There’s no point investing time to learn political skills if the the political system stays dysfunctional. But we’re confident the situation can be transformed. Here we address six common doubts people have and then we present our game-changing strategy that we call “The Believable Deal.”
What turns people off about politics, and what can be done about it?
What turns off people about politics, and what can be done about it?
1. The belief that greedy and powerful people always win.
We have three responses:
a. A little bit of political involvement can go a long way. Special interest groups have full-time lobbyists who work in Washington and the state capitols, but if even 45% of the 220 million American voters spend just two or three hours a month, it would totally overwhelm the special interests. Our time just needs to be concentrated in the right way. In other words, special interests may be working full time, but the number of Americans of voting age far outnumbers them, so only a small amount of time is needed from each of us. Here is the actual detailed calculation:
According to the Center for Public Integrity, there were 39,186 registered state lobbyists in 2005. There are also 35,866 lobbyists registered with the US Senate, and 23,822 registered with the House. In round numbers, that’s about 100,000 lobbyists (since many Senate and House lobbyists would be the same people). That number, times 2,000 hours per year is 200 million hours (200 M). Some of these lobbyists work in the public’s interest, but let’s assume that only one-fifth does. That would mean that 160 M hours a year are working against the public interest. Now imagine that 100 million Americans (less than half of the 220 million voting-age Americans) do just two hours a month of advocacy. (They would rely on the intelligence gathered by the public-minded lobbyists.) That would be (100 M x 2 hours x 12 months) or 2,400 M hours. So the professional lobbyists would be outgunned, 2400M to 160M, or 15 to 1. Certainly the lobbyists have a money advantage, but at election time the ballot box is stuffed with votes, not dollars. Imagine a 15:1 advantage on a football field! It’s HUGE! So the power of this idea is in getting people to realize that a huge advantage is possible with not too much effort — because it’s easy to imagine that 50% of voters could get fired up on issues enough to give just two hours a month. The idea could be promulgated in a YouTube video.
Actually an hour of a citizen’s time is not equal to an hour of lobbyist’s time. A more potent comparison would be if the 100 million citizens would donate $50 per election cycle. This would yield $5 billion, and considering that the total US Senate and House races, along with the Presidential race were $3.9 billion (2004), it would outnumber the money spent nationally (especially if you take into account that much of that $3.9 billion was already from small donors.) In summary, the perception that the little guy must necessarily be outgunned by big money is completely wrong.
b. Perception and self-fulfilling prophecies are a major factor in politics. Your pessimism about politics may be the best friend of those who want to dominate you. In other words, your negative attitude itself serves the greedy and powerful. If you have already given up, then you are beaten. The greedy and powerful should hire your negative attitude to be their spokesperson!— That’s because it has done their PR work for them in making you lose heart.
Stephen Biko, a South African activist, once said, “The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Self-fulfilling prophecies can work both ways. If you believe that you’re beaten, then you are; but if you believe that small efforts can add up, then your confidence (and efforts) can inspire others, and that can lead to a powerful movement. We came up with the word, “Raindrops make rivers, and rivers move mountains.”
c. Besides “raindrops making rivers,” we have two other analogies from nature. Lions are the king of beasts. They dominate and create the framework for their ecosystem. In a similar way, many people consider corporations to be the dominant institutions in human society. You could say that they are the lions, and no other institution has more power. — Even some governments sometimes bow to the power of multinational corporations. Yet, in nature, lions aren’t going to take on a stampeding herd. As long as the herd stays together and united, they have the power to keep lions at bay.
A second analogy: If a lion is scratched and the scratch becomes infected, it can take down the lion. The infection starts out as something tiny. But the numbers of bacteria double and redouble. In the human sphere, a political change can start with one person and a small group, and as long as the people organize and have faith in the power of numbers, they can bring down powerful individuals, corporations and even nations.
2. The belief that you personally can’t do much, and that not enough well-meaning people will get involved to change things. See cartoon!
Again, we have two responses to this negative attitude:
First, this seems to be true: not enough well-meaning people seem to be involved. But we have come up with some strategies to reverse this trend. The primary strategy is a chain reaction of empowerment. With (or without) the support of a friend, you empower yourself; then you support two or three people to empower themselves and pass on the support. In other words, most people have friends that they can influence or encourage to participate, and these people have other friends, and so on. A chain reaction can grow very fast, and although some people in the chain won’t share your politics, it’s likely that a chain reaction will improve the quality of politics for two reasons: 1) the politics will reflect the views of a majority of people, and not a minority of power-brokers, and 2) part of this program is critical thinking and also taking in more quality news than before. So the political actions of people in this chain reaction will be of higher quality.
Our second response, is to just point to history. There are plenty of instances where groups of concerned citizens changed things. On the larger scale, they range from the abolition of slavery, to women gaining the right to vote, to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.
Our third response is, again, to trust in the power of arithmetic, but in a different way. Raindrops make rivers, and rivers move mountains. You can’t see the raindrops in the rivers, just like you can’t see the effect of your vote. Most people are sure that the river came from raindrops, so why aren’t they as sure of the power of individual votes? Certainly, your candidate doesn’t always win, but that is part of the process.
3. The belief that even if you vote, it doesn’t matter. The politicians will do what they want anyway.
Our response: In a way, we agree! Listen to this parable: Once there were two teams. On one team, the athletes exercised twice a year, on the other team, the athletes practiced year-round. Which team do you think won more often? Which team deserved to win? Of course, the team that practiced year-round. In our little parable the team of athletes that practiced twice a year are the people who vote in the primary and general election, and who don’t do anything else. The teams that practiced year round were the lobbyists and advocates that keep current with legislation and year-round make their voices heard through advocacy. These lobbyists and advocates don’t all represent corporations and the powerful, some represent nonprofits and different activist causes. They all are having some impact, otherwise they would have given up long ago. You can join one or two that fight for issues you care about, and have your voice heard more clearly! This is why we at PTTN consider it worth your time to regularly monitor bills and issues you are concerned about—and then regularly communicate your views to your elected representatives. In our online course, we teach you how to do this!
4. The amount of dishonesty, lies, deceit and mean-spiritedness. The uncertainty of not knowing if you are being lied to.
Our response is in three parts: First, there’s a simple way to find out the truth about most candidates. Most have held office before and have either voting records, or have a record of actions they have taken in previous political jobs. These voting records can be easily accessed, and the Internet makes finding articles about officials easy. (See the third section of our Political Knowledge page.)
Second, just about everyone (maybe even you!) slants the truth in their favor. You need to realize that some “distortion and deception” is really just people with different values expressing their understanding filtered through their values.
Third, unfortunately there is such a thing as escalation: If one candidate makes big fat promises that he won’t keep, the other candidate might look weak or small by sticking to reasonable promises. Similarly, if one candidate runs negative ads, if the other doesn’t, people might begin to believe that nothing is wrong with the one running the negative ads, but something is wrong with his/her opponent (because they are believing the negative ads.) Fortunately, however, the situation can be changed. Just as there has been de-escalation in nuclear weapons, there can be de-escalation in political dishonesty and exaggeration. It’s a matter of the citizens showing that they will no longer tolerate or reward it.
There’s an old saying that “you deserve what you put up with.” We believe that if voters protest to the candidates about how they do campaigns, campaigns will change. So, don’t put up with it! Write emails telling candidates that you find attack ads and ads that press hot buttons but don’t take clear stands as manipulative and unacceptable.
5. The inefficiency and waste in many government programs.
Our response is that this may be another case of “you deserve what you put up with.” (See above.) Have you ever had the experience of spending other people’s money? It’s easy to spend it freely when you haven’t had to earn it yourself. That’s why some vigilance and political action is necessary.
6. The high-stakes gamble of winner-take all elections. “When your candidate loses, it’s a total and utter loss.”
Our response is in two parts: First, if your candidate loses, it is a major loss, but not a total loss. Your candidate was given a chance to frame the issues. Your candidate had a chance to educate voters. Your candidate had a chance to sensitize voters to the shortcomings and weak points of the victor’s platform and policies.
Second, most democracies in the world are not winner-take-all democracies. In most democracies, coalition governments form. So there is more give-and-take, and more tempering of policies in these democracies. On the national level, this change would require a constitutional convention, but it’s still theoretically possible.
In summary, we will end by repeating “raindrops make rivers, and rivers move mountains.” The quickest way to change negative attitudes is positive action. In fact, you have no right to optimism if you don’t take action.
How is Voting Like Picking up Litter?
A major reason for the lack of involvement in politics is similar to the reason many people don’t pick up litter: Many people think, “No one else is picking it up, so I’m not going to waste my time, picking it up. The sidewalk would still be a mess, even if I did my share!” Thus, many decent people have given up on politics because they believe, not unreasonably, that their efforts won’t change things.
It’s a vicious cycle: People see each other’s lack of involvement, and it gives them a good reason not to become involved.
We’ve thought up a way out of this vicious cycle. We’ve created a “deal” that we believe a majority of Americans will accept. In other words, if we devised a political educational package and showed it to 100 Americans of voting age, and if two-thirds of them said, “Yes, I would do this if at least two-thirds of other Americans did this,” then we could get a majority of Americans to live up to this new standard. It would be like the communities where people pick up litter because they know that enough others will pick up litter, too. This doesn’t make the sidewalk totally litter-free, but it does create a major day-and-night change. It also affects the people who litter: When they see others regularly picking up litter, many of them quit littering.
Why are we aiming for two-thirds and not 90%? Think of an average population of adults: Some are very elderly and chronically ill. Some have major depression. Some are extremely self-centered. These people are unlikely to vote. Two-thirds seems a realistic percentage for a healthy and functional democracy.
The Believable Deal!
It will only take about five minutes to read this deal. We ask you to read it carefully. As you read it, please ask yourself two key questions: First: “Would I do this if a friend or family member asked me to do this and if they also offered their ongoing support?” Second: “Can I imagine that two-thirds of Americans would go also do this, if they also had the the personal support of a friend, and if could see that enough others were participating?”
What We’re Asking
The following list of six actions may seem like a lot, but the time commitment is roughly equal to taking a one-time 10-week community college course for two hours a week, spending 60-90 minutes a week taking in political news, and spending two hours a month letting your views be known through advocacy.
Here’s what we’re asking of you:
1. Make a one-time investment of about 5-20 hours to study for and pass a proficiency test. We think that most people will need 15-20 hours. Political hot-dogs will need only about 2-3 hours.
Why: This will make you a smart voter; it will give you critical thinking skills, and it will increase your ability to influence your government officials.
2. Examine and maybe change your sources of regular news. We are asking voters to regularly monitor at least three news sources from three significantly different points on the political spectrum. (This may require as little as one extra hour a week—or no extra time, if you already take in a lot of news.)
Why: Almost every organization slants the news according to their values. Having two or more sources of news will give you perspective, just as having two eyes gives you perspective and 3D vision.
3. Do advocacy on a regular basis for issues and causes that you care about. Even two hours a month could do a tremendous amount of good.
Why: In the face of many special interests with a lot of political clout and money, we believe that most voters will realize that voting twice a year and donating a small amount of money to someone’s campaign is not nearly enough political action to counterbalance many special interests with a lot of money and access to politicians.
4. Before each election, spend about 2-4 hours to analyze the issues and candidates that you will be voting on. (Doing this with friends makes it more doable and fun!)
Why: It doesn’t make sense to gain political proficiency if you don’t regularly use it at the most critical times.
5. Encourage and support two people you know to participate in Proof Through the Night. (In the online course we will offer tips to make this easy!) Or encourage an organization or small group that you’re a member of to participate in this program.
Why: You have much more ability to influence the people you know personally, and the people in the groups you belong to. This action ensures that your efforts will be joined by other people’s efforts. By inviting two people who eventually each invite two others, you take part in a chain reaction.
6. Make a membership contribution of $30 dollars to Proof Through the Night annually (or $15, low income). At this time, checks made payable to World Peace One (the sponsoring nonprofit) are the only way we are accepting donations.
Why: We’ve used the analogy that if drivers need to take a test to drive, then maybe voters should, too. Using the same analogy, drivers also pay a fee for their license. Memberships would allow us to maintain the web site, improve it, and publicize Proof Through the Night. In other words, this completes a viable, sustainable pattern: everyone gives a small amount of time and money, so we don’t have to rely on big foundations, fundraising projects or major gifts. You may wonder why we think this is enough to fund an organization that aims to transform American politics. It’s because we’re not the ones primarily responsible for spreading the word about Proof Through the Night, you are. Once you’ve gained proficiency, you are being asked to invite and encourage at least two people you know.
These six actions may feel like a lot, but besides the one-time investment of time to gain proficiency, most people are only being asked for a few hours a month. That’s not a lot to ask to help run your national, state, county and local governments! If you think about it realistically, items one to five above are necessary for building and maintaining an informed, critically thinking and active electorate. And item six is necessary for maintaining a viable national organization and movement. All together, we think we’ve developed a set of strategies that can lead to a renewal of American democracy.
If you think these strategies make sense, then you’re invited to start the program now by beginning our Recommended Steps.