a reason for hope: the Citizens Initiative Review

(Posted from DC) The Massachusetts 2016 Citizens Initiative Review just concluded. Twenty randomly selected citizens spent four full days hearing testimony and intensively deliberating to write a statement meant to inform Massachusetts voters about the pending marijuana legalization referendum. Tufts’ Tisch College is a sponsor of this process, and I made a few visits during the days of deliberation, which are open to the public. I can report that my fellow citizens were deeply responsible, thoughtful, serious, and civil. At the end, I understand they found themselves moved by what they had accomplished.

Their task was to write a statement to guide voters. Their short document had to include the strongest reasons to vote for and against the initiative. Their fine product is here.

In contrast to politics as usual, the CIR isn’t polarized, and it’s not about winning and losing. In a good sense, it’s personal: participants get to know each other and try to make something valuable together. It is demographically reflective of the whole state. Money can’t get you into the room or buy your ideas a better hearing. It’s open-ended: no one can predict or determine what the deliberators will write, and each voter who reads their statement will make up her own mind about the referendum.

To observe 20 of your fellow citizens–of all ages, races, and walks of life–playing a role in making policy is a beautiful thing and an antidote to despair.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.