Below is a slightly edited version of a comment I posted on Michael McGehee’s recent post on parpolity. I was hoping to get feedback on it and possibly start a discussion on parpolity.
Hey Michael, I like this recent exploration into parpolity. The vision looks really good on paper to me. I think there are some issues still to work out out. Also, based on some experiences I have had in this past year, I think that achieving parecon may be a prerequisite (or corequisite) to creating parpolity. .
In Atlanta, where I live, the city is broken up into around 25 groups called Neighborhood Planning Units (NPU). NPU’s are in turn made up of a handful of neighborhood organizations. Neighborhood organizations might consist of anywhere from 10-50 regular members. The function of the NPU’s are to give recommendations to the city on various issues – primarily recommendations on zoning and permit applications. On the surface, The structure resembles nested councils but without having much real power over government functions. Unlike nested councils, citizens can participate in both their NPU and their neighborhood organization (there aren’t really delegates), at least in my NPU.
I have been fairly involved in our local NPU and neighborhood organization over the past year. What I have found is that these groups seem to be dominated by a small group of people, mostly but not exclusively coordinator class folks. There are no official barriers for working class people to participate, but they often don’t participate, and when they are present, they on the spectator side of things.
Our neighborhood groups and NPU’s are oganizationed with a hierarchal structure, with just a handful of people running the show and the rest of us just watching. So here we have a quasi-nested council system that is at the same time very undemocratic (possibly more undemocratic than our elected representatives) – what are the reasons – and how will parpolity be different?
It seems that having nested councils is good, but only if the individual units actually function democratically and only if everyone participates. Is there a structure that we can adopt for our neighborhood groups that would foster self-management instead of putting the power into the hands of a few, especially the coordinator class?
I think we must be careful when searching for parpolity reforms. Our first thought might be to decentralize or localize government power, but as far as I can tell this can often have a regressive political impact. I see some of the most regressize politics come out on the local level — and not just because it’s dominated by coordinators- but also because of the "Not In My Back Yard" approach. Even working class renters have reasons to oppose public housing or homeless shelters in their neighborhood, even if they do wholeheartedly support these institutions in society at large.