Thursday, December 21, 2006

Restoring faith in democracy, or at least local democracy

I try to keep a pretty strict separation between my personal blog and my work, but in this case I will bring up a general observation that I've developed from my work. My job brings me in a lot of contact with local governments, giving me a chance to see local democracy in action. It can be really annoying and petty, and even have hints of corruption here and there, but the volunteerism can also be amazing.

This week I had a chance to see a city-organized volunteer task force present to the Palo Alto City Council their proposal for what the city could do to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Forget for a moment how effective it will be, I really don't know. I just remain impressed by the extent to which dozens of people are willing to put in total hundreds of hours of volunteer time on this one project, which is just an example of what people will do. The volunteerism also goes up a fair ways in the local government food chain. Many people are unaware that most local elected officials are either unpaid or paid so little as to hardly make a difference. The various commissions in even the smallest towns also consist of volunteers, usually trying to do the rirght thing.

I've generally believed the Winston Churchill quote that democracy is just the least bad of all alternatives for governance. And I have to acknowledge that for all the volunteer work I saw this week by local people, there is probably an equivalent amount of volunteer work elsewhere by people trying to keep evolution from being taught to schoolchildren. Still, I've got my little piece of evidence that the better side of human nature can ever so slightly outweigh the worst side, and democracy can actually sometimes be a half-decent method of governance.

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