I had a nice lunch yesterday at Mama DeSalvo’s restaurant as a guest of the South Dayton AMBUCS Club. I was the guest speaker. AMBUCS is a service organization, originally called the American Business Club, that every year provides equipment and help to handicapped adults and children.

There are four different AMBUCS chapters in the Dayton. The South Dayton Club meets every Wednesday for lunch at 12:00 noon, in the special meeting room there at the restaurant. It seems a great group with great projects. I’m thinking about joining. Membership includes a wonderful lunch every Wednesday.

I edited my talk and when my internet connection failed with You-tube, I divided the video into two parts.

What follows is the written speech I planned on giving. At the club I spoke from memory and so left a lot of this material out.

Thanks for inviting me to your weekly South Dayton Ambucs’ meeting. I met Roger Wanamaker just this past Monday after I gave a short presentation at the Leaders’ Club that meets at the Masonic Temple.

I found AMBUCS on the web and discovered that you are a service organization, that you were started in 1922. The site says, about the founder, “William L. White had a dream to begin a national service organization for young business and professional men.”

Great things come about when one person decides to follow his or her dream and now AMBUCS helps thousands of handicapped adults and children.

I’d like to entitle my little talk this afternoon with a question: “What If More Democracy Is The Answer?”

Our whole nation was formed on the dream of creating a nation free from aristocratic control, a nation where men could organize for self governance, a nation that would strive for the ideal of “liberty and justice for all.”

In human history, the dream of self governance, of individual liberty, stirred the souls of men and became the beacon for many human ideals. If we each could trace our ancestry, we would find our ancestors were slaves, serfs, peasants without property or rights — each under the yolk of oppression, each “yearning to be free.” We have come a long way.

Lincoln in his famous speech, dedicating the Gettysburg battlefield, urged his listeners to, “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The American ideal has not vanished but many Americans feel great disappointment in their government. Here is a question: To what degree do we have a government of the people, for the people?

Last year, I spoke to a Kiwanis group and asked each to evaluate — on a scale of 0 to 10 — to what degree they believed our government was “of the people, for the people.” The average answer was about 5.

Most people realize that we are a long way from having a government for the people. What is not discussed nearly enough is something truly astounding — ours is a very weak democracy. It is to the point, in fact, that ours is a failing democracy. We are a government of special interests, not a government of the people.

The problem is, we seem on the verge of paying a big price for years of incompetence, greed, corruption, lies, media manipulation, insider politics, special interests and debt, debt, debt. It seems clear to me, that our ship is going down. And it seems incredible that there is not more alarm.

Are you alarmed?

And so, that is the preface to my question, “What If More Democracy Is The Answer?”

This is not partisan question. It is a system question. We are far from having a government of the people, for the people. The question is, how do we get our system to work?

There is a lot of talk, for example, about how to get our system of public education to work. We have a system of local control — a representative system that elects a five member board that is suppose to represent the public. Our system of public education should be controlled by the people, the taxpayers, and should be for the people.

Isn’t the answer to public education found in getting our democracy to work? We should have vigorous debates within our communities about the purpose of schools, the purpose of education, and how tax money should best be spent. Our school board elections should be exercises in democracy.

But in this past election in Kettering, we had only one — only one — public meeting concerning the school board race, and it was attended by only about 20 people.

Our system of public education should be controlled by the people, the taxpayers, and should be for the people. But, our public school system has become a system of special interests — and the National Education Association has much more say so in your local school than taxpayers.

Again, my question, “What If More Democracy Was The Answer?” David Matthews of the Kettering Foundation makes the point in his book, “Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy,” that in order for public education to be successful, our democracy must be successful. We need an education system of the people, for the people — not special interests.

There is much talk about how to vitalize the whole Dayton area. I’m proposing that the improvement that is needed can only come through a vitalized democracy.

I could think of new laws that we should enact. For example, it would be great to give free TV air time to every candidate. Our democracy doesn’t work because voters are very uninformed and worse, misinformed.

But today, instead of talking about new laws, I want to bring to your attention an old law already on the books — that if followed, would make a big impact on getting our democracy to work.

Political parties are not mentioned in our constitution — but political parties are essential to our democracy and political parties have a big impact. Years ago, the importance of political parties was recognized in Ohio Law. Political parties are required by law to operate democratically and Ohio law requires open elections to the party organization.

In Ohio, political parties are organized at the county level. In Ohio there are 88 Republican Party county organizations and 88 Democratic Party organizations. Each organization has a lot of responsibility to generate good ideas and good candidates.

Ohio Law requires that each local county party have a countywide election either every four years or every two years to elect delegates to a Reorganization Meeting. Every precinct has the right to choose one delegate and this delegate then becomes a member of the local party’s legislative body called the Central Committee and becomes a voting member of the Party.

This is the year for the Montgomery County Democratic Party to reorganize and anyone who wants to be a delegate to the Reorganization Meeting may get on the ballot. Deadline to get on the ballot is February 18, and all that is required is the potential delegate’s signature on a petition, submitted to the Board of Elections by the deadline — February 18 at 4:00 PM

The names of all potential delegates will be on the precinct ballot in which the potential delegate lives,  and Democratic voters at the Democratic Primary will choose delegates on May 4. Generally, a precinct has only candidate — if any.  In 2006, only 18% of precincts in Montgomery County were represented at the Reorganization Meeting.

You’ve not heard of this important section of Ohio Law. You’ve not heard about this February 18 deadline — because the special interests that control the local party don’t want you to know.

In my judgment, More Democracy Is the Answer. It is the answer to our public education challenge, it is the answer to planning for the future. It’s the answer to vitalizing the Dayton region. We are far from having a government for the people. Lincoln’s fear that democracy might perish is a fear we are living today and our hope for tomorrow is pretty grim unless we wake up and make our democracy work.

When we wonder why we have such weak leadership, so few ideas, such a lack of inspiration — when we wonder why democracy is failing — much blame goes to our political parties. We cannot expect democracy to flower from political parties who themselves are antidemocratic, closed, oligarchic.

If you are looking for a way to roll your sleeves up and make a difference, there would be no more effective way than getting involved meaningfully in your local political party — Republican or Democratic. Both of our local parties are in need of an infusion of grassroots democracy.

I applaud AMBUCS’ mission of service. Let me encourage those individuals here who are looking for expanded ways to give service to your community — help vitalize our democracy. Are you alarmed about our democracy? I am. Getting involved in a local party at the grassroots level of Reorganization is an opportunity that needs to be advertised.

The Montgomery County Democratic Party will hold its Reorganization Meeting this May, after the May 4 Primary. The Montgomery County Republican Party will hold its Reorganization Meeting in two years. Please Consider getting meaningfully involved in your local political party at the grassroots level.

Let’s rebirth the dream of democracy in this generation. If More Democracy Is The Answer, then how do we make our democracy work? Making our political parties act democratically is of key importance. Vitalizing our political parties must be part of any strategy to vitalize our democracy. In Montgomery County, February 18 is an important deadline. Please tell someone.

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