As a child born in the mid 70’s, I’ve been so deeply submerged in the quiet revolution that Michael Sandel describes in his TED Talk about why we shouldn’t trust markets with our civic life that I couldn’t imagine the alternative. As I have learned over the years, everything costs money, from healthcare to education, and regardless of the old adage that the best things in life are free, the market values which permeate our culture reduce everything down to the bottom line.
Our market values are problematic in a number of areas as Sandel describes, but the most worrisome is how pervasive this type of thinking has become in our civic life. Once every few years, candidates in our local elections work hard to raise money in order to print yard signs, design campaign websites, and spend time in public debates or going door to door asking for our votes. After the election is over and the votes have been tallied, representatives become emboldened by the mandates of their electors and disappear from the public debates, without the need to show up on our doorsteps until the next election season.
While many people in Washington are committed to getting money out of politics, most of their solutions are based on market values such as limiting the amount of money that campaigns can raise, or providing candidates with a public option in order to level the playing field. In these examples, money is still the primary focus, and the essential means of connecting with constituents is overlooked, being replaced by campaign slogans and the need to stay on message. In short, interactions with our representatives have been replaced by advertising, with little effort being afforded to using the network in order to empower our democracy.
The latest release on the front page of TED is a talk by Benjamin Barber: Why mayors should rule the world. He describes an all-too familiar world without borders, of corporations without borders, of terrorism without borders, of doctors without borders, and shows how the modern nation state is failing to represent its constituents as our interdependencies become increasingly more global.
The solution, according to Mr. Barber, is to build a global network of mayors in order to connect a world without borders, starting from the ground up. Apart from the fact that many cities around the world are currently working together to solve environmental, economic, and security issues, organizations such as United Cities and Local Governments are working to support democratic local self-governance within the wider international community.
At first I was overjoyed to find a solution to the central issues of both the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party, by usurping the authority of both mega corporations and mega governments with a hyper local solution whose power rests in the hands of the people. It wasn’t until I read the reviews that I remembered the political challenges to such a solution, being that the vast majority of us are divided along political lines such that local issues can hardly compete for our attention.
Throughout the majority of my voting life, I’ve done my best to research the candidates before arbitrarily choosing a side, which in my case means voting Republican for financial positions and Democrat for public relations. A few years ago I stumbled across Open Government, an idea that I believe can help us solve our problems with Democracy, and immediately became a single issue voter. These days, I still tend to vote “R” for money and “D” for people, but any candidate who supports “O” for open automatically gets my vote.
The problem with my solution is that it relies on either side to place some value in Open Government. Being passionate about the subject allows me to spot an opening in Pandora’s Box to put the people back in charge, which in the case of Springboro Schools is Blended Learning, an item that has already been approved in the current budget which blends traditional classroom education with online resources. Being that we the people are online, I see this as a great opportunity to have more influence and participate more directly in our children’s education.
As it stands, that makes for a difficult decision in the upcoming election, as the debate is divided along traditional lines. One can either support our union teachers or a mixed bag of financial responsibility and creationism. To be honest, I see the critical necessities and crucial flaws on both sides, but what I do not hear is anyone talking about their plans to improve education, apart from voting the other out of office. For all the talk about creating a 21st Century Educational System, I hear very little that differs from my parent’s education.
WARNING: The following video may be unsuitable for many viewers. Those over the age of thirty should be accompanied by a child as a reminder of how mundane its contents can truly be.
Growing up during the Chinese Revolution, Venture Capitalist Eric X Li learned the promise and ultimate failure of the Communist state before leaving his home country to become a Berkley Hippie. In the years that followed, he discovered the same level of hubris at work in this country, and moved back to China to study the success of the One Party System.
Knowing full well this to be a sensitive subject to an audience which prides itself on the success of the Two Party System, Li made two points clear, that the success of China doesn’t prove it’s superiority but that successful alternatives exist, and that its success is uniquely Chinese and cannot be exported in its current state.
It was the part about being uniquely Chinese that got me thinking about what kind of government would be unique to Springboro? As a relatively new resident I don’t have anywhere near the experience necessary to answer that question. So instead I offer local residents the three elements of a successful government to consider in relation to our community.