Yesterday I attended a delegates meeting for One LA, an affiliate with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). One LA delegates told stories about specific civic issues such as a landfill in Sun Valley, or education in Los Angeles School District. They also asked questions of and posed challenges regarding these issues to city leaders who were present such as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti. It was an interesting experience of democracy at work. The meeting seemed to be part rally and part town hall. Los Angeles Daily News has a report on the meeting here.
In preparation for the meeting I read “Reweaving the Fabric: The Iron Rule and the IAF Strategy for Power and Politics,” a chapter by Ernesto Cortes, Jr., a regional director of IAF. The chapter can be found in Interwoven Destinies: Cities and the Nation, edited by Henry Cisneros. I found these paragraphs very thought-provoking:
Politics, properly understoody, is about collective action initiated by people who have engaged in public discourse. Politics is about relationships enabling people to disagree, argue, interrupt one another, clarify, and negotiate, and through this process of debate and conversation to forge a compromise and a consensus that enables them to act. Practical wisdom is equivalent to good judgment and what the Greeks called praxis, the action that is aimed, calculated, and reflected upon. People must be given the opportunity to develop practical wisdom, to develop the kind of judgment that includes understanding and responsibility. In politics, it is not enough to be right, that is, it is not enough to have a position that is logically worked out; one also has to be reasonable, that is, one has to be willing to make concessions and exercise judgment in forging a deal. Elections understood in this sense are not to discover what people want, but to ratify decisions and actions the political community has reached through argumentative deliberations….
Politics is where our moral dimensions emerge. We are social beings. We are defined by relationships to other people. These include family and kin. These also include the less familiar people with whom we engage in the day-to-day business of living our lives in a complicated society. When people do not have the opportunity to connect to meaningful power and participate in public life effectively, they learn to act irresponsibly—a complaint that is frequently voiced about the residents of our inner cities.
Focusing on the least important elements of political action—voting, elections, and turnout, trivializes our citizens by disconnecting them from the real debate and real power of public life. We fail to recognize that voter participation is the wrong measure of the health of our politics. Voter turnout was high in Pinochet’s Chile. Voter turnout was never a problem in the totalitarian countries. Bcoming mere voters, clients, taxpayers, and plantiffs, rather than citizens, renders people incompetent, making them passive viewers of an electronic display. If there is to be genuine participatory politics in this country, there must be opportunities for ordinary people to initiate action about matters that are important to their interests. (297-298)