Local Community Self-Government
Alexis De Tocqueville, in his classic account of his visit to the relatively new country of the United States, was struck by how different it was compared to the monarchies of Europe. What was salient to him was the extent of local community self-government. De Tocqueville saw that as key to democracy. Political representatives, be they city council members or other officials, are held accountable for their actions and are subject to recall. Important decisions would be informed by the sentiments of the larger community. There would be town meetings and debates and discussions. Of course, the U.S. was a much smaller country then, but the fundamental right of citizens to participate in the political process remains central to the functioning of a living democracy. That right has been sidelined in the wake of a massive increase in corporate power and influence.
Thomas Linzey is co-founder and executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and serves as its chief legal counsel. He is the author of Be the Change: How to Get What You Want in Your Community. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Mother Jones, and The Nation.