Tom Atlee recently described the game changing potential of the Interactive Voter Choice System in the following terms:
“The participatory social-networking capacity of the Interactive Voter Choice System shifts voters' allegiance and attention from parties, ideologies, and political categories to the actual policies they want to see implemented. The system then helps them ally with others who want to see those policies implemented, regardless of their diverse political beliefs or reasons for favoring those policies. In the process, IVCS gives rise to an empowering, collectively intelligent, evolving, self-organizing political ecosystem which can enable citizens to do the following:
- clarify and push for policies they want, creating their own personal “platforms”
- network with others to form coalitions or ad hoc lobbying groups to push preferred policies
- field candidates outside of the party system to promote the policies they want
- create new political parties
- work within existing parties to shape their platforms and performance
- hold elected representatives accountable for their performance on favored policies
- create parallel “shadow government” structures and policies
- take over political parties and dissolve them and, through all of the above, to
- ultimately move our politics beyond party politics and ideologies altogether.
“Imagine a politics where one hardly ever hears ‘liberal' or ‘conservative' or even ‘transpartisan', but only discussion of the issues. Imagine a politics where grassroots organizing is finally on a level playing field — or even favorable playing field — with the big money players. Imagine the already-surveyed popular preferences — like single payer health care and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — readily becoming the official policy of our government.”I honestly think IVCS is one of the most important emerging forms of political leverage we have available. Of course it can only do its job if it is well-funded for software development, viral promotion, and political strategizing so it can launch with strong popular appeal, participation, and well-thought-out security safeguards to prevent its marginalization, subversion or co-optation. If that happens soon enough, the chances are extremely high that it will have a decisive positive impact on the critical watershed 2012 election and every election after that. It could be a total game-changer.”
When I read Tom's article, my immediate reaction was that he had explained IVCS and its game changing potential in the most compelling terms that have been written on the subject. So I shared the article with a number of people who have expressed interest in IVCS. Their enthusiastic response was that they got the big picture, but were still unclear about how IVCS actually works. They asked for a clear explanation of how it enables voters, not political parties or special interests, to determine the outcomes of elections. How can voters use the system to run and elect their own candidates? I have written this post to answer these questions.
Sheer frustration caused the idea for IVCS to pop into my head in 2004 during a campaign event for Howard Dean during his presidential primary bid. While milling around with his supporters waiting for Dean to start a nationwide conference call, I realized that his campaign slogan “You have the power” didn't jibe with the powerless role supporters like myself were relegated to playing at the event.
The way it was structured made it impossible for me to do what I came to do, which was to pressure Dean to remain true to his initial opposition to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, an issue I felt he had begun to waffle on. I also wanted to see if I could get other supporters to join me in pressing Dean not to renege on his opposition to the war.
The absence of any way for me to press my concern, and rally other anti-war supporters, hit home to me a political fact that I had not fully appreciated before. It is that in U.S. politics, electoral candidates conduct their campaigns on a “take it or leave it” basis. I had been coming to this conclusion gradually over time, but attending Dean's event and seeing how much he and his modus operandi had changed since the first rally I had attended in the summer of 2003 brought it home in a very forceful and depressing way.
The main goal of most campaigning candidates, to my way of thinking, is not to find out what their prospective constituents want them to do if they are elected, but to get them to embrace the agendas the candidates think will get them the most votes. Although they often conduct opinion polls, their objective is to use the results to figure out how to frame their targeted mixed messages to re-interpret reality for voters, and cajole disparate voting blocs into voting for them for different reasons. Campaigns are about defining and interpreting reality for voters, and “imaging” the candidates so that they appear to represent the best solution to the problematic versions of “reality” the campaigns create.
This systemic duplicity is basically a reversal of the democratic theory that elected officials should represent the people. Candidates do not seek or run on mandates from their constituents. Instead, they get voters to vote for them by manipulating their perceptions of reality and their images of the candidates themselves. Once these disingenuous candidates get into office, they can turn democratic theory upside down and claim that the voters who voted for them gave them a mandate to enact the candidates' agendas!
Phi Beta Iota: At this time and in our view, despite the strong approval that Tom Atlee voices and which we respect, the system is trying too hard to force fit pre-written scripted choices onto cards. As Harrison Owen said at a luncheon recently with the sponsors of IVCS and Phi Beta Iota, it is trying way too hard and should just give the voters the Open Space needed to create an infinite array of choices and consensus. It also does not at this time provide for displaying “true cost” information of alternative options, or for engaging the reality of having to make trade-offs if one wishes to make choices within a sustainable budget that sustains the environment. It's a start–and the best thing we've seen to date. It has a long way to go and Electoral Reform might be more fruitful (but much harder to advance); so in terms of a first step, this is, as Tom Atlee goes to great lengths to articulate, the best thing going.