Saturday evening, June 8, 2017, on the beach in Panama City, Florida, U.S.A., eighty people formed a human chain to rescue a family who were caught in a riptide, pulling them away from shore. No lifeguards were on duty, and the two police officers who arrived only called a rescue boat, which might arrive too late.
Spontaneously organizing themselves, onlookers became rescuers, as they formed a human chain to keep the lead rescuers from being pulled away by the riptide. Then, in an hour-long effort, they brought all nine potential victims safely back to the beach.
Eighty volunteers of diverse backgrounds, who did not know each other before, made quick, collaborative decisions and successfully carried out an urgent and complex task…without any help from “the authorities.”
The story touches our hearts, because it shows human beings at our best: caring, courageous and competent. And it suggests that our faith in democracy, in the ability of ordinary people to make good decisions, is not misplaced.
We must now form a global human chain to rescue democracy and free enterprise from floating away on a sea of corruption. We aim to move representative democracies beyond the reach of professional politicians with a new era of participatory citizenship—based on the original democracy in Athens—updated to fit our current circumstances.
Our strategy is to take action, assess the outcomes, make modifications as needed, tell the world about it and take more action wherever we can.
“True Representation” is the first of three new prototypes I have proposed. True Representation improves learning and decision-making processes used in governance. Built on Restorative Practices principles, it fosters conversations where people have more voice and more choice and take more responsibility.
However, in the conversations we see on television, we rarely hear politicians and pundits discuss issues based on their merits. More often, they focus on how those issues affect the next election. Winning the next election is what matters to political parties and professional politicians. Truth is routinely sacrificed in their pursuit of power.
George Washington, the first American president, was so upset about political parties that, in his farewell address, he warned Americans that political parties would eventually destroy democracy.
Author James Surowiecki, in “The Wisdom of Crowds”—which both Forbes and Business Week magazines picked as the “best business book of 2004”—explains the three critical conditions for good large group decision-making:
- Diversity of opinion
- Independence of judgement
- Decentralized decision-making
Sadly, legislatures around the world fulfill none of these three criteria for good decision-making.
Political parties don’t want diversity, independence or decentralization, because they would lose control of the decisions that are made. In every American legislature, the political parties have an official named “the whip,” whose job it is to pressure politicians to support their political party’s agenda, rather than vote their own conscience.
Today, George Washington’s concerns about political parties are more relevant than ever before. So, in our conversations, we will discuss how to improve the selection process for public officials, and any other changes that would make governments truly representative of their constituents.
Conversations about a New Reality
We have begun holding a series of participatory conversations designed to help people learn about the potential of a new reality.
In doing so, we hope to avoid the kinds of conversations that characterize today’s politics — because they are usually angry, rude and accusatory — and almost always interpret issues in terms of how they will influence future election outcomes.
We are demonstrating that large groups of ordinary people with diverse opinions can have meaningful and productive conversations because we:
- Refuse to demonize those who disagree with us, but instead try to understand each other’s perspective.
- Respect each other’s feelings and speak to each other with civility.
- Recognize that most of us agree on most of life’s big issues, aside from the few where we differ.
- Refrain from talking in slogans, labeling people, and incorrectly assuming that those who disagree with us all think the same way.
- Make decisions based on evidence, rather than ideology.
- Value discovering the truth more than winning.
It’s not necessary that we agree on everything. But it is essential that each of us feel included in the conversation. More voice, more choice and more responsibility—all three are integral to an effective democracy and a healthy free enterprise system.
The nature of our conversation is also very important. Some of my closest friends laughed at me when I initially mentioned the concept of sortition—selecting legislators by lottery. Yet they have been willing to discuss the possibilities. So we’re creating a conversation; not to complain, nor to compete, but to find common ground that allows all of us to take collaborative and constructive action.
The late Buckminster Fuller, one of the 20th century’s great innovators, said:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
You are invited to participate in our online and in-person conversations. We post dates of scheduled events as they become available.
If you accept our invitation, please understand that we are not bringing people together to explore the past, to blame or to find fault with one another. Rather, we are creating and supporting experiments, prototypes, working models and demonstration programs that improve the existing reality.
Please do not join if you want to complain. We can’t waste any more time on negativity. Rather, we focus on possibilities that improve representative democracy, and on how to implement them.
SUBSCRIBE at the top of the right sidebar to be notified about new blog posts and about participatory events as they are scheduled. You may also wish to subscribe to our newsletter, which comes out on an irregular basis, as we have news to share.
We hope you’ll join our conversations.