The Cedar Rapids Citizen Action Assembly

(Originally published 1/07/13 by Marlon Pierre-Antoine)
   The Cedar Rapids “Citizen Action Assembly”, which will hold its first meeting tomorrow evening as of the time these lines are written, employs much of the liberating language of popular-democratic and working class movements – but the Assemblies themselves seem destined to lead straight into a blind alley.Spearheaded by local entrepreneur and former gubernatorial candidate Michael Richards, it must be noted with regret that the entire focus of the Assembly campaign boils down to a vision of libertarian utopia, hidden beneath pseudo-leftist / progressive rhetoric; topped off of course with a hint of anti-communist* prejudice. 

Now, Michael Richards certainly isn’t some villainous anti-people magnate; nor is he necessarily a member of the exploiting minority in the Marxist sense. He correctly identifies the link between elite business interests and the government officialdom – or, such as it were, between elite business interests and the Cedar Rapids City Council, as Richards’ politics seem not to extend an inch beyond the boundaries of the City of Five Seasons. Flowing from this, the call to arms promoting the first Assembly proposes to establish a local tradition of citizens’ oversight, and participatory governance.


Those are both very admirable goals, and every honest defender of democratic rights regardless of formal political affiliation would likely support them. Socialists in particular advocate for participatory governance, based on workers’ democracy in alliance with allied social layers such as small proprietors: the ongoing “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela has created communal councils throughout the country where open people’s assemblies administer local spending, legislation, and community institutions such as schools, hospitals and social enterprises.

Unfortunately, Richards has no real specifics as to how to achieve his aspired goals, and as he builds his political diagnosis he weakens the idea of popular power itself. He is essentially a populist figure, andAmerican populism frequently takes a right-wing form given the absence of a “cultural memory” of working class struggle in the U.S. Here’s the critical contradiction: while declaring the need for the Citizen Action Assembly to open up a “non-partisan” space for community discourse and organization, the call to action’s opening paragraphs enshrine……The most fair economic system is a free and open market, where no one is provided an economic advantage by governmental intervention…    … laissez-faire libertarian doctrine as the unquestioned goal of the entire project!How is the Citizen Action Assembly to function as an inclusive, empowering project for popular democracy when its very basis excludes not only socialists but also trade unionists, progressive Greens / social democrats – even traditional liberal or conservative viewpoints?

There’s no doubt that the objective of people’s power is an admirable one, and I have complete faith in the good will and intentions of many Citizen Action Assembly supporters, who are well familiar with the tentacles of corruption that tie the local, state and the federal government to the purse-strings of the ruling class. Many of them have fought valiantly against such a monstrosity for years, retaining the courage to hold their line even as the ground seemed to slip from beneath their feet…

But no victim of the flood ‘recovery’ land-grab, no honest community organizer, no working mother, no working class adult or youth from a working family, can advance himself or herself on this kind of basis.

Perhaps I am not “local” enough for my contribution to be relevant to Michael Richards. Perhaps my political and moral conviction to the socialist future of economic democracy, where the artificial walls between civic society and political life are broken down at last, where the free development of each human person is the condition for the freedom of all humanity – perhaps these convictions are unacceptably totalitarian for the non-partisan partisan of the market.

But if even one word here has caught your concerned attention, these are the questions that I would consider in thinking about where the soon-to-be born Citizen Action Assembly might lead:

Is it possible to have a “citizen’s” or “taxpayer’s” movement – or does the world need a people’s movement? Is Michael Richards on the mark when he talks about the “88%”, or does that cover up the role of the working class and its allies in the ghettos, the ICE detention centers, the Native American reservations and the struggling small shopkeepers?

Is it better for Iowans moving in struggle to declare unregulated, “free market” capitalism as its ideal from the outset, or should there be time for discussion, debate, and the test of life to raise alternative visions – including a revolutionary cooperative alternative?


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


nine − 8 =