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…


Sunday, August 3, 2008

TURKEY: Hegemony or Democratic Participation?

In light of the recent moves taken in Turkey against the AK party, in which the AK faced challenges to its legitimacy that arose from claims that it is attempting to erode Turkey's secular tradition, the following article provides stimulating commentary. - Editor

Hegemony or democratic participation?


Judicial moves against the democratically elected ruling party, former high-ranking military officers' leadership of gangs and organized crime, and talk of yet more coups; in the claims and counterclaims, outside observers of the Turkish political scene must be wondering what the outcome of these events will be -- the continued hegemony of the protectionist elite or the triumph of democratic participation?

The Turkish political system has long been subjected to various degrees of internal manipulation through a structure of dominance in social relationships. This imposes constraints within the system and leads the protectionist interests to enact draconian measures without clear public support.

Those representing protectionist interests assume control over the rules and mechanisms of decision making itself as if this is their exclusive privilege. In the views reflected in the "Action Plan" leaked from the military we see how they are reluctant to give up their tutelage of the masses, even though they have had hardly any relations with them, in truth. For the protectionist elite, any initiative that does not originate from amongst them and any attempt to shift power relationships within the political system or to acquire influence over decisions is either a threat, a matter of crisis for the regime or a national security issue.

The problem, then, is how to give a precise definition to the parameters of pluralist participatory democracy. Undoubtedly, social relations influence such participation in both directions. From the perspective of the protectionist ruling groups, political participation serves to confirm the priority of their own interests and to secure the subordinated consensus of other social groups; participation takes place within the confines and rules determined by their dominating system, thus -- to a greater or lesser extent -- promoting their interests. To them, the subordinated groups participate politically so as to increase their influence in the decision-making processes or to alter institutional power relationships. They therefore are always more or less excluded from involvement in decision making, and their efforts are seen as non-institutional. The protectionists assume that social, cultural and political representation in Turkey, as well as the identification of any societal problems and their solution, is their sole and exclusive prerogative. This is, again, best seen in the Feb. 28 process and the Şemdinli and Ergenekon (Turkish Gladio) cases and in arbitrary impositions on faith-inspired projects and civil society; it was also observed in the constant vetoes exercised by former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, in the baseless insistence on the quorum of 367 during the presidential elections and in the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) closure case.

These counter-mobilizations against participatory democratic acts and institutions were not based on democratic procedures or political consensus but were and are realized through ideological interpretation. The protectionist system propagates itself and permeates daily life and existential choices. It filters and represses some demands by presenting them as an absolute, existential threat to the very structure of society. When it cannot compete with any alternative in argument, action and services, it simply assimilates any alternative under the familiar rhetoric of threats to the regime, or some variation thereof.

Despite the fact that their interpretation and counter-mobilization is anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian, they attempt to legitimize their acts by reference to events and to exploit division, radicalization and tension in society. Their true self-interest resurfaces at different conjunctures as improprieties, corruption or concealment of other vested interests. One way for protectionist actors to seek a reduction in the risks involved in a decision is to secure a preventive consensus through the use of ideological manipulation. This preventive consensus usually appropriates the name of "Kemalism."

Protectionists implement decisions according to the practical effect of the particular forces and interests intervening in the implementation process. They exert direct pressure on administrative and governmental bodies to secure an advantageous application of any new ruling. They do not represent their interests through transparent replication. Instead, they set boundaries and determine both the potential and limits of action within the system. Their coercive character and decisions were not a functional necessity founded on consensus.

This produces a closed political system in which the principles of law, democracy and social justice can be abandoned, but the most sensitive principles -- those of the republic, secularism and national security -- are bound up tight and exploited. This understanding or notion of democracy runs into problems because, as Fethullah Gülen stated: "The world is a culturally diverse place and no single group, nation or culture has the monopoly on democratic ideas and practice. … Democracy, though it still needs to be further improved, is now the only viable political form, and people should seek to modernize and consolidate democratic institutions in order to build a society where individual rights and freedom are respected and protected. … If we are to proceed to an even more perfect democracy, that can again be achieved through democratic processes." Certainly not through protectionist organizations and their clandestine efforts, such as Ergenekon.

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