#Occupy as Constitutional Convention, Continued

What is the End Game for the #Occupy Movement?
Whether you support the #Occupy movement or not, seeing photographs and video like those from UC Davis or the many other Occupy events around the world, naturally leads one to wonder where it is heading. Much has been made of what the movement wants and opponents have enjoyed pointing out what they think is a lack of clear direction. This can all appear baffling to those that understand #Occupy as being intentionally ambiguous as a strategic move. But even for supporters, there are questions about the end game.

Let's Remix the Constitution
Last month, I wrote about Lawrence Lessig's new book, Republic, Lost and asked if #OccupyWallStreet could become a constitutional convention. Two good posts in The Atlantic and Boston Review discuss the same topic. And the video above is a new lecture by Lessig that explains his idea. It is about 40 minutes long with a long Q&A section at the end.

Writing in The Atlantic, Alesh Houdek explains who Lessig is and why his book is resonating with the #Occupy movement:

In fact, this book, published just before Occupy Wall Street began, is perfectly positioned to become the movement's handbook. While few protesters will need convincing that the government is corrupted by money, the book lays out the case in a such a comprehensive and persuasive manner -- and proposes such specific and radical solutions -- that it seems tailor-made for the Occupy movement. And it's ambitious proposal for state-based activism on behalf of a Constitutional Convention could provide the movement with a next organizing step as it nears its two-month anniversary Thursday -- and faces such questions as how to ride out the winter and how to respond to police crackdowns.

The whole post is worth-reading, because Lessig's ideas are not exactly simple. But when you accept that there are some aspects of our political process that are so corrupted, like campaign finance, that our current system is not able to fix them, Lessig's ideas seem like a beacon in the fog that will lead us to a better future.

If you're still not sure about this idea of a new constitutional convention, in Boston Review, Lessig explains why the archaic idea is the best way to restructure Congress. Admitting the idea is going to seem far fetched to many Americas, Lessig explains how to build support for the idea:

David Johnson: One solution you suggest at the end of the book is a constitutional convention, which seems like an archaic strategy but also sort of fascinating.

Lawrence Lessig: The really crazy idea in the book is that the delegates to the convention should be randomly selected—a sort of citizen jury.

DJ: Right. It certainly raised my eyebrows.

LL: It’s going to raise anybody’s eyebrows, naturally. Nobody can argue anybody into the position of believing that that makes sense. The way you convince people that makes sense is you run a whole series of these mock conventions where you do exactly that. California did something close to this in their initiative where they created a deliberative poll around the future of California issues and ordinary citizens were given information, and they came up with really sensible, important ideas. I think if we had a series of those mock conventions in the context of amending the Constitution, it would demonstrate something that I think people forget, which is that politics is the rare sport where the amateur is better than the professional. Because the professional is a professional precisely because the professional is very good at understanding the relationship between what he should do and particular interests that are affected by him and he depends upon. And the amateur doesn’t have that skill. The amateur can be summoned into life in a way that says, “Do what’s right here. Do what you think makes sense.” And if you have the right diversity, a randomly selected representative sample, and you can summon that life into being, I think the product of those types of conventions is much more sensible than the product of a political convention.

Curious to learn if my local #Occupy was aware of Lessig's proposal, I raised the idea of a new constitutional convention during a recent General Assembly at #OccupyLittleRock and a few members had heard of the concept, but in discussing it with the broader group, there was some confusion about how exactly this whole process would work. One guy expressed concern opening up the Constitution to changes would be a huge disaster and sure path to losing more rights. This confusion over the process will undoubtedly be a hurdle in getting this idea off the ground.

Later in the Boston Review interview Lessig addresses the practical concerns of process. (My emphasis).


DJ: It seems that more and more we hear about committees being formed to solve various crises. And they’re always populated by elites of some sort or other: experts, politicians, lawyers, and so on. But these committees haven’t been very successful.

LL: I think partly because they are these elite committees. I think that we have got to give America something different to look at. The jury is a very important part of American culture and it’s not hard for people to think beyond the jury about the conviction for a murder case to the jury about questions of how the Constitution should change. And I think people would rightly say, “Whoa, you can’t have a jury change the Constitution.” That’s right. But why not have a jury think about what changes there should be to the Constitution and then allow those changes to go out to the States in a way that allows the States to consider them in a deliberate way. It isn’t harmful to have ideas. And I think in fact the ideas would have a certain credibility once they’re understood to be the product not of the factionalized politics that we have everywhere else in government, but instead of a genuine, Athens-like, random expression of what people think about these issues.

It will be interesting to see just how far this idea can go. It's possible I'll eventually wonder how I could be so naive to think this might work, but if #Occupy has taught us anything, it should be that sometimes far-fetched things are possible.

Tags: Activism | Congress | Occupy Wall Street

Best of TreeHugger