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, November 14, 2008

Participatory Democracy for Social and Ecological Justice

Sharing insights on a range of issues



PRIOR to the meeting of Asian and European leaders in the Chinese capital for the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) on Oct 24 and 25, more than 500 people from key grassroots, activist networks, and non-governmental organisations from Asia and Europe gathered at a three-day forum themed “For Social and Ecological Justice” here.

Since 1996, the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) has been held every two years, normally before the ASEM, and AEPF participants gather to discuss a range of issues, exchange views and share insights.

For the Seventh Asia-Europe People’s Forum, the discussions were organised in three clusters: peace and security; social and economic rights and environmental justice; and participatory democracy and human rights.

With the onset of the current global financial crisis, the forum’s delegates called for a re-design of the global financial system, saying that Europe and Asia should take the initiative.

“So, once again we stand at a historical moment in a sombre mood, surveying the wreckage of crises that are both long-term and of immediate consequence; of crises that are both structural and conjunctural; of crises that demand not cosmetic reforms but a deep-rooted and sustainable transformation of how we shape the global order,’’ said Klang Parliamentarian Charles Santiago, one of the speakers at the forum’s opening ceremony.

Santiago: ‘Developing countries like China, India and Brazil could lead the world in re-setting a new financial rchitecture.’ — By Celeste Fong
Santiago, who is also director of Monitoring Sustainability of Globalisation, called for ASEM leaders to tell the global community from Europe and Asia that the unfettered deregulation of markets has to stop!

“Developing countries like China, India and Brazil could lead the world in re-setting a new financial architecture,” he added.

In his speech, he said govern ments, regional organisations, and international institutions like the IMF and World Bank have “all scrambled in unseemly haste to bail out their benefactors through subsidies for the rich.

“How ironic that the ‘free markets’ are today totally dependent on state intervention.

“The capitalist state is fulfilling its historic task of providing all the necessary guarantees for the survival of property.”

What is peculiar about the 2008 financial crisis, said Santiago, is that it is taking place alongside a food, energy and ecological crisis.

“It humbled the world’s economic super powers. They are asking developing countries like China to help solve the credit crisis through coordinated interest rate cuts,” he said.

China’s recent move to cut interest rates twice in three weeks is widely seen as part of a global collaboration to counter the crisis and an important contribution to the rest of the world.

Heidi Hautala, an experienced Green politician and a member of the Finnish Parliament, told the forum that the whole world is now feeling the consequences of an unprecedented collapse of the financial system.

“AEPF has consequently promoted the replacement of blind pro-market policies by alternative people-centred policies,” she said.

“We noted in Helsinki that ASEM countries control over half of the world’s gross national product. Thus, ASEM could be a key mechanism to lead the world on a sustainable path.

“To us, it is very clear that ASEM can only succeed if civil society gets access to it.’’

At the opening ceremony, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi voiced his hope that the forum would play a positive role in promoting people-to-people exchanges and cooperation between Asia and Europe and in pushing forward the ASEM process.

“It (the forum) will also make a unique contribution to maintaining world peace, stability and prosperity and promoting human progress and development,’’ he said.

Yang said the recent turbulence in the international financial market has dealt a blow to the world economy and aroused the concern of the entire international community.

“No country in the world can expect to stay away from such issues as global warming, environmental degradation, resource shortage and the increasingly grave international economic and financial situation or address them on one’s own.”

After the three-day discussions, the AEPF called for a fresh policy agenda to address economic policies which take into consideration ordinary people, human rights and the environment.

The AEPF’s final declaration, including the call for a broadened agenda like governance and human rights issues, environmental sustainability and people-centred development, would be passed to the ASEM meeting which began on Friday.

Besides Santiago, who is also a member of the international organising committee of the AEPF, other Malaysian participants included Monash University School of Arts and Sciences lecturer Wong Chin Huat, PAS’ Capt Muhd Alimin Aziz, MBPJ councillor S. Ramakrishnan and other representatives from Malaysian NGOs.

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