I first met Jared Duval in the summer of 2003 on a bus with 100 students from every state in the country who had received the Morris K. Udall Scholarship for college sophomores and juniors committed to the environment and native public health issues. I laughed when he told me he was working for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign — then an unknown Governor from Vermont few thought had a chance at winning the primary. But over the course of the ride, Jared’s well-reasoned confidence began to win me over. And by the end of the Udall gathering, we had recruited most of the scholars into an organization a core group of us invented on the spot: Students for an Environmentally Responsible President. SERP wasn’t long for this world, Jared got busy again at school, and we lost touch.
I had already dropped out of college by then to pursue student organizing full-time, and soon co-founded and began coordinating the Energy Action Coalition. Two years after we had first met, Jared was elected National Director of the Sierra Student Coalition, the student arm of the Sierra Club and one of the biggest partner organizations of Energy Action. We spent two years working together to build the Campus Climate Challenge, and organize the first national student climate summit, Power Shift, in 2007. When Jared’s two terms with the SSC were over, he told me he wanted to write a book. Doubtful again, I wished him the best of luck.
So when I got a copy of his book, Next Generation Democracy, in the mail just a week ago, I was chagrined again as I found myself tearing through it in just a few sittings. The book details how a range of new, web-enabled tools, combined with a newly global, progressive and tech-savvy generation is poised to change the world. He tells the stories behind well-known open-source projects like Linux and Wikipedia, but also unearths some of the most cutting edge approaches like the Deliberatorium, Legislation 2.0, 21st Century Town Meetings and other efforts that hold real promise for fixing our Democracy at a time when such hope can be hard to come by.
A couple of years into the Obama presidency, we are now confronted with the stark realization that truly transformational progress will not be made on any major social challenge until the underlying dysfunction of a ‘pay to play, keep people at bay” system in Congress is addressed…
Where might we look for progress instead? I believe that to get at the root blockages of transformational progress, we must address the disenfranchisement of the American and global public from the decision-making institutions of our society. As author Don Tapscott has written, ‘real change seems glacial…What the current system lacks are mechanisms enabling government to benefit on an ongoing basis from the wisdom and insight that a nation can collectively offer.’
Indeed, while the defining ideological debate of the previous generation concerned the proper size of government, for the Millennial generation the pressing question should be the nature — open versus closed, collaborative versus zero sum — of our very process of government.
Democracy is an ancient idea, and our Democracy here in America is the oldest continuous government in the world. When you consider the incredible gridlock and corruption in our current system against the massive problems on both the domestic and global level it is required to deal with, it’s hard not to feel like we need a tune-up. Jared’s book is as good a primer on these issues as I’ve read, and a good fun read as well.