Moving Beyond Representation: Participatory Democracy and Communal Councils in Venezuela

Written by Katie Bowen and Caitlin McNulty

As two college students living and studying in the United States, we have long been frustrated and discouraged by the limiting representative democracy seen by the U.S. government and media as the only viable form of democracy. We traveled to Venezuela to learn about a more substantive form of democracy based on the values of inclusion and participation that has emerged during the last decade. This new model, referred to as participatory democracy, utilizes local entities of self-governance to allocate decision-making power and resources to the people themselves. While the U.S. system of representative democracy works to undermine true democratic values through excluding those without capital, participatory democracy goes beyond elections to place the power of the government and the country’s resources directly in the hands of the people. We drew upon research and our personal experiences in Venezuela to make this exciting new form of democracy accessible to the people of the United States.

The United States prides itself on being a democracy, but what does that mean? Democracy is a term that can be used to describe a form of political representation or used as a justification for military intervention abroad. It is a term with countless definitions and understandings worldwide that that can mean anything from checking a box every four years to widespread participation in societal change and self-governance. The United States subscribes to a liberal, representative form of democracy, one that was created with numerous “safeguards” meant to prevent true popular control over the government. This allowed the elite governing class to maintain power and control while pacifying an entire electorate (at the time of the ratification of the constitution this meant white male landowners). These “safeguards,” though some have been modified, were never removed, and continue to prevent true citizen participation in their own government.1

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