The Jazz Fix: a riff-off of solutions to political corruption and gridlock

Preservation Hall Jazz band performing onstage at the closing ceremonies

The Unrig the System Summit, a nonpartisan get together of activists, celebrities, candidates, startups and motivated regular folks, came together this last weekend in New Orleans. Yes, during Mardi Gras. The backdrop of a giant, continuous party with jazz playing on every corner felt like a mirror of the buzzing hive of organizers, each with their own variation on the theme of reform.

Teddy stares at the mic as Katherine talks about duopoly

Groups ranged from Cleanup Carl, the giant balloon corruption worker, coming soon to a government near you, to the Harvard Business Center team who presented an economic model of why our two-party duopoly is broken. The Harvard team was particularly effective because they had some help — Katherine Gehl articulated the talking points with her eight-month old son in a front carrier reaching for the microphone. He couldn’t talk yet, but he did a pretty bang-up job of answering why all this was so important.

That thread, of what the hell are we leaving to the next generation, echoed in different ways throughout the conference. Claudia Davison, perhaps the eldest in a workshop of about fifty people, spoke movingly of how older people in her generation cared deeply about the future of young people, and how she could not rest because of how worried she is. Former house rep Zach Wamp urged his colleagues to stop retiring to Congress and let the younger folks lead themselves out of the mess. Wamp, a conservative republican from Tennessee, spoke on a panel with progressive democrats Tulsi Gabbard and Nina Turner, all of whom are members of Issue One, a coalition to get dirty money out of politics.

Money, it’s a crime — funny how no one is ever for corruption, yet it appears to be more popular than ever. As one of the speakers said, there may be laws against it but there are also laws against drinking under 21. Figuring out how to beat back Citizens United, gerrymandering, dark money, voter and candidate suppression was the subject of many discussions on and off the podium. Leveraging the legal system with local anti-corruption initiatives and public funding or matching of campaigns, mining FCC data to uncover dark money ad buys, building a coalition of Senate independents to act as a fulcrum, intercepting short-wave radio signals at the capitol to provide voters just-in-time ability to weigh in — the breadth and clever practicality of some of the ideas provided an irresistibly hopeful melody over the familiar drumbeat of concern.

This is a movement with more leaders than followers, and that’s a good thing. Russian actors and Ukrainian bots may have successfully gamed the Youtube recommender algorithm, but they won’t be able to game thousands of different neighborhood organizers who know each other and are all using different toolsets to communicate and coordinate. Its exactly because we are somewhat reinventing the wheel in hundreds of slightly different ways, and based on real human relationships with all their flaws and complexities, that this movement will be less subject to attack than any efficiently centralized silo.

The entire Unrig summit was really only one aspect of what is going on in the country, but a strongly positive one. In particular it was a strictly nonpartisan take on the problems — so strict that while money, inequality and corruption were hammered at over and over, “estate tax” was not mentioned once. Ah well. The point was to be united and not divisive. Love and compassion formed the counterpoint to pain and frustration. Speaker after speaker urged understanding of those on the other side, not allowing ourselves to be pushed to extremes and turned against one another. And in a refreshing change, the current administration was mentioned only fleetingly as part of the problem, while the focus was on the systemic issues, and next steps to solve them.

Riffing off one another for a good cause — nothing beats that.

To dig down further and join in, see the solutions discussion page I made at my civ.works account (you’d have to login, its free) or check out the videos and notes direct from the unrig feed

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