This was a mighty strange comment from Al Wirth:
“We’ve had a 50 percent attrition rate [since the start of the meeting] and I don’t think that’s a good model for participatory democracy,” said Al Wirth, a Lehigh University politics professor and a member of the Sierra Club who said he opposed single hauler for environmental reasons.
I suppose that wouldn’t be so good for a participatory democracy, but that’s fine because Bethlehem doesn’t have a participatory democracy, it has a representative democracy.
If people think Bethlehem’s city charter should be changed to remake local government institutions for participatory democracy, they can try to build support for that idea, but that is not the system of government that exists now. It’s weird that Al Wirth wants to hold the city to the standards of a political system that the city does not have, and does not claim to have.
In a representative democracy, voters elect representatives whose values they share, those representatives do their best to become experts on the issues, and then they vote based on their expert knowledge of the issues. Voters are free to try to persuade the representatives to adopt their views, but the key feature of representative democracy is that the only direct channel for voter participation is elections. On the days that are not Election Day, voters only have indirect tools like persuasion.
That’s all just a long-winded way of saying that people should disabuse themselves of the expectation that just because people bring 100 partisans out to a meeting, that participatory democracy standards should kick in and politicians have to vote for what the 100 partisans want. Expecting to impose the preferences of 100 people on 76,000 people is also a terrible approximation of participatory democracy standards, but it doesn’t matter because that’s not the form of government Bethlehem has.