The Crisis of Representative Democracy vs New Means of Participation
At the local, state and national level, a crisis of representation in government has led to a lack of participation from the electorate. In 2016 nearly half of America chose to sit out of the most consequential election in a generation. As a result, the fragility of our political system has been exposed. People everywhere feel as if their future is at risk. And we are filled with the anxiety that comes from facing an increasingly uncertain future.
The reason folks stay home on election day is because most of us don’t feel represented, and we’re right. Studies show that “the rich use their wealth to control the political system and that the U.S. is a democratic republic in name only”. The majority of voters have recognized what these studies have proven; citizens are excluded from the political process. The people we elect to represent us are largely unresponsive to our needs. That is not democracy.
Democracy in Crisis
This lack of responsiveness to the public is a crisis of democracy that must be addressed.
The election of Donald Trump is proof that the country’s political elite will not change and that their democratic failure has terrible consequences. A government that is unaccountable to its citizens is a threat to our values, to society and to our very lives.
This threat to democracy is not an accident nor is it the result of immoral individuals. The threat comes from the fact that those in power have little in common with the public they represent.
Officeholders immersed in government too long lose the connection they may have had with the day to day needs of regular people. They become more interested in maintaining their institutional power than in serving the public. As a result they enact policies that benefit the rich and harm the poor. These policies are a result of a distance that opens up between the experience of being an average person and being a powerful person.
Democracy’s superiority as a political system comes from it’s goal of peace and prosperity for all it’s citizens. But there is a trade-off for that benefit – the folks who make up that democracy are required to be engaged and to participate. As the central element of the democratic system people have to put energy into politics. This means holding those elected to represent us accountable to our demands.
The answer to our current crisis of democracy is to build power at the local level.
Local because it is the politics of people concerned with the issues that affect our lives daily.
Local because these politics are literally accessible to the folks affected by laws and policies.
The city council meeting is in your city.
The town hall is in your town.
Individual organizers can have a real impact at the local level and we’re seeing that impact in the contentious town hall meetings springing up all around the country. At the local level citizens get to confront local politicians directly, insist that they respond to our demands, and make a point of holding them accountable if they ignore us. It is this accessibility that makes a focus on local politics so essential in an era when the national theater has become completely unreachable while at the same time national politics appears to be the only thing that is being discussed.
The hard work ahead of us is to make democracy easy. To show the rich and powerful sitting in their hi-rises how easy it is to listen to people. How easy it is to cooperate. How much we can accomplish when we choose to work together.
The People’s Platform
We do democracy by listening. By responding. And by winning elections for the people.
We listen by reaching out to every neighborhood in the city to find out what regular people want by holding neighborhood assemblies. These assemblies should be used to find out what people to see changed in their neighborhoods and in the city as a whole. It is also important to prioritize these issues.
Because inclusion is essential to the success of this strategy we have to make sure that when we do outreach to communities in preparation for these assemblies, the outreach is tailored to community member’s needs. For example, it is essential to provide print material when advertising upcoming meetings, as well as reaching out to local community organizations to ensure the largest number of people are reached. It is important not to rely entirely on social media to promote community events.
We respond to what we learn from listening to people by converting needs into policy. That policy is written with the cooperation of existing community groups. These community groups are organizations dedicated to helping regular people every day. We believe that those who are responding to real problems should be the ones involved in providing real solutions. We believe that the solutions to our problems should come from the communities where the impact of those problems are being felt. For that reason the policy writing process should be open to feedback from the public that will be affected by those policies.
The process for that feedback will be determined by local conditions. This is to say that the process of getting feedback on policies and integrating that feedback into policy will be determined on a case by case basis.
We win by identifying candidates ready to represent their communities. We don’t need more career politicians dedicated to the 1% and to corporate lobbyists. We need representatives ready to be held accountable to the people. That is why we’ll demand our candidates sign a code of ethics that will ensure that their accountability to the public extends beyond a single vote. The actual code of ethics will be written by each city who takes on this strategy, but it should have methods to keep the candidates answerable to the people beyond the election.
After We Win
Win the City is more than putting a body into an office. It is about transforming the culture of politics in this country.