The lazy policymaking decisions made by our political leaders are matched only by their lazy use of language, clichés without meaning intended to soothe the minds of the unwary without actually saying anything.
“At the end of the day … “
That’s one of their favorites as if we a-re too dumb to realize that the only thing that happens at the end of the day is that a new day begins, a new dawn when the mistakes and unfinished work of the day before can be corrected and completed. It’s a way of shutting off debate, not opening up the conversation to further discussion
“The perfect should not be the enemy of the good … “
Of course not, it should be the inspiration for the better than just what we’re settling for because it’s easier than achieving the truly good, the great. It’s nothing but an excuse for not trying harder to make things better, a way of creating a false sense of urgency so we don’t take another day, another week, another month to consider how to improve what is on the table.
A local political figure recently asked me, earnestly I believe, what I would do to make government more transparent and stimulate civic engagement and participation.
I’ve given those questions a lot of thought for a long, long time since shedding light on the darkness that government prefers like things that grow under rocks and doing everything I can do with headlines and stories to excite the passive populace.
Start by looking at the staff reports, motions and ordinance proposals in the City Council agenda, any City Council, and it will be quickly obvious that they are intended to support the result sought by staff and/or the pols – not to provide all the information and competing points of views.
Government doesn’t want controversy, doesn’t want the public calling and writing their offices, and doesn’t want dozens of people lined up to give them a piece of their mind. Officials want closure on what they already decided on outside of the view of the public as if they were a private business can make its decisions behind closed doors and take its chances on the results of its action being discovered later when they more often than not have the advantages of power and position to prevail even if caught doing wrong.
The politicians love having the gadflies represent the voices of the people. They can cut them off, insult them, pull the plug on them, and count on the fact that they are gadflies who inevitably will get carried away with themselves.
So if government wants public participation, the public has to have ready access to all the facts, all the arguments, all the implications short- and long-term to policies and actions and except in rare emergencies to have ample time to examine the record, to converse with each other, to create a dialogue that would lead to consensus, compromise, acceptance.
The Internet makes democracy in a much grander sense than we have known possible. Yet, it is only haltingly used, carefully controlled for the benefit of those in office – not the public at large.
A major move is under way to squelch even the gadflies from talking at meetings, with tight time limits and elimination in Los Angeles of remote access to public comment. Even public access television has been killed in LA and elsewhere, turning out public channels into the nothing but propaganda resources in support of those in power.
The decline of newspapers, television and radio news creates the need, the moral imperative for government officials, to utilize the technology now available to inform the public about just about everything on a daily basis – and not in the self-serving way it is being done now.
If you want public engagement, public participation, you have to tear down the wall of secrecy the same way the Berlin Wall was torn down.
Officials are not going to do that. It has to be done because you the people want to take back your government.
It needs to start with those already active in community: Business groups, neighborhood groups, service clubs, volunteers, school activists – nothing will happen unless you start a new conversation, an inclusive conversation, and organize yourselves into a unified force demanding change, demanding transparency and honesty, balance of interests, values and needs.
If you want power, you have to take it. It is there for the taking but there is no evidence even those who are participating really want a share of the power.