CIVIL ASSEMBLIES

When I entered the Democratic primary race in 2019, I decided that it would be respectful to meet face to face with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (a well-respected Member of Congress since 1999). I didn’t know what to expect, but out of respect for someone that has been a progressive voice-of-her-time for issues that today we, as millennials, might take for granted, I thought it would be the right course of action. We chatted about many issues including progressivism.

 

I am a progressive and being a progressive of the 21st century is a big step forward, but maybe not entirely the only step for our congressional districts. Foremost, it was always higher engagement from the community that kept coming up when I was campaigning in 2019/2020 - an engagement that far too many believe is non-existent – and this is very true across the country where constituent engagement is usually based on the election cycles. That was the number one issue that kept coming up during my first exploratory Congressional run. One memorable instance, was when I talked to a constituent and someone commented that no wonder that she’s getting an email from Schakowsky and now she knows why: me entering the race. She remarked she hasn’t heard from the Congresswoman or her office in years in that way. This has changed by the way, with a lot more newsletters from our Congresswoman.

 

Either way, constituents should never be treated as passive subjects to be governed. They should be viewed as autonomous agents who take part in the governance of their own society, directly through their representatives. After all, they will be living with the effects of the policies implemented. Jan Schakowsky, like many others, may simply hold the Rousseau’s conception of democracy, in which politicians reflect on their own on what is right for society as a whole, and then go to Congress and vote in accordance with the perceived general will. This is no longer an option and I explore this in my book. I fear we are at an existential crossroad and our government is heading in exactly the wrong direction as I describe in my research.

 

Politicians of the new generation cannot fall into this trap. We need to re-think our political engagement. And a solution to that effect is through a deliberative model.

 

A deliberative democracy model is a system of government in which constituents (and their representatives) explain decisions by giving each other reasonable explanations, with the aim of drawing results that are binding on all citizens today, but subject to challenge in the future. It is characterized as a fluid process, like case law development in our judicial system, rather than a static process.

 

It entails civil assemblies, where at its core constituents from the Congressional District are randomly selected from various cross-sections of political orientation, culture, ethnicity, and various professions to come together, challenge themselves, and put their views to the test in a public and well-organized forum, strengthening or changing their minds in reaction to the claims they hear, all under the ideals of “accommodation.”

 

Whatever conclusion the constituents reach is the final conclusion that the representative must represent in Washington, where any compromise in any final legislation - if necessary - should also be scrutinized, justified and explained back to the citizenry. This is where the term Delegatocracy comes in (you won’t find it anywhere in the literature because I created it for the purposes of the conversation).

 

Through this lens, we come to see a politician as a representative delegate, rather than a typical representative (an often unavailable and preoccupied TV/social media personality, continuously in the election season asking you for money.) Deliberative democrats invite people to communicate with one another in conditions of mutual respect and with the aim of seeking terms of equal cooperation. As a result, deliberative democrats argue for a greater participatory democracy than one would normally expect. Theorists claim that allowing ordinary people to participate more directly in policymaking is the only way to ensure respect among the peers and open-dialogue communication, and escape certain community and informational bubbles that many fall into.

As to decisions we disagree with, most of us will adopt a different attitude towards those decisions after careful consideration of the relevant conflicting claims (moral or not), which we can come to respect, VERSUS quite a different attitude toward those that are adopted merely by the relative strength of political interest and power, which we come to hate. When citizens of any District are presented the facts and the arguments from both sides, and are included in the process, hear expert testimony, dispel and debate their moral disagreements and economize on those disagreements, we will naturally arrive at a better solution.

 

Therefore the question is which district will be the first and which will be the last to adopt this model which has the potential to break extreme polarization and help in our political discourse and political  education, all based on the principles set out by the deliberative democracy model.

I dive deep into our U.S. history and our Founding Fathers' thoughts on this. From Ancient Athens to the fall of Yugoslavia, it's worth a read to assess where did things go wrong and what solutions should be explored. Read about the book here.