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…


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)

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