Harry Wiland has produced over a dozen special projects for PBS during the past 30 years. The Imagine Democracy Project is a new 5-part series in development. Imagine Democracy is developing it with both Harvard University’s Civic Engagement and Service Center (Dean Travis Lovett), and Clark Atlanta University’s Graduate Studies Division (Political Science Chair Kurt Young and Professor Tammy Greer). At Imagine Democracy, we believe it is the most important project we have ever worked on. We believe working with Inclusive Capitalism will make a difference and provide hope for our country and those populations around the world that look to us to strengthen and repair what is broken. Imagine Democracy believes that a healthy democracy and a strong and inclusive capitalism are bound inexorably bound together to turn hope into promise.
Imagine Democracy is unique in many ways. It is designed to recruit and engage our younger generations from all societal, cultural, and economic backgrounds. These interns will be attached to our dozen film crews as they travel across the country and visit and film in communities large and small. These "journalists-in-training" will be our interface. The project's goal is to repair what is broken in our society with fresh new ideas. These young people, under guidance, will interview business and community leaders, as well as students and their parents about the fragile state of our democracy. What can be done to make opportunity more equitable for all its members? They will organize teach-ins and debates in schools and community centers. They will conduct town hall meetings and conduct one-on-one man/women street interviews. They will solicit new ideas not only from leaders but from all strands of society. They will visit each location several times over the course of production to see if there is positive change from the grass roots level on up. Our teams will analyze and compare their results and these will be posted on our project website to inspire discussion and healthy debate. R&D will last 4-6 months, on-location filming approximately 6 months, and post-production 8 months with the goal of broadcasting the series in time for the 2024 national elections.
The Imagine Democracy Media Project is led by The Democracy Corps. These young, investigative interns will be our ears and eyes on the ground. Their goal? To search for ways to repair our broken system of governance that begins with a more realistic look at our country’s beginnings at the Constitutional Convention.
Episode 1: 3/5THS of a Democracy — America’s Original Sin
The Constitutional Framers dealt a near-fatal blow to our democracy by counting slaves as 3/5ths of a human being. This so-called compromise allowed slave-holding states to increase their representation 60% by adding on their enslaved population. At the same time, the Framers approved the Electoral College, and in many other ways gave a permanent advantage to white slaveowners. The Electoral College was connected to the 3/5th Compromise and ensured that pro-slavery candidates and smaller, mostly rural States even today would have an unfair advantage running for the presidency and the Congress.
Episode 2: Truth To Power
Presidents have sought to override checks and balances from the beginning of American history, with mixed results. Particularly during wartime, Congress has generally complied with executive overreach, and even popular Presidents -- Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt -- participated in this trend away from a democracy of equal branches. In recent years, the tendency has only intensified, as Presidents have engaged in constant partisan combat, between and within the branches of government. In other ways, as well -- the growth in secrecy and executive privilege -- the pattern of strong presidents has eroded the democratic checks and balances designed by the founders. In this episode we will consider the sources of this imbalance and where we can find ways to redress these dangerous abuses of power.
Episode 3: The Media and Democracy
Presidents have struggled with an unruly and tabloid press since the time of George Washington, but the last 20 years have presented deeper difficulties that have torn at the fabric of democracy. Cancellation of the "Fairness Doctrine" in 1987 eliminated any pressure on broadcasters to present both sides of a story. Concurrently, the rise of the Internet eliminated classified advertising and their loss of paid traditional advertising doomed hundreds of local newspapers. Led by Facebook and supported by big money, these forms of social media legitimized a kind of no-holds-barred form of one-sided communication that empowered candidates who distorted the truth. Working together with the business community we will seek to make media more responsible. Our goal will be to lower the temperature by offering solutions. Reason over shouting. We will invite new ideas and address opposing points of view.
Episode 4: Separate but Unequal
The concept of “the playing field” of our “We The People” democracy invites everyone to participate. But the obstructions, first penned into our Constitution, then scattered deliberately and legally throughout our history by dominant “owners”, exclude vast majorities. Yes, people over 18 can vote, volunteer, watch or listen to televised debates, and read about their candidates. Yet wealth, connections, policy, and the running of well-funded and relentless campaigns 24/7 reduce participation from millions of Americans, especially the poor, the disenfranchised… rural or urban, and people of color. Inclusive Capitalism has the chance to offer and mediate dialogue with the business community on finding new ways to reach out and provide greater opportunity to all members of our society.
5: The Growing Threat of Minority Rule
From our beginnings as a democracy, some people---determined to restrict the flow of political power---have tried to prevent other people from voting. Local officials and state legislatures have tried – and continue to employ -- gerrymandering, literacy tests, ID checks, and other impediments of voter suppression, to restrict the elderly, the poor, and people of color, particularly Blacks. White majority local leaders in many state legislatures, ignoring the power of the tectonic demographic population shifts, continue to create new obstacles to universal civic engagement.
Even civic engagement during these election cycles is a matter of pressing voters to vote, not educating as to WHY voting is key or even what the particulars of each of the offices. This voter ignorance is part of why voters have the notion “government does not work”. In reality, government works … just for those who make “government” work for them. Citizens must understand who has responsibility of what in order to correctly petition the government.
CEOs and members of Inclusive Capitalism have spoken out against greater limitations to voting and the impact of minority rule. They will be invited to speak out on the issue of greater responsibility and involvement from the business community.
The Wilson Center NOW Series
Preview for the Imagine Democracy series
Imagine Democracy Deck