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…


Monday, February 4, 2008

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:

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