When attempting to create budgets at the federal and local levels, members of Congress should be looking for ways to engage their constituents in meaningful, fully participatory processes.
I recognize that, in the wake of the health care town halls of 2009 and the recent tragedy in Tucson, many members are understandably anxious about experimenting with new methods of engaging their constituents. But it is important that our elected officials create budgets that reflect the values and priorities of citizens.
I’d like to offer some inspiration: this past June, 3,500 American in 57 cities, came together to discuss our national fiscal future. People from every walk of life sat together and deliberated about the steps our nation can take over the coming decades to overcome our long term fiscal challenges. Young and old, rich and poor, people of all races and ethnicities sat together for an authentic conversation. No fights broke out. There were no disruptive arguments. People didn’t scream at each other. Rather, members of local Tea Parties and activists from MoveOn sat together, had a civil conversation and created a budget deficit package.
Breaking out of the current political climate, in which partisan rhetoric trumps honest debate, will require creative thinking and a willingness to experiment boldly.
My experience has taught me that, although people disagree, there are often more areas of common ground than most would expect. If We the People can work with Congress to make this happen, then American politics can be conducted differently – we can develop a rich national infrastructure that allows for democratic deliberation on important policy decisions – and ordinary citizens can have a real voice in our nation’s governance.
Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer is founder and president of AmericaSpeaks. She served as a consultant to the White House Chief of staff from 1993 through June 1994, and as Chief of Staff toto Gov. Richard F. Celeste of Ohio from 1986 to 1991.
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