Start Date

12-12-2011 4:00 PM

End Date

12-12-2011 5:30 PM

Description

Grassroots democracy is often equated with “popular participation” and is seen as both a goal and a method of change. As Kaufman (1997: 7) puts it:

As a goal, popular participation refers to a society where there no longer exists a monopoly of the means of political, economic, cultural, and social power in the hands of a particular class, sex, social stratum, or bureaucratic elite. As a method of change, participation is a means to develop the voice and organizational capacity of those previously excluded; it is a means for the majority of the population to identify and express their needs and to contribute directly to the solving of social problems.

The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, defines grassroots democracy as “a tendency towards designing political processes where as much decision-making authority as practical is shifted to the organization's lowest geographic level of organization” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grassroots_democracy).

To cite a specific hypothetical example, a national grassroots organization would place as much decision-making power as possible in the hands of a local chapter instead of the head office. The principle is that for democratic power to be best exercised it must be vested in a local community instead of isolated, atomized individuals, essentially making it the opposite of national supremacy.

Discourses on practices of grassroots democracy in Asia and elsewhere often focus on modes of popular participation centered on institutional avenues such as elections and local governance issues dealing with decentralization, devolution, and local autonomy (Mohanty et al 2007). At the local level, consequent interests are on “restraining arbitrary and corrupt official behavior and enhancing the accountability of grassroots authorities” (Perry and Goldman 2007).

In the political arena where countervailing forces operate, grassroots democracy is often related to social movements and peoples’ organizations intervening in the political process through advocacies and campaigns on regime and system change or devising strategies and practices that engage the state. In the case of Thailand’s Assembly of the Poor, farmers and rural poor organized themselves “to assert their rights and demand state compensations” and engaged in “direct actions towards the state (and) press their demands for corrective action (Prasartset 2004). Even when a less statist perspective is raised in terms of “participatory governance (through) the empowerment of communities and grassroots organizations to enlarge their share of political and social power so that they can better control their lives” the process is ultimately depicted in terms of achieving “an increased ability of the poor to effect or influence state policy” and bringing about “institutional reforms” (Angeles 2004). Among “civil society” groups advocating “social transformation” in the Philippines, Jennifer C. Franco (2004) points to “a still unrealized institutional setting where effective access to democratic governance is available to the entire citizenry … (and) … aiming to promote change by exercising citizenship power in state policy-making and implementation.”

In all of the above instances of the exercise of grassroots democracy, the state and formal institutions related to the state appear to be the central focus or target. There is, however, another dimension that remains relatively unexplored, one where the state and state-related matters recede in importance and focus. Without necessarily diminishing the importance of institutional approaches and movements directed at the state apparatus, there is a need to also look into alternative modes of participation that are not state-centered or state-related and have not been given the proper attention they deserve.

An alternative dimension that this paper looks at is how the poor and their communities have (through the ages) been able to manage their own economic and political lives through mechanisms that lie outside the formal systems of governance and economics. This informal sector encompasses political, economic, social and cultural dimensions.

The list could be endless but what has been documented are (1) age-old but tried and tested production and distribution systems, (2) local decision-making processes, (3) informal land market mechanisms, (4) local credit systems (not usury), (5) concepts of common and individual property rights, (6) notions of justice and entitlement, (7) indigenous cultural norms and belief systems, (8) everyday forms of resistance, etc. Conversely, in the contemporary era, one can also talk of efforts by poor and marginalized peoples sidestepping and even violating established legal processes and institutions and taking control of land and other resources to create viable socio-political and economic communities.

Modernizing societies and the institutions they have built to safeguard their interests reject this alternative social dimension and often strive to transform them by bringing them into mainstream society or, failing in that, endeavour to obliterate them. Sadly, even change-oriented groups and some radical programs subscribe to the above response. These reactions represent a misguided and patronizing agenda of modernizing society and stand in the way of efforts to develop, expand, and promote sustainable and viable alternatives to the present system.

Recommended Citation

Tadem, E. (2012, December). Grassroots democracy and non-state approaches toward popular empowerment and rural sustainbility in the Philippines = 菲律賓的草根民主實戰. Paper presented at 2012 International Conference on Sustainability & Rural Reconstruction, Southwest University, Chongqingng, China.

 
Dec 12th, 4:00 PM Dec 12th, 5:30 PM

Grassroots democracy and non-state approaches toward popular empowerment and rural sustainbility in the Philippines = 菲律賓的草根民主實戰

Grassroots democracy is often equated with “popular participation” and is seen as both a goal and a method of change. As Kaufman (1997: 7) puts it:

As a goal, popular participation refers to a society where there no longer exists a monopoly of the means of political, economic, cultural, and social power in the hands of a particular class, sex, social stratum, or bureaucratic elite. As a method of change, participation is a means to develop the voice and organizational capacity of those previously excluded; it is a means for the majority of the population to identify and express their needs and to contribute directly to the solving of social problems.

The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, defines grassroots democracy as “a tendency towards designing political processes where as much decision-making authority as practical is shifted to the organization's lowest geographic level of organization” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grassroots_democracy).

To cite a specific hypothetical example, a national grassroots organization would place as much decision-making power as possible in the hands of a local chapter instead of the head office. The principle is that for democratic power to be best exercised it must be vested in a local community instead of isolated, atomized individuals, essentially making it the opposite of national supremacy.

Discourses on practices of grassroots democracy in Asia and elsewhere often focus on modes of popular participation centered on institutional avenues such as elections and local governance issues dealing with decentralization, devolution, and local autonomy (Mohanty et al 2007). At the local level, consequent interests are on “restraining arbitrary and corrupt official behavior and enhancing the accountability of grassroots authorities” (Perry and Goldman 2007).

In the political arena where countervailing forces operate, grassroots democracy is often related to social movements and peoples’ organizations intervening in the political process through advocacies and campaigns on regime and system change or devising strategies and practices that engage the state. In the case of Thailand’s Assembly of the Poor, farmers and rural poor organized themselves “to assert their rights and demand state compensations” and engaged in “direct actions towards the state (and) press their demands for corrective action (Prasartset 2004). Even when a less statist perspective is raised in terms of “participatory governance (through) the empowerment of communities and grassroots organizations to enlarge their share of political and social power so that they can better control their lives” the process is ultimately depicted in terms of achieving “an increased ability of the poor to effect or influence state policy” and bringing about “institutional reforms” (Angeles 2004). Among “civil society” groups advocating “social transformation” in the Philippines, Jennifer C. Franco (2004) points to “a still unrealized institutional setting where effective access to democratic governance is available to the entire citizenry … (and) … aiming to promote change by exercising citizenship power in state policy-making and implementation.”

In all of the above instances of the exercise of grassroots democracy, the state and formal institutions related to the state appear to be the central focus or target. There is, however, another dimension that remains relatively unexplored, one where the state and state-related matters recede in importance and focus. Without necessarily diminishing the importance of institutional approaches and movements directed at the state apparatus, there is a need to also look into alternative modes of participation that are not state-centered or state-related and have not been given the proper attention they deserve.

An alternative dimension that this paper looks at is how the poor and their communities have (through the ages) been able to manage their own economic and political lives through mechanisms that lie outside the formal systems of governance and economics. This informal sector encompasses political, economic, social and cultural dimensions.

The list could be endless but what has been documented are (1) age-old but tried and tested production and distribution systems, (2) local decision-making processes, (3) informal land market mechanisms, (4) local credit systems (not usury), (5) concepts of common and individual property rights, (6) notions of justice and entitlement, (7) indigenous cultural norms and belief systems, (8) everyday forms of resistance, etc. Conversely, in the contemporary era, one can also talk of efforts by poor and marginalized peoples sidestepping and even violating established legal processes and institutions and taking control of land and other resources to create viable socio-political and economic communities.

Modernizing societies and the institutions they have built to safeguard their interests reject this alternative social dimension and often strive to transform them by bringing them into mainstream society or, failing in that, endeavour to obliterate them. Sadly, even change-oriented groups and some radical programs subscribe to the above response. These reactions represent a misguided and patronizing agenda of modernizing society and stand in the way of efforts to develop, expand, and promote sustainable and viable alternatives to the present system.