New Internationalist

Festival For Democracy

Issue 324

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[image, unknown] Govern Thyself [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] Everyone's a Boss [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Small is Democratic [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
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Every Cook Can Govern [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] You can't eat money [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] Patriarchs be gone [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
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ILLUSTRATION: DAVE WHAMOND
Festival for Democracy
Humanity is faced with a deepening crisis of inequality and eco-destruction. Both the state and the market have failed to address this critical situation. Indeed, in the era of globalization - when the unaccountable World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund call the shots - our weak-willed politicians tell us we shouldn't even bother. Well, we've tried everything else. Why not try democracy?


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Decisions should be made by those most directly affected by them. The nation-state is a fragile site for democratic life. Its huge bureaucracy and professional political class insulate themselves from democratic pressure. They dictate to the democratic units underneath them, reorganizing cities, eliminating mayors, reshuffling tax systems, destroying elected educational authorities. Instead of power flowing up from local units (cities, towns, regions), orders are passed down according to an often undemocratic doctrine of national sovereignty. We need a change of direction. top


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There is a vast tool kit of direct democratic methods that could be used to influence policy. Local assemblies could have more say in local issues. Petitions and referenda could propose, and then put to a vote, profound changes. Recall laws could make representatives much more accountable. Proportional representation would allow for a wider range of opinion in elected assemblies. New technologies could enhance popular decision-making and opinion-gathering. All such changes could bring government closer to an active citizenry. Citizens would then be nearer to governing themselves rather than taking orders from an often arbitrary state. top


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Democracy is a joke unless it becomes part of the eight-odd hours we spend at our jobs. The days of the autocratic boss or the slick 'personnel' manager making all the decisions should be assigned to the dustbin of history. We need workers' control not only of the conditions and pace of work but over what gets produced and how much is charged for it. Only when everyone has a say in our economic life will there be a chance to produce with an eye to human need rather than to share prices and bonuses for the bosses. top


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For too long the economy has dominated society rather than being of service to it. People are shaped to the needs of capital rather than capital to the needs of people. This makes the economy a constant undemocratic irritant, shaking up people's lives and dreams in obedience to corporate overlords who hold market power. A new economic vision would re-entrench the economy in society, making it the servant of families, workers and communities rather than their whimsical master. top


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Everywhere women are under-represented in elected assemblies, parliaments and cabinets and in some places are even denied a vote entirely. All discrimination based on gender must go and a range of affirmative action and quota policies should be used to prise open the male preserve of political power. top


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Present democracies are ossified and out of touch with ordinary folk. Well-funded political parties form a more or less permanent (if sometimes rotating) class of government. This political class, drawn mainly from the corporate and legal world, needs to be broken up. A wider range of people must be exposed to the tasks of government. There need to be definite limits on the amount of time people can stay in power - say two terms at the legislative level. Similarly, limits on election spending would reduce the corrupting influence of money on democracy. Then wealth and corporate donors could not so easily call the tune to which our politicians dance. top

ILLUSTRATION: DAVE WHAMOND


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