Bottom-Up Democracy: Selecting Our Representatives Face to Face

BLOG Bottom-Up Democracy: Selecting Our Representatives Face to Face

congressional districts cartogram
There has been a lot written lately about the need to reinvent our economy from the bottom up — community-based natural enterprises owned and operated by people right in the community, providing local products to local customers, responsibly, sustainably, and powerfully connected, with each community only exporting goods that are excess to the needs of the community and importing what cannot reasonably be produced in the community.

A major problem with this ideal is that our political and economic systems are to some extent inseparable: As long as we have a top-down political system whose officials are disconnected from local economies and citizens and beholden to very wealthy and powerful multinational lobbyists, that political system is going to be at loggerheads with a bottom-up community-based economic system. This political system will do everything in its considerable power to disrupt and destroy an entrepreneurial economic system that would take away all its financial funders’ power, wealth and influence. In fact, our political system has already and always done so — trade regulations, legal indemnifications, tax breaks, corporate ‘rights’ and massive subsidies are all skewed in favour of multinationals and against the interests of local enterprises, labour, the environment and local communities.

Many anarchists (that is, people who believe the less government the better) espouse simply eliminating government power and infrastructure, but that actually plays right into the hands of the corporatists, since it essentially leaves corporations to govern themselves. You only need consider Exxon Valdez, Bhopal, GMO, well-financed climate change deniers, all the Bush war profiteers, and all the corrupt and incompetent bankers that gave us the current economic collapse, to see what deregulation and self-regulation produces.

A few political thinkers have suggested that we could replace the current hierarchical political system with its precise opposite — a bottom-up democracy where each community would pick its own representatives from among people they knew well, those representatives would in turn pick their representatives at the next-higher level, face to face, and so on. This approach has some obvious problems, but let’s see how it might work.

Suppose we designed a computer to create two hundred Regions of one-two-hundredth of the total number of eligible voters in a country each, in such as way as to make them as contiguous as possible (i.e. no opportunity for gerrymandering). So, for example, suppose the US has 200 million voters. Each Region would have one million voters. Each Area in each Region would have ten thousand voters, and the Areas would be computer-generated in the same way. There would be 100 Areas in each Region, or 20,000 Areas in the country as a whole.

Now suppose that within your Area, comprising the ten thousand voters in your contiguous area, you could self-select to belong, with anywhere from 75 to 150 others, to a designated Community. You would have to choose one, and if you didn’t want to do so, you would be automatically assigned, by the same computer program, a Community of the 100 people in your immediate contiguous proximity. Every four years you would have the opportunity to self-select a different community, or stay with the one you were in (provided you were still living in the same Area).

Next, every four years, your Community members (75 to 150 people) would get together and select a Community Representative (CR) from among their own members. The one hundred (or so) CRs in an Area would get together and select an Area Representative (AR) from among their members. These CRs would also constitute the government of their Area. The one hundred (or so) ARs in a Region would get together and select a Regional Representative (RR) from among their members. These ARs would also constitute the government of their Region. And the RRs would constitute the federal government, and select a President or Prime Minister and a Cabinet. Powers would be allotted to the President/PM/Cabinet, to the Federal Government (the 200 RRs), to the 100 Regional Governments (each with 100 ARs), to the 10,000 Area Governments (each with 100 CRs), and to the one million Community Governments (each with 75-150 voters/members). Hopefully with no overlap!

Could this work? Imagine if you could choose 75-150 people from among the ten thousand voters living closest to you to constitute your political Community. Can you imagine self-organizing this way? Can you guess who you would choose as your CR? Is s/he currently an elected official? Now draw an Area around where you live consisting of about ten thousand voters. Who might the 100 CRs in this area select as their AR? Is s/he currently an elected official? Could this whole system be corrupted by party organizations preying on citizen indifference to corral people into faux communities they could control?

Now consider that your Community (unlike your Area or Region) is made up of people who are not necessarily living contiguously — they are people from all over your Area. What powers and authority, currently residing with some anonymous group that just happens to live in the same town or neighbourhood, would they have, and what kind of power shift would this represent?

I have a pretty good idea who I would end up with in my Community. I also know who would aspire to be our CR, and I think I know that the person we selected to be our CR would not be one of those politically ambitious members. It would, instead, be someone we trusted, someone we would choose precisely because they lacked political ambition.

Imagine if it worked like this all the way up — CRs, ARs, RRs, all selected because they were modest, trustworthy individuals. Would we have a real democratic political system, immune to lobbyist influence, party bullying, manipulation and power politics?

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3 Responses to Bottom-Up Democracy: Selecting Our Representatives Face to Face

  1. Melisa Christensen says:

    that image is incredible

  2. Paris says:

    It’s a good idea as lon as it stays local.I believe (but I may be wrong) that the more hierarchical levels are put, the more ambition, lost-touch-reality-with-base kinda feeling happen.What’s wrong in our political, economical system is not the way top leaders are chosen, but the way we are governed by distant presidents/CEOs…These are guys are mere humans, they can’t take care of millions of people. I respect Mr Obama but I dare to say he can’t name, know and care for each and any single american, isn’it?

  3. vera says:

    This is the old idea of the soviets. The one the Soviets did not implement. (Although I am not sure if their original vision broke it down quite so small.)Problem is… power is missing from the model.

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