16 December 2011

The emerging concept of participatory democracy as found in the General Assemblies of the Occupy Movement: A model for future local government?

The concepts of participatory democracy which encompasses direct and deliberative democracy was at one-time theoretical and associated with Anarchism. But, no more. These ideas are gaining strength and are being activity practiced by the Occupy Movement at all locations.  Likewise, there are a number of books by academics in the field of political science and others disciplines that are supporting this notion as a viable mode to involve the public in government and produce more equitable solutions than are being made through the present form of representative democracy at the local level.  There is no doubt that the world is ‘turning’ in a different direction that will change local politics forever. 

The One Percent (multinational corporations and the ‘economic elite’) have involved themselves in local politics and economy in the same manner that has been done on a national scale. The city is their spatial loci for their operations.  Every phenomena is played out in the city.  It is in our cites where: people are losing homes, jobs are being lost, people are being made homeless at an increasing rate, under-employment in the service sector is widespread, unemployment is growing, people are being encourage to indulge in über-consumerism by ‘big box’ stores (WalMart, Target, Best Buy, etc.) and financial and real estate institutions are ‘calling the shots’ in land development, government programs to build light-rail is being curtailed to ensure the American’s dependence on petroleum,  inadequate environmental regulations still cause many deaths related to vehicular and industrial pollution (point and non-point pollution) and the list goes on…  

The local populations have increasingly become apathetic in their attitude in participation in local politics because they were aware that local politicians were making promises that they could not keep, and knew that decisions were being made by the politicians in their favor of the One Percent, regardless of any protest the  Ninety-Nine would make to local city councils. The combative local bureaucracies geared toward the interests of the One Percent further alienated them away from participation. This has been particularly true of local police forces which have been increasingly seen as ‘terrorists’ (particularly for minorities) and not protecting the public interest. (The shouts of ‘Who do you serve?,’ when police were tear-gassing, pepper spraying protestors  or tearing down tents in ‘occupied’ public square/plazas are a clear indication that the Ninety-Nine Percent have no illusions about the role of the local police and their subservience to the One Percent. )  It has always been the goal of the One Percent to disenfranchise and placate the Ninety-Nine Percent so that the One Percent could fully control local political decisions. This apathy was turned into activism by the abuses on the One Percent which increasingly distanced the Ninety-Nine Percent from public participation and making them ‘economic slaves’-weighed down by credit, stagnant wages, poor job prospects, under-employment, increasing cost of living and increased taxes which the One Percent did not have to pay.  In the past, there were job opportunities, upward mobility, affordable housing, good education and excellent public services in the city, coordinated by the One Percent enough to placate (buy off) the urban population.  The focus of the One Percent shifted in the late 1970s and early 1980s  to outsourcing and removing manufacturing jobs, maintaining the wage level of all the Ninety-Nine Percent at much below their contribution to the profit of the corporations which lent this increased surplus based on increased productivity back to the public,  and creating a consumer frenzied population, addicted to any new product
The end came with the Crisis of 2008 .  At this point, the local citizens (the Ninety-Nine Percent) after being poured the intoxicating liquor of credit from the One Percent, awoke with a hangover, and realized that they had been made alcoholics by the One Percent. The very population that the One Percent had depended upon for their wealth is turning against them.  Yet they are still recalcitrant, still playing the same games (i.e., the manipulation of the US  Congress) and refusing to see that their world will become dust.

 Out of these final abuses, the Occupy Movement arose captivating the hopes of a better world, including a better city. While the Occupy Movement may be focusing on national or international issues.  They are also forcing on local issues, as this is geographic location I which the One Percent innately operate.  The most interesting concept that has emerged from this leadership movement is the concept of the General Assembly which is direct and full participatory democracy.  Deliberative democracy is also in play in the General Assemblies as dissenters are given a voice and are allowed to speak to the participants of the General Assembly.  Decisions are collectively and committees are formed to address certain needs, particularly housing for participants and the overall homeless problems of the entire city.  There are definite impasses that are happening and there are major disagreements and factions within the General Assemblies and committees. But, there is little doubt that all the members of the General Assembly are dedicated to free speech, collaborative decisions and inclusion.  What is emerging is a vibrant, practical and self-organizing vehicle for of democracy that has never been seen in the U.S. or other locations that have Occupy Movements.  The General Assemblies will evolve to become the ‘shadow’ local government. 

This 'shadow' local government scares the local politicians which are lackeys for the One Percent .  But, they are clueless and unable to devise any viable policies that would defuse this developing form of government from over-taking and replacing the local political system. The One Percent thought that evicting the protestors from public squares/plazas would stop their onslaught on their hold on local and national politics. They were absolutely wrong. The world has changed.  Local politicians must embrace this emerging form of government or find themselves defending a local system of government which is dying.

No comments: