For the past three weeks, I’ve been decompressing following a vigorous grassroots political campaign to unseat a longtime Democratic incumbent here in New Jersey. While we lost the contest, the campaign was successful in expanding the Progressive base and spreading awareness about alternative visions of the future within the Democratic party.
I was driven to undertake the journey of seeking public office by the desire to proactively address the numerous crises on the horizon. I labeled myself a Progressive and ran a campaign of policies, plans, and a new vision of the future.
Challenges like climate change and mass extinction, the impacts of automation on society and the ever-increasing economic inequality, a for-profit healthcare system, the inhumane treatment of people fleeing oppression at our southern border, and corporate dominance over American society were some of the many influencers over my decision to run.
Recognizing the depth of the task of developing new solutions to fight back against our circumstances, we were required to look outside of what our current representatives offer and begin the work of developing policies that could fundamentally redefine who we elect to represent us and how that process could work. Our campaign would be one structured around systemic reformation — the reimagining of some of our most dogmatically sacred institutions.
We developed numerous unique policy pathways, but the most important was a set of policies that would deepen democracy through the enacting of a suite of laws to expand voter registration, security, integrity, and financial reforms. All of these supported by the development of a publicly owned web-based election campaign platform. Combined with public outreach and education effort, this foundational experiment would be the cornerstone to overcoming the dominance of monied interests on our elections.
The design would provide candidates of all socio-economic backgrounds an opportunity to run for community leadership and gain equal exposure, forcing contests of ideas and vision over bank accounts and sponsors. Central to the policy’s intent is to empower citizens to understand their candidate options better through an easy to use, transparent, and centralized space for candidate information. Most importantly, when successfully implemented, the platform paves the way towards the elimination of the corporate and special interest financing of our candidates by negating the argument of the need for money to access the public.
My argument is simple: expanding citizen access to and agency within our democracy is the most direct path towards transformation. The number one reason I ran for State Assembly was to become the catalyst of this change here in New Jersey.
Consider the following; democracy is a technology. It’s designed to give us control over our national direction and in doing so, the circumstances that define our personal lives. Like any technology, it requires updates when new needs arise that the current structure is unable to address.
As a democratic society, we inherit the responsibility to take the necessary steps to ensure that we are continuously reimagining how to present our communities with information about their leadership options. A digital platform that makes understanding candidate options easier, more convenient, and faster, will attract new people to the process and allow existing participants to make better decisions aligned with their vision of the good.
The proposals I had put forth would expand democracy’s benefit for all people in New Jersey, and the deepening of democracy should be the issue that unites all of us Americans. Democracy empowers us to work together to control the direction of the laws and structure that set the framework for how we experience our humanity. Enhancing and expanding our democracy is the most direct path towards overcoming and exceeding our most pressing challenges.
The looming crisis is why we need to enhance democracy at the state levels: to carve a path forward for people unbound by the machine-like structure of the calcified politics of today. Empowering new leadership with new ideas, experiences, and vision contributes to the betterment of the collective.
With so much inequity and injustice in the world, it may seem absurd to argue that deepening democracy is the highest priority of a political campaign. Critics of my opening statement may say that the climate crisis and ensuing mass extinction are a more top priority than election reform. The claim is both true and false.
The criticism is correct in that climate change is the most severe crisis on the horizon and threatens existence as we know it. Unchecked, it will lead to food shortages, mass migration, and if history is any indicator, more wars. There is no more pressing issue for all of humanity, and for many people, myself included. It is impacting the way we plan and think about the future. History will remember the greed, incompetence, and inaction of our elected representatives who are not aggressively fighting for a mobilized effort to upgrade our energy infrastructure while simultaneously stopping the expansion of any new fossil fuel projects.
What the criticism fails to consider is the reality of the present time and our pathways to action. Without the right people in leadership we have no chance of adequately addressing climate change or any of the other systemic challenges facing society. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins explains how his research into successful leadership identified the common factor for successful teams as “getting the right people on the bus.” Framing this concept to the politics of today, so long as we have elected leadership being bankrolled by fossil fuel companies, we will never combat the climate crisis with the appropriate force. The same could be said for private prisons, Medicare for all, truly affordable housing, and more.
Diverse perspectives and leadership make for the best representation, but what commonalities would define the “right people” for the monumental undertaking of ushering society into a new era?
The generation of leadership required for transformative work will need to be free from corporate influence, committed to representing our communities in a full-time capacity, and consistently bettering themselves on trends and happenings around the world that could better serve their communities. These attributes are a far cry from leadership across the nation who view our political process as a pathway to personal enrichment first, service second.
By deepening democracy, we build a structure that opens itself to constant criticism and revision. The result is the transformation of society that shifts more frequently as a result of citizen engagement. It is a necessary step towards reforming society towards a pluralistic and inclusive vision of the future.
Progress requires us to give people the freedom to rearrange structure surrounding people, practices, things, and ideas. It demands imagination of social and individual transcendence, a life where living outside of the perpetual grind reinforced by social divisions and hierarchies that we were born into, as an option for more than just the wealthiest few.
Central to my argument is the expression of why better democracy should be the primary path of the Progressive. These concepts bring us closer to deep choice. Choosing to expand access to democracy is a decision to help more people better understand, and engage with, the world around us.
What is our government but a reflection of ourselves? People created all the social, legal, and economic arrangements we have today, and people will be the drivers of reformation. Democracy gives us the ability to reimagine and redesign our circumstances. I ran for State Assembly to expand voice to more people, a society truly built for the people, by the people.