Advice For Gary Leitzell And David Esrati: Make The Campaign All About Democracy, System Structure

Last Monday I heard fellow bloggers, David Esrati and Gary Leitzell, make short speeches at the McCook Field Neighborhood Association meeting, held in the basement of Calvary Baptist Church. David is a candidate for the office of Dayton City Commissioner and Gary is a candidate for the office of The Mayor of Dayton.  I know Gary through his web-site, “This Old Crack House.” I was positively impressed with his presentation. Gary comes across as a thoughtful problem solver dedicated to the general common good of the community.  Members of the McCook group seemed interested.

Garay Leitzell at the McCook meeting

Garay Leitzell at the McCook meeting

I know David Esrati from the Montgomery County Democratic Party, where we are both members of the Central Committee. And I know him from the beginnings of DaytonOS. David gave DaytonOS its sphinx like name, a name that proposes an interesting question of how a web-site could be a region’s Operating System.

David gave a fact filled presentation that demonstrated a very impressive grasp of what now is happening in Dayton, and what the future challenges to Dayton will be. David comes across as a well informed idea person who enjoys defining and analyzing innovative ways for our community to become healthier and more successful. David’s web-site is Esrati. Recently David posted a YouTube video on his site, showing his presentation to the Dayton Marketing Community “Big Idea Breakfast” about the Dayton Bicycle bike share program that he is promoting.

Both David and Gary, I believe, are well qualified for the positions they seek. I believe both have the character, the commitment to the public good, and the problem solving skills that should cause Dayton voters to take a serious look. It would be great if the coming campaign could be a meaningful dialogue between these candidate and the current incumbents of the offices they seek to win. There’s a lot to talk about and the time of an election gives a big opportunity for engaging and educating the public about issues facing the community. But, if history is any guide, the incumbents will most likely choose an antidemocratic strategy, they believe will assure them victory, and will more or less stonewall the whole election. After all, the politburo of The Montgomery County Democratic Party has spoken, and the incumbents are the anointed ones.

David Esrati

David Esrati

The fundamental issue facing our community is: Can we make our democracy work? My advice to both David and Gary is to make their campaigns all about the issue of democracy, and to use their campaigns to help implement strategies to make democracy work. My suggestion is that their candidacies and the vitality of future elections can be helped by deliberate efforts to build up a nonpartisan organization, Grassroots Dayton, that I would love to see come to life.

The campaign for City Council or Mayor should not focus on which candidate is in favor of a Dayton Sportsplex or how Dayton garbage collection can be improved. We need to get the citizenry to look at the big picture. My advice is to not focus on the smaller parts and, instead, take the perspective of the big picture. In the big picture, it is obvious that our system is failing. The answer to our problems is a system answer. I’ve frequently quoted W. Edwards Deming’s big insight that 85% of quality problems in a system stem from how the system is organized — not from the individuals in the system, nor individual components in the system. (See my article, “How Can The System Known As The United States Be Made To Work To Provide “Liberty and Justice For All?“)

Systems thinking leads to this punch line: Right now, we have a oligarchic, antidemocratic system that is organized for the benefit of special interests. We need to move to a system of democracy. We need to make our system of democracy work. We need to vitalize its current structures.

We can never have a government “for the people” unless we first have a government “of the people.” Everywhere you look, democracy is suppressed. I think it would appeal to a lot of voters the idea that a candidate has a plan he will commit to, and that in his campaign he works to implement, by which there is a realistic prospect that our democracy will be vitalized.

David and Gary both have good ideas, but, the point is, how do we vitalize a system that doesn’t rely on the ideas of one or two individuals but that regularly empowers the best ideas of many in the system to come to the fore, and that regularly works in the interest of the common good? How do we vitalize our democracy? How do we use democracy to help us to successfully work through problems? How do we make our system of democracy work? This is the key question. Oligarchy and cliques have failed us.

I’m thinking that the answer to each of these questions should be part of Grassroots Dayton’s strategic plan and each of your campaigns could help develop a nonpartisan grassroots community that will outlast this political season. My advice is to make this campaign to choose Dayton’s leaders all about the big picture — all about democracy, all about vitalizing the system of democracy we say we believe in.

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7 Responses to Advice For Gary Leitzell And David Esrati: Make The Campaign All About Democracy, System Structure

  1. David Esrati says:

    Hi Mike-
    Thanks for the write up, however I am NOT a member of the Central Committee. I am just a member of the Montgomery County Democratic Party.

    I don’t feel the party is one of inclusion or new ideas in Montgomery County, nor do I think it can foster democracy, until it sheds its old ways of doing things.

    It takes 3 votes to get something done on the Dayton City Commission- I believe Gary and I could get at least one other commissioner to vote with us, when presented with justification and discussion about how changing the way we do business as usual will get us something other than our unfortunate, usual results.

  2. Mike Bock says:

    David, I assumed you are a member of the Central Committee since you attend some meetings — probably more meetings than some Committee members. I didn’t realize you were simply exercising your right as a Democrat to attend.

    You use the phrase, “foster democracy.” The problem is, The Montgomery County Democratic Party cannot foster democracy in the larger community, however much it might ostensibly try, until it firsts commits to the vitalization and practice of democracy within its own community of Democrats. The Party needs to walk the walk.

    The lack of respect for and practice of vigorous democracy within our political parties is a prime reason that our system of democracy, as a whole, is so weak. The organizations who should be the guardians of democracy, our major political parties, have simply sold out, cashed in.

    I’m suggesting that as candidates, you and Gary become the democracy candidates, and make your big topic one of focus on the failure of our democracy, particularly the failure of our democracy to promote the common good. This is a topic, I believe, whose time has come and I think, more than any other, it is the topic that, if developed, will give you most traction.

  3. Stan Hirtle says:

    I know you are supposed to think globally and act locally, but while local Dem leadership is probably more interested in maintaining what patronage and electoral power they can come up with than they are in being an incubator of people power, when I look at the big picture I see the Dayton City government is being mostly irelevant and powerless to deal with the big issues that the area and country face. This is a deindustrializing industrial city that is being battered by a global economy , the financial/economic crisis and the power of enormous sums of money that can have their way at the State, National and increasingly the global governments. It is being beaten on by poverty, race and class segregation and the national effects of consumerism, attack media and the lack of solidarity and fellow feeling, as well as hope and initiative, among ordinary people. It lacks power over its school system (which realistically needs a heavy investment of outside human and financial resources).

    The Dayton City government is not perfect, Mayor McClin is not Barack Obama and politics as usual eventually becomes part of the problem. However for what it has to deal with, the Dayton City and Montgomery County governments have pretty good people in office, have comparatively little corruption and blatant incompetence or big sex scandals like you see some places. There is no longer a mayor trying to favor one religious group over another. The incumbents aren’t bad, and in my opinion would like to do more than they can. The big problem is that they have no resources and really nowhere to go to gain more power and effectiveness. Dayton is just dwarfed by the problems it faces.

    Bock’s vision about what is needed is probably a good one, although sometimes it seems we get the kind of government we deserve. Obama had a message of hope and a well organized campaign machine but once he captured the riches of government and paid staff he has pretty much let it go, installed different Goldman Sachs people from the ones Bush had running the economic effort, but has not continued to invest in an improved democracy other than to hold off Limbaugh and Boehner with media events. There isn’t much happening with an activist citizenry. You have some labor unions and neighborhood activists trying to stir things up about the economy, and the conservative media and some campus conservative activists produced the “tea party” but not much else, and probably not that many Dayton residents came. Mostly the nation remains divided, and the defeated conservatives are digging in with obstruction until (they hope) the storm passes. Because of the “Big Sort” all are small communities are more and more homogenous, more and more extreme politically and more and more set off against other communities that are different. And really no community has the power or resources to wall out the outside.

    These tensions have showed themselves recently in the school levy elections that we have had posts about here, some of which failed. School levies are a magnet for discontent, articulated on this blog by someone who said essentially “we need to show them who’s in charge.” The problem is that school levies are the only thing people can effectively vote against, as all the other decisions that matter are out of our hands. We are not in charge. The emotions that generates are often more destructive than effective. And political campaigns are likely to turn into debates about irrelevancies and gimmicks, platitudes or (fortunately less so in Dayton) negative campaigning. However the reality is probably that having the endorsement and resources of the Democratic party is enough to elect endorsed candidates over even the best unendorsed challengers.

    if Bock and Deming are correct and most of the problems come from how things are organized, than our politics are certainly in trouble from private fundraising, district drawing, the effects of negative media and the demands of a political career. Plus the important economic decisions are in private hands.

    What can be done to incubate a new form of politics that is not about trading work for loyalty or money for favors, but will somehow lead to a government that listens to what the people want. If Bock and like minded people actually did take over the Democratic party, what would they do to make it better and make democracy work as opposed to keeping themselves in charge? In the short term, how do we get some sort of debate about the big issues and the big picture, which somehow translates into either some sort of viable local political economy and/or some change in the money driven and manipulative system we have in the nation and the world?

  4. Rick says:

    Mike, I don’t think such an approach would attract many voters. And it is not because Dayton voters are lazy or dumb. For instance, President Obama ran on a campaign of “change and hope.” That is meaningless. Change to what? What are we supposed to be hoping for? Turns out he was hoping he could get our change!

    You state, “The answer to our problems is a system answer.” As a political slogan, that will go nowhere. How do you want to change the numerous systems? Will it favor one group over another?

    In my view, Americans, including denominations, poor people, rich people, middle class people, Corporate Officers, both major political parties, the various governments, etc., are spiritually, morally, and financially bankrupt. One of the results of this is that we, rightfully, don’t trust each other. I know of no way to fix that.

  5. truddick says:

    If we want to make Dayton more democratic, then we will change the way that commissioners are elected.

    Currently, we get one vote for each open seat on commission. That means that the political party with the most clout can elect all of the commissioners.

    Change that system to one that permits one vote for city commission, regardless of number of seats open, and fill the seats available with the top vote-getters. The voters who’ve been closed out will suddenly have a chance of actually electing someone who they feel will represent them.

    Do this at the state level and we eliminate gerrymandering.

    (I know, I know–it’s not likely to happen.)

  6. Mike Bock says:

    Rick, thanks for responding. I’ve not suggested a political slogan. I am suggesting the foundation for an overall strategy.

    Your statement implies that you believe that all Americans are spiritually, morally and financially bankrupt. I’m wondering if you might reconsider. It seems to me, our only hope is that something quite different is true.

    Yes, I believe that a small portion of Americans are spiritually and morally bankrupt and, I believe these Americans have undue influence and impact in our system. But, in my view, these spiritually bankrupt individuals are far from constituting the majority. And, in my view, the fact that these flawed individuals and their ideas gain prominence is a big indicator that our democracy is failing. We have wake-up call after wake-up call that the state of our democracy is dangerously degraded.

    Our hope is that, on the contrary, the vast majority of Americans are very different from what you describe — that overall, Americans are decent individuals who seek to be productive and contributing citizens to a just and interconnected community, who seek a vital and secure future for their children. Our hope is that we can get our democracy to work so that these decent people can form a government “of the people,” so that this government will be “for the people.”

    The idea that the vast majority of Americans are decent people is the foundation of what I think will be the ascending issue in our politics. I think that more and more individuals will see that our democracy is failing and must be vitalized. Only in a vitalized democracy can the views and values of the decent majority become the views and values of our government. Only in a vitalized democracy can we transform our government so that those most qualified for leadership, most dedicated to making democracy good, most dedicated to promoting the common good, will become our elected officials.

    The idea of the need to vitalize our democracy, I believe, will more and more resonate with voters. It is a perfect issue for outsiders like Esrati and Leitzell to emphasize. By so doing, I believe, they would gain support that otherwise they could never expect to gain, because this is a non-partisan issue.

    Esrati and Leitzell need to show that they have a method, a plan, and a commitment to making Dayton democracy work. They should make the case that the failure of our democracy is the source of our problems and they should show a plan for its vitalization. Advocating changes that Dr. Ruddick suggests could be part of such a plan, and a more central part would be building a community organization from the grassroots, precinct level.

    Stan Hirtle asks, “In the short term, how do we get some sort of debate about the big issues and the big picture ….? My suggestion is that Esrati and Leitzell use this coming political season, use this short term opportunity, to inspire such debate and that the driving force for such inspiration, it seems to me, the overall issue of democracy, could also become the force needed to interest individuals sufficiently to put in the hard work of practical organizing.

  7. Rick says:

    Mike, I believe a significant majority of Americans and morally, spiritually, and financially bankrupt. Take the banking crisis, where banks loaned money to borrowers could not repay. Well, those folks that took out the loan with no more than a prayer to repay, committed, in my view, immoral acts. Look at studies that most students cheat in school. Look at the West Side of Dayton; I believe that is where we are headed. As a conservative Christian I favor chastity. However, sexual immorality runs rampant, including among Christians. (I realize most of you are happy about what I call sexual immorality,l but, hey, this is my opinion.)

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