Reinventing the convention

Reinventing the convention

: The real story of this convention should be the death and reinvention of political conventions. I have some suggestions — no, I have a damned manifesto — for reinventing conventions from the bottom up.

It’s no news that no news will come from the Democratic National Convention this week — nevertheless, we apparently need 15,000 journalists and now a gaggle of bloggers to tell us nothing. This is why I decided not to go to the convention. (More on that in a minute.) It’s the unevent. It should not exist.

But then I thought about ways to rebuild the convention, to make them relevant and useful — and democratic — again:

1. Prove that you are the party that listens. Hold sessions — not panels, not speeches, not lectures, not platform meetings, but sessions on the BloggerCon model — with experts and citizens (and politicians listening and not speaking unless spoken to) brought together to have conversations about the issues and solutions that really matter to all of us: health care, education, taxes, defense, terrorism, the economy…

Of course, it won’t be a controlled message. That’s just the point. It’s about listening. It’s about having the conversation. If markets are conversations and news is a conversation then politics and government certainly should be a conversation. Democracy is a conversation. Thus Cluetrain meets McLuhan: The medium is the message and the message is, “We are the party that listens.”

2. Open the convention to the citizens. Just as the Democrats have opened the media tent to include not just every journalist alive but now also bloggers, so should they open the gates to citizens. By inviting nonpols and unconnected people to those sessions on issues, they would bring the conventions back to the people — which is precisely who the conventions are supposed to be about. These are supposed to be the one time in four years when the citizens have a voice in politics. But, of course, only pols and the connected can attend. And so the citizens resent the people behind the curtain. The only way to solve that is to invite the people behind the curtain, too.

3. Decentralize the convention. Take those sessions and webcast them and open up a backchannel to involve anyone and everyone who gives a damn anywhere in the country. Want to talk to every state? Then listen to every state.

4. Harness citizens. If you learned anything from Howard Dean, it should be that the people will move mountains for them if you involve them in the process. So all during convention week, hold MeetUps in Boston and across the country and call that the real convention of the real party.

Simple suggestions, really. You can still have your speeches. You can still fight over nominations in the odd chance it comes to that. But you can also listen to citizens, involve citizens, include the nation.

: UPDATE: Quoth Doc Searls:

Power from the people, people. Not the other way around. Finally.


: UPDATE: David Weinberger expects these to be the last old-style conventions:

Will we ever do this again? Is 2004 the last year we’re going to have national conventions like these?…

All this is a lot to ask of a city, and it’s a lot to do to a city. In four years, with ratings down, the politics purely ceremonial, and the risk of putting an entire political party in one square block ever higher, will the Democrats and Republicans decide that it’s time to “think outside” this particular box? Let the delegates vote by absentee ballot and then send the candidates to a series of celebratory parties around the country so “all Americans can share the excitement” — and also distribute the risk and costs.

Are these the last conventions we’re going to hold? Or, once I experience one, am I going to see their value?