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Democratic Circles

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What we call Democratic Circles is a plan to build a national political/cultural organization of direct democracies - to rebuild a thriving and effective "We the People." You're invited!

Democratic Circles

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It's a common belief that direct democracy doesn't work on a large scale, and that representative democracy is the only practical (democratic) alternative. But representative democracy in the U.S. has evolved into a superstructure of remote and privileged politicians, each standing-in for about 750 thousand people in the House of Representatives, and up to tens of million in the Senate. The performance of these representatives in Congress, not to mention state, county, and city governments, has demonstrated that there's an upper limit to the responsiveness and practicality of representative democracy, just as there is with direct democracy. We believe the effective limit for the size of a representative democratic organization is actually quite small, if the real intent is the representation of people's interests rather than the interests of elites and corporations.

Even a typical city council seat, which might represent thousands of people, is too large a position to allow knowledgeable election and effective representation. We believe the insulation of the representative, and the corresponding powerlessness of each individual represented, is directly related to voter/citizen apathy, and to the stranglehold of powerful interests so prevalent in U.S. politics today.

What we call Circles is an alternative to both direct democracy and large-scale representative democracy. It's a way of building individual empowerment and community power, and a thriving culture, and a means of exercising a more effective democracy - not in place of, but in parallel with our existing political structures and institutions. The basic idea is to build from small circles of friends and neighbors (a "direct democracy") into larger and larger groupings of face-to-face representatives at multiple levels, all the way up to a national organization that could consolidate people's interests and have a significant influence on our local, state, and national governments.

Circles is based on the idea that democracy works well and works best when people are electing representatives from among their friends and associates, people they know from personal experience. A circle of friends and neighbors choose a representative to an organization comprised of a number of such circles; the representatives of that organization elect a representative to a larger organization, and so on, up to the national level.

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Our preliminary assumption, subject to modification by practical experience, is that organizations consisting of just 10-14 constituent organizations are optimal for balancing power and interests between the one and the many, and for choosing truly representative representatives at each level. A dozen or so representatives, by working together on various projects, and discussing issues among themselves, are able to elect someone from amongst themselves to their next-larger organization, someone who can be expected to effectively represent their interests and concerns, as well as communicate the interests and experiences from the larger whole.

In specific terms of projected long-term organization, the basic unit, the Circle consists of 12-or-so adults (about 20 people, counting children). A Circle chooses a representative to a Neighborhood, which consists of 5 Circles (about 100 people). Ten to 14 Neighborhoods elect representatives to a larger level (a "Community"). Each Community elects a representative to a larger level of 10-14 Communities – and so on, up to the national level. The specific boundaries of each organization provide clear areas of responsibility, and of belonging. To identify with one of a dozen-or-so groups at any given level provides an effective balance between a sense of exclusiveness of the group and significant membership in a larger whole. Each person, each organization, is an important member of the next-larger organization, and each larger organization is a close-knit unity of its constituents.

To describe the overall (provisional) structure from the top down, the U.S. is organized into 13 Regions of roughly equal populations of about 21.5 million people. (Click here to see a prospective map of the Regions.) Each Region is composed of 10-14 Areas of about 1.8 million people. Areas have 10-14 Districts of about 150,000. Districts have 10-14 Localities of about 12,500. Localities have 10-14 Communities of about 1050. Communities have 10-14 Neighborhoods of about 85-100 people, each consisting of 5 Circles of 20.* That makes 8 levels of organization, each democratically elected from among its constituents by people who know each other directly and who vote from personal knowledge and practical experience -- not based on a media image of a remote and artificial personality.

Circles is not just about forming organizations to lobby politicians, government and corporations, although that's an important potential. Circles is also a means for rebuilding a sense of belonging, a sense of community, a sense of organized power, and for developing a better awareness and clarity about community interests. Larger organizations formed by Circles might, for example, organize group insurance coverage, form consumer and childcare co-ops, organize community services, sports leagues, theatres, media, debating societies – and any number of collectives focused on particular interests. Organizations at a city or county level could, for example, break the power of big-box chain stores that have been able, up to now, to manipulate separate communities into competing for their location. A network of media, newsletters and websites, along with periodic conferences among representatives, can develop and communicate common interests, integrating localities with larger wholes while connecting the larger organizations with their constituents.

If there is a guiding political philosophy of Circles, it's that modern large-scale corporate society is unable to meet people's needs, it tends to obscure people's interests, it's vulnerable to corruption and monopolization of power, and it fosters a general sense of powerlessness among the vast majority. Circles is about countering these troubling realities.

Circles begins with isolated groups of friends and neighbors at the grassroots level, and at the same time, scattered representatives at the Regional and National level. When localities and regions are well-defined, groups can readily connect and coalesce. Eventually, networks of Circles can form Neighborhoods, Communities, and Localities from the bottom up, while Regions develop constituent Areas and Districts from the top down.

Everyone is entitled to belong to a Circle. Circles is not exclusive, it's not a party. Each Circle may consist of chosen friends and neighbors, but we can't expect to choose who belongs to another Circle any more than we can choose who is going to live nearby. Circles is based on a belief that when people work together and communicate directly they begin to recognize their common interests, and their democratic organizations will express their true interests better than those that are structured on a large-scale, and exclusively from the top-down. We believe a faith in democratic values means accepting that a social or political process that allows human potential to thrive with direct relations and minimal restrictions will find its own best way. There's no need to push up or push down - culture will take care of itself, if caringly fed and watered. For people with a faith in this principle, the simple implication is:

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Do your own part, and let it all happen accordingly

Or more succinctly:

Do your part, let it happen

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A former visitant of UC Santa Cruz, former union boilermaker, ex-Marine, Vietnam vet, anti-war activist, dilettante in science with an earth-shaking theory on the nature of light (which no one will consider), philosopher in the tradition of Schelling, Hegel, Merleau-Ponty, Marx, and Fromm (sigh, no one listens to me on that either), author of a book on wine clubs (ahem), and cast-off programmer of ancient computer languages. I've recently had two physics articles published in an obscure but earnest Central European journal (European Scientific Journal http://www.eujournal.org/index.php/esj) but my main interests remain politics and philosophy.




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