Today we tested our GOTV (Get Out the Vote) package. I canvased a nice working class neighborhood. The most delightful part of the day was meeting Althea – an 18 year old who’s casting her first vote. She was undecided because she didn’t have enough information. I gave her some campaign literature but also took the time to highlight issues I thought might be important to her. When I left, I told her it was a privilege to meet a first time voter who took her responsibility so seriously. I could have told her that Romney/Ryan would chain her to the kitchen stove and make her have babies beyond counting. However, I restrained myself.
In the midst of all the partisan to and fro, I’ve been thinking about a political Utopia. Albert Einstein, when he was developing his theory of Special Relativity, would conduct thought experiments to help him clarify his thinking. I’m not the Einstein of U. S. political analysis – perhaps I’m the Niels Bohr.
So, let us create a thought experiment. Imagine a Street or Crescent or Way or Bay in Anytown, United States of America. A local Democrat or Republican or Independent on this street invites all of his or her neighbors over for a pot luck two weeks before the election. Everyone accepts the invitation.
They eat the pot luck (some how heavy on salads this year) and sample Fred’s home made wine. The kids are sent out to play on the very safe trampoline. The 13 and 14 year old children are in charge of the rest of the kids. The 15 to 17 year old young men and women are invited into the living room to participate with the adults. They can’t vote, but they can start to learn.
First, everyone in turn puts forth the issues most important in this election. Enthusiasts from each party explain their positions on these issues.
Now comes the hard part. Laptops are connected to the internet and the search is on for quality sources of information. With much banter and negotiation, each source of information is evaluated on 30 criteria of reliability. While there isn’t complete agreement, there are some useful sources of information or data on the issues of the day.
Now comes what seems like an endless discussion of the pros and cons of policies related to the issues important to the neighborhood. At times confusing, at times enlightening, the discussion drags on into the night. The supply of Fred’s home made wine is quickly depleted. This is probably a good thing.
Every now and then, you hear someone say, “I hadn’t thought of that.” or “That’s a good argument.” But mostly minds aren’t changed. Some of the neighbors have been around for decades. Some have moved in recently. But all end the night with a better and more sophisticated understanding of the issues that are important to them.
Very few votes are changed, but all have been heard and all have been encouraged to participate in the most fundamental act of citizenship: a thoughtfully casting ballot.
The day after the election, there are smiles and gloom and affection for this thing called democracy. Each person will try harder next time: whether through quiet conversations, interesting books and articles, or patient listening. There are the party die hard, the consistent undecided and that most special of citizens – those who grow and change with the new challenges of the day.
How’s that for a thought experiment?