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 29, 2008

Women's Role in Participatory Governance in India

The following article discusses the difficulties that have been encountered in many cases in ensuring the active involvement of women in the system of participatory governance being instituted in India, known as Panchayati Raj or Gram Swaraj. For more information on the history and current status of the Panchayati Raj movement, see our previous post on the subject (here) and our links resource page, India section (here). The system was brought into law by constitutional amendment in 1993, and since then has been steadily expanding throughout India - Editor

Reality Check on Panchayati Raj


Three panchayat elections in 12 years have resulted in a million women being elected as grassroots leaders. In several states, elected women representatives have even crossed the 33.3 per cent reservation quota for women leaders.

But how is Panchayati Raj (local governance) working in India? Are women sarpanchs (heads of village councils) still remote-controlled by their husbands or male relatives? Do women leaders really have the power to change things in their villages? The Union Minister of Panchayati Raj Mani Shankar Aiyar's numerous panchayat baithaks (discussions) are trying to do precisely this: Do a reality check on Panchayati Raj.

Aiyar started the baithaks as soon as he tookover as minister in 2004. Aiyar has held seven round table conferences with state ministers of Panchayati Raj within 150 days and has come up with 150 `action points'. Chhattisgarh is one of the chain of states he visited to rejuvenate and evolve Panchayati Raj institutions.

A peep into some of these interactions with the villagers in Chhattisgarh...At a meeting in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh, Aiyar is flamboyant and unconventional in his style. He quits the comfortable stage and sits on the floor amidst the villagers. "I haven't come here to give any speech, but to hear you and know how Panchayati Raj is working for you," he says, asking the woman sarpanch, Shiv Kali Bai, to speak on the work she has done in her village. The sarpanch remains silent and the crowd waits restlessly, until a soft male voice is heard describing the work done.

"Who is that?" Aiyar asks."

The sarpanch pati (husband)," the crowd says in unison. Aiyar invites him to sit next to his wife. The man sits down and claims he does all the work in the village, as he has been the sarpanch for 25 years. His wife was elected sarpanch on a reserved seat. "My wife is not educated, so I do all the work."

"In the last 25 years, you have been a sarpanch but you didn't once think of educating your wife? What work would you have done for village education!" asks the minister. The crowd breaks into spontaneous applause.

"Is there a woman panch (panchyat member)?" the minister wants to know. A young woman emerges from the crowd. Dressed in a blue saree, she stands confidently in front of the minister. When asked about the biggest problem of her village, she says, "There is just one primary teacher for 140 students." The state officials present at the baithak try to stop her and start giving explanations, but Aiyar encourages the woman to continue. She says that the women of the village have often petitioned to the panchayat head, asking for a teacher, a small clinic, toilets and water facilities, but they have not received any response. The women have also demanded a stop to child marriages. "These are issues that involve the family and community as a whole. But the panchayat does not care to discuss these issues," she says.

"Why didn't you stand for the sarpanch's post? You are young, educated and capable?" he asks the woman in the blue saree. The woman looks down and remains silent. The crowd speaks for her, "She is the sarpanch's bahu (daughter-in-law)."

At another tribal panchayat in Gundaderi village, the woman sarpanch, Nirmala Devi, speaks about her village and its problems. She asks for the minister's help in building a clinic in the village, where people have to travel 10 kms to see a doctor. When she is finished, the minister turns to the crowd and says, "Look at your sarpanch in her beautiful saree, she is so competent." Then holding her hand aloft he adds, "I want you all to be proud of her." The crowd again bursts into applause.

Bhoj Rani, janpad adhyaksh (people's representative at the block level) now stands up to say her piece. "The government sanctioned 760,000 for a janpad panchayat, but I was not informed. Even after 58 years of independence, I don't seem to have any rights." Her words leave many officials red-faced.

In several panchayats across the country, women have often been re-elected on a general seat. People have realised that when women become leaders, they challenge status quo and address basic issues of water, food security and education. The last round of panchayat elections has thrown up women who are more aware of their rights and duties, and determined to stand up and deliver as leaders.

However, despite their growing confidence, women still have to fight the overwhelming cynicism and scepticism about their abilities as leaders. "In every village, there are always a large number of women ready to enter a political system," says Aiyar. "But their effectiveness in running the government depends upon the powers they get, not on their capacity as panchayat leaders. For, it is this process - of getting these powers and responsibilities that becomes the single-most important capacity building exercise. It is like throwing a child into the deep end of the pool to make her swim. There will be some who will sink but many will swim. Now this is really the only way institutions of local self-governance can be formed."

Aiyar is quite dismissive about literacy being a must for good leadership. "Look at our Parliament. The Members are so different, in their characteristics, abilities, backgrounds and ambition. The same will be true of Panchayati Raj institutions. All over the world, the most important thing about democratic institutions is not their efficiency but their representativeness. You get a larger kind of efficiency, an efficiency that is not mechanically measured, but rests on changing the very nature of society. We should look upon empowerment of women through panchayats in this light."

– Madhu Gurung, October 9, 2005

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Neighborhood Assemblies Encourage Communal Participation

Out of the mass protests against corrupt politicians during Argentina's economic crisis in 2001 sprang communal participation in the form of neighborhood assemblies. Finding themselves without accountable representation in the government and having no safety net upon which to rely, citizens worked together to confront hyper-inflation and food shortages. While these types of organizations have mostly disintegrated since 2003 due to outside factors such as co-optation by political parties and a slight upward trend in the economy, the formation of neighborhood assemblies is an important example of interdependence and cooperation necessary to face economic crisis and political corruption in representation. Athough these particular assemblies themselves may have been a somewhat transitory response to a crisis, the lessons of self-empowerment learned by these communities will permanently be a part of their political activism and participation. - Editor

Argentina's Rebellion in the Neighborhoods


Published on Thursday, February 14, 2002 by the Inter Press Service

by Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Feb 13 - Neighborhood assemblies are springing up in cities throughout Argentina, particularly in the capital and surrounding areas, as a groundswell of people seek to change the political landscape amidst the country's social and economic collapse.

Many assembly participants are young people who are fed up with the political parties they say have betrayed their ideals. But there are also many unemployed, out-of-business shopkeepers, retirees, teachers and professionals also taking an active role in the meetings. Many had never taken part in any citizen-based mobilization before in their lives.

There are several common denominators among the assemblies held each week since late December in more than 50 neighborhoods, such as the rising anxieties of the most desperate and the increasing calm among those attempting to organize grassroots participation to make their demands heard.

The vast majority of the neighbors participating in the assemblies believe that political leaders are ignorant of the people's needs. In many cases residents do not personally know their elected city council members and local legislators, nor where they live. They are seen as mere representatives of political parties.

Now, however, independent citizens are adopting the terminology characteristic of party politics: assemblies, agendas, motion for order, moderators, committees, and liaison commissions.

But few assembly participants have grand hopes for change. They say, at least, that they want to remain alert to the government's measures, channel their need for participation and expression, and try to put some new faces in the political arena, even if the new politicians lack experience.

"Everyone is completely fed up with corrupt politicians. We are not against democracy, but the neighbors seem to be allergic to anything that smells like politics," Carmen Fernández, a teacher from Buenos Aires' Palermo neighborhood and head of her district's Education Committee, told IPS.

There is a great deal of talk at the assemblies about the "common enemy", which everyone agrees are Argentina's political leaders. The neighborhood organizations have been careful to maintain a horizontal structure, in which everyone has the right to make proposals, and leaders seem to emerge based on who best facilitates participation.

Usually someone offers a warehouse for a meeting site in case of rain, and someone else offers a printing press to print posters or a newsletter. At one assembly, young filmmakers proposed to record the sessions for a documentary. Attorneys, accountants and doctors offer their professional services.

The slogan heard most often is "all the politicians out", but the assembly-goers insist this is not a call for an end to the democratic system.

"On the contrary. To get out of this crisis requires more politics, but real politics. These meetings of common people on the street are the fundamental form of doing politics," Roli Sampieri, an accountant in charge of the Press Committee for the Almagro neighborhood assembly in the capital, told IPS.

"When a married couple decides to separate, that doesn't mean that they won't go on to marry someone else. This is the same thing: we don't want these politicians. We want a change," Sampieri said.

Only the ongoing street protests by the Argentine people can convince the career politicians to think of the common good and not about personal gain, according to the activist. In the long term, there will have to be a change in leadership that is founded on a more community-based conception of politics, he added.

Another Almagro neighbor, Mario Colombati, agrees. "We are not satisfied with merely casting a vote at election time. We want to participate and we want them to listen to us more often, because that is the main problem, they don't listen to us," he said in a conversation with IPS.

In last October's legislative elections (the vote is compulsory in Argentina), Colombati annulled his ballot in protest to express his discontent with the political parties. But, he said, "we cannot live without politicians, because that would be anarchy. We want those who robbed us to leave, and we want to closely monitor those who replace them," he said.

Most of the neighborhood assemblies were founded after the first major "caceroleo" protest, when Argentines came out in masses, banging pots and pans in protest against then president Fernando de la Rúa, who resigned Dec 20.

At first it was just a handful of neighbors who gathered together, concerned about preventing the new government from being made up of the same leaders with a different disguise.

With the series of political turnovers and the ever-deepening social and economic crisis, the meetings have achieved greater impact, and new leaders are emerging. The neighbors at the assemblies choose delegates who participate every Sunday in an inter-neighbourhood plenary session, which draws some 4,000 people.

There, representatives from middle-class districts mix with those from the wealthiest and the poorest neighborhoods Their proposals often become radicalized, and protests are expressed on behalf of an array of groups: the unemployed, merchants, former party activists, and savers who have been hurt by the government's economic measures of the last two months.

The non-governmental organization 'Poder Ciudadano' (Citizen Power) offered the assembly participants a free course in institutional monitoring. The program is called "Citizens as protagonists of change" and seeks to provide practical tools to the movement that expresses itself in 'cacerolazos', neighborhood meetings and marches.

But there are many who appear already to possess some working knowledge as a result of their activism in student organizations, political parties or labor unions.

"The assembly shall be considered constituted when at least 20 neighbors are present. All who live in the neighborhood may participate with voice and vote," reads a woman, aided by a brand- new megaphone, on a street corner where more than a hundred residents have gathered.

"The executive committee shall meet 15 minutes prior to the assembly to draft the agenda with the proposals provided by the neighbors," she says, handing the word - and the megaphone - over to the "moderator". It is clarified repeatedly that "here, no one is in charge, we are going to take turns."

One of the proposals made during the assembly was to set aside 15 minutes each week on a neighborhood radio program to provide updates about the movement. The proposal was readily accepted.

But when the moderate announced that a television news program has sent a reporter and a camera operator, the reaction is one of absolute rejection, with the neighbors shouting for the media representatives to leave.

The reporter is from a program whose host has supported the government's economic reforms in the past few years and who now is seen as inciting protest with a right-wing discourse. The neighbors make it clear they do not want anyone to use them to advance a cause they do not agree with.

In fact, in the assemblies and in mass e-mails, Argentines are calling not only for the removal of the career politicians and entrenched union leaders, but also for the rejection of the privatized entities entrusted with public services and of the news media which, they say, are not accurately portraying the population's suffering.

"I am very surprised because there are people participating who otherwise never left their homes. My 70-year-old neighbor had never taken part in anything, but now she has such an extremist stance that it is truly astonishing," said Palermo neighborhood assembly participant Fernández.
She said one of the slogans repeated in her neighborhood is "the politicians must go because they do not understand a thing." Fernández explained that this reflects the sentiment that political leaders no longer comprehend, nor can they express, the citizenry's problems because they are too far removed from that reality.

For Sampieri, the national crisis was a long time in the making and these assemblies are a response to the loss of credibility of the political system in general. "Politics continues to be the only way to express one's self, but the people reject the political parties, and therefore are gathering in the streets," he said.

Some of the initiatives coming out of the assemblies include organizing a volunteer corps to provide assistance to retirees and the unemployed and to help with the needs outlined by hospital personnel, but the priority is ultimately to take their proposals to the national level.

The neighborhood assemblies are planning a march on the legislative palace when the lawmakers gather to debate the government budget, protests outside bank headquarters to protest the transfer to pesos - the national currency - of dollar deposits, and demonstrations against the representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who visit Argentina.

"I don't know if this will lead to change, but at least it is teaching us to be more alert," said one resident as she headed home after an assembly meeting.

Copyright © 2001 IPS-Inter Press Service

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

España: Los Presupuestos Participativos se Expanden por Andalucía

Los Presupuestos Participativos se expanden por Andalucía

Localidades como Algeciras, Gines y Fuentes de Andalucía están programando el comienzo de los presupuestos participativos para sus municipios. Algeciras y Fuentes de Andalucía van a comenzar con un diagnóstico participado para el estudio de la implantación de los presupuestos participativos. El caso de Gines, pueblo metropolitano del Aljarafe, es diferente pues ya tiene previsto un gasto a decidir por la ciudadanía en materia de arreglos y propuestas de urbanismo. Prepara para dentro de poco unas jornadas iniciales del proceso y contará con la ayuda metodológica del curso Derecho a la Ciudad de la universidad Pablo de Olavide. Otros municipios están todavía definiendo cómo y cuándo empezar. Así el municipio de Torredonjimeno (Jaén) organizó el día 8 y 9 de febrero unas jornadas sobre participación donde estuvo presente el Presupuesto Participativo de Sevilla. La experiencia de Sevilla es muy importante para estos municipios, que ven cómo se ha desarrollado en una ciudad grande un proceso que activa a l@s ciudadan@s y los hace más críticos y conscientes de su ciudad. Así también ha estado presente la experiencia de Sevilla en otras jornadas como las desarrolladas en un encuentro de cargos públicos de Portugal , celebrado en Lisboa, o las más recientes de la FAMP en Jaén ciudad.

Action Network: BBC Adventures in e-Democracy

The following article examines the role of the BBC in promoting citizen participation through their BBC Action Network. An e-democracy promoting website which facilitates grassroots organizing. Evidently some activists have reservations about using a site constructed by a state sponsored institution. The article examines the complexities of a major news organization with links to the state backing such an effort. - Editor

Laurence Pawley - Horizontal politics in a vertical world: The BBC and Action Network


Examining the BBC’s experiments on facilitating participatory e-democracy, Laurence Pawley finds that such re-imaginings of political action must be accompanied by a re-imagination of the institutions that provide them.

The growth of the ‘new’ politics enabled by technological developments like blogs and wikis has, generally speaking, emerged from outside of established nodes of political power. The informal, collaborative methods of action proposed by these spaces have predominantly been taken up by looser social movements and individuals, with the anti-capitalist movement and maverick ‘political bloggers’ serving as obvious examples.

But what happens when similar opportunities are facilitated by a national institution, with substantial links to the state? Can active citizenship be promoted through an organisation associated with a centralised, linear mission to ‘inform, educate and entertain’? This is the question raised by the BBC’s
Action Network mini-site (originally launched in 2003 as iCan).

The site takes the form of a facilitative space, aimed in at individuals who wish to develop single-issue campaigns in their local area. Users can leave ‘notices’ (effectively equivalent to a standard online messageboard) or create more permanent ‘campaign’ pages in a collaborative blog format. The site has won several awards for its contribution to e-democracy, and its founder Martin Vogel
claimed in late 2005 that Action Network was receiving 175,000 unique users per month.

In itself, this appears relatively unproblematic. Action Network is a well-organised and relatively simple site, with clear ground-rules that forbid (party) political activity and encourage a collaborative, dialogical dynamic. As such, it shares good practices with other successful examples of online campaign activity, and exudes the ethos of equitable participation central to the ideals behind wiki politics. However, if we begin to institutionally contextualise Action Network within the contemporary BBC, a series of tensions emerge with potential implications for the site, its users, and the BBC itself.

For the latter, Action Network appears to have emerged as part of a concerted effort to integrate notions of participation and public agency into the BBC’s practice. This much was made clear in the Corporation’s 2004 mission statement
Building Public Value, which identified Action Network as a key initiative within its new goal of ‘supporting active and informed citizenship’. But how does such a notion function within the BBC? The organisation has long been associated with a centralised and sometimes paternalistic approach to the delivery of public service to a passive public, and has been subject to consistent critique on these grounds. Indeed, one might argue that the BBC is in fact reliant on this position, insofar as only the presumption of a uniform, passive citizenry justifies the continuing prominence of a single public service broadcaster.

Within Building Public Value, this issue is never fully resolved. On the one hand, the BBC (evidently responding to external pressures including media fragmentation, and the development of new discourses of citizenship) is keen to develop a more active, decentred conceptualisation of the public sphere- concluding with the aim to build ‘new civic avenues and town squares… places where we can celebrate, debate and reflect’. Simultaneously however, it lauds the historical success both of the national BBC structure and its successful relationship with Parliament and state institutions, and places considerable emphasis on its ability to set both political and cultural agendas.

In this context, the BBC’s support for initiatives like Action Network implies a contestation of its own position. Put simply, the ideas that underlay Action Network and similar projects (a ‘bottom-up’ approach to citizenship, localism, and the achievement of political goals through non-traditional strategies) exist at least in contradiction – if not in fact in direct opposition - to the precepts that have previously bulwarked the Corporation.

In practice, I would suggest that this contradiction has been largely ignored, with the result that both Action Network and the wider BBC appear somewhat compromised. Although the site maintains a certain level of independence from the BBC, the Corporation maintains the right to place its own postings, provide ‘expert’ advice on campaign methods, and editorialises content (for example, the featured campaigns on the
front page). The BBC also clearly views the site’s activity as a potential source of content- in 2006 for example, BBC1’s Breakfast ran a series of reports based on Action Network projects. Even as it encourages open participation, it maintains a strong branded presence.

One argument of course is that such links are beneficial- providing advice and the potential for wider exposure for groups and individuals utilising the site. This however comes at a price, insofar as the BBC ‘preferences’ certain types of action in its advice pages, and certain elements of content in its editorial work. This at least carries the potential to skew the success or failure of certain campaigns, and the types of causes to which the site is deemed amenable. One can argue that any attempt to provide similar forums through a state (or in this case, quasi-state) organisation would carry the same risks, if only because the discursive association between provider and service would seem to privilege particular strands of thought.

In addition, there is a risk that sites like Action Network, because of their particular location, will become as much a complaints forum as a place to ‘celebrate, debate and reflect’. A cursory search for ‘BBC’ on the site leads to campaigns called for the Corporation to be
banned, or demanding changes in programming. While such entries don’t necessarily undermine the site’s broader potential, their frequency is illustrative of the difficulties it faces in ‘shaking off’ the legacy of its provider (a fact undoubtedly known to Tony Blair’s government after the recent e-petition on road pricing). If such sites become increasingly ‘hijacked’ as a means to attack their founders, it is possible that other users will seek alternative platforms without such strong associations.

So, there appear to be some definite obstacles in the development of online political networks through an established national body. And should it attempt to resolve them, the BBC – by virtue of the more centralised aspect of its institutional logic – may find itself in an awkward situation. It could for example step back from Action Network, removing the obvious links with BBC content and leaving the site truly ‘open’ to participation. Yet while this might alleviate the concerns of some users, it is unlikely to benefit the BBC itself. If such a move succeeded, it would give ammunition to those who wish to see a more general scaling back of the BBC’s role in UK life. And if it failed (for example because users appreciated the guidance offered by the BBC content), then the Corporation has both failed in its attempt to support active citizenship, and wasted licence-payers money in doing so. Meanwhile, to continue with the current format exposes the BBC to the charge of interference with an ostensibly public-led platform.

This article, it should be stressed, is not intended as a condemnation of Action Network, or of the BBC’s intentions in its establishment. The site has much to commend it, and a glance around it will quickly prove that much useful work is being done, both via the campaigns themselves and the broader encouragement of civic responsibility. Nonetheless, it is perhaps the case that to be optimally effective, such re-imaginings of political action must be accompanied by a re-imagination of the institutions that provide them. Such a solution, while optimistic, offers the best chance of transcending tensions between participation and passivity, centralisation and subsidiarity, and past and future.

Further links:
Action network wins e-democracy award
The BBC plans for digital democracy
BBC Action Network

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:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

10 Downing Street's e-Petitions

10 Downing St. has set up a website where british citizenry can post their petitions to the prime minister. The petitions can gather signatories on the site, and completed petitions generate a response from the Prime Minister. It is unclear whether this site has in fact been a means for the public to influence policy, or merely a gimmick to allow people to believe that they have a voice in government. It's mere existence however is yet another example of how the internet can be a revolutionary tool in bringing direct democracy to bear on a large scale. The trick is to make the popular will binding, and create a system in which representatives are merely executors of that popular will. Barack Obama in the U.S.A. has proposed measures in his platform that would allow for much more significant citizen participation and transparency than this somewhat symbolic british measure. To learn more about his proposals see our previous post on the subject. (click here) It is encouraging to see such proposals reaching the mainstream but we must continue to build upon them and push for deeper direct democracy. - Editor

Click here to visit the P.M's e-petitions site


13 November 2007

There is a long-established tradition of members of the public presenting petitions at the door of Number 10 Downing Street. The e-Petitions service has been designed to offer a modern parallel, which is more convenient for the petitioner. Unlike paper-based petitions, this service also provides an opportunity for Number 10 to respond to every petitioner via email.

Since its launch in November 2006, the ePetitions site has proved to be a highly popular innovation, helping people communicate with Government and with the Prime Minister's Office. ePetitions has become a part of the landscape of debate in the UK.

The service allows any UK citizen to create a petition and collect signatures via the website. Petitioners are asked to meet basic criteria, but we aim to accept most petitions. The principal reasons for rejecting petitions so far have been obscenity, potential to cause offence, libel or duplication.

Facts and figures

Since its launch, the site has been very busy. The facts and figures to the end of October show:
Over 29,000 petitions have been submitted, of which over 8,500 are currently live and available for signing, over 6,000 have finished and 14,601 have been rejected outright.
There have been over 5.8 million signatures, originating from over 3.9 million different email addresses.

The most common reason for rejection is duplication - many users have commented that there are petitions on similar subjects clogging up the site. We are trying to eliminate too much duplication or overlap, although we need to balance that with the need to allow for the nuances of similar petitions.
The other common reasons for rejection are: legal issues, offensive language, party political content and issues outside the government's remit.

If a petition is rejected, petitioners are given a chance to reword their petition. Some users choose to resubmit their petitions, some prefer not to.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Learning from Contemporary Social Movements

The article linked below in its introduction gives an excellent outline of some South American social movements and how they were formed. What makes current movements unique is the demand of diverse and historically oppressed peoples to participate in democratic political processes. As Petras points out, Argentina's Workers movement exemplifies the organization of groups that were previously thought to be impossible to organize. In that specific case it required the desperation caused by the economic crisis of 2001 to encourage people to break class and social barriers to unite against the corrupt government. A unique form of organization and democratic participation in the workplace rose from the mayhem of crisis that provides an example that we should learn from as the world economy begins its downward spiral. See the article to learn the inspirational qualities of this recent movement toward participatory democracy. -Editor

The Unemployed Workers Movement in Argentina

By James Petras


Latin America has witnessed three waves of overlapping and interrelated social movements over the last twenty-five years. The first wave, roughly from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, was largely composed of what were called “the new social movements.” They included human rights, ecology, feminist, and ethnic movements as well as Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). Their leadership was largely lower middle class professionals, and their policies and strategies revolved around challenging the military and civilian authoritarian regimes of the time.

The second wave developed into a powerful political force from the mid-1980s to the present. Largely composed of and led by peasants and rural workers, the mass organizations of the second wave engaged in direct action to promote and defend the economic interests of their supporters... (Click here to read full article)

Monday, February 18, 2008

La Democracia Verdadera y Participativa Llega a Bolivia

Hace un poco más de 25 años la supuesta democracia llegó a Bolivia. Pero una serie de presidentes y gobiernos corruptos y represivos resultó en decadas más de lucha y opresión. Ahora con el gobierno de Evo Morales la democracia viene llegando de verdad, y en la forma más pura, la democracia directa y participativa. Estos dos articulos siguientes hablan de la historia de la lucha Boliviana por la democracia verdadera, y la nueva era que por fin estan experimentando ahora con la reforma y los cambios que estan levantando el pueblo Boliviano. - Editor

Sectores Sociales Aseguran que la Democracia Participativa se Fortalece en Bolivia


La Paz, 08 oct 2007(ABI).- La Confederación Indígena del Oriente Boliviano (), la Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) y el Comité Cívico Popular en Santa Cruz, aseguraron este lunes que la democracia participativa se ha fortalecido en el país, con un cambio contundente en la inclusión, igualdad y soberanía.

Faltando dos días para celebrar los 25 años de democracia en Bolivia, desde el año 1982, las tres organizaciones sociales coincidieron por separado, que a través de las políticas de inclusión que realiza el Gobierno nacional, se hizo posible la participación en las decisiones de todos los pueblos indígenas, campesinos y trabajadores.

El presidente de la , Adolfo Chávez, indicó que la reivindicación de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, la lucha por la igualdad social y el respeto a sus decisiones, es una parte complementaria en el marco de una democracia con participación de todos ellos.

“Es mas notoria la participación con el actual Gobierno, porque tenemos participación en la Comunidad Andina (CAN), somos interlocutores válidos para hacer conocer nuestras propuestas con algunos ministros incluso con el presidente Morales”, indicó.

De su parte, el secretario general de la COB, Felipe Machaca, remarcó que los trabajadores se sienten más comprometidos con la democracia participativa, porque “ahora tenemos derecho a emitir nuestras ideas y no como antes con los gobiernos fascistas que nos coartaban la voz y el pensamiento del movimiento popular”.

Entretanto, el presidente del Comité Cívico Popular en Santa Cruz, Saturnino Pinto, explicó que la desigualdad, la intolerancia y el racismo, son temas que se están superando con el respaldo de la lucha que realiza el Gobierno para todos los bolivianos, “principalmente por los trabajadores, campesinos e indígenas”.

“Estamos de acuerdo con el actual Gobierno que está luchando contra los grandes intereses de algunas personas, pero ahora nos favorece respetando nuestra soberanía”, precisó.

Faq/Pta ABI

En 25 años, Bolivia Pagó Alto Precio Para Pasar de la Democracia Pactada a la Participativa

El pueblo se cansó de que sólo lo tomen en cuenta para el voto. Quería más y entonces un líder político comprendió y canalizó esa demanda. , el primer mandatario indígena con el 53,7% de votos, llegó a Palacio Quemado sin tener que negociar con nadie.

La Paz, 10 oct (ABI).- En 25 años de democracia, Bolivia pagó un alto precio para pasar de la democracia representativa pactada a la participativa. Hubo marchas, movilizaciones, huelgas, heridos y muertos de por medio.

En ese período, Bolivia tuvo nueve presidentes constitucionales y sólo el actual mandatario, , llegó a Palacio Quemado con el 53,7% de votos producto de las urnas.

La historia boliviana del último cuarto de siglo muestra situaciones políticas inéditas con seis mandatarios producto de elecciones nacionales, de las cuales Morales Ayma no recurrió a la pactada, que fue la característica de los años precedentes.

Desde que el 10 de octubre de 1982, grandes multitudes celebraran el acceso de Hernán Siles Zuazo al poder, se registraron cientos de hitos que -cuestionando la democracia formal- dieron lugar a nuevas formas de participación, hasta que el 18 de diciembre de 2005 se dio el gran salto a la participativa.

“Estamos acá en , y quiero que sepan que queremos cambiar Bolivia no con balas sino con votos, y esa es la revolución democrática”, dijo entonces el presidente Morales.

En los 25 años de se registraron miles de movilizaciones, huelgas, marchas y enfrentamientos en el territorio nacional, pero los hechos más violentos correspondieron a las zonas del altiplano paceño y el Chapare cochabambino.

La Marcha por la Vida de 1985; la Marcha de los Pueblos Indígenas de 1992, la Guerra del Agua de Cochabamba de 2002, más las arrolladoras revueltas callejeras de febrero de 2002 y octubre de 2003, configuran los hitos fundamentales de 25 años de .

Sólo la movilización de octubre de 2003 -en demanda de mayor
para decidir el destino del gas- fue posible a un costo de 67 muertos y al menos 400 heridos.


En una jornada memorable, el líder indígena logró el 18 de diciembre de 2005 la mayor votación en la historia democrática, desde que Hernán Siles Zuazo llegara al poder. Ni en sueños, sus familiares de la población de Orinoca imaginaron ver a Evo como Primer Mandatario boliviano. Quienes sí tal vez lo hayan advertido son los cocaleros que lo eligieron para que los representara.

Cuando el hambre arrasó con toda esperanza, Evo y su familia se mudaron al trópico cochabambino, en donde encontraron en el cultivo de hoja de coca la subsistencia. En 1997, Morales llegó al Parlamento como diputado uninominal por Cochabamba con el 70% de los votos.

Por presión de la Embajada de EEUU, en enero de 2002, cuando Jorge Tuto Quiroga estaba en la Presidencia, tras la renuncia por enfermedad de Hugo Banzer, Evo debió abandonar su curul en el Congreso por una acusación de narcoterrorismo.

Ocurrió luego de un sangriento episodio en el que murieron cuatro cocaleros, tres militares y un policía.

La democracia formal y representativa de los 23 años precedentes, tuvo una característica fundamental en el divorcio entre el discurso y la práctica política. Elección tras elección la gente sentía que cada vez más se alejaba la y los partidos sólo utilizaban al pueblo para el momento del voto.

Esa utilización del voto fue planteando un progresivo deterioro de la y una profunda crisis que derivó en pactos políticos que acababan en difíciles como oscuras negociaciones para la elección de los gobiernos de turno.

Desde 1995 y en sucesivas actuaciones políticas el hoy presidente Morales, fue haciendo notar la separación entre discurso político y práctica política y paralelamente fue mostrando señales diferentes en su accionar político personal.

Criticaba a los partidos por “servirse del pueblo” y mantenía cercano contacto con las bases del trópico y otros movimientos campesinos y sociales de diferentes puntos del país.

Hacía ver que era posible construir una en la cual los gobernantes sean la expresión de los deseos y demandas del pueblo.

Su “mandar obedeciendo”, inspirado en la concepciones políticas del Sub comandante Marcos, fue decisivo para dar en la campaña electoral del 2005, un nuevo perfil de la democracia: la participativa e inclusiva, donde el pueblo, a través de sus representaciones más activas, no es adorno, sino su pilar central. ABI//

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Participatory Budgeting in Dondo, Mozambique

The following article describes one of several participatory budgeting initiatives underway in the countries of southern Africa. - Editor


This Article was prepared by Mr. Manuel Cambezo, Mayor of Dondo Municipality



The Municipality of Dondo is located in the Province of Sofala in Mozambique. It occupies an area of 382 km² and has a population of about 71.644 inhabitants. The Participatory Budgeting process in Dondo started in 1999, during the first municipal term. The motivation for this approach was the request by the citizens to see their interests realized. Dondo municipal council decided to involve citizens in the budgetary because it realized the following benefits:

  • It improves efficiency and efficacy in the use of public resources
  • It promotes sustainable allocation of resources;
  • It promotes socio-economic growth of the communities themselves;

Citizens should always be part of the decision-making process because they play active role in municipal development and are responsible for the success of development projects.

Modalities of Participation in Dondo

  • Provision of services by the private sector i.e. Education, health, water supply, etc.
  • Monetary or in-kind contribution for construction, maintenance and operations of public infrastructures by the communities, NGOs and the private sector
  • Payment of the municipal property taxes
  • Contribution for the expenses for operations and maintenance of public services

In order to provide sound and rational solutions for the needs of the citizens the following institutional and community measures were taken:

  • At institutional level: Establishment of an advisory and studies office (GEA), Community Affairs as an instrument for permanent liaison with the communities;
  • At the neighborhoods level: Neighborhoods Development Nucleus (NDB), Association of Community Services – local non-governmental organization (ASSERCO).

The main actors in the process of Participatory Budgeting include:

  • The civil society
  • Non-governmental Organizations
  • The private sector

Organization of the Participatory Budgeting Process in Dondo – 2007

Participatory budgeting in Dondo takes the following phases:

  • Organizational activities of the population on territorial or thematic basis
  • Assessment of he activities undertaken by the municipality
  • Municipal diagnostic
  • Preparation of PESOM and PIM
  • Discussion of the proposals of PESOM and PIM at the Municipal Council.
  • Final drafting of the proposals
  • Submission of the proposals to the Municipal Assembly

Advantages of Participatory Budgeting and Planning in Dondo:

  • More investment initiatives mainly in the area of socio-economic development;
  • More flexibility in the response to the citizens concerns;
  • More involvement of the citizens in finding local solutions for local problems


  • Weak representation of the various concerned groups;
  • Weak understanding of the main issues to be addressed in the process,
  • Use of the same methodology for different type of problems and target population

The municipality has the following challenges:

  • Spread the concept of Participatory Budgeting;
  • Promote public awareness on the role of the municipalities;
  • Involvement of the citizens in Participatory Budgeting;
  • Establishment of civic education processes using the media;
  • Capacity building of the members of the Municipal Council and Assembly as well as the communities.

How to overcome the challenges:

  • Production of manuals, brochures and other instruments to be used in spreading the concept of Participatory Budgeting;
  • Involvement of Community Radio and other social communication means in dissemination and increasing of the awareness of the communities and the members of the Municipal Council and Assembly on Participatory Budgeting;
  • Mobilize internal and external resources to support the implementation of the municipal Participatory Budgeting;
  • Use part of the municipal revenues for technical capacity building; and
    Liaise with the local government ad other partners in order to improve the municipal model on Participatory Budgeting


  • With the Participatory Budgeting we want to improve transparency in municipal management;
  • Democratize the decision-making process;
  • Share the responsibility for municipal management (Municipal government and the citizens)

By. Manuel Cambezo (Presidente do CMD)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Panchayati Raj - Gram Swaraj: Participatory Democracy Takes Root in India

India has a long standing tradition of participatory governance at the village level. Traditionally this system of governance, known as Panchayati Raj or Gram Swaraj, was not formalized. Efforts to institutionalize it began in earnest with Mahatma Ghandi and the co-operative movement, but did not really take hold until Panchayati Raj became law by contitutional amendment in 1993. Since then it has been spreading throughout India, and although the decentralization and transfer of power has faced obstacles, the movement is gathering momentum steadily. To learn more about this blossoming of participatory democracy in India read the following article and visit the India links on our links resource page by clicking here. - Editor

Panchayati Raj for Developing Rural India

By Trailokya Deka

The term ‘participatory approaches’ describes a growing family of approaches and methodologies that enable local people to share their knowledge on standard of living and local socio-economic and cultural conditions so that they can analyse their problems, plan, set targets and develop strategies and practice on these ideas. This approach of participation is essential for the development of member’s ‘community based institutions’, for finding resolution of their conflicts for the enhancement of their capabilities and skills for the exploration of opportunities.

The idea of community participation originated in India many centuries ago. The last ten 5 year plans have shown that no community development programme can succeed without community participation and even a bad programme can succeed. The UNDP report called the community or people’s participation as the participatory movement. Participatory approach can bring together different disciplines like farm activities, micro-finance, health and community development, to facilitate and enable an integrated vision of livelihood and well-being. Historically there are three great pioneers of community participation namely FL Brayne, Dr MS Radhawe and Mahatma Gandhi. The trend of community participation prevails in all walks of public life. This is evident mainly from the prevailing advocacy for participatory governance i.e. ‘Panchayati Raj.’

During ancient days participatory movement was an organised process that enabled Indian villages to maintain social order through Panchayats. During that time Panchayat was an informal institution. Panchayats were responsible for governing and maintaining village society in accordance with socio-political norms. Following co-operative movement of Mahatma Gandhi persistent efforts have been made in India to make rural local self-government viable and self sustaining, specially after independence. But the State governments showed very little interest for the establishment and empowerment of rural local political institutions. Transfer of power to the representative institution was almost negligible. But the States like Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal were somewhat exceptional and introduced the local self-government system. Unfortunately people’s participation in those States was very minimal and the development planning found to be faulty.

With the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, enacted in 1993, the Central Government came forward for making people’s direct and responsible participation through Panchayats. The 73rd and 74th Amendments have provided uniformity and formal structure to these institutions of self-governance for the sake of their effective functioning. Based on the philosophy of decentralisation and power to the people the amendments have initiated a fundamental restructuring of governance and administrative system of the country. The 73rd Act was made mandatory for all the Indian States and through this Act Panchayats were provided with constitutional status. State Acts have been amended from time to time to make the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act more effective in establishing Panchayati Raj institutions as genuine structures of grass roots democracy.

The three tier Panchayati Raj system in all states having a population of 20 lakh have been empowered significantly to enable them to discharge their duties properly and fulfil the expectations of the people. The 11th Schedule of the constitution lists 29 subjects to the Pachayati Raj institutions. Participation of the weaker sections has also been ensured in all the regular elections every five years in the States through the system of reservation. Reservation for women, SC and ST in Panchayats has combined political empowerment with social empowerment. Earlier fears about elite groups capturing these institutions have been allayed. At present there are more than 2 lakh panchayats in the country with about 30 lakh elected representatives out of a whom 6 lakh belong to SCs and STs with 10 lakh women. If this army of elected representatives are converted into a community force the six goals of Bharat Nirman i.e. rural irrigation, rural roads, rural water supply, rural housing, rural electrification and rural telephony will be met within the targeted year of 2009.

Truly speaking, Bharat Nirman is people’s own programme where every village will have electricity, every habitation a road, safe drinking water, a telephone and every village family hopefully a pucca house. Only the gram panchayats can ensure community participation for the achievement of this challenging task of Bharat Nirman. There will be no Bharat Nirman without people’s active participation, specially at the village level.

But unfortunately, a perusal of a decade of functioning of Panchayati Raj put forward a mix scenario with some evidence of positive movements and several hurdles. The evidences from the States suggest that people’s participation has remained low. The efforts to make the grassroots institutions viable and significant remained confined to a formality. The bureaucratic resistance is visible in many matters.

In addition to the 73rd and 74th Constitution amendments under the leadership of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Indian Parliament has also enacted the Panchayats (extension to scheduled areas) Act for dealing with the economic and emotional alienation of our tribal brethren which lies at the root of the growing menace of Naxalism.

The important point to note here is that the importance of participation in the activities of Panchayats as an important part of Panchayati Raj has not been realised in practice by the common man. Persons of status and influence stay away from participation in Panchayats. The need of the hour is to utilise their capacities for village development with the active involvement in the system. Marginalised sections of the society which have been out from the process of decision making have also to be taken in the mainstream through sensitisation and capacity building.

The experience with panchayats and their role and system vary from one region to another. States must learn from each other on effective empowerment of panchayats. Panchayat functionaries need continuous training and capacity building. Democratic decentalisation is to encourage people’s participation in the processes of governance. Effective implementation of Panchayati Raj system will bring real power of administration to the grassroots level and it will also help to reduce corruption and abuse of power by various government functionaries. Strong empowerment Gram Sabhas and Ward Sabhas, which meet frequently and regularly to keep the elected executive authority under continuous check and watch, can also guarantee clean Panchayati Raj. Panchayati Raj will truly bloom within the next few years so that even as our economy gallops forward, rural India sees the blossoming of the dream of Gram Swaraj that has inspired our leaders from Mahatma Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Benedita da Silva: A Role Model

Benedita da Silva, an Afro-Brazilian Senator who comes from a long history of community organizing, actually exemplifies, possibly without even realizing it, the kind of participation that is necessary in a direct democracy. She stands as an example for the kind of representation that should be coming out of the favelas of Brazil and the barrios of Latin America.

As a child and a young woman, da Silva worked many difficult and often demeaning jobs typical to her social standing as a black girl from the favela. As she grew, she began to see the injustices around her and within her own life, and she became inspired to make changes. As a young mother she involved herself in her community by working in a neighborhood association and other community groups to improve her impoverished surroundings. Participating was not easy as she still had a family and a job to maintain. She managed and had great success.

Eventually, as the Worker's Party gained popularity and da Silva came to understand the profound changes proposed by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (who was then a metal worker and now the president of Brazil), she became involved in the political party without letting go of her roots in the favela. After much organizing and great effort, she won a place in the senate, representing the Worker's Party. This was not the end of her struggle. She continued to confront great racism and sexism despite her "position of power" within the government. She used this situation to explode the racial, gender, and class issues that Brazilian society had glazed over for so long through inaccurate media representation of race, class, and gender relationships. Even as the representative of only one area in such a vast country, her example can inspire and empower people globally to participate in the political process. Her style of representation rooted in the streets of the favelas shows how individuals within a representative system are not powerless to break down barriers, and to inititate change within the repressive and corrupt systems of (so called) "democracy" hailed throughout the Western hemisphere. - Editor

For more on Benedita da Silva's inspirational life and accomplishments, see Benedita Da Silva: An Afro-Brazilian Woman's Story of Politics and Love (Paperback) by Benedita Da Silva (Author), Medea Benjamin (Author), Maisa Mendonca (Author)

Friday, February 8, 2008

France's Ségolène Royal: What Might Have Been...and What May Be

Ségolène Royal, the socialist candidate in last year's general election in France campaigned in large part on a platform of expanding participatory democracy within France. Early in her campaign she launched an internet based e-consultation through her website "désirs d'avenir" which allowed citizens to contribute thier input into her platform. She had plans to institute systems of participatory governance and budgeting throughout France. Unfortunately she lost the presidential election to her conservative rival Nicolas Zarkozy. This has not deterred her in her push for participatory democracy however, and she has introduced participatory budgeting in her home region of Poitou-Charentes, which even allows student participation in school budgeting. Now, with the cooperation of the regions of Tuscany, Italy and Catalonia, Spain, she has launched the European Foundation for Participatory Democracy in order to promote participatory democracy throughout Europe. If the initiative continues it's current success, perhaps people in France will take a closer look at her policies and if she runs again, sieze upon the opportunity to expand democracy and governance in France down into the grassroots level where it belongs. - Editor

EUROPE: 'Participatory Democracy Can Resolve Crisis'

With participatory budgeting, one of the most widespread mechanisms, citizens decide on allocation of public funds. Such budgeting was developed at the end of the 1980s in the Brazilian town Porto Alegre, and is now implemented in over 50 cities in Italy, France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Portugal and Poland. --Stefania Milan

By Stefania Milan


FLORENCE, Oct 19 (IPS) - "Participatory democracy can be the answer to the European crisis," says Ségolène Royal, Socialist candidate in the last general election in France.

Since 2004 Royal has been president of Poitou-Charentes, a region on the west coast of France 400 kilometres from Paris. She heads the local Socialist government.

Royal was in Florence to launch the European Foundation for Participatory Democracy, in cooperation with the Tuscany region of Italy and Catalonia in Spain. The foundation aims to promote participatory democracy in Europe through cooperation and exchange of best practices.

"Including participatory mechanisms in the daily practices of the European Union could promote more proximity of the Union to its citizens, and more transparency," president of the Tuscany region Claudio Martini said.

Participatory democracy devices such as a referendum, participatory budgeting, e-consultations and citizens' juries are intended to include citizens' voices in decision-making processes. They can be consultative, or imply a real transfer of decision-making power from politicians to citizens.

With participatory budgeting, one of the most widespread mechanisms, citizens decide on allocation of public funds. Such budgeting was developed at the end of the 1980s in the Brazilian town Porto Alegre, and is now implemented in over 50 cities in Italy, France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Portugal and Poland.

"Participatory democracy is often seen in opposition to representative democracy," Royal said. "But we believe that if citizens do not participate in political decisions, decisions are not understood and shared by the population. Decisions are strongest if authorities agree to put themselves under discussion."

Royal's region, Poitou-Charentes, is in the forefront of implementation of participatory democracy mechanisms. Since 2005, high school students have been invited to have a say in allocation of the 10 percent of the regional budget for education.

Ninety-three schools participate in distribution of 10 million euro per year. Students, parents and teachers are consulted on a regular basis, make concrete proposals, and vote their favourite project. The regional council then distributes funds. So far 706 projects have been financed this way.

Poitou-Charentes is a largely rural region. Many students live in boarding schools and have been lamenting poor living conditions, and lack of services and cultural initiatives.

"There was a lot of criticism that students would finance just anything. But they have expressed a need for cultural enrichment: more music and arts in the schools but also easier access to outside initiatives, including the institution of a cultural facilitator," Royal told IPS.

Participatory budgeting in high schools is also financing driving licence courses for young people at professional schools. In 2008 Poitou-Charentes will set up a citizens jury to evaluate the environmental impact of regional policies.

The relationship between institutions and citizens has changed since introduction of participatory budgeting, says Anja Röcke, consultant to the Poitou-Charentes region.

"The regional school administration has become more transparent and open towards users. The person in charge goes to the meeting with the school community. People understand why decisions are taken, and what the region is doing," Röcke told IPS.

However, participatory budgeting is not a simple process. "Some schools are very active, they seem to understand better what democracy means. In other places the process is still quite top-down, and no one is coming to the meetings. But overall it is a positive dynamic, it is going in the right direction," Röcke said.

Tuscany region has taken the French experience as a model for its own regional law on citizens' participation, adopted in July 2007 following consultations with citizens. Citizens will have six months to give their opinion on matters such as creation of high-impact infrastructure. But "the final decision is still in the hands of institutions," said Martini.

In November Massa Carrara town in Tuscany will host the second 'Electronic Town Meeting' in which 300 randomly selected citizens will use new technologies to allocate the regional health budget, and decide who should pay for certain health services, and to what extent.

Tuscany and Poitou-Charentes are also partners in a European project on e-participation, promoting citizens' participation through new technologies and the Internet.

European Foundation for Participatory Democracy: (Under Construction)

Poitou-Charentes participatory school budgeting site:

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Permanent People's Tribunal Examines Corporations in Colombia

The Permanent People's Tribunal (PPT), represented by 25 notable personages from 18 different countries, allows non-government officials to arrive at conclusions regarding violent conflict or human rights violations. Its distance from any particular state or government organization gives it distinct people power that holds countries accountable for their actions. This kind of citizen monitoring is a key step toward the kind of participation we need to envision a global participatory democracy. The article below describes just one case in which the PPT defends the rights of workers and reveals the violations of corporations and complicit governments. -Editor

No. 378, April 13 - 20, 2006

Coca-Cola, Nestle, Chiquita on 'Trial' in Colombia


By Constanza Vieira

Apr. 4- The first public hearing held by the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal (PPT) in its Colombia session accused US and Swiss multinational corporations of benefiting from the civil war in the South American nation in order to boost profit margins.Employment is becoming increasingly precarious in Colombia, and the terror exercised by the extreme right-wing paramilitaries further limits labor rights. This has led to growing profits for the US corporations Chiquita Brands and Coca-Cola and the Switzerland-based Nestle, according to the PPT, whose two-day hearing on Colombia occurred on Apr. 2.

The PPT was inspired by, and is considered a successor to, the Russell Tribunal, a public international body organized by renowned British philosopher and pacifist Bertrand Russell.The Russell Tribunal, which was designed to investigate and draw attention to war crimes committed by US forces during the Vietnam War, held sessions on that war in 1966 and 1967, and on military dictatorships in Latin America in 1974 and 1975.

The PPT, whose resolutions are non-binding, ruled that Colombia is failing to live up to its obligation to refrain from supporting terrorism, and has failed in particular to comply with United Nations Security Council resolution 1373, adopted in 2001, with regard to taking measures to fight terrorism.

The PPT was set up by the Rome-based Lelio Basso International Foundation for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples.The PPT's main accusation against the three companies is that in Colombia they have engaged in practices that violate the most basic human rights, through connections with paramilitary networks, under the guise of protecting their investments and ensuring security.Victims of human rights violations and relatives of victims gave their testimony in the public hearing. Some of the cases discussed involved the murders of trade unionists, 10 of whom worked for Nestle and nine of whom worked for Coca-Cola....

Read the full article:

Monday, February 4, 2008

Namibian Decentralization: The Slow but Steady March to Participatory Democracy

(Photo: Erongo Regional Council Staff)

Namibia is undergoing a program of decentralization that had its beginnings way back in 1992 with legislation that created 13 regional councils representing the 13 regions of the country. The objective has been to bring the government closer to the people and to bring participatory democracy more to the fore in regional governance, giving the grassroots a more direct role.

Although it is not exactly a transition to direct democracy that is being implemented, as the people are dependent upon elected regional councellors to represent them, it does open the door to a level of grass roots participation that has never existed before in Namibia. The transition process also involves the gradual delegation to the regional councils of many governent functions that until now have been handled at the federal level. As the regional councils become more and more relevant in this manner, their effectiveness in giving the grassroots a voice in regional and community planning decisions may also expand. It will be necessary to create new structures that open lines of communication between communities and the regional councellors to deepen participatory democracy to the fullest extent possible and take full advantage of the opportunity that the decentralization process offers.

Read the following two articles to study Namibian decentralization in deeper detail. The first, although it dates from 2005, offers an in depth history of the process and the challenges it has faced. The second gives a recent update that shows how the process is moving forward at a more accelerated pace. - Editor

Regional Councils and Decentralisation:
At the Crossroads

(Source: Graham Hopwood June 2005 Published by: NID Funded by: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung


Regional Councils have been in existence for 12 years, yet their activities and plans have received little attention outside the confines of government. Constrained by limited powers, a lack of funds, and a longstanding view among some leading politicians that they are political ‘experiments’ which may one day be abolished, Regional Councils have been waiting for the policy of decentralisation to give them a more meaningful raison d’etre.

Yet the decentralisation project has moved slowly, held back by non-cooperative ministries, a lack of staff and resources across the board, and the complex details of the policy itself. Five years after the Decentralisation Enabling Act (Act 33 of 2000) decentralisation, at least in terms of the Regional Councils, has yet to be ‘enabled’. However, much groundwork has been completed in anticipation of the delegation and later devolution of central government functions and it is possible that, with the necessary political backing, the process could speed up considerably. Decentralisation is a means of creating participatory democracy in which the grassroots can have a direct say in the decisions that affect their lives. Regional Councillors, as the only elected politicians in Namibia who have clear links with constituents, can play a huge role in this process.... (click here to read full article)

Namibia: Decentralisation Gains Momentum - Prospects and Challenges

(Source: New Era (Windhoek)
OPINION18 January 2008Posted to the web 18 January 2008
Clemens H. KashuupulwaWindhoek

Oshana Regional Council welcomes the decision taken by the government to decentralize close to 10 functions in various line ministries to regional councils with effect from the 2008/2009 financial year.

This would bring the number of functions to be decentralized to the regions to 12 since 2005...

Decentralization of functions to the regions is being implemented "to promote participatory democracy and to empower local populations to make their own decisions and improve public sector management". It is done through "the transfer of administrative, financial and planning authority from the central government to regional councils on a delegated basis as regional councils still need capacity and institutional building to manage better the agreed functions in their respective regions"... (click here to read the full article)

Participatory Democracy and Social Movements

Speaking from great experience in the study of participatory democracy, Hilary Wainwright explains the consequences of past social movements on the global trend toward participatory democracy. From the tensions in the British political system to the influential experiments in Brazil, she draws out the obstacles and successes of participatory democracy. In Britain the workers movement and the various movements of the 1970's profoundly impacted people's relationship with authority in the workplace and the government. The women's movement also worked to change power struggles demonstrated that power does reside within society, not just in the halls of government.

The case of Porto Alegre in Brazil is a great example for participatory democracy that stems out of participatory budgeting of public funds. While this was nurtured for a period of time, momentum must be re-established in order to fulfill the promises of the process. Wainwright astutely points out that the Brazilian process demonstrated the transparency, redistribution, increased services, and increased bargaining power with the private sector that comes with participatory democracy. Continuing to foster the efforts in Porto Alegre and learning from their successes and obstacles sheds necessary light on global trends toward participatory democracy.

Finally, Wainwright examines current efforts for participatory democracy around the world. She notes the way some politicians have co-opted the idea of participatory democracy as they symbolically allow "people power" and examines the complex relationship between social movements and government. Discussing these complexities ultimately reveals the legitimacy of participatory in opposition to the corrupt power structures formed over time by representative democracy. The corruption of power has created the necessary conditions for participatory democracy to take hold around the world. -Editor

Please see Hilary Wainwright's in-depth paper here:

Also see her book on the subject 'Reclaim the State: Experiments in Popular Democracy here: