We all know people in our wards who are natural leaders and are already doing the work to bring people together, solve problems and transform our community often with little resources except for hard work and creativity. They may be a well-loved nurse or teacher who knows almost every child and their parents.
They may be a dedicated social worker, imam or pastor who people turn to when times get tough. Or they may be the community activists who can be relied on to take action. They are the ones calling meetings, cooking food, and fundraising for good causes. We deserve Councillors who have spent their time building the community, who can speak from the heart and act with experience.
And yet, when it comes to governing our community the very people who have the most experience are not on the ballot. We are forced to choose the least worst person for the job amongst the candidates that parties have selected, or vote for a political party despite the poor character of the person they have selected.
When Political Parties Decide
We’ve come to accept that it is political parties that get to decide who should be on the ballot rather than us. Candidates are chosen behind closed doors without any consultation with the people who live in the ward. The first you hear is often you see their face on a poster or when you see their name on the ballot.
They pick people with limited experience
You would not trust a doctor without experience to do brain surgery on your family, so why do we trust Councillors without experience working in the community to govern us? We need Councillors who have done the time bringing people together, building relationships and organisations, listening and communicating. This doesn’t have to be someone older – so many young people have the passion and ideas we are yearning for. We deserve nothing less.
They don’t share our values
How do you know what values your Councillor has? What is their work ethic like? Are they grounded in community organising? Do they believe in justice and equality and are they willing to fight for it? We think that everybody who belongs to a political party shares the same values because that is what is written in their materials – but that is simply not true. Political parties attract many different people and many of them are simply in it for what can be gained personally. We need to know our Councillors share our values and the best way is to check their track record.
The criteria is all wrong
If you had to pick the things you expect from a good Councillor what would be at the top of the list? How many of these qualities does your current Councillor have? No wonder – when it comes to choosing Councillors, political parties are less concerned with what the community needs and more concerned with what they need. Career politicians who are chosen again and again despite their performance because they have standing in the party; newcomers are parachuted in because they know the right people, and politicians are rewarded for being loyal to a particular faction and its leaders.
They put the party first
How many Councillors win elections by telling people what they will do for the community if their party wins the election rather than what they will do with the community. But political party manifestos are not written in the community – they are written at party HQ somewhere far away. Councillors often see themselves as representatives of the party in the community rather than the representative of the community. So when it comes to decisions they are more accountable to the people in their party who put or kept them in power rather than the community.
They are socialised as politians
So they approach community problems as politicians first rather than community organisers. They make promises they can’t keep because they are not invested in the issue. They jump onto activities and take the credit. They look to be seen and heard rather than to listen and encourage. They come up with the answers for everything rather than the questions.
We can decided who should be on the ballot
Democracy does not mean rule by political parties – its means rule by the people. Political parties are a habit we need to shake off if we want to change where power lies. That starts with deciding in the community who should represent us on the ballot.
Anybody who lives in the community should have the opportunity to nominate anyone who inspires us, shares our values, and has community organising experience to be the Councillor. This could be a neighbour, a community leader or a fellow worker.
If all of these candidates stood independently in the same ward, they could divide people on who to vote for. This division might result in a political party candidate winning the election. Instead we need a way to choose a single candidate to stand for Ward Councillor through a local democratic process.
We can choose who the best candidate is by organising our own open caucus or primary election in the ward for Councillor who can sit as an independent on the ballot.
> See Toolkit: Organising an open caucus or primary eleciton
Justice Democrats – Nominations for Progressive Democrat candidates
In the USA, the Justice Democrats are trying to get more progressive leaning ordinary people from poor and working class communities elected into safe seats that the Democratic Party has historically won in the US House of Representatives. They call for nominations and select and train potential candidates the skills and tactics they will need to win in primary elections without taking money from large corporations. The Justice Democrats specifically call for nomination of candidates that have a common set of values and do not take money from large corporations. They look for bold leaders, grassroots campaigners, and movement builders.
In the US general election in November 2018, a number of young progressive identified by Justice Democrats were elected to the House of Representatives, including 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who had been working as a waitress and bartender in New York and who became the youngest woman to serve in the United States Congress.