By Patric Hedlund, Editor of The Mountain Enterprise
For many years we had an elected Mountain Communities Town Council here. In 2009 the elected council agreed that a device called the Municipal Advisory Council (MAC)—created by state law to give unincorporated areas such as ours a stronger voice—would be a way to also provide more inclusive elections. It would put candidates’ names on the county ballot. The town council voted to dissolve itself and to propose formation of a Mountain Communities Municipal Advisory Council (McMAC).
There was one hitch. Kern County Supervisor Ray Watson had to approve the plan. Instead, he changed the community-created bylaws to suit his own goal—which was to appoint his own people to the MAC rather than allowing this community to elect its own representatives.
Watson’s plan worked well for him, but not too well for us. The community was outraged at his action. They boycotted the MAC meetings. For four years there has been no locally elected council.
Now we have a new supervisor for the 4th District. David Couch campaigned on the promise of elected rather than appointed local representatives. Since then, there has been a ‘back-peddle’ report from the Kern County Administrative Officer. John Nilon said that elections can be expensive. He suggests an appointed council again, this time selected from boards that have been elected for other purposes (such as for property owners’ associations or water districts).
This is troubling. The people of the Mountain Communities pay taxes. Shouldn’t they have a right to select their own local representatives to facilitate local goals and implement local visions?
Yes, Democracy is messy and it sometimes costs money to let people vote. But elections also create local dialogue, local debate, local collaboration and true local leadership. These nourish community involvement.
On June 13 and June 19, the community is invited to attend Town Halls to share their thoughts with Supervisor David Couch about electing their own MAC members. Please attend and speak up.
Dates have been changed!
Revised Dates for Town Halls on Elected
Mountain Communities Municipal Advisory Council
Thursday, June 13, 6:30 p.m.
Frazier Mountain Park
Wednesday, June 19, 6:30 p.m.
Pine Mountain Club Condor Room
While in Washington, D.C. this month to research local stories, I heard Moises Naim give a strong graduation speech at American University’s School of International Service. Naim, a Ph.D. from MIT, wrote the book The End of Power. He was executive director of the World Bank after serving as director of Venezuela’s Central Bank. He was editor of the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine for 14 years. Now he is working with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
His speech made me reflect on self-determination and the challenge to local leadership in the Mountain Communities.
I mentioned that to Naim, and he kindly sent his speech to share with our community.
…You belong to what is probably the most privileged generation in human history. Things have never, ever, been this good.
You might take issue with that statement. You might wonder: Does this guy read the newspapers? Did he hear there was a bombing in Boston? A factory collapse in Bangladesh? Civil war in Syria? That the polar ice caps are melting? Or that there’s a crazy dictator in North Korea who wants to start a nuclear war?
That’s all true. I have heard about these terrible things. In fact, I make a living studying them. And yes, the story I want to tell you has a twist. But first, I want you to hear me out when I tell you how good we’ve got it.
Let’s take poverty. Every single day for the last ten years, 38,000 people around the world have been lifted out of poverty. Thirty eight thousand—each day. That’s true in China, and India, and Brazil. But it’s also true in Africa. Since the year 2000, the economy of the countries of Africa has doubled—doubled.
And what about health and education? First, people are living longer all over the world. More of you are going to live to 100 years old than any generation before you. Even in countries with a big HIV and AIDS crisis, life expectancy is turning around and rising again.
Literacy is way up. Eighty-four percent of the people in the world can read and write. Nutrition is getting better too.
I’m not going to go on and on with statistics. I am sure you get the point. There are problems in the world, and yet, people are living longer, healthier lives, with basic needs getting taken care of better and better than at any time before.
This is also a world where having access to information, ideas and people used to be difficult. Now, access is the default expectation.
Your generation has grown up surrounded by the internet. That doesn’t mean you have perfect access. But it’s pretty astonishing compared to when you were just teenagers.
So what distinguishes you in this world isn’t so much your nationality or where you live—it’s your education. The credential you’re getting today is your passport—a passport that is going to allow you to visit and live in very exciting places. And I am not talking about places in a geographical sense. With this passport, some of you are going to start new jobs in exciting fields that are changing the world.
Your diploma is very likely to give you power in the not-too-distant future. Very soon, you will be in charge of a team, running projects, or giving people opportunities. You will be in a position to tell others what to do or tell them to stop doing something. That, as you know, is the classical definition of power.
Yes, you’re going to have power. But that is where it gets complicated. Because power today isn’t what it used to be.
Power today is easier to get and harder to keep. It’s much easier to lose. This is a global phenomenon that is affecting power in every single aspect of society. Take dictatorships. I come from South America. When I graduated from college, most of the governments in Latin America were repressive. Around the world dictators were household names—military dictators, communists, all different kinds of oppressive regimes.
But the world is a lot harder for tyrants now. The number of authoritarian governments has plummeted. Most recently, just look at the Arab Spring. Qaddafi is gone. Mubarak is gone. Assad might not last much longer.
What about military power? Sure, right across the river is the Pentagon, the headquarters of the most massive and powerful military machine the world has ever known. And it’s a machine that spends its billions of dollars fighting insurgents—small bands of people with home-made explosives; hackers on laptops; pirates on fishing boats who hold up super-tankers with primitive weapons. Just a few weeks ago a manhunt for a kid with a backpack in Boston shut down the whole city.
The challenge to corporate power is even more drastic. New companies come out of nowhere, sometimes from countries no one expected, to take over from hundred-year-old blue-chip names. Look at Kodak. It dominated photography and imaging for almost a century. Now it is bankrupt.
Last year Facebook, (founded in 2004) bought Instagram (founded in 2010) for one billion dollars—with thirteen employees, of about your age.
That is what is happening to corporate power. And these are not just anecdotes. The statistics show it. Companies at the top of their industry don’t stay as long. And CEOs are getting pushed out of their jobs at unprecedented rates.
There is another marketplace that is going through a global restructuring, where the big powerful players are losing out: the market for believers. I’m talking about religion.
Around the world people are leaving the religions that they and their parents grew up in. They are taking their spiritual business to start-up faiths.
For example, Brazil. In 1970, 90 percent of Brazilians called themselves Roman Catholic. Today, only 65 percent do. Same in the Philippines, and Nigeria, and South Africa.
The Catholics and the mainstream Protestant churches are losing out to new players. Many are local churches that just started recently when someone decided to call himself a pastor and set up shop somewhere.
So it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the Pentagon or the Catholic Church or some big multinational company.
If you’re an established power, the days of domination are over. Now you’re being challenged like never before by small new players—I call them micro-powers.
A lot of this is good news. The decline of dictators is excellent. If people feel free to find a spiritual home that’s to their liking, that’s fantastic. Good for them. And if corporate power is fragile, that’s great for us as consumers or for entrepreneurs with daring new ideas.
Power isn’t going away of course—it’s a major force in human relations. But it is becoming less concentrated and more vulnerable. I like to say that it is decaying.
You are the solution.
Get involved. Help choose the candidates.
Better yet, run yourself.
That means opportunities for us as citizens, as consumers, as investors, as people who have ideas. And the innovation is incredible.
It has brought us iPads and Twitter and Skype and new understanding about our genetic makeup, but it is also opening our minds, changing our attitudes and our expectations.
And yet there is something missing. There is one area where the decay of power has not led to a great rush of fresh ideas and innovation.
It’s an area that I suspect a lot of you find unpleasant and dirty. And it’s the area where we need those things the most: Politics.
We desperately need a surge of political innovation. And you are the ones to do it. Because the problems we face are precisely the ones that we need politics to solve.
Nuclear proliferation scares me. So does climate change.
Failed states. Global inequality. Financial crime. These and many other issues threaten to undo all the progress we have made.
Why do we have change and innovation in so many areas and yet we can’t address planetary challenges that we’ve known about for decades and that keep getting worse?
That’s because these are challenges that can’t be tackled by one group, or company, or country acting alone. Not even a superpower can solve them alone.
We need countries acting together, with the backing of their people, to negotiate and make the compromises that we need for the sake of peace and security and the environment.
The problem is that the decay of power has hit politics very hard. Most governments today have weak mandates.
Their citizens don’t trust them, and they can’t get much done.
The same thing that’s happened to churches and companies has been happening to political parties.
Look at Italy right now. They’re having even more trouble than usual forming a government, because there’s a new party in the mix, led by a guy called Beppe Grillo. His original claim to fame was that he’s a comedian.
From Europe to Israel to India, parliamentary deadlock is the game. And here in Washington, the only thing Congress has achieved in recent years are new, exotic types of gridlock.
If I asked you today to join me in a campaign to fight against sexual violence in India, or to help stop child trafficking in Cambodia or to save a rare endangered species of butterfly in Peru, some of you would join me.
But if I asked you to help me strengthen political parties in India or Peru—or for that matter political parties anywhere—most of you would run for the exits.
It’s a truly odd paradox. We’ve never been as aware and committed to causes we care about than today. We have online petitions and awareness campaigns with bracelets and Facebook pages and documentaries.
We care about making the world better and safer. Yet we are running away as fast as we can from political parties, which happen to be the instrument designed precisely to bring social change. It’s going to take political parties to change the world. So I have a radical proposal for you: It’s called democracy.
If you don’t vote, you become a bystander—no matter how much you’re involved in other causes.
When you’re a bystander, you let people who don’t share your values elect mediocre candidates.
Mediocre candidates are part of the problem. You are the solution. Get involved. Help choose the candidates. Better yet, run yourself.
The decay of power means we’re disrupting and re-inventing everything we know. The way we eat, the way we communicate, the way we shop, the way we date, the way we travel.
There’s really just one thing left to disrupt and re-invent: how we govern ourselves. And if we don’t do it, we’re in trouble.
With the amazing tools at your disposal, you can get into politics and help make it what it needs to be…. — Moises Naim
If you don’t vote, you become a
Back here on the mountain
After 4 years without elections for a mountain-wide council, some worry we won’t be able to find good candidates for an elected council.
Maybe we’re out of practice. Maybe we’ve had the stuffing kicked out of us by this terrible economic recession.
But maybe, just maybe, we can come back stronger than ever, with better ideas and more enthusiasm than ever before.
Come to the Town Halls on June 13 and 19. Make your voices heard.
Consider serving. This is your community. You can help make it what you want it to be. —PH
This is part of the May 24, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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