Participatory Democracy in Action in Brazil
I came across an interesting piece in YES! Magazine about a city in Brazil that took an innovative approach to poverty reduction and practically ended hunger by adopting a food-as-a-right policy. Here is their story in a nutshell (although I recommend checking out the actual article).
Belo Horizonte is the fourth largest city in Brazil with a population of 2.5 million people, slightly larger than the Lower Mainland (that’s Vancouver and the surrounding area, for those who are not from BC). The city grappled with abject poverty and hunger in the early 1990s, when a new mayor decided to tackle these problems head-on by “creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system.” He established channels for citizens to problem-solve together in their own communities and the results were impressive.
There is much we can learn from Belo’s example. One of the key lessons is that often, all that is required to resolve pressing social problems is a change in our approach:
… it is easy to end hunger if we are willing to break free of limiting frames and to see with new eyes-if we trust our hard-wired fellow feeling and act, no longer as mere voters or protesters, for or against government, but as problem-solving partners with government accountable to us.
Participatory democracy is a powerful tool that is vastly underused in Canada. We should be doing more to ensure that our most precious resource, the ingenuity of our people, is directed towards solving the pressing problems of our times.
It seems to me that with the level of literacy and the widespread penetration of computers and the Internet we have in the so-called industrialized world, it should be much easier to use participatory democracy in a big city here than it is in a big city in a developing country. Yet we don’t. Why do you think this is the case?