NewGrassRoots is a voter-engagement platform started by a farmer-turned-activist whose conflicted experience with “democracy” while organizing support for small farms in Vermont led him on a journey from fixing fences to building technology that addresses the lack of voter representation in our “democracy.”
He learned that mega-farms abuse “democracy” by spending billions to lobby state and federal politicians for unfair regulatory advantages. With consolidated economic and political power they force thousands of small farms out of business. With blatant disregard for the will of local voters.
Frustrated by local agriculture-policies that favor multi-national conglomerates, he got involved in grassroots-advocacy in 2011. Ben Brown moved back to Vermont in 2010, after running a foreclosure-mitigation real estate company in Denver from 2006-2010. He realized his and other diversified, regenerative farming operations will never be financially viable until laws get changed to be more fair.
He began organizing on legislation that supported small-scale farms and neighbor-to-neighbor sales. Re-localizing the production of food, fuel and fiber and giving consumers more local choices seemed like a good idea. But it’s not that simple. Intense research into the history of corporate lobbying led down a rabbit hole, far beyond agriculture policy in Vermont, to the deepest-rooted, systemic problem rotting our democracy; “Money in Politics.”
In 2014, Ben led a statewide legislative-advocacy effort which succeeded at passing first-in-the-nation legislation calling for an Article V Constitutional Convention to, specifically, get money out of politics. The successful advocacy strategy relied on organizers knocking on doors and call-banking to ask constituents in targeted districts to call their legislators, to urge them to vote “yes” on the bill.
To Ben’s pleasant surprise, constituent-calls worked! Several key legislators in both chambers were convinced to change their position. It was beautiful; representative democracy in action!
But while trying to find the call-data needed to improve his organizing techniques, Ben was shocked to find out that the Vermont statehouse does not track phone calls to legislators! Ben saw the failure to track important data as a big problem that could be solved!
The statehouse phone is answered during business hours only, with no way to leave a voice message for individual legislators. If they answer, a handwritten note is taken. Legislative Pages walk around the statehouse delivering “pink slips” to legislators, one at a time!
After more than five years of grassroots advocacy, Ben had mixed feelings on “democracy” in Vermont. On one hand, he was hugely inspired by the fact that when “enough” Vermonters decide to make a personal call to their legislator, they can directly impact policy.
But with no way to measure the number of calls each legislator receives for and against specific legislation, constituents have no way to determine whether a legislator’s votes actually represented the “majority opinion” in their district. Democracy requires opinion data!
In the business world, this lack of “customer satisfaction” data would lead to sure bankruptcy. Ben realized that for any system of “democracy” to have a chance at earning the trust of voters, it must produce verifiable opinion-data, on a per-issue, per-district basis.
This is Vermont’s opportunity to re-imagine local “democracy!”