Civic participation on the local level is fundamental to democracy

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We must shift from illusory democracy based on the vote to genuine democracy based on an active and informed citizenry.

 

Think globally, act locally; the local is the real environment. – Christie

By Lila Icks

The 21st century has been shaped by the different political and social changes that resulted from increased political participation and the fight for civil rights. All this encourages the step from a democracy reduced to the electoral vote – the illusion of democracy – to a more profound democracy based on an active and responsible citizenry that knows its rights, that gets involved, and that participates in the political, social, economic, and cultural spheres that bind together society and its environment.

This would lead to more citizen influence in decision-making, considering that decisions are now made in the halls of political and economic power.

In order for all this to become reality it is important that society become aware of and make use of public spaces for its participation. As Chantel Mouffé says, ‘An active citizenry comes from the recovery of political space by citizens, and implies a redefinition of what constitutes the public sphere as well as alternative ideas of participation that go further than just representation.’

Though historically economic and political centralization has been a predominant factor in Guatemala’s social structure, it is extremely important to recognize the vitality of civil participation in Guatemala’s sociopolitical and economic spheres. If one truly wants to influence the necessary processes of change in public administration, especially in the exercise of local power, one must understand that local government is the arena where citizens can most readily effect change.

Local players must then be active agents for more interdependence and interconnection between government and society on a local/municipal level, so that this connection can later be established on a national level.

They must also keep in mind article 119 paragraph (b) and article 224 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, which call for the systematic promotion of economic and administrative decentralization as a medium for holistic national growth. Civic participation is therefore fundamental to the democratic process and is a political mechanism for greater social integration and local development.

A citizen who is aware of the importance of ‘civic participation,’ and takes on the role of a socially active agent for the transformation of local space into public space, contributes to the consolidation of democratic government. This specifically requires that the community participate in public activities, represent specific (not individual) interests, and operate, as Alicia Ziccardi says, “in the arena of everyday life and in local space where authorities and citizens come closest together.”

To summarize, I encourage my fellow Guatemalan citizens to be this active subject of conscious, responsible transformation and to be full of love for Guatemala, ‘the land of eternal spring.’ Judge less and act more, take part in the development of our society. Personally, I will continue to believe fervently that Guatemala will prosper.

 


Lila Icks writes about politics and international relations, and is the EntreMundos Volunteering Program Coordinator.

Cover photo: The September 20th demonstration against President Morales’ attempt to remove CICIG corruption investigator Iván Velásquez, at the Cuesta Blanca in Xela, 2017.