During local elections when a consistent and persistent percentage of voters support new ideas, there is the need to continue that support after the election. For citizens will never get what they want if they do not ask. In Corning, a campaign for local office and subsequent activism must prove three things. That the residents of the city are the co-owners of the city, that the ideas to expand direct democracy and resiliency are working in other communities, and that there is a way to concisely connect the theory of alienation and self-determination to the practice of job security and taxpayer control of the city budget. These ideas are still valid regardless of whether or not any one individual wins an election. For those who supported these ideas there is the need for them to contact the mayor and City Council to express their continued support for startup loans for cooperatives and participatory budgeting. These two ideas exemplify the principles of democracy and the commons that is necessary for any community. The following links are drafts of proposals and contact information for our city government. A true democracy is still active in between elections, and we need to let our representatives know that we want these ideas considered and put to a vote.






The examination of the positive characteristics of cooperatives and participatory budgeting reveals the inherent principles of democracy and the commons. When seen from different perspectives, the complete picture of what cooperatives and participatory budgeting can do will emerge. The first step is to look at the immediate practical aspects. Cooperatives are defined by worker ownership and democratic management, while participatory budgeting is defined by the creation and use of aggregated tax revenue in democratically controlled local budgets. In an everyday sense, cooperatives are a form of self-employment for work that requires more than one person and reflects the fact that most private organizations are run democratically. The immediate result is job security and income stability that translates into a strong consumer and tax base. There is also local economic stability and an increase of local circulation of capital that spurs locally oriented economic growth. New productive capital in low income areas and neighborhoods are developed, and there is the expansion of investment opportunities and asset creation for low and moderate income residents. In other words, cooperatives can be the basic building block of a successful and resilient economy. Participatory budgeting is a form of private and public stewardship that is vital to any sense of economic autonomy. The formation of a personal budget is the responsibility of private individuals in that these individuals are the owners of the resources being allocated. Since public budgets are the allocation of taxes paid by private individuals, the private individuals who pay taxes are the co-owners of the public services funded by those taxes. The allocation of public budgets, especially local budgets, affects the everyday life of citizens in terms of the relationship between public spending and public services. Decisions made in the formation of budgets is one of the primary roles of democracy, and coupled with democracy in the workplace we see the fulfillment of the promise of America.

When a community is in between a completed local election and an upcoming presidential election, it is the best time to begin a discussion about direct democracy and the commons. A true democracy is active continually, not just once every two or four years when there is an occasion to vote for representatives. For quite some time people have been told that direct democracy and the commons will never work but the long-term historical evidence shows the contrary, that it is the more natural form of social organization. It shows up when the existing forms of the state and the market fail to work. The best way for people to relearn about democracy and the commons is through actual practice. For what we mean by democracy is the ability to participate in public decisions that affect you, and what we mean by the commons is the pooling of resources to insure equal access and independence. In any community, the concrete expression of direct democracy and the commons can be cooperatives and participatory budgeting. Cooperatives have an excellent track record of rebuilding local economies as well as providing job security and income stability. Participatory budgeting is also a working model of how taxpayers can have a say on how their money is spent in regards to public services and infrastructure. In order to truly empower community residents, we need to go beyond the periodical voting for representatives and have a true functioning democracy. The idea of self-determination can be put into practice if we are willing to support methods like cooperatives and participatory budgeting, and commit to a more thorough engagement in all of our communities.

It can at times be difficult to see new ideas as possibly working. But Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”. When we are talking about direct democracy and the commons, there are an abundance of working examples that are allowing people to practice self-determination and improve their quality of life. The Mondragon cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain have been in successful operation since the 1950’s. One third of the economic activity in the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy is conducted by cooperatives. Cleveland, Ohio; Richmond, California; Reading, Pennsylvania; and Jackson, Mississippi are all looking to improve their local economy by developing cooperatives. Since a cooperative is a direct everyday application of direct democracy, it can be shown that promoting the cooperative model in one’s own community is not an idealistic dream. The same can be said about the commons, where the only reason that we are not familiar with the concept is due to the last few centuries of enclosure and privatization. But what we see at local libraries is very similar to the commons, and when the commons is applied through participatory budgeting we find it in practice in communities such as New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Toronto, and Tonawanda. If we want our community to work for all of us, then the proper tools are cooperatives and participatory budgeting. And it has been proven time and again that these tools work.

Yet for quite some time we have been told that new ideas that change the structure of our society will never work, and that it is best to maintain the status quo with small improvements. But the truth is that the two main institutions of the status quo, the corporation and the market, are not only not natural phenomenon but are also ineffective at achieving what people hope they accomplish. It can be contended that direct democracy and the commons are a more natural form of social organization, and the best tools to promote freedom and equality as well. Direct democracy has the ability to transition diverse individual choices into collective action that benefits all participants. Democracy has an emergent quality that allows people to cooperate and do more than what they can do as individuals. The results of this cooperation then becomes the shared resource of the commons, which in turn provides an equality of access that is a foundation of independence that allows people to express individual freedom. Nobel Prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom demonstrated that democracy and the commons are connected through democratic management of the commons and the commons providing stability for free choices in a democratic process. We can put the theory of democracy and the commons into the practice of cooperatives and participatory budgeting. These principles can be developed in any community, and it can make each one a better community. All we need is the will to act.

Democracy and the commons have many positive benefits, but they also have a strong theoretical foundation. Democracy and the commons are immanent structures. Immanence is defined as a bottom up organization with internal rules of operation. In contrast, transcendence is defined as a top down organization with rules imposed from an external source. Immanent structures allow an equality of power that fosters self-determination, while transcendent structures allow an inequality of power that fosters hierarchy. When democracy and the commons are put into practice as cooperatives and participatory budgeting, individuals are able to control the structure they are in rather than the structure controlling them. They are able to prevent appropriation and alienation. Immanence is the founding principle of democracy and the commons, and is the primary reason why it works and why it can be a positive tool for humanity. The practical expression of cooperatives and participatory budgeting proposes a plan of action, but the theoretical background of democracy and the commons gives it a complete and positive explanation. Theory and practice need each other as we can see with the importance of immanence in democracy and the commons. We need a discussion about immanence in order to show the importance of cooperatives and participatory budgeting for all of our communities.

Each community can have the possibility to live out a full citizenship and the American Dream. The tools we need are expanded direct democracy and the development of the commons. These tools are based on a simple idea, that the citizens of a community are the co-owners of that community, and it applies not only to a nation but to a small city as well. Democracy insures inclusion and participation in decisions that affect us, while the commons insures independence through the ownership of vital resources. This may all seem abstract, but in concrete terms democracy and the commons can be expressed through the models of cooperatives and participatory budgeting. Other communities have used these methods to not only improve their quality of life but to actualize authentic self-determination. And that is at the heart of true citizenship. On the other hand, the American Dream has many different parts but one important component is the idea of being your own boss. This is the point where the American Dream intersects with the promise of citizenship. A commitment to developing cooperatives and participatory budgeting in a community can be a direct way to put citizenship and the American Dream into practice. But in order to use the proper tools, the tools must first be created.

The story of New Era Windows in Chicago is a perfect manifestation of the American Dream. In 2008, during the economic meltdown that triggered the Great Recession, workers at the Republic Windows And Doors were laid off without payment of their accrued sick and vacation days. In early 2009 they staged a sitdown strike in opposition. They not only won what they were due but they eventually bought the company to turn it into a worker cooperative, renaming it New Era Windows. The name change was very symbolic, signifying a transition from hierarchy to autonomy and from representatives to direct democracy. And it created a model for how the nation overall should have responded to the economic crisis, developing worker ownership and democratic management of businesses instead of bailing out Wall Street. It showed what was possible for cooperatives and how it can be connected to the greatness of a people. For America is great not because of how many missiles we have, or how many billionaires we have, or even how many Christian fundamentalists we have. America is great because our project is not yet complete and there is still the striving to expand self-determination such as through the precise instrument of cooperatives. The word patriotism comes from the same root as father, and implies that the nation is the authoritative father and the people are obedient children. I would like to propose a different type of patriotism, one based on co-ownership rather than obedience. And this co-ownership requires the ability to participate through cooperative direct democracy.

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