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Friday, May 11, 2012

Democracy Is for Amateurs: Why We Need More Citizen Citizens | Eric Liu, The Atlantic

Liu expresses major concern in this article about how your everyday average citizen in the United States has dropped out of the the process of guiding our government. Amateur activists, he says, have been replaced by lobbyists, regulators, consultant, bankrollers, wonks-for-hire and organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC).

I agree! Our country is losing its "of the people, by the people and for the people" form of government. This excellent article explores the problem and offers some solutions.

Liu writes:
When self-government is dominated by professionals representing various interests, a vicious cycle of citizen detachment ensues. Regular people come to treat civic problems as something outside themselves, something done to them, rather than something they have a hand in making and could have a hand in unmaking. ...
Liu's solution:
What we need today are more citizen citizens. Both the left and the right are coming to see this. It is the thread that connects the anti-elite 99 percent movement with the anti-elite Tea Party. It also animates an emerging web of civic-minded techies who want to "hack" citizenship and government.
He highlights four forces "to revive a spirit of citizenship as something undertaken by amateurs and volunteers with a stake in their own lives":

We need to develop "citizen muscle"
As Americans we have hugely overdeveloped consumer muscles and atrophied citizen muscles. ... Having a citizen muscle means thinking about the future and not just immediate gratification. It means asking what helps the community thrive, not just oneself. ...
We need to "radically refocus on the local"
Localism gives citizens autonomy to solve problems; networked localism enables them to spread and scale those solutions.
We need to "think in terms of challenges rather than orders"
One of the best ways to tap collective smarts is to set great goals and let diverse solutions emerge -- to be big on the what and small on the how. ...
We need to "create platforms where citizen citizens can actively serve." 

In other words, Liu suggests, we need programs that "help government work better and spark decentralized citizen problem-solving" by "talent-tapping for the common good." 

He also confronts several obstacles to "citizen citizenship":
  • "the assumption that only the privileged can afford the time to participate" 
  • the cynical belief that "the well educated and well connected will always have an edge in the game of civic participation" 
  • "the fear that when amateurs get organized they can get co-opted by the powers of the status quo."
Liu concludes:
Citizenship, in the end, is too important to be left to professionals. It's time for us all to be trustees, of our libraries and every other part of public life. It's time to democratize democracy again.
For related information, check out Garbl's Action Writing Links. It's an annotated directory of websites that can help you get people to read your writing, keep readers interested and persuade them to respond while they're reading or afterward.


In a democracy, we each have the right and the responsibility to speak out on matters that concern us.

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