L7 Community Engagement

Tools For A New Political Economy

Civic Engagement at the Community Level

There are six primary components of community level involvement in a Level 7 political economy:

  • Community Coregroups: Voluntary, self-selecting support groups for developing community relationships, exploring education around civic responsibility and political economy, and exploring methods of nurturing and well-being that inspire personal and collective growth and transformation.
  • Citizens councils: At all levels of government and as ongoing components of governance, citizens councils would be created via civic lottery.
  • Citizens assemblies: Also at all levels of government, on an as-needed basis via civic lottery, with the power to both propose and enact. For example, to deliberate over major legislative initiatives, or resolve an impasse that citizens councils cannot resolve, or propose constitutional changes, etc.
  • NGOs: Grass roots civic organizations, spontaneously created at the community level, which operate independently from governmental institutions, but are communally funded. These could be part of the Universal Social Backbone and/or provide additional services.
  • Daily Direct Democracy: As an additional avenue of engagement, community members can raise and comment on issues important to them, help decide on budgeting priorities for community planning, and hold local business enterprise accountable (in much the same way that the BBB or Yelp does currently, but using a Unique Digital Identifier for each citizen to prevent distortion of data).
  • Community-centric, non-profit public institutions: For example, Community Land Trusts (CLTs), Community Development Corporations (CDCs), and Community Banks (credit unions).

These function as part of the checks-and-balances process in conjunction with elected or appointed technocratic and administrative positions, as well as cementing community-level relationships that emphasize voluntary, compassion-centric engagement in civil society.

Citizens Councils

Citizens councils become the secondary deliberation bodies for self-governance after direct democracy — a means of refining the will of the electorate and interfacing with other civic institutions. There have been many examples of similar bodies throughout history, such as
Community Planning Groups, and these can offer helpful guidelines on how to define roles, responsibilities and administrative processes. The main difference with Citizens Councils in a Level 7 context is that they would always always appointed by lottery, with strict term limits. However, there is also a hierarchy to the civic lottery pools that reflects the Council hierarchy in terms of larger geographic regions. For example, only those who have served their full term in a community-level Council would be eligible for the metro-municipal level Council inclusive of that community; only those who have served a full term in the metro-municipal Council are eligible for for district-level Council inclusive of that metro-municipality, and so on. These eligibility criteria can then continue up the hierarchy through megalopolis, state, regional and national Councils. It seems inevitable that such Council experience will, over time, create a pool of skilled public administrators who can then run for elected offices as well.

What also differentiates the Council lottery process from existing lotteries — such as those for jury duty — is that the lottery occurs several months prior to active appointment to a given Council. This allows those selected to prepare for their appointment — in terms of education and any necessary reorganizing of their private life around the appointment’s duties. As with all other public service positions, Council members can potentially be censured via daily direct democracy of their constituents. At the same time, all such censures (along with any and all successful direct democracy initiatives) are reviewed and approved by both the local and upstream Councils. If a Council approves of the stage one direct vote results, the results of the stage two direct vote will become binding. If the a Council disapproves of the stage one direct vote, then the stage two direct vote becomes provisional, and deliberation advances to the next geographic level of both Council and direct vote. The same deliberation process is then repeated until a final binding decision is reached.

Community Land Trusts

Community Land Trusts are an example of public institutions that operate at the community level. They would be subject to the “advise and consent” guidance of Citizens Councils and Daily Direct Democracy in addition to a tripartite Board of Directors in order to manage common property and resources at the community level. This is also a great opportunity to implement elements of Ostrom’s CPRM and polycentric governance. The same management and oversight principles can also be applied to other public community institutions, such as CDC and local credit unions. I this group of organizations could be an ideal network to manage common property shares and issue currency backed by those shares.

Spontaneous, Grass Roots Civic Organizations
(Excerpted from The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty; see also Non-Governmental Organizations)

A convenient way to categorize this phenomenon is “community organizing,” and plentiful resources are available on the topic. All we are really concerned with here is the civic function such organizing serves in the context of authentic liberty, and some useful participatory models for these grass roots institutions. As Michael Brown describes them in his superbly practical guide, Building Powerful Community Organizations (2006, p.1-2):

“Community is one of those things that is hard to define, but you know it when you are in it. It is a feeling that you are not alone, that you are part of something greater than yourself – but yet, even when you are in it, you are still yourself. It does not swallow you up; rather, it builds you up. It is not all for you and you are not all for it. In a community there are people around you whom you like, although you probably do not like them all equally. The people of the community are there for you when you need them and you will be there for them when they need you.

Community organizations come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. Every community organization holds all the complexities and all the hopes, dreams, and visions of the people who join it. Community organizations may look different but they all have at least two things in common:
  • Community organizations strive to develop a sense of community among their members.
  • Community organizations organize people to do what they cannot do by themselves….
The exact alchemy that transforms a group of individuals into a community organization is elusive, but it is clear that the process requires intuition, a good sense of timing, a gift for strategy and for relationships, and healthy doses of boldness, leadership, persistence, perseverance, passion, commitment, and courage. One person usually does not have all those qualities; that is why it takes a group. Add to this list: mistakes. You will make mistakes along the way, and that is to be expected. You can learn from them.”

At first Brown’s definitions may seem simplistic and even vague, but he is hinting at the very nature of human society – a complex organism of dynamic interdependence that relies on multiple centers of intelligence and multiple avenues of cooperation. He is also speaking to the spirit of experimentation and inherent variability that community organizations represent, as well as the necessity to learn from doing. Thankfully he offers plentiful examples of how all of this has played out over his thirty-year involvement, and relentlessly promotes what he calls the Iron Rule of Organizing: “never do for people what they can do for themselves;” here even leadership itself is about developing other leaders, rather than taking control. Again we can feel the resonance with other collective proposals, with the democratization of all processes, with
Elinor Ostrom’s design principles, with the inclusive and egalitarian attitudes and practices, and so on. These ideas – that is, what works in the real world – are all cut from the same cloth. And, in harmony with the unitive principle, regarding recruiting Brown advises (p. 133):

“You want people who care about the issue, but not only about the issue. You are looking not simply for people who have a personal self-interest in the issues you are working on, but people whose self-interest is deeply motivated, not narrowly defined. What are their stories? What is their motivation? Beware of people who say that they are not at all personally motivated, who are doing it only to help others. They are not likely to last long in your organization. Also beware of people who seem to care only for themselves (to get their raise, to lower their water bill, to get rid of the abandoned cars on their street). You definitely want people who care deeply about the issue your group is working on. But you also want those who think about others as well as themselves.”

This cross-pollination is so evident that we can clearly integrate the insights Brown, Ostrom and Rothschild, Whitt and the many others who have written about horizontal collectivism to inform all of our participatory mechanisms, while never forgetting the ultimate aim of championing the subjective felt experience of liberty for all.

Why Is Community Engagement Important?

Communities are where ready cohesion is waiting to sally forth. Whereas complex, abstract, global issues may be difficult to harness in terms of building consensus, it is relatively simple to find common ground around pressing community concerns. Local housing and real estate development, local energy production, local roads, local businesses and jobs, local environmental issues, local pollution, local animal concerns, local entertainment, local grocery and retail, local banking, local crime…people already care about what is happening in their community. All that is required is a concentration of focus, a regular dialog, and demonstrated evidence that voluntary engagement will produce desirable results. In addition to the mechanisms outlined above, Level 7 also adds
 community property shares, daily direct democracy, and Community Coregroups to the mix to further strengthen civic involvement at the community level.

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