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, May 27, 2008

The French May: Fifty Years Later

It is imperative to reflect upon revolutionary moments in the past so as to improve movements and organizing now. Looking back on 1968 is especially popular among socialist groups, but everyone can take away lessons from the mass revolts in France and the causes behind them. Here we see that participatory democracy played a role and should continue to do so in foreseeable rebellions. -Editor

The French May


May 15, 2008

This month marks 40 years since the titanic struggles of May 1968 in France. What started with protests by students at a few universities set off a mass rebellion that paralyzed Paris and other cities--and the largest general strike in history to that point.

Joel Geier, the associate editor of the International Socialist Review, spoke on the French May and the other revolutionary events of 1968. His speech was the basis for an article in the ISR, "Year of revolutionary hope"--part of a series on 1968 that has appeared in the magazine. Here, we print an excerpt from that article.

1968 WAS a year of revolutionary hope.

Most of the time, people have little hope. They accept or adapt to existing conditions around them, even miserable ones. They feel powerless; they don't think they can change things.

Most of the time, revolutionaries are a small, marginalized minority, considered unrealistic and utopian. Revolution is seen as being impossible; people, we are told, are too apathetic or ignorant--they'll never fight back. The working class has been bought off, it's fat and contented; so forget it, relax, enjoy your own life, that's the best you can hope for.

And then suddenly, unexpectedly, out of nowhere, there are huge explosions from below, in which millions of people heroically engage in radical struggles that totally transform the world, politics and themselves. They reach for revolutionary solutions to the oppressive conditions they live under, and large numbers of them come to revolutionary consciousness.

In this country, for example, millions of people thought of themselves as revolutionaries in the late 1960s. By 1970, 40 percent of all college students said a revolution was necessary in the United States. A majority of young Blacks identified with the Black Panther Party.

What else to read :
Joel Geier's article "Year of Revolutionary Hope" can be read in the International Socialist Review.

It is part of a series of articles in the ISR chronicling key points in the revolutionary year of 1968. Others include "Tet: Turning Point in the Vietnam War" by Joe Allen and "Martin Luther King's Last Fight" by Brian Jones.

One of the best histories of May '68 is Prelude to Revolution: France in May 1968 by Daniel Singer, which combines an eyewitness account of events with an analysis of the social forces at work. For another view, see Revolutionary Rehearsals, which contains a chapter on May 1968 by Ian Birchall.

The veteran revolutionary Tariq Ali chronicles the struggles of 1968 through prose and pictures in a book co-authored with Susan Watkins titled 1968: Marching in the Streets. Ali also writes about 1968 in his Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties.

We're told those things can't happen in the United States--that millions of people could consider themselves to be revolutionaries--but they did. Large numbers of people wanted not just any change; they wanted a sweeping radical, revolutionary socialist change. They didn't just want to elect somebody different; they wanted to do away with rulers and ruled. They wanted to do away with rich and poor, with bankers and bosses. They wanted to run their own lives, in what was called participatory democracy.

Participatory democracy was the idea that we should have the right to make the most important decisions that affect our lives, and that we should determine the conditions under which we live. And the key word of 1968 was liberation--national liberation, Black liberation, women's liberation, and gay liberation....

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