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.
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.”
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.
Outside of Venezuela, communes are a little known aspect of the Bolivarian Revolution, yet the development of the communal state is integral to the vision of 21st century socialism laid out by former President Hugo Chavez. In this series, In Commune, Venezuelanalysis will explore different experiences of rural and urban communes to help better understand what these highly controversial bodies mean, how they have been put into practice, and what they could signify for the continuity of the Bolivarian Revolution in the current situation of political and economic imperialist aggression.
The big black pickup truck plunged into the protesters blocking the parking lot and I cringed, viscerally, as though I could feel it myself — this merciless crush of steel against flesh. I was recovering from a bicycle injury when I watched the event on the news last week, as members of the Never Again movement stood their ground to shut down the Wyatt Detention Facility, in Central Falls, R.I. I had fallen a few days earlier; my face hit the sidewalk. I was far too close to my own trauma not to feel a horrified empathy as I watched the video.
Political scientist, author, and activist, Marta Harnecker devoted her life to collaborating in building radical democracy in Latin American communities where people have, for generations, experienced crushing poverty and a near complete loss of control over their lives. In South America and the Caribbean, but especially in Cuba and Venezuela, Harnecker has worked directly with disenfranchised workers and peasants. From the ground up, she has helped to build new structures and methods that bring to virtually unknown towns and provinces the full meaning of the Bolivarian revolution. In this latest work, Harnecker, with Spanish economist José Bartolomé, shares some of her wisdom on how this is being done, and how communities everywhere can gain empowerment.
By Eric Dirnbach for Public Seminar. Participatory Budgeting was first used for the municipal budget in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989, and since then the PB movement has grown to over 3,000 cities around the world. Portugal recently announcedthat it will use it for the national budget. PB is being used in more than 40 communities in the U.S. New York City is in the midst of its 6th cycle of PB and the program has grown to 31 out of 51 City Council districts. Each district has been allocated at least $1 million for proposed projects. The requirements are that each project cost at least $35,000, last 5 years, be located on city property, and be brick-and-mortar type infrastructure projects such as fixing up a playground or library. I voted in the final PB project selection last year. My district had been presented with 21 options, and chose five projects from among them: a senior center renovation, planting street trees, school science lab improvements, school technology upgrades, and a library renovation. When my City Council Member Mark Levine announced the beginning of this current PB round, I decided to follow the entire process.
By Ruth Needleman for Portside - Here in the states, we know what it means to see our democratic rights attacked. But do we have a vision of what an expansion of democracy and popular participation in government might look like? Oakland, New York, Minneapolis, among others, are exploring the possibility of “participatory budgeting,” an initiative to shift decision-making on development projects from the government to the community, and increase citizen engagement. In order to better understand the process, delegations from these cities visited Canoas, an industrial city of 350,000 in Southern Brazil.
By Joris Leverink for ROAR Magazine - The developments in Kurdistan — and especially in Rojava, the Kurdish region in northern Syria — have tickled the radical imagination of activists around the globe. The revolution in Rojava has been compared to Barcelona in 1936 and the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. The radical left needs its own mythology as much as everybody else, and in this sense Rojava, Barcelona and Chiapas serve as hopeful reminders that there is an alternative; that it is possible to organize society in a different way. Bookchin believes that if our ideal is a Commune of Communes, the natural place to start is at the local political level, with a movement and program as the “uncompromising advocate of popular neighborhood and town assemblies and the development of a municipalized economy.” Ultimately, the best way to support the struggles of the Kurds, the Zapatistas and many other revolutionary movements and initiatives that have sprung up across the globe in the past few years, is by listening to their stories, learning from their experiences and following in their footsteps.
A St. Louis resident who was formerly homeless and wants to see the city devote more money to social services and homelessness this week threatened a lawsuit against the city of St. Louis if it moves ahead with a plan to fund a new NFL stadium without giving the public a say in the process. The man, William White, is a St. Louis resident and city taxpayer, according to a letter from his lawyers to the city of St. Louis. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported the letter, written by St. Louis University law professor John Ammann and three SLU law students, on Tuesday. Though specific plans are unclear, the city of St. Louis and state of Missouri could use as much as $400 million in public funds to help build a new stadium for the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, whose owner Stan Kroenke has also explored the possibility of moving the team back to Los Angeles, where the franchise played from 1946 to 1994.
It might surprise you to know that most states do not emphasize civic education, which includes learning about citizenship, law, and governance. So it is not surprising many US citizens believe government is something far removed from ‘real life’. Even some of the Founding Fathers said ‘common man’ couldn’t be trusted to run the country. Somewhere along the line, the governance of We the People became the domain of They the Few. We the People are not satisfied. Many have lost confidence in the national political process and are appalled at the wars waged in our names, at the broken justice system, our horrendous record on the environment, the lack of respect for teachers, and so on. That does not mean we have lost our faith in governance.
It is completely rooted in the people. There is a lot of wisdom in people, and so what leaders have to do is be with the people, listen to the people, and address the issues that the people raise, because together, we collectively build the alternatives that actually work. Anything that is done from an office is not going to coincide with reality. So we’re building from the people up. That characterizes the organization where I received my education, La Coordinadora. Our strategic development plans arise from huge assemblies. We can spend up to six months building our strategies, because we need input from all sectors and communities. This plan must work out for us, but it’s also important that it is taken up at the national governmental level, to inform the administration’s five-year plan.