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Semiformalishmaybe

Citizens Veto

I am trying out an idea for size here; this is tenative and new. The scope of this idea is intended for all forms of government I think about (that is, as a reform for our current system, as a system for reasonable mixed markets, and as the academic-secular-socialist system I ultimately would like to see us adopt).

I believe that protest is a healthy thing, regardless of system of governance. As I recently commented on G+, "When you wish to know the nature of a man or state, disagree with or criticise them. The ill-tempered throw a fist. The wise discuss." I am willing to accept certain kinds of dictatorships, many kinds of democracies, and other types systems of governance, provided their chief end is to serve some recognisable form of the public good, and they do not create a strong class system. Any of these systems of government must accept dissent to be acceptable. They must, in fact, give it a wide berth. They are not obligated to bend to the will of those who dissent, but when dissent is done in sufficient numbers, it must be given particular respect.

I propose recognising this as a Citizens Veto, potentially replacing (or just making advisory) all legislation requiring permits for marches and demonstration, limiting some of the effects of rule of law when marches grow above a certain size (which might or might not be proportional to the size of the area involved; small towns should in theory should be able to use this too, but I don't want to set the threshold amazingly high for huge cities either). A Citizens Veto is when sufficient numbers of denizens of an area (plus any people from outside the area that may take part; places that are or effectively are a capital of a region should count people from the entire region rather than just locals, for regional issues) decide to stage a protest in an area, effectively claiming it for that protest. This requires the reasonable threshold be maintained continually; when a Citizens Veto is being exercised, its power comes from the sacrifice in time and trouble that comes from the people present. In that case: (note that I am using "state" in the political theory sense here, not referring to US states)

  • State power may not be used to disperse the protest
  • State power may not be used to assign administrative penalties that amount to punishing improper presence or obstruction (provided safe pedestrian traffic (and ambulance/medical supply traffic is possible, for human medical spaces) is still possible to/from the area) to those involved in the protest (jaywalking, traffic violations, etc)
  • Tort claims that relate to improper presence or obstruction (e.g. tortious interference) may not be made
  • State power may continue to be used to violent crime or property damage beyond general wear-and-tear from moderately-behaved people in the protest
  • Private claims of tresspass and similar are not recognised for outdoor or semi-public spaces (indoor human medical spaces are exempted from this)
Thoughts on this are welcome. While this is relevant to my feelings on the Occupy movement, it is also relevant to many other types of protest, whatever their political flavour.

Comments

It concerns me that some of those most in need of having their voices heard are also among those least able to go out in the urban street and protest. Consider the rural poor, homebound disabled/elderly people, those working multiple jobs in order to survive, single parents with constant childcare responsibilities, etc.
That is of course true, but I can't imagine a mechanism like this that would work for them.