly archived.
## Resource Development Task Force Structure and Process
The definition of a Resource Development Task Force is going to be much more of an ad hoc process than the definition of Agenda Development Task Forces. There are some resource development areas that can be defined at the very beginning--we will, for example, need resources for managing mail lists, resources for aliasing and routing mail addressed to Member email addresses, infrastructure resources, and so on.
We can also anticipate certain needs that are likely to arise when the Task Forces begin their deliberations and begin to prepare to meet those probable needs. We might, for example, set up Resource Development Task Forces in such areas as Economics, History, Science, Sociology, Education, etc.
While the Agenda Development Task Forces are structured in a bottom-up manner, the Resource Development Task Force might be structured in a more top-down way, with the core Task Force members defining subtasks and recruiting Mavens and knowledgable Citizen Members to comprise Task Forces for each subtask. The Economics Task Force, for example, might set up individual Task Forces dealing with such matters as Tax Policy, Trade, Labor-Management Relations, Finance, etc.
Again, each Resource Development Task Force, at every level, would be given a mail list and all deliberations will be publicly archived.
## Committee Structure and Process
## Discussion Forums
These will, I assume, work like other Internet Discussion Forums.
As Problems are discovered, solutions proposed, and agendas developed, these might be proposed as the subjects for discussion in a sub-forum.
:(More to come.)
# Areas of Concern
By defining particular areas of concern, we want to reframe the topics for discussion, and, by extension, for the development of political agendas. In this effort, we are trying very deliberately to free ourselves and our Party from the traps set by the major corporate media's definition of "issues".
+ the media framing process eliminates grey areas; most genuine public concerns exist in the grey areas
+ the media forces discussion of the issues it defines to take on the nature of a debate; it assumes that the problems subsumed under the issue are well and accurately defined, and that there are two, and only two, sides to each issue
+ the focus on media issues pressures discussants to seek victory rather than increased understanding; what the public needs is the latter
By rejecting the media's issues as perilously simple-minded and false, and by reframing our discourse in terms of Areas of Concern, we are trying to rescue civility and restore thoughtfulness, generosity, and courageous honesty to political processes.
We also believe that such a reframing will enable us to steer a course between dogmatic ideology and cynical compromise. While every Area of Concern will expose moral and ethical questions, the ultimate goal of a democracy is to create a society in which each individual can live in peace with all the others without compromising his or her personal moral stance.
With those concerns in mind, what follows is a first step toward defining a number of Areas of Concern that can productively involve Citizen Task Forces. Within each Area, we've posed some questions that might guide first steps in the creation of a political agenda to address the concerns.
*Note: the following are not in priority order, or any order, really. But it would be a good idea, while reading through them, to consider the priority order in which **you** would rank them.*
The concerns here are not simply jobs and taxation; those are, in fact, pretty far down the line. What we want people to think about is how much wealth there is in the society and in their particular communities and what forms it takes; how wealth is created, held, and used for the public good.
Questions to start with:
+ Does it seem to you that you and the people you live and work with have enough money to meet their needs?
+ If not, what needs seem furthest out of reach?
+ To what extent do pockets of poverty within your community affect the quality of life in the entire community?
+ How could people who are poor now make the money they need to live comfortably?
+ What, if anything, stands in their way?
+ Does it seem to you that wealth is equitably distributed within the communities that you know personally?
+ If not, what actions have been proposed to fix that inequality? Which actions seem most practical to you; which seem unfair or unworkable?
+ Is the wealth within your community being used for the public good? If not, how is it failing?
Again, we want Party Members to look at how people learn to be productive members of society, at the roles played in that process by schooling of various sorts and by other paths to learning, and at the function of government in funding those learning paths, evaluating their success, and overseeing their operations.
Questions to start with:
+ Are young people learning the skills and building the knowledge base they need to be responsible citizens?
+ If not, at what point in the educational process are they failing?
+ What would have to happen to schools to improve education?
+ What could individual parents do to help their children learn? Is there any way that government might help them in that effort?
+ What institutions exist besides traditional schools to help people learn what they want to learn or what society needs them to learn? What relationships exist between those institutions and the school system?
+ What kinds of choices do parents and young people have regarding their education?
+ What limits the choices in the case of individual families (e.g. cost, access to transportation, admission requirements, understanding of options, etc.)?
+ How do schools in your communities rate in terms of the excellence of the education they deliver? What populations do the best schools serve? What populations are served by the worst schools?
+ Is there anything that should change in the standard school curriculum, or in school priorities, to make the schools more responsive to the needs of the community? What stands in the way of making those changes?
+ Do individuals of any age who want to learn new skills or make up for missed chances have a way to do that? If not, how could programs to meet those needs be developed?
+ How are schools funded now? Is that funding adequate and is it fair? If not, how could it be made more nearly adequate; how could it be made more fair?
Liberty is one of the core ideas of the European Enlightenment, the revolutionary ideological movement that inspired the American Revolution and that spawned contemporary Western democratic civilization. Political Liberty was so important to our Founding Fathers that they set it right behind life itself in the Declaration of Independence, and enshrined it in the U.S. Constitution in the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights.
But liberty is a fragile value; there are situations where protecting my liberty involves curtailing your liberty to get your money's worth from me or enforce my good behavior, and other situations where maintaining political liberty appears to increase the danger we face from our enemies—people and groups whose avowed goal is to destroy our society and end all of our liberties.
The following questions might help us begin to craft an agenda that will preserve civil liberties without an undue increase in risk.
+ Taking the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights one by one, how well is their intention realized in our modern society? Which ones are under assault, and from what groups?
+ Are there categories of liberty that are important to society today but which were not, for one reason or another, considered by the people who framed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Can we imagine a political agenda that will preserve those liberties?
+ To what extent, if at all, are the problems that society confronts caused by unscrupulous or hypocritical people abusing the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution?
+ If we anticipate that someone will use his liberty to act in a way that is ethically or morally wrong, are we justified in curtailing his liberty to prevent him from acting in that way? What circumstances justify such curtailment of another's liberty?
+ If we have to curtail political liberty in one form or another, in order to be safe from some danger, what safeguards can we create to insure that the curtailment of liberty has the desired effect, and that liberty is restored when the danger is past?
+ Can we define different spheres of activity so that a person may be free, in one sphere, to act in ways that would be forbidden in another?
+ Are there crimes or other bad behaviors that justify curtailing the future liberty of the person who commits them?
## Health and Well-being
Most societies have accepted some governmental responsibility for hat we've come to call public health: the monitoring and regulation of processes that introduce toxins into the environment, cause disease, or expose citizens to injury. Beyond that, taking a more positive approach, many governments have come to recognize that a healthy citizenry is vital to national well-being: a healthy workforce is more productive, healthy soldiers are more effective warriors, healthy parents raise better children, and healthy children learn more readily.
The following questions will help us begin to define the role we want our government to have in making our lives safer, insuring that we are as healthy as we can be, and making help and support available if we do get sick or hurt.
+ Do you live in a healthy environment? If not, what makes it unhealthy? Are there segments of your community that are exposed to greater health risks than others. What role should the government play in making the environment healthier, or insuring that no segment of the society is at abnormally high risk?
+ Do you feel that you have good information about how to be healthy and stay healthy? Where do you expect to get that kind of information, and how can you be sure that the information you get is correct and up-to-date? Does the government have any role to play in either providing good health information or making sure that the information you receive is accurate?
+ If you get sick or suffer an injury, do you feel that you can get good care that you can afford? How about the people you live and work with?
+ How much of your budget do you spend on doctors and medicine and health insurance? Are you getting your money's worth? If you spent more, would you get better care?
+ Where does the money go that people spend on health care and health insurance? (That is, how much goes to doctors and nurses, how much to maintain medical facilities, how much for drugs, how much for administrative expenses, etc.) If the money were allocated differently, how would that effect your ability to stay healthy and get good care when you get sick?
+ The government takes responsibility for certifying that doctors and nurses are competent to practice, and that hospitals are safe. Should the government take additional responsibility, to insure that basic medical treatment is available to anyone who needs it, and that people providing medical care make that care available at a fair price?
+ How much responsibility should society, through its governments, assume for people whose lifestyles expose them to greater health risks—e.g. people who smoke or drink excessively, who are overweight, who pursue dangerous hobbies?
## The US Position in the World
The United States is the dominant nation in the world today, with the greatest military might, the finest universities and research labs, the greatest wealth. Our culture—the music we listen to, the fashions we wear, the television shows and movies we produce—are widely admired, and vehemently criticized.
Very many small countries depend on us, to provide them with markets for the products of their farms and factories, to protect them from larger and aggressive neighbors, to loan them the money they need to modernize their manufacturing, their public infrastructure, and their agriculture.
Our position in the world creates risk that smaller nations don't experience, opens opportunities that are closed to smaller nations, and imposes responsibilities that smaller nations can ignore.
The following questions might help us start to think clearly and creatively about how to minimize our risk, realize our opportunities, and fulfill our responsibilities to those with whom we share the planet.
Most of us live in communities, defined by the public spaces that we share with our neighbors—parks, community centers, public squares, streetscapes, shopping areas, schools, etc. A strong community protects the well-being of its members in a variety of ways—by keeping property values high, by responding quickly and effectively to bad behavior from outside its borders and from within, by advocacy within the various governments and jurisdictions with legislative authority or budgetary power over the community. Within a vital community, the members know one another and watch out for one another; a vital community assists with the socialization of young people, articulating and reinforcing observance of acceptable behaviors.
## Public Safety
More to come...
## Corporations and People
More to come...
More to come...
## Art and Ideas
More to come...
## The Commons
More to come...
## The Workplace
More to come...
## The Environment
More to come...
## Balance of Power
More to come...
## The Electoral Process
More to come...
The concept of ***karma*** (at least in the context of an online community) is adapted from the Slashdot community.
Citizens gain *karma* by participating actively in Task Force activities and by contributing thoughtfully and helpfully to online discussions. They can lose *karma* by inactivity, by not following through on work they've promised to do, and by demonstrating, in their discussion posts, a pattern of hostility and negativity.
Mavens gain and lose *karma* in pretty much the same manner; they may also gain *karma* by being consistently and helpfully authoritative, and by developing resources that are quickly delivered, non-obvious, non-partisan, with a high level of difficulty, and of substantial usefulness. Contrariwise, Mavens may lose *karma* by delivering resources of little utility or by demonstrating bias or partisanship in their contributions.
Friends aren't involved with the *karmic* exchange.
*Karma* is awarded or reduced by Members (either Citizens or Mavens) on their own initiative. The particular mechanisms for doing that need to be developed; whatever those mechanisms turn out to be, the process as a whole should be crafted to meet certain operational goals:
+ It should be easy to make a *karmic* judgment, but members should be encouraged to act with restraint, especially when reducing another member's *karma*; it might be advisable to delay any *karmic* reduction until the member making the judgment has had a couple of days to think it over and has confirmed the judgment via email.
+ *Karmic* judgment by members whose *karma* is high should be given more weight than judgment by members with low *karma*.
+ *Karmic* judgments should be made as immune as possible to reward and punishment; members should be blocked, as gently but firmly as possible, from retaliating against a negative *karmic* judgment or trading favors for a positive one. To this end, it's likely that *Karmic* judgments will be an exception to the general rule of transparency.
+ *Karma* is simply one aspect of Party activity, and it should not be permitted to dominate Members' thinking. Slashdot has learned that numeric scoring of member *karma* creates an unhealthy competitive environment, and we should learn from their experience.
+ That said, *karma* should have consequences. It may be that we want to limit participation in certain kinds of Committees or higher level Task Forces to Members with substantial positive *karma*.