Thoughts for a brighter future, by Blaise Ebisch
What if technology could level the political playing field? Should our primaries really be determined by corporate media or marketing budgets? A worker cooperative known as IndependUS is using the power of technology and community to crowdsource community beliefs and information credibility.
“Follow the money” is a classic phrase, but what’s really happening? Is our political system just a pay-to-win game for the rich? I think a good area to look for “strings attached” are the election seasons that grant political careers any merit. If I’m actively trying to be a politician, the #1 priority could just be winning the election (it gets me a job). Once I’m there, I can start thinking about re-election — then a disappointing process continues. If the main goal is winning elections, what does a politician need? Money.
Voter demographics, analytics, and advertising are essential to political operations in the US. We have people, companies, and industries dedicated to political information. If that’s the case, why not just leave polling to the $7 Billion dollar “public opinion industry”? The problem with this is that most of the important information generated is inaccessible. By that, I mean politicians are buying services and/or direct information to increase their success. Political data should be accessible to anyone in a community, not just a select few. Analytic data is costly, but so is the advertising needed to have a chance on a ballot. Regardless of the quality of your policy plans or community connections right now, the money is necessary.
FiveThirtyEight highlighted a study showing a strong correlation between the federal candidates who spend the most on campaigns and overall success rates. Additionally, campaign funding isn’t even the only financial barrier. After you gain the rare ability to raise millions of dollars for political promises, you need personal income too. Jesse Mermell, a Massachusetts candidate in 2020 gave a firsthand account of the barriers to run for office:
A question: who can afford to be without income for nearly a year to run for office? Statistically speaking, not the diverse voices who are clearly the exception to the rule in so many halls of power, the voices we as progressives know must lead our work. BIPOC candidates. Disabled candidates. Young candidates. LGBTQ+ candidates. Candidates from low-income backgrounds. Women, especially single women.
If you don’t have enough donors, your odds of winning the primaries/election are quite slim. Even then, there are the personal financial barriers. If any politicians accept large donations to pull their campaign off, they might owe allegiances. There becomes a very fine line between something like that and “bribery” when you look at how corporate-centered some Congressional bills are. It’s impossible for one person to understand all the complexities of our political system. However, I’m confident we could improve our political system if potential leaders didn’t need millions of campaign dollars to serve their community’s interests. Free speech shouldn’t have a price tag, and our politics don’t need to be pay-to-play.
I hope you see why our political norms are a problem. If only people with excess money can win elections, we’re susceptible to lackluster and corrupt leadership. If the most marginalized have the least resources, why should they be doomed? When the game is money-driven, it also attracts the money-driven people. If we want to stop Pelosi’s insider trading and the incomprehensible corruption that plagues our government, the functions of money within it have to change. We need a way to find and elect candidates with actual merit and connection to their community. A representative democracy includes all voices, not just the wealthy. So — what if we could make elections free-to-play?
Complaining about our systems, rich people, and pay-to-play democracy isn’t enough though. IndependUS is imagining a world where contributions to our community and country can be accessibly led by the many, rather than the few. We want to provide Americans with free programs, privacy, and storage to aggregate their political views by county, state, and country. Democracy-driven tools like rank-choice voting can be used to find the candidates that best serve your community, independent of what the media, mainstream political parties, or the rich have to say. “Online voting” to collaborate across communities might sound crazy, but several parts of the world are already experimenting with e-democracy. There’s Parlement et Citoyens (France), Decide Madrid (Spain), the Pirate Party (Iceland), and my favorite, vTaiwan. These civic hackers wanted capture and utilize the public voice through e-democracy. Why can’t America too?
I don’t think the government can start this, but it shouldn’t be left to corporations like Meta or Google either. An ideal world would have a decentralized internet with limitless free server space and safeguards for the civic data and privacy. However, we aren’t there yet technology-wise. A real group of people needs to create the platform, afford server space, and spread the word to make the data viable. Civic projects should be in the hands of traditional “startups”, but I will explain our decision to form a worker cooperative and its differences in another article. Maybe it’ll only amount to a website, but one day helping (or even saving) our communities could be free-to-play.