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Participatory Democracy

Camila Vergara’s Bold Vision For A Plebeian Constitutionalism

Systemic corruption is not about a few venal politicians who take bribes or bureaucrats who collude with wealthy corporations. It's about the systemic oligarchization of power within a general respect for the rule of law. Elites come to dominate the state political apparatus and warp the law to suit their interests and desires, betraying the promise of democracy. That's why plebeians must have explicit constitutional powers, says Vergara. In Systemic Corruption, Vergara opens up a new kind of conversation that I have never heard before in political circles or the news media. She proposes new types of constitutional power for plebeian institutions so that the interests of ordinary people will be baked into modern constitutional systems.

What If Non-Drivers Helped Plan Our Transportation Systems?

In the fall of 2021, I was invited by Roger Millar, the head of the Washington State Department of Transportation, to speak to the board of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials at its annual meeting. Before the meeting, Secretary Millar explained that I’d be presenting to the heads of each state department of transportation, and I started to get nervous. I am not a civil engineer. I don’t have a degree in urban planning. I have never worked for a transit agency or department of transportation. What I had was my lifetime of experience as a disabled nondriver and stories from the hundreds of other nondrivers from every corner of Washington State.

‘National Popular Consultation’: Voters Choose State-Funded Projects

The Venezuelan people are called to the polls on Sunday, April 21, to decide on projects that will receive government support. The so-called “National Popular Consultation” will be held in 4,500 communal circuits spanning the entire Venezuelan territory. Each circuit is centered in a commune, an assembly-driven popular power organization. All citizens 15 and above are eligible to participate. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) will oversee the election in over 15,000 voting centers but without automatic voting machines.

In Chinatown, A Community Envisions Alternatives To Sixers Arena

Joy. While it’s been a contentious 18 months of protests, marching, and debating about a proposed new basketball arena in Philadelphia’s Center City, for at least one Saturday morning, an urban planning and design discussion about the proposed arena location brought some joy to the conversation. At the Center for Architecture in Philly, just a few blocks from the site of the proposed arena, about a hundred people gathered on Jan. 27 to brainstorm alternative uses for the site. The public workshop was organized by the Save Chinatown Coalition, an alliance of 245 organizations from Chinatown and around the city who oppose the new arena because they fear its proximity to Chinatown will disrupt and displace the community.

Our Planning Process Is Broken; Street Experiments Can Help

Everyone knows how it goes: A street redesign is proposed to calm traffic. Municipal planners and engineers study the project for years, producing reports detailing its importance for sustainability, congestion reduction and traffic safety. Despite this, the project faces massive backlash at community engagement events, with residents complaining about lost parking and increased congestion. In the end, local politicians cancel the redesign, citing a “lack of social acceptability.” This story is all too common in cities across the U.S. and Canada, and it’s not because of “car culture” or “a lack of advocacy.”

From Shrinking To Resilience – Lessons From The Latvian Rural Parliament

The Latvian Rural Communities Parliament (LRCP) is held biennially with the aim of collaboratively discovering effective solutions and exploring new opportunities for rural development. Its primary focus is to foster cooperation among diverse stakeholders and identify challenges and priorities at the local, regional, national, and European levels. The Community Parliament operates on the principle of equal dialogue, bringing together approximately 300 individuals representing local and regional authorities, businesses, policymakers, academics, rural development experts, and enthusiasts.

Civic Innovation Is Flourishing In Cities Right Now

This summer, cities around the world are unveiling and expanding new tools and initiatives in the name of civic engagement and digital innovation. From Los Angeles to Lisbon, local governments are testing different models of outreach and participation with the promise of increasing trust and equity in civic processes and institutions. Ranging from online portals to citizen assemblies, the wave of experimentation in policy and design responds to historic levels of distrust and disengagement in government at all levels. The question remains whether these new tools deliver on their promises to effectively bring underrepresented communities into decision-making processes and increase transparency and equity in bureaucratic systems.

March Delegation to Venezuela: Ten Years Commemorating Chávez’s Legacy

The Alliance for Global Justice is organizing a new delegation to Venezuela for March 2023. This is a unique opportunity to get to know Venezuela’s reality first-hand and witness the heroic achievements of the Venezuelan people, who have been able to resist the US and European aggressions and blockade. You will get the chance to participate in the commemoration activities organized by Chavistas for the 10th anniversary of the departure of Comandante Chávez. Among our activities, we will visit the communities of Ciudad Caribia, Petare, and El Hatillo and meet with the community councils, street leaders, CLAP, and peasant leaders from the states of Carabobo and Yaracuy, as well as fishing communities. We will also learn about the new social missions created during the economic war against the Venezuelan people.

Conflict As A Tension To Steer By

The unwritten rules in many groups are clear: Be nice, avoid conflict at all costs and, if a conflict arises, see it as a “personal problem” of one perhaps problematic individual. In sociocracy, we have the opportunity to see things differently. A conflict or individual’s strong feelings can point out something the rest of us aren’t seeing, which could be important to the organization as a whole. Perhaps an activity of the group is conflicting with the group’s values or aims. Perhaps a policy is not clear, and the lack of clarity is creating a conflict. Listening to this tension and identifying the underlying needs can lead to a more effective organization that functions better. We can actually use the tension inherent in conflict as a way to steer governance.

Prefigurative Societies In Movement

Something new is happening – something new in content, depth, breadth and global consistency. Societies around the world are in movement. Since the early 1990s millions of people have been organizing similarly, and in ways that defy definitions and former ways of understanding social movements, protest and resistance. There is a growing global movement of refusal – and simultaneously, in that refusal is a creative movement. Millions are shouting No!, as they manifest alternatives in its wake. What has been taking place in disparate places around the world is part of a new wave that is both revolutionary in the day-to-day sense of the word, as well as without precedent with regard to consistency of form, politics, scope and scale. The current frameworks provided by the social sciences and traditional left to understand these movements have yet to catch up with what is new and different about them.

Ten Years Of Citizens Assemblies

The assemblies started to happen in the times when there was a general feeling (in Europe) that everything was possible. After the economic crisis, municipalist movements came to life and older ideas of different political and economic systems (socialism, communism) became a possibility again. People suddenly realized that representative democracy really doesn’t work and that alternative ways of decision making closer to communities are needed. This new optimistic wave of democracy was extremely strong in Maribor, which meant that a lot of people wanted to be part of the change. This resulted in a really high level of participation at citizens’ assemblies at the beginning. However, it must be said that even then mostly older generations, who still remember how self-management (at the workplace and at the municipal/city districts level) worked in Yugoslavia participated.

The Commune Is The Supreme Expression Of Participatory Democracy

There is a confrontation of models, a clash of two paradigms not only in Venezuela and in Latin America, but also worldwide. One of the questions in the debate is: who is the historical subject? For us, that is the question of who is it that activates, who lights up the field, who pushes changes forward. And when we reflect on this issue, which means thinking about our own practice, we guide our interpretation by the proposal that developed with Comandante Chavez. Chavez developed a hypothesis after a process of maturing, after a rigorous analysis of the Venezuelan and continental realities, and after a reflection on the revolutionary potential under our feet (based also on a commitment to justice for the poor that was there from the start). His hypothesis was: The commune is the historical subject, the commune and its people, the comuneros, that is where the revolution really begins. So we made this proposal ours, we committed to it.

Who Should Control Foreign Policy?

I had a letter in the mail the other week from someone named Barry Klein, who resides in Houston. I filed it knowing I would write about it, and now I shall. Klein runs a group called ForeignPolicyAlliance.org. “Wars without end?” read the accordion brochure Klein sent. “Americans on the left and right are uniting to ask, Why? A call to reform U.S. foreign policy.” This guy has endorsements that glow in the dark. Dan Ellsberg, Andy Bacevich, Sharon Tennison, Gordon Adams, Larry Wilkerson and Peter Kuznick: These are big names in the alternative foreign policy business. Klein included a one-sheet flier with the Foreign Policy Alliance prospectus. “How to immediately spur a movement to stop the proxy war in Ukraine,” is the headline. Good enough, but what stopped me cold was a Post–It note Klein stuck in the right-hand corner.

How Citizens’ Assemblies Are Revitalizing Democracy

Threats to our democracy are two-fold: a growth of support for authoritarianism by some and the withdrawal from and lack of engagement in political activity by others. Both trends stem from people’s loss of trust in their government and belief that officials don’t represent and serve them. Neither escalating partisan conflict nor escapism are solutions. However one fresh tactic is increasingly being used to establish broad dialogue, actively engage citizens in policy decisions and thereby revitalize democracy. Citizens’ assemblies have a long history, from ancient Athens and Rome to Rousseau’s Geneva and Vermont’s annual town halls. Rather than bringing all residents of a particular jurisdiction together, recently leaders have turned to selecting representative demographic samples of the population using the technique of “sortition.”

Cubans Begin Collective Discussion Of New Family Code

On Tuesday, almost 7 million Cubans will start attending around 78,000 meeting points to discuss the Family Code approved by the Cuban Parliament (ANPP) in December. They will carry out the discussions in 12,513 constituency electoral commissions, where the citizens will debate the contents of code's articles. These debates will be recorded in physical and electronic records that will be sent to the electoral authorities so that they can aggregate and count citizen opinions according to specific issues. Then the compilation made by the electoral authorities will be sent to Congress so that the lawmakers can submit a new version that will go to referendum before the end of 2022.
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