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…


Thursday, November 13, 2008

SOUTH KOREA: Building Organizations for Participatory Society

Civic groups unite to address broad range of social issues

movement that grew out of the candlelight protests responds to the ‘crisis in democracy and the people’s welfare’


» Representatives of civic organizations and opposition parties discuss the formation of a new organization to address political and social issues at the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy on October 9.
A solidarity organization representing the country’s progressives is being formed to carry on “the candlelight spirit.”
Representatives of civic and social movement groups like the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and Jinbo Corea, the umbrella union Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU, Minju Nochong), and the Democratic, Democratic Labor and New Progressive parties gathered at PSPD for an “emergency meeting” to agree on the formation of what will tentatively be called the “New Solidarity Organization for Democracy and the People’s Welfare” (Minminyeon). Organizers say they will officially kick-off preparations for the umbrella group on October 25 with the formation of a preparatory committee.

“Democracy and the people’s welfare have been in complete crisis since the start of the administration of President Lee Myung-bak,” said organizers at a press conference. “Laborers, farmers, netizens, intellectuals and political parties will come together to overcome this crisis with the New Solidarity Organization.”

Explaining the decision to include political parties, organizers, said it was made “in respect to the principle that we are going to seek very wide-ranging solidarity” and that parties might be included as having “observer” or other status.

The process that has led to the formation of Minminyeon runs parallel to the candlelight protests and the way the politics surrounding them dominated the political landscape.

“The ‘candlelight,’ that symbol of democracy, fell into difficulty when crushed by the Lee administration,” said Kim Min-yeong, PSPD’s secretary general. “Discussion about forming a solidarity organization originated in a sense of crisis, one that saw the crisis in democracy as directly related to the disastrous state of the people’s welfare.”

Civil society “elders” Paek Nak-chung, professor emeritus at Seoul National University, Park Won-soon of the Hope Institute and others met on September 24 and proposed a “consultative body that is organized with groups involved in a wide range of social movements.” The resulting organization was going to be a gathering of civil society groups that have felt the need for something like Minminyeon, Internet activists who were behind much of what became the candlelight protests, and a wide ranging scope of progressive political elements.

Part of the impetus for Minminyeon is the realization that there were going to be limits to what the People’s Countermeasure Council against Mad Cow Disease could do as an organization over the long term.

“We kept saying to ourselves that we needed an organization that could respond to the crisis in democracy and the people’s welfare, one that was more encompassing and went beyond the task force,” said Park Won-seok, the head of the task force’s “situation room.”

“We came to agree that we needed to be inclusive of all forces that share a consensus, including the labor movement and netizens,” said Park, adding that Minminyeon was the “broadest form of solidarity.”

Representatives of the groups present for the preparatory meeting adopted a declaration at the same “emergency meeting” October 9. “Each organization participating will respect each other’s diversity and act in solidarity where common responses are required,” it said.

“It was decided that we work with political parties because we are confident civil society forces have a leading role to play,” said Park Won-seok. “We believe that we can bring about change in the political situation as a whole, in the local government and National Assembly elections coming in 2010 and on to the presidential election, through solidarity and a loosely organized network.”

Whether Minminyeon will be able to overcome the differences among the groups that were part of the task force on mad cow disease remains to be seen. Minminyeon already encompasses a diverse range of groups and approaches, from those that want to adopt an“anti-dictatorship stance” to those that insist on an “loosely organized network.” Organizers say the differences will be overcome with the principle that issues will be decided “from the bottom up.”

“We have to organize quickly so that we can move together and decide how intense we are going to be, since the welfare crisis is so serious,” said one organizer.

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