Time to stop sugar coating the problems with Congress

After overloading on sugar coated treats during the holidays most of us probably made a New Year’s resolution to cut down on such unhealthy habits. We should do the same with how we talk about Congress.

For years most reformers have been calmly discussing the problems with campaign finance, gerrymandering, and voting rights as if they were giving a lecture to a bunch of graduate students. This is most likely just a desire to be “professional”, but it also badly understates how messed up Congress and today’s politics really are.

Lawrence Lessig was one of the first reformers to strip away the sugar coating of corruption by noting that referring to Congress as having a “campaign finance problem” was like saying that someone with “alcoholism” had a “liquid intake problem”.

By the same token we do not have a problem with gerrymandering. We have a problem with rigged elections that make 85% of the House seats “safe” for a particular party. We also do not have a problem with voting rights we have a problem with voter fraud and intimidation.

On the flipside, those that say members of Congress are all just “corrupt assholes” oversimplifies the problems we face. If bad leaders were the only issue, then we could simply elect new leaders. But we cannot elect new leaders, because the system is broken. As a system, we need to strip away all the sugar and be frank about what has happened to Congress and how we fix it.

The bitter truth is that Congress today is plagued by corruption, rigged elections, and acts of voter fraud and intimidation.

This is not an exaggeration. By every measure Congress is unresponsive and unrepresentative, with members installed into office through elections of very low integrity.

After several years of protests by a wide range of groups, I think most Americans are beginning to understand this cold hard reality. Where we fall down now is in talking about solutions.

Part of this failing can be blamed on the fractured reform movements, while the rest falls on the tendency for people to constantly frame every problem as a partisan issue. This kind of strategy will never work. In fact, it only divides us further.

Raising awareness is not a strategy either. We need to find a way to focus all the different groups on defining specific reforms that can be passed by a new Congress in 2017. At EqualCitizens.US we are readying a way to do just that by using the very same kind of representative democracy we seek to fix.

Instead of just petitioning leaders or relying on experts alone, over a six month project we will connect delegates with thousands of citizens to help shape three independent bills that address each problem with Congress. Through this process we can take on corruption, rigged elections, and voter fraud and intimidation, while building on the expertise of each individual expert community.

For some people I expect this strategy will not work for them. Yet for those people that truly appreciate the process of a representative democracy, they will find a refreshing place to privately voice their positions and see the product of their actions.

I have been told by a few reform leaders that it is “impossible” to get 50,000 people to put aside their differences and help crowdsource the review and clarification of three expertly defined bills designed to fix our Congress. Yet I have also seen firsthand the power civic action. From long brutal walks protesting the corruption in Washington to a string of local reform victories, I firmly believe that 2016 is the year we take our stand.

There is no more sugar coating it. The lobbyists and political establishment may have rented out Congress these past few decades, but they do not own it. This is our democracy dammit, and we are here to take it back. On January 29, 2016 we launch a new experiment in the fight to (finally) be equal citizens. Help us get started by becoming an official cosponsor today.

Bruce Skarin is the founder of EqualCitizens.US, a nonpartisan project to crowdsource three reforms by August 2016. Follow him on Twitter.