With the passage of yet another Election Day we find ourselves in familiar places discussing what the upset means for the losing parties, and what, if anything, will change when the successors take their place. In many of the local races, mostly notably for the three open seats on the Board of Education, the discussion continues to be quite contentious, based on accusations of allegiances to teachers unions and private interests that lie outside of the district.
It should be noted that these contentions are not a flaw in the democratic process, it’s a feature meant to provide momentum, to get people out to vote on Election Day. The specter of a Communist Union or Greedy Corporations serve to not only motivate us through fear, but to frame the conversation in simple terms that appeal to a wider audience. This simplification reduces fact to fiction, and ultimately erodes any pathways towards a potential solution.
Just over a hundred years ago, Ohio Representatives sought to alleviate some of this contention by making our democratic process more responsive to the needs of the people. With the inclusion of the initiative, the recall, and the referendum into the Ohio Constitution, residents could do more than simply vote in an election once every few years. In essence, voters could propose their own laws, veto existing laws, and even remove their representatives from office.
Earlier this year the City of Cincinnati continued further along the path of Direct Democracy by connecting their residents through a hyperlocal social network called Nextdoor. This free service is available to anyone within a geographic location and provides many of the features you would expect of a social network. Both the Mayor of Cincinnati and the Chief of Police are excited by the possibilities that such a public-private partnership could offer local residents.
What Nextdoor lacks in its ability to collaborate on initiatives and referendums is available through a complimentary service called Placespeak. While the service isn’t free, it does provide the same level of location-based privacy, ensuring that everyone who makes recommendations and proposals is an actual resident. Placespeak is primarily in use in Canada, but other examples in the U.S. show its utility for collaboratively drafting strategic plans with the help of the community.
In short, we have the technology freely available to connect the residents of Springboro to the representatives of our local government. We can short circuit the political contention and communicate for ourselves. What we lack is the political will to move past the same old conversations and focus on our government as though it was ours. Not the enemy of the people, nor it’s master, but us. Or as Lincoln said most elegantly, a government of the people, by the people, for the people. On the Internet.