How to Disarticulate the State

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* Book: Michael Menser. We Decide! Theories and Cases in Participatory Democracy (2018)


(the name of this file entry is the title of the review article by Elias Crim)


Elias Crim:

"Way back in 2009, my skepticism about meaningful change in my adopted city of Chicago was disrupted when I read that an alderman, Joe Moore, had become the first public official in the U.S. to use a participatory budgeting (or PB) process to allocate public money.

Inspired by the example of citizens in Porto Alegre, Brazil, residents of the 49th Ward worked together to decide how to spend $1 million of Moore’s annual discretionary capital budget — the aldermanic "menu money." Residents identified hundreds of project ideas, developed dozens of these ideas into full proposals, and then voted to fund street and sidewalk repairs, bike lanes, playground and park improvements, street lights, new trees, murals, and many more community projects.

Participatory budgeting — now a feature of civic life in 2,700 governments at various levels worldwide — is a key pillar in Michael Menser’s valuable guide to the remarkable practices (and the theories) of participatory democracy (PD).

Menser, who teaches at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center, CUNY, explains that he has written a book of philosophy and of action, placing a focus on power and equality (via collective determination) in contrast with approaches which focus on happiness, rights, or conventional politics. His motto: We must disarticulate the state!

My translation of the latter: we must shift key functions of the state, transferring them with appropriate funding to self-governing civil and social groups. (Another motto of Menser’s: Democracy is not about having a voice — it’s about sharing power!)

In his focus on PD and its related strategy of PB, the author does not take up universal solutions or endorse a single model. But his detailed case studies of PB in Brazil and New York City, cooperativism inside Mondragon Corporation, democratic social production in the Seikatsu Club women-led consumer co-op in Japan, and more, point toward a new vision of social relations emergent from these experiments.

His four scenarios in which PD could proliferate include: 1) a "checkerboard" strategy that remakes local jurisdictions and then inter-connects them; 2) economic crisis and major state policy change; 3) civil crisis and massive social movement action; and 4) the ecological crisis and a cross-sector multicultural climate justice movement."

(Ownership Matters newsletter)