Thursday, March 6, 2008

This is What Democracy in Ohio Looks Like

From the local to the global, the ability of people to govern themselves is under assault. Some of the major sources of this attack are:

- Business corporations looking to make huge profits by converting what once had been “public” to “private” (“privatization, “ though a more descriptive term would be “corporatization”), including traditional public assets like water and sewer systems, roads, police and fire protection, and now even schools.

- Individuals looking to increase their power, status, and/or privileges by concentrating decision-making from many hands (We the People and government) to few (their own).

- A culture that reinforces notions that public policies are too complicated for ordinary people to understand (thus leaving policy making to experts); that distracts public attention away from self-determination toward the trivial and inane; that worships “the market” as the route to financial and economic salvation which is not to be regulated or controlled; that define certain arenas (economic in particular) as outside the scope of public input; that continues to erase memory of any/all historical examples of citizen control and definition of their lives; that equates anything that is “public” as being inefficient, wasteful, decrepit, and dangerous and anything “private” as efficient, modern and safe; and that keeps people separated to learn from one another and organize to (re)assert meaningful changes.

- Continual legal and constitutional definitions that further “enclose” and redefine “public” arenas as other “Ps”: “private,” “property,” “proprietary,” “privileged”—and thus beyond the reach of public planning, public shaping, and public evaluation.

- A national government that under the guise of “terrorism” has given itself permission to stifle dissent, intimidate dissenters and interrupt effort of self-determination.

But there is another side to this – a democratic/self-determination culture or “infrastructure.” In our communities and across the state exist alternatives to corporations, corporate governance and elite control.

Scores of documents, policies, institutions, structures and groups reflecting inclusiveness are in place – examples where those who are affected by decisions and policies have a legitimate role in the shaping and making of those decisions… or could if we made the effort. They are where We the People have a voice … or could have a real voice if we merely flexed our self-determination muscles.

Many of these documents, policies, institutions, structures and groups are built on the notion of the commons, broadly understood historically as any sets of resources (i.e. land, water, air) that a community recognizes as being accessible to any member of that community. Implied is that every member of the community with equal access to the commons has a voice in managing or maintaining them.

Not all of these are “governmental,” some are grassroots created and maintained alternative initiatives bypassing corporate and/or top down government versions of the same function. In the midst of dysfunctional, nonfunctional, undemocratic and/or corrupt state or corporate structures, these alternative grassroots initiatives represent “parallel” institutions that currently coexist with state or corporate power but could over time assume greater legitimacy, if not substitution, if they are more effective in fulfilling the needs of people and communities.

All together, this is what democracy in Ohio looks like!

Some of these are unique to Ohio, most are not. They are meant to inform and/or remind us what we may too often take for granted – that documents, policies, institutions structures and groups exist that are, once were, or for the very first time can become democratic/self-determining. When we fail to use them or be involved in them, they will wither and die. By our not being aware of them, they surely will be manipulated, eliminated or replaced by shells or shams controlled by corporations, top down government or the power elite.

The examples listed below are in no way equally “inclusive” or “democractic”—some, in fact, might quite rightly be argued to be at the moment not very inclusive or democratic at all. There are varying degrees of self-determination here, some more so on paper than in practice, some more so depending on the place, condition, and people involved. But all have democratic “openings” or possibilities. Where social change energies should be placed is a separate strategic question. They also reflect a basic human reality – institutions or structures, no matter how democratically constructed or configured, never alone ensure democratic outcomes. The commitment to and will of people in creating and nurturing authentic self-determination may be most important of all – the force needed to drive a wide and deep wedge into even the narrowest organizational democratic crack.

This directory is not meant to be useful primarily from a “consumer” perspective (i.e. in answering the questions, "Where's the nearest food coop?" or “Is there a public radio station in my town?”) but rather from a democracy/self-determination perspective. That is, it seeks to help readers value the democratic / self-determination openings which still exist or could exist with investment of activist energies. It also strives to reinforce the simultaneous need in working for social change to create or nurture alternatives while working to democratize existing laws, constitutions, policies, practices, and organizations. Finally, the goal of this directory is to stimulate awareness of and actions addressing the multiple threats to what are deemed “public” and available for common use by the constant and cancerous corporate and top-down governmental encroachment in the name of “privatization” or “corporatizaton.”

Democracy/self-determination is not just aims but processes, not just ends but also means. Listed are examples of both – documents, policies, institutions, structures or groups actually reflecting democratic/self-determining values and principles and/or calling for them, even if the callers are not themselves the perfect practitioners.

This directory in many ways reflects and speaks to the need for what is called a “Solidarity Economy” – the growing global movement of people and organizations seeking a new framework for social and economic development based on the principles of social solidarity, cooperation, egalitarianism, sustainability and economic democracy that puts people and the planet before private profits and power. A national organization working in this direction that we plan to support is the US Solidarity Economic Network,

There is no presumption that this list is exhaustive. Huge gaps exist beyond our limited awareness. It’s an ongoing work in progress, meant and, in fact, expected to be amended by readers. Please send additions, feedback, challenges and critiques to Updates will occur regularly.

This is what democracy in Ohio looks like!

Directory at