March 23, 2012

Notes on Time Banking and Democratic Councils


Our time bank committee had a meeting last night. One of the topics we discussed was the possibility of the township becoming an organizational member, and an interchange of services between the time bank and the town. This people and town, like most others, is under some financial stress (not critically so, yet), and for that and other reasons there’s a shortage of, for example, people to staff town committees.
Right away we got into the issue of how this could be done to the enhanced benefit of both time bank and town, as opposed to the time bank simply helping the town carry out functions which taxes have already paid for. In other words, how to prevent the town government from just using the time bank, as opposed to the time bank strengthening itself and the community.
This resonated deeply with me, since I’ve long thought about how bottom-up democracy can gradually assume real responsibility, take on its rightful acclaim of legitimacy, and take power from the illegitimate state structures, and do all this without being hijacked along the way. In any revolutionary situation the key symptom to look for is the formation of citizen and worker councils, and their taking on real social functions like food distribution, sanitation, keeping the peace. There were some promising signs of this during the first stage of the Egyptian Revolution. (The fact that this first stage seems to have come to a temporary end with the cosmetic “regime change” doesn’t render those signs moot. It still proves the spontaneous skill of the people in ruling themselves.)
While we’re not yet in a revolutionary situation in America, we can still begin forming democratic councils now. These political units can serve as educational and organizational vehicles. In various ways we can seek to take on responsibilities which are allegedly the proper function of the state. But we must not do this by entering existing state structures as individuals, for example as individuals, who just happen to be time bank members, volunteering for a government committee.
Rather, we should optimally form our own committees which maintain their independence of existing structures. If we do take on existing government roles, we must do so as conscious agents of the community and the relocalization organization. We must then see ourselves as asserting the power of the people within this structure, and wherever necessary against it, rather than as being in some kind of “same boat” with it, let alone as good servants of it.
(I’ve discussed this before in my Basic Movement Strategy, #s 2, 3, 5.)
So, for example, a time bank which contemplates a cooperation with local government should have its own community action group dedicated to developing the right mindset toward government as such, toward the fact that local government has largely become the captive of upper-level governments, that local rule has largely been eviscerated as a matter of practice and of law, that while local Dems and Reps may not yet be complete criminals, their hierarchy is structurally dedicated to making them so, that the squeeze on local governments everywhere is on account of the corporate austerity onslaught, and that local governments will, in the end, perform the thug role slated for them if we let them. We must learn and become fully conscious of the fact that our future lies only with ourselves, only with our own self-generated, self-managed, self-ruled citizen democracy. Our current participation in government can only be toward that goal. The goal is always to publicly take on the function, be recognized as citizens organized outside and against the state structure, highlight the fraudulence and inefficacy of the existing structure, supplant it in action and in the minds of the people, be acclaimed as the truly legitimate democracy, and in the end to supplant it in the reality of power.
That’s a long way off, of course, but that’s what ran through my mind at the meeting. I was pleased to hear someone say, “the goal is to get some say in decision-making” (others were talking in terms of discounts at recreational facilities and such). I mentioned “dual power”. On the whole it was just a rudimentary discussion, but it’s good that right from the start everyone was at least interested in discussing issues of power, even if most of us weren’t consciously looking at it in those terms. Everyone was aware of a tension between time banking, whatever any one of us thinks that’s really supposed to be, and the existing government structure.
I look forward to more discussions along these lines.

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