Now is the time for bold change. Two years ago, we rallied around a campaign with this theme. It was exciting. People were engaged. And then… the same old game played on because we didn’t change the system. We still have the same congressional rules, the same corporate-sponsored elections, and the same dominant media institutions setting the agenda for American politics. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that we haven’t seen bold change come out of Washington. Replacing an outdated and broken political/economic system is serious work, much more difficult than electing a candidate to the White House. It takes time to dig in and replace the fundamentals of a complex web of institutions built over a span of decades and, in some cases, centuries.
There may be a time for finger pointing and assignment of blame, but this isn’t it. Huge challenges stand before us and we’ve got a choice to make about the future of our country. Now is the time to do the heavy lifting and create change we can really believe in.
We’ve already seen where the conservative movement wants to take America. They’ve made their choice clear: they want a corporate-controlled empire that channels immense wealth to the super rich by destroying America’s middle class—which Plato knew was the bulwark of any democracy—and consigns the lower 98% of us to the ranks of the working poor. They care more about preserving old institutions that no longer fit the world we live in and refuse to engage with the titanic changes that are already defining our new reality. They’ve also shown that they’d be perfectly content to let America’s legendary democracy collapse into neo-feudalism, if that’s what it takes to preserve their antiquated systems of authoritarian power.
We can’t let this happen. Our choice is also clear. We must become true progressives and carry our faltering country through a process of rebirth so that it can enter the new economic paradigm that our predicament requires. This is our moment to really shine by taking pride in our role as the social innovators and change agents who create the new and better world.
So what is our central strategy? It is to unleash our entrepreneurial creativity and cultivate the institutions of tomorrow. We will create the new models for civic engagement using the tools presented in this handbook, along with those that emerge in our unfolding dialogue in the crowd.
The work has already begun. As we write these words onto the page, there are civic entrepreneurs out there in all walks of life creating disruptive technologies, launching social businesses, and living stories of life in a progressive world. We see them launching micro-finance projects like Kiva and Grameen Bank. They are running car-sharing companies like Zipcar and developing social media tools for mobile phones like One Bus Away. They are represented in Europe by the 200 businesses of the Mondragon Cooperative; and in the U.S. by the co-op movement, which includes hundreds of businesses that have been owned by their customers or their employees for many decades now. The world is sprouting with new business models that decentralize economic power, create wealth in ways that are sustainable and fair, and enrich their communities as well as their shareholders.
What does it mean to be a civic innovator? It means we all become social designers who hack into poorly designed systems and make them work better. We look at how the systems of society work today (or how they don’t) and we create elegant solutions to chronic problems. In electoral politics, this may be about removing private money from campaigns or starting conversations about the limitations of our two-party system. In international affairs, it is about reining in multinational corporations by creating new legal structures that both regulate them on the global stage and re-design them to serve the public good (as the Benefit Corporation and L3C charters attempt to do).
We can’t make big changes happen overnight. But we can make them happen if we collaborate effectively.
There are plenty more strategies to be developed. Others we’ve already mentioned include:
- Brand the progressive movement;
- Set our agenda by framing the debate;
- Use crowdsourcing to build our capacity;
- Leverage social media to build a response to the conservative propaganda machine;
- Learn how the political mind works so that we know how to engage effectively.
There are plenty more that we haven’t included, many of which will come from others in the community—perhaps even from you. We have the advantage of our strength of numbers. And we have the right disposition for facing an uncertain future with confidence, curiosity, and excitement.
Let’s show the world what it really means to be a progressive.