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Crowdsourcing Gets Political In St. Louis

Tara Pham
(Courtesy Potluck PAC)

For some time now, St. Louisans interested in funding creative projects in the region have gathered on the last Sunday of the month for Sloup. They put a donation in a pot, eat soup, listen to proposals, and vote on the one they'd most like to see happen. The proposal that wins the most votes gets to use the donated money to help make their idea a reality.

This September, Sloup's model went political under the initiative of Scott Ogilvie, alderman for the 24th ward of St. Louis.  Using the donation-meal-proposal model of Sloup, four political ideas were presented at the first ever Potluck PAC (Political Action Crowdsourcing).

"The actual format is meant to foster conversation. So it is really a platform for people with new ideas to get them out there, and there they have a built-in audience already of people interested in advancing local politics," said Tara Pham, one of the organizers of the Potluck-PAC. A co-founder of the Brain Drain Collective, Pham is also involved with Sloup. "It's all donation based. So it is people putting a little bit of their money where their mouth is."

There are other political crowdsourcing initiatives, said Ogilvie, but what makes Potluck PAC unique is that it has the support of elected and appointed officials--Ogilvie, Shane Cohn of the 25th ward, Christine Ingrassia of the 6th ward and Michael Powers, the legislative director to the president of the board of aldermen Lewis Reed. The four local officials have committed themselves to helping the winning proposals through the political process.

"Sloup is a great monthly event because of it's immediacy and because it connects people directly with the art projects that they fund. And I wanted to do something comparable with local policy," said Ogilvie. "For me,  it's about taking people with good ideas but who may not be particularly politically involved, but still have a lot of civic interest, and giving them a channel to make that political involvement."

"Local politics can be kind of dull and dry sometimes, and I would like to make it more accessible and more fun so that people feel like it is worth their time to participate," added Ogilvie.

Paul Sorenson's idea for a Land Asset Cooperative (LAC) was the winning proposal for the first Potluck PAC.

"When we're talking about low-income neighborhoods, when we're talking about breaking out of that cycle of poverty, one of the things that is most discussed is how hard it is for a lot of people who are in these neighborhoods to really build assets, to build wealth, and really save for the future and invest in things that will further their quest for a happy, healthy life," said Sorenson. He is a systems advancement specialist at Grace Hill Settlement House.

"The idea is to take some of the vacant land that is now owned by the city through the Land Reutilization Authority...and there is a lot of it...the idea is to take some of those assets and use them to build community wealth," said Sorenson. "To build credit you have to get a loan, and to get a loan you have to be working toward something, working toward purchasing some sort of asset. I felt this could be a way to allow people in neighborhoods to purchase an asset that was right there next to them, but structured in a way that is set up for them to succeed rather than set up for them to fail."

Sorenson plans to use the funds raised at the Potluck PAC to hire a consultant to do a feasibility study on the idea. Although the money raised was minimal--about $600--Pham and Ogilvie say the purpose of Potluck PAC is less about raising money and more about providing a platform for discussing ideas for local policy.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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