Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Should Obama establish a Department of Democracy?

Consider this quiet revolutionary idea. Imagine what it would be like to have a cabinet-level Department of Democracy in the U.S. (Actually, it could be in any country, but I'm interested in exploring the opening created by the Obama election, so I'm imagining it in the U.S.)

Many of us believe that democracy in the U.S. has been under serious attack during the last 8 years. Usual freedoms and expected government transparency have eroded, adding to the long-term toxic influence of special interest lobbying. Obama's election is, in part, a declaration that We the People want our democracy back. Obama has pledged to make serious reforms that engage the public more actively in politics and governance. Do they go as far as we need them to go?

There is little sign that Obama or his closest advisors are aware of the many innovations of recent decades for making our democracy not only more effective and vibrant, but even demonstrably wiser. (See THE TAO OF DEMOCRACY and

Few citizens and activists realize that the resolution of EVERY ISSUE they are passionate about depends overwhelmingly on the quality of our democratic process. And -- if the last 8 years and the widespread sense of Obama's vulnerability are any sign -- we can't afford to assume that our democracy will be healthy and make the improvements it needs to meet 21st century challenges.

How could the Obama administration -- with our insistence and support -- leave a legacy of innovative, empowered, wise democracy that cannot be easily undermined by special interest power, no matter what happens to Obama himself?"

I think a cabinet-level Department of Democracy would greatly help secure and promote a vibrant democratic culture in the United States -- particularly one that enables the citizenry's bottom-up power to make wise policy decisions. This would include and go beyond the various democratic initiatives proposed in Obama's campaign statements.

Here is one vision of what such a department might cover. Much of the first part covers ground already proposed by Obama. Latter offices include institutions to engage citizens in generating collective intelligence in policy-making. Check it out and let me know below what you think


Purpose: To secure and promote a vibrant democratic culture in the United States.

The Office of Democratic Culture
Purpose: To ensure the health of our democratic commons -- elections, freedoms, skills, information access, and the creative marriage of unity and diversity.
* Electoral Integrity
- Voting technologies monitoring
- Disclosure of special interest electoral involvements
- Campaign finance reform
* Democratic Rights, Freedoms, Responsibilities, and Skills
- Democracy education and skills training
- Promotion of democratic rights, freedoms, responsibilities, and skills
- Defense of democratic rights and freedoms
* Open Information Environment
- Government information access / Freedom of information
- Robust journalism
- Web freedom and information flow among citizens
* Unity in Diversity
- Transpartisan and trans-polarization dialogues and initiatives
[e.g., Reuniting America and Public Conversation Project]
- Search for common ground dialogues and initiatives
[e.g., Search for Common Ground and Future Search]
- Diversity dialogues and initiatives
(multi-cultural, interracial, interfaith, etc.)
* Democratic cultural affairs
- Art - fine, performance, and multi-media -- about or invoking democracy
- Celebrations of democracy
- Validations of democratic heroes and projects

The Office of Government Accountability
Purpose: To help citizens manage the governments they establish to secure their common welfare and future.
* Citizen evaluation of government agencies and officials
* Special interest influence tracking and publicizing
* Protection of whistleblowers

The Office of Citizen Deliberation
Purpose: To access the collective wisdom of the citizenry to guide our public activities, policies, and programs.
* Citizen state-of-the-nation (and local state-of-the-community) councils
[e.g., Wisdom Councils and Macleans Magazine 1991 "The People's Verdict"]
* Advisory citizen deliberations on issues, budgets, proposals, candidates, etc.
[e.g., Citizen Deliberative Councils and Participatory Budgets]
* Watershed, regional, and stakeholder councils
* Citizen deliberation-based government institutions
[e.g., Danish Consensus Conferences and British Columbia's Citizens Assembly]
* Official commitment to take citizen deliberative findings seriously
[e.g., Western Australia's Ministry of Planning and Infrastructure]

The Office of Public Participation and Citizen Engagement
Purpose: To broadly involve citizens with each other, their communities, and the public affairs that matter to them.
* Public conversation programs
[e.g., Everyday Democracy, Conversation Caf├ęs, National Issues Forums]
* Public commentaries and input on politics and governance
[e.g., online forums re proposed legislation]
* Community engagement, service, and volunteerism
* Public affairs political activism, campaigns, and co-creative collaborations
* Positive engagement with dissent, unrest, and crisis
[e.g., Dynamic Facilitation, Nonviolent Communication, Open Space Conferences]

The Office of Democratic Innovation
Purpose: To continue the tradition of our nation's founders in fostering democratic innovations that serve not only this country but the world.
* Global research on existing democratic innovations
* Forums for sharing democratic innovations
* Funding for democratic experimentation, research and development
* Legislation and programs for increasingly vibrant democracy

What do you think of this idea? What else would you include? Comments?

I've posted it at as a QuickTopic document where you can comment on any PART of the proposal that you would like to see added to or changed. Just click on the numbered "comment dot" after the line you want to comment on. (Other people's comments, if any, can be viewed by clicking on the little glasses symbol at the end of each line, or by clicking on the COMMENT FORUM or COMMENT REVIEW tabs at the top of the page.)

Of course, if you would like to take some initiative in organizing around this idea, or have any connections with Obama folks who might be interested, feel free to run with it. . .


Michael Checa-Leigh said...

Of course! Great idea! Reminds me of the Dept of Peace one...

Diana Morley said...

This is brilliant, partly because it's as obvious as the nose on our face, partly because it's exactly what we need if we are/our government is to create a better society under the new administration.

The only problem is money. Obama is going to be challenged in finding a way to save/spend that works for the rest of our government. If this problem is met, I don't see what's to stop the proposal.

TimeToShine said...

I will never forget Tom, your story of your epiphany w/e with American patriots of every political persuasion. Such a powerful story that I seek it out at certain junctures, just to re-read. So it was when I read Marianne Williamson's Huffington Post article this morning on Obama..

You should be writing there as well :)