AI on How to Save Inclusive Democracy

Asking our AI overlords to do my job for me:

Me: “What are the most disruptive, yet feasible, ideas to support inclusive democracy in the United States?”

Here are some disruptive yet feasible ideas to support inclusive democracy in the United States:

  1. Implement ranked-choice voting for all federal and state elections. This would allow voters to rank their preferred candidates in order of preference, and ensure that winners are elected with majority support. This would also allow for more third-party candidates to run without being seen as “spoilers” in the election.
  2. Enact campaign finance reform that limits the influence of big money in politics. This could include public financing of campaigns, stricter regulations on lobbying and dark money, and transparency requirements for political spending.
  3. Create a national database of voter registration that is updated in real-time. This would make it easier for citizens to register to vote and help prevent voter suppression by ensuring that all eligible voters are on the rolls.
  4. Introduce automatic voter registration for all eligible citizens when they turn 18 or obtain a driver’s license or state ID. This would help ensure that all eligible citizens are registered to vote, particularly those who may not have the time or resources to register on their own.
  5. Establish a national holiday for voting or move Election Day to a weekend to make it easier for people to vote. This could help increase voter turnout and ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to cast their ballots.
  6. Create an independent redistricting commission to redraw congressional districts every 10 years. This would help prevent gerrymandering and ensure that congressional districts are drawn fairly and without political bias.
  7. Institute ranked-choice voting for all primary elections, including presidential primaries. This would encourage more diverse and moderate candidates to run, and help prevent extremist candidates from winning the nomination.
  8. Create a system of citizen assemblies to deliberate on key policy issues and make recommendations to elected officials. This would ensure that a diverse and representative group of citizens has a direct say in the policymaking process.
  9. Introduce digital voting technology that is secure and easy to use. This would make it easier for citizens to vote, particularly those who may have mobility or accessibility issues, and help ensure that every vote is counted accurately.
  10. Establish a national commission to study and recommend changes to the electoral system, including reforms to the Electoral College, the use of proportional representation, and other innovative approaches to promoting inclusive democracy. This commission could also explore ways to address voter suppression, increase voter participation, and ensure that all voices are heard in the democratic process.

Me: “Are these really radical ideas? They seem quite technical.”

You make a valid point. While some of these ideas may be considered innovative, they are not necessarily radical in the sense of being extreme or fundamentally disruptive. Rather, they are practical suggestions that could be implemented through changes to existing systems or the introduction of new technologies or policies.

However, in the context of many existing political systems that may be resistant to change or have entrenched interests, some of these ideas may be considered radical in the sense that they challenge the status quo and require significant shifts in power and decision-making. Ultimately, whether these ideas are considered radical or not will depend on the specific context in which they are proposed and the level of resistance to change that exists in that context.

Me: “These are not disruptive enough.”

I understand your point. Here are some additional, more disruptive ideas to support inclusive democracy in the United States:

  1. Abolish the Electoral College and replace it with a national popular vote. This would ensure that every vote counts equally and reduce the influence of small, less diverse states in presidential elections.
  2. Introduce a system of participatory democracy, where citizens have a direct say in the policy decisions that affect their lives. This could involve giving citizens the power to propose and vote on laws, budgets, and other policy decisions, either through digital platforms or citizen assemblies.
  3. Create a constitutional amendment to establish a right to vote for all citizens, and prohibit discriminatory practices such as voter ID laws and purges of voter rolls. This would help ensure that all citizens have equal access to the ballot box and prevent voter suppression.
  4. Institute a system of proportional representation for all federal and state elections. This would ensure that all voices are heard, including those of third-party candidates and marginalized communities, and prevent the two-party system from dominating politics.
  5. Require all political candidates to disclose their tax returns, assets, and conflicts of interest, and establish strict ethics laws to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest in government.
  6. Create a national commission to study and propose reparations for the descendants of enslaved people and other communities that have faced systemic discrimination, such as Indigenous peoples and immigrants. This would help address historical injustices and promote equity and justice.
  7. Establish a public banking system that is owned and controlled by citizens, and provides affordable and accessible financial services to all communities, particularly those that have been historically underserved by traditional banks.
  8. Create a system of citizen oversight for police departments, where citizens have the power to investigate and hold police officers accountable for misconduct and abuse of power. This would help address systemic racism and bias in law enforcement and promote public trust in the police.
  9. Establish a national basic income program, where all citizens receive a monthly stipend that allows them to meet their basic needs and pursue their goals without fear of poverty or economic insecurity.
  10. Finally, introduce new forms of democracy, such as liquid democracy, blockchain-based voting systems, and other innovative approaches to civic engagement and participation. These would help increase transparency, accountability, and public trust in the democratic process.

So there you have it.

Promoted at the Kettering Foundation

I am honored and delighted to report that I have been promoted at the Kettering Foundation, to the newly-created role of Director of External Affairs and DC Operations.

l-r: Gilmore, Rourke, Dallas, Doherty

This move is part of a larger set of promotions along with good colleagues and friends: Paloma Dallas is Senior Program Officer for International Programs; Joni Doherty is Senior Program Officer for Democracy and the Arts; and Melinda Gilmore is Director of Communications — all these changes designed to position Kettering to move quickly as we complete a comprehensive strategic planning process. (Here is today’s full announcement.)

As many friends know, I have been on staff at Kettering for almost exactly ten years, serving primarily as executive editor of issue guides. But my association with, and affection for, the foundation goes way back. As early as 1997, after traveling from Maine to visit Kettering, I called my wife from the airport: “I have found where I want to work,” I told her.

Kettering, it seems, has always been in my heart.

Democracy, now under threat from so many quarters, needs defenders such as Kettering more than it ever has, both in the U.S. and globally. As Kettering reassesses how best to meet these threats, I am thrilled to be tasked with raising the impact and profile both in DC and beyond.

Thank you specifically to Kettering president and CEO Sharon L. Davies, who is a force of nature as she leads us in this strategic reinvention.

More to come!

Joining the Board of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation

I am pleased to share that I have joined the board of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD), joining a group of stellar practitioners and thinkers in the democracy space. I am excited to try to add what I can to help lead NCDD into its next level of development.

NCDD is one of the oldest networks in the dialogue and deliberation field, arising out of a conference in Washington, DC in 2002. As the field has matured and strengthened, NCDD has been there throughout. Many of us can remember pivotal NCDD conferences, which were a core part of NCDD’s offerings until COVID-19 limited such gatherings.

I’m happy to say that the biennial conference is set to return, in-person, October 13-15, 2023 in Atlanta.

Many thanks to my fellow board members and NCDD leadership for inviting me to join them at this important time.

Strategy and Tactics

Often, one will hear someone in the workplace telling someone else to think or act “strategically” — when what they really mean is “be smarter.”

Like the term “leadership,” it is a shorthand for a larger idea — but for most people this idea is ill-defined.

What is “strategy?”

I learned strategic planning from one of the people who helped develop our modern understanding of its application to business (he was at GE under Reg Jones). While strategic planning has changed many times since it was first elaborated in the late 70’s, this definition from my mentor always sticks with me:

“Strategy is a decisive allocation of resources.”

In other words, a strategy is something that, if you pursue it, other avenues are foreclosed. Many different tactics, on the other hand, could be used in the pursuit of a particular strategy.

In most cases, I’ve found that the answer to this question depends on the size of the theater. What is a tactic when looked at from one level can be a strategy at another level.

As an example, a company might have a strategy to use social media as its primary marketing communications tool. It would use various tactics to achieve that: blog comments, Facebook pages, Twitter, and so forth.

However, depending on the size of the theater you are looking at, a tactic can become a strategy. Just thinking about the fictitious company’s “social media” strategy, imagine the marketing department that is charged with implementing this. The fact that the overall thrust is social media will now be a given, just a parameter.

The strategic decisions at this level really will center on which tool to use and how strongly to bet on it. And then, even more granularly, there can be questions of strategy within each tool — it is possible to have a “Twitter strategy” and a “Facebook strategy.”

The key is always the decisiveness of the moves. Strategy, in whatever theater, is always decisive.

(Adapted from an earlier post.)

My Approach to Annual Review and Reflection, 2021-2022

As the year ends, and the new one begins, many people reflect upon and review their past year, and think about how they wish to act moving forward. Some call it “making resolutions,” some “setting intentions.” People do it all different ways.

Here is the way I have been ending each year since 2015. It is an approach that has served me well. I typically go over my review with my spiritual adviser and sometimes I share it with my spouse.

Aspirations (Virtues and Defects)

This, for me, is the most important. I reflect on my behavior over the past year, think about where I fell short and what patterns suggest themselves. Which defects of character were most bedeviling? I think about what the corresponding virtues might be. These become the guideposts for how I want to behave overall in the coming year. This list rarely changes from year to year. For the past few years, my list has been:

Humility (vs Pride)
Generosity (vs Selfishness)
Acceptance (vs Self-Pity)
Diligence (vs Sloth)
Tolerance (vs Judgment)

It was two years ago that I added the last item in the list. Before that, the list had been stable for many years.

Areas of Focus (Plans, Results, Plans)

I next look across the key focus areas of my life: Faith, Family, Work, Health, etc. For each, I had set plans in the previous year. I write down my results as I reflect on the past year. Did I meet my goals? Considering this, I then set out plans for the upcoming year.

Here is an example:

  • Body (health & fitness)
    • Plans 2021: Follow doctor’s orders, reduce cholesterol. Continue running — 5 mile routine.
    • Results 2021: Stasis. Periodic yoga, periodic lifting. Struggled to lose weight. Stayed on track with medical appts.
    • Plans 2022:
      • Improve fitness routine, focusing on consistency
      • Resume yoga
      • Achieve and maintain body weight below 200 lbs (185-190 ideal)

This gives me a roadmap to follow, as I check in periodically throughout the year. The plans are not static, I revisit them and adjust where appropriate.

Then, at the end of the next year, the last bullet (Plans 2022) moves to the top, and I will add “Results 2022” and “Plans 2023.

Here is my full list of focus areas:

Body (Health & Fitness)
Mind (Learning & Creativity)
Home (Dwelling)

What are your focus areas? How do you approach year-end reviews?

David Mathews on Deliberative Democratic Politics

David Mathews, longtime president and CEO of the Kettering Foundation, was interviewed recently by In a brief passage, he gives perhaps the best and most concentrated description of deliberative democratic politics I have seen.

For those who have heard Dr. Mathews describe various aspects of democracy — its origins, how it can be seen as an ecology, the importance of seeing the tensions between things held deeply valuable — this may sound familiar. But in just a few paragraphs, much is conveyed.

Below is a brief passage (left) with commentary from me (right):

What we call democracy is really an accumulation of survival lessons over centuries.Democracy as emergent, organic (vs. built).
We learned that we had to come together to be safe and be successful.Origin of collective security as a key thing held valuable.
We learned that we had to be free to do what we felt like we needed to do.Origin of freedom to act as a key thing held valuable.
We learned that we couldn’t really work together unless we divided what we had produced equitably amongst all the people. Because if we didn’t, they’d leave the tribe and next time we went out to bring down a big chunk of protein with four hooves, they weren’t the meal, we were the meal, because we were too small and frail.Origin of being treated fairly as a key thing held valuable.
And most of all, we learned that we had to have some measure of control over what was happening to us to get all the other things that we want.Control over future as overarching thing held valuable.
When people make a political decision, what they do is they sit down and they look at the things they might do, and they weigh them against the things that are deeply important: Is doing this going to make me safe or unsafe?Weighing trade-offs (deliberation) as core to collective democratic life.

Building a New Life on the Ashes of Collapse: 2,500 Daily Letters

Some of my friends know that some years ago, in a deep spiritual crisis and in anguish, I began trying a new practice. I wanted to be serious about my inner spiritual life, to see if it would help me. I am not religious, but felt called to do this.

Now, each morning, I do the same thing I began back then. I rise, I sit on my sofa, I subvocalize a set prayer, I read a few pieces of spiritual literature, and I write a brief letter to God.

Since early January 2015, I have done this every morning, without fail. After a couple of years, I started posting each letter, mostly in order to have a record but also just in case anyone might find them helpful.

This morning I wrote Letter #2,500.

Letter 2,500

Doing something daily for so long may seem daunting but in reality it is simple. I set the bar for myself very low: the letter simply has to exist. It can be as short as necessary. The letter is just a mechanism to make sure I am really doing my practice, there is no magic about writing it down, nor its form. It could just as easily be an “X” marked on a calendar.

Doing this on a daily basis, without fail, has changed my life. I am convinced that any consistent spiritual practice can yield similar benefits for anyone. It does not have to be “religious” and does not have to be literally daily nor persisted in for years and years. The benefits come very quickly (for me things began to shift within a few weeks).

If you are searching for a regular spiritual practice, you might try picking something easy that you can do daily, and seeing what happens when you try it for a week or two. That is how I started.

If you are curious, or have your own practice to share, or just want to chat, please feel free to drop me a line.

(At the site you can sign up for the daily email for free. I would love it if you sign up, just because it provides a nice sense of community.)