This post originally appeared October, 16 2014 as an Industry Perspective post on Govtech.com.
What’s your latest gripe about government? Maybe you can’t figure out how to make a quick online payment for that parking ticket from last weekend? Or you missed the public comment period on the massive construction project next door because it was scheduled for 2 p.m. at City Hall? Could be that you’re just tired of the endless bickering between two political parties that don’t really seem to represent the views of any real Americans.
Considering the inefficiency of our government services, it’s no wonder that the hallmark of this political age is overwhelming civic cynicism. And recognizing just how broken our representative democracy is, it’s no surprise that disparities in wealth and justice in the U.S. have never been so acute. It can be depressing and overwhelming, but there is another, more hopeful trend emerging in cities across the nation.
While talking heads battle out their political agendas in daily opinion pieces and Sunday talk shows, regular citizens are rolling up our sleeves and getting to work in our local governments and communities. Despite national cynicism, evidence of a new grassroots interest in rebuilding democracy abounds, from the maturing open government movement, to a proliferation of new civic engagement and empowerment platforms.
Consider some examples. Countable makes it easier for citizens to track legislation and share their input directly with elected officials. One Degree aggregates social services and community resources into a one-stop platform for low-income families to find the help they need. And in New York City, visionary leaders like Councilmember Ben Kallos are championing citizen-centered solutions like participatory budgeting.
This newfound optimism is why I co-founded CivicMakers, a new community of citizens building a better democracy every day. We believe that democracy is more than just a political system, it’s a way of life. It can inform how we treat each other and how we govern ourselves, no matter what the context, be it the technology we build, the structure of our communities and workplaces, or the process of our political institutions.
CivicMakers is more than your average meetup group. We’re not just talking, we’re actively experimenting with new forms of collective, collaborative governance to achieve our emerging vision of a truly inclusive, direct democracy. This month in San Francisco we’re kicking off an online-offline community engagement process with web-based communication platform Neighborland to guide the future development of a long-dormant building on the mid-Market Corridor.
Of course, the civic tech sector is sprouting up in dozens of urban centers. The New York City tech community has been pushing the boundaries of open data, participatory politics, and civic hacking, so we can’t think of a better place to host our first East Coast event in partnership with Accela. On Thursday, October 23, join NYC’s civic tech luminaries for a night of tasty food, delicious drinks, and thought-provoking discussion at startup incubator AlleyNYC. Featured speakers will include Ben Kallos (NYC Councilmember), Heidi Sieck (COO, Personal Democracy Media Civic Technology Center; Founding COO, Democracy.com), Mark Headd (Technical Evangelist, Accela; Former CDO, Philadelphia), and Seth Flaxman (Co-founder & ED, Democracy Works / Turbovote).
If you love democracy, RSVP for our 10/23 event and share with your networks. Remember, CivicMakers is just like democracy, your participation is required!
Lawrence Grodeska co-founded the democracy and technology community CivicMakers and is a product manager at Accela. He formerly was affiliated with Change.org and the San Francisco government. He can be reached at @grodeska.