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Utopia 7: Civics Lesson


 

Power has to be insecure to be responsive.

There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.
Ralph Nader

Civics Lesson:

The Corona Grange (officially known as Grange 15 of the city of Corning) was a nondescript square building roughly in the center of Jack’s neighborhood, also called a Parish. The building consisted of a large room with seating and a stage on the first floor and a basement with several rooms for smaller meetings. Many Granges had been exclusively churches at one time. Most Granges were used as houses of worship on weekends and other occasions. They were owned by secular Parishes that they served, though, and they were used for a variety of other activities as well. But their primary function was governance.

There was a kitchen in the back of the main room and a long table to the side of the room. Several people had brought food and drink in an informal pot luck that had become a tradition at the Corona Grange. People were now congregated around the table and chatting amicably.

Jack waited at the door of the Grange with his attendance list. He was checking off the names of the children as they arrived on their shuttles. He then pointed the children in the direction of the seating reserved for them.

The main votes in the State Assembly and the national Congress were televised. For years now, people had been throwing parties to watch the deliberation and the final vote of important ballots and elections. These were reminiscent of the "Super Bowl Parties" of old. Cheers and booing would fill the homes where these parties took place. In Politico Bars people gathered to collectively cheer on their champions as the Representatives or Senators made particularly salient points. Illegal betting on the eventual outcome of the vote was also a frequent covert activity.

Being raised in this environment, the children were eager to begin their ascent into the political life of an adult. They bounced with excitement in their seats as they waited for the Parish meeting to start. This was their first live experience with the power that would be granted to them at the age of 18. They had been told that they were to be on their best behavior and not to be a distraction from the decision making of the adults.

Many of the children had already arrived and were being engaged by the various adults sitting around the group seating. The adults were used to these class field trips and seemed to enjoy the presence of the children as a distraction before the Parish meeting. Children were not ordinarily allowed in the meetings but the class field trip in the last year of Primary was a tradition.

The currently elected Grange Captain, Tilton Brown, stepped to a podium on stage and banged the gavel. "Do we have quorum Donna?"

A small woman who had been checking the names of the adults at the door piped up, "Yes Captain."

"Good. Lets get started." The captain was to keep the meeting moving and to keep it civil. He prevented people from interrupting each other or saying unkind or abusive things. He only provided 5 min per speaker unless the topic they presented was complex and they requested an extension of the time. Tilton Brown rarely gave extensions, and so had been elected to a third term as captain.

Jack went to take a seat. He had had one of his neighbors reserve the seat in front of Andy. He now turned the seat to face the back of the room so he could sign everything that was said to Andy. Andy was now a skilled lip reader but the stage was too far away and this was too important a lesson to leave to one of the other classmates.

The Grange system was a result of governmental collapse, and widespread hunger during the Catastrophe. It was a response from a desperate public to food shortages that the current government was unable to solve. By tradition, the Grange, all granges, started their meetings with the most basic order of business, food.

"Joe?" Tilton continued. Joe Harkin walked to the stage as Tilton took his seat on stage next to Donna, who was busy taking notes at a computer. The notes would appear on the Corona Grange Web site that evening.

"Well, as you probably know, we had a pretty good harvest this year." There was a scattering of applause. "With the exception of the potatoes, we did well with our standard fare and the orchards are now producing well. Some of the blue potatoes were resistant to the blight and we will be planting more of those next year so maybe next year will be better for potatoes.

"Since we are doing well with our basic foods and its been a while since the rationing was bleak in the winter, we have decided its time to branch out a little and take a few risks. We have started to entertain suggestions for more variety to add to the gardens." More vigorous applause accompanied this statement.

"Several of you have expressed interest in a larger variety of apples and pears. We have maintained a good relationship with the University at Davis and as soon as more heat and drought resistant varieties of these are produced we will be one of the first to experiment with them."

"They did come out with a heat resistant blueberry bush. We ordered a dozen bushes." Applause broke out again. Joe held up his hands in an attempt to still the crowd’s enthusiasm. "I can’t promise anything. They may or may not produce usable fruit here. We’ll see." The crowd was subdued somewhat, but the children were smiling at each other and pantomiming liking their lips to each other.

"Our citrus orchards have started to take off this year and everyone should be getting a ration of about 6 oranges this year." Enthusiastic applause. "And we are hoping to have enough citrus next year to use as a trade crop with a Grange in Washington. It’s still too cold for citrus up there even with microenvironment manipulation." the crowd murmured with agreement.

"We have about 4 more weeks of hard harvest work left and then we can cut the hours to a quarter of what they are now for winter." Applause sounded in the Grange as Joe went back to his seat. Captain Brown took the podium again.

"Thank you, Joe. As always a great job and we’re grateful for all the work you and Ellse have done for us.

"Next on the agenda tonight is a discussion of a possible pond." there was a faint groan and some restlessness of the participants seated in the back of the room. Captain Brown looked up at the back row of seats sternly. "Craig."

A very young man came to the forefront of the stage and took the podium. He barely looked older than the children in Jack’s class. The crowd, including the back row, gave him their polite attention. He removed his computer from his pocket and unfolded in it on the podium. A map of Parish 15 and the surrounding area appeared on the screen behind him. Three parishes were outlined on the map. The young man nervously shifted from one foot to the other and cleared his throat.

"Parish 9, Sunshine, and Parish 12, Orchards, have expressed some interest in designing a pond between the parishes. Possible areas that are accessible by all three parishes are shown here." Craig tapped on his computer and three of the areas roughly in the border areas between the parishes turned blue.

"As we have discussed before, a pond would give us some control to store large amounts of water and allow us to grow some wet land foods like rice and cranberries. It would also allow us to farm fish. Additionally, it would allow us a social connection with the parishes closest to us and a place to swim."

There was restless excitement from Jack’s class at the end of the row. Jack turned his head to give a warning look while his practiced hands continued to sign on their own.

"The down side of this endeavor has always been the expense of building the pond and the immediate need to use all of our water for households and food production. There has always been a concern that there would not be enough water to keep fish alive all year long. Additionally some land would need to be sacrificed to build the pond.

"By splitting the pond between 3 parishes, the burden of the pond becomes less and the advantages still remain. Additionally, the areas graphed are low lying and subject to occasional flood. They are not very productive land for that reason. Lining the area would make it water tight and allow flood water to be collected." Craig coughed into his fist again and shifted his weight again. "That’s all I have. We wanted to call a vote to start a committee with members from all three parishes to investigate having a pond in the corner between the 3 parishes." he said softly. Tilton Brown rose to the podium and Craig moved to the end of the stage as though to leave and sit down. The Captain grabbed his arm and kept him at the podium. The young man blushed and stood fidgeting with his hands.

"Are there any questions for Craig? Ms. Lawson." he pointed at one of the raised hands and a middle aged woman stood.

"Craig, dear, have the other parishes agreed to this?"

"No, this is being presented to the other parishes at their meetings as well. All the parishes must agree in order to commit to this project."

"Mr. Flackus?"

An older gentlemen with a cane struggled to stand and asked, "How big a pond are we talking about, lad, and how much will it cost to dig it?"

"We were thinking of an acre and a half with a depth of 12 feet at its nadir. The only reasonable way to dig something like that would be a diesel backhoe. Renting the backhoe and paying the fuel and the carbon tax is the most expensive part of the project. We estimate about 25,000 Gaians." There was a whistle from the back of the room and several people murmured after the amount was given. Craig hurried to continue, "The pond needs to be lined and then planted and seeded with fish. That would add another 8,000 Gaians. Again this is split between 3 parishes. So the amount that would come out of our reserve would be about 11,000 Gaians."

Mr. Flackus continued to stand and asked his second question. "How quickly would the water evaporate if contained this way?"

"On hot years an unprotected pond could lose as much as one hundred inches in a year. We can slow that somewhat with trees planted about the edge of the pond and we have toyed with creating a grotto at one end to further decrease the evaporation."

Tilton Brown pointed to a young woman in the front of the room with a computer in her lap. "Marcy. How many gallons a day would that be?"

The woman bent to her computer and tapped it several times. In less than a minute she said "2.85 million gallons." There was restless movement from the crowd at the announcement of the number.

Tilton pointed at Joe Harkin. "Joe, could a pond alter the micro climate enough to allow for colder weather plants to be produced near the pond?"

Joe stood, "I think so. I would like to check some texts or call the folks at the University, but I believe that would work. What did you have in mind?"

"If we planted pome fruit like apples and pears near the pond that would do double duty. It would shade the pond and the water would cool the fruit."

"That could work. The fruit would fall in the water when ripe though, and that could be a problem if we did not get it out right away. Especially if there were fish in the pond. It would make it difficult to pick the fruit in the tree over the water, too. And it would take time to get a fruit tree to full size. It would not provide much shade until it was mature, 7-10 years."

"Thank you, Joe." Joe took his seat once again.

"Any more questions?" Captain Brown asked. No hands went up. "OK then general comments."

A young woman stood and commented, "It sure would be nice at the end of the day to take the kids to a pond." She sat down as Mr. Flackus stood.

"The expense might be worth it if we would not lose the water that was collected into the pond. Almost 3 million gallons is a lot of water to lose in one year. I would feel better about such an expensive project if the water was going to a container where it could not escape. I am sorry son. I know you did a lot of work on this but it doesn’t seem like we have enough water that we can afford a pond even split 3 ways." Mr. Flackus sat down to the sound of murmuring in the crowd.

Craig addressed the crowd. "Keep in mind this is run off water, not water already allocated to homes or food. As I stated previously, the rate of loss can be slowed with appropriate planting. We could look more closely at an artificial grotto or a temporary covering that would slow the loss until the trees were mature. There are other advantages that compensate us for water loss, like crops that can be grown near a pond, fish and a micro climate that might be able to support some crops that can’t tolerate heat. The water loss is more than compensated by these advantages." More murmurs from the crowd.

Mr. Flackus stood again, "Just because water isn’t in the allocation does not make it waste. Water that goes to ground recharges the aquifer. That does become water for all of us eventually." He sat and crossed his arms.

Tilton nodded and there were several murmured conversations from the crowd.

The captain put a hand on Craig’s shoulder. "Good job, son. That was a great presentation for your first go…Are we ready to bring it to a vote? Any more comments or questions?" No one stood. "Very well. Lets see the vote."

The screen behind Craig disappeared and a graph with 2 bars. The green one said "Yes" and the red one said "No". Jack put his hand inside a cup on his chair’s arm rest. The cup was large enough to see his own finger tips touch several buttons and the various colors of the buttons but he did not look. He had done this so many times that his fingers confidently found the button he sought. The "No" bar graph raised over the "Yes" bar graph at first but as the tally continued the "Yes" bar graph slowly crawled up and defeated the "No" graph but only slightly.

Farid, who lived in Parish 9, jumped out of his seat with both hands raised. Jack shot him a stern look and pointed to his seat. He sat down again and with a cowed expression.

Tilton chuckled. "We appreciate their enthusiasm. Well that is as close as it has ever been, Craig. You know that we have addressed this issue several times and it has never passed. Good work, son." Craig looked down at the floor and blushed as he murmured, "Thank you, sir." and he returned to his seat. Several of the people near Craig clapped him on the back and congratulated him for his efforts.

Tilton Brown did what he was good at and kept the meeting moving. "Alright, so if no other local business needs our discussion then lets move on to County and State. Jan?"

Jan Goodreau, Corona Parish’s representative at the County level, stepped to the stage.

"The legislature this week was fairly quiet…" Jan raddled off several votes that had occurred during the quarter and how she had voted, which way the vote had gone in the end and what the final outcome was. At the end of her presentation, a the young woman in front row with the fact checking computer raised her hand.

The Captain acknowledged her. "Yes Marcy."

"Jan, you forgot to include the vote for an increase in pay for local reporters of CNN."

Jan blushed. "Yes. Um. The matter came up that CNN wanted to increase its subscription amount to 145 Gaians per parish. It was voted down."

Reporters and politicians had a rather adversarial relationship. Since the Cooperative News Network, though, salaries were determined by the cooperative but the amount of money the cooperative took in was set by a subscription fee that the entire parish paid out of its revenues.

The Captain stepped forward. "Marcy, as the parish reporter why don’t you tell us why CNN felt they needed this rather generous increase."

Marcy stood again, "It is becoming apparent that CNN can not retain local reporters. I myself am doing OK, but I am single and do not have many responsibilities. But if I had children I might feel differently. I think it would be hard for me to remain at this pay. This seems to be a system wide problem. Local reporters are not paid enough and CNN can only recruit the very young with relatively no responsibilities to the job. People who are at a higher level in CNN are of course paid more, but there are relatively few of those jobs. This is just an issue for local reporters."

Mr. Flackus stood again, "Jan, how did this vote get to the county level but miss this parish? This is a vote that should have been tabled long enough for it to come back to the local level. We needed to have our say in such a controversial matter."

Jan met his eyes, "I did not think it was controversial. Our news seems accurate enough. I did not feel that we needed to spend more on local reporting."

Mr. Flackus, who was still standing, continued to chastise her, "Jan you are sent to the county to represent our feeling not your own. In something this complex, you should ask for an extension so you can bring it too us. Granted we don’t like to send any more money than we have to out of the parish, but having accurate reporting is essential to making good decisions. If CNN can no longer give us the best information for the price, then we need to know why and discuss whether we should act to change it."

Ms. Foley stood up. The Captain indicated that she could speak. "It seems to me that if a person does a job they should be paid enough to live. Even if I have to pay a little more every year to do it." There were "Here, here."s as she sat down.

Jack stood, "Marcy, if you were paid more could you find enough to report on to make this a full time job?"

"The area has had a large influx of people in the last 5 years and as our food shortage has eased there are more complex issues at hand. I think I could occupy my time and bring something worthy to the table every day."

"So you would put in at least one article a day?"

"Yes"

Jack sat down.

Captain Brown asked for further questions and comments. "Should we bring this to a vote now whether to open the debate again at County?" There were murmurs to the affirmative and so the Captain called the vote. The bar graphs appeared again, overwhelmingly green. "Very well, Jan, you need to open this for debate again and send it back to the individual parishes. It appears that our Parish does not agree with the vote that you initially gave and when it comes to vote again you should vote for the increase." Jan nodded and moved to take her seat and Marcy also sat down with a satisfied look on her face. But Mr. Flackus stood up. "I move for a vote of no confidence."

Jack’s hands froze in mid air and his head snapped towards Ms. Flackus. There was a moment of silence and no one spoke. Jan froze on the stairs to the stage with her mouth wide open, staring at Jeff Flackus.

Captain Brown sighed. He had clearly hoped to avoid this. He looked at Mr. Flackus and said "Jeff, you can wait for her introductory year to end and the Demos system to unlock. Then you can change your vote to another candidate at that time. I see no reason to rush to change our representative until then."

"The fact that Jan voted ‘no’ on this bill and did not bring it up at the meeting makes me believe that she does not have our best wishes at heart. I think she should be repealed and a new representative who will represent us more honestly placed. I don’t think we can wait until the Demos system unlocks."

Jan stood on the steps of the stage with her fists clenched trembling. Tilton turned to her. "Do you have a response Jan?"

"I was an oversight! It was not intentional! I simply forgot."

Mr. Flackus, "I am sorry, Jan but I don’t believe you."

Willamae Johnson stood and was recognized. "The rules of the Demos voting system were created with human nature in mind. The reason a person gets to lock the vote for a full year after they win majority is because people do make mistakes during that time. Our representatives need that time to learn their job and they deserve our support and understanding when they make an error. Putting someone else in the seat means that this process starts all over again and puts our Parish at a disadvantage." She sat down.

"Good point Ms. Johnson." The Captain moderated. "Anyone else?"

Jack stood. "If this was intentional, and I am not saying that it was, I think Ms. Goodreau has learned her lesson. I do not think she will try this again. That might make her more valuable to our Parish." He sat back down and signed his own words.

Mr. Flackus jumped up again. "What if she does not report something else. We might not ever know that she did not consult us."

Marcy stood, "CNN attends all of the meetings. The minutes are published and I read all of them. It would be hard for her to hide something for very long." Murmurs of agreement floated through the room.

Captain Brown again tried to end the discussion, "Any more comments? Good let’s vote." The bar graph appeared again and the red bar won by a handy margin.

Captain Brown turned to Jan, "Okay Jan. You still represent us. But be advised that this Parish does not very often give people another chance. We will not tolerate a representative who does not represent us. When the Demos system unlocks you will have to prove yourself to this parish every day and with every vote you cast or be ousted by someone who will."

Jan walked to her seat. As she strode down the isle her eyes never left those of Jeff Flackus.

"Any more business? Anything to elevate to State or County? Good…I think we’re adjourned."

The crowd began to stand and Jack addressed his students, "I expect a 3 page report about the meeting Friday. I want the report to be written as though you were covering it for CNN…By Friday everyone." He gave a meaningful glance to Tanner.

The Concepts Behind the Fiction:

1. What is self government?

The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the velocities with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door.
Ralph Nader

More and more we see our lives as out of our control. Our government was meant to be a balance between local control and centralized control but like many of the balances placed in our initial government those balances are eroding and many things in our lives seem hopelessly beyond our power.

I have spent a great deal of time talking about how our current government is not necessarily the boon that it has been made out to be. We claim to have a representative government that is governed by democratic (one person, one vote) election. The truth is that we have a thinly veiled plutocracy (one dollar, one vote). Representatives at any level can no longer make it to a governing seat without the advertising and campaign support of big business. Money governs what we hear about our world and therefore how we think about our world. At all levels of our decision making, big business has a hand that is more powerful than yours in crafting our laws and our lives.

That is why we have a health care system that is twice as expensive (per person) as any other nation’s and still does not cover everyone. It actually kills 22,000 people a year for lack of care. (The government’s own estimate.) Those that are covered frequently do not have adequate coverage and as soon as they get sick and can not work they are dropped and not picked up by the state. In other countries that does not happen. The reason that it happens here is because it is good for the health care industry not the average person.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Well, I just have to make a judgment.
And I think at this time in this country, single payer is not going to get even to first base in the Congress. I just—and we’re also—we’re a big—we’re a big country. It’s—you know, we’re a battleship. We’re an ocean liner. We’re not a PT boat. We’re not a speedboat. It takes time to turn those big, big ships. You just can’t just turn them overnight. And we are—United States of America, we’re a different country. We’re constituted differently than European countries, than Canada and other countries. We’re a younger country, where there’s more of an entrepreneurial sense in America than in those other countries. It’s kind of "go west, young man" in, you know, America and so forth.So we’ve got to come up with our uniquely American result. An uniquely American result will be a combination of public and private insurance, but one in which everyone is covered. And just my judgment—and every member of Congress agrees with me, I think, at least those I’ve spoken with, that this is not the time to push for single payer. It may come down—it may come later. But it’s not going to happen in America, in my view. So I’m not going to waste my time pushing on something that isn’t going to happen. Democracy Now!

Notice he said that single payer was dead in Congress, not the population of the United States. With the majority of people now stating that they would like universal, state health care, if we had a truly representative government, there would be no choice but to give us a universal, state health care system.

Right now this whole issue is very in your face. It is as though the government is admitting that it is exclusively for the rich and that you don’t have any power anymore. The big money at Merrill Lynch and AIG take tax payer money and give huge bonuses to exactly the people who so harmed the world’s economy. In the mean time the same money could have been given to the home owners and could have been used to bolster 401K’s of those retiring in the next 5 yrs. A huge number of people would have been helped by the same, or less, dollars and a relatively few people would have been out of a job–AIG employees etc. Which makes more sense? But such a thing was never even on the table. Why?

Why did the government force people into the stock market in the first place? That’s right. You only get a tax break for a 401K or similar investment plan. It forced most people to play the market with their savings for retirement. Why not a tax break for people who want to loan to their neighbor? Your neighbor is more likely to pay you back with interest than AIG is.

So we know our legislature is beholding to the big money interests that got them there, but how influenced are you by the big money in media? Is your vote really your own?

The media locks out any voices except the leading Democrats and Republicans. Both of which are very in debt to big money. So you do not get to hear the voices of those who do not agree with big business…at all…ever. No matter how much other minor parties might bring to the table or to your understanding of the issues you do not get to hear them unless you make an effort of your own. Even within the "legitimate" parties if there are outlier voices they are silenced.

During the last election the news outlets published their criteria for inclusion in their debates. The criteria got harder as the debates went on so that fewer and fewer candidates would be allowed. During the MSNBC debate that was between Edwards, Clinton and Obama there was supposed to be a fourth voice at the table, that of Dennis Kucinich.

Now I understand if you do not agree with the man on many issues. You might not even like him. But what happened to exclude him from the talks was so out in the open and egregious that you should take a long hard look at it. Dennis Kucinich made the criteria to join the debate but was told that he would be excluded anyway. He fought this decision in court and while he won the first court case, he lost in appeal and ran out of money to take it further. In the court case the decision implied that the network had the right to decide content due to first amendment rights.

Now you should know that the air waves belong to you and me. The networks get to use them rent free because they "provide a community service"–like televising debates, public service announcements and the emergency broadcast system. The network alone does not always get the right to decide all content. Particularly where it’s public service obligation is concerned.

But more to the point, why was it so important to exclude this one man? Why not allow him to be at the debate?

Everyone should have health insurance? I say everyone should have health care. I’m not selling insurance.Dennis Kucinich

He met the criteria. Could it be that he had something to say that wasn’t popular with the network? Like all Americans should have health care provided by the state? Remember that a large chunk of advertising time on all networks is bought by health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. Have those industries dictated what you would be allowed to hear in a presidential debate, and therefore guaranteed that it’s industry would survive? Remember Obama’s health care council did not even include a single person who was pro single payer until forced to do so by public outcry. Obama supports giving your tax dollars in the form of subsidies to health insurance companies. What a great idea…for health insurance companies. Was he chosen more by the networks that than the public for just that reason?

When corporate law first evolved a few centuries ago no one
envisioned the monstrous entities that dominate the world today. The legal fiction that a corporation is an individual, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto, may have offered some legal conveniences when a corporation was a small number of investors with a common goal, but is the depth of absurdity today, when the majority of the world’s largest economic entities are corporations rather than nations. This legal fiction assumes that Exxon-Mobil and a single mother working at a minimum wage job have equal power in the marketplace, the legislature, and the courts, and should have the same right to privacy and freedom from government supervision.

But does that single mother have the power to finance a course in right-wing economics for a hundred federal judges? Or the power to get award-winning journalists fired from Fox news for exposing the dangers of hormone-polluted milk? Or the power to get nuclear-energy propaganda made part of the public-school curriculum? Or the power to mount multi-million dollar advertising campaigns against popular ecological initiatives? Philip Slater

Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich in Debates

2. But Is There a Better Way?

Ever wonder how a small, desperately poor, under educated country like Afghanistan manages to stand up to the two super powers of the world, the Soviet Union and the US? I mean here are two empires that have the military power to make any one country a parking lot and yet Afghanis seem to take the brunt of this military might and keep on ticking. Draining the super power until they just give up and leave. How can that be?

One of the key reasons is decentralized power. The Afghans traditionally do not think of themselves as one nation. Their allegiance is more local, to their qawm. The qawms are governed by town hall meetings called shuras or jirgas. Now when I say town hall meetings that is not the staged event that occurs in the US with people who are prescreened to ask candidates scripted questions but actual meetings (all be it among men only) where the issues are discussed and decided upon.

Now I am not saying that I want to convert to Shira Law. There are several things I do not agree with in Afghani law including the lack of representation by women. However, if you want to resist a very centralized government like the US, and retain your own independent government it helps to have a highly decentralized government like the Afghanis. There is no White House or Congress to take over and dominate. You have to take over each and every qawm. And then you have to stay there and run each qawm. Something centralized governments are unwilling to do. They try to rewrite the government as a model of their own centralized government. This fails because the decentralized qawms are used to self government and simply ignore the central government. (Unfortunately, other decentralized organizations, like the Taliban, are willing to go to each and every qawm and stay there to rule it.)

If you wanted to make it nearly impossible for big business to continue to run things, decentralize. Bring the power back to the people.

Many "primitive" governments are structured this way. (See the audio video selection for this post for an example of such a society.) You have to go pretty far back into our history to see a time when our government was fiercely local, but such a time does exist. Before the enclosures that made feudal society and capitalism possible. Before the roots of capitalism took hold, there was something called the commons. The people owned and governed the land in common. This was such an important concept to the people of the day that it is immortalized in the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest. Two of the very documents on which our government is founded.

Our initial government was meant to be a balance between local decentralized government and centralized government. But there has been continuing degradation of states rights and centralization of control over our lives. Take the medical marijuana issue for example. States do have the right to govern commerce within their borders. Yet the federal government has sent DEA officials in to arrest and confiscate marijuana that the state has declared as legal by a vote of the people. No matter how you feel about drugs, you should feel a little concerned that unelected officials feel free to enter your state and usurp a law that was brought about by popular vote.

Currently our legislative power is confiscated by big business and our taxes primarily go to the national level and then get doled out a little at a time back down to the local level at the pleasure of the federal government. That budget does not reflect what most of us would want for our money but what big business dictates.

But what if this situation was reversed? What if the local government is where most of the power resided? What if the money stayed local unless the local government felt there were a compelling reasons to send some of the money up the line for services that were better rendered on the national level such as freeways or health care? What if the federal government had to beg for funds instead of the local school board? Would the military still have the lion’s share of money or would the school? Would local farmers get the money or industrial agriculture? Would AIG get a bail out or would your pension fund? Would the federal government be forced to give us a health care system that worked?

What if your community had the power to pull back a representative at will with a single and immediate vote? Ever wanted to do that? Ever felt betrayed by your representative?

Charter of the Forest

3. Extinction or Evolution

We are led to believe by popular culture that representative democracy is the ultimate government and capitalism, and preferably free market (debtor) capitalism, is the ultimate system that man can achieve. No one disputes that their have been other forms of exchange and governance. We have worked our way through tribalism, gift economy, feudalism, slavery, monarchy, theocracy, communism and socialism. Is the combination of capitalism and democracy (or plutocracy) the ultimate achievement of man? Or is their yet another evolutionary stage? Are we on the verge of something better yet?

Could we recapture that sense of local power? The system for local government is already in place. It has just been made impotent by years of neglect. South American countries are leading the way in recapturing the spirit of local control.

Democracy did not arise in a vacuum. The ideas behind democracy had been discussed for a long time before they were put into action. What ideas are out there now waiting to be acted on? One such idea that looks like a candidate is participatory democracy.

In representative government the mass of people get to vote on a representative and then their influence over that person wanes until reelection time roles around again. In the mean time those with the most money to contribute to the candidates coffers have access to that person nearly continuously. Participatory democracy tries to get the most people involved as possible in the decision making process. It also attempts to give the masses direct contact with those that represent them including the ability to call them back if they do not represent the communities wishes. It is more of a two way conversation between the governed and the government.

Perhaps we should look South for an example of government that works. Currently it is the Latin American countries that are experimenting with this sort of governance the most with some success and some failures. It is an intimate part of the Bolivarian Revolution and is mentioned in the Bolivarian Constitution over 90 times.

I think this is the real reason that South American leaders are being denigrated in the media. Why democratically elected leaders are referred to as dictators. Why there is so much saber rattling for the US toward these countries. Because if the American people actually got the idea that they could self govern, really self govern, the power of big business would fall. That is such a dangerous idea that at all cost it is kept away from Americans by creating an image of these leaders as the enemy.

Longest Continuous Democracy is participatory

4. Demos

In the middle of writing this, while I was doing my research, I ran into an interesting webpage discussing a type of participatory governance that the author called Demos. I was blown away by the idea. So much so that I did a quick rewrite to include it in the story. I am afraid I did not do it justice, but I encourage you to have a look at the original website and this revolutionary idea.

Demos

5. Iceland…Again

After I got this published for the first time, I heard about a system very much like Demos that is being experimented with in Iceland.

Imagine if our laws were created very much like Wikipedia. Anyone can write a bill. Anyone can vote for a law. You can change the law at any time. When a bill has a certain number of votes it becomes law. Imagine real democracy.

You can view the website for this experiment at Direct Democracy in Iceland. Unfortunately the website is written in Icelandic. But the website is worth the visit just to see the forum.

 

The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.–Ralph Nader

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