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By Rady Ananda

July 19, 2005

Cincinnati, OH. Close to fifty grassroots leaders from around Ohio showed up for a three-hour interactive seminar presented by author, Peter Block, from his Civic Engagement Series. Block is an engaging public speaker who has published six books. The free event was sponsored by independent candidate John Eastman for Secretary of State, the only candidate in any Ohio race with a strong and well-articulated election reform platform.  

The day-long seminar broke for about 75 minutes for a varied and well-prepared buffet, assisted by four hard-working teenagers. The afternoon session provided attendees with practical application of the principles raised in “Changing the Nature of the Conversation.” Note-taking was replaced with a 32-page booklet, the cover of which captures an older African American woman indicating her unity and demanding her voice be heard. Block reframes George Lakoff’s “debate” to a conversation, with questions. 

Block breaks down civic conversations into six areas, which adequately represent the stages of activism, but in a uniquely personal and interactive way. Six to seven people occupied each of seven tables in a long and air-conditioned hall. Local residents probably had a harder time than the out-of-towners because some of the questions evoked intimate answers. 

Block labels his “conversations” as, The Invitation, Possibility, Ownership, Dissent, Commitment, and Gifts. Further information can be found at http://www.asmallgroup.net. 

George Lakey, another national strategist, sees five stages in social movements, and writes an eloquent piece at his website: http://trainingforchange.org/content/208/53/. His five divisions involve cultural preparation, organization-building, confrontation, mass non-cooperation, and the development of parallel institutions. By Lakey’s reckoning, Block’s Civic Engagement Series represents the first stage, that of cultural preparation. Merely by attending the event, everyone received an invitation to be civically accountable. We held conversations within our groups and with the entire room. Several engaging statements were made: 

“Most citizens are attracted to the security illusion that patriarchy offers.” 

“I’ve lost faith in the power of leadership.” 

“I’m not going to judge myself based on pace or scale.” 

“Free will trumps genetics, culture, and parental upbringing.” 

“We are the creator of our world as well as the product of it.” 

All grassroots leaders tied the questions to their own personal experiences within their own activism. No voter rights activist can doubt that we citizens, collectively, co-produced or co-created the loss of fair and honest elections. I have to admit that I ignored my responsibilities to democracy for several years. We all share a mutual responsibility in the current state of affairs, as each of us works in our own local campaigns. 

Few, if any, were immune from anxiety and accountability when Block discussed “the nature of powerful questions.” He challenged us to achieve authentic, productive dissent by asking several questions that we answered to each other. Some include: 

What doubts and reservations do you have? What do you want to say No to, or refuse, that you keep postponing? What forgiveness are you withholding? What promises are you willing to make and to whom? What price are you willing to pay? Also: What is the cost to others for me to keep my commitments, or fail in my commitments? And finally, What gifts have you received from each other? 

Candidate John Eastman conservatively articulated 11 points of election reform which align closely with the principles of several Ohio’s voter rights groups including League of Women Voters, Common Cause, J30, CASE and Ohio Vigilance. 

• Verifiable paper trail • Standard audit process
• Instant runoff voting
• Election Day Holiday
• Ballot access revisions
• Free airtime for candidates
• Publicly funded campaigns
• Open Debates
• Voter Education
• Restoring citizen authority over corporations
• Non-partisan districting 

The election system in an authentic democracy would include the following additional four points: 

* Universal, automatic, voter registration upon reaching majority * Universal suffrage regardless of criminal conviction status * Protection of voter privacy thru decentralized databases maintained at the county level. Only county vote results are sent to the statewide database * Non-partisan and BLIND districting (where map drawers do not have access to voter information or regional vote trends) 

If Eastman, or any committee of elected officials, is unable to institute these principles in a complete revamp of Ohio’s election process, it will be incumbent upon Ohio citizens to implement a parallel election system. 

Current proposed legislation, like HB3, and the Reform Ohio Now initiatives, fail to grasp that the entire election process needs to be rewritten, all at once, to prevent the rampant irregularities, suppression and fraud that occurred in November’s 2004 election. No homeowner, who had been continually burgled, would think to lock the front doors only, while leaving the back doors open. The same holistic approach needs to be applied to our election system. 

John Eastman has a clear vision and a detailed plan to wrest control of the public vote from politicians, where public confidence in our electoral process can be regained.

Erroneously attributed to event sponsor at Free Press.