I've been reading this book called The Citizen Solution lately. I bought it in part because the organiziation I am involved in, Isaiah, got a whole chapter in it. Several of my friends were even quoted, so I suspended my "no new books" rule temporarily and bought a copy.
The book is a call for citizen participation in our democracy, and its general rules and insights apply to all of us, I think. But it's published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, so all of the examples of different kinds of citizen participation are local.
I was intrigued by a table early in the book, developed by Marie Strom of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa. The table contrasts two ways of looking at Democracy: Public Participation and Citizen Agency. Here are just a couple of examples:
Definition of Democracy in Public Participation: Democratic state with free elections
Definition of Democracy in Citizen Agency: Democratic society created by citizens' ongoing work
Outcomes in Public Participation: Customer Service:
People consulted/Government takes note/Services delivered.
Outcomes in Citizen Agency: Creation of the Commonwealth:
Public problems solved/Public wealth created/Civic capacity and democratic culture developed.
Attitudes in Public Participation: Condescension by government and dependency by citizenry
Attitudes in Citizen Agency: Respect for the capacities and resourcefulness of citizens
What are elections about (Public Participation)? Which candidate can fix things
What are elections about (Citizen Agency)? What leader works best with citizens
I have two thoughts going on in my mind right now:
One is that community organizing is deeply democratic; it empowers and relys on citizens to create the commonwealth; it is not only about voting, but about the ongoing work of making a better community together. The author (Harry Boyte) also names the "Citizen Agency" model of democracy as connected with the populist tradition in American politics.
The other thought is about the church and its leadership: there are times when I think we have a "public participation" mindset in the church as well, which fosters a "which pastor can fix things" attitude, condescending clergy and a dependent laity, and "church" as a service to be consumed rather than worship that we produce together as the body of Christ.
But, what do you think?