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Participatory Democracy

Hi Sanjeev:

I've thought of participatory democracy in the past, and your definition 
presents a different angle from what I've normally considered to be 
participatory. I haven't reached any conclusion, but I think it would be 
good to throw this out there and see what others have to say.

>From your post, 

> I thought we must get a good definition of "participatory democracy"
> since we have used this word in the manifesto.

.... and a little later in the same post,

> "The citizen must have the opportunity to participate directly in
> the decision making process - wherever possible, technologically,
> and economically. 

I wonder if you are distinguishing representative democracy from 
participatory democracy. Let's say we have some issue under debate, and 
I will use the example that I have used in my own reasoning in the past. 
The City Council is considering funding for a new sports stadium for a 
professional team in town. As you can probably guess, this is something 
that actually happened around here, twice! How does Citizen Jane 
participate in the process?

She can go to the various town meetings and lay out her point of view, 
(which is that the team can go hang itself for all she cares). She sees 
no benefit from professional sports and has some documentation and 
research material to back it up. So she goes to these meetings, and 
gives it her all. Others, with opposite points of view, also show up and 
give their all. The town meetings themselves have been called by the 
council as a way of "providing the public with the opportunity to 
participate in the decision" (I put that in quotes because it 
approximates some parts of your earlier definition, pasted above).

At the end of all the town meetings, and after deliberating all the 
evidence gathered by the many sides, the council votes. The resolution 
to fund the stadium is passed. The actual decision is incidental to my 
point, it only matters that the decision is necessarily in line with the 
preferences of some and against those of others. Jane, in some sense, 
has lost, since her point of view did not carry the day. Still, as a 
good citizen, she will abide by the council's decision inasmuch as it 
remains legal. 

The next time she goes out to eat, she can't help but notice that the 
restaurant tax has gone up by 0.1%. The fact that this is a small amount 
is irrelevant, she nevertheless pays more. And she knows that the money 
is used to fund the stadium. Now, Jane has never been to a baseball game 
in her life, and she does not intend to in the future. As far as she can 
tell, there has been no convincing evidence that the stadium is an 
economic plus to the community, and the matter of building it is merely 
a preference of the individual conuncilors who currently hold office. 
Still, Jane is paying for it!

To my way of thinking, that is not particularly participatory. That sort 
of democracy remains "representative", not "participatory". When all the 
opinions are heard, the councilors, representing the community, made a 
particular choice which, almost by definition, excluded some opinions. 

So what might be an alternative? A simple matter that comes to mind is 
that the stadium ought to be funded by raising ticket prices, hot dog 
prices in the stadium, parking prices at lots serving the stadium, etc. 
Usually, fans revolt against these. The council has simply given them an 
easy way out by charging the entire city for the recreational habits of 
a subgroup! Representation, in this example, is not fully enabling to 
participatory democracy.

Other examples are easy to find, if one does not like the analogy I just 
made. The apartment complex one lives in costs $50 a month more because 
it provides abundant parking. But even those who opt not to have a car 
must pay, they are provided a slot for the car they do not have! A union 
strikes against a company and the few who wish to remain on the job have 
no job to go to because they cannot do all of it themselves.

I am not saying that any of these are perfect examples for my point of 
view, lest one finds flaws in the particular arguments I have put 
forward. Instead I wonder if democracy might be better achieved if we 
try to go after economic democracy, in the sense that the choices we 
make include a cost in them, and we are always free to minimize our 
costs by electing not to indulge in those choices. I.e, don't go to the 
ballpark, don't pay for any of the costs associated with the new 

Some of this is isolationist and may not be ideal, I recognize that. I 
am merely throwing this out there as a way of debating what it means to 
"participate". Is participating in the decision-making process to be 
considered equivalent to bearing the costs and benefits of those 
choices? What if the choices do not represent one's preferences, does 
one bear the costs and benefits anyway, or is there a better way?


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