A Strategy for Moving Toward Democracy
Ultimately, we should amend the Constitution to make our system more democratic, to eliminate the distinction between government and the people, to ensure that we are all represented in the processes of governing, and to require more deliberative decision-making in all aspects of government. However, that is certainly not something that will happen easily or of its own accord. Therefore, we must create a strategy, with certain steps that we can begin immediately.
The most important factors in a successful democracy, and in the success of any people’s movement, are organization and participation, so let us begin by building these. While I do not intend to destroy partisanship, in order to build a truly democratic people’s movement, we must be able to set aside our partisan differences when organizing.
Right now, we have single-member districts in Congress, and single-seat Senate offices elected separately in different election cycles. So, in every Congressional district, we are each supposedly represented by one person, despite our ideological differences. Of course, it is impossible for one person to represent the diversity of viewpoints of over half a million people, so each representative is really only representing the majority who elected him or her to office. The remainder of people in each district are more or less unrepresented. If we presume the average margin of victory in a Congressional election is 60-40 (and I certainly do not know the correct average, but if you do, please fill us in), then about 40% of the voting population is unrepresented in Congress. Furthermore, at least 30-50% of the voting age population either registers but doesn’t vote, or never even bothers to register. Another roughly 30% of Americans are not yet old enough to vote at any given time. By my calculations, as many as 78% of us are not actually being represented. Furthermore, even those who did vote for the candidate who won the election do not have an equal amount of influence over their representatives as do the lobbyists or the corporations and other interests they serve. When viewed in this sense, only those who can make very large campaign contributions and/or offer something else to the political careers of these politicians can really hope to have their ears. It is very hard to even attempt a calculation of how many people this leaves out, but I’d venture a guess that less than 5%, and probably closer to 1% of the population is actually being represented, and another small percentage may agree with the decisions of their member of Congress or other elected officials enough of the time to feel represented.
The question is: what do we do about it?
Well, to begin with, I think we need to organize at the most local levels. That is, we need to form associations in our voting precincts. The two major parties already do this in most precincts, but these are partisan organizations that ultimately work to serve the status quo, which as I’ve pointed out, really doesn’t serve the people. We need to build pan-partisan organizations in every precinct that can assemble occasionally — perhaps once a month? once every two months? — and discuss the issues that concern them. At the local level, we may find there is less polarization of views than we see in national politics, but even if there is just as much, we must not let that discourage us.
Then we must form associations with the other precincts that are in the same counties, congressional district, state legislative districts, etc. In many places (like here in Texas), this may require several different coalitions of precinct organizations. For instance, here in Austin, most of the city is in one county, Travis, but the county is divided into five state legislative districts, and three different congressional districts reach into the county. While there will be several precincts that will share city, county, state leg. district and congressional districts with mine, others will share only some of these.
It would be great for these citizens’ organizations to push for embedded jurisdictions to eliminate these different associations, but each state may have to develop a different answer for that. Here in Texas, we have 34 Congressional districts, 31 state Senate districts, and 150 state House districts. One way we might remedy the problem here would be to change our state constitution to make the number of state senate districts equal to the number of congressional districts, and to make their boundaries identical. Then we might add that each of these districts be divided into five legislative districts, or that each district will elect five representatives to the state House by a proportional representation method. Using proportional representation, we might also push for different divisions, and I believe proportional representation will serve the people much better, but we can reserve these discussions to our assemblies after we form them.
In any case, until such reforms are made, each precinct may need to elect one set of delegates to represent it at the county assembly, and a different set of delegates to represent them at the state House district assembly. Congressional districts and maybe some other jurisdictions may also need to be divided into subdivisions in order to have effective assemblies. I’d suggest each precinct, and each higher level assembly, should elect 3-6 delegates to represent its various constituencies at the next higher level assembly. I’d also suggest that they carry with them proxy votes according to how many people each is representing. At some point in wider area assemblies, it may be more efficient to have each proxy represent 100 or some other number of votes, but by carrying the proxies up through each level, we will still be representing each person.
When the assembly of delegates meets representing the entire congressional district, the decisions reached there can be taken to the member of Congress for that district, and the people can tell him/her that the people of your district want X, and if any member of Congress should make a habit of ignoring the will of the people in that district, there should already exist through these assemblies a strong enough organization to remove that member from office in the next election.
Eventually, we need to force our representatives to propose constitutional amendments to bring in proportional representation with proxy voting so that each of us will be represented, but until then, we can at least each participate at the local level and be represented in these assemblies that will take our issues directly to our elected
In most places, organizing these assemblies will not be easy either. Americans have largely become too complacent, apathetic, or just too damn busy trying to make ends meet to be involved in politics. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions. So, prior to forming precinct associations, we might need to conduct precinct-level surveys, or surveys for the relevant jurisdiction based on the issues being addressed. Undoubtedly, these will be more informal and less scientific than surveys by professional pollsters, but I don’t think we should let that discourage our efforts. We need to form local polling groups who will try to get opinions from as many people of as many varied perspectives as possible within the relevant jurisdiction to the topic, and take those results to the elected representatives, and to the press. Make sure everyone there knows the results, and knows that the official(s) in question also knows them. If these results are routinely ignored, or ignored on the most important issues, use that information against them in their next bid for reelection. Once the surveys show some clout, it may get easier to get people to get involved. And really, the local assembly is just a survey taken in one time and place. And of course, the larger the percentage of participation, the more valid the results become.
Please share your thoughts, critiques, additional ideas, etc.