Not Oprah’s Book Club: Next Generation Democracy

Originally posted in Feministing

The announcement of Obama’s official campaign for re-election yesterday came a few days after I’d turned the last page on Jared Duval’s compelling book, Next Generation Democracy: What the Open-Source Revolution Means for Power, Politics, and Change. As a result, I feel like I’m looking–not just at Obama–but at the entire political process in an entirely new light.

Duval argues, in essence, that our democracy is broken and that there is great potential to fix it, or at the very least, improve it, through open source technology and the ancillary spirit of young Americans. He writes, “Less important than finding some silver bullet policy solution is finding ways to empower as many problem solvers as possible to contribute as much as they can, in as many different ways as possible.” Politicians, Duval argues, should run on how they think the government processes can be improved, not on what they think the current obviously hindered system, can create. Watch one episode of The West Wing, or read one analysis of how health care legislation got hammered, twisted, and banged together and you’ll have a hard time arguing that we’ve been centering campaign rhetoric on the wrong things entirely. As Duval writes, we have to “decrease the power of money in politics and increase the opportunity for the public to participate meaningfully in problem solving.”

This is a truly original book from a fresh new voice. Duval looks at organizations like AmericaSpeaks, which has pioneered an amazing format for truly direct democracy, post-Katrina New Orleans, the open source software revolution, and Frances More Lappe, among other diverse sources for inspiration. Each reveals something different about how direct interaction, facilitated by new technologies, can truly change the way we elect, legislate, and govern. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, the founder of AmericaSpeaks tells Duval, “We are living at a time in which our collective individual consciousness is ahead of the consciousness embedded in our institutions.” Amen to that.

Read this book and conjure up all kinds of creative and promising solutions for our communities, our nations, and ourselves. As Duval writes: “With the success of the open-source movement–based on the ideas that ‘we’ are smarter than ‘me’ and that passion can be a better motivator than profit–we can glimpse what it might be like to live in a world where many more of us could help build the society we want.”

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