Reclaim democracy

“If you think about it, you will see that it is true.” Vine Deloria, Jr.

I’m putting my energy in to many things these days, one being an effort to put together a body of work that helps us understand how to reclaim our right to participate in the democratic process. I believe it is important that people understand and remember that  our rights live side-by-side with responsibilities.

Our rights to a democratic process require that we act responsibly to maintain and uphold the systems that democracy is built upon.

This effort is a little bit like being back in school, except I don’t have the benefit of an editor or a professor to help me work through the thought processes. So I call upon the grace and mercy of those who read this. I am hoping to put together work groups where we can discuss this as a community, because my voice is just one among many important and powerful voices that can bring about change.

In the spirit of Billy Frank, Jr. I am working on educating others. Helping people to think critically about all the things that affect all of us.

Anyone running for a position of decision maker in this city will be subject to the influence and long history of improper influence imposed on the public’s trust (governance) by industry and the moneyed few. This is our reality. conference brochure


Anyone contemplating a position of power in this city will find themselves in the midst of a very deep oligarchy, which has been nurtured and curated for decades. Who you know is infinitely more valuable than what you know. We are seeing this maxim proven true pretty regularly these days.

It is always interesting to me when others refer to this city as inclusive. Maybe it is, at a level, but a very shallow level. It’s hard to see inclusivity when you march to City Hall with other Indigenous women, carrying water in a copper cup in accordance with your ancestral traditions, to find the doors closed. When the Port commissioners actually verbalize that the Puyallup should not have a seat at the table when it comes to discussions around regulations at the Port. That’s not inclusivity.

We face unprecedented amounts of pressure on our community assets. I’m diligently trying to understand how our systems have been so seriously compromised and co-opted. So, in my spare time I have been looking at several books which I hope will help me understand how to right what has been done wrong in public administration.


From those readings, here is what I have come to realize. The processes that are suggested in these books have been co-opted by industry. What I need to dig into more is how agency is complicit in this co-option.

Consider this write up on the back of the “Sustainable and Resilient Communities” book”

“The ultimate step-by-step action plan guidebook for making communities resilient, resourceful, and healthy. This step-by-step guidebook for urban planners and urban designers explains how to create and implement an actionable plan for making neighborhoods, communities, and regions more environmentally healthy, resource-conserving, and economically resilient. Sustainable and Resilient Communities delineates measures for repairing, retrofitting, and transforming our built environments and support systems….”

The chapters seem to offer promise. “Chapter 4: The Regulatory Environment” with offered topics such as ‘Transforming the Built Environment Through Form-Based Coding’ and ‘Legal Impediments Survey’.  Each offering talks about how agency can work to create a synergy and beneficial collaboration between industry and agency in order to meet the basic needs of community and keep them both healthy.

From chapter 4, there is an outline of challenges and solutions pertaining to sustainability planning and the law.

  • Challenge:
    • Leverage private capital to provide community solutions
  • Solution:
    • Adjust regulatory policies and increase system flexibility to permit interventions of private capital in utilities and transportation
    • Obtain private funding of building efficiency for a portion of operating costs
    • Obtain private funding of stormwater capture and wastewater treatment and private ability to sell this water
    • Sell roof-top generated electricity into a micro-grid of local buildings

Industry and agency got as far as the first solution, and industry now has total leeway to do whatever they want, as long as they can sell their product as environmentally sustainable. This doesn’t apply to our city alone, but can be seen unfolding at the state and national levels as well.  I don’t believe that we will see the remaining solutions exercised because they are not as sexy or profitable as the big fossil fuel projects. I would love to be proven wrong about this because we deserve a strong economy, but not at the cost of a healthy environment.

The authors of “Sustainable Communities” strongly recommend citizen involvement, through such things as workgroups and charettes (a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions). The following quote is particularly thought-provoking.

“Natural environments and sustainable landscapes are often subject to the dictates of politicians and lobbyists who decide and influence the fate of properties in their jurisdiction. Citizens will gain or lose the quality of their natural environments to the extent that they treasure or ignore these assets, and act upon these values.” p. 250

This is where industry has had the most negative influence. The majority of public meetings are held during the work day, when most people are earning paychecks and can not attend. When the average citizen is able to attend a meeting, they find that these meetings are not collaborative. People show up and are allowed to speak for about three minutes, but there is no meaningful dialogue in these meetings. There is no ‘work group’ or charette’ mentality associated to these meetings. On the other hand, industry and agency spend quite a bit of time together, during work hours, on the proverbial clock.

The public has invested a lot of trust into local agencies. ‘We took down Asarco, we don’t ever have to worry about agency selling us out again’. Trusting that these professionals are going to make the best decisions for the future. Conversely, there is a belief among some citizens that ‘this town is run by the port….there is no sense in trying to fight them’. All phrases I have actually heard over the last two years.

First, though, the public has to KNOW that a meeting is taking place and what the issues at hand are. The public notification systems have followed the very letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law in any sense. The rules for public notification, depending on the lead agency, can vary in determining who gets notified about upcoming projects. In the case of the fracked gas plant, agency was only required to notify people living within 400 feet of the project. In case of cleanup sites on the port, agency is only required to notify people living within a quarter mile of each project.

Why would agency not want to notify the very people they serve about projects which should be assumed to be important to them? There are assumptions that are used when these rules are created, and some of them have everything to do with the cost of notifying the public.

Thank the Creator for people in our community who have been paying attention and who have raised their voices to sound the alarm. I raise my hands to them.

We have to wonder if agency, in their effort to be more collaborative with industry, has allowed industry to convince them that, as long as they follow the letter of the law, the spirit of the law is irrelevant.

The book “Tackling Wicked Problems Through the Transdisciplinary Imagination” also seems to offer some hope in figuring out how to disrupt the choke hold industry appears to have on the shaping of public policy.

Here is the definition of wicked problem from

wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems. 

We definitely have wicked problems in this town. They could be solved with integrity if the public were brought into the conversation. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it.

From the chapter titled ‘Inclusive Governance for Sustainability’

“Does exclusion matter?
Having established that the practice of transition management is highly exclusive, it is reasonable to ask whether this is problematic. One could argue, for instance, that elites are only providing advice on energy policy, and that decisions are ultimately up to the public, via their elected members of parliament. This logic, however, denies the crucial role that elites play in shaping policy problems and the solutions (Hajer, 1995). It also ignores the weakening divisions between civil society, the executive and the legislature in liberal democracies (Rhodes, 1997). This is especially the case in energy policy where interdependencies between state and market are high (Orr, 1979; Lovins and Lovins, 1982).  Another counter-argument against my exclusivity charge is that transition management is not intended to be inclusive. According to TMGt scholars, transition arenas require participants who are ‘frontrunners’ and ‘entrepreneurs’. Ideally they are autonomous and creative thinkers, rather than interest group representatives (Loorbach and Rotmans, 2005). In other words, the pursuit of creativity and visions is privileged over democratic matters such as representing relevant interests, or fostering diversity and public participation.” p. 155-156

What is transition management? According to the authors,

“Originally proposed by Dutch academics, transition management attempts to facilitate the long-term reform of large socio-technical systems by encouraging actors to innovate and experiment with new institutions and practices (Kemp and Loorbach, 2006). The TMgt framework first emerged in The Netherlands as a scholarly concept, inspired by complexity theory, evolutionary economics and innovation studies (Kemp et al, 1998, Schot, 1998, Rotmans et al, 2001). Transitions are described as non-linear change processes spanning one to two generations (25-50 years) that involve multiple forces and actors (Rotmans et al, 2001). To steer transitions towards sustainable outcomes, the state together with different actors is called upon to envision multiple futures, and to innovate and experiment with these through projects (Kemp and Loorbach, 2006). The engine room of the TMgt is the transition arenas where participants are encouraged to be reflexive and scrutinize the very systems, institutions and paradigms within which they operate (Loorbach and Rotmans, 2005)” p. 151

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Except when you do this in a vacuum, with people who are only motivated by either money or power and who have questionable credentials by which they are granted authority to make such decisions.

You need really smart people, whose moral compasses are aligned to strong public service to stand up to the influence that industry applies to agency. You need really smart people who care about the public and show it in their actions. The wicked problems model calls for the involvement of all the different stakeholders, with all their different frameworks and knowledges, to create an environment where diversity of thought is valued.

This post has reached what I have determined to be the maximum amount of words allowable for a post. More to come later.



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