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 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:

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