Along with the rest of the country, we at the Community Democracy Project have been paying attention to the events in Ferguson with great alarm. At this moment, the nation’s attention has been called to the deeply problematic practice of militarizing the police, and both activists and ordinary citizens have called for action to address this specific problem. This problem of the militarization and expansion of police brutality, however, is but one head of a modern social hydra, and were we to lop it off, another would grow back in its place, while the others – government repression, plutocracy, structural racism, sexism, and classism, for example – would continue to roar. This hydra is what CDP aims to attack, by reversing the imbalance of power between the people and their government and giving the citizens of Oakland a direct say in how the city is run, by voting directly on the budget.
We believe our initiative to deepen democracy and let the people decide the budget is a solution to police brutality and militarization. Imagine if the police and public officials had to come to neighborhood meetings and beg for money? Imagine if they had to justify their budget to the citizens of their city? People could still vote to give them tanks, and armor, and machine guns; but they probably wouldn’t, because most citizens don’t actually want those things in their communities. Moreover, the power paradigm would shift as public servants are forced to treat the communities they are sworn to serve with respect. Government accountability and transparency would no longer be mere buzzwords but would simply be the way things work.
As long as our society remains one in which people are afraid of the government, instead of the government being afraid of the people; as long as we are alienated from each other and from the structures of decision-making, thus leaving democracy “to the professionals”; as long as we continue to fracture ourselves to fight one-off battles against the different heads of the hydra, the forces of fear and greed will continue to dominate our society and our government. This is why we believe our initiative to deepen democracy and let the people decide the budget is a solution to the status quo that maintains this situation. Starting in Oakland, we aim to set a precedent that can be replicated in cities across the state and that can shift the conversation about democracy and people power across the country.
If you would like to get involved in our campaign, you are always welcome at one of our planning meetings. Our next meeting is next Tuesday, September 23 at 6:30pm. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org for location.