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That's what she said

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Casas: A modern age—how about modern democracy?


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To say Camilo Casas, a 2017 candidate for Boulder City Council, is running an unconventional campaign would be an epic understatementyet those who have a chance to talk with Casas at length might receive a free extended civics lecture, and a pitch on how and why to literally transform our current nature of representative governance.

Candidate Casas (photo courtesy Camilo Casaa)

“I believe this community is perfectly primed to bring a new form, a new paradigm, of democratic participation to this country and to this continent. We have a very unique confluence of attributes here that make Boulder the perfect kind of experimental ground to start using some of these new forms of democracy,” said Casas.

Americans who have not lived in or studied the political systems of other countries are probably most familiar with either straight winner-take-all democracy, or with representative/republican forms in which elected officials make decisions that may or may not be guided by the opinions of majorities of constituents. So, at the Colorado Senate level, just 18 of the 35 Senators can kill a bill that might be supported by more than 50% of Coloradans, and in Boulder, five Council members can pass an ordinance that a majority might not vote for if taken to the ballotwith the potential for votes being cast for behind-the-scenes reasons not related to the ideals of democracy.

“I think there is a right-to-left critique today that what we actually get is not a valid representation of our personal political interests, but rather more a representation of financial interests, capital intereststhat these representatives are indebted to financing their campaigns, essentially,” said Casas.

Casas is proposing that, if elected, he would vote based on the majority opinion of registered voters who choose to use his new digital platform, while the individual voters would also be able to assign their votes to trusted “delegates” who might be, for example, experts in a certain field. He is basing his approach on a system known as Liquid Democracy or Delegative Democracy, and should Casas be elected, constituents could gain a chance to cast a vote that may mathematically count in a Council member’s decision, as opposed to the current system in which constituents can send e-mail and letters and phone callsbut the representative can act as he or she decides.

Radical?  Perhapsbut Casas noted that the American system of government could have been seen as radical when the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, and now he says it’s showing signs of age, while “capital interests” have learned how to game the system.

“To assume that this is the apex, that it is as great as it gets, that this is the ultimate form of democratic expression, is extremely narrow-sighted and myopic, in my opinion,” said Casas.

In brief, to use Casas’ system, (boulder.parti.vote, with “parti” short for “participation”), registered City of Boulder voters would first need to sign up. The voters would be able to select modes of participation, including direct democracy mode, where they vote directly on issues; representative mode, where their vote is based on the position of a sitting Council member; or delegative mode, where they could assign their vote to a delegate who might be an expert on a given topic, such as water or land use. According to Casas, voters would be able to change their mode if, for example, they are in the representative mode but the Council member they chose has a position on an issue that the individual disagrees with.

Casas said he would cast his Council vote on issues based on the system’s results, but noted that there could be a decision point where he faces serious moral concerns that might lead him to hold a different opinion than what the system produces. He said he would give himself one “veto” in case of a situation so extreme that he could not vote with the system, but after the vote, he would resign from office.

He said various forms of liquid democracy are springing up in nations such as Germany, Austria, Argentina, Finland, Iceland, and Portugal. According to Casas, the “Pirate Party” is the third-largest party in Iceland’s Parliament, and it uses some of the same back-end digital design to facilitate liquid democracy that Casas is using. Also, the “Partido de la Red” in Argentina is using a system called “Democracy OS” that Casas will employ elements of in his system.

Casas was born in Costa Rica, with one parent Cuban and the other “a Michigander,” and both of his parents worked for the United Nations. He has lived in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, India, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, Ghana, Kenya, several states in the U.S.and Boulder, Colorado since 2013. He earned his first college degree from the University of Oxford in Human Sciences, a multidisciplinary program which according to Oxford’s website focuses on the “biological, social and cultural aspects of human life.” He also earned a Master’s degree from Oxford, with a specialty in medical anthropology.

In 2011, Casas was working as a research fellow at the University of Warwick with a program known as “Building Global Democracy,” which focused on how to democratize global governance, and he credits this experience for leading him toward his current liquid democracy focus. Also in the early part of the 2010s, the “Arab Spring” and the Occupy movements deepened his interests, and he got involved with Occupy London before moving to New York with the intention of becoming involved with the Occupy movement in New York City in October 2012, the month that Hurricane Sandy hit. He worked with a disaster response effort known as “Occupy Sandy,” which led to work with FEMA, but he and his partner eventually decided to move to Boulderjust in time for the devastating flood of 2013.

Casas did about 16 months of disaster relief work in Boulder County, and then wound up changing focus to run the sexual assault prevention education program for Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA) in Boulder.

“A passion of mine is sexual violence prevention and violence prevention, especially when it comes to masculinity and sexual violence, which is the root of sexual violence. It’s a man’s issue,” said Casas.

He called his history since his time at Warwick a “kind of digression” from his interest in digital democracy, and in 2017 he is in a “tech start-up” mode to get the system ready. While he is focusing on his digital participation platform and plans to defer to its results in decision-making, he is not without opinion on local issues. He said he will probably vote for all three 2017 ballot issues regarding the city’s efforts to create a municipal electric utility. Also, he has some mixed feelings regarding Boulder’s high cost of housing in the context of a prevailing system that has kept the city beautiful and livable, yet contributed to housing affordability challenges. He has closed on a small home in Boulder, yet laments that it’s very difficult for a person without education and perhaps privilege to afford living in the city.

“At the same time, Boulder serves as this model for other communities to aspire to, and I don’t think we should be apologizing for this too much. I’ve moved every three years of my lifefour continents, 12 countriesand when I say this is the best place in the world to live, I believe there is some substance behind it,” said Casas.

Website: https://www.facebook.com/camiloforcitycouncil

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