I saw a prior post on Portland indymedia--and noticed that this is being run by AmericaSpeaks. I had seen them in action almost 15 years ago and was impressed. I emailed them to find out what their agenda was because it appeared that this Town Meeting might be a rightwing attempt to gut social security and social programs.
The director called me to explain that they are indeed neutral, that they have no agenda, and are committed to the idea that participatory democracy matters.
One criticism was that the money came from the Frank Peterson. She explained that Peterson served in the Reagan administration and did favor privatizing social security at that time. However, her organization refused to take funding just from Peterson's foundation alone. Instead, they were able to get funding from other foundations with different perspectives and pulled together a group that had mixed views. Their neutrality is essential--someone has to be able to facilitate these conversations and the only way that can be done is through a neutral process with a neutral policy agenda.
I asked if they would be considering revenue raising measures as well as spending cuts. She said yes. They are almost done with putting together a options paper that will be posted to their website and will be given to all participants.
I then asked what information would be available--and she said that they now had Budget 101 posted to their website, along with other information reflecting a range of views and will have the revenue options posted by Monday.
She said that they are facing a difficult time with disinformation but she assured me that this conversation about the federal budget is a sincere attempt to engage citizens in an important converstation. AmericaSpeaks has no vested interest in any particular policy position or policy outcome. They do have a vested interest in enabling people to have a voice and engage in a civil conversation around very complex policies that affect our future.
You can see their overview at:
This is a good overview--although some of the beliefs about what the impacts of raising revenue or the projected impacts of the deficit on the economy are topics that are debated by economists. The challenge, in my opinion, is to try and simplify these issues so non-budget people can understand while presenting the complex views as well as the reality that there is no agreement about what the future will look like or what the impacts are likely to be actually be. However, their site does provide some resources that reflect different political perspectives about the budget, the deficit and the debt so an informed discussion at the town meeting can take place.
For those who are concerned about the federal budget and the possible actions that can be taken to reduce the debt, this is a way to engage in the conversation.
Common Dreams: Who Ate the Dessert, http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/06/14-3
Research blog: Sustainable deficit? http://researchdemystified.org/2010/03/a-sustainable-deficit/
From AmericaSpeaks website:
On June 26, 2010, thousands of Americans across the country will participate in an unprecedented National Town Meeting on our budget and economy. The National Town Meeting will include thousands of people in different locations all across the country connected live via satellite video, webcast and interactive technologies. In up to 20 cities, thousands of participants reflecting the political, socio-economic, and ethnic diversity of the United States will attend AmericaSpeaks 21st Century Town Meetings.
Thousands more Americans will participate that same day in volunteer-organized Community Conversations.
Many more individuals will be able to tune-in from home to watch live video coverage online, participate in the discussion, and share their own priorities in an online forum.
Statement of Neutrality
AmericaSpeaks takes pride in its reputation as an honest and neutral advocate for public participation. We play a unique role in the policymaking process by serving as a non-partisan convener of forums that provide the public with an opportunity to make decisions about important issues without fear of manipulation or bias. Our ability to help citizens and elected officials come together around tough public issues is dependent on our commitment to maintaining this neutral role.
We have held dozens of town hall meetings that have been attended and supported by a range of Republican, Democrat and Independent office holders from Mayors and Governors to Congressional Representatives and Senators, to a U.S. President and many world leaders.
On our staff, Board of Directors and Board of Advisors, you will find individuals who have held elected office and those who have been appointed to government positions — representing both Republicans and Democrats and those with no strong party affiliations.
AmericaSpeaks does not take positions on policy issues. AmericaSpeaks strives to ensure that only balanced and neutral facts are used to inform discussions on policy issues. We stand by these basic principles that protect the integrity of our process and the faith that participants and decision-makers place in our work.