Promoting the effective and fair functions of a modern city requires political and economic power. In a democratic or consensus driven system politicians, activists, and organizers collect that power from the people by reasoned discussion and debate. In totalitarian and authoritarian systems, oligarchs and dictators seize that power from the people by trickery, bribes, and oppression. The common element is the source of power. Whether as voters, active participants, or vassals, the power to control what happens in a society is rooted in the people living in that society. I trust that the people will cooperate and organize with others in their communities to enhance and improve their common situation. The pathways they take toward that goal are a matter of choice from among the accessible options and in accord with available opportunities, motivation, and resources. This means it is in the interest of the larger society to maximize opportunities for positive choices for any and all residents, because by doing so we will push the entire society – Minneapolis in this case – toward a more positive, life-affirming, healthy future. It is not a matter of altruism, self-sacrifice, or the benevolence of the wealthy elite. It is a matter of recognizing the common human desire to live in a safe place that will sustain us can be fulfilled, if we are willing to take more responsibility for the operations of our own city.
Currently, our city government and all those larger layers that enfold Minneapolis from the top down, are based on a centralized system where the power has been consolidated into a few seats elected to represent some segment of the populace. In lieu of the time- and thought-intensive approach of direct participation in orchestrating the policies and actions of our city, residents have accepted a representative form of democracy that requires far less participation by the people. For some, none at all. It is understandable, particularly in a money-based capitalist system, that many residents would choose to minimize the time spent on issues of civic governance. So we elect people to deal with all the details of governing for us. We might write a letter, sign an on-line petition, or march in the streets, from time to time, but most of us don’t do those things. We are too busy trying to figure out how not to talk about politics at the next family get together or meet-up with friends. That perspective needs to change. Too many people are abdicating their power willingly because they equate politics with elections and government. Government and politics are not the same thing. Government is a group of people we pay to run our city, town, or nation. Politics are the actions you take in your community; society, and culture. Everyone takes some kind of action. You can no more avoid politics as you can avoid interaction with the world around you. The very act of avoidance is a political statement in and of itself. We all live in a place with other people and so we are all participating in politics. Yes, even the hermits and survivalists.
Whether it works or not, representative democracy introduces a gap between the voters and the elected. The MPLS Initiative aims to minimize that gap by decentralizing power in Minneapolis and to bridge it by supporting and enhancing community-led organizations already working to provide needed services in their communities. We will disperse the power centers at City Hall, the Minneapolis Police Department, and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board by increasing the number of elected councils/boards/commissions, each with a more focused mission. City Hall, MPD, and MPRB may not be completely abolished. As we transfer their power to new and reclaimed community-based, popularly elected, governing bodies, we may find their core functions. Bottom line is that they will be sharing power with more elected officials, serving on more councils that will more completely represent the residents. The MPLS Initiative will approach direct democracy in the same way squares can approximate a circle, by using more of them.
There are other forms of power in addition to political. Economic power has a major influence on how political power is distributed, or not distributed, as the case may be. The representative form of democracy seems a reasonable balance for many people because a more direct form would require more of their time and energy, while they have precious little to spare beyond work, family, and rest. That is, the profit-taking, image-making, soul-consuming, system of money, compromise, and exploitation, demands everything. It is like Donald Trump talking over everyone while saying nothing worth hearing. The scramble for dollars talks over our civic voices and only demands more. That is why I propose a basic income for residents of Minneapolis. (Perhaps paid out in a municipal, block-chain, crypto-currency that can only be spent in Minneapolis, or converted to US currency, but that is another conversation.) The explicit rationale for the Minneapolis Basic Income (MBI) is to give people a break from the demands of the bosses and bankers. Encourage residents to use the MBI at local businesses, but also to think of the MBI as time. Time to participate in civil functions of our city. Primarily, learning about the issues, interacting with elected officials, voting, and volunteering. It is a pay-it-forward mechanism. We all share a bit of the money in the city, and we channel that positive financial transaction into doing something good for the city every resident calls home.
Implementing the dispersed power system in Minneapolis is a huge task. At first analysis, we are talking about 7 new Community Councils, in addition to those that already exist. We propose to move forward incrementally and expeditiously beginning with creation of a CPAC and establishing community control of MPD. The coordination of existing Land Trusts in Minneapolis with new Trust(s), through the Housing and Land use council. As CPAC works to remove violent cops from MPD, the Health and Healing council and MUPS will be organizing community groups to take responsibility for calls previously handled by police. Mental health crises, domestic disputes, and others that can be better de-escalated by unarmed civilians and caregivers. The Land Trust and MUPS will be joined by Agriculture and Food to expand urban agriculture and work with nearby forms to bring in larger crops. Of course, Minneapolis Public Schools, Public Works and Infrastructure, and Budget, Estimation, and Taxation would still be in operation. Taking control of a city is no small task.
Depending on how each council is structured and how Districts or Wards are drawn, Minneapolis would have over 100 representative seats in an array of councils, Each council or board would have a relatively narrow focus and mission, but deep connection to the other city officials and cooperative agreements in place. I would encourage that different councils be elected on different schedules. For some, it may be appropriate to have annual confidence votes on the incumbent and hold a general election when they lose the confidence of their constituents. At Large members that run citywide for some seats should be included, as well. All these seats up for grabs in a city well-versed in ranked choice voting and known for effective social and political organizing. Let’s start with CPAC, see how it goes, and think about community control beyond police.