Rethinking Democracy

When the Soviet Union imploded and the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, those were heady days for democracy. While not eliminating all forms of authoritarian regimes, we in the West, thought we had created fresh, irreversible momentum for building liberal, progressive societies. Of offering people a better quality of life, complete with greater engagement of, and rights for, citizens across the globe.

Regrettably, the euphoria proved temporary.

In fact, of late, democracy has been placed on its hind legs. Dictators the world over have rebounded, and democracies in western countries have faced their share of challenges and record public cynicism. It is such a concern that President Biden recently organized a Democracy Summit, with over 100 countries, to start addressing this worrisome trend.

In our own regional backyard, the US political system is very sick, and during our last federal election, we experienced a level of nastiness and backlash not seen in Canada for some time.

The health of our democracy has thus become a going concern for think tanks, universities, NGOs, and the media. As people are questioning their political leaders and institutions, along comes the concept of CITIZN.

What is CITIZN you ask?

Read on, as I had the opportunity of speaking with its founder and CEO, Murray Simser.

Sergio Marchi: Murray, it’s a real pleasure to speak with you. Tell us, in a few words everyone can understand, even me, what is CITIZN?

Murray Simser: It’s best explained as democracy’s social network. If anyone has used LinkedIn, it’s a similar culture, where the people will do the business of government. This platform will in short tell the government what they want, at any time, on any and all issues. Direct democracy.

Sergio Marchi: How will it practically improve and reinvigorate democracy?

MS: This is a most important question. Fundamentally, we will be able to look at what has worked and what hasn’t. As you know, the current political system has resisted doing this.

As well, a core promise is that CITIZN will cut through the collective “nonsense” we see on many social media sites, where the fringe has become prime time. We will avoid that. Everyone participating on our app will be real human beings. No trolls!

Plus, when you bring moderation to a discussion, what you get are productive conversations and solutions. We absolutely require civility if democracy is to thrive.

Sergio Marchi: Is CITIZN already launched? And are you starting first with Canada?

MS: It has not been launched yet. But we’re getting very close. We have some 30 ‘Ambassadors’ writing the constitution for CITIZN, a constitution that will be owned and controlled by its users.

The CITIZN App will be released in the new year, and Canada will be the first jurisdiction . . . . followed by the rest of the world.

Sergio Marchi: Do you think the participants will be predominately young people? Or, will the platform be user-friendly, and welcome people of all ages and backgrounds, who aren’t techies?

MS: I promise you that everyone will understand, without specialized knowledge. For example, think of networking before LinkedIn came along. It was a lot more work and difficult. But with LinkedIn, everyone was able to easily participate, on issues of their choosing and interest. That’s what CITIZN will do for politics.

Sergio Marchi: Do you expect that established politicians and political parties will fight you? Hacks?

MS: I spent two years studying this entire concept. Politicos who don’t have an interest to join, will not participate. They may not want to get in front of this bus. And that’s ok. This will thrive without them. Their absence will not harm CITIZN. By contrast, politicos who do wish to engage, well they are citizens like everyone else, and they will be most welcome.

Sergio Marchi: How and when did you first think about CITIZN?

MS: The alarms went off as I was watching the returns of the 2015 federal election, with friends in Ottawa. The Liberals won a majority, something that was completely unforeseen by polling companies across our nation. How could that be, I asked myself? It kind of scared me. Why the incredible disconnect? But this was the symptom, not the problem.

Sergio Marchi: Is this CITIZN endeavour full time for you?

MS: Yes, it is. It consumes every working second of my time and energy . . . . and finances, I might add. I haven’t made a dime since 2017. I continue to invest in CITIZN, and I am good with that.

Sergio Marchi: Will CITIZN operate like the Facebooks of the world?

MS: No. CITIZN will be materially different and much better. Why? Because, it’s all about how one structure’s the algorithms. With Meta (formerly known as Facebook), their incentives enable them to favour ad revenue over people. They are tied, first and foremost, to advertisers. We will not do that. Our foundation will be firmly anchored with the users.

For example, as I mentioned, our Constitution will be written by the group of ‘Ambassadors’, independently of me. I was not invited to the discussions intentionally. CITIZN will be all about empowering people. Full stop!

Sergio Marchi: How might our readers contribute to this project?

MS: Thanks Sergio. I would kindly ask your readers to visit:

Sergio Marchi: Which current political leader do you admire the most, and why?

MS: If I had to choose one, it would be Angela Merkel. She was a remarkable woman and political leader. She was top of the class!

Sergio Marchi: Do you have a mentor or personal hero that inspired you?

MS: Yes. As a very young man, I was moved by Pierre Elliot Trudeau. For me, he personified that strong Canadian, with incredible intellectual horsepower. After his time in public life, I had the fortune of having a private audience with him at his law firm in Montreal. What an experience! I felt like I had graduated to another level altogether!

Sergio Marchi: When you’re not saving democracy, how do you relax?

MS: Well, the truth is that I work far too much. But I do try to eat healthily. I also exercise regularly, and I love to read. Reading helps to keep my mind active. I read for at least five hours each day.

Sergio Marchi: What book stands out for you?

MS: Two come to mind.

The first, which I actually just read recently is entitled, Rez Rules, by Chief Clarence Louis. It’s focused on how we can reconcile with our Indigenous communities. As a Métis, I read it with great hope!

And the second is, Beating the Odds, by Chris MacLeod. It discusses 11 lessons to overcome our health crisis, and lead a more resilient life.

Both are so relevant for the times we live in.

Sergio Marchi: And what is your favourite, go-to food?

MS: It has to be Italian. I love a good pizza. For me, it’s a fun journey.

As you can see from his responses, Murray is a bundle of energy and optimism. With CITIZN, he may be onto something truly revolutionary.

I, for one, and as a former politico, hope that he is successful because democracy is sliding everywhere, and we the people are the big losers.

As Churchill famously reminded us so long ago, ‘democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”.

We need to take care of it.