Empower West is a platform for citizens of Maribyrnong and surrounding area to propose policy ideas to to be enacted as law. Once a proposal is put forward Empower West members can deliberate on the idea and vote on the idea. If the idea is voted on and passes, then people are invited to meet in a live + online format and can discuss the details of the policy proposal. Once a policy is developed it is then presented to council for discussion. While it is being discussed with council, Empower West can continue to build support for the policy.
Empower West is a social learning and action process to empower citizens to shape their cities in partnership with government.
We often encounter things we would like to change in our neighbourhoods. In order to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we will literally need to transform how our cities function, from reducing carbon emissions to welcoming migrants. Perhaps we see a problem in the area we live, or perhaps we just have a good idea. These ideas come, but we often don’t know how to activate them and channel them. If we go directly to council as an individual, it is just one person talking to a large bureaucracy. That bureaucracy may or may not want to engage with the person. They may be slow in responding, non-responsive, or fast – it all depends on the context. It may also be that a council is more focused on satisfying commercial interests rather than citizen concerns. From my discussions with people in both Melbourne and Sydney (especially Sydney) this is certainly a problem.
The idea for Empower West is to develop a network of people for a particular region (in this example Maribyrnong, but it can be any council region) that work together to propose policy changes for their council region, and use a platform (we are using loomio) to vote on these citizen proposal.
Let us assume the network has 500 people on it. If you then make a proposal, any of those 500 people can join the deliberation on the policy proposal. At some point the proposal would go to a vote. If a proposal passes, then it is a case that a robust network of citizens deemed the proposal worthy. Now, instead of going to council with an untested idea from a single individual (easily dismissed), you are now submitting a proposal backed by the weight of 500 people, which has been refined through deliberation.
When a proposal is voted on and accepted, people would be invited to join a project team around that proposal. There would need to be a team that could be a bridge between the network and the council. People who can communicate well, do some research, write a proposal and be effective in meetings. This small team would drive the policy proposal with council as best they can.
There is no guarantee that council will accept proposals from this network. However, there are acceptable leverage strategies that can be used.
- social media and naming councillors who either did support or did not support Empower West proposals.
- actively campaigning against councillors in elections that did not support Empower West proposals.
- continuing to build the network so that Empower West grows in size and ability to mobilise.
- targeting council officers who are either obstructive or incompetent in supporting community aspirations.
The ultimate goal would be to transform the relationship between citizens and council to one where citizens are empowered as active social innovators shaping their cities for the better. There is so so much work to be done to make our cities sustainable and inclusive, and we cannot rely on council to “do it for us”. We need to have a new culture of active citizenship, and we need council to actively support this and facilitate this. So the ultimate goal (as I see it) with a system / network like Empower West would be to enable a City as Commons framework, which makes citizens equal partners with council, similar to the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons in the city of Bologna, Italy. Such a “partner state” (as Bauwens would call it) would support, fund and facilitate peer to peer driven citizen innovation and commons care to transform the city. It seems far fetched in Maribyrnong, but things do start as ideas and visions. I am open to its possibility.
But now on to more mundane issues. Here is an example of an issue that would be discussed in the Empower West platform. In fact it is already there as a discussion stream. It can help give us a sense of an issue we might work on, and how we might go from disempowerment to empowerment with an issue.
What to do about the illegal brothel “massage” places across from Tottenham train station?
About five years ago when the places opened, I learned about them offering sex from a couple of friends who went in for a massage. When I called council, a council worker told me that those properties were listed as massage places. As such she told me that they had no jurisdiction over issues related to brothels. She confided to me that she knew about the issue, that others had complained, and she realised they were brothels. But it was outside of council’s scope to regulate, she said. She suggested to me that I contact the police, that police had jurisdiction over brothels.
I then did contact the police, and was referred to a particular detective at the Footscray office. I was told to leave a description of the issue, and he would get back to me. But he never did get back to me. I even followed up a second time, but was told the detective was out and “would get back to me”. This whole episode left me feeling quite disempowered and without a clue as to what to do.
There are several reasons I dislike the illegal brothels on the corner.
Besides the tackiness and ugliness of the look and the “parking out back” signs that clearly promote anonymity, there are other reasons I don’t like them.
1 – they have illegal sex workers, who are often exploited, are unregulated, can more easily spread HIV, etc.
2 – they do not pay taxes on sex work, so someone is enlarging their purse at the expense of society
3 – they bring the wrong type of customers to the area
I know that removing the businesses from this local area would not solve the problem across Melbourne (as I understand it is a melb wide problem).
However, if we were able to develop some solution for council policy, perhaps other municipalities could also adopt it?
anyways, this is a conversation starter.
first the problem, we can tackle the solution as it emerges.