Your Voice Doesn’t Stop at the Ballot Box

In a tent down on Canal Street, ordinary New Yorkers are having their say. There’s never been anything like it.

New Yorkers last week elected a new mayor for the first time in 12 years. But civic engagement doesn’t stop at the ballot box. As mayor-elect Bill De Blasio prepares to shape his detailed policy agenda for the next four years, how can the people of New York make sure their voices remain part of those discussions?

Part of the answer may lie in a huge tent now standing on a vacant lot at Duarte Square on the junction of Varick and Canal Streets—a place where New Yorkers are being invited to come and to talk about the issues that matter to them. It’s a translucent tent—it lets the light in, and it lets the light out—you could even call it transparent.

And that’s the point. Too often, after the people vote, the significant policy decisions during a transition take place behind closed doors. The political players who helped deliver the votes, the campaign funders and so on, those are the ones who get access to the winning candidate.

At the tent in Duarte Square, the aim is to mix it up, get the voters and the activists and the city officials and the elected officials all talking together in one place.

Worried about policing or crime? There will be someone to talk to. Worried about cutbacks in support for food pantries, or homeless shelters? There’s someone else to speak with. Concerned about re-zoning, or transport? Come on down. And in addition to the talking in the tent, there will be points set up around the city where people can record their views, to be rebroadcast down on Canal Street.

The initiative is called Talking Transition, and there’s never been anything like it in the United States. It’s backed by the Open Society Foundations, along with a group of foundations, organizations, and individuals.

For us at Open Society, supporting this effort in New York is something that fits into the work we do around the world to try to stimulate civic engagement after the voting is done.

It is vitally important to the health of our political systems. In New York, as in many parts of the United States and Europe, the turnout rate in elections is generally low: De Blasio won a landslide victory, but he was elected by just 24 percent of the registered voters—a record low for the mayoral race. In 2014, the political map could change dramatically in Europe where a series of elections will be held against a background of a prolonged economic and social crisis.

Low voter turnout reflects the breakdown in trust between the voters and those they elect—a sense of impotence, that what I say or think doesn’t make a difference. In West Africa, where election turnout is generally higher, we are working to increase civic engagement from the ballot box to government.

Wherever it is, a truly healthy political system needs people taking part. Talking Transition is based on the principle that people have ideas and suggestions about what those who run their city, or their country, should do. New Yorkers have always been famous for their readiness to talk. Talking Transition will give them the chance to do just that, and to talk about things that really matter.

8 Comments

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Yes!If I vote for you Mr.Mayor you have to be in the service of my(needs)-
It is very interesting to see a video like this one.The change comes from citizens.

a very good initiative to promote good governance and democracy in the World

Talking transition is a great initiative that most politicians overlook in the victory euphoria. Is it possible to introduce mid-term manifest-compliance?

i love the idea, but i'm a skeptic by nature. We need more details.

I'm encouraged by Talking Transition because it's open to many voices not just those with access to power.

I was unable to get to the tent. I am concerned about all the issues expressed. I have another issue, our health and the environment. Right now, people living in Manhattan are probably experiencing a significant increase in RADON-contaminated gas in their stoves, because of the Spectra Pipeline. This fracked gas is coming from Pennsylvania. We all know the problems with Radon, and no amount is safe... Hydrofracking is a big issue in New York State, and most are against it. I fear that Honorable Mayor De Blasio does not have a strong environmental agenda. We must be clean food, breathe clean air and drink clean water in our affodable apartments. The issue of our environment is not going away, and the issue will present itself to the new administration. I hope that Honorable Mayor De Blasio will support those, who oppose fracking, the pipes that bring it to us and the special interests that are willing to destroy our coasts, beaches, homes and health with the toxins generated from fracking and the pipes. I hope he supports clean, renewable energy with solar panals ( which can be printed out inexpensively), BIRD-SAFE WIND, such as Sigma Design and others, energy efficiency and fossil-fuel reduction. Thank you, Anne Lazarus

“a truly healthy political system needs people taking part” Yet at the same time the head of OSF in Brussels is advocating in the Financial Times against citizens electing the next Commission president… (see www.ft.com, “How not to fix the European Union's democratic deficit” by Heather Grabbe on November 4)

I thought the idea of an "open conversation" with the public was terrific and hope the concept of the transition talks can be continued throughout this administration and future ones. Since ordinary citizens have such a hard time engaging in a dialogue with their representatives, since it is not typical in our society for people to meet with, call up or email their reps, something like the tents is a great way to pull in the less engaged.

However, if I could offer some feedback: At a time when we're barely a year past Sandy, to not have climate and energy policy front and center in at least a few discussions is a massive oversight. This is one policy area where we truly hope De Blasio will LISTEN to the input of residents, who have been being cut out of decisions about energy, rebuilding, and infrastructure during the Bloomberg/Quinn administration.

Also I was very disappointed by the attitude of those running the sessions, and by the polls and format of some sessions. The "open conversation" turned out to be not very open. The multiple choice format annoyed many I spoke with. Discussions and the ipad polls in the foyer tent were framed within a limited scope, there were few open-ended questions or genuine discussion; organizers within the main tent even prevented citizens from dialoging with each other and barred the distribution of literature. One woman walked around like a hall monitor interrupting private exchanges that she felt were off-topic. That's not very open or democratic. I heard these sentiments echoed by many.

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