Citizen’s Lack of Political Power

I have a friend who has been working on a local anti-displacement project here in Portland in their community and we were hanging out today and talking about it and every time we talk about it I start to understand local governance just a little bit better.

And today I had a very bleak a-ha moment when they were explaining how over the course of these negotiations, the community had wanted to have last say around the developments happening in their neighborhood but the government like…they literally cannot legally cede their power, so it was an absolute hard “no”.

And this is something that should be blatantly obvious to anyone who has ever studied anarchist theory in any capacity but something about hearing this it really set in just ~how~ bleak it is that members of a community do not have final say on what happens in their community.

This project is really cool and unique in that it is creating direct collaboration between the community, city planners, and city government to force community input into the decision making process and set up guidelines and values for local development to promote community well-being and combat displacement that so often comes along with revitalization efforts, but their power is ultimately limited by forces that aren’t actually legally bound to pay any attention to them at all. And that’s terrifying. And sad.

And reminds me of Bookchin in The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship where he talks about the state of modern politics (written in the 1980s but just as, if not more relevant today) and talks about the linguistic and social transformation of the individual from “citizen” to “constituent”. Popular rhetoric paints politics as boring.

Something you only encounter when you turn on CSPAN as monotonous background sounds when you want to take a nap. And then on the other hand national politics is a giant spectacle akin to sports teams, with national level issues that in many cases (though not all) have far less impact on your day to day life.

Meanwhile the average citizen is spending their days fighting to avoid homelessness and escaping from the brutal and grim realities of tent cities and medical gofundmes, and capitalists are pursuing development projects unfettered.

So we’re walking to go get our groceries and see a new development and we have no idea if it will alleviate our daily struggle in any way, we don’t even connect the dots that as citizens we have a right to shape the communities we live in, that we can advocate that community growth in our neighborhoods is defined in terms that promotes the well being of the entire community rather than profit. Yes it’s all very sad. Anyways.