What is democracy? Freedom, equality, participation? Everyone has his or her own definition. Across the world countries have a least the minimum trappings of democracy, but for many this is just the beginning. Following decades of US-backed dictatorships, civil wars and structural adjustment policies in the South, and corporate control, electoral corruption and fraud in the North, representative politics in the Americas is in crisis. Citizens are now choosing to redefine democracy under their own terms: local, direct and participatory. In Brazil, they have installed participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, in Venezuela President Chavez came to power with the promise of granting direct participation to the people, and all across the Americas social movements and constitutional assemblies are taking authority away from the ruling elites and putting power into the hands of their members and citizens. This DVD features interviews with Eduardo Galeano, Amy Goodman, Emir Sader, Martha Harnecker, Ward Churchill and Leonardo Avritzer as well as cooperative and community members, elected representatives, academics and activists from Brazil, Canada, Venezuela, Argentina, United States, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia and more. It takes us on a journey across the Americas in an attempt to answer the question "What is Democracy?"
This collection of eleven cases from Canada and the United States gives expression to the ideal of a new economy based on fairness and environmental sustainability. Grappling with complex problems in their local communities, organized citizens are forging innovation, prying open cracks in the prevailing economic system and seizing opportunities to redirect economic life.
Featured here are examples in urban and rural contexts and ethnically diverse settings — First Nations, Inuit, Latino, African American, predominantly white, and mixed communities — where citizens are challenging the short-term focus of political leadership and taking action now to pave the way for an economy that can sustain future generations. They illustrate a new way of working, tying economic justice to the creation of multiple types of environmental, economic and social assets or forms of wealth.
In 1996, the City of Ottowa Council was working on two land management project: the Green way System Management Plan and the Open Spaces Project. When realised, the Greenway System will link natural areas, ecological corridors, hydro corridors, parks and communities, while the Open Spaces Project plans for protected areas. The input of the community was needed for both projects and a series of community workshops were facilitated to gain insight into the various stakeholders' concern for the city's open spaces. The goal of the workshops was to better understand which green and open spaces people value, why they value them, and what their visions were for the future of these spaces. The workshops incorporated community mapping facilitated by staff from the city's Environmental Branch. Participants placed great emphasis on community/citizen action. They felt that the community should be better organised to have a voice in planning, management and operations. The results from the consultation were used to support decision-making on the direction of the projects and were used to determine the social criteria and value of Ottowa's existing natural and open spaces. The authors conclude that upon evaluation of the methods and the results of the consultation, the City should use participatory methods more often in the future.
The Highlander Center, a non-profit adult education centre in Tennessee, is working in three rural communities where unemployment has been growing. Their role is "not to create jobs or development, but to help the community undertake a process of education and participatory research through which they could assess their own situation, define and implement strategies for themselves". This article describes briefly the methods used, such as oral histories, community mapping and drawings, videos and community theatre.