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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Would Democracy Make A More Diverse City Council?

Sunday’s Janesville Gazette had what amounted to be an opinion piece titled No Pay, but that seems OK, posted on the front page. The news story (if I may call it that) contained comments and opinions from nine people not counting the subjective creativity of the columnist or the objective steering from its editor(s).

You see, the seven members of the Janesville City council receive no pay or stipend for work or attendance, not even gas money, and three members in the past two election cycles have vacated their seats. Several weeks ago, the Gazette ran a seemingly negative editorial mockingly describing what they believe residents must consider before they run for council. And surprise, surprise - fourteen residents decided to step up and accept the challenge for the three empty chairs. This seemed to have caught the Gazette off guard.

So, as if fourteen citizens are not enough, the paper then runs this absolutely meaningless story now, at the beginning of the election campaign. And instead of feeling fortunate and congratulating the plurality of candidates, they wish to discourage them. This article was an invention without cause, clearly designed to have only an effect.

But the willing participants also explained that Janesville city government is “progressive” in what seemed to be a half-baked attempt by the paper to dispel any notion of the city’s needs to evolve politically for reform.
JG Excerpt:
The city has held fast to its tenets even as other cities in the state have moved to the center.
Other cities didn’t just merely move – they evolved, leaving Janesville behind.
JG excerpt:
“Janesville does have this history of being a pure, progressive (government),” Dresang said. “… Other cities in Wisconsin didn’t really go quite that far. I think it’s a legacy of that period.”
I beg to differ. Legacy? Remnant is more like it.

Other city's progressivism went further and evolved, while Janesville stood still, frozen in a promising time for progressive reform - from 90 years ago! The city has operated under the non-district council representation/manager form of government since 1923, longer than any other city in the state of Wisconsin.

And it also depends on what the definition of “pure, progressive” is in this context. It seems the “progressive” described here is in reference to the “insurgency” within the Republican party led by Robert La Follette during the first progressive movement in the early 20th century. The goal of this early movement was essentially to create government run on a shoe-string budget and a chain-of-command never making a move or a decision without the help of appointed academic experts yet at the same time stressed voter control and the use of referendums. It wasn't perfect but it was a beginning.

Throughout the course of the 20th century, Republicans, and more accurately the right-wing eventually abandoned the pioneering Wisconsin Idea leaving the true Progressive movement to gradually evolve and align itself with causes of the American Left. Contemporary progressives continue to embrace concepts such as environmentalism, social justice and equality. Modern day progressives also believe that by regulating large corporations including breaking up monopolies, they could liberate human creativity, individuality and energy from the restrictions imposed by industrial capitalism, thus creating a more favorable business/urban environment. They also support the goals of organized labor.

This could all change anytime because true progressivism never stops adapting or evolving to our ever-changing world. It's not a stagnant political force that adheres blindly or rigidly to past mistakes or failures. It doesn't rest on its laurels either.

However, none of this should be confused with whatever Janesville city government happens to be based on today because in retrospect, they never "progressed" past the first movement. The establishment right-wing refused to accept the second movement and abandoned the movement altogether but not before using it to disempower the growing political influence of the GM labor worker in the city. Progressivism became the perfect foil for the establishment to keep control of the city's leadership while simultaneously politically neuter and malign any action by the working majority as a power grab. In my view, Janesville became sort of a "safe haven" for those renegade republicans. This is why many progressives today feel it is important to describe themselves as "modern progressives," to show a distinction from the "ancient" progressives (actually, regressives) that still roam today.

Today, students and descendents of the regressives in Janesville refuse to be labeled or stereotyped as partisan or republican, and have been known to occasionally describe themselves as politically "eclectic."

Janesville voters need to base their choice for council on new ideas, individuality, consistent ideology, energy, commitment, passion and yes, a little controversy. Forget about the personality, that's personal, and if you're serious about the change diversity will bring, it's time to buffer your sensitivities.

If political diversity in Janesville city government is the goal, people need to stop replacing the outgoing council members with establishment clones. With fourteen choices for three seats, it’s time to ask the right questions and listen for the diverse answer. Again don’t let negativity from the clone supporters change your mind.

Note: The criticism and opinion in this posting is not directed towards the participants or journalist. This is all about the motive, message, placement and intentions this miscarriage of news represents.


Anonymous said...

duuude. this posting is pure genious, but dont let it get to your head.

Lou Kaye said...

Thanks for that, and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

I can't stand the political correctness so Merry Christmas too.

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