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…


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Politics of Dewey and Chávez: Venezuela as Example or Evasion

The following article comes from Democracy By The People contributor Jesse-Justin Cuevas, an american currently studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here in this very interesting and insightful paper, written after her first hand experiences travelling and studying the process underway in Venezuela, she offers her reflections on participatory democracy in Venezuela and it's relation to the political philosophies of John Dewey, the American who is often considered the forefather of participatory politics in the United States, and the author's own re-examination of her relationship with her own government. The article is preceded by a summary by Cuevas. Click on the link at the end to read the article in full. - Editor

Introduction by the author:

Originating in the United States in the late 1800s, pragmatism sought to include in its philosophy many different modes of thinking and reasoning in the search for truth (with a lower case "t"). Pragmatist philosophy depends on science, experimentation, and tolerance in its rejection of realism, absolutism, and Cartesianism. Pragmatist thinkers--not to be confused with pragmatic thinkers--believe that all education comes from experience and all forms of truth result from differing experiences (because different, and even opposing, truths can, do, and ought to coexist). The philosophy's father figures, Charles Pierce, William James, and John Dewey, fervently believed in their philosophy and devoted their lives to it, founding schools (Dewey's New School in Manhattan and the University of Chicago Laboratory School) and writing massive texts exploring pragmatism's relationship with other worldly themes, such as religion and ethics. As we are all familiar with the Dewey Decimal library cataloguing system, John Dewey is a well-known name among our generation. His most famous works, however, focus on progressive and experimental education, and he is also well-known in the political and philosophical realms of academia as one of the forefathers of participatory politics.

This essay, "The Politics of Dewey and Chávez: Venezuela as Example or Evasion," attempts to reflect on an array Dewey's political and philosophical works about participatory democracy within the context of Chávez's envisioned 'participatory,' 'democratic,' '21st century socialist' government. As I mention from the get-go of the essay, my three-week long trip to Venezuela was mind-blowing and awe-inspiring, and this piece is only an attempt to answer and sort through one of the many questions Venezuela and its people elicited in me. Stretching Dewey's blueprints for participatory democracy over the current Venezuelan presidential administration, I beg the fairly non-conclusive question, "Can participatory democracy be installed from the top-down?" I hope you enjoy the reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. - Jesse-Justin Cuevas

The Politics of Dewey and Chávez: Venezuela as Example or Evasion

By Jesse Justin Cuevas

Upon my return to New York from Venezuela, I sat down with my advisor, Lauren Kaminsky, to talk about my summer ventures. Because I am a striving activist for social justice, I think everyone was expecting me to return to the United States a full-blown Chavista1. For the first question Lauren asked me, jokingly of course, was, “So, have you gone over to the dark side?” Though I am certainly still a capitalist, my experience in Venezuela taught me more than I ever knew about the reality of my relationship with my government here in the United States.

In my conversation with Lauren, I told her about the communal councils in place in Venezuela, the rising voter turn-out, the laws surrounding referenda, and the life for the poor people living in the barrios of La Vega, Caracas. When I spoke to her about my amazement in the efficiency of participatory planning—a group in the community writes a request for something involving health, education, safety, etc., and Chávez allocates money accordingly—she said to me, “Well, Jesse, that’s pragmatism.” We both agreed that it is a shame that the alleged arch-nemesis of the United States, Venezuela, is putting into practice a wonderful American political philosophy that is hugely neglected by the American political system.

In the next several pages I hope to offer an account of successful participatory democracy (so far!) in a country where our own media fails to do so. The first portion consists of a brief summary of participatory democracy told through an array of Dewey’s works but mainly pulling from his response to Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion in The Public and Its Problems. The second portion applies Dewey’s theory of participatory democracy to Chávez’s presidency using mainly Dewey’s philosophy and the published works of Gregory Wilpert, a German-American sociologist, freelance writer, and internationally recognized analyst of Venezuelan politics. The question I ask—and cannot rightly answer—is the question that I struggled with throughout my travels in Venezuela and the question I still struggle with today. Can participatory democracy work in a top-down structured government? .... To read full article click HERE

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