Is Evanston, IL ready for real Democracy? FIRST STEP — Peer-to-peer collaboration



Posted December 15, 2018

On Monday night, Dec. 10, 2018, the Evanston City Council voted 9-0 Monday night to honor the citizens’ referendum to save Harley Clarke by taking imminent demolition off the table. They did this by voting down an appeal of the Preservation Commission’s unanimous rejection of a certificate to demolish.

Watching the proceedings via livestream TV, I came away with a hopeful sense that voters and City officials may be ready for real democracy, not only on the issue of Harley Clarke but on other City decisions. Real democracy is 100% participatory on all decisions. For a variety of reasons, we are not there yet.  But a first step to real democracy would be the creation of a more peer-to-peer collegiality between and among voters and officials.

If meaningful collaboration is going to take place, we will need to adopt and implement some basic rules and foundational principles for this new commitment. Here’s a short list of commitments that would go a long way in creating and maintaining a more collaborative atmosphere among Evanston adults. I welcome other suggestions to add to this list (without making it overly long).

1. Suggestions for Evanston voters
It would be good if CITY VOTERS could commit to:
— not bothering officials at their homes (e.g., no placing of signs, no removal of signs)
— not bothering officials on the street, in stores, etc.—in non-official venues
— not lecturing officials during official proceedings

2. Suggestions for Evanston city officials
It would be good if CITY OFFICIALS could commit to:
— not referring to themselves as “those of us on the dais”
— not addressing citizens by first name during official proceedings, such as citizen comment
— not lecturing citizens “from the dais” or during any official proceedings
— not making private deals with rich and/or powerful people over, above, and behind public process
— not naming public projects with a person’s name (e.g., the Mayor’s XXX, Mayor Stephen Hagerty’s XXX)

3. Suggestions for Evanston voters + officials 
It would be good if voters and officials both recognize that
— The Harley Clarke referendum vote (80% of votes in favor of “saving” Harley Clarke) was not JUST about a building. It was also about good government, due process, transparency, and rich people having too much access to the decision-making table. I know this for a fact because that’s why I voted for the referendum—to pull the emergency brake on the fast-tracking of a behind-the-scenes proposal bought-and-paid for by a small group of people—even though I, too, was suffering from Harley fatigue.
See October 2018 blog: Evanston, Illinois: Bad Public Process at the Local Level — Harley Clarke

— In future proceedings, on Harley Clarke and other city matters, the Save Harley Clarke organization (now Friends of Harley Clarke ?) may or may not speak for everyone who voted “yes” on the referendum.

— Most of our 21st century difficulties stem from outdated governmental documents, structures, and processes, including the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and local codes. These documents were written from a limited perspective–primarily white, male, European, Christian, human—without any major and inclusive updating since their original adoption. Collaboration cannot be about simply changing personnel (“vote them out of office” or “we don’t have time for everyone’s input”). It must address the deeper issues.

4. What does real collaboration look like?
Perhaps a first set of questions to ask ourselves would be:
–How do our documents, structures, and processes inhibit collaboration?
–Are there any places where they truly promote or allow collaboration?

a. Resources for Question #1: How do our documents, etc., inhibit collaboration?
What is Democracy? new documentary by Astra Taylor.
Screening in Chicago: Feb. 15-21, 2019.
Trailer, etc., at Zeitgeist Films

–The Great Law of Peace (the Iroquois Constitution)
Short blog with details and resources:
In Case of Constitutional Crisis…Start Here: The Great Law of Peace

b. Resources for Question #2:
Collaborative models that are currently promoted or currently allowed under our current government structures
–Co-operatives of all kinds
–Participatory budgeting
–Public banks (state, county, municipal)
–Food-and-farm policy councils (FPCs)
–Funded sovereignty (a basic income for civic engagement)
–Constitutional conventions
–Action plans: climate, food-and-farm, etc.
–Restorative justice
–Hands-on learning in public education (early childhood, K-12, college)
–Many others….