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Talk to people

June 7, 2013 1 comment

talkingYesterday, word broke that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been tracking the phone and internet records of virtually all Americans, and that they ordered companies from which they received information to keep this sharing a secret. (Read the original, exclusive piece from the Guardian here).

I was having a conversation with a couple of friends yesterday about this issue, coming from very different points of view. One thought that the NSA collecting information on everyone was intrusive, he had no expectation of privacy from the government in the first place and therefore wasn’t mad about it in the slightest. The other was outraged over the government’s actions and thought that it was an extreme intrusion into personal privacy. Their arguments were a bit more nuanced than that, but we’re not going to discuss national security and transparency policy at this very moment.

I asked my second friend what he thought we should do about it, and his answer was an incredibly simple, almost unbelievable one: talk to people.

The idea is, most people might be mad about something like this, but they don’t know why they should be mad, and they don’t know what they should do to channel that discontent. By talking to, say, four people you know about an issue, they might turn around and talk to four people they know, and so on until there’s a whole wave of people who can articulate a disagreement with the NSA’s information collecting.

Sometimes it takes that critical mass of the public to change the way the government (or a group, or a corporation) operates, and the way to get that started is one of the simple, most basic tenants not just of democracy but also of communities, families, and even human existence. Let’s talk.

Stream and download our latest Democracy Exchange

January 24, 2013 Comments off

Yesterday’s Democracy Exchange call was a great success! Thanks so much to our guests Carolyn Lukensmeyer and Matt Leighninger, who both gave some incredible insight into their work and the current state of deliberative discourse.

Stream or download the call here. 

Here are some of the resources and websites mentioned on the call:

Again, thank you to everyone who was able to join the conversation yesterday. We’re looking forward to our next Democracy Exchange coming up in February! (additional info and RSVP is forthcoming, but book February 21 at 2pm for a convo/webinar with Sunlight Foundation)

Democracy Exchange on deliberative democracy – January 23, 2013

December 21, 2012 Comments off

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Join us on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 2pm ET for our next Democracy Exchange! This time around we’ll be talking with Carolyn Lukensmeyer of the National Institute for Civil Discourse (and founding partner of the Campaign) and Matt Leighninger of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on the new developments in the field of deliberative democracy and its important role in our movement.

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Sign up for the Exchange here.

Both of our guests have new publications out this year: Carolyn just authored a new book, Bringing Citizen Voices to the Table: A Guide for Public Managers. Also, Matt just edited a new book, Democracy in Motion. Check them out at the links.

Again, join us for our next Democracy Exchange with Carolyn Lukensmeyer and Matt Leighninger on January 23, 2013 at 2pm ET. Sign up here.

Fix the Senate Now

November 30, 2012 Comments off

What’s one way to fix democracy? Well, one coalition says that a key to making our government work for us is to make sure our elected officials actually do work, debate legislation in front of them, and thoughtfully consider it for passage. What a novel idea! Thanks to the Senate rules on the filibuster, legislation has been increasingly stalled in the chamber, often thought to be dead-on-arrival if it didn’t have 60 votes worth of support.

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The Fix the Senate Now coalition has presented a proposal, in four parts, to reform the filibuster and fix the Senate:

1. Those objecting to legislation should only have one opportunity to filibuster legislation. Specifically, the ability to bring up a bill for simple debate (the motion to proceed) should not be subjected to a filibuster.

2. Those wishing to filibuster legislation must actually hold the floor and be required to actually debate the legislation. It would end “silent” filibusters where one Senator quietly objects and is not required to take the Senate floor.

3. Instead of the burden required to break a filibuster being on the majority to deliver 60 votes, those objecting to the legislation and wishing to filibuster must produce 41 votes to sustain a filibuster.

4. The process for approving nominations should be streamlined, including shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.

All seems pretty reasonable. Filibuster abuse has resulted in an increasing number of bills and nominations blocked in the Senate, and requiring 60 votes to move on any piece of legislation (or nomination). Are there any other legislative bodies in the world where a proposal could have as many as 59 out of 100 supporters (the DREAM Act had 55 votes in 2010, for example) and still not pass? These measures will make filibusters “real.” Force Senators to debate on the floor and speak their objections rather than just hiding silently behind chamber rules.

The coalition is a broad group of advocates from different sectors of the democracy movement, including the Communications Workers of America, the Sierra Club, United Auto Workers, Common Cause, the Alliance for Justice, and the Brennan Center.

The movement to reform the Senate is starting to gain some traction, and even President Obama (a former Senator himself) is supportive of changing some of the rules, while Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell…not as much. However, reports this morning say that in order to make rules change happen in the Senate, Democrats are going to need 51 votes and right now it seems as though they’re falling slightly short of that mark, with some in their caucus unwilling to change the rule.

It’s going to be an uphill battle to win filibuster reform. Sign the Fix the Senate Now petition and let’s make this happen. 

Read more:

Brennan Center for Justice report: Curbing filibuster abuse

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand: Needed reform for the US Senate

Here’s a clip of the West Wing episode The Stackhouse Filibuster because awesome.