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, January 4, 2009

FIJI: Municipal Councils - Door to Participatory Democracy

Municipal councils – door to participatory democracy


MUNICIPAL councils have lately come under the close scrutiny of the government. Apart from a state-sponsored review, the councils have been regularly advised by the government to clean up their halls and initiate changes.

Municipal councils are aptly categorised as ‘local government’. They operate much like a national government and with similar rules and procedures as practised by a parliament.

So, councils behave like a mini-government, responsible for their own specific municipalities of local area of jurisdiction.

Women’s rights advocate and coordinator of femLINPACIFIC, Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls says municipal councils “provide a critical entry point” for local participatory-based decision-making and “a tangible entry point for women’s involvement in politics.”

She is spot on. Councils do offer at the local community level a door to participatory democracy and politics, both for municipal citizens and leaders who regularly vie for councillorship.

These local governments also offer aspiring politicians the ideal training ground and experience for participation in the larger, ex-local, arena of politics.

In fact, in many countries including Fiji, local government representatives have gone on to become successful politicians at the national level.

The Local Government Review initiative should consider improve this gate to national politics and representative democracy.

It would be good to encourage more youths and women into local government. Municipal councils need to be refreshed with these groups.

Our municipal councils are always dominated by older men. Some have spent umpteen years holding on to power. They appear not interested in relinquishing their positions to a younger generation or stepping aside to ease the congestion in the corridors of power.

No disrespect to our aging leaders, but the world is changing so fast and we need to catch up. It’s time to pass on the baton of leadership to a younger and dynamic generation that would be better in-tuned to the demands of the 21st century.

Moreover, local government provides opportunity for people to participate in the democratic process.

Eligible voters in municipal elections are better tuned to democratic representation through the experience of regularly voting for their local area politicians.

An interim cabinet decision this week will see a pause in the democratic process in local government. The term of all municipals councils will cease on January 31, 2009 to allow an earlier cabinet decision to extend the Local Government Review initiative.

The interim government will then appoint transitional municipal councils and administrators which will see the adoption of the recommendations of the review.

This is good initiative, all in the name of improving local governance and ensuring that the interests of all stakeholders are met.

It would be ideal if the transitional councils and administrators are appointed through the consensus of all these stakeholders. Even if the interim government is reluctant to do this, it should at least be transparent about the appointment process they will undertake.

Hopefully, the interim government and the review committee consider the significance of local government being a breeding ground for participatory democracy and politics.

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