In ‘the old days’ a community mean the people who lived near you. Perhaps the residents of your town and its outlying manor houses, a group of nearby villages or a part of a city. People talked to their neighbours and got things done together, whether that was campaigning to get a new park bench or standing next to each other on bigger issues.
When it came to electoral representation these communities matched how the process was organised. Elected officials are distributed by constituency, dependent either on the geographical area or number of people in a place. So the people you vote for are the same people your physical neighbours vote for. This means politicians campaign on local issues. Do you want less dog fouling in the local park? Do you want an updated primary school for your children?
There is great value to this on a local level, and a lot of people grow to like a particular politician or candidate who gets involved in the community this way.
In the modern world the notion of community is changing. Although there are still communities linked together by locality, neighbourhood and geography there are ever-increasing numbers of communities online, connected by a value or a personality trait rather than purely by geography. The trouble is members of such communities are still represented by elected officials working on a geographical-only plan.
Who represents the constituency of Twitter? Fanfiction’s millions? The Facebook group sharing pictures drawn in MS Paint? Someone should, but there’s a good chance that a proportion of these group members are living in a geographical area so out of touch with their real community that they will never feel represented.
It’s hard to address this without changing the entire nature of government and representation, but let’s just say we can do that for a minute. Thinking just about the UK for now, suppose their were online constituencies. You can opt in to one. But only one. And opting in opts you out of your geographical constituency.
So say you choose the constituency of Twitter. People can stand for election, campaign in any way they choose, and have a seat in parliament to fight for your issues. If you happen to be based geographically in a stronghold area and feel despairing that there will never be a representative you agree with, join the constituency of Twitter, vote for your preferred candidate, which is more likely to be that preferred of other members, and thus you are represented in the way you would like.
There are probably a few steps needed in between – online voting being the most obvious of them – but I do think it would make an interesting modernised way for people to contribute.