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Top-down Politics vs Bottom-up Change


olitical dissatisfaction was the dominate theme of the 2016 presidential election cycle, and it's stimulated non-voters to vote for their first time.   While the election of the U.S. President can have a "huge" impact and deserves our attention, exclusively focusing on the top office perpetuates our top-down process of governance which happens to be a bigger problem than who may be governing.   Even if people elect their desired candidate, expecting a "philosopher king" who'll lead us out of our morass is not merely a false hope, it ignores the more potent possibility of establishing a new bottom-up approach.

“The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy!”   First said over a century ago, it's no less true today.   However, simply getting more people to vote isn't the answer when those elected step into a top-down system that produces the same results.   We need to create and take advantage of real opportunities to reverse the top-down direction of governance.   That's the purpose of Pittsburgh's Open Government Referendum which is designed to provide new tools for citizen participation and an effective structural framework for bottom-up democracy.

While to some people it may seem radical and revolutionary, it's really more of a profound evolutionary step in the long historic progression of democratic governance.   It's been described as putting regular citizens in the middle of government where they can have optimum oversight and hold public officials accountable, yet, even so, elected representatives will continue to make the final decisions.   It would, however, create a dynamic new infrastructure for municipal democracy, adding a new means and structure for meaningful proactive public participation that can generate real, effective, bottom-up governance.

Bottom-up governance may not be as sexy as charismatic candidates who make ridiculous promises that are impossible to keep.   Working to institute incremental changes over time will mean a lot more work for average citizens.   Yet, like the tortoise and the hare, the bottom-up involvement of average individuals can in the end win the race, implementing equitable policies and solutions to the problems facing our society.

“Put not thy faith in princes,” is an age old admonition which is equally appropriate today.   In contrast, regular citizens working together can and do deserve our confidence when they are provided with a process that:

  • establishes an effective two-way conduit for communication between those governing and those governed;
  • enables citizens to develop and propose changes in policy as well as to offer specific solutions that must be heard and given consideration by their elected representatives;
  • can alert and engage the rest of the citizenry in ways unimagined now;
  • enables people to monitor the day to day workings of their governments in real time, giving them continuous oversight and an ability to hold their representatives accountable, a matter which currently requires waiting until years later to show their dissatisfaction at the ballot box.

This is the potential and possibility of the proposed Open Government Amendment to the Pittsburgh City Charter.   Questionable court decisions prevented it from being on the 2016 ballot.   In preparation for a new Initiative in 2018, the Amendment is under revision to circumvent legal challenges and make it stronger and more effective than ever.   Your help now can make it possible in 2018.