30 January 2012

Local Participatory Democracy in Europe

There is an evolving movement in the European Union that would place more decision-making in the hands of its citizens.  The most common method is through participatory budgeting, but other forms of participatory democracy are emerging.  On 22 March 2011, Group III of the European Economic and Social Committee held an extraordinary meeting on “What are the prospects for participatory democracy in Europe? (EESC, 2011)” During the event there was a lively discussion on the need of a more active involvement of the public in politics and public policy. The report that emerged from the discussions acknowledges the well documented alienation of citizens from their government.  It also reminds us of the mandate in Article 11 of the Treaty of Lisbon stating that participatory democracy should be integrated into government as related to a modern form of democracy.  In light of the economic crisis in Europe, particularly in the Mediterranean countries, the need for participatory democracy has been given an increased urgency.
At the grassroots level, there is a growing movement in Europe, stemming from the Occupy Movement that stresses participatory democracy in form of a General Assembly. The model is one of deliberative, full participation and transparent democracy.  It is less structured (than participatory budgeting, for instance), highly spontaneous and often unwieldy. The most developed form of the General Assembly concept of participatory democracy in Europe is found in Madrid. This is an unplanned society group activity in Europe inspired by Occupy Wall Street Movement from the United States that has now turned in to a global network.  This is a movement that has as its major purpose the peaceful occupation of public spaces to protest the dominant power of multinationals, of special interest groups and the extremely wealthy over the public interest. 

As we can see so far, the popular organizations in different cities around the globe are employing the General Assembly form of govern as decision-making body for governance of the community and for staging protests against income inequality, lack of housing, unemployment and the precariousness of some public services. The various Occupy Movements around Europe are becoming, at society level, an integral part of the urban political fabric in a number of cities in Europe, including the European Union global metropolises such as London. The General Assembly model could become, therefore, another form of participatory government that could be used as a vehicle for urban governance in Europe. 

Following innovations in urban governance that emerged in some Latin American countries, and particularly in Brazil where there is a large number of active municipal participatory budgeting processes in place, the development of local participatory government is gaining momentum within the structure of the European Union and from outside (Vassoler, 2010).  The impetus of this movement is an acknowledgement that centralization of economics and the traditional party politics combined with the present form of representative democracy dominated by a plutocracy is not encouraging the development of a vigorous civil society.  Discussion of participatory democracy, now present in an ample body of literature, was pushed into the forefront by the current economic crisis which, in itself, is a powerful indication that present forms of governance at all levels are inadequate and need to be reformed dramatically.

European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) (2011) “What are the prospects for Participatory Democracy in Europe?” http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.events-and-activities-participatory-democracy-prospects

Ivani Vassoler (2010),”Empowering citizens, democratizing democracy: the constraints and opportunities of participatory budgeting processes in Brazilian cities,” Urbana: Urban Affair and Public Policy, Fall 2010, Vol. X, http://www.urbanauapp.org/wp-content/uploads/Fall-2010-Ivani-Vassoler.pdf

26 January 2012

Direct Democray: an idea whose time as come (including an example of local Direct Democracy)

Representative democracy has been ‘hijacked’ by the One Percent. Our representatives do not represent us but multi-national corporations, special interest groups and the extremely wealthy. This statement can be verified any time a politician advocates a policy.  The evidence for this is overwhelming and cannot be denied.  One of the best solutions for this is to decrease the need for politicians entirely.  Direct Democracy is a way for the people to take back their government.

What is Direct Democracy?  Direct Democracy is the concept of placing decision-making with the citizens and not with representatives.  A concept opposed by the Founding Fathers, the elite at this time, and our present plutocracy.
The most common form of Direct Democracy is the referendum. This has limited impact on democracy as it still leaves the representatives in charge. It is also very difficult to organize a referendum and relies on extreme effort by the organizers to get it on ballots.  The representatives are very pleased that referendums challenging their power are often delayed or defeated by money from the PAC’s , controlled by the plutocracy. 

The Internet and associated communication modes have opened up a new vehicle for Direct Democracy which has not been fully explored.  Why can’t citizens vote directly on issues from the convenience of their homes?  There are always barriers put forth by those that oppose Direct Democracy.  The most common issue is security issues.  With the technology available today, it is possible to eliminate many of these issues.  In addition, it is very apparent that the present method of voting is subject to fraud and manipulation. 

The first test of using Direct Democracy would be on the local level.  It is not difficult to imagine a person getting on the Internet going to the city or municipality where they live and voting on numerous issues.  On this webpage, citizens could propose local legislation, have it discussed online and then put up before the citizens for a vote.  An administrative staff would be necessary for research on issues and for facilitating the actions.  These administrative staff could be recalled by the citizens if they were not performing well.

Let us go through a potential scenario.  A citizen, John Roberts, had witnessed a tragic accident at the corner of Maple and Oak in the fictional town of Hohumville.  It occurred to him that this accident could have been prevented by having a left turn lane and a left turn signal. He places this inquiry on the local discussion group.  There are responses from other citizens about this and their observations. In addition, the city’s staff respond and promise to do research on the issue.  They indicate that they will research this, make the data known and give their recommendation in two weeks.  In two weeks, they respond back on-line responding to the initial request and perhaps to other issues concerning this intersection that have been place on the discussion group.  Their conclusion in this case is was that the citizen was correct that there have been many accidents, including this one, that could be alleviated by a left turn lane and an exclusive left turn signal.  They draw up a resolution for this in concise language in accordance with their findings and place it on line for a vote for a specific day.  The day arrives and the vote is overwhelming for the placement of a left turn signal and exclusive left turn lane at the intersection of Oak and Maple.  The staff then looks into ways to fund this and reports back to the discussion group about this in a month. In this case, private citizens, including one generous donator,  has come forth with the necessary funding and they do not have to seek grants.  The project will start immediately and will be finished in a month.  The will keep the public informed by posting on the discussion group and will monitor it afterwards as to its effectiveness.
The above example may be fictional and simplistic, but it is a working example of how Direct Democracy might work. The concept of Direct Democracy can be further expanded to deal with any kind of issue that might arise in a local government.

This blog entry has been posted on both of my blogs: You can count me out (in) and The Chaotic, Fractal and Complex City.  Please keep in mind that these ideas are in draft form. I very much would appreciate comments.

19 January 2012

A New Blog

I finally decided that it was appropriate for a new blog, just for my political comments, You can count me out (in) .  Oh no not another blog, Mr Bill.

Previously, I was using my this blog , The Chaotic, Fractal and Complex City for political comments. I have realized that some of my discussions were over powering the original intent of this blog. Also, I wanted a more 'fuzzy' blog so I could make broader political comments.  

The title of the blog, You can count me out (in)., is a lyric from the Beatles song "Revolution 1" from the White Album conveying John Lennon's' reluctance to be considered part of dogmatic revolutionary movements. The whole song conveys my feeling about some of the current political movements, so I thought it was appropriate for a title of my blog.

So drop by my new blog, join as a follower, make comments, become a guest blogger.

18 January 2012

Occupy the Internet? Oppose SOPA and PIPA

Millions of Americans oppose SOPA and PIPA because these bills would censor the Internet and slow economic growth in the U.S.

Two bills before Congress, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business. Millions of Internet users and entrepreneurs already oppose SOPA and PIPA.
The Senate will begin voting on January 24th. Please let them know how you feel. Sign this petition urging Congress to vote NO on PIPA and SOPA before it is too late.

Go to  https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/