A call to establish a legitimate, wise, powerful, collective voice of the people
We are in serious trouble. And we face epoch-making opportunities to remake our world in the face of that trouble, in profoundly positive ways.
As unprecedented crises emerge, our democratic republic—the tool we use to deal with all our public issues—is breaking down. We urgently need new approaches that can make us wise masters of our own common destiny. Luckily, the resources for wise self-governance and ongoing cocreativity are at our fingertips.
Even as we increase the diversity, power, and connectivity of our individual voices, it is becoming possible for We the People, as a whole, to speak with one wise voice:
- a voice that only speaks after considering all sides of each issue and viewing its full complexity;
- a voice that embraces the diverse perspectives, values, stories, needs, and dreams of the entire community, state, or country for which it speaks;
- a voice that takes into consideration the big picture, the long term, and what could happen, both good and bad;
- a voice that is respected by the vast majority of the population as our legitimate collective voice.
We can and must create that voice in our democracy now. And we can and must give it a powerful role in deciding what will happen. Our lives, our communities, our country, our world, and our collective future depend on it.
Why a wise public voice is essential
In a world where our collective problems are becoming catastrophic, we find our collective destiny in the hands of competing interests that seldom serve our shared well-being or address the true complexity of our public issues. Their partial, partisan, and temporary solutions all too often make our problems worse. When we hear someone speak for the common good, they are easily marginalized as just one more special interest.
Yet real special interests are continuously manipulating us using scientific public relations , media, and mountains of money. We have little opportunity or time to deliberate together, to explore our differences and our common interests, or to develop and express our united public judgment and community wisdom on issues that impact our lives. We are kept busy and entertained, divided and conquered.
Until We the People create a coherent, wise, collective voice, our interests will not be served and no public issue will be handled wisely.
Why a wise public voice is possible
Methods abound to translate differences and conflicts into greater insight and cocreativity. And ways exist to provide full-spectrum information and use it to generate collective understanding. Under the right conditions, wise public decisions can be produced by facilitating deliberations among a relatively small group of ordinary citizens whose diversity makes them a microcosm of the community from which they were drawn. Few people realize that hundreds of such citizen deliberative councils have been held successfully all over the world.
By broadly advocating, developing, using, and institutionalizing such councils we can generate a legitimate, wise, inclusive, coherent, and powerful voice of the people—an authentic voice of the whole public.
Why nothing else can really serve that purpose
Public opinion polls tell how many of us believe this or that off the top of our heads. They do not reflect what we would believe if we were fully informed and had considered each other’s points of view productively. Pundits, politicians, and experts tell us what we should believe, but they seldom help us work toward a consensus that embraces our collective diversity and our shared needs and aspirations. Talk shows, public hearings, and protests are filled with people passionate about their perspectives, but they seldom actually hear each other or work to find the common ground needed to move ahead as whole communities.
We now know how to bring the actual diversity of the public together to find a shared voice of community wisdom that makes sense for our whole community, our whole country. We just need to convene temporary citizen deliberative councils with a membership that embodies the diversity of their community or country. Have them deliberate for days or weeks about a specific public concern. Help them report their findings and recommendations to officials, the media, and the public—and then organize around those recommendations. Then watch how a powerful and shared understanding emerges about what needs to be done.
Citizen deliberative councils have proven successful with even the most technical, complex issues. They have been used to bring forth inspiring visions. They have been used to evaluate legislation and politicians and to provide those evaluations to the voters. Every time, we find that this authentic public voice speaks the language of neither the Left nor the Right. It simply reveals the best common sense of the community.
What makes these councils so special? Members are chosen at random or scientifically or both, so they can be convened as an accurate microcosm of the public—diverse, temporary, and hard to corrupt. They aren’t ignorant; they’re given full information about the issue they are considering. And they don’t just argue, spouting opinions off the top of their heads; they talk, listen, learn and think together. Like trial juries, they rise to the occasion and work hard to do a good job for their community or country. They succeed remarkably often and well.
Other approaches to public dialogue, deliberation, participation, and input are vital to a thriving democracy of engaged citizens. But most do not provide the information, time, and support needed to generate a valid, coherent, wise voice of the whole populace. They may engage and educate individual voters about the issues, but they don’t tell us what a truly informed, thoughtful, and creatively interacting citizenry would decide together about specific government policies, laws, budgets, taxes, and programs.
Without a collective voice of the whole citizenry to speak wisely and powerfully in our public life, we have become impoverished and imperiled. We need to change that—soon.
Our children—and their children’s children—need us to create this powerful collective voice, because it is their voice too. They need us to ensure that it is wise and heeded, because we and they urgently need our politics and our governance to become sensible, sustainable, creative, and just. Our times are perilous. Nearly everything we love is at stake.
Thomas Paine once said, in his revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense, “We have it in our power to begin the world again.” It is so, even now.
We have it in our power to call forth a voice that speaks our best collective wisdom. We have it in our power to cease collectively degrading our lives and destroying our world. We have it in our power to create a new world together—a world that is a true joy for our children—and their children—to live in. We can and must create a voice that can speak this urgent truth for all of us.
And with that voice, we will begin the world again, and again, and again …
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