From now until election day, those of us who have the misfortune of residency in “swing states” will continue to be subjected to an unrelenting barrage of paid media advertisements from political candidates as well as largely unregulated Political Action Committees. Formal and informal debates will be held by the nominees of our major political parties. Friends, neighbors, and coworkers will argue about competing proposals to fix our ailing economy. Most importantly, families will sit down at kitchen tables in order to balance their household budgets and carefully plan positive steps forward.
During these discussions, voters are likely become frustrated in our search for credible information and thoughtful economic policy proposals as we witness pundit screaming matches and expert forecasts of doom and gloom if one party or the other were to get elected. Afterward, many of us will wonder: Is this really what democracy is supposed to look like? In this progressively polarized political environment, is it even possible for us to be more than spectators cheering or booing the political gladiators in the arena? Should we just give up and leave the stadium in protest? What could everyday citizens do to truly exercise our civic duty and have a real impact on our political processes?
Believe it or not, two years ago thousands of Americans representing every political persuasion from across our nation actually sat down together in their local communities in an effort to solve our fiscal problems cordially. This was accomplished by means of a “national town hall meeting” organized by America Speaks and the results were shared with the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. (See: http://usabudgetdiscussion.org/national-town-meeting-results/ ) This exercise proved that civil discourse on difficult problems is not only possible, it may well be the most promising way to break the log jam of today’s paralyzed politics.
In fact, if you are interested in hosting, convening, or participating in a similar community discussion, the National Issues Forums Institute has created free, non partisan materials on the topic of “A Nation in Debt: How Can We Pay the Bills?”. Likewise, Public Agenda has created a citizen’s solution guide on the federal budget: http://www.publicagenda.org/pages/the-federal-budget.
There is no need to wait until election day in order to exercise your citizenship. Get involved now! Empower your community! Participate in a civil conversation about our economic future then act on what you can do together locally.