Reflections from Higher Ground No.1

The ‘Rigged Game’ Few of Us Are Talking About

The current president has made much of the “rigged game” of electoral politics.  And he is right.  It is rigged – for his benefit and people like him.

The very structure of governance in this country stacks the game against people of color and reinforces white privilege. The Electoral College and the Senate, both slavery-era structures designed to uphold “states rights,” undermine the very principle of “one person, one vote.” The Electoral College, not the popular vote, elects the president. The Senate, where twelve out of fifty states represent nearly 60 percent of the population, makes most of the major decisions affecting the nation. These structures were designed to ensure that smaller, predominantly white states had leverage regardless of what the majority of the nation had to say. As a result of this set-up, policymakers seeking to address privileged constituencies—suburban and rural whites—often subordinate many of the issues communities of color and progressives care about (e.g., economic justice, workers rights, racial justice). These governance structures privilege certain voices and political trends in the public conversation, too. This is why 40,000 Tea Party protestors get more attention than 1 million Black people on the National Mall.

So what might democracy for the rest of us looks like?  Here are seven ideas that would get us started in the right direction:

#7: Transforming K-12 education so that we intentionally build conscious, compassionate global citizens. Too many of us have abandoned education organizing as a key site of struggle, yet it’s critically important to radical transformation. The future is now.

#6: Sortition or Allotment systems. Although credited to the Greeks, the idea of having residents draw lots or randomly chosen for public decision making bodies is found all over the world. Anyone can be called so everyone has to pay attention.  Everybody in and nobody out.

#5: participatory budgeting.  The idea that the people should have real say about what happens with the public purse strings is starting to catch on in the US.  Though too often it’s a kind of participatory “lite” driven by the availability of fewer resources and policymakers wanting to “share” the blame for the hard decisions. Still, we need participatory budgeting and authentically shared decision making if we are to ever have genuine democracy.  Money matters.

#4: proportional representation. It’s kind of like a parliament where parties get seats based on the total percentage of votes won instead of winner take all. This way, you can vote Green or another party you actually agree with and if Green Party got a total of 15% of the votes nationally, you get to pool your votes and Green Party gets 15% of the seats nationally (or locally or statewide in those elections).

#3: Land valuation. A cool idea already in play in a few cities in PA and globally, it flips the tax and wealth paradigm by considering land a public good and rewards those who use it that way and penalizes those who don’t. It can greatly shift how and from whom revenues are collected. For more on this idea, check out my interview with Georgist economist Dr. Quisia Gonzalez

#2: 50% plus 1 minimum voter turnout. Right now, only three people could vote and the election would be valid, voter suppression has real incentives and voting with your feet has no meaning. Requiring that a majority of eligible voters (the broader we define this, the better) participate for an election to count would change the game.

#1: End states’ rights and reorganize the Senate. The Senate as a governing body is basically undemocratic and disenfranchises most of the country. 63% of the country is represented by a little more than a quarter of the votes. A little more than a third of the country has nearly three quarters of the votes.  Guess where most people of color are in this equation?   In the 63% of the country with the least amount of representation.  Most people of color will never have a Senator that comes close to representing them.  This kind of unrepresentative body has no place in a real democracy.

All people interested in achieving transformative change should not only pay attention to law and lawmakers but to transforming the rules that shape the electoral process that gets us here.  Real change won’t happen in our country without fundamental changes in governance and democracy.

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