Be the 1% to Change the World

Diary of a Future Politician

How an Average American Saves America
Chapter 2: Basics for the New Democracy

Week 3: Friday

I liked one thing about this TDG: I can vote for someone I know. Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone on a municipal, state, or national ballot. I don't know if these people are embezzlers or alcoholics. The parties put them up—and the parties have made big mistakes in finding good people.

And truth be told again, I usually don’t vote. While I am registered, the trip to the polls on election day is not worth it. I’ve got better things to do than pick the lesser of two evils—or perhaps count the candidate with the most lawn signs on the way to the polls. 

Well, I have lots of free time these days. So I went to the TDG website a few times and read through a section each time. Although I am not a great reader, what I did read sounds interesting!

I did vote for Obama in 2008. That 'hope and change' slogan had some appeal to me. But we know how that turned out.



Week 4: Tuesday

At 4:00 p.m., I got a fire call to attend a traffic accident in a downtown intersection. In a way, I was glad to be at the accident rather than at Rich’s meeting. But Jackie went. When I came home at 9:30 p.m., she was already there.

“How was the fire call?” she asked.

“Kind of routine. No one seriously hurt; one car is going to be written off for sure. How was the meeting?”

“We had three new people there. But the Clarks, remember them? They weren’t there. Remember last meeting when Rich seemed a bit confused about the TDG going beyond the neighborhoods?”

“Yeah?”

“He seems to have figured it out—at least well enough to explain it to us.”

“OK, you try me.”

Jackie gave me a look that was not exactly one of confidence: “Well, it seems a group of neighborhoods are going to be joined together. That will be called a district."

“OK.”

“Each neighborhood is going to elect its own representative. Then those representatives are going to have frequent meetings for the district.”

“Well, what will they discuss? Traffic issues? School issues? Recreation issues?”

“At this point, the districts will not have any jurisdiction over anything. They will be discussing how to build the TDG.”

“I don’t see much point in that.”

“It sounds silly. But remember that maybe 12 people have shown up at Rich’s two meetings. This group really shouldn’t have any official authority, right?”

“So the neighborhood representatives just gather to discuss the TDG? Remember how our Camp Battenor group had a goal to build our site? We met for that purpose. And there was a lot of work that happened in between meetings. I don’t see much sense in going to meetings just to discuss things with no goal.”

Jackie said, “Maybe I missed something from Rich’s explanation. I don’t know. The way you say it makes the TDG sound rather like a social club. Maybe this TDG is just a new way to complain about government.”

Between me not really understanding what Jackie was saying and me coming off a fire call, I thought it best to go for a shower.

After I got out of the shower and parked myself on the couch, Jackie had something to add: “Once a year, the neighborhood representatives will vote one of them into the district representative position. That person will represent all the neighborhoods in the next highest level of government.”

My mind, which should have been getting ready for sleep, went on overdrive: “Wait a minute! You mean there are more levels? How many?”

“I’m not sure.”

“And it seems if I’m not elected as a neighborhood representative, I don’t have a say in who gets to be the district representative.”

“I think that’s the way it goes.”

“Well I don’t like that. I want to vote.”

“But you usually don’t vote anyways.”

She had me there!



Week 4: Friday

I got another two fire calls this week. They sure help break up the monotony of being unemployed. I usually don’t like getting the firetrucks ready for the next call. But with no job, drying and rolling hoses and shining the trucks are a good way to keep the mind and body occupied. But we don’t get $12 per hour for this work.

I am taking my resume to different places. I’m not optimistic for a middle-class income with my education and experience. If I only had a trade, like plumbing or carpentry.

I got my Zvolen severance package this week. Six months of wages for 14 years of services. I’m not sure whether this is good or bad or usual or unusual. My family now has enough money in the bank for me to be a little picky. I don’t have to accept the first job that comes along. And the fire station money is nice. Jackie is still working.

My annual $1000 fee for Camp Battenor is coming up. Without the severance money, I just might have had to forego Camp Battenor for the year.

I went back to the TDG website. I’m starting to get the gist of it. I just might like our discussions.




Week 5: Tuesday

Rich started the meeting: “Welcome to our third TDG meeting for our Gull Lake neighborhood of Riverbend.

“I would like to introduce you to Stacey Mabrall and Thelma Delgers.

Two young ladies waved at us.

“And we have Marwan Ajir.” Marwan gave us a big smile. Rich introduced the rest of us to them.

“We are going to do things a little differently tonight. Holger has been here for the previous two meetings and has taken a great interest. He told me he would like to do a presentation of what he learned in Chapter 4 from Dave’s book.”

I piped in: “Rich, I have a few questions about what you guys talked about last week. I wasn’t here, so I only got Jackie’s version. Can we go back to that?”

Rich replied: “Well Len, I’m glad you’re showing some interest. I’ve been through this book three times, and everytime I read it, I get a little better understanding of how this TDG works. I can safely say that we're not going to learn it in one night. Holger has volunteered to give a presentation, and I have agreed. So let’s give Holger our attention. I’m sure your questions will somehow be answered in the next few meetings.

Holger started off: “Thank you Rich. First, I’d just like to let you people know a little about myself. I have taught high school in Riverbend for the past 33 years. Mostly history. This is my last year of teaching, and I’m looking forward to retirement. My wife passed away three years ago, and our only child, David, lives in New York City. When Rich did his door knocking on the street a couple of weeks back, I was outside, doing some yard work. We had a pleasant chat about politics and the TDG, and I agreed to hear more of what he had to say.”

He paused: “I too have read the book. Especially Chapter 4. Consultation. I have found it very intriguing.”

Holger then went into his presentation. He outlined three different models for decision making that groups use. Here is my summary of his summary:

  1. The power model is where one person makes the decisions. The power person decides who he or she is going to listen to; other viewpoints are not welcome. When the power person makes the decision, he or she expects the lower people to obey it without question.

  2. The democratic model has two or three supporters for specific solutions to a problem. Each supporter is asking the others (the author, Dave, calls them watchers) for their vote to implement his or her solution. While there is a lot more free speech in the democratic model, there is not much requirement to listen. And often, the watchers do not contribute much to the discussion.They just vote. The supporters dominate the discussion.

  3. The consultative model encourages all members to have their say. By having such discussion, more perspectives of the problem are presented. The participants are more likely to combine their knowledge, experience, and wisdom into one mindset. The result is better solutions.

As Holger was giving his presentation, I was thinking of Zvolen. About a year after I got my welding promotion, I experimented with a new way of welding my two pieces together. After having done that task a few thousand times, I should know something about improving it, right? I handed my work to Bill Evans.

He said, “Well, I’m in no position to approve of this new technique, Len. But I’ll send it to headquarters and have their engineers look at it.” We never did get a response.

A few other workers had similar experiences with their new ideas. Bill’s responsibility was to make sure the manufacturing specs were adhered to, manage the inventory, and keep the workers productive. He too was just obeying orders. From the shop floor, Zvolen was a power model.

The final stage of our production was to check the calibration of all temperature gauges. We tested each gauge at two temperatures. Throughout my 14 years, the rejection rate stayed around 4%. I often wondered, if 4% didn’t make the cut, how many still passed but had internal defects that reduced their durability? I now wonder if worker perspectives were taken more seriously, would the factory still be in operation?

Then I thought about how we decide things at Camp Battenor. These days, we all contribute to the discussion. We make decisions mostly by consensus. When we do take a vote, the losing side gets behind the decision. Sometimes the decision turns out well. When it doesn’t, we just fix it. No big deal. But it is clear that Camp Battenor and Zvolen have two different decision-making cultures.

Some may say that consultation is a utopia. But Camp Battenor, with just ordinary people running it, is indeed consultative. If we can do it, other organizations can as well. I have seen enough consultation in my life to know that it is possible and effective. I hope Jackie would consider me a consultative husband. But Holger’s presentation was the first place I actually heard consultation being described and compared to power and democracy.

The highlight of Holger’s presentation was when he said this: “We have to be consistent with our consultation skills if we want the TDG to work. If we resort to power or democratic decision models, the TDG won’t go very far.”

Rich added: “It seems we need much more than just a new way to elect politicians.”

After the presentation by Holger, we spent some time socializing. Stacey and Thelma were good friends. They called themselves “activists” who were finding the internal politics of activist groups a little frustrating. Both said they saw lots of 'power' and 'democracy' being employed in their activist worlds—and not much consultation. Differing opinions were not handled well. They often felt left out. 'Consultation' was intriguing to them.

Thelma is the only African American in our group. She is also a registered Democrat, mostly because her parents were loyal Democrats and active in the party. But she hasn’t participated that much with the party since leaving home.

Marwan came from Egypt four years earlier. He was harassed by a certain political faction in Egypt. He had a little money and some connections from a previous stay in the USA. He was able to find sponsorship back into the USA for his family. He too is interested in new ways of governance. And he is wondering about the rhetoric of American and Egyptian politicians.




Week 5: Thursday


Rich barged into my house again. No warning, no knocking. A case of beer in his hand. Some things never change.

“No beer for me today, Rich. I’m on fire call right now.”

“OK by me. So, what do you figure about the TDG?” he asked.

“I’m more interested than I was a couple of weeks ago,” I said. I told him how Camp Battenor is mostly consultative and Zvolen was power. It’s funny how organizations adopt such different approaches.

“When I was in our local council for the Republican Party,” said Rich, “it seemed many of our instructions were coming from somewhere higher up. We had little say.The only choices we had were to take on the instructions or not take them on. If we didn’t, we didn’t get more responsibility. Very much a power-based organization. I kind of accepted that way because I believed it was normal for people like me not to have much influence.”

He continued: “This consultation stuff is kind of new to me. Holger explained better than the book. And I kind of like it! I just wonder if I’m able to make the change at this stage in my life.”

I replied, “You just might already be on your way.”

“You had some questions before Holger took over two nights ago.”

“Yeah I did....let me think....Oh yes, I can’t vote for people in the higher tiers, right?”

“You're correct.”

“Why?”

“Dave gives four basic features for the TDG. The second is ‘voting for good character and capacity for governance.’”

“OK, so?”

“I’ll explain by going back to my days as an active Republican. I took my role as a Republican voter very seriously. So I went to the candidates’ forums, I watched the media reports, and I read the campaign material. Even though I have only a Grade 10 education, I thought I could make enough sense of these internal elections to make a good voting decision.”

“OK.”

“But in all those years, I never really got to know any of those people. Yeah, I might have shaken their hand and had a few quick words with some of them. Could have even shared a meal or a beer. But I never worked with any of these people. If they were porn addicts or abusers or terrible managers, I would never know. I never saw them behind closed doors or how they handled a difficult situation. What I saw was always a happy smile with lots of happy sayings. It was a show designed to get me to feel good enough to vote for them.

He continued, “When Dave explained that to me, I realized that I had never really made a good decision as to who deserves my vote in the Republican Party. I just didn’t know enough to vote wisely.”

“So what does that mean for the TDG?” I asked.

“The TDG wants you to vote wisely,” he said.

“What does that mean, ‘vote wisely’?”

Let’s look at our little TDG group. Right now, if we were called to vote, I have three people I could choose from: you, Emily, and Jackie. All of you are suitable, in my opinion, to be worthy of my vote. Why do I know that? Because I have been inside your lives for years. You are all decent people, not trying to take advantage of other people.”

He continued, “I kind of knew Holger a little before this all started. I know more about him now. He too might be worthy of my vote someday. Maybe even those two young ladies.”

He changed direction: “You know Sean O’Neil?”

“You mean that business executive a few doors down?”

“Yeah that fellow. We often see him in a suit. He seems to travel a lot for his company business.”

“Ever see him in our community?”

“Just from his house to his car. He usually doesn’t say too much to any of us.”

“He’s the neighborhood’s best dresser. He has a nice car. And he seems to have an important job. Would you vote for him based on just that?”

“Not really.”

“So why would you vote for the people presented by the Republicans or Democrats?”

“Well, I usually don’t vote. But many people do. The way you explain it, they are voting for an image, not a person.”

“Presto!” Rich exclaimed. “You got it.... All my votes in the Republican Party were for an image. Never on the quality of the person behind the image.”

“I agree now....But why can’t I vote for the district representative in the TDG?”

“Because usually you will be too far away from the possible candidates to make a wise vote.”

“Why's that?”

“Let’s assume that you are a resident of Gull Lake, our current neighborhood.”

“OK.”

You vote for someone as your neighborhood representative. Maybe that person is elected. Or maybe another is elected—and you are happy with the choice your neighborhood has made.”

“OK.”

Let’s assume that Gull Lake is in the same TDG district as Grenfall, Davidson, Oxbow, and Nipawin—you know—our neighboring neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its own elected neighborhood representative. And each neighborhood representative is eligible to be the district representative. So who would you vote for?”

“Probably my neighborhood representative. I probably know that person.”

“But how do you know he is suitable for the job of district representative?”

“I just go by how he handles his neighborhood representative duties.”

“If you are not sitting in the meeting of neighborhood representatives, how do you know how well he is handling that part of his job?”

“Hmmm. I really can’t get a good handle on that aspect just by chatting with him in the streets. I’m not sure that observing him speak at a neighborhood meeting will help me out either.”

“So, are you understanding that you just might not know enough about your neighborhood representative to determine whether he or she is suitable for the position of district representative?”

“I think I’m seeing your point.”

“So who would be in a better position to know?”

“Maybe the other neighborhood representatives?”

“Presto! They are in a better position to determine which of them should move up.”

“I see....I think.”

Rich changed his direction: “Because your neighborhood has already voted in this person as its neighborhood representative, we should assume this fellow is already a good guy for government. Your neighbors have done a fantastic job in your local TDG election! And we should assume that the other four neighborhoods have also elected reasonably competent people as their neighborhood representatives. Just think, we have put together a group of five reasonably competent people to serve on the elected body of our district.”

“So?”

"When five competent TDG people are working together on a regular basis, who is in a better position to determine which of them should move higher: this group of five or all voters in all five neighborhoods?

I was starting to see the point: “Especially when the neighbors have first-hand experience with only one of those five representatives.”

“Presto again!”

I would be confident voting for my neighborhood representative and let that person vote for the next highest tier.I think that’s better than voting for whoever the political parties throw at me. I would take the TDG elections a lot more seriously. This TDG is making a lot of sense.

“By the way, Rich, how are you with the Republican Party these days?” I asked.

“Well, I asked a few Republicans who live close by to come to our TDG meetings. They didn’t.”

“I think you are soon going to have a new social circle,” I responded.



Week 6: Tuesday

Our fourth meeting was at Rich’s place again.

Holger brought his neighbor, Mrs. Hodgeson. She is elderly and moves with a few aches and pains. She said that she is fed up with all politicians and is interested in what Holger is doing.

Stacey and Thelma showed up again. They brought a young married couple: Aiden and Betty Boychuk.

Rich started the meeting off: “Do you know there is no campaigning in the TDG?”

Just when I thought I had this TDG figured out, another twist comes from nowhere. “No campaigning? How can you run an election without any campaigning?”

Rich had the answer for me: “When you guys at Camp Battenor have your annual elections, do you campaign for your treasurer position?”

“Ah, not really, I just sort of get elected. I think they like my abilities to keep the books straight.”

“Exactly,” said Rich, “The TDG will work more or less the same way. People will vote for you because they know you personally and know about your previous work in the community.”

Holger added, “I think Dave called it voting for good character and capacity for governance.”

“Well,” I retorted, “who decides what is good character and capacity for governance?”

Holger said, “Each voter will have to figure out those two qualities for themselves.”

“Well suppose I think Rich drinks too much beer. Could I use that as a reason not to vote for him?”

“If you want.”

“What about you?”

“Rich’s beer would not affect my vote for him. But maybe if I found him stumbling drunk on the street a few times, I would probably put my TDG vote towards another neighbor. But if you still want to vote for him, that is your choice.”

“OK,” I said, “let’s use Stacey. She’s new to me and most of us here. She wants to be elected. Because she is so unknown, her only way to get our votes is to campaign to let us know who she is and what she has done. In that way, we would become better informed voters, right?”

“Let me answer this in two ways—as far as I understand the TDG right now,” said Holger. “First off, the fact that she needs to campaign to become known is a good sign that she really hasn’t done much for the community. Until she does, she really shouldn’t be getting our votes—despite whatever talents, skills, and experience she thinks she might have.”

“So,” I said quizzically, “It's more of a case of basing my vote on what the potential representative has done in the past than what she says she is going to do in the future.”

“And Len gets another ‘presto’!” chuckled Rich.

“Here’s another angle,” said Holger, “If Stacey starts to campaign, it means she is trying to prove that she is better than other people for the job. Isn’t that a sign of arrogance or contempt? Should we really be putting such a person in a responsible position?”

Holger changed tack again, “Dave said by not voting for those neighbors who campaign, we TDGers will discourage campaigning. We must have this attitude and discipline.

“Let the past work speak for itself,” I muttered just loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Hear, hear,” chimed Ms. Hodgeson.

Thelma added, “But what if Stacey really wants to be elected?”

Holger replied, “Then she must prove her worth with her good character and capacity for governance. Attending and participating in these meetings is one way we are going to get to know her—and maybe vote for her in the future. It would also help if she's involved in other community groups and building her reputation outside the TDG.”

Stacey spoke up, “Just to set the record straight. I’m enjoying these TDG meetings at Rich’s place and learning lots about a new kind of democracy. But my schedule is pretty full. I really can’t imagine having a politician’s life at this point.... So I won’t be doing any campaigning.”

“Hear, hear,” chimed again Ms. Hodgeson.

We got into a few more discussions. Rich and Holger did a fantastic job of summarizing Dave’s book.

After about a half hour, I sensed a natural change in our meeting’s tone: “OK, we’ve done lots of talking. What’s our next step?”

Holger beat Rich to the answer: “If we are ready, we can proceed with writing our local TDG constitution.”

“Huh,” I said, “Didn’t Dave already do that for us?”

“No, he didn’t.” Holger said, “He said we need to do this for ourselves. Writing and refining this constitution will be what prepares us for future TDG governance.”

Just what I want I thought to myself, Working on a bunch of legal wording. I would prefer watching baseball games on TV.

“Problems Len?” Rich raised an eyebrow.

“No, not really,” I said.

Holger said, “Fortunately Dave gave us an outline of nine features for our constitution. We have to find consensus and put that consensus into written words.” He read the features off:

  1. TDG Principles
  2. Humanistic Principles
  3. Boundaries
  4. Membership
  5. Electoral Rules: Schedule of Election, Ballot Design, Voter List, Ballot Counting,
  6. Executive Committee: Number of executive committee members, authority & responsibility, quorum
  7. Advisors
  8. Amendment to this Constitution
  9. Amendment to merge with another TDG.

Holger tried to close: “We’re probably going to need a few evenings to attain some consensus on all these points. Let’s call this a night.”

Rich added, “Just one more point. In some ways, I feel like I’m one of the Founding Fathers, putting together a new document. However, I see a need for someone to write this all down. But it won’t be me. I just don’t have the writing skills. So, someone else, please. Think about that!”

Mrs. Hodgeson had the last official word: “In my 83 years of listening to politicians trying to fix things, you people have the best approach yet. I’d like to help you more, but meetings like this tire me out. When you get your constitution together, please invite me to its inauguration.”

For a more comfortable read, "Diary of a Future Politician" is available in e-book format from Kindle and Kobo for about $3.