America, we can do better. It’s time to reimagine representation and civic engagement.

Imagine a future in which a simple crowdsourcing platform lets us prioritize our civic issues and offer solutions. A platform that — with a few taps — shares our concerns and ideas with your elected officials.

Imagine having a bipartisan agreement on the facts of a problem before introducing legislation at our City Halls, our state Legislatures and even Congress. Imagine working together on a single document — in real time — to shape the solutions to America’s most pressing problems.

For the sake of our democracy, we need to move beyond 140 characters of political rhetoric into prioritizing the issues we want resolved. We need to move beyond Facebook political rants, into constructive conversations with our representatives regarding issues we all face; because our civic future is in our hands.

America, we can have a better civic future if we try just a little bit harder.

“The tyranny of taxation without representation.” In the mid 18th century, this simple yet powerful phrase ultimately lead to the American Revolution as our nation dealt with no representation in the English Parliament.

Given the tax grievances from England, our Founding Fathers set out to form a more perfect union. Their intent was to limit the powers of each branch of government with “checks and balances” — to ensure that the people had a voice. This came to form the United States as it stands today, our representative democracy.

Now 267 years later, the question remains:

Are our elected officials actually representing our concerns and issues?
What would you say?

The Founding Fathers’ objective in creating The Constitution was to avoid a tyrannical government. What they didn’t foresee was the power that our major political parties now yield. It wasn’t until George Washington’s farewell address in 1796 that he warned us about the serious threat to liberty that political parties impose.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty… It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection… Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

We are witnessing his fears play out in today’s politics.

When either party has a majority control in the legislatures, they try to protect their party’s districts by gerrymandering and they penalize legislators who vote outside of their party lines. This happens at the State level and can be seen in a recent vote in Congress as well. Republicans and Democrats both are propagating polarization, which has created political gridlock and policy stagnation in our country. Both parties view the other as an “evil” force, imposing their will onto others. With such a huge political division, changing the status quo can seem hopeless.

However, hope lies not in our differences, but in our similarities. We all want to see the United States become a more prosperous nation. We all want to feel safe and secure. And we all agree on the pursuit of happiness. It’s the method and manner in which we approach more complicated issues that is becoming divisive. When representation becomes a political game, we all ultimately lose in creating a more perfect union.

We need to move beyond the needs of two political parties, to the needs of the millions of individuals as a collective voice.

Political parties are not entirely to blame for the current state of our government. Indeed, our problems and overall economy have become more complex. False information spreads like wildfire on social media. Quality journalism is being pushed out by partisan shock-value pieces. Collectively, it takes billions of dollars for our elected officials just to run for office.

Our current state of affairs is likely the amalgamation of all of the above and several other factors. Regardless, an unprecedented level of mistrust exists toward our government. A 2016 Gallup poll found that 63 percent of Americans had little or no trust in the Legislative Branch.

Our representatives can change the current perspective and rebuild trust by communicating more effectively with their constituencies by showing they’re not only listening, but acting on our needs. In my years as an advocate for California innovation policies, working with California state and local officials, I have found that the majority of representatives want to listen. Yet a disconnect remains between the bills they introduce and the needs of the American people.

I applaud civic tech startups that have attempted, and continue to make our democracy more transparent and promote greater civic engagement. Some allow you to comment on pending legislation. Others make it easier to send messages to your representatives. Nevertheless the impact on the individual needs is missing.

You care about your issues, and there is power in quantifying how many other Americans care about the same issues as you. If our representatives see that a large part of their own constituency shares the same concern, they will listen — they will be inclined to act.

Consens.io is developing a platform to voice your concerns and opinions as an aggregate.

Reimagining our civic engagement in America is reimagining our politics in America. With over 500,000 elected representatives in the United States and over 3.5 million advocates or paid advocates; we should be able to craft better policies for the issues we face. Unfortunately, more of our time is spent squabbling over petty politics than debating the specifics of healthcare in America or our opioid crisis. The fact that Flint, Michigan still does not have clean drinking water is illustrative of our systemic problems. We need to collaborate and work together to resolve our most pressing problems, it’s time to Stop Making America Genuinely Appalling. #SMAGA

At Consens.io we’re bringing together citizens, experts, journalists, advocates, policy wonks and representatives in a structured online forum to discuss and ultimately resolve our issues. Because we believe constructive conversations — about legislation that ultimately affects everyone — should no longer be sealed inside our state capitols. Only collectively can we establish our priorities for our representatives, because that’s what we ought to do.

Consens.io App — an example of a San Francisco Resident sending local “Action Phrases” to their S.F. Board of Supervisors.

To accomplish better representation and create better policies, it starts with you ranking the issues you want your representatives to prioritize. Imagine if you were sitting in front of your representatives, what would you tell them they should spend the majority of their time on? Gerrymandering new districts to hold their seats or resolving your issues? Most people would choose the latter, and that’s what were doing, prioritizing your issues on Consens.io will become a new form of civic engagement in America.

Consens.io App — Example issue brief regarding San Francisco’s Homelessness.

Prioritization is extremely important, but not a complete solution to our civic problems. In order to create consensus around your issues, we need bipartisan briefs created with a baseline of accurate information. We must describe and understand the problems we are facing, prior to discussing solutions to our issues. Together, we can create a platform for all Americans to express their concerns independently and allow those concerns and issues to be aggregated for our representatives and community at-large to resolve. It is the only then, we can start moving our republic into a truly representative democracy.

At Consens.io we believe in taking charge of our future by representing the voice of the American individuals collectively.

Join Us.


We need your help:

If you agree or disagree, share!

If you’re in a position to support, become a Consens.io Framer. If you believe we can do better as a nation, signup for the private beta.

On & Up,

Bret Gladfelty

Co-founder of Consens.io — Creating Civic Consensus

Special thanks to my friends and colleagues who helped edit my article, Randi Stevenson, Jake Teeny and Tammy Sandoval.