My Conversation with Sonny Thomas

In between various phone interviews where I explained my methodologies as a User Experience Designer, I had the opportunity to speak with Sonny Thomas, Founder of the Springboro Tea Party and one of the local celebrities in the education debate. What I found most interesting about abruptly switching gears between a UX Designer and a Civic Designer is the image that people have in their minds which stand in place of the real you.

The difference between perception and reality became clear when we started talking about his unveiling of the Confederate flag, which was picked up by the media and spread as far as the Huffington Post. Truth be told, I was amazed at how much publicity he received, and to be honest, a little jealous. I struggled for weeks to find the flag that I could wrap myself in which would bring home the image of a people powered government. But alas, the flag of Iceland doesn’t have the same impact as the image of the Confederate South.

Flag of Iceland

Flag of Iceland = No Impact

While talking with Sonny I discovered the flip side of reality, that each of us interpreted his actions through our own particular lens. We stitched together the facts in such a way that told a particular story. We do this in every aspect of our lives, picking the pieces of Tesla which make for an Anti-Corporate Icon, and leave out the bits about Eugenics and his transmissions from Mars. It’s how we look at the Constitution through the lens of Christianity, and how the Founder’s became icons of Personal Liberty. It’s what’s called a simulacrum, or an image of someone or something that tells us more about its creator than the actual thing it represents.

Throughout our conversation I repeated that I was likely to say something he would disagree with, as he has said a number of things that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with right off the bat. What I never got around to explaining was that isn’t my goal to agree or disagree with one side or the other in the education debate. I find it fascinating to have the opportunity to speak with so many competing perspectives, but my ultimate goal is to find a way to put the people back in power, just like they did in Iceland. (See what I mean? Poor Iceland.)

What’s missing in the Icelandic example is it’s cultural relevance (or lack thereof). When the Confederate flag is drawn we immediately connect it to the Civil War and the divisions between the North and the South. The flag is a very powerful image which Sonny discovered can overshadow whatever point you’re trying to make. Iceland, on the other hand, inspires next no one to think of crowdsourcing our Constitution. This is because Iceland represents something very different to us, a cold and barren wasteland as opposed to a step in the evolution of our Democracy.

Unfortunately my conversation with Sonny Thomas was cut short by another recruiter demanding that I switch back to my UX gear. But between you and me, it isn’t difficult to flip back and forth between Civic Design and User Experience Design, as we are all users of the Democratic process. The challenge is to discover relevant examples in order to paint a picture — or a simulacrum if you will — of a people powered government in charge of Springboro Schools. Not a contentious battle over bureaucracy, but a 21st century platform on which to build our community.

So what am I missing? Where can I find an example of people-powered Government in Springboro?

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