Getting Medieval with the City Council

Whether you know it or not, you are the progenitor of a long tradition of local democratic politics. Americans, and their English forbears are part of a lengthy lineage of local authority. In 1215, English leaders, unhappy with the arbitrary rule of King John, forced him to sign the Magna Carta, which limited the King’s powers over his subjects. Following the Magna Carta, English towns were granted councils giving increasing rights of local governance.

During the 17th century, intrepid explorers in North America were willing participants in this lineage. The Virginia Colony established a House of Burgesses in 1619. But it was not only Englishmen, the Dutch established a council in New Amsterdam in 1653, which later became New York City. Native Americans often had tribal councils during this time as well. These councils were surprisingly democratic, and most tribal members could participate.
During the first half of the 18th century, when Britain was still the mother country of the colonies, local politics gained increasing importance. Why? England was preoccupied with events in Europe and it turned a blind eye to local politics in the colonies. Colonies were largely left to run things themselves. Colonists became comfortable with voting and participating in government. Elected assemblies got used to running things on their own, and considered themselves the defenders of the people’s liberty. Granted, this period should not be idealized considering that in most colonies only propertied white citizens could vote, African Americans and women were excluded from the franchise. So when Britain became involved with American politics in the mid 18th century, colonial Aldermen were upset, and we know how that story ended up. Colonial assemblies often led the charge for independence.

What is the point of all this? The point is local politics are vitally important to the health of a city. The City Council in Chico has already made some important changes this year, for instance, smoking has been banned within 20 feet of a privately owned business. Additionally, the Council recently passed an Economic Development Action Plan-trying to encourage economic growth in the city and recognize sustainability-the Sierra Nevada model, if you will. There is a wide range of candidates vying for a seat this year. The political visions are varied, most candidates want to see more business come to Chico, but they disagree on how to encourage economic opportunities in the town. Some candidates want to preserve Chico’s unique commitment to sustainability and the environment. Some candidates want a better financial commitment to law enforcement; others see Chico as suffering from a homeless problem. Some candidates worry about the city budget and claim the coffers are in need of more balance.

The point is, don’t ignore local politics. These are real issues that matter for the city of Chico. Always remember that millions of Americans in the past have fought, some have died, for the right to vote-don’t squander that legacy.

Dillon is a born-and-raised Chico native now living in Athens, GA. In addition to writing for the Synthesis, Dillon is researching and writing his dissertation at the University of Georgia. He spends his extra time playing and obsessing over tennis, second-guessing his career choice, thinking about history, and dreaming about hard shell chicken tacos from El Patron.