A Proposal for Participation: Living Wage, Livable Housing, and a Live Democracy / by Infinite For Mayor

“No great victories are won in a war for the transformation of a whole people without total participation. Less than this will not create a new society; it will only evoke more sophisticated token amelioration. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. , “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”)

Martin Luther King, Jr’s final campaign reached beyond race and took on issues of class with demands of justice for poor and working class whites as well as Blacks and latinos. The Reverend was ultimately assassinated in Memphis, TN where he was supporting a strike by municipal workers as part of his Poor People’s Campaign. Months earlier, Malcolm X witnessed the possibility of interracial unity during his pilgrimage, and was gunned down for championing the necessity of multiracial solidarity in fulfilling the universal call of social justice.

It is worth remembering that as Dr. King explicitly linked the Vietnam War with class warfare at home, liberal “allies” abandoned the Civil Rights movement and accused MLK of “fusing of public problems that are distinct and separate”, as the New York Times puts it. This class warfare, "the tripartite demons of capitalism, racism, and militarism” is still raging today. Now called "corporate neoliberalism", this global social, economic and political system manifests at the local level through privatization of public assets, slogans of "inclusion and diversity" to cover systemic racism, and prioritization of profits at the expense of meeting people's needs.

It was in acknowledgement of this system that in the 2012 election the vast majority of Burlington voters (79%) responded affirmatively to limit the power of corporations. Echoing MLK's demands, Burlingtonians who participated in that election also overwhelmingly (78%) support government policies that reduce inequality, equitably tax the wealthiest 1% and strengthen the economic security of the rest of us, the 99%.

Despite campaign promises of openness that brought the current administration into power in that same election, our city has instead seen unprecedented level of executive sessions, closed-door dealings and conflicts of interest in its decision-making. Instead of policies that reduce inequality and strengthen our economic security, the last six years saw upward redistribution of wealth accelerate through policies that favor investors at the expense of working people.

As if to vindicate MLK’s “tripartite demons”, City Hall supported Lockheed Martin’s new trillion-dollar warplanes and the accompanying demolition of hundreds of houses around the airport in the midst of a housing crisis. A housing crisis, in large part brought on by the greed of bankers like Citibank, who recklessly sold subprime mortgage loans that triggered the Great Recession. Bankers like Citibank, who begged for, and received, a bailout from taxpayers before shamelessly - and effectively - proceeding to bully our City Hall into selling our treasured, taxpayer-funded telecommunications infrastructure to the highest bidder.

As a reward for our leaders’ complicity in that particular privatization scheme, Burlington received the blessing of a double-A rating from credit agencies such as Moody’s. Successful sale of Burlington Telecom to a for-profit corporation will earn further approval from the investing class with a triple-A rating from Moody’s, very much like the triple-A rating Moody’s gave to Citibank’s subprime mortgage loan products, right before they all recklessly crashed the economy in 2008.

For working-class Burlingtonians, however, the measurement of a neoliberal Burlington is much more sobering. With our leaders’ complicity, the percentage of Burlington families living below poverty line is at its highest in six years according to US Census Bureau. Half-assed enforcement of livable wage and developer-oriented affordable housing ordinances resulted in stagnating wages for working families while the number of homeless children is at historic high.

Homelessness, under neoliberal Burlington, is no longer a violation of fundamental human right to housing and a responsibility of government to be dealt with through housing projects, but something to be dealt with by private developers or as a function of charity, through fun family events like the COTS walk where sponsoring corporations get a tax write-off while claiming to be “socially responsible”.

What our elected officials have exhibited in the last six years is, at best a failure to prioritize, and at worst an active repudiation of, the democratic will of the people, of our wish to limit corporate powers, and of the universal desire for social justice that the people of Burlington share with the late Dr. King and Malcolm X and the Civil Rights movement, affirmed time and again through the ballot box. Indeed, the recent transfer of control of Burlington Telecom - to a private entity that didn’t even exist - is the clearest demonstration that our politicians have failed, not just to be responsible steward of our collective resources but to even follow their own process.

When Republicans disdain public participation while Democrats engage in anti-democratic behavior and Progressives fail to deliver progress with Independents lacking the courage to defend our economic independence, it is high time we listen to the good Dr. King and take his prescription of total participation. It's time we bring that good, old, proven Vermont remedy against corrupt governance and bring transparency, accountability, and participation into the decision-making process of our city, through the mechanism used in other parts of our state: the town meeting.

As a first step, our campaign proposes to formalize, through a charter amendment, the role of the Neighborhood Planning Assembly as decision-making bodies at the Ward level,  a mechanism to debate and vet ideas including allocation of municipal resources, with one-person-one-vote power to issue resolutions to be taken up by the City Council for consideration with requirement for the Council to formally respond to all NPA resolutions.

The City should allocate CEDO adequate resources to eliminate all barriers to NPA participation by ensuring that onsite child care, youth activities, interpretation, transport, nutritious meal, stipends, other services and accommodations are made available. An umbrella citywide organization, such as the NPALLWARDS, should also be formally established to complement the autonomous NPAs.

Further, we must recognize that full political participation will only be possible when each person’s fundamental needs are met. We must vigorously enforce existing Livable Wage and Affordable Housing ordinances, eliminate most carve-outs and exemptions and fight to expand their scope using both proven and innovative methods that leverage Burlington’s roles as employer, landlord and property manager at-large.

Our campaign is not simply running for the office of Burlington mayor, we are running for Burlington to be in the mayor’s office. Ensuring that everyone who works full-time can afford to live here and everyone who live here can participate in making decision that impact their lives are pre-requisites to our vision of “Burlington for the People, By the People”.

Infinite Culcleasure for Burlington Mayor Campaign