Guerilla Gardening for Participatory Democracy

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Mike Zelea:

"Guerilla gardening for participatory democracy is the practice of growing a participatory democracy from small instances (seedlings) that are deliberately planted in open forums. The guerrilla gardeners join existing threads/conversations where they employ the techniques of discussion refit. Their immediate purpose is to introduce democratic tools into a single thread, and to engage the participants in moving the issue of the thread toward action. Their wider purpose is to achieve a sustained instance of participatory democracy that involves many participants across multiple threads and forums, all working on a common issue.

- “Without permit or license, we plant seeds and seedlings in all those neglected corners of public space.” — Guerilla gardeners

Small progressive steps toward a participatory democracy have never succeeded in the past.[3] Guerilla gardening offers a different approach. Instead of taking small steps toward the goal, it begins with a small instance of participatory democracy that is already achieved. The instance is therefore like a seedling — it is already complete in form and function, it only has to grow. The required form and function for a participatory democracy are roughly defined by C. W. Mills in his distinction between a public and a mass:

In a public, as we may understand the term, (1) virtually as many people express opinions as receive them. (2) Public commununications are so organized that there is a chance immediately and effectively to answer back any opinion expressed in public. Opinion formed by such discussion (3) readily finds an outlet in effective action, even against - if necessary - the prevailing system of authority. And (4) authoritative institutions do not penetrate the public, which is thus more or less autonomous in its operation.

In a mass, (1) far fewer people express opinions than receive them; for the community of publics becomes an abstract collection of individuals who receive impressions from the mass media. (2) The communications that prevail are so organized that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect. (3) The realization of opinion in action is controlled by authorities who organize and control the channels of such action. (4) The mass has no autonomy from institutions; on the contrary, agents of authorized institutions penetrate this mass, reducing any autonomy it may have in the formation of opinion by discussion.

The seedling must be qualitatively complete in respect of all four criteria, above. It must be quantitatively complete in all but the third, namely the degree of effective action. This necessarily depends on the level of participation. More precisely, it depends on the extent of the largest consensus among the participants, measured across all forums. Consensus is therefore the axis of growth, and the extent of the largest consensus is taken as the measure of seedling size. The ultimate goal is a mature size that approaches a substantial fraction of the general population. Long before that, however, effective action may be expected in one form or another." (