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Obama, Call On Us! (And We’ll All Win)

In early Obama—that is, pre- nominee presumption—I heard a music-to-my-ears refrain. It went something like this: This historic moment is not about me — a new, courageous leader breaking the race barrier. It is about YOU: Only you can make history, only you —Citizen America — can reverse our nation’s tragic decline. So engage with others and help shape new policies and hold your officials accountable to your values.

That is the message Obama should deliver at the DNC Thursday night.

I want to hear him say: our problems are simply too deep, too complex, too interconnected to be solved from the top down in the old way. So we must—and can!—move our democracy to a new historical stage. Democracy will no longer be something done to us or for us. It will instead be the practice of empowered, savvy citizens who know what they want.

Thus far, a number of convention speeches have called us to vote Obama because we care about poor, struggling Americans whose lives have been made infinitely more difficult by Bush policies. Compassion is important, but this frame can sound like a “do-for” stance — and such a stance is one easily seized upon by the Right, who love to portray Democrats as paternalistic nanny-staters.

The frame we most need is one of empowerment, one reminding us that all citizens want to feel powerful, not just a few of us. That’s the message that Democrats need to put forth now; that is what our nation needs. What might that look like? How could such a message be realized?

In late July, three national organizations for engaged democratic practice — Demos,Everyday Democracy, and AmericaSpeaks — gathered a diverse group of 50 advocates to create recommendations that the next Administration can pursue to strengthen our democracy, as well as a set of actions that we can each take. Though their work remains in progress, what they propose is not just outside-the-box thinking. It is imminently viable.

Their ideas include:

* Establishing a White House Office