Thursday, June 24, 2004

Initiatives for America Proposal

This is a proposal for a new secretariat under the Democracy For America umbrella. As many readers are former and current Deaniacs, I am hoping for some constructive feedback on this idea.

Initiatives for America (IFA)

Description: In conjuction with the DFA legislative and candidate endorsement agenda, IFA will use the initiative and referedum processes in 24 states, DC and hundreds of munipalities and local governments, to place progressive reforms directly before voters, by-passing legislative and special interest deadlocks where they exist.

To coordinate initiative and referendum activity for the national grassroots progessive movement. IFA would provide: a database of active citizens (the DFA db); an instantly credible political brand; a database of activists and likely supporters to accelerate the pace and reduce the cost of signature gathering; expertise and legal talent in managing petition challenges; training for volunteers year-round to build a cadre of citizen experts; fund-raising expertise from the national DFA network will allow IFA to concentrate national resources on key state ballot initiatives.

Competitive advantage:
DFA has emerged as one of the premier national grassroots progressive political advocacy and direct action organizations. That political efficacy could be infused into IFA to work for change using one of the great direct democracy tools available to Americans.

Grassroots initiative efforts universally suffer from lack of resources and the difficulty of building a grassroots movement to provide volunteer manpower and funding. These movements tend not to be persistant or sustained, and thus must repeatedly expend the costs of starting up a campaign oganization. IFA can keep intact the organizational and IT resources needed to successfully pass direct democracy initiatives between elections instead of having to rebuild repeatedly for ad hoc efforts.

IFA will allow competence to be built within the management and field teams to a degree not possible during a campaign in a single state for a single issue; IFA will result in a growing grassroots cadre of direct democracy activists and professionals. Its persistent organizational structure will allow the employment of in-house or contracted political and legal talent able to build superior expertise to counter challenges, take advantage of opportunities, and formulate superior strategic insights.

DFA’s national focus and ongoing strategic vision will allow IFA to employ the initiatve/ referendum tool as a part of a national grassroots strategy in a fashion not seen in American politics for almost a century. The progressive reforms needed to fix the American political and economic system will require the wise and strategic use of this powerful political tool for by-passing an entrenched and dysfunctional status quo left to us by the last generation of Progressive reformers.

Operations: Suggestions

Initiative selection:
A multi-track process is preferable to ensure a diversity of ideas and the greatest extent of democratic participation.

Track 1:Non-DFA citizens sponsoring initiatives can submit an application for support from the IFA in the form of access to a state volunteer and DFA membership databases for signature gathering, assistance with fundraising, and assignment of field operatives for expertise.

Track 2: IFA can act as an initiative think-tank, generating solid initiative proposals for multiple states, or a particular state. IFA could then hire or place volunteer project coordinators on the ground in the target state for the initiative effort.

Track 3: the DFA membership could submit ideas for initiatives online which could be rated by the membership on an ongoing basis. This take advantage of the phenominon of collective intelligence which is often superior to the judgment of experts. The most promising of which could enter track 2.

All initiatives should be democratically validated by a DFA membership vote to proceed once the IFA secretariat has decided that initiative is an appropriate and neccessary method of achieving the policy's goals.

Management and Control:
As the initiative process can be considered the grassroots’ constitutional mandate to legislate, a multistate effort to coordinate initiative activity should have the legitimacy of democratic participation. A formal democratic structure can be a key point of differentiation between IFA and the sort of shadowy alliances which tend to bring special interest initiatives to the ballot. In major contrast, IFA’s representative body of citizens should deliberate openly and publish their transcripts and minutes. IFA can claim the democratic legitimacy of open membership, certified elections, and transparency. Our opponent’s secretive practices can become a powerful tool against them.

IFA could found a new inter- and intrastate representative body to approve initiative efforts and allocate resources to those efforts as submitted by IFA’s professional directors. This confers a legitimacy of a participatory political party to IFA’s process which will tend to neutralize anticipated critiques from the right.

State Representatives, who must be DFA members, can be elected by Instant Runoff Voting by the DFA membership from each participating state. Elections should be internet based and fully certified by independent auditing.

The State Representatives of each state form an advisory board for any active professional or volunteer State Directors. Initiatives proposed by DFA for a state and/or a State Director, and money expenditures in the state must be approved by the State Representatives.

The committee of all State Representatives form the Grassroots Legislature which approves all initiatives and expenditures. State Representative would be a part-tiime, unpaid volunteer position with reimbursement for qualified expenses. Elected State Representatives would also provide IFA/DFA with a training ground for future elective office- holders from the grassroots, trained in public-interest policy making and the use of proceedural rules, both online and off.

State Directors are selected by IFA on a merit basis, subject to confirmation by a majority of the State’s Representatives. State Directors implement IFA strategy and run day-to-day volunteer and publicity efforts. State directors cultivate local donors, advise on advertising buys, perform background checks on circulators, and shepard the ballot qualification process. State Directorships are a full-time paid professional staff positions.

IFA Director is appointed by DFA, and subject to confirmation by the Grassroots Legislature. The Director sets natinal budget priorities, raises funds, administers IT and training programs nationally, formulates legislative/initiative strategy nationally, and for each state in conjunction with that state’s Director and/or Representatives.

The system of representation is suggested for when the organization is ready to operate full-time and nation-wide. IFA could ramp up begining by targeting especially important initiatives for defeat or passage to begin with, and gradually expanding operations into formulation and sponsorship of IFA generated initiatives. As the organization grows, methods of democratic participation in decisionmaking could be phased in as needed.


At 12:32 PM, Blogger Shooter said...

Dude -- this sounds awesome. A chance to coordinate change from the real grassroots up, using the initiative system. Sign me up.

As an aside, instant runoff voting isn't really an improvement on the current system -- try Condorcet voting instead (see ).


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