>Date: Sun, 2 Jul 2000 23:07:41 -0500 (CDT)
>From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com>
>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
>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
>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
>Origin: Montevideo//ARTS & ENTERTAIMENT/BOOKS-CANADA/
> [c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
> All rights reserved
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