We are excited to announce the upcoming launch of the Democracy Policy Network (DPN) — a new organization working to help trailblazing state lawmakers raise up big ideas for deepening democracy. DPN has been a project we’ve been developing for two years now — and we are eager to launch in full this summer. For now, we wanted to share a bit with you, our earliest supporters, about what we’ve been working on.
The long emergency
It is a strange time to be launching something new, in the midst of a national crisis. But we feel the project of deepening American democracy is responsive to the long-simmering political, economic, and environmental crises that the COVID-19 crisis has revealed.
As these past months have starkly shown, the American system, as it’s currently arranged, erodes community connections, over-relies on unregulated private markets to solve public problems, excludes most citizens from sustained political participation, and unnecessarily marginalizes millions through economic insecurity and civic segregation. All of this has contributed to this year’s crisis — and has greatly inhibited our ability to respond to it swiftly and nimbly. A shallow democracy, we have learned, is quite fragile.
To respond to this long emergency, we desperately need to deepen American democracy — to extend more power to more people in more ways. We need to strengthen citizens and communities so that they can fully participate in American public life. We need to open up our government and our economy to the participation of the many. And we need to break down the historic barriers that have prevented our democratic promise from including every American. These long-term projects are the path to a more robust and resilient nation.
A new generation rises in the states
Fortunately, there’s a new generation of fresh thinkers and leaders rising up in state politics across the country to challenge the timid policies of the past decades and revive the American democratic tradition.
From West Virginia’s teacher strikes to California’s public banks; from the campaign to restore the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people in Florida to the Homes for All effort in Maryland — bold ideas for deepening democracy are sprouting up all over. And this groundswell is just the beginning: in the coming years, we are going to be hearing a lot more about municipal energy and worker cooperatives, democracy vouchers and community land trusts, social housing and public pharma, the four-day workweek and mass decarceration, and many more big, democratic reforms. There’s a chance the 2020s could be remembered as the decade when — in the wake of devastating political, economic, and health crises — Americans stepped up to build a new way of doing things.
Unfortunately, though, a state policy gap threatens to slow this wave down. We talked to dozens of the state lawmakers involved in this push to deepen democracy — and they told us the bad news:
- Trailblazing policy is scattered, ad hoc, across the country, while organized, traditional policy isn’t bold enough.
- There’s no synchronized, interstate offensive to counter the anti-democracy assault on the states.
- They are understaffed — and end up being worn down by their isolation in their respective statehouses.
To keep their momentum going, they told us, they need backup.
An interstate policy infrastructure for trailblazing state lawmakers
This is where DPN comes in — to be these trailblazing lawmakers’ backend team. Put another way, we aim to be an interstate policy infrastructure for this groundswell in the states — a national organization designed to help these bold state lawmakers raise up big ideas for deepening democracy. And we’re building it in a new way: participatory, collaborative, transparent, co-created by the trailblazers on the front lines of each policy effort.
How do we aim to do this?
- First, we are working to organize these trailblazing state lawmakers around a shared governing vision: a framework for using their power to deepen democracy in their respective states.
- Second, we are building a system that makes it easier for people to gather, package, organize, and champion bold policies for these leaders: big democratic reforms, packed into useful formats, organized on a beautiful platform, and tied to inspiring narratives that lawmakers can use to change the public conversation in their statehouses.
- Third, we are working to foster a national policy community around this vision and agenda: a network of trailblazing thinkers, leaders, and ordinary citizens helping each other raise up ideas for deepening democracy.
By organizing bold ideas for trailblazing leaders working to deepen democracy, we help to build this insurgent Democracy Movement's policy infrastructure at the state level. And in doing so, we hope to do our part in helping turn their short-term uprising into a long-term revival of America’s deeper democratic tradition.
This Democracy Movement has a shot at defining American political life for the coming century. Its fate, we believe, will be determined in part by how well we can realize our visionary ideals through concrete ideas. DPN aims to serve that effort. It’s like the old protest chant where someone shouts “Show me what democracy looks like!” and everyone responds, “This is what democracy looks like!” — our mission is to help show America, concretely, what a deeper democracy could look like.
And there’s no better venue to show America what democracy looks like than through the states. Though the national media wants us to obsess over the war for the White House — most big ideas in American history began with ordinary citizens campaigning in the states. Usually, one state is pushed to go out on a limb and try out some new idea; then another state copies it; then another state — and then national politicians start paying attention. Women’s suffrage, gay marriage, abolition, social security, the minimum wage — they all began as state campaigns. With Congress stalling and national politics so disappointing, this pattern gives us hope — and we hope DPN can help quicken its pace in the coming decade.
Next steps & getting involved
We are launching in full in a few months — stay tuned for our Kickstarter in the summer and our first policy kits trickling out in the fall and winter. We aim to have our first five policy kits complete in time for the 2021 state legislative sessions.
For now, though, here’s a few ways to get involved:
- Check out our website, which is live at DemocracyPolicy.network — and has more information on who we are and what policy kits we are currently working on.
- Read our white paper, which is a comprehensive explanation of our mission and model.
- Follow us on twitter, facebook, and Substack — and tell others to do so, too.
- If you are a statehouse leader, staffer, policy expert, or ordinary citizen interested in developing, gathering, packaging, organizing, and/or championing state policy that deepens democracy, we hope you can join our network by signing up at our website.
- Get in touch at Pete@DemocracyPolicy.network with any ideas — all thoughts, comments, and connections are appreciated.
Thanks for reading. I’ll leave you with this — the anti-democracy crusader Milton Friedman once said:
“Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”
This is one way to think about what we’re trying to do (in the opposite direction, of course) — ensure that there are more ideas for deepening democracy “lying around” by the next time that the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.
More to come soon.