The Neighborhood NetworksA few days ago, I mentioned the idea that one of the speakers at the Philly for Change meetup brought up his plan for starting what he called "Neighborhood Networks." Basically, it is a way to keep up the energy that many people felt getting involved during the 2004 election, and turning that ambition inward, towards our own City. And in a place as in need of real reform as this one, it is a wonderful idea. We need a not so silent army of volunteers in every ward and division in the City, pressing new ideas and new candidates to the forefront of the local election process.
I have since received a few emails detailing the vision for the Neighborhood Networks. So, here are some of its basics:
Neighborhood Networks will celebrate, formalize and organize its official Citywide existence at an all day conference to be held on June 4 this year. Please hold the date, and look soon for the exact time and place.
Why Neighborhood Networks, what will we be doing on June 4, and what will happen between now and then?
I will answer in broad terms only, because the details are still to be worked out, hopefully with the participation of many of you.
For those of us who were involved in MoveOns Leave No Voter Behind Campaign, Neighborhood Networks will readily be seen as the logical successor to that effort. In LNVB, over a thousand precinct captains and volunteers in the Philadelphia area knocked on tens of thousands of doors of the people who were our neighbors to bring them out to vote against four more years. Most of us worked on the very blocks on which we lived and those right around them. Some helped neighbors in other parts of the city and region get in touch with each other. Others made phone calls to our friends, while still others greeted them at the polls. Whatever our exact role, the experience left many of us exuberant about what can be accomplished by neighbors working with neighbors to bring about progressive political change. Election day itself, with our friends and neighbors pouring from their homes to exercise their democratic will was for many of us like a festival, a day that we will always treasure, despite the awful result nationwide.
We have decided that participatory, democratic political activity, based on where we live, shall not perish from this city. And we will make our work even more meaningful than what it was last year.
Neighborhood Networks will be built around the precinct organizer, at least one of whom will be located in every political division in this city where we can recruit a volunteer. Our precinct organizers -- and the helpers they attract to them -- will not simply distribute information, but they will be collectors of the sentiments, needs and political hopes of the thousands of voters they collectively contact every year...
Each neighborhood will be supplied methods -- and develop its own -- to sustain a genuine two way, and even multiple way, conversation to express its own voice. From these local networks will grow larger regional, district-wide, and then citywide networks in which the commonalities among all of us will be translated into a powerful area-wide voice for honest, progressive and committed political action.
In short we are committed to living out our progressive political values in the method by which we do politics -- house to house, precinct to precinct, and ward by ward -- as well as by the substantive values we expect that politics to promote.
Neighborhood Networks will be the democratic voice through which the people of this city can reclaim the political power that belongs to them. And hopefully the Networks will soon extend even further, to the five county region and beyond so that the government of the state of Pennsylvania, and its Congressional delegation, will represent who and what we really are.
OK, so how does this sound so far? (This is where everyone says "terrific!")
And, to make it all happen, there will be a conference to figure out the nitty-gritty of how this will all work. What happens at the conference? Well...
The main work of the conference will be done in small, geographically based groups, organized by ward where enough members of a ward are present, or in other larger geographical groupings. Then we intend to pose a variety of questions to those groups. Questions such as:
-- How should candidate endorsements be made? Should voters be polled, division by division after distribution of candidate information? Should such polls be mandatory or advisory given that precinct representatives may have the advantage of face to face contacts with candidates not available to all members? Should all areas be bound to support the candidate receiving majority support? Should there be a minimum vote which would be binding citywide? Who should be empowered to endorse in races that are only district wide, rather than citywide?
So we need you to arrive at the conference with your thinking caps on. This will not be a conference for observers, but for doers. Each small group will designate a reporter, as well as at least one representative on the Steering Committee. Reports from each group will be taken to the Steering Committee which will then consider all the input in reaching a set of final recommendations. Then that Committee will take those recommendations back to all of you in a final poll.
And then we will try out whatever model emerges. We will test it, evaluate it, mold it as necessary, and, hopefully, perfect it as an engine of democratic participation and democratic power such as has rarely if ever been seen before outside of a New England town meeting.
Some people say such an organization is impossible. Not enough participation is possible today in a world filled with distractions and the pull of the market place as the answer to all that ails us. But we think thats wrong, that people are hungering for the ability to regain their sense of community and to express that sense effectively to take back their government.
I have a few ideas myself. Either way, the conference is June 4th. If you are interested at all in participating (I think about 300 people are signed up so far) just post a comment, and I can hook you up with more info.
We have to figure out a way to get off the computer, out into the streets and into an effective force for change (and, of course, use the internet as a powerful organizing force). I hope this conference, and this network of reform minded, progressive people can do it. I hope you will join me, as well.