Potluck PAC: Crowdsourcing Local Policy Ideas

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I attended the first Sloup event in 2009. Sloup is a fun, quick way to crowdsource art and community projects and immediately connect them with modest sums of money, all the while bringing people together and introducing them to new, creative ideas happening in their city. Since then, I’ve made it to at least a half dozen of their monthly events. What’s the best part of Sloup? It just works. Its immediate – you vote on proposals, and you may be able to encounter the winning idea, fully formed, within a month.

One way or another, conversations about local politics or policy seem to creep into the conversations happening amongst attendees. But frequently, the conversations are about what someone else is doing. Local government is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as someone else’s province. Why? Local government is the place where regular people can, and do, have an impact.

I want to make local government your problem.

People vote in national elections, and voting based on party gives you a pretty decent idea of where a candidate is coming from. But in local elections, not so many people vote, and “party labels tell voters almost no useful information about a candidate’s stance on municipal-level issues“.

Local elections don’t have the natural back and forth of national elections. They don’t have an open debate about ideas. Local “parties regularly do not take stances on key issues“.

So where does local policy come from? Where do local elected officials find new ideas? How do we make local government more nimble and adaptive? We may not have the back and forth of a national election, but we still need to find and vet new ideas.

Would it surprise you to find out that a lobbyist for gas station interests attends every Board of Alderman meeting?

The question is, where is your lobbyist? How do we create a means for regular to people to know enough, and be interested enough, to move their own ideas from suggestions to policy? I’m hoping that’s where Potluck PAC can make a dent.

Do you have an idea that should be policy? Do you see unnecessary barriers to doing important things in our city? What do you want to change? I’ve sponsored and passed several bills that had a significant amount of input from dedicated residents: bike parking requirements, better pedestrian access to buildings, and (hopefully) limits on campaign contributions. But what do you want to see?

Potluck PAC borrows the formula of Sloup. People submit ideas at least a week in advance (deadline is midnight on Sunday, Sept. 8th) Then on Sept. 15th, residents show up, eat, discuss the ideas, ask questions, and vote on their preferred proposal. The ideas come from residents, and the winner is chosen by residents. What does the winner win? Myself, Ald. Shane Cohn, Ald. Christine Ingrassia, and Michael Powers, from Board President Lewis Reed’s office commit to working with the winner to implement their idea. The winner gets valuable experience learning the local political process, and we get good ideas to work with.

But success will come down to you. Are you submitting an idea? Are you coming to the Contemporary Art Museum on Sept. 15th? Potluck PAC: Democracy + Food.

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  • nikelosm

    This sounds like a wonderful idea, it really does. Many people though, myself included, envision building cohesive sustainable communities independent of government involvement. To be more specific, there are many issues, on many different levels (socioeconomic, environmental, etc) that would be better targeted through local non profits and direct community involvement. Politics many times becomes a hurdle to ideas regarding community building, and also at times adds undo and unwarranted influence and pressure. I want St. Louis to be a truly progressive livable sustainable city, And from my experience working in the political field, government can be detrimental to that sort of vision that so many city residents want. I think it would be wonderful if we had some sort of non profit incubator, for local non profits only, that provided a platform and resources for organizations. We have incubators for startups, but nothing that is purely non profit driven as its mission. There is much to be said about the roles non profits (both existing and startup) can play in public policy and shaping both the discourse and vision to make this city great.