We live in a disconnected society. We are disconnected from our neighbors and most people around us, and we are disconnected from our government. One of the effects of this disconnect, is that it disempowers us when we are confronted with a problem in our neighborhood. If there is a noise problem, a problem with unrestrained aggressive pets, or a problem with a disruptive neighbor, our options are to either try to ignore it, personally confront the offender, or contact the appropriate government authority. None of these options are good. Ignoring the problem is not fair to us. Confronting the person responsible can be difficult for most people since it may involve conflict with a stranger, and the leverage you have is nothing more a hope that the person is nice and sympathetic. And getting the government involved is like using a sledgehammer to pound in a nail.
If we contact a government authority such as the police, we are dealing with someone we don’t know. And since the police officer has no stake in the situation, he probably won’t care much about it—he will simply do the job he is paid to do within the bounds of the law. When a big and distant government is expected to write laws and regulations related to problems that are inherently community problems, we end up with a mountain of laws and regulations that are full of minutia, and that may not transfer well from one community to the next. A big and disconnected government is by nature not appropriate for dealing with problems at the community level.
The natural place for community problems to be handled is in the community. When we work together to solve problems and deal with issues, we get to know one another, come to respect one another, and even become friends. In a community where neighbors are friends, or are at least accustomed to working together on issues, everyone in the community naturally makes an effort to promote harmony. Fewer problems arise, and those that do are easily dealt with.
Working out our problems with others in our community also gives us control over our lives—it is empowering. We are only free to the extent that we can control our lives and work things out with those around us. At the most basic level, this is what freedom and democracy are all about. This is where freedom and democracy become intertwined—the ability to participate in the decisions that affect our lives rather than having decisions imposed upon us by others is democratic freedom. And this political participation must start at the community level—the level where people can truly and realistically participate.
Only in a group that is small enough for members to maintain personal connections with each other can a community be viable. Those connections can either be strengthened by an ability to work together on issues and make meaningful and binding decisions, or broken by the disempowering expectation that “they”—the patriarchal government—will take care of it—its “their” responsibility. Thus, in order for communities to be viable, community members must have jurisdiction over their community to a degree that is feasible. A system of Local Electors would make this possible.
Under a system of Local Electors, communities would have control of, or jurisdiction over, community level issues. This would include things such as noise problems, disruptive behavior, pet control policies, and litter control. If someone in the community is creating a mess, disturbing the peace, or allowing their aggressive pets to run free, the community would decide what to do about it.
For example, let’s say Sally is upset about the noise and commotion coming from late night parties her neighbor Fred is having. If Sally doesn’t want to knock on Fred’s door and confront him, the community meeting would be a comfortable and appropriate place for her to ask Fred to tone it down. If Fred tells her to plug her ears and continues having loud parties, Sally could discuss the problem with her other neighbors. If the neighbors agree with her, they could approach Fred together. If Fred persists with his loud parties, the next step would be to bring it up at a community meeting. In the community meeting both Sally and Fred could present their cases. There would be discussion, and the community would make a decision about what to do by voting on different courses of action. If the community decides that Fred must keep the volume down during his parties, their decision would have the force of law. If Fred does not comply, the police would be summoned to take appropriate action. In practice, it would be extremely rare for problems to go this far. In all likelihood, Fred would be respectful of Sally’s concern and would tone it down after the first request—or would not have caused the problem in the first place.
Communities would also have some control over what people can and can’t do when traveling through the community. If someone has a habit of roaring through a community on a motorcycle that sounds like a freight train at 2 am and the community wants to put a stop to it, they could. In some cases, dealing with issues could involve working with other nearby communities. In cases such as these, members of the CLB and perhaps the Local Electors may get involved by working with the leaders of adjacent communities. In some cases it may turn out to be appropriate to escalate the issue to the local government.
Local governments would be responsible for ensuring that communities are working in a way that makes sense across their local jurisdiction. If there is significant variation on an issue from one community to the next and this creates problems for people who frequent the area, the local government could decide to make a decision on the issue to ensure everyone is treated fairly.
Groups of communities may find that it makes sense for them to come together and form a new government body all together. For instance, the city of Seattle is characterized by many distinct neighborhoods, each with their own central downtown area. The communities that make up these neighborhoods could choose to create their own neighborhood government so that they can more easily cooperate on common issues such as crime prevention, noise restrictions, pet control policies, etc. So long as the neighborhood government doesn’t do anything contrary to local, state, or national governments laws, they would be free to do whatever they choose. The idea is that government should be whatever the people choose—nothing more, nothing less.
Some might argue that giving communities such power would allow them to infringe on the individual rights and freedom of some individuals or minority groups within them. This gets at the central point of what it means to be free in a democracy. When communities are confronted with issues and decisions must be made, it only makes sense for the majority to make the decision. The alternative is rule by minorities, which is untenable. It is the majority that must be able to protect themselves—their freedom as defined by the majority—from the individual or minority groups who would impose on them and oppress or exploit them. So long as the decisions of the community do not violate the basic rights of individuals and do not conflict with any local, state or national laws, the majority of the people must be able to control their environment the way they see fit. This is necessary if people are going to live together in a free society. (Think of minority groups broadly. Racial or religious minorities are a special case and often need special protection against discrimination.)
If an individual or minority group feels the decision is unfair, they could exercise their right to petition the government or take their case to court, and the appropriate branch of government would decide whether the case warrants consideration and how to handle it. Alternatively, the individual or minority group would be free to leave and find another community that better suits them. These people would undoubtedly be much happier and find more friends by doing so.
You may be inclined to think that you don’t want to be subject to the control of our neighbors. But if you were part of a community you would see things in a different light. You would know members of your community, and everyone would understand the need to be fair in all situations. You would treat other community members fairly because you would want to be treated fairly yourself. Likewise, they would treat you fairly because they would want to be treated fairly themselves. It would not be a question of control so much as of cooperation and an effort to keep the peace.
It is worth noting that it is easy to confuse freedom with unrestraint. Unrestraint cannot exist anywhere—it is chaotic and destructive, and it is a certain threat to the freedom of others. You don’t want others to be without restraints, and they don’t want you to be without restraints either. Someone must make the rules that restrain us from certain behaviors, and democracy allows everyone an equal say in what those rules will be—allowing us to be free.
It would be important for the power of communities be appropriately limited. As part of a larger society, communities must not be permitted to act in a way that is contrary to the wishes of the larger society. For example, if the people of the greater city of Seattle want the central downtown area to develop and grow, a residential community within the downtown area must work within those expectations. Downtown communities, in this example, would not be able to stop development in their community in order to preserve the city as it was when they arrived. Likewise, if members of a rural community want to use their land in a way that is contrary to the wishes of the greater society, such as polluting it, the greater society must be able to prevent this.
If members of a community know that issues that could affect them are discussed at community meetings, they would have an incentive to participate. Everyone would want to know what is going on and would want to participate in decision making. Community members would get to know one another, learn to live together, and become friends—creating a community in the truest sense. Communities would be the foundation of a government from which individual citizens could participate in higher levels of government—local, state, and national via their Local Elector. The entire country would be like a gigantic web of personal connections, allowing us to work together to achieve common goals at all levels, and to create a better world.
When our ancestors lived in tribes many years ago, they almost certainly lived in a situation much like this. Everyone was part of the tribe, participated in tribal decision making, and promoted harmony within the tribe. It may not have been a formal democracy as we define it, but it almost certainly had strong similarities. This is our natural condition—the type of environment we were designed to live in. By understanding what we are and trying to make our world reflect the world our ancestors lived in, we will find that we fit into our environment much more comfortably than we do now, and we will be much happier for it.
“To be true to one’s own freedom is, in essence, to honor and respect the freedom of all others.” – Dwight Eisenhower
“Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but what we ought.” – Abraham Lincoln
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