Where are our followers?
Molineaux is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and president/CEO of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.
How would you describe the constituency of healthy self-governance? It should be all of us, right? Those of us who are crazy in love with the process of democracy may not be the popular kids we think we should be.
For a democratic republic like ours in the United States to function and survive we need citizens to be involved; and involved means more than just voting. Yet deep into my career in the strengthening democratic values and norms movement, I’ve come to realize far too few citizens are standing up for the practices and principles of democracy; leaning into respectful deliberation for nuanced and best-possible solutions.
Or perhaps there are more of us than we realize, but we don’t recognize them? Are they the exhausted majority? The radical centrists? The moderates? Yes.
Recent polling from Gallup shows 37% of Americans are self-declared moderates. That’s more than self-declared conservatives (36%) or liberals (25%). Citizen Data has done a deeper dive, asking just who these moderates are. Of these self-declared moderates, their research shows that 45% show no preference for the Democrat or Republican parties. Are they the constituents our democracy movement needs?
I am pleasantly surprised that as more people have what I light-heartedly refer to as “an awakening,” and become involved, the number of ideas to fix our democratic republic is increasing exponentially. Getting people to take that first step is a critical part of the process. Once they become interested, it’s more likely they will be excited about what they can do. My own “awakening “ was 20 years ago. I found colleagues who welcomed me, encouraged me and helped me grow. It’s my pleasure to welcome and mentor others now.
When these new constituents show up, they are most likely a self-proclaimed leader, or occasionally an executive volunteer. We’ve had very few people approach us who want to be worker bee volunteers, wanting to be part of the movement and willing to do whatever they are asked.
The needs we have from constituents are varied and honestly that’s a great thing. Some people just want to develop relationships with people different from themselves to impact their local neighborhood, some people want to lobby their members of Congress, and some people just want to review legislation and contact elected officials. We’re dedicated to helping Americans find their path, a path that fits into their schedules and their preferences. Anyone can do something but too few sign up. Perhaps they feel they are risking their social capital to do so?
While pondering all of this, I’ve come to realize that none of my friends from 20 years ago are still close friends. I became a different person and we drifted apart. It was emotionally lonely until I found my new friends and support for my new sense of purpose. “Good luck with that” is the common refrain I hear from people who seem unwilling to use their agency as a citizen for positive change.
When citizens fail to become involved, the elites of academic, business, and think tanks begin their work to organize it for us citizens, and with good intentions in service to all. They seek a strategy to determine which ideas are worthy of funding; which organizations will become institutions for democracy. However, by not being involved we citizens are abdicating our voice and placing our power in the hands of a few well-intentioned people who are tasked to spend their dollars as wisely as they can. Often they didn’t ask to make these decisions. But here we are, nonetheless. The solopreneurs who I welcome into the movement will be left to fund their own ideas.
As more and more folks awaken to the risk our nation and world we are in, who will show up to follow the many self-designated leaders?
I’m reminded of Terry Pratchett’s book, “Small Gods.” In his acerbic, satirical way, Pratchett’s Discworld, a fictional world, assigns power to the panoply of gods according to their follower count. Given that this was written in 1992, before social media existed, I find it ironic in a very dark way.
Today, we have many leaders focused on the nation or world at large, missing the pain in their own lives and in their own neighborhoods. Remember the saying “all politics is local?” And if we really want to get local; what if the real work is in our own family? In our own backyard and on our own block? In the dorm? Or at work? I have long held that the solution we each seek will follow a fractal pattern. We are near discovering similar and self-replicating patterns of behavior and activity at small and large scales.
I’m excited by the thought that the fractal pattern we (or just me, the fractal nerd) seek isn’t a new strategic plan, but an act of kindness. AOKMaine is testing this theory out; attempting to shift the underlying tone in the many small and rural towns throughout Maine. What can you do? Hand a coffee to the homeless person you pass on your way to work? Help out a neighbor who needs their lawn mowed?
Crazy idea—some may say a bit idealistic. What if caring about each other is the solution? What if the reality is there will be no single leader in our democratic future. What if we just worked toward a community of equals, where we take turns leading one day and following the next.