Residents from the shanty city of El Alto, Bolivia, are famously unafraid to speak truth to power. Jose Gomez / Reuters
1965 American presidential
1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005
Japan general Indian general
Over the last 40 years, voter turnout has been steadily declining in established democracies.
on periodically electing politicians and letting them make the decisions – is woefully shallow. A con, even.
They want something more. The mainstream media reports this desire quite negatively, especially when it involves young people protesting. It is presented as anti- this or anti- that. In fact, it is positive and creative.
You only have to look at the places where democracy is being made – in the streets, in communities, in meeting halls, in fields, where the key word is ‘participation’.
Ideas of ‘participatory democracy’ that emerged originally in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre have been gradually spreading, in quite a practical ‘nuts and bolts’ way.
Under the system of ‘participatory budgeting’ residents decide how to allocate part of the municipal or public budget. Citizens can identify, discuss and prioritize public spending projects. The model has spread to more than 1,200 municipalities not only in Latin America but also in France, Spain, Britain, Canada, Italy, Germany and India. Venezuela has spawned thousands of smaller but similar ‘people’s committees’.
Participatory democracy is about more than money and budgets. It affects the way communities or societies are organized, how power is dispersed rather than concentrated. Take the example of the extraordinarily
New Internationalist ● OCTOBER 2010 ● 17