Thursday, May 15, 2014

#136 / A Rookie Mistake

Civinomics is a tech-based effort to increase effective citizen participation in government. A friend wrote me about a recent Civinomics effort, which was described on the Civinomics blog, Tipping Point

The blog article to which my friend directed me was called "Reflections On The Scotts Valley Plastic Bag Debate." According to the blog, Civinomics carried out a public opinion poll of voters in the City of Scotts Valley, California, which city does not have a ban on single use plastic bags. According to Civinomics, "the poll was statistically accurate with a 95% confidence level, and the results were crystal clear: 72% of Scotts Valley residents would vote “yes” in support of a plastic bag ban." [Just a note in parentheses: "voters" and "residents" are two different categories. It's not clear from the Tipping Point posting which group was actually polled].

Civinomics thought there were several reasons that the Scotts Valley City Council voted 4-1 against a ban, despite the strong sentiment that they had identified in favor of such a ban. The last reason given was the most revealing: 

Which brings us to the third problem, the people who Civinomics interviewed that support a Scotts Valley Plastic Bag Ban were not at the meeting where the decision was made. Call it a rookie mistake – we at Civinomics believed the vote of the people should suffice.

Two comments: First, participating in an opinion poll, and giving your opinion, is not the same as "voting." Second, anyone who believes that elected officials should (or do) read the polls and then vote to do what the poll says that the majority thinks has not understood how our form of democratic self-government actually works. 

If you want self-government to work, you have to get involved yourself.

Thinking otherwise truly is a "rookie mistake." 

In fact, as I noted in a posting when I first heard about the Civinomics effort, "politics" ultimately decides what our governments will do. That is just another way of saying that you have to get involved yourself, if you care about what the government does. 

Given the dimension of the critical problems we face at the local, state, and national level, we need to stop acting like "rookies," and believing that signing an online petition, or firing off a website-generated email, or "Liking" something on our Facebook page is going to change our world. 

All those things are good.

But not good enough. 

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  1. "Half of democracy is about just showing up." Ralph Nader

  2. Civinomics shares the common fallacy that one's own strong beliefs are shared by the majority.

    Civinomics is driven by techies, those who's lives are centered on computers, programming, the Internet and electronic communications.

    The vast majority of people, though they use cell phones and computers, are primarily grounded in the non-electronic world. They prefer face-to-face discussions, face-to-face government (when they deal with government at all), face-to-face democracy.

    Civinomics is a good way to organize access to information (for tech-savvy users) and talk about it (among tech-savvy users). It is not a substitute for wide-spread engagement in the political process.

    Civinomics is under the impression that voting, even real voting, is democracy. This, of course, is not at all the case. Democracy is the day to day engagement by citizens in the conduct of their government. While polls and discussion groups can be one aspect of democracy, they are not and can never be a substitute for direct citizen engagement with politicians, elected officials and government staff.

    “Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
    ― Abraham Lincoln


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