We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Friday, February 22, 2008

Peru: Participatory Monitoring of Mining Royalties

Peruvian law requires that 50% of income taxes paid by mining companies be contributed to regional (25%) and municipal (75%) governments, but communities have not clearly associated mining with potential communal resources. Little information on this has been provided by the municipal governments which have no incentive to disclose such information to the public and therefore these funds have not been used to undertake local development projects. However, a new project is underway that will provide communities with the necessary information to take advantage of these funds, which have been increasing due to a rise in market prices for minerals and higher levels of investment and production, in order to positively impact mining communities. Civil society in Peru is currently being asked to participate in an Independent Monitoring Mechanism which will track municipal management of mining royalties. This effort to involve citizens in the distribution of funds will create transparency in the local government while it fosters individual investment in the well-being of the community. The project has the potential to provoke further participation in the local government as people discover success in controlling public funds. While it is scheduled to last only two years and by the looks of the webpage is somehow connected to the exploitative bureaucracy of the World Bank, citizens should approach this opportunity as a foot in the door that will create inroads to participatory democracy on the local level. -Editor

For more on this specific project and others like it, see:

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