Every four years, U.S. political parties gather their fattest, cat-est fat cats and decide what they want their party to stand for. Republicans decide how little abortion, immorality, and tax revenue they want to tolerate, Libertarians compose variations on a theme for “The Federal Government Doesn’t Do That,” and the Green Party decides how to justly apportion their hugging among various trees. For the past 20 years, Democrats have kept busy deciding how many labor unions to pander to while vociferously reminding us that their candidates aren’t some variety of George Bush.
This process is known as building a platform, or creating the fundamental principles that all party members more or less support. Each position on an issue is called a plank. Historically, participation by non-fat cats has been limited to a few token hearings (much like a Congressional hearing), in which a select few tell the party what they want to see in the platform. The token participants are politely thanked for their suggestions, and then largely ignored.
This year, however, something changed. I was able to get a plank in the Democratic platform. And I didn’t even need to choke on fat cat cigar smoke to do it.
Barack Obama’s politics are far more progressive than we’re used to seeing. He turned the platform process upside down, using his campaign’s grassroots and net-roots networks to hold discussions across the country. Participants, who were not limited by party, met, and submitted planks that they wanted to see in government. All that the fat cats were allowed to do was build one document out of the planks submitted by the 1645 meetings across the nation.
I attended one of these meetings, and did my best to submit the best ideas a political science major can. There was one particular issue that occurred to me while we discussed open government.
When federal agencies design new regulations, they allow time for a “comments period,” when citizens submit their concerns and recommendations for the regulatory panel to consider directly. Why can’t Congress do the same?
The president has 10 days during which he can veto a bill and return it to Congress for changes; why not allow citizens to comment on it for five of them? With my plank, people who’ve followed a bill can submit their comments, and if their changes would repair a major defect or be a better policy, the bill can be returned to Congress for re-evaluation.
Now, a few months later, when you look at the Democratic platform, there it is on page 53 under “Open, Accountable, and Ethical Government.” It’s not credited, but it’s what I suggested exactly. See for yourself at dnc.org/a/party/platform.html.
I’ve just had a Progressive impact on the Democratic party. See what happens when you speak up and participate?
Paul Combe, SDS 2010