[sixties-l] Fwd: Imagine There is Democracy (book review)

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Jul 03 2000 - 20:22:59 CUT

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    >Date: Sun, 2 Jul 2000 23:07:41 -0500 (CDT)
    >From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
    >Subject: BOOKS-CANADA: Imagine There is Democracy
    >Title: /ARTS & ENTERTAIMENT/BOOKS-CANADA: Imagine There is Democracy
    >By Paul Weinberg
    >TORONTO, Jul 1 (IPS) "Imagine Democracy", the title of Judy
    >Rebick's new book, reminds one of the 1960s and John Lennon's
    >"Imagine", a wistful song about a better world.
    >Utopias are not in fashion these days, but that does not stop this
    >Canadian feminist leader and writer from laying out some practical
    >ideas for social transformation. All come under the heading of new
    >forms of enriched democracy.
    >Toronto born, Rebick was first involved in the protests against
    >the war in Vietnam before gravitating to the women's movement,
    >where she led a major fight for reproductive choice rights in
    >Canada. She was a staff member of the Canadian Hearing Society,
    >where she got involved in disability rights.
    >Between 1990 to 1993 Rebick headed the country's main feminist
    >organisation, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women
    >(or NAC). Currently she hosts a panel on a television show, which
    >focuses exclusively on the opinions of women, as well as writes a
    >weekly online column for the Internet web site of the Canadian
    >Broadcasting Corporation.
    >It was in the women's movement with its emphasis on working out a
    >consensus through discussion on issues where Rebick learned first-
    >hand what she calls the "genius in everyday people." How one can
    >achieve better and more progressive political policies through the
    >involvement of a great number of citizens in decision-making
    >Paraphrasing Thomas Paine, the American Revolution's major
    >political theorist, she says that democracy has to be designed to
    >allow for the unleashing of the energy and creativity of citizens.
    >It sounds like a simple idea, and yet it has been seldom tried.
    >Rebick points out how democratic institutions even in a so-called
    >advanced country like Canada are seriously flawed, with power
    >concentrated in the hands of the elected prime minister and his
    >advisors, with even the elected members of Parliament kept out of
    >the important decisions. Opinion polling constitutes the leaders'
    >sole means of reading the minds of citizens outside of formal
    >elections every four or five years.
    >She provides an alternative highlighting how the elected Workers
    >Party administration of Porto Alegre in Brazil, engages this city
    >of 1 million in the process of drawing up a budget. It involves
    >various assemblies of citizens in each area deciding on spending
    >priorities for the upcoming year.
    >They elect delegates who are trained in municipal finance and then
    >spend time in smaller meetings where proposals are drawn up and
    >introduced to the city council. It is generally understood that
    >the councillors have the final say, but they can only make minor
    >changes to what has been outlined by those at the grassroots
    >Rebick cites another Canadian David Shulman who has similarly been
    >promoting the idea of citizens meeting in small study groups to
    >provide serious input in major political issues.
    >Canadian government officials already rely on a version of this.
    >They are called focus groups. But civil servants and politicians
    >decide which issues are important. What Shulman is calling for is
    >a more citizen-initiated process from the bottom up.
    >Participatory democracy only works, says Rebick, if citizens see
    >that their hard work is actually affecting political decisions and
    >is not being manipulated by politicians for their own ends.
    >She says the basis of more inclusive democracy already exists in
    >Canada with the co-operative movement in areas like housing,
    >agriculture and banking. They suffer from "the same plague of
    >elitism and bureaucratisation as other large institutions," she
    >says. Nonetheless, for her, co-ops are important sources of
    >citizen activism.
    >Rebick traces the decline of the social democratic and
    >revolutionary socialist parties around the world to their various
    >forms of paternalism and authoritarianism. It has got to the point
    >where both left and right wing governments mouth the same neo-
    >liberal orthodoxy of privatisation, deregulating business, deficit
    >elimination and social service cutbacks, all in the name of
    >Furthermore, the loss of support for government and public
    >institutions stem from their own paternalism and top-down
    >"military style hierarchy," according to Rebick. It is not enough
    >to have good people appointed to boards and agencies.
    >Taking a leaf from the Greater London Council under Ken Livingston
    >in Great Britain during the 1980s, she advocates that the clients
    >of government, such as the poor, are regularly consulted by the
    >very officials who provide them with social assistance and other
    >Politicians, even on the left, spend more time answering
    >constituents' problems and less on debating public policy. These
    >constituents often see their particular situation as an individual
    >problem, not as part of a systematic issue. Rebick says that
    >advocacy groups should be funded as permanent watchdogs to play a
    >greater role in defending their communities from oppressive or
    >foolishly enforced regulations.
    >It was not that long ago in the 1970s and early 1980s that
    >politicians in Canada consulted a variety of groups representing
    >women, the poor, the disabled and other disadvantaged people
    >during the development of legislation. The Canadian federal
    >government under then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau often
    >subsidised their activity.
    >But this golden age of more open democracy ended in the 1990s when
    >such financial assistance ended for what had been characterised by
    >right-wing politicians as "special interests."
    >Only the rich business lobbyists currently have the ear of
    >decision-makers in Ottawa.
    >When markets rule and countries feel constrained by free trade
    >agreements and international financial institutions from enacting
    >social and economic policies that would benefit their citizens,
    >democracy suffers, says Rebick.
    >"Imagine Democracy" by Judy Rebick is published in Canada by
    >Stoddart. (END/IPS/CE/pw/da/00)
    >Origin: Montevideo//ARTS & ENTERTAIMENT/BOOKS-CANADA/
    > ----
    > [c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
    > All rights reserved

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