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, September 16, 2008

AUSTRALIA: NSW Candidates Push for Participatory Democracy

Union militant to contest local elections

Alex Bainbridge, Sydney
6 September 2008


For construction union delegate Howard Byrnes, who is standing for the Socialist Alliance in the Marrickville council elections, the struggle over the privatisation of electricity, the alarming scientific news about climate change, and Labor’s cuts to services and wages have provided opportunities to talk up the need for a democratic, working-class party.

“Workers, including Labor Party members, are really angry at NSW Labor’s mad push to try to sell off the electricity service, and go for the ferries, lotteries, rail maintenance and prisons as well”, Byrne told Green Left Weekly. “All this has an impact on local councils because most ALP councillors will give in to their mates in state parliament, we can be sure of that.”

Until 2004, Marrickville council was dominated by the ALP under the leadership of the developers’ friend, Barry Cotter, who is now retiring. But when the Greens and independents won four seats each, Labor, with four councillors, wasn’t in the same strong position.

Byrnes said the ALP council candidates’ attempts to portray themselves as “local” and somehow different to the state ALP politicians will fall flat. “Their slogans — ‘fresh team’, ‘new approach’ — are hardly convincing when the ALP councillors have displayed the same arrogance as state Labor MPs. They are removed from the problems faced by ordinary workers, for whom local public services such as child-care, housing and transport all need a massive funding boost.”

Byrnes, a father of four, knows the difficulties of surviving on a modest wage. “Our assets have to remain in public hands”, he said. “Workers built this country and our taxes should pay for services to families and communities. Local governments should do a lot more to make the state government listen.”

The Greens, who may get another councillor elected, have been promoting their record in Marrickville, including cleaning up the Cooks River, more native bush projects, and introducing car-share parking spaces and traffic calming measures. They are also campaigning against developer donations.

A slander sheet titled “Report Card”, which was authorised by retiring councillor and ALP MLC Penny Sharpe and distributed to Marrickville households, accused the Greens of being financially irresponsible and blocking funds to roads, parks and streetscapes.

Also on the Socialist Alliance ticket for North Ward are long-term activists Jill Hickson and Pip Hinman, both of whom stood for council in 2004. The Socialist Alliance will preference the Greens, then Labor.

“We are campaigning for people’s power: for participatory democracy, not just representative democracy”, Hinman told GLW. “For instance, councillors should be subject to recall, the community should have a real say in how the budget is spent and there should be scope for a local referendum on any issue if 10% of residents want it.”

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #766 10 September 2008.

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