The Democratic Alternative: Areas of Inquiry

Our present task at the Democratic Alternative is to work to answer the questions and flesh out the ideas raised in the Democratic Alternative Intervention, which laid out a vision for the future of the Democratic Party– a vision that stands for a stronger people and a more open nation, premised on our democratic faith in the constructive genius of ordinary citizens. We have organized the policy areas arising out of this vision into four projects: The  Open Democracy Project, The Open Economy Project, The Strong Citizens Project and The Strong Communities Project.  Below, we explain the ultimate goals of each project and elaborate on the questions each project aims to elucidate. Our hope is that this post serves to guide new members in deciding what research and analysis would be useful in advancing the Democratic Alternative mission.

The Open Democracy Project

We want to participate, but our democracy is closed, serving the interests of insiders. Washington’s endemic inertia has made political change dependent on crisis. Even proposals that garner wide support are shackled by partisan politics and industry insiders. As money increasingly corrupts the legislative and administrative process, the capability to make political change becomes evermore limited to those with the money to buy results. Tired of the gridlock and corruption, Americans limit their political participation to the minimal act of voting, or opt out of politics entirely. As popular participation and experimentation declines, the range of acceptable ideas narrows, and elites with special interests define the scope of political thought and debate.  That is why we must work to build a more open democracy.

1. Eliminate the corrupting influence of private money in politics

Legislatures and government administrators should be dependent on the people alone, not campaign donors. To achieve this goal, we should develop and expand programs for the public financing of elections, as well as the public provision of other campaign resources, such as media opportunities, to all ballot-qualified candidates.

Question: How can we eliminate the corrupting influence of private money in politics?

Issue Areas: Campaign finance reform; Ballot access; Voter participation; Revolving door

2. Increase popular engagement in politics

We should invest significant public resources and efforts in ensuring a heightened, sustained, and organized level of popular engagement in politics. Social movements, civic education initiatives, forums for deliberation, and community projects should have broader access to media, funding, public space, and government resources.

Question: What policies increase popular engagement in politics and civic life?

Issue Areas: Funding civic life; Building infrastructure for civic life: spaces and technology; Civic education efforts; Deepening representative government

3. Develop mechanisms for resolving gridlock

We should establish formal legislative mechanisms to more rapidly resolve Washington gridlock, such as innovative forms of ballot initiatives. We should pursue experiments in combining features of representative and direct democracy in formal decision-making.

Question: What policies can resolve government gridlock and restore vigor and responsiveness to the legislative process?

Issue Areas: Congressional functioning; Alternative resolution mechanisms; Bipartisanship; Direct democracy: ballot initiatives, referenda

4. Promote government innovation

We should create opportunities for experimental deviation in particular places and sectors. As national initiatives move in one direction, there should be opportunities for pursuing local experimentation and sector autonomy that enable alternatives.

Question: What institutional reforms would increase government innovation and foster new alternatives?

Issue Areas: Federalism for experimentation; Agency autonomy for experimentation; Smart government; Pilot projects

5. Contain unbridled militarism

Unbridled militarism poses a threat to local, democratic control. Militarism should be limited and the military should be under the full control of democratic, civilian oversight. Threats to this oversight— including unaudited Pentagon budgets, a powerful military-industrial complex, and an over-reliance on military solutions to global problems — should be addressed.

Question: How can we better assert democratic, civilian control over the military?

Issue Areas: Pentagon budget; Pentagon oversight; military-industrial complex; peaceful alternatives to war


The Open Economy Project

We want to be producers and innovators, but our markets are exclusive. Although the internet has inspired startup businesses, most dreamers are still shut out. Access to financial resources, regulatory know-how, technical skills, and industry connections are limited to a few. We have left our farmer and artisan roots to become a nation of employees. For most, becoming one’s own boss remains out of reach. The cutting-edge workplace cultures that blur the line between management and labor through fluid roles, continuous education, and distributed authority are still confined to a few industries. Meanwhile, multinational corporations unceasingly homogenize the economy, not only eradicating regional differences and small businesses, but also crowding out alternative economic forms, such as worker and consumer cooperatives, municipal utilities, and other forms of the commons. That is why we must work to build a more open economy.

6. Ease the path to entrepreneurship

We should lower the barriers to starting a business by broadening access to capital, resources, and regulatory know-how. First, in order to increase aggregate venture capital, we should: (1) enlist finance in service of the real economy, providing incentives and opportunities for more investments to be diverted away from financial markets and towards production and innovation;(2) create public venture funds that will prioritize public objectives while returning profits to government treasuries for reinvestment in people; and (3) enable the broader population to invest in startups. Second, we should work to increase access to resources such as credit, technology, land, equipment, media, and technical skills. Third, governments should help upstarts navigate their relationship with public authorities, ensuring that complex registration requirements, regulations, and tax procedures do not lock out those without access to teams of lawyers, accountants, and government liaisons.

Question: Which policies lower the barriers to becoming an entrepreneur?

Issue Areas:

Financial Resources: Wall Street and the real economy (finance for production); Broadening access to venture capital; Public venture funds; Crowdsourced venture funding

Non-Financial Resources: Small Business Administration; Startup cooperation: shared offices, shared land, etc.; Startup incubators and accelerators; Worker cooperatives

Access to Government: Streamlining startup and small business regulations; Streamlining startup-government liaisons;

7. Make stable employment resemble entrepreneurship

Within the context of stable and secure employment, we should support and broaden trends that blur the distinction between being an employee and being a boss. Such trends include eliminating fixed roles in the workplace, linking routine production with constant innovation, rotating employees through varied teams, and cultivating cultures of continuous education. Structural trends with this aim include setting up employee stock ownership programs and other forms of profit-sharing, as well as ensuring employee decision-making power either directly, such as in worker cooperatives, or indirectly, through strong, flexible unions.

Question: Which policies lead to empowered employment, blurring the distinction between employee and boss?

Issue Areas: Vanguard workplace cultures; Employee innovation; Unions; Automation to eliminate repetitive work; Employee stock ownership; Worker cooperatives; Continuous vocational education

8. Preserve and encourage economic diversity

We should resist economic entrenchment, stagnation, and homogenization. The state should again take up the task of promoting the experimentation, development and growth of alternative market structures, as it once did at various points in American history. We should encourage experiments in expanding the commons, as well as other alternatives for how governments and markets can interact.

Question: How do we promote and encourage alternative economic forms?

Issue Areas: Public-private partnerships; Alternative currencies; Commons; Place-based industry

9. Break up monopolies and end cronyism

To ensure that entrenched players do not shut out upstarts, we should revitalize our anti-trust regulatory regime and terminate crony-capitalist deals between government and industry.

Question: What policies disentrench economic power?

Issue Areas: Anti-trust; Regulatory capture

10. Promote conservation and sustainable development

Throughout American history, the diversity and richness of our natural environment has served to stimulate economic and cultural innovation. We should conserve nature to ensure its continued use as a source of inspiration, diversity, and sustainable development.

Question: How do we square a dynamic economy with sustainability?

Issue Areas: Climate change; Conservation; Sustainable development; Intersection of environmentalism and labor


The Strong Citizens Project

Our spirits are strong, but we are not adequately equipped. Despite having generated enough per capita wealth to eliminate economic insecurity nationwide, the innovative potential of tens of millions of Americans is hampered by day-to-day fears for financial survival. A singular focus on ‘creating jobs’ has failed to address the fact that millions with jobs are dis-empowered at their workplaces, resigned to see work as only a paycheck rather than a means to innovate, create, and empower. Furthermore, those who try to improve their prospects through higher education become burdened with immense debt. Our school system is two-tiered: some Americans have access to high-quality education while others are closed out. One tier provides the analytical, problem-solving and imaginative skills that empower individuals to adapt to and reinvent the world. The other emphasizes rote memorization and specific technical skills, which trains children to reproduce a world that has already left them behind. Moreover, despite progress in recent decades, racial and gender stigmas still linger, inhibiting individuals simply for being who they are. This is why we must work to build stronger citizens.

11. Fortify Economic Security

The struggle to satisfy the immediate needs of health care, food, shelter, and safety for oneself and family should not be a barrier to creative participation in our democracy and economy. Economic insecurity should not be a looming threat to an employee against asserting oneself at work or striking out on one’s own. Each individual should be afforded access to basic necessities and educational resources. Taking on insurmountable debt should not be a prerequisite of furthering one’s education.

Question: How do you ensure the floor of basic citizen security necessary for creative participation in the nation?

Issue Areas: Health care security; Food security; Housing security; Safety; Basic income; Unemployment security

12. Increase Revenue Streams for Security and Empowerment

For such security and empowerment, we should experiment with alternative public revenue sources, such as sovereign wealth funds and land-value taxes.

Question: What will fund the political program of strengthening people and opening the nation?

Issue Areas: Increasing the tax take; Sovereign wealth funds; Land-value taxes; VAT taxes; Modern Monetary Theory; Public banking

13. Broaden Access to Education

Location or age should not determine one’s access to quality education. Educational opportunities should be unlinked from property values, so that each American child, no matter his or her place of residence, has access to high quality public schools. Additionally, each individual should be afforded opportunities for lifelong learning, especially for those who want to make significant mid-life career changes.

Question: How should the funding and distribution of education be structured?

Issue Areas: School funding; School accountability; Charter schools; Untying school funding from property values; Adult education; Vocational education; Mid-life Re-training; College debt

14. Promote Empowering Pedagogy

Education should prepare Americans to think for themselves. It should equip us to challenge and change the world rather than simply reproduce it. It should develop the mind to not only navigate the present circumstance, but also to move against and beyond it. Education through rote memorization and training in static, specialized skills should be updated to reflect those skills necessary for entrepreneurship and empowered employment, like creative problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration.

Question: How should the pedagogy and curriculum of education be structured?

Issue Areas: Progressive pedagogy; Skills-based learning; Project-based learning; Education for empowerment; Education for innovation

15. Fight for racial justice

A severe racial disparity is present in every major institution of American life and indicator of American well-being: four in ten Black children live in poverty; the median white family has over 50 times the wealth of the median Black family; only 1% of Fortune 500 CEOs are Black; 40% of incarcerated Americans are Black; and Black men are twelve times as likely to be imprisoned for drug use as white men. The structural racism — from implicit biases to archaic policies — behind these disparate outcomes must be dismantled and efforts to close the racial gap in outcomes should be supported.

Question: How do we dismantle structural racism and close the racial gap in outcomes?

Issue Areas: The racial wealth gap, implicit bias, racialized policing and imprisonment, institutions of Black community power

16. Fight for gender justice

Feminism is history’s most ambitious democratic project: the largest expansion of power to more people in more ways. Efforts to advance this project — including those to lessen gender disparities in hiring and compensation, to combat gendered violence, to root out patriarchal barriers to women’s hopes for themselves and their ideas, to support women in the caring economy, and to broaden women’s access to health care — should be supported.

Question: How do we dismantle structural sexism and close the gender gap in outcomes?

Issue Areas: Racial justice; Gender justice; LGBTQ justice; Disability justice; Mental Illness stigma; Ageism; Religious freedom; The formerly incarcerated

17. Demand a single citizenry

No one should be treated like a second-class citizen. Efforts to fight discrimination, stigmatization and disempowerment based on race, gender, and sexual orientation should be supported, deepened and prioritized. Additionally, entrenched stigmas that have inhibited our neighbors with physical handicaps, mental illnesses, non-traditional families, advanced ages, and minority religions should be confronted and disentrenched. Special re-examination should be given to stigmas created by the state, such as those which come with felony convictions and incarceration.

Question: How do we ameliorate historic disparities and disentrench historic stigmas?

Issue Areas: LGBTQ justice; Disability justice; Mental Illness stigma; Ageism; Religious freedom; The formerly incarcerated


The Strong Communities Project

We desire stronger communities, but are lacking in meaningful connections. Local communities throughout America have eroded as more and more people find the places where they live as spaces devoid of meaning and relationships. As American towns increasingly rely on distant corporate supply chains for their communal survival, a nation whose power grew from its multiple centers now feels centralized and managed from afar. Groups that could benefit from dense, varied, and empowering community networks are herded under corporate, media, and government bullhorns, unable to talk back in significant ways. On the national level, social solidarity is limited to cash transfers, as we pay the government to pay others who are in need, rarely meeting our fellow countrymen in authentic ways, and thus resenting the payments. The once-communal labors of caring, teaching, healing, feeding, sheltering, and serving have been bureaucratized and hidden from view. This is why we must work to build stronger communities.

18. Revitalize Local Communities

Efforts should be made to transform spaces into meaningful places by developing initiatives that strengthen people’s ties to both their neighbors and towns.

Question: How do we strengthen neighborhoods and local communities?

Issue Areas: Community engagement; Neighbor-to-Neighbor connections; Social Capital; Placemaking; Localism

19. Increase Communal Self-Reliance

We should work to better distribute industries and opportunities beyond major coastal cities so as to decentralize economic and cultural power throughout the nation. Local self-reliance movements, from community-sponsored agriculture to local green-energy initiatives, should be better funded and proliferated.  Special attention should be given to ensuring that the lives of rural communities suffering under de-industrialization are not wholly dependent on the placement and displacement of factories, stadiums, bases and prisons controlled by distant governments and corporations.

Question: How can communities become more economically independent from distant power?

Issue Areas: Reviving post-industrial cities; Cultural centers outside of major cities; Localized food systems; Localized economics; Localized and community-sponsored agriculture; Localized energy; Community economic development

20. Create Participatory Counterbalances to Corporate and State Power

We should work to enable the routine organization of democratic counterbalances to undemocratic corporate and state forces. Through updated legal, funding, web, and media structures, we should fortify and promote the organization of such participatory interest groups, such as veterans organizing into federated societies, fans of sports teams organizing into fan unions, consumers of products organizing into consumer purchasing cooperatives, and tenants of public housing organizing into tenant associations. In addition, we should promote experiments in moving such counterbalances into full-scale alternatives, such as consumer groups moving from a product boycott to launching their own product.

Question: How can we better organize currently-unorganized power?

Issue Areas: Online organizing; Consumer cooperatives; Consumer unions; Organizing interest groups; Community organizing; Participatory organizations; Federated societies; Tenant unions; Fan unions

21. Humanize the Caring Economy

We need to return to our heritage of participatory direct care. We should support projects that humanize the support for our sick, imprisoned, young, old, mentally ill, and destitute. The third-party bureaucracies that we currently pay to unburden us from responsibility towards one another should be supplemented with a culture of widespread participation in direct care for each other.

Question: How do we re-center care in public life?

Issue Areas: Participatory care; Hospitals; Mental health centers; Homeless shelters; Prisons; Daycare centers; Immigrant and refugee hospitality

22. Build Programs for National Solidarity

National solidarity should be promoted through broader opportunities and stronger incentives to spend periods of one’s life engaging in American communities different than one’s own. Attempts to address national divides of race, culture, and class through the law and mass media should be supplemented with projects that encourage sustained, authentic in-person interactions in shared missions among individuals from divided groups. Such interracial, intercultural, and cross-class sports, music, conservation, education, worship, and service groups should be promoted and expanded.

Question: How do we build a national community?

Issue Areas: National service; Diversity and inclusion; Cross-cultural exchange; National cultural institutions: sports, art, music, etc.