A CITIZENS’ CONGRESS
Danville, NH 03819January 15, 2013
TO ALL MY FRIENDS, COLLEAGUES & ASSOCIATES:
I invite you to join me in forming a new organization to advance a truly representative, really people-empowering "Citizens’ Congress".
The only branch of our federal government designed to represent "We the People" is the Congress, especially the House of Representatives. Thus, the question of how we can transform the gridlocked, dysfunctional, historically low-rated U.S. Congress -- especially the House -- into an institution that could be recognized as a "People’s" or "Citizens" Congress is one of the most crucial questions of our time. The process of answering it may determine whether our great American experiment will be won or lost.
We cannot rely on Congress to reform itself; it has repeatedly failed to do so. Many former, fine Members of Congress (MoC’s) have stepped down out of frustration at their inability to effect what they see as necessary reforms of the institution. We are now hearing from all quarters: “The system is broke!” Moreover: Only WE can fix it!
For decades, we’ve seen piles of books diagnose and highlight the failings and increasing corruption of Congress. Each typically concludes with a small set of prescriptions for "reform" that are weak tea. Why? -- Because they address symptoms, not causes; or they confuse symptoms with causes. They fail to get at the fundamental, core issue -- the need for institutional innovation and real, substantial reform in the ways that Congress does “We the People”s business.
Campaign finance reformers, for example, have been fighting the corrupting influence of money in politics for years -- by focusing only on money! They forget about people and so end up validating the importance of money over people. They fail to understand that only two things count in politics: money and time. If people don’t volunteer enough time to make what should be THEIR politics truly theirs, then money and all that it finances necessarily dominates. It trumps people (US) right out of the game. Campaign finance reform has failed, as I predicted it would. And so now we see the latest in the “piles of books” -- entitled EXTORTION, by Peter Schweitzer -- Congress as the key to a system centered in Washington that extorts money from one and all.
An economist by vocation, politics has been my lifelong, most serious avocation. My first (2004) political book was WE THE PEOPLE: A Conservative Populism. Since then, I have continued to write with an increasing sense of urgency. Last year, I posted an e-book via Amazon entitled A NEW AMERICAN ®EVOLUTION: How "We the People" can truly "take back" our government (Amazon e-book, 2012). The third book in my political series, 1% + 99% = 100%: How “We the People” can occupy politics, change Congress and renew the American Dream, is now accessible as an e-book under Amazon.com. In the near future, you’ll be able to find it in a website… [www.politicalcommunity.us] as part of a wiki so that, as with WIKIPEDIA, readers can add to, subtract from, and otherwise improve the work’s readability and usefulness. Thus, it may be one of the first completely participatory electronic books -- full of hotlinks which instantly take the reader to videos, music or images that sometimes entertain and always amplify the book’s value as a "how to" manual throughout.
I hope that you share my sense of urgency. Our country is at or near a dangerous tipping point. More people representing all generations and walks of life need to rise to the challenge of our great American experiment. We need a new national movement -- a "Change Congress" movement, one that recognizes that only "We the People" can drive real, democratic change so that we can eventually have a true Citizen’s Congress that both represents and empowers US.
The Citizens’ Congress [CC] would be a grassroots movement supporting people-based congressional campaigns and driving basic, institutional reforms in the way Congress does "We the People"s business. It would effect a two-pronged, inside/outside strategy including formation of an alternative branch of government.
In the case of the CC, common sense and the Constitution answer the question: Who oversees the overseers? Only "We the People" can properly do so. We are outsiders looking in, too often left out, included only to bear the costs imposed us -- as if we are uninvolved 3rd parties (and, in truth, aren‘t we too often so!). Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, said in 1989: "We need an external perch from which to critique and change an organization in decline."(like the Congress).
Establishing an alternative Congress might appear to be an impossibly great challenge. Not so. It is feasible and manageable. We would set up demonstration programs in a small number (say, 2-10) Congressional Districts (CDs) and then, build out from success, district by district, year after year. The alternative model is the best way to build CC membership nationwide. Outreach and membership building are key. They go hand-in-hand with efforts to increase peoples’ participation in their politics and their government at all levels. These efforts would generate virtuous circles that create, and are spurred by, a high energy democracy peopled by an engaged citizenry. These virtuous circles would be antidotes to the seven vicious cycles documented in my books. It is "possible to imagine a regenerating politics that restores democratic meaning."
What are other major tasks of an Citizens Congress? They are to:
Periodically reach out to all voters in each CD to alert them to the existence of a alternative Congress, invite their participation, and indicate how this can help them "make a difference" on the issues of their most heartfelt concern. Periodically, or whenever a major issue arises for our attention, to solicit ideas from voters and community-based organizations in each PC CD as to how the issue/problem can be solved. Twice a year, mount a voter registration (VR) campaign in each CD in cooperation with other organizations who typically get involved in VR; e.g., the League of Women Voters. Establish a Congressional website and newsletter for each CD that is both attractive and informative in ways that the self-serving sites and letters provided by your typical MoC‘s are not. Make sure that the website includes blogging, wiki and file sharing capabilities for constituents. Use social media (Facebook, MoveOn, Google & Yahoo Groups, Twitter, et al. -- See Chapter 6 of my new book for more) to enable crowd-sourcing that, in turn, identifies, recognizes and builds upon people’s collective wisdom and intelligence in any CD. Recruit citizens for independent committees in each CD that would inform and advise both the shadow MoC and CD voters on major issues before the Congress -- no need for lobbyists! Convene events to enable direct communication with and among constituents. These include Town Hall meetings, issue forums, rallies and demonstrations that are clearly different from the way such events are organized and carried out by conventional MoCs. How so? -- Insofar as they provide briefings or videos to those that cannot attend, reach out to invite political activists and others who are not the "usual suspects", and bring in experts as resource people in service to the public at-large. Establish more than one office in any CD to help constituents with problems; enable them to organize, participate in rallies, demonstrations, petitions, voter I&R efforts, and otherwise empower them. Interact with organized groups of all persuasions, throughout any CD, to determine how the shadow MoC can make common cause with them on critical issues. Demonstrate leadership on key issues and how it represents a major contrast with the official MoCs weak or lack of leadership. Publicize what the alternative CC MoC and offices are doing and how what they are doing represents a substantial improvement over existing representation.
If you share my sense of urgency, please consider joining me with me and others to build a new, nonprofit organization to advance the cause of a Citizens’ Congress. Annual dues are only $10. Let me know your interest, concerns or questions. I can be reached via email or telephone [nos. 603-835-3924 (office) or 603-560-4223 (cell)].
Looking forward to your response, I am…
PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., Author, International Consulting Economist, and three-time candidate for Congress.