Our systemically undemocratic system of governance privileges the interests of the elite over the majority. In an age of constant feedback loops and distributed power - from smartphones to YouTube to #MeToo - access to democracy remains largely limited to occasionally electing a few leaders to decide for us. This structural inequality may work well for those in power, but it is fueling deep polarization, distrust of government, and skepticism of democracy itself while undermining support for public programs. 80% of Americans don’t trust the government, and just 19% say that government is run for the benefit of all.
And yet, most responses to this democratic crisis - efforts to boost voter turnout and elect new people - are confined within our dysfunctional political process. If only we expand voting rights, boost turnout, and reform campaign finance, voters will elect our political saviors. But we need to do more.
Yes, we should make voting more accessible and less driven by money. Yes, we should expand civic engagement and invest in new leaders. Yes, our elected officials should and must be responsive to us, the people who elected them. But no, this alone will not fix our democracy.
That’s why we are building Democracy Beyond Elections, a collaborative campaign to build support for structural democracy reforms that deepen participatory democracy and civic engagement beyond and between elections. By promoting and supporting policies and practices that make our democracy more participatory and equitable, the campaign aims to expand public power over government decisions, increase civic engagement, and bring new voices into government to generate more equitable decisions.
This summer, the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP), Civic Hall, the Center for Popular Democracy, Everyday Democracy, Generation Citizen, and People’s Action convened a group of stakeholders to learn about, shape, and commit to the work of Democracy Beyond Elections. The convening featured representatives from a range of national and local engagement, policy, and organizing groups.
We partnered with Alexa Kasdan to create a landscape analysis to highlight bright spots in expanding democracy beyond elections, including the Irish Citizens Assembly, New York City’s Civic Engagement Commission, Scotland’s Community Empowerment Act, and the Decide Madrid civic participation program. We also hosted a public event with speakers representing organizations featured in the landscape analysis.
In 2020 we will be launching programs across the country to expand participatory democracy practices in the field. We are working with our partners to build a coalition to win by:
- Creating toolkits to build capacity and share knowledge and experiences between advocates, candidates and elected officials.
- Sharing promising work from the field, amplifying and building on the work of the amazing organizations already working to create a more just and participatory democracy.
- Launching pilot programs across the country to expand participatory democracy practices.