The shapers of our democracy did not simply mean that the people should vote in elections. Elected leaders were expected to get to know and be guided by the sense of the people on an ongoing basis.
But today the means people have for communicating with their representatives in Congress – letters, calls, town hall meetings, emails – have been swamped by organized interests and no longer allow the sense of the people to come through with any clarity. Gerrymandered voting districts, meant to be safe for incumbents, also block the larger mix of voices.
Americans are well aware of this problem. Polls show that overwhelming majorities of Americans are frustrated because they believe the people are not being heard, and as this has happened, confidence in government has plummeted. They also believe that if the people were heard and had influence, government would work better.
I agree with them. That’s why I’ve helped form a new organization – Voice of the People (VOP.org). Supported by Republican and Democrat former members of Congress, academic, business, and civic leaders, and by several foundations, this nonpartisan nonprofit seeks to create a “Citizen Cabinet” in every congressional district in the country. It would be available to advise every representative in the House and every senator.
Using scientific sampling, each district’s cabinet would have at least 275 members and would precisely mirror the district’s population. Cabinet members would participate online for 9-12 months. Those without Internet access would have it provided to them. Every Congress member would thus hear from a representative sample of their constituents.
Citizen Cabinet members would be briefed online on current issues before Congress, presented policy options and arguments for and against each one, and then make their recommendations. All of the materials would be carefully vetted with congressional experts on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the factual briefings are accurate, fair, and balanced and that the pro and con arguments for the policy options are the strongest ones each side can make.