Grassroots Dayton is a not-for-profit 501C(3) organization with an inspired purpose: “to promote the development of citizen democracy in the Dayton region.” It has a great motto — “sowing the seeds of democracy” — that I discussed in this post.

At the heart of vital democracy is community and the fact that our democracy is in trouble is reflective of the reality that we sorely lack community. We think of community sometimes in an idealized way, for example, the small New England town where in town meetings everyone has a sense of shared and interconnected purpose, where discussions and ideas are freely exchanged and decisions are democratically determined. I can imagine that if Mr. Smith would go to Washington from such a New England town, Mr. Smith would be regularly accountable to the local community for his votes and actions and would regularly have meaningful interaction with the community about the issues and challenges facing the community.

As it is, in the small Ohio town, Kettering, where I live, Mr. Husted goes to Columbus and Mr. Turner goes to Washington and I’ve not once been invited to any type of meaningful community exchange with these representatives. I’ve not been invited, because, in Kettering no such New England type community group actually exists. There may be an isolated meeting now and then at clubs or churches where these representatives might appear, but certainly there is no established open group that elected officials report to or have accountability to. The lack of meaningful community has degraded our democracy. Without a community to hold them accountable, representatives have little to gain by honest efforts to explain themselves, little to gain by in-depth discussion. Politics has devolved simply into marketing.

Excluded from participation in any meaningful community, individual citizens have little chance to contribute to or to positively impact their democracy. For Grassroots Dayton to meet its mission — “to promote the development of citizen democracy in the Dayton region” — therefore, it must find a way to create community. I am convinced that there is a public, waiting for structure and leadership, that would welcome the opportunity to participate in meaningful community. In the 37th Ohio District, for example, out of the 70,000, or so, potential voters, I’m certain that there must exist a core public who, like me, if invited, would agree to be part of 37th Ohio District Citizen’s Council — particularly if, in such a council, participants would have the opportunity to work together democratically to better understand the issues facing the Ohio Assembly and to meaningfully communicate with their elected representative and with each other about these issues. And particularly, if such a council could be web-based and, therefore, convenient to participate in. If only a tiny fraction of these potential voters — say, .25% with 175 voters, or .05% with 35 voters — could actually congeal together as a 37th District Council, this tiny fraction, I believe, could have a big impact on 37th District democracy. (Maybe this approach to improving democracy could be called the .05% solution.)

Creating opportunity and structure for meaningful community to flourish, and increasing opportunity for meaningful understanding about issues impacting our democracy to increase, is at the core of what Grassroots Dayton must seek to accomplish. Listed here are some ideas that Grassroots Dayton is now discussing, and, everyone who is interested is invited to make comment and to share ideas.

Grassroots Dayton Web-Site:

  1. Members log into the site by password.
  2. Map of Montgomery County indicates where members live and indicate which members are logged in.
  3. Each Montgomery County member is identified by the governmental regions where he or she lives. For example, since I live in Kettering, 45429, I am represented by the following six government groups: the 37th Ohio House District, the 6th Ohio Senate District, 3rd U.S. House District, The Kettering City Council, The Kettering School Board, the Montgomery County Commissioners.
  4. Each governmental group in Montgomery County, therefore, has a potential Grassroots Dayton constituency group that would parallel the official government group. In my example for Kettering 45429, there could be six Grassroots Dayton groups to parallel the six government groups I identified above.
  5. Each Grassroots Dayton member may choose to actively participate in whatever specific groups appropriate for his or her location — all or part. So, there would be, for example, a 37th Ohio House Citizen Council made up of all Grassroots Dayton members living in the 37th District who choose to participate. The 37th Ohio House Citizen Council would follow the actions of the 37th Ohio House representative, enter into regular dialogue with the elected representative for the 37th District, etc.
  6. Leadership of the Grassroots Dayton Citizen Council that parallels a specific government group would come from the initiative of the participants — maybe a point system similar to the point system used by Barack Obama’s web-site may be developed.
  7. Some potential Citizen Council groups will remain idle until Grassroots Dayton has members living within the zip code for that specific council and until Grassroots Dayton members living in that zip code choose to activate that specific group.
  8. Nonresidents of Montgomery County will be welcome to become members of Grassroots Dayton, and to observe the actions of Dayton Grassroots Citizen Councils, but may not be voting members of such councils. Nonresidents of Montgomery County will be welcome to participate in all other aspects of Grassroots Dayton.
  9. All members of Grassroots Dayton will be part of the Grassroots Dayton Council, regardless of their geographic location, and will have a chance to participate in directing some Grassroots Dayton budget and program decisions.
  10. In addition to the activation of citizen councils, Grassroots Dayton, via the actions of its members, will research and regularly update issues and decisions facing each level of governmental action. Visitors, including non-members, may use the Grassroots Dayton site to find information concerning recent actions by a specific government group, or other details about that group. For example, someone wanting information about the Ohio Assembly, how his or her represented voted, analysis of issues facing the Assembly, etc., could find that information on the Grassroots Dayton web-site.
  11. Dayton Grassroots members will be able to update and revise information about government groups or about specific elected officials in the same manner that Wikepedia updates its information.
  12. “Democracy Clubs” in local high schools may agree to become expert on a specific governmental agency and regularly add to reports about that agency. For example, a high school group may target their local city council, school board, township trustee, county commissioners, Ohio House, Ohio Senate, U.S. congress or U.S. Senate for in-depth attention. Such high school groups’ reports may include video of meetings, interviews and written reports and graphs. (And hopefully high school government teachers will use this opportunity and award their students academic credit for projects they complete and post on Grassroots Dayton.)
  13. Summarizing these local reports, each week one club will agree to produce a short news program — 15 minutes — stored on you-tube and catalogued for access on the web-site.
  14. Grassroots Dayton will establish a downloadable video library of video clips, pictures, graphic presentations related to specific topics or specific questions. This video library will be catalogued for easy referencing and, regularly, new material will be added to the library by Dayton Grassroots members. In addition to the video library, written material will also be catalogued pertaining to specific topics, a library of links to other internet sources will be continually added to the library.
  15. The Grassroots Dayton downloadable library will be a source of information for video makers, and video makers will be encouraged via contests and promotions to produce short videos using information contained in the downloadable library.
  16. Several topics that I’m thinking might be part of the downloadable Grassroots Dayton video library are: 1) The Iraq War 2) The federal budget — tax policy, deficit, etc. 3) Health care / health insurance 4) Dayton — challenges to its future 5) Ohio — challenges to its future. 6) Public education — how to improve, etc. 7) The state of our democracy. (The development of these topics will require, of course, interest and leadership from a Grassroots Dayton member.)
  17. Each year, these libraries will grow because of additions provided by Grassroots Dayton members and also because material will be generated during public seminars that Grassroots Dayton will organize and sponsor. Such seminars will generate a lot of information and will feature local experts as well as outside experts. For example, Grassroots Dayton could sponsor a seminar on the Iraq War that would involve panels of participants with expert knowledge about Iraq, visuals and data. The seminar could revolve around the participation of some high profile invited guests. For example, for a seminar on the Iraq War, I would love to see Lawrence Korb have a prominent role. Information from the seminar would be posted in the Grassroots Dayton library — videos, graphics, written reports — catalogued for easy reference.
  18. Each year, Grassroots Dayton will organize the production of a DVD that will summarize an analysis of one or more important question. For example, Grassroots Dayton could organize a video on “Understanding the Iraq War” that would be divided into ten three minute segments, each segment developing a phase of understanding that through a DVD could be referenced individually, or could simply be shown together as a 30 minute video. Each 3 minute segment would represent a mini-topic and each could be produced by a different individual or team. There could be different versions of each mini-topic and the version chosen could be determined by contest. Alternate versions could then be indexed as part of the overall DVD. These DVD’s would be available for use in schools, and would be used as premium giveaways to attract new members to Grassroots Dayton.
  19. How can we understand our world? I’m wondering if high school “Democracy Clubs,” indicated above, could combine with other groups such as Junior Council of World Affairs (JCOWA) or Kids Voting.
  20. In addition to video production centered on specific topics (see #16 above), Grassroots Dayton will encourage the production of short videos advocating the election of specific candidates. For example in the 37th Ohio House District contest, Grassroots Dayton will encourage the creation of political videos advocating the election of the Democrat candidate, Andi Eveslage, and the creation of videos advocating the election of the Republican candidate, Peggy Lehner.
  21. To encourage the production of videos whether the purpose is education of issues (see #16 above) or candidate advocacy, Grassroots Dayton will do the following: create a library of downloadable material for use by video producers, post completed videos, give expert advice on how to create videos by showing step by step how a sample video is produced, conduct contests that will involve prizes, and host video festivals.
  22. A video festival will be held annually (and eventually, depending on its success, more frequently). At such festivals videos producers and video enthusiasts will gather to watch and discuss each other’s videos and award prizes, etc.
  23. Every two-year election cycle, Grassroots Dayton will organize and promote Neighborhood Meetings, where neighbors may come together for a social event and where they can meet and talk with persons running for political office.

Here are some thoughts about neighborhood meetings.

  1. The goal is that in a defined geographic region, for example, Kettering, block parties, community parties are planned for a specific Saturday or Sunday.
  2. Possibly ten events are planned for the one day, within that specific geographic region, with each event including 50 to 125 people.
  3. At these events a program will be presented that might include entertainment such as a magician, down-home music, etc., and food — possible centered on a pig roast. Neighbors might bring food to share, along with tables and chairs.
  4. The location of such neighborhood gatherings might be on a central neighborhood street and be advertised as a block party.
  5. These neighborhood events will have a theme, maybe, “Celebrate Democracy,” and will be advertised as an opportunity to meet and fellowship with neighbors, and also an opportunity to meet local candidates.
  6. The events will be scheduled so that candidates and entertainment can make it to each event.
  7. A “community organizer” for each event will be solicited and will be appointed — if more than one “organizer” comes forward, there may be a neighborhood committee formed with one person acting as committee chairperson.
  8. The community organizer will agree to solicit neighbors within a specific region to attend and to contribute money to help sponsor the event. To pay for a pig roast or ox roast, to buy beverages, etc., a budget for each gathering may involve raising $500 – $1000.
  9. The community organizer may agree to raise money by heading a fund raiser that might involve selling a fund raising item and, as a motivation to become involved in this fund raiser, the organizer may make some income from his or her efforts as well.
  10. Grassroots Dayton will assist the “community organizer” by helping to find music and other entertainment to appear at these neighborhood parties; finding sound equipment, etc. But organizers may have their own sources for entertainment and needed equipment.
  11. At each neighborhood party, a 30 minute to 45 minute program will allow each candidate the time to introduce himself or herself and explain his or her candidacy, distribute literature, ask for volunteers, answer questions, etc. And at each party, each candidate will have the opportunity to meet informally with attendees. It is feasible, if the parties are coordinated, that, by attending 10 or 12 parties in one day, a candidate might have contact with 1000 voters.
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