As the global financial crisis continues to fester, local and national governments tend to place the bulk of the burden on public spending. More cuts and lay-offs, reductions in salaries and the disappearance of community-based projects place the most vulnerable sectors of society at higher risk. Parallel to this leaning, liberal, multiparty democracy seems to be failing its citizens. Now more than ever, it is time for activists to take matters into their own hands and reclaim what traditionally has belonged to the commons.
On the evening of 17 March, the IIRE together with the Amsterdam-based scholar-activist think tank, Transnational Institute (TNI), organised a public debate on the concept of Popular/Participatory Democracy. Keynote speaker was British, radical-feminist and TNI Fellow Hilary Wainwright, who is currently on tour throughout Europe with a new and revised edition of her book Reclaim the State: Experiments in Popular Democracy (Seagull Books, 2009). Drawing from experiences found in places like Porto Alegre, Brazil and East Manchester in England, Wainwright spoke about the relevance of popular and participatory democracy today and the dangers of cooptation of lefty language by right wing forces. To kick off the debate, IIRE Chair of Board Joost Kirzc inserted his 10-year experience as an Amsterdam City central district counsellor. Kirzc argued for creating parallel structures while dismantling the state. The public debate was attended by about 50 (mostly young) residents of Amsterdam and moderated by IIRE Executive Co-director Bertil Videt. Segments of the activity will be aired on Dutch television VPRO in May.