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Adventures in Microdemocracy (possibly Nanodemocracy)

Can I take a daily step toward a participatory democracy?

Ranjit Bhatnagar challenged Taylor and I to tackle the concept of “microdemocracy” in the latest episode of the Opposable Thumbs podcast. Ranjit creates many great things. One of his projects is called “Instrument-a-Day” where he makes a new instrument for every day of February. He’s been doing this 10 YEARS (10… YEARS!!!). So I thought I’d take Ranjit’s “_____-a-day” model and apply it to his “microdemocracy” challenge.

“Microdemocracy” seems to have many definitions and interpretations. I read quite a few things. It seems like many people have hit upon some similar ideas triggered by similar wants… wanting to feel more engaged with the world and the world more engaged with them. The massive size of modern representative democracies seems to inevitably come up as part of the problem. So….

Maybe if we had a smaller version of the group decision making process (democracy) it would feel more palpable… and as a result more effective. Micro + democracy.

I’ve been enjoying The Right Question Institute’s proposed use of “microdemocracy” a lot. l like their focus on the public and publicly-funded “outposts of democracy” such as public schools, welfare offices, job training programs, Medicaid-funded health care services, and public housing. I also really like their question-friendly approach.

“As people learn to focus on decisions and ask their own questions, they begin to participate more effectively in decisions, partner with public servants and also hold decision-makers accountable.”

This question-friendly approach feels really important to me. By asking questions you are engaging power without feeling like you need to be an expert. Asking a question says “I see you and I want to know more.” and sometimes it says “I want to know more about this thing that doesn’t feel right to me.” This would work in civil society as well.

There is another word: micro-democracy. This is the word the author Malka Older uses to describe a countermeasure against gerrymandering.

“So I came up with an idea: every geographic unit of 100,000 people (roughly) gets to chose the government it wants out of any of the options, anywhere in the world. Because population would be the operative number, not geographic size, immigration becomes a positive; at the same time, fewer people need to immigrate, because they can vote for what they want without moving to a place where it’s available. Micro-democracy, as I called it, lets more people get closer to their preferred system, and encourages innovation and competition as a wider range of governments compete for votes.”

I just started reading her novel Infomancy where she uses her micro-democracy concept to shape the near-future state of the Earth. The book gets exciting quickly and so far I’m quite liking it. There’s a couple of themes I’m noticing right away. These aren’t spoilers. I’m only like 1/4 of the way through.

The posts below are my attempts at looking more closely at situations in my life (some probably really boring). I hope I’ll figure out how to act on those situations in a way that feels more engaged. I’ll see if I can extract a question that lies embedded within those experiences and title each post with that question. Hopefully this turns out good!

How can I make sure I’m creating access?

OK. This one is super small but feels important for some reason. I often work in small conference rooms where there’s 10 laptops and about 3 or 4 power plugs. Everyone looks at one another like “I really need to charge but…” It’s awkward. So I’ve decided I’m just going to leave this little 3-Outlet adapter attached to my power cord.

I definitely realize this IS NOT re-distributing the wealth of a first world nation or anything. But I think if I’m going to do something, I should try to be thoughtful of others too.

floor plug adapter

 

How can I make biking a little better in my neighborhood?

About a year ago I popped the front tire on my bike when I hit a small but feisty pothole at an intersection near my house. This morning I saw someone else defile their bike tire on this same profane gap in the pavement. Arrrrrggh!!!!! So I decided I’d try to do something about this scourge. Google got me to this bike.lacity.org article quickly.

Bike Path Maintenance: Updates and How to Directly Request Repairs

But then I realized that while bike.lacity.org is a great resource… it isn’t the place to go for general street repair. I eventually ended up on myla311.lacity.org and clicked through the Street Problem/Repair and Pothole – Small Asphalt Repair form options.

This form, though, has a fatal flaw.

There is no field where you can type in the details of the problem. Bike potholes look like a big bunch of nothing-to-see-here for people who drive cars. I’m imagining a road crew coming out, looking around, not seeing anything obviously hostile to a car and getting back in their truck.

I have a feeling I’ll be going back to this question in a week or two and making some phone calls. In the meantime I might just spray paint a big orange warning squiggle in the street in front of the pothole.

 

How can I be more encouraging to awesome strangers?

How can I…. … … I know! I’ll use the Internet!

Tough day today. Very busy. I needed to think of something fast. I decided I’d thank 5 people I don’t know at all but I admire them and I think they’re doing great things.

  1. An artist
  2. A musician
  3. A podcaster
  4. Another podcaster
  5. An activist-y person

I heard back immediately from two of them and they were both pretty psyched. The other three probably think I’m some kind of creep.

How can I learn more while spacing out?

I watched the first episode of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s Vietnam on PBS.org last night. This morning I decided to do some reading on PBS. The average person in the U.S. pays about $1.35 per year for PBS. Amazon charges $6.99 per episode of Vietnam. The DVD set is $59.45. So I decided to give that $60 to PBS instead.

 

PBS Donation