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Monday, March 07, 2005

Open Democracy is About More than "Allowing Citizens to Have Their Say" on the Sidelines of Policymaking

The Club of Madrid's own U.S. News Briefings about the opening of the Madrid Summit emphasize the role of the experts and state powerbrokers at the Summit, while mentioning almost as a footnote the following:
During the three days of the Summit, participants will discuss and debate ways to develop a comprehensive democratic response to the threat of terrorism. Alongside the meeting, an on-line forum will be hosted by OpenDemocracy.net to allow citizens around the world to have their say.

This information, posted by the Madrid Summit's institutional sponsors, underlines the potentially severe limitations of "democracy" at the "International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security." Indeed, if we take the Club of Madrid's literal marginalization of the on-line forum--the most open and democratic element of the entire Summit process--as representative of the actual relationship between the experts and the role of citizens at the Madrid Summit this week, then we will have to question the legitimacy of the Summit's stated objective of developing a "comprehensive democratic response to the threat of terrorism."

How can a policymaking Summit develop a democratic response if its own institutional processes do not substantially embody the practice of democracy? Or are we to assume that what the Madrid Summit means by "democracy" is really the same old 20th-century Orwellian "democracy of experts"?

A Summit meeting that was democratic in a truly functional sense (rather than only in the liberal sense of window-dressing) would not simply "allow" citizens to "have their say" from the sidelines--"alongside" the real policymaking work of the meeting. A truly democratic Summit would find ways to integrate the participation of citizens into the heart of the policymaking and Agenda-making process.

While we therefore wish only the best of luck to the participants of the Madrid Summit in their work of producing an Agenda for policymaking that is a progressive improvement on the now dominant global Policy Agenda, we can only hope that future Summits with pretensions to achieve any kind of democratic policymaking Agenda for the world work harder to integrate the particpation of "citizens around the world" into the institutional structure of the policymaking process.

For democratic citizens around the world are tired of simply being "allowed" to "have their say" from the sidelines of policymaking processes from which they are excluded. Democratic citizens understand that democratic society and government is constituted only through their own participation in the policymaking process. All the rest is commentary. --Which is not to sideline the value of commentary, but simply to emphasize that democratic commentary develops in relation to active engagement in the policymaking process, not from the sidelines where neoliberal institutions would like to keep us.

Neoliberal institutional frames of policymaking seek to keep democratic citizens on the sidelines, restricted to voicing their opinions about things over which they have no control. Truly democratic institutional frames engage citizens in the work of policymaking, where the knowledge invested in democratic people becomes the power to change policy.

Let us hope that from the limitations of the institutional structure of this first Madrid Summit may grow more robustly democratic institutional structures of the future.

But beyond mere hope, let all democratic citizens around the world organize to make it so. And if the Club of Madrid will not allow a more democratic process of policymaking to transform its institutional spaces, then democratic citizens will need to bring a more democratic institutionalization of policymaking to the Club of Madrid.

Democratic citizens are not satisfied with allowing others to make their policy for them, while they remain on the sidelines. Democratic citizens know that effective self-government means participating in the policymaking process that allows them to establish their own government, and to govern themselves as democrats who understand that the denial of the human rights of one citizen constitutes the denial of the human rights of all citizens.

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