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A few disjointed thoughts on representation

2023-09-16 16:49:25.757042+02 by Dan Lyke 0 comments

On the way home from calling a square dance last night I was listening to Words To Win By, which pointed out the framing of "Are we doing turnout or are we doing persuasion?" was false and often explicitly racist. Because both are changing minds, the better discussion is about whose mind we are putting energy into changing, and whose vote are we taking for granted.

When I first moved to Petaluma, the city was in the process of building an economic development plan. I had a very flexible work schedule at the time, so I went to a bunch of the meetings. I remember talking with so many people who got frustrated and walked away from the process. And I think anyone who's sat through general public comment for too long (and, yes, just two days ago I was before the Transit Advisory Committee) has started thinking about who the meetings are serving. Who has the time and energy, and privilege, to participate, who's being represented by the process?

And, of course, a conversation I've had many times is about having the leisure to participate in public process. Do we ask parents to forgo their kids activities so that their voices can be heard?

Just under a year ago, conversation at the monthly Petaluma Urban Chat lunch was led by someone who was excited about Switzerland's direct democracy. I have lots of questions, but I was excited by the notion of a process that created lots of public discussion about the topics of governance, and that resulted in a lot more actual representation. Yes, it costs money to run several referendums per year, but it helps figure out what the actual mood of the electorate is, rather than reflecting just the loudest voices in the room.

That representation is, of course, a double-edged sword: More voting, or polling, or whatever, isn't enough without more public conversation about the issues, more education. "The electorate" can definitely be skewed. Part of the reason for representative democracy is that keeping up with the details of the issues is a lot of freakin' work, and I'm super grateful to our elected representatives for the efforts they put in, especially at the local level where they're not compensated for all of the work (and abuse) that they take on.

But I think it's very worth looking at who we think the "turnout" is, and who we think we're "persuading", and whether those we think might be open to persuading are just sucking the energy out of the room and moving the conversation towards less equity and a less flourishing future.


[ related topics: Children and growing up Work, productivity and environment Pop Culture Community Currency Education Economics Public Transportation ]

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