Let’s begin by removing people’s doubts that this is possible
Most people’s initial reaction to our ten-year vision is “Good luck with that!” But we have over 40 strategies that can produce leverage. The best way to start explaining our strategies is to address four common doubts that people have:
* “You may educate a few people, but you’ll never get a majority to participate in this.”
* “Big money and special interests will always dominate. How do you address that?”
* “Even when people say they will do something, they don’t always follow through. And how will they retain the learning? (Teaching critical thinking will be especially difficult!)”
* “Even if both sides get educated, there will still be polarity and gridlock. Both sides will just be better at arguing!”
These four doubts are addressed below. Following that, we share six of our more than 40 strategies.
Doubt 1: “You may educate a few people, but you’ll never get a majority to participate in this.”
Before thinking about who might do our program, let’s summarize what we’re asking people to do. Roughly, we’re asking three things: 1) To come up to speed politically, either refreshing their political knowledge and critical thinking skills, or learning these for the first time. 2) To develop a set of habits: regular political news intake; critically thinking about the news; and regular advocacy — about two hours a month of advocacy on issues you care about. Also, studying issues and candidates before the elections. 3) To invite and support two or three people to follow your example, so that we have a chain reaction of political empowerment.
That’s a lot to ask! But people do things when they have strong incentives. Here are some groups of people.
About 57% of American households pay taxes. In a sense, taxes are an investment in America that you are forced to make. If you “invest” hundreds or thousands or dollars each year, why not spend a few hours each month to get the most out of your investment?
About 55% of Americans women of childbearing age have children (U.S. Census, 2004) and so they’d naturally want a stable country for them. Since the approval rating of Congress is very low, most people have serious concerns. They will see their PTTN efforts as a kind of insurance policy for their children and their own retirement.
Most things in life require some ongoing maintenance. For instance, your house, your body, your car, and your personal relationships all require maintenance. The political system requires maintenance, too, or it will break down. We’re guessing that easily 25% of the population grasps the importance of maintenance. They try to maintain the things they care about. We imagine they’d do the program because they’d see it as an efficient way to build the electorate and also “insure” the efforts they already make.
Perhaps 10% of Americans are either activists (environmental, community or other kind) or they give serious money or time to one or more political issue groups. The more ignorant the electorate is, the harder it is for all these groups to get results, since they must do basic education and work harder to get people to see the importance of politics. Having people participate in PTTN is a way for activist groups to get their networks better educated and more quickly ready for action.
Based on the above estimates, we believe that a majority of Americans have several incentives to make the investment of time to do PTTN. In other words, hour per hour, your time can pay dividends in better use of your tax money; much less anger and despair; and greater long-range security and quality of life. But this would be true only if a majority of Americans believed this chain reaction would work. Many wouldn’t because of the following doubt.
Doubt 2: “Big money and special interests will always dominate. How are you going to address that?”
Here’s a big reason to believe that things can dramatically turn around. There are roughly 100,000 full-time lobbyists in Washington and in the state capitals. Let’s pessimistically imagine that four-fifths of them are not operating in the public interest. (Lobbies in the public interest would be many environmental groups, community nonprofit groups and some unions.) If a majority of Americans suddenly re-learned the basics and spent two hours a month protecting their investment through political action, the two hours multiplied by even half of the 220 million possible voters would overwhelm the special interests by a ratio of 15:1 in hours (using the intelligence gathered from the at least one-fifth of “good” lobbyists operating in the public interest.)
But if you ask, “What about all the money the lobbyists have?” here’s your answer: If 100 million Americans (about 45% of the electorate) donated just $60 to the lobbying groups that operated in their interest, it would equal all the money spent in 2012 for the Presidential and Congressional races. Our conclusion is that a 15:1 advantage in time spent lobbying and a 1:1 ratio of money spent would give the American people an overwhelming advantage over special interest lobbyists — especially when you recall that ultimately the ballot box is filled with votes, not dollars.
Such a turn-around would mean no less than the renewal of American democracy. And it would happen because individuals like you would be supported to make the effort, and then would go on to support two or three others to make the effort — and that would lead to a chain reaction.
Doubt 3: “Even when people say they will do something, they don’t always follow through. And how will they retain the learning? (Teaching critical thinking will be especially difficult!)”
Creating new habits is not easy, even when you have strong incentives. But a lot is known psychologically about how to form habits. We encourage people to get request reminder emails from us. We encourage people to develop personal support, and offer some support through our volunteers. We also are creating ways to make learning and action fun, such as the Proof Through the Night “Political Pursuit” board game and the “Party and Study” tradition. But if people accept that practicing these habits is “fighting for your country” many will make the effort. They will continue these efforts when they see results. First, their self-esteem will go up when they realize that they are “in the know” and later it will go up more when they see politicians take note of their forceful, knowledgeable and persistent advocacy.
Doubt 4: “Even if both sides become educated, there will still be polarity and gridlock. Both parties will just be better at arguing!”
This would be true if we only taught how to argue better. But in our Critical Thinking for Politics course, we will teach many other skills. We will teach people how to find creative win-win compromises and how to change the “negotiation” process behind politics. We’ll teach how a focus on removing structure problems boosts the efficiency of government – higher speed, lower taxes. We even teach a little comparative politics about other systems, since theorists show that a two-party system usually leads to gridlock. We’ll also teach how to pick candidates that are better at political process and getting results. Also, since we will teach how to recognize manipulation and distortion, many politicians will grasp that straightforward rational arguments on the actual merits of a proposed bill will be rewarded, while long-winded baloney will be punished.
Below are six of our 50 PTTN strategies (PDF document.)
1. Give people strong incentives to participate. Many political groups try to motivate people by urging them to do their civic duty. But on our “Why Care?” page, we emphasize stronger incentives, for example: boosting your quality of life; making the best use of the investment you’ve already made through taxes; seeing politics as a high-leverage way to help others; avoiding economic hard times; and even helping to ensure our long-term survival.
People may care, but still not want to get involved in politics if they believe that individual voters can’t make a difference. So, on Why Believe Politics Can Change? we offer our best arguments for why individual action still counts.
2. The way this will grow is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Let’s be honest: A small increase in the number of informed and active voters won’t be enough. So we thought of a strategy could inspire a majority of Americans to gain political proficiency. We begin with some of the people who already understand the importance of political involvement. They use the website materials to fully come up to speed politically and to test their proficiency. Then they ask and support least two friends to go through the process. If most people personally supports at least two or three others to participate, it becomes a chain reaction of personal support. This one-to-one support and encouragement is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Without the viral (chain reaction) strategy, when we asked people to do the 5 to 20 hours of study to achieve political proficiency and to built new habits, they would have the right to say, “Why should I make the effort? Not enough people will join me, and so it won’t make a difference.” But with the chain reaction strategy, having enough people to make a political difference becomes extremely likely because everyone has friends that they can persuade, encourage — or ask a favor of.
This strategy is so central, that it’s worth explaining in a different way. In politics, if most people believe that special interests will always dominate, then they won’t vote or make the effort to vote intelligently, then the special interests will dominate, because most people gave up. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: If we believe we’re beaten, we don’t act, and then we are beaten.
3. Make it as easy as possible to learn and be active. We bring all the essentials to one web site. We also build support strategies into the course. We streamline political action, so that it doesn’t take too much of your time and energy. And an important part of our strategy is to have people figure out ways to make their ongoing actions easy and maybe even enjoyable.
4. Ask people to do it right. No half measures. Many voter empowerment projects imply that voting at every election is enough. We don’t think that’s true. We ask for more, and we make a compelling case for each thing we ask you to do. It will involve some real effort, but you’ll probably feel good that you’re doing enough. (To learn what we think is enough, see “The Believable Deal”.)
How We Get Away With Having Lots of Content!
Some people have criticized this site because of the great volume of content. They say that we have too much. But we have two responses. Our first response is that some of the content will be put in the form of short upbeat videos. This will make it easier to learn. But our second response is more to the point. We wrote above, “no half measures.” This means, for instance, if we have six strong strategies, we’re not going to just give you three bullets of information. We want you to understand why Proof Through the Night is going to be powerful. Similarly, if it takes you 5, 10 or even 20 hours to learn and practice the basics, then we are going to ask you to do it right.
We love our slogan, “There’s more than one way to fight for your country” because it can give you perspective: Many people gave their lives to defend this democracy. The founders risked their lives. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others have said it: “Freedom is not free.”
This is a free country. It costs something to maintain it.
5. Create a state-of-the-art education in critical thinking. Motivate people to master this tough subject by reminding them that these skills can help them in all areas of their lives. (Visit this page to learn about the edgy skills that will be taught.)
6. Dramatize this as a battle to renew the American electorate. Make many videos with the theme: “There’s more than one way to fight for your country.” Compare the achievement to decade-long goal of landing on the Moon. Achieving this goal would probably have a greater impact on the country and the world. American could be a proud example for the world.