Power to the People: Rethinking Democracy

This meeting, as you might expect, was rich in abstract talk of bottom-up, not top-down, grassroots, horizontal organisation, rethinking democracy, subsidiarity, ‘totalising underviews’ and other wonderful ideas; thankfully, though, we managed to touch on practicalities and examples too. The first question was excellent: where do right-wing grassroots movements, such as the EDL or the Tea Party, fit in with our (presumably) left-wing conception of direct democracy? Answers from the panel were understandably convoluted, but centred around a recognisable radical optimism that hopes these movements are at least in part caused by stagnation of political debate and disenfranchisement, and so might be made untenable or obsolete by rigorous direct democracy and the necessary free discourse that must accompany it. Another recurring example, with caveats, was Bolivia. The popularly controlled Council of Social Movements generated a great deal of head nodding due to its neat fit within the aforementioned theoretical demands; while the contradictions of the Bolivian experience generated by existing within a global market economy led discussion nicely to elusive but essential question: can we ‘take control of capitalism’? Or does the market corrupt absolutely?

One of the strongest themes of the meeting for me was this tension between democracy and economy, and I briefly pushed Trapese.org’s Alice Cutler on the issue, the video of which can be seen here.

The meeting was a great diving board for the future of radical democracy. No concrete answers emerged – but that was acknowledged as part of the point – there are no bite-sized answers that can be squeezed in to an hour’s debate, except that we must all take control of our surroundings, our workplaces, or communities.

Look out for videos of this event coming very soon.

Anthony Barnett is from OpenDemocracy.net, who recently published ‘Fight Back! A Reader on the Winter of Protest’, available for free here.

Alice Cutler is from the Trapese Collective. They have released a pamphlet, ‘Space for Movement? Reflections from Bolivia on climate justice, social movements and the state’, available for free in pdf here.

Hilary Wainwright is from Red Pepper Magazine.

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