Democracy at its Most Complacent

  • 0

Democracy at its Most Complacent


Hurry Up and Wait. ‘Merica.

Man… we are lame.

Official numbers aren’t officially tallied quite yet, but estimates put our Voter Turnout for 2016 somewhere in the neighborhood of 56%.

Fifty. Six. Percent.

If you took at your cues from social media, you would swear that 100% of eligible voters turned out (plus some dead guys voting, of course) and each and every one of us is a political pundit who has the “true” pulse of the nation. Polls, op-ed’s, TV segments with 19 talking heads cramped onto a studio set table – we feel like a society filled with civic-minded politicos that are plugged in to the issues facing our republic.

Then… a super gaggle (political term) of us sit home on Election Day.

You know, for the World’s Greatest Democracy, we are sure pretty crappy at getting out and performing the glorious action of a free and democratic selected leadership.  What’s the deal?

So, why? Why is this such a slog to get us all to get out and vote?

Well some of it is apathy, disinterest and cynicism.  There will always be a percentage of the population that flat out won’t be too thrilled about the election. It’s like that guy in your group when you pick a place to go eat and he mutters, “Sure.. I guess that will be okay.” And then proceeds to whine all evening about the service, the portions, the steak’s overcooked, and the crème brûlée being too runny. Jerk.

But the rest of us… what’s the problem? I have a couple of factors that just can’t be overlooked as to why our democracy is just a tad light on the whole democratically elected thang.

  1. Tuesday Sucks.  What in the name of churned butter are we still doing with elections taking place on the first Tuesday of November? Why Tuesday? One dumb law. From 1845.  Yep. That’s right. Our “Most Powerful Democracy in the World” status hinges on a stupid law that was done PRE Civil War.  See, when folks were thinking about voting, they allowed for travel (to and fro) and since one couldn’t travel on the Sabbath (you know, because of God and the New England Patriots kicking off at 1pm EST)… Tuesday was picked. The End.  Talk about an anti-climatic explanation for our institution of representative democracy in action…. the consideration of “Trigger the Horse” and how it would be wicked long to get to the county courthouse from “East Lostinthewoods.”  C’mon  people! We’re better than that?! Let’s undo this dopey reason, and give ourselves a proper Election Day: make it a national holiday! Have the election on Saturday! Any of these options beats this Tuesday thing!  Tied to this is….
  2. Everyboday’s Workin’ For The Weekend.  Thank you, Loverboy.  You know what the #1 reason for not voting is? “Too busy/Couldn’t Get Off Time At Work” The irony. One of the most consistent political talking points and issue in just about every election is “jobs” and “job creation” and yet a job is the top reason so many of us missed voting! By creating a day where everyone would be free to make it to the polls unencumbered by a J-O-B would spike the turnout massively (see point #1).
  3. Can I Get A Lift?  Polls are set up in a whole lot of venues. Schools, libraries, churches, and community centers make up  a good percentage of the polling stations, but still there’s the “how do I get there?” question the always looms. Let’s face it. If you have a couple of cars and a good job, you probably never considered this an issue. But if you are without wheels, getting to certain places is a logistic nightmare.  Municipalities can make the process more convenient by offering free bus rides. Setting up special “Poll Shuttles” or getting creative with transportation businesses and services to make getting to the polls safe and easy. Think it’s too much to budget for such things? ….what, you mean we can offer to make our DEMOCRACY more inclusive?! There’s no better use of taxpayers’ dollars than to help – oh, I don’t know – TAXPAYERS get out and vote!
  4. WWW.THISSHOULDBEDONEONLINE.COM.  Seriously, it’s 2016. We have FitBits, Netflix, and Drones. You can get meals delivered to your door weekly, do all your banking from your laptop, and even spend an entire day getting lost in the rabbit hole that is Reddit.. but we can’t yet vote online? Seems to me building a secure site and system wouldn’t have any more security concerns than our banks, credit cards, or my membership to “Pocket Square On Demand” (don’t judge, I love me a fresh pocket square in my jacket.)
  5. Media Madness.  Seems like every four years, the same ol’ media angles are processed through our TVs and into our brains. There’s the “let stand outside and show you the MASSIVE line that isn’t moving too much” live shot; of course, there is also the “I’m inside the polling site but I can’t talk to anyone because they are too busy handling this here big line” sh0t; next up, we have the “gaggle of voter officials huddling around the broken poll machine” angle…. and so on and so one. What do all these “storylines” have in common? All basically say to those who are on-the-fence about voting, “Hey Mr. Not-So-Sure Voter. It’s a madhouse here at Sister Mary’s of the Poor Polling Station #3. Maybe you ought to sit this one out. It sure is nutty busy here!”  Maybe we could reduce the number of unnecessary media coverage non-stories and focus on the optimism of getting out to the polls and voting. All that talk about voter fraud, broken machines, and long lines creates even more reasons for some of us to just call off the whole “get activated” thing around election time.

voter_turnout_boothThe 2016 election was indeed one for the history books. Whether you voted for President-Elect Donald J. Trump or not, this year’s election will go down as one of the most contentious, most negative, and most unconventional in recent time.  But with all the, well, amazing headlines that could come from this bonkers election season, only one for me is going to stick and make me wonder…

With only 56% of eligible voters participating… what would have happened with the other 44% get into the arena?  If we want to demand more of our candidates, expect more from our elected officials, and hold our local, state and national governments to a higher standard of excellence.. we must all first get into the game.

Because as the man said, Just Do ItMake Your Dreams Election Participation Come True!


  • 0

The .gov Role: The Hub for Community Development

allabrdAhh… local government. The place where we pay taxes that we complain about the most, the place we pay our parking bills that we complain about the most… actually come to think about it, for many of us City Hall is a big “complaint box” where we all gather (if ever) and complain about stuff.

Local government is WAY more than that, of course. It is truly where public policy affects us the most. From ordinances to tax plans, budget decisions to administration priorities, local government is the place where our community establishes its foundation and framework.

But here’s the thing our local politicians are missing and it’s due to their collective “traditional way” of thinking about the role of government.  They miss the importance of being The Hub.

Um, DK… what’s “The Hub?”

Good question and thanks for asking, Mr. or Ms. Reader.  Let me introduce you to the idea of the Connection Economy and The Hub.

I believe we live in a new era for our economy where the emphasis is placed on connections. That is to say that for a community to thrive in this new economy, the importance is placed on collaboration between organizations and businesses now more than ever. Why? The internet has shortened the line. Worldwide commerce isn’t just for Import/Export companies any longer. I can order meats from Omaha, Nebraska the same as I can order meats from Osaka, Japan. Both while sitting at my laptop in Anywhere, USA. Because of this, local businesses need to not only provide great product and service.. they must also entice connection. The scale also pushes the need to work together to form a cluster of stores and businesses that can benefit from each other’s impressions (i.e. store visits) from customers and guests.

Another reason for the need to work the Connection Economy? The era of the big box store is coming to an end. Small, unique store with niche marketing is the lifeblood of so many cities in the midst of revitalization. And it makes perfect sense why. Cost and Risk. The big department stores are dying off anyway, but with this reduction, they also hedge their bets when it comes to plopping down a store anywhere. They are WAY more selective (if they are expanding at all) and usually emerging markets or communities on the rebound just aren’t good enough of a risk to take with their limited money. They would rather double down in the suburbs than risk a neighborhood they “think” might come back from the brink in a city center.  Small Mom & Pop stores, stores started by a couple of friends and a dream… this is what is moving the revitalization needle in many mid-size and small cities, and it is this kind of small business owner who has the right mix of risk and capital to buy into a small shop in an area that is not booming.. but could boom.

This is ready made for The Hub.

Governments at a local level should think of themselves like Incubators. Their role is to protect and nurture. Too often we are wrapped up in the political and not the policy when it comes to our local governments.  Like former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O’Neill used to say, “All politics is local” – I tend to think what is truly should be is “All policy is local” because at the end of the day, how we execute on political stances and public policy comes down to ourselves and our local governments.

But coming back to the incubator and Hub. In the most traditional sense of government operations, decision are based often by two factors: budget and staffing.

Do we have the budget?

Do we have the staff?

Honestly, both of these presumptions speak to how I believe the role of government needs to be looked at through a new, innovative lens.

It isn’t the role of government to always take the lead in money and manpower to design or manage an innovation or to implement a public policy.  There are others ready, willing, and able to carry a good portion of the load for these.. and they will do it willingly and with passion…

I’m talking about the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofiteers are built with public policy in mind. Whether it is healthcare, environment, arts/culture, education, human development (places of worship, support services, etc.) and all things in-between, the nonprofit sector is designed with impact in mind…and people at the ready. And this is the big miss made by so many local municipalities. Local governments look at the nonprofit sector as, at best, a support service along the sidelines; and at worst, a nuisance of organizations that hurt the overall community’s outlook or financial pocketbook.   Why do I say this? What are some of the issues being talked about today?

With budget cuts happening at the local (and state) levels, governments feel like nonprofits only TAKE from the treasury of cities. Wanted money is the main reason, they see, that nonprofit talk to city council or mayors. Take. Take. Take.

Similarly, local governments feel that with the rise of so many nonprofit-owned buildings and facilities in a town, nonprofits are simply BURDENS on the local economy. “They” don’t pay taxes on property, so it lowers the amount into the treasury but “they” still are given the services of a city to their facilities (this is the always-used “if a fire breaks out at your building, we as a city are still obligated to provide assets and resources even though “you” don’t contribute to the taxes paying for them” argument).  **SPOILER ALERT: Nonprofits are job creators, pay payroll tax and inject people (and their $) into communities (including out-of-state dollars via grants and foundations that would never arrive in a community).**

It’s the perception that leads to the lack of strong usage of the sector in public policy. Too much to spent on these old positions of “charity” and “funding” and “PILOTs” (Payment in lieu of Taxes) and less on the actually work that could be done if local government and nonprofits/social enterprisers got together smartly.

This is the HUB.

2-union-stationAt a train station, there are tracks leading in all sorts of directions.  Each track is filled with trains of various sizes, shapes, amounts of cars, etc. Each train car is filled with people, things, commodities, ideas, thoughts, feelings, the works.  How does all of this work? The train station. The HUB that moves the trains, the people, the tracks, the maintenance, the announcements….. the HUB is what makes it all happen. Now ask yourself,

“How are the trains running in your town?”

Nonprofit organization compete over the same grant money from that ONE BIG DONOR, every corner of the city has a neighborhood group tackling homelessness in their own way, crime is discussed in a town hall in City Section 1 while a lack of educational opportunities lead to crime realities in City Section 2. Silos develop. Funding, marketing support, advocacy are all dispersed, and then diluted due to its disconnection to one another.  Businesses, large and small, are asked to support worthy causes; but seem to feel like the impact isn’t being made enough or fast enough to show movement.  Everyone is asked to do more with less. Turnover occurs. Bureaucracy bogs down innovation. Stagnation leads to less and less “new blood” coursing through business and nonprofit veins. Apathy and, worse off, neutrality, sets in. And our communities just hobble along, hoping for change “next budget cycle” or “when the economy picks up.”

Local government can drastically assist in all of this simply by redefining its role. Be that HUB. Be the part of the equation that is the unified entity seeing how this all shapes the community. Here’s a basic example of The HUB in practice and see where your community follows this path, and where it fall off the mark:

During the “State of the City” Address, Mayor Smith announces her goal to reduce homelessness in City X by 10% over the course of this next year. “We cannot, and will not, allow our fellow citizens to not have a safe place to live and a place to begin to reshape their path to success in their lives,” she states as the applause reaches a fever pitch.

Immediately following the address, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff briefs the Deputy Mayor on Community Impact (the nonprofit liaison to the nonprofit community) on the charge and sets a series of update check in points over the course of the calendar year (tabbing this along with major community events and showcase events happening in the city, including its signature event that raises funds for the city’s General Fund).

city_hall_boardroomDeputy Mayor, along with the Marketing Director and Community Outreach Manager research in the city’s database of nonprofit organizations, and cross references the “homeless” action-ing nonprofits in the City and sends a group invite to City Hall to meet in one of its Conference Room – a War Room on the Initiative to Tackle Homelessness.

Members of the nonprofit community – all with specific missions on fighting and reducing homelessness – attend these coordinating meetings, suggest other group who need to be in on this action (example, the mentoring program at the local high school that is addressing homeless youth and how to work with them in their education and life skill training) and set waterfalls (deadline markers to show progress, update city council and administration).

Grants are researched and EACH AND EVERY ONE is sent out with a full-throated endorsement/support letter from the Mayor encouraging fiscal support of this multi-organizational, multi-level strategy to reduce homelessness by 10% in this year.  Media is made aware of this initiative and periodic visits to tv stations always includes members of the administration AND a member of the nonprofit “citizen staffing” team. Social media is coordinated to make large impress effect, corporate sponsorships and other fiscal support is “trafficked” by the citizen staffing team to best (strategically) deploy assets into the participating organizations for maximum impact, and coming with strong support from the city’s political leaders.  Events to co-branded and shared. Volunteer groups are called and unified for support. Etc. Etc. Etc.

See what’s happening? Nonprofits are doing their mission work, businesses are impacting with support to make them proud and “feel” their contribution grow, local government is there to shepherd, defend, support, endorse, and watch the big picture… and most importantly, impact is seen, felt, and succeeding at a higher level.

Is it this easy? Of course not. But again… what is? (and more to the point, is the alternative of “everyone for themselves” working any better?)

This is a case of wanting political leadership to recognize an adage that is said here at Connect The Dots Movement which is:  “Innovation Begins By Kicking The Ass of Intimidation.”  It will take political leaders to see the value in opening their doors of City Hall and little bit wider, viewing their staff as being not just those who roam the halls with city ID badges, but also includes strong nonprofit organization who are in the business of GOING OUT OF BUSINESS TO TACKLE THEIR MISSION’S CAUSE (ask a person who runs a homeless shelter: wouldn’t it be nice to have NO ONE need a bed for the night in your town?).

It take leadership. Real, true leadership to bring together sectors of the city – crossing political, socioeconomic, influencer, racial, denominational, and economic barriers – to create a legion of “Citizen Staffers” to cause massive impact on a community and its challenges. All these pieces are in town. It take someone – some entity – to be the Hub that keeps the trains running on time and in good order throughout the system. And that can, and should, be the role of local government.


  • 0

the most hated four-letter word: “status quo.”

Do not enter signBoy, am i terrible at “the math.”

Too often these two words are combined in debate/discussion/some other “d-word” to be a literal buzzkill to creativity. We speak about “get action” – well this thing goes the other way and “get brick wall to the forehead.”  And here is the worst part about this naughty phrase:

We are all at fault and responsible for it…. yes, you too over there on your laptop shaking your head.

Many of us talk a great game and use words like “innovation” and “idea exchange” and “paradigm shift” when describe ourselves, our vision, or even our organizations. But here’s what happens: nothing. or barely nothing. Life kicks back in, reality shines its light upon us like a security guard walking a dark hallway. we say some great things… and then we stop and go back to the status quo.

Funny enough, we don’ t even mean to do it. Most of us truly want to innovate or exchange ideas. It is just when we snap back into our rhythm, those opposing forces are embedded in our day-to-day; and that always seems to gum up the works to launch something truly new.  You have seen this. You go to a membership organization meeting (like an elks lodge or rotary luncheon). A dynamic speaker or community leader stands up front and begins to dazzle your sense of possibility. She amazes you by challenge the “what is” and envisions a “what can be” and you feel the creative meter getting full… you are ready to make that impact, you are ready to shift gears…

Then the rubber chicken arrives, you notice the time, and head out of Conference Room A to get back to the office because you need to sit in on that development meeting – you know, the one where no one comes prepared to do anything, and no one has anything to say worth the price of admission. Business As Usual.


Remember, they won “Best New Artist” … and then fell off the Earth.

Yep, status quo just jumped up and bit ya again.

And when I say we are all at fault, I mean all of us…. with very few exceptions. It. Just. Happens.

But why? Why does it happen. (Here’s where I tick off some friends.)

Fear. You are afraid of going it alone. Innovation requires that someone/something goes it alone for some portion of time. It may be seconds, it may be years. But there is always a constant: a set time frame where you might be out on the edge by your lonesome. And that’s scary That’s unsafe. That’s unprotected.

Cowardly. Understandable, but cowardly.

Status quo allows for people to stay in the herd, fly straight, and hope that others come to the scene to build momentum so that you can come along for the ride. Status quo protects folks by allowing for awful phrases like “we’ll see how this plays out” or “let’s take the temperature of the room first”  and the greatest kick-me-below-the-belt-before-saying-this-to-me-ever-again phrase “but we’ve always done it this way” before an action is taken. Status quo banks on your hesitancy. Thrives on it.

Now you’re saying: Risk can’t be a constant thing. Stability and familiarity are good things, aren’t they?

Yes…however, when we are representing ourselves as innovators and change agents, then we must start acting like them. Convening “committees” and organizing talks to inspire are good, but it’s in the next steps – that’s where the leaders lead. That’s the sweet spot. That’s where we “get action.”

I speak for a living and connect with organizations, nonprofits, business leaders, community activists, and government officials. All come from strong places of wanting to do wonderful things. I never question someone’s intent or where their hearts are on issues surrounding community and economic development. But we need to “get action” – too many “meetings”, not enough “meet ups with sleeves up.”

we_have_always_done_it_this_wayAnd P.S… No saint here. I am just to blame in this hypocrisy. I need to step out and keep a-steppin’ more and more. We at Connect The Dots Movement say “we believe innovation begins by kicking the ass of intimidation.

Welp, Mr. “Status Quo”…. I think you and me need to step outside, pal…