Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
Writing before the election at NonprofitCommunity.com, Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and author of the forthcoming book Bringing Citizen Voices to the Table, makes the case for more direct citizen involvement in governing decisions. Worried that part of the cause of our current political dysfunction is a hyper-partisan form of politics, Lukensmeyer believes that citizens themselves can—and should—come together and “make the important decisions that need to be made.”
We know how to do it with consistently effective results. After nearly 20 years of experience in the democracy field, I have consistently observed that when citizens are given an authentic opportunity to engage in decision-making — when public will is connected to political will — the power of special interests can be substantially reduced, decisions have greater staying power, and the public’s trust in our governing institutions increases. Further, every element of the supportive infrastructure we need for robust citizen engagement already exists in some form in some places around the country. And perhaps most importantly, the American people really want to do it. In a nationwide survey, the National Conference on Citizenship found that more than 80% of respondents were supportive of regular, organized national discussions on critical issues, and that the support crossed political lines: 60% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats described themselves as “strongly” in favor.
But how do we do it on a regular basis, all across our county?
To engage our citizenry, and reinvigorate our democracy, three constituencies will have to re-imagine their roles and begin to establish a new “business as usual.”
The people will have to demand that they be given authentic opportunities to participate in governance on a regular basis. They must be willing to become more active in their role as citizens. The current level of public frustration about the problems facing our nation may finally be motivating citizens to demand this role. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements are potential signs of their readiness.
Elected officials will have to declare their allegiance to the idea of routine citizen engagement in decision-making and take concrete action to implement it. They will have to ensure that citizens have the opportunities they are seeking to play a role in governance.
Public managers who lead our government agencies and programs will not only have to embrace this course, but creatively embed it in their daily work. Their pivotal role in governance provides both ample opportunities for engaging citizens as well as the real promise of success.
Lukensmeyer’s article raises some interesting questions about the role of the citizen in our nation’s governance. How “direct” do we want our republican form of democracy? And how does Lukensmeyer see civic engagement working differently at the different levels of government?
Read the rest of her article here.