Sep 11, 2020
Civic power puts communities most impacted by legislative decisions in the drivers’ seat of making public policy. Community members get to have a say in areas like policing, zoning, education, taxation, voting rights, and more. Participatory budgeting creates a structure of representative decision making that is responsive and reflective of the affected communities. This form of civic power exists around the world and can be replicated in the United States on a large scale.
True bottom-up democracy is a radical but simple concept that fully espouses civic power. The representative democracy in the US puts bureaucrats, not affected communities, in control of many aspects of public policy. To achieve true democracy, we need to demand a policy shift in institutions, which creates more power for citizens in the long run. It’s a demand about changing the way policy is made tomorrow, and not just today.
The markers of a society’s success must include the flourishing of low-income workers and black and brown communities. It would require restructuring work and capital that does not exploit workers; investing in universal public services like health care and education; ending predatory lending practices as well as the system of crippling debt, especially for education; and dismantling systemic and systematic racism.
K. Sabeel Rahman is the President of Demos, a dynamic think-and-do tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Rahman is also an Associate Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, where he teaches constitutional law, administrative law, and courses on law and inequality. He is the author of Democracy Against Domination, which won the Dahl Prize for scholarship on the subject of democracy. His academic work explores the history, values, and policy strategies that animate efforts to make our society more inclusive and democratic, and our economy more equitable. His new book, Civic Power, looks at how to build a more inclusive and empowered bottom-up democracy.
He has previously served as a Special Advisor on economic development strategy in New York City, a public member of the NYC Rent Guidelines Board, and the Design Director for the Gettysburg Project, an initiative working with organizers, academics, and funders to develop new strategies for civic engagement and building civic capacity.
You can follow him on Twitter @ksabeelrahman.