Monday, January 8, 2024

#8 / "Self-Government" And Measure M

Last Saturday, I briefly contrasted "opinion" and "the truth," noting that we need to understand the difference between them when we start talking about "politics." According to Hannah Arendt, politics is about "opinion," and not about "truth."

Today, before commenting on Measure M, which will be on the ballot this March in the City of Santa Cruz, it strikes me that I might say a word about the difference between "democracy" and "self-government." 

Many people conflate the two. The slide shown above, for instance, taken (and slightely modified) from a slideshow published by the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, seems to imply that "self-government" and "democracy" are equivalent. I would like to suggest to you that they're not.

"Democracy," at least the way I believe most people understand the term, is focused on "voting." Our political choices (about candidates for office, and about various policy matters that may be put before eligible voters for a decision) are made, in a "democratic" system, by the process of allowing people to vote. Usually, a majority of the voters will determine who is elected, or what will be done about the question put to a vote. This is "democracy," and make no mistake, we definitely need "democracy," and more of it. Democracy, however, when democracy is equated to "voting," is not "self-government." Voting is "necessary" to self-government, but it is not "sufficient."

When I was a Santa Cruz County Supervisor - quite a few years ago, now - I was a big proponent of "self-government," and I warned my constituents that we needed to be careful not to set up our government on the basis that we "elect the people, who hire the people, who then run our lives for us." 

In fact, when "democracy" is equated to "voting," that is exactly what can (and often does) happen. People concerned about the so-called "Deep State" are indicating that a government so configured - a government in which we elect the people, who hire the people, who then run our lives for us - is not a satisfactory way for a self-governing people to make governmental decisions. 

Once "the government" becomes those people "hired to run our lives for us" - the planners, the bureaucrats, the City Mangers and the department heads in charge of governmental budgets - those people may not pay any attention at all to those voters who are supposedly in charge of their government. This is definitely what those who are concerned about the "Deep State" assert has happened at the national level, but the same thing happens at every level of our government, including the local level. 

When Lincoln said, in the Gettysburg Address, that the Civil War was fought to make certain that a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" will not perish from the earth, Lincoln was not, I'd argue, thinking about a government in which voters "elect the people, who then hire the people, who then run their lives for them."

That would be a government "for" the people (or at least theoretically so). "Self-government" is something else. It's something more than voting.

"Self-government" means a government "BY THE PEOPLE," a government (and politics) in which ordinary people are personally involved.

Lincoln's statement in the Gettysburg Address implies - in fact, that phrase "says" - that governmental and political activities must be directly carried out by ordinary people. "BY THE PEOPLE." That means you. That means me. That means us. 

WE need to be directly involved in what the government does; we need to know what it's doing, and we need to allocate our own time in such a way that we can have a direct impact on the governmental actions that are being taken in our name. 

"Politics," in fact, needs to be one of our major commitments. It needs to be a "personal" commitment. Politics demands our time. It demands our money. Politics demands that we take action to ensure that our political institutions reflect and carry forward our most deeply-held concerns. 

The patriots who carried out the American Revolution pledged "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor." Those are the last words in the Declaration of Independence. All of these need to be mobilized, by us, in the task of self-government.


Measure M is an example of genuine self-government. In the City of Santa Cruz, voters will be asked in March to vote on an initative measure (Measure M) that will allow city voters to decide, themselves, whether height limits will be raised, to permit new taller buildings (12-story buildings, in fact) that are basically twice as high as what current General Plan and Zoning designations will permit. 

Those who drafted and circulated the petition have succeeded in putting Measure M on the ballot for a "vote." A "YES" vote will put the citizens of the City in control over proposed General Plan and Zoning Code provisions that could allow developers to double the height of new development in the South of Laurel area - or perhaps, later on, in the city's residential neighborhoods. If Measure M passes, it will be because of a democratic vote of the people.

But Measure M involves more than a democratic vote. Thousands of Santa Cruz City residents got personally involved in government and politics, and put Measure M on the ballot. Skeptics, by the way, said "it couldn't be done." But Measure M is on the ballot because self-government is still alive and well in the City of Santa Cruz.

Real self-government in the City of Santa Cruz: that is what Measure M represents. Click that link to visit the campaign website. Isn't genuine self-government what we local residents should be working for? I signed the ballot argument urging a "YES" vote on Measure M. You can get engaged, right now, in the campaign. Click this link to visit the campaign website. Tell your friends and neighbors what you think. Put up a "YES on M" sign. Contact the Measure M campaign. Make a campaign contribution.

Put ordinary people back in charge!

(2) - Gary Patton personal photo

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Gary. The United States government has never been a democracy. It is a representative republic. That said, we can build democracy locally, right here in our own bioregion. Measure M is just one example, and a model for future democratic action!


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