This past Tuesday found me again speaking before the Olympia City Council. During the prior week's meeting I had commented about harmful economic activities and the need for all levels of governmental institutions to be responsive to the problem. I believe that radical changes to polices and practices are necessary to ameliorating the harmful relationships that exist between human societies, and between humanity as a whole and the planet (including wilderness, wild plants an animals, the built environment, basically the environment in the broadest sense of the term.)
I wanted to follow up on what I mentioned as one possible way that I believe we can achieve a government that is more responsive and sympathetic to finding genuine and true solutions to the problems of harmful economic activities. I want to find solutions to social and environmental degradation.
The solution that I mentioned during my public comment testimony to the Council was electoral reform. I suggested two different types of electoral reform, although there are many other ways to approach the topic. The two I mentioned were IRV and publicly financed elections. The following is a brief synopsis of what I said last Tuesday at the City Council meeting. My testimony came at about 1 hour, 16 minutes, and 40 seconds into the meeting. Here's a link to the Council Meeting Video where you can find the January 20th, 2009, which is available online: olympia.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2
It's challenging to speak truth about the harmful aspects of our society. I believe it's important to challenge those activities that are hurting people and our environment. A better world is possible. We can make it happen. Yes we can. So here's what I said last Tuesday.
I greeted the Council by saying "Happy Inauguration Day" and mentioned feeling excited to see President Obama take the oath of office, and feeling inspired by the new President's message of hope, change and the politics of "do-ability."
President Obama is a wonderful and talented—a gifted—orator. And his speech was very powerful. I know that he is in between a rock and a hard place in terms of being 1) pressured and influenced by the powers that be, and 2) doing what is right, and necessary, to fundamentally and radically change governmental policies and practices—so that issues of basic injustice and other harmful activities are addressed in a way that is truly ameliorating.
"I am concerned that government policies and practices are currently favoring the interests of powerful and influential businesses and industries—to the detriment of everyone else, and to the detriment of the common interests that everyone has, including people who are involved with powerful businesses and industries."So I am happy that Obama has chartered a new course. I just wish that he was able to chart a course that would more fundamentally address this problem. His vision of hope and change is wonderful, but it doesn't go far enough to get at the root causes of the problems. If we want true change, then we will have to address and deal with the basic aspects of this culture of conquest.
In his speech, Barak Obama said that those who say we can't change don't have an understanding of history—that they don't look back far enough. He mentioned the pioneering spirit of America that colonized the West, and sent astronauts to the moon. But not once in his speech did he mention indigenous people. As a result of European colonization, the indigenous peoples whom inhabited this continent and their traditional cultures have been all but completely wiped out. This extermination was enabled in the fore by technology. It was enabled by steel, the steam engine, and guns. This is a crucial part of history that we need to remember to understand where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. We see the same types of behaviors exhibited in the hostile attitude between Israel and the native Palestinians, whom have been displaced as a result of the creation of the State of Israel.
Technology is often praised and worshipped in our culture. However, we often fail to examine the harmful aspects of our societal relationship to technology. Sure, technology makes life better in some ways. But it also enables killing. It enables American Empire. What about the pollution resulting from technology? What about the loss of manufacturing jobs in this economic system to robots and machines?
Barak Obama also praised the neo-classical economics of growth. Growth, in and of itself, without major radical reform and injection of morality and ethical rules of "do no harm," is anathema to the economics of sustainability. "Growth," especially without meaningful limitations, maybe fundamentally and irreconcilably incompatible with long-term sustainability. So where do we draw the line? Where do we stop and acknowledge awareness of the serious systematic disease and all the associated harms being caused by this blood-thirsty binge for growth?
When 1) the economics of growth, 2) the advocacy of purely technological solutions, and 3) the culture of conquest are all coupled together, we can extrapolate a scene in the future where human society (presuming that it avoids systematic collapse) eventually makes it forth to venture out into interstellar space. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine exporting the violence that exists in the fundamental aspects of this culture and economic system into other solar systems? Can you imagine bringing the worst and most harmful aspects of this culture to other planets, thereby infecting them, and perhaps other beings, with our social diseases and disorders (inequality, oppression, exploitation, etc.).
It's important to acknowledge the massively harmful, destructive, and violent effects and impacts of technology on indigenous populations and traditional cultures. Technology has also been tremendously harmful in its impacts on the natural world, and the wilderness upon which we ultimately depend for long term health and quality of life. That's looking backward, Mr. Obama. And I support you to speak about these troubling and important past (and present) events and activities—so that we can truly move away from the harmful economics of destruction and violence.
Some of the actions of this City Council have gone against this vision of true and deep change. The example that I mentioned at the meeting during my public comment was the repeal of the Nuclear Free Zone Ordinance. But there are other examples of Council decisions, and Staff practices, that have been divisive, as opposed to reconciling, and harmful as opposed to helpful and uplifting. Here's a very short list, and please, please, please add your own if you have some more: RV ordinance, Pedestrian Interference Ordinance, and the mother of them all, the Isthmus Rezone. On the building height rezone, the Council saw fit to ignore and/or deny the quality and quantity of the vast majority of public input. Private interests are favored to the detriment of the overall public and common interests.
One way that we can achieve change, one way that we can approach a meaningful transformation of this harmful system, might be via electoral reform. Electoral reform could serve as one step in making a transformation to a more responsive government that is willing to get to the root causes and fundamental aspects of societal harmfulness. As I mentioned above, the two suggestions, which I brought before the Council, were IRV and campaign finance reform. IRV is also known as preferential voting or "ranked choice." Campaign finance reform can be approached in a variety of ways. I suggested the idea of publicly financed elections. Then I asked the Council and City Staff if there was any activity on the front of electoral reform.
I believe that electoral reform very well might have a beneficial effect on government bodies acting in the true public interest.
Councilmember Kingsbury responded by saying that the General Government Committee, which is composed of himself and Councilmembers Ottavelli and Strub, were considering a proposal to adopt publicly financed elections for City Council elections. But he also remarked, like Councilmember Hyer who did before him, that it would be better to approach this matter at the level of State Government. I don't know why it would be better to deal with this at the State level. It makes sense to make these changes at all levels.
Maybe it is silly to expect elected officials to change a system that has put them into office. What does it mean, anyway, to serve in public office? I'll leave that for another discussion.
Lastly I brought up a question about public comment procedure at Council Meetings. This Council has instituted a new policy of limiting public comments on topics that have been addressed within 90 days of a public hearing. But when this rule first went into effect, which was just prior to a Planning Commission hearing on the topic of the isthmus building height rezone amendment to the comprehensive plan, the rule was to limit comment to 90 days after the hearing. Now the rule has changed to 45 days before, and 45 days after, a public hearing. It changed (from 90 after to 45 before/45 after) just prior to the Council's passage of the last round of amendments to the Comp Plan, which included the isthmus building height rezone. Mayor Mah responded to confirm there was a change. But I didn't ask about details of the change. I didn't ask why. And he didn't suggest any reasons for the change or offer to discuss the policy.
Why does the Council seek to limit comment on topics related to governance? Personally, I think this policy of seeking to limit public comments is a way to limit dissenting voices. It seems to me to be an authoritarian measure. I don't like it.
Well, that's it. Have a good rest of the week! Peace, Justice, and Nonviolence -Berd