The plank in our candidate’s platform that – judging from responses – is least understood is Plank 5: The City shall be re-districted to create [500+-] electoral districts, each to be represented by a City Councilmember.  This initiative will provide much greater access to power for residents.  Council Members will be more in-touch with those they represent.  Most respondents envision endless debate and a culture of inaction resulting from the chaos of so many City Councilmembers clamoring for recognition.  We intend to address this concern here, after a brief analysis of the current state of democracy in Oakland.

          Currently, the population of our city is reckoned at just under 400,000, while the number of City Councilmembers stands at eight, representing seven districts plus one City Councilmember At Large.  This means that the ratio of Councilmembers to residents is approximately 1:57,000.  Does such a ratio provide for direct access to democratic representation for Oakland’s residents?  We would argue instead that, in the current framework, ordinary residents have only a slightly better chance of influencing their representatives than they do of winning the lottery.  Of course, one element can improve access to democracy: money.  If wealthy residents can rent spaces or use their homes for tastefully elegant events to which their Councilmembers are tempted to attend, then they can make their voices heard.  Yes, even in a small city like Oakland, money equals speech.  But our candidate would like to live in a city where Dollars Are Not Citizens!

          Another tool that residents can use to magnify their voices loud enough to be heard is the petition.  By collecting enough signatures affirming a proposition, residents can make their needs known to Councilmembers.  All they have to do is to spend weeks wandering the streets and interrupt people in the course of their business to stop and consider a proposition and sign their names to it.  But even after all that work, the Councilmember may choose to ignore the petition, and she or he can do so with impunity by – for a time – avoiding public events where constituents are not pre-selected by a host.  The only other venue where they might have to face those whose needs they’ve rejected is in a session of the City Council where they would have to listen but could not be compelled to respond to the outrage of their constituents.

          Our candidate envisions a more direct structure for democracy where residents can interact with their representatives on a regular basis in an assembly where their voices can be more easily heard.  Under current conditions, if the residents of a district wanted to hold an assembly with their Councilmember, they’d have to secure the Oracle Stadium.  But if Oakland’s residents were represented by 500 Councilmembers, then the ratio would become 1:800, and a district assembly could be held in the auditorium of a local public school.  It would become reasonable for district residents to require their Councilmembers to attend district assemblies where voting could be held on propositions.  Direct access would become immediate.

          This brings us to concerns raised about the likelihood of chaos in sessions of a City Council with 500 members.  If those Councilmembers are attending regular district assemblies – hearing their constituents, informing them of upcoming Council agenda, and participating in debate over issues coming before the Council, then they will attend City Council meetings with their votes predetermined in their district assemblies.  They will no longer have executive decision-making power, and attempts at suasion by the other Councilmembers will be of no account.  The need for a public comment period during Council sessions will be largely preempted by the district assemblies.  Voting will take very little time and, so, the progress of democracy will move forward for Oakland, and at a much more efficient pace than ever.

 


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