Saturday, August 19, 2023
#231 / How "Everyday Citizens" Can Save Democracy
Joe Mathews, whose columns appear in the San Francisco Chronicle (and are syndicated elsewhere, too) has told his readers that there is a way for "everyday citizens" to save democracy. He warns us, though, that it will "be expensive."
What Mathews is talking about is a system that establishes "innovative deliberative bodies that empower regular people - rather than elected officials - to study an issue and make consensus policy proposals." There are various names applied to describe this idea: "these bodies are sometimes called citizens' juries, citizens' assemblies or reference panels." The Hannah Arendt Center, located at Bard College, in upstate New York, has been promoting this idea since their 2021 Fall Conference. Click that link if you'd really like to explore the topic.
Waiting for someone else to set up such "citizen assemblies" is not going to work, in my opinion. If existing governmental institutions are going to be given the assignment to pay for and promote "citizen assemblies," then I think that a lot of their value may be lost.
"Self-government," which is what such "citizen assemblies" are trying to promote, does require that we, ourselves, step into a governmental role.
Start small, start local. Start it up, ourselves!
If we wait around for our current governments, at every level, to set up "citizen assemblies," we may be waiting for a very long time. Meanwhile, every social, economic, and political issue we care about will continue to fester, and get worse. Since "governmental programs," of whatever kind, are treated, more and more, with ever greater suspicion, we're going to need to "do it ourselves."
Read about what Mathews says, and about the innovative approach taken in Mexico (paywalls permitting, of course). The idea of "citizen assemblies" is promising. In the end, though, if we want a new way of bringing "everyday citizens" into a more effective role in government, it is those "everyday citizens," themselves, who are going to have to do it.