National Platform Lead Talks People-Powered Politics on Call
by Ferris Valyn, Fri Aug 22, 2008 at 11:14:33 AM EDT
As many of you know, a diverse group of your fellow netroots compatriots collaboratively drafted a progressive political platform in hopes of articulating their shared goals and influencing the national platform process. We sent it to Michael Yaki, the head of the National Platform Committee, and scheduled a conference call to discuss it. After an hour of freewheeling conversation on the phone, Yaki had to cut out to attend to a call for his "paying job," but he was interested and excited enough about the project that he suggested we reconvene afterward. We then spent another hour brainstorming ideas about where we might take this kind of project in the future.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process, we used a completely open (anyone could join), transparent (you can see exactly how it was collaboratively built), and democratic (you can vote different original and remixed versions up or down) system to craft the platform. We think the final, 29-page platform is pretty good for a first try, though we definitely came out with some lessons learned for next time. But even more exciting than discovering our collective policy writing skills was embarking on a bold experiment in "open-source democracy."
On the phone, Yaki is funny, easygoing, and sometimes a downright goofy - but it's immediately clear that he's seriously smart. He asked lots of questions that led to a fun, freewheeling conversation about the platform, the process, and the potential of creating some real transparent participatory governance exercises.
He had questions about exactly how the process worked and fiddled with MixedInk's collaborative writing tool during the call... his enthusiasm for the process grew as he looked at the site, understood how we remixed ideas, and saw how anyone could rate different versions. He thought this kind of democratic process might be a good fit for writing state platforms and getting broad feedback for developing bottom-up initiatives. Other ideas we discussed were using the process for deciding which policy choices should be made within open White House forums and managing other policy-related projects.
You could see the wheels turning about how this process would have played out for the platform writing process and how it can be used in the future. We talked about how the tool would have handled some of the challenging tensions the platform committee faced when negotiating language around abortion. Is that something too delicate for a crowd to handle? And how do you make sure your constituency is represented? Can you avoid freeping? How do you ensure that a representative sample participates? What about the role of experts in writing national policy? Definite food for thought, but an exciting conversation to have.
The policies in the platform were not the main focus of our call; those on the call weren't the policy experts in each of the areas, and we weren't able to schedule it until after the process was largely wrapped up anyway. But he did talk about the impressive level of detail and depth in some of the planks. He also mentioned that he wishes he had this paragraph from the Netroots Platform to include in the DNC platform during the drafting process:
Should Obama be elected, we feel pretty confident that we'll have a receptive audience for building and developing more transparent government processes, creating netroots and grassroots driven initiatives, and driving toward a truly participatory democracy.