THE NEIGHBORHOOD DEMOCRACY PROJECT
by Scott Hargarten
None of us expects our democracy to be perfect, but we share a faith that it *can* work. Our faith is that each individual can invest in our democracy, and by virtue of collective action make our government more just than it is now to create a society that reflects our will. This common faith in the potential of the democratic process is the source of the courage that has enabled our society to confront evils of every variety, and both survive them and improve itself.
Today we must face a crisis of that faith. Our democracy has been corrupted by the self-interest of the powerful, and is no longer capable of representing the convictions and needs of its people. The modern election is more a result of the manipulative force of money than the reason and compassion of voters. Our media is not a forum for ideas or shared values—fact and opinion are made mere tools for the accumulation of advertising revenue. The people will not be represented by our government without a fundamental change in the relationship of the people to politics.
A revolution in the role of the citizen in the political process is the only possibility for change. We can no longer allow ourselves to be the material of designs that are indifferent to our values and needs. All political power consists of organizing the will of individuals in a common direction; we must find a way to organize citizens that depends less on money and blind ideology and more on conviction and compassion. We must find a way to make courage and understanding into political forces that can once again create real political change in this country. We need a way to build a political solidarity that is independent of manipulation by power.
The Neighborhood Democracy Project is an attempt to fill that need. Our mission is to recreate our democracy by empowering individual citizens with the tools to envision, organize and make political change. We are convinced that the best solution to the problem of top-down influence in government is not to replace one set of political elites and wealthy interests with another, but rather to empower the people with the means to make the elites serve them.
Political empowerment should start with understanding and communication. Attendees of our community forums will have the opportunity to raise issues for discussion. These issues can vary in scope from neighborhood problems, to city ordinance, to policy on the state or federal level. We wish to encourage the expression of opinions and concerns from people of every political, social or economic situation.
Through the miracle of sincere and patient communication, these forums will provide attendees with the opportunity to truly understand the problems shared by their fellow community members. Some human facts can only be understood when we allow ourselves to be affected by the personal needs and convictions of others—this forum will provide the opportunity to understand these needs and conviction as they are perceived by the people who have them.
Through these forums, we hope to produce an emergent understanding that can be shared by people across political and social boundaries, and thus produce new shared convictions that can motivate organized political actions on completely new terms. Community members who enter this meeting with a problem to solve should exit with a perspective and possible solution that they have never considered before, and a team of fellow community members willing to fight with them to realize that new solution.
“What you get”
Attendees who engage in the process will have more than just enlightenment to face the world with. They will also have at their disposal a range of tools to apply to their problem. A team of committed and experienced political advocates and community organizers is dedicated to providing them with the skills necessary to change their world. Their involvement is predicated on no agenda other than the empowerment of citizens. You will also receive:
- The opportunity to make personal connections with community leaders, political activists and neighbors
- Contact with community organizations and political advocacy groups who you can work with to meet your goal
- Experienced citizen lobbyists who can teach you how to lobby at city hall and the state capitol
- The materials and training to run a successful phone bank
- Support with social media
- Assistance with the creation and collection of petitions
- Mentorship from organizers who can help you plan a protest
- Assistance with creation of written materials and graphics to promote your cause